May I state the obvious? Our culture is going through some massive changes. These changes are shaping our values in regard to how we define family, live our faith, gain knowledge, and understand science. Because these changes are complex and coming at such speed, the church is being left behind as a quaint spiritual artifact and dusty theological antique. In such an open arena of competing values and counter-Christian views, what options are open to us as individuals or our local congregations in regard to making a missional impact in our communities and the world?
Dick Wills, in his book Waking To God’s Dream, states that he sees only two options for the church today. Those options are either deep spiritual change or slow death. He writes,
“Too often pastors and churches die a slow death. What is needed is a deep spiritual change in the lives of pastors and leaders so that they can become the spiritual leaders that God needs. The church will never experience renewal without spiritual leaders. For people like me, what was needed was deep spiritual change so that I might become the spiritual leader God called be to be.”¹
That’s frightening isn’t it?
The only two options, either deep change or slow death, are often painful. Change is especially painful if it is deep and definitive to who you are. It is also painful if it is different from whom you have been. Death is always painful, especially if it has an inevitable, “lingering but losing” quality about it.
According to Wills, for most pastors, believers, and churches, the question is, “How do we know if our church is dying?” Wills outlines eight areas to help us determine if our church is dying a slow death.²
- You or your church values conservative decisions. You don’t spend money, don’t take risks, you don’t extend the resources of God and race to the dimension of the miraculous.
- You avoid deep spiritual change. Conversation and decision-making center around issues of administration, management, personnel, logistics instead of facing head-on issues of human transformation, spiritual formation, and the development of the soul through spiritual gifts, prayer, fasting, Bible study, and spiritual discernment.
- You explain away or ignore external criticism. The ministry environment is either ignored or rationalized, and the current cultural situation inside and outside the church is addressed with denial, and blame of others takes priority over examining one’s soul.
- There are only short-term day-to-day operating procedures. There is no clear and compelling vision of what can be and will be with faith in God.
- The pastors and the leaders focus on management, not leadership. Power and position are mired in micro-management instead of vision casting. Decision-making is for where one is instead of where on is going, and value is given to maintenance and “administry” over ministry and mission.
- People have a sense of hopelessness. There is little talk of tomorrow with any sense of clarity or excitement, and nostalgia for an unreturning yesterday replaces confidence in what now seems like a never-arriving tomorrow.
- There are needed changes that no one is willing to make. Sometimes they are called “sacred cows,” other times it is called rigidity masquerading as tradition. There are the untouchable areas and unspeakable issues that might be debilitating a person or a church, but are declared to be “off limits” from critique or discussion because such inquiry would dredge up too much fear, too much anxiety, too much conflict, and too much pain or at least more than the parties involved are willing to handle.
- Failure to make needed changes is undiscussable. This is the logical (and painfully inevitable) extension to #7. When certain areas and issues are forbidden to even be discussed without great conflict, then certainly the failure to address those issues will be equally off limits.
In today’s culture, there are two options. Either deep spiritual change or slow death. What will we do as spiritual leaders of God’s church?
- Dick Wills, Waking To God’s Dream, page 121
- Dick Wills, Waking To God’s Dream, page 122