I recently had coffee with a pastor who was bemoaning the fact that his congregation was stuck in the doldrums. He complained to me about their absence passion and lack of motivation which he blamed this on busyness and the lack of margin in their lives.
My suspicion is that this is a symptom of something deeper than overcrowded schedules. These Christians are stuck. The gospel they’ve embraced and the church life they’ve gotten used to isn’t compelling enough for them to make the difficult sacrifices and changes necessary to get unstuck. So sadly, they’ve become “bored-again Christians”. Simply an audience waiting for heaven, focused on their own personal issues, withering on the vine.
This might upset some pastors, but I think the solution is not simply jazzing things up, or challenging them with a new program, or using Sunday morning to entertain them. A real lasting solution will require at least two things: Preaching a more robust gospel and a certain loss of control on the part of lead pastors.
First, pastors must recover and preach the full-bodied gospel of the kingdom of God. Ask most bored-again Christians what the gospel is and they’ll probably recite the plan of salvation: “Jesus died to pay for our sins, and if we will believe he did this, we’ll go to heaven when we die.” Done. There’s nothing else asked of them and nothing left for them to do but go to church and stay out of trouble while they wait for heaven. ZZZZZZZZ!
However, although the gospel contains a plan for salvation, it is more than that. Jesus had other work than simply redeeming humankind. He came and took charge as King of the universe, ousting the powers that held creation captive to sin and death, ushering in the whole new reality of God’s kingdomon earth as it is in heaven! This gospel – the gospel of the kingdom – is both an announcement andan invitation to confess Jesus as King (not just Savior) and actually get in on the action, becoming his disciples, living a new way and joining him in carrying out his new world, kingdom project. In my mind, that’s a much more hearty, compelling gospel that can rouse bored Christians out of their apathy.
Secondly, as for the matter of control, pastors will have to wean themselves away from the “professionalization” of the church’s ministry where they hog the show all the time. It will take a commitment to allowing the laity to do real meaningful ministry and the pastor (and staff) committing themselves to equipping them to do it.
A lot of pastors don’t trust their laity and unintentionally contribute to their boredom. This is an ego problem masquerading as professionalism, spiritual concern, theological acumen, conscientiousness, excellence, the running of a tight ship.
But the funny thing is, efficient organization mitigates against healthy body ministry – the priesthood of all believers – where everybody gets to play because it doesn’t tolerate messiness and mistakes. The well-oiled American organizational church-machine lacks the patience and freedom to fail that it takes to inspire and draw imperfect people into a mutual sense of ministry and community. It lacks the openness, patience and responsiveness necessary to be a transformational community of the Spirit, not to be mistaken for carelessness.
I think what’s called for to stem this tide of apathy and self-service in the church is fresh, ongoing, communal encounters with God. The apostle Paul urged the church to be constantly living under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). I don’t think he was calling local churches to abandon their community life and turn themselves into charismatic renewal centers. I think he’s urging churches to practice the kind of discipleship that produces Spirit empowered servants that pay attention and know how to respond to what the Holy Spirit’s doing in, around and through them outside of Sundays in the marketplace of their busy, everyday lives.
So, it seems to me that the solution to this boredom is for the gospel of the kingdom of God to be preached and understood as something more than personal salvation. This calls for the local church being a community that’s being regularly challenged by the missional, outward focused implications of this gospel as it regularly encounters and engages with God’s Spirit in fresh, creative ways in worship, in the Word and prayer, in relationships with one another, and in service to their neighbors. It calls for the church to be a place where openness to the Spirit and risk-taking is modeled and encouraged by its pastoral leadership. That means there’ll be times when lead pastors will be called upon to humble themselves, take off their expert caps and become “lead learners”. In addition, the solution requires discipleship that includes practical, hands-on ministry training together with opportunity to try it and even fail. And it has to be a place where faceless, every day, unspectacular, behind the scenes servanthood is celebrated as much as up front, on stage ministry is.
This is a different way of doing church but it’s this kind of purposeful and adventurous environment that I believe will stir the imaginations of apathetic believers, add purpose to their lives beyond merely “going to church”, and at the end of the day overmatch and overcome boredom.
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