Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ten Warning Signs of an Inward Looking Church

I read with interest Thom Rainer's article entitled, "The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church." Briefly put, they are:
  1. Worship Wars
  2. Prolonged Minutia Meetings
  3. Facility Focus
  4. Program Driven
  5. Inwardly Focused Budget
  6. Inordinate Demands for Pastoral Care
  7. Attitudes of Entitlement
  8. Greater Concern about Change than the Gospel
  9. Anger and Hostility
  10. Evangelistic Apathy.
This list is backed by what Thom Rainer says is his "research of churches and consultation with churches." As readers, we can just take his word for it. As for application, I can safely say that some, if not all, will apply for our individual church communities. How do we read such a list? Do we appear defensive about it all? Or do we allow ourselves to wallow in our poor state, and worse, do nothing?  Let me try to look at each of them from a redemptive angle. This means that even though each of them are warning signs about an inward looking Church, there is still hope in turning it around toward being a God-ward looking Church.

Looking Redemptively At Each of Them
"Worship Wars" is a common phrase used to describe the two camps: Traditional vs Contemporary. This is still happening in many churches. That is why I think it is important for us to be open about it, and to call a spade a spade. Call the war a war. Then ask whether it is a necessary war in the first place. If we are guilty of constantly squabbling over whether to do a more "traditional" kind of worship with hymns, instead of "contemporary" choruses and modern songs, we are essentially more concerned about human preferences rather than what is the purpose of singing in the first place. I think the worship wars is another point of contention among people of different generations. After all, it is another way in which different music styles and preferences appeal to different age groups.

Redemptive Perspective #1: Focus on the theme of the worship. Choose songs that reflect a healthy variety across the different music eras. It is not the music that is the point. It is how the music, the tempo, and the overall worship mood POINT to the Creator God.

"Prolonged Minutia Meetings" is basically about majoring on the minors, putting undue weight on mundane matters, to the detriment of what is more important to the gospel. Sometimes, people call meetings simply because they feel safety in numbers.

Redemptive Perspective #2: Keep meetings in their proper perspective. One of the key ways is to set time limits right from the start. Consider the importance of each topic right from the start, assign time limits, keep watch on the time spent on debating the topic, and be prayerful throughout.

"Facility focus" is about churches that also put more emphasis on self-preservation instead of open giving.

Redemptive Perspective #3: Maintaining the facilities of the Church is still a part of good stewardship. We cannot do away with that. What is important is to remember that keeping the facilities intact is not the purpose of the Church. The purpose is to shine as the light to the neighbourhood, and to let the Church be community  to all, and not just Church for some. This many even mean risking theft, sabotage, and all kinds of abuse when Church starts to be open to inviting strangers into the facility. The key thing in preserving the facility is to ask: What or who are we preserving the building for? How is the building being used for the gospel?

"Program Driven" is something many churches are dependent upon in order to draw in the people, to give people something to look forward to. I am a little ambivalent when it comes to this. We need programs. We also need focus that the programs is trying to get us toward. The key is to remember what the programs are leading us toward, and not let programs become an end in itself.

Redemptive Perspective #4: Rather than to throw away programs altogether, why not line up each program with the mission and vision of the organization. How much is it serving the needs of the inside community? How much is it serving the needs of the outside community? How is the balance?

"Inwardly Focused Budget" is a tell-tale sign of what is more important to a Church. What if the majority of the Church budget goes into its own programs? Worse, if members feel comfortable about spending more than 80% on their own programs and self-preservation, that will be a clear sign of an inward looking Church.

Redemptive Perspective #5: Take a step of faith. Cut back on inward budgeting and expand the giving. Be stingy when it comes for spending on self. Be generous, even lavish when spending on the needs of the community around us, in missions, in outreach, and in helping the poor.

"Inordinate Demands for Pastoral Care" is something that often bogs down the time and energy of leaders in any organization. When this happens, the Church no longer looks like a city whose light is set on the hill for all to see. It resembles the ambulance light inside the organization, constantly flashing at each member's house. Working 24x7, the Church's constant cry for care amid personal pain makes us wonder about the theology of care in the Church. After all, a healthy Church is one that exercises all the gifts, and not dependent on a handful of people only.

Redemptive Perspective #6: People are tougher than what we think. Given the right push and motivation, they can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Instead of constantly clamoring for attention, I think it is important to learn to be dependent on God, and to ask God to show us how to be people who give care instead of waiting for care to come to us.

"Attitudes of Entitlement" is something ingrained by the culture around us. Many of us grow up thinking that the world owes us a living. I think it stems from people still in an immature stage of faith. A growing child of God will learn that his dependence is on God more and more, and on the world less and less.

Redemptive Perspective #7: The key thing is not to cast a blanket stare at people wanting their needs met, or requests fulfilled. It is to sieve away the unnecessary from the essential, and the prioritize the meeting of needs according to the latter instead of the former. We are all entitled to some essentials. In fact, when a Church gathers, there are some non-negotiables, such as acknowledging God in prayer and thanksgiving, worshiping God when we come together in God's Name, and loving one another.

"Greater Concern about Change than the Gospel" is a little more tricky. I think what Rainer is referring to is the resistance to change that is the problem. In my experience, many people are willing to change, as long as it happens far away, or to some other people and not themselves. The trouble is, the gospel changes lives. Any change must reflect that gospel work in us.

Redemptive Perspective #8: Do not change for the sake of changing. Change according to how the gospel first changes us. This calls for a realistic and honest snapshot of where we are currently. This demands a clear vision of where we need to go. In between, we are all to serve one another, and let changes reflect that desire to serve God, our community, and one another better. 

"Anger and Hostility" is a real problem in many churches. I have heard people complain about the place of power and politics even in Christian organizations. Sometimes, people call it leadership struggles or takeovers. It all boils down to relationships that have broken down, and the Church subsequently moves towards a painful split. Forgiveness and graciousness rank supreme.

Redemptive Perspective #9: Think unity. Think togetherness. Think about where one's anger and hostility is helping the Church. Sometimes, we tend to think that truth and principles upheld are more important than relationships. Wrong. While the former is important, do not forget that Christ came to die for people, not principles. It is better to be wronged for doing right, than the be right by wronging others, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

"Evangelistic Apathy" is described by Rainer about a lack of evangelistic fervor by many of the members. When it comes to only the pastor or certain leaders sharing the faith, it makes one wonder about the health of the whole Church. One can do evangelism and then be self-gratified that one's responsibility is done. Wrong. When it comes to sharing the gospel, it is a growing fervour, not a one-off endeavour.

Redemptive Perspective #10: Evangelism begins at home. It begins with a clear sense of gratitude of God's grace for our own lives. There is both inreach as well as outreach. However, first, there needs to be a divine reach from God to us. Are we touched by the Holy Spirit? Is Christ real in our hearts? How much do we comprehend the love of God? If we do not get this first foundation in place, any evangelistic effort will be build on the sinking sands of apathy and cold spiritual state.


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