The Church in Decline. Will we treat the problem, instead of the symptoms?
Discussion Thought of the Day:
26 Then Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who plants seed in the ground. 27 Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows, but the person does not know how it grows. 28 By itself the earth produces grain. First the plant grows, then the head, and then all the grain in the head. 29 When the grain is ready, the farmer cuts it, because this is the harvest time.” Mark 4:26-29 NCV
182 What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.
Perhaps a better way for us to grasp the meaning of theosis and deification is to use the word relationship. However, the word relationship may not be strong enough to express the Eastern grasp of participation in Jesus and through him a participation in the very communal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that theosis and deification imply. In Eastern thought, the goal of the Christian is to so commune with God that he or she is made more and more in the image of Christlikeness, fulfilling God’s purposes for humanity in God’s creation.
Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, former missionaries noticed trends in the church and wondered why the church in America was static and beginning to decline, while on the mission field it began to grow.
Such studies developed into the field of church growth, which my alma mater required all ministry students to major in, as well as their field (preaching, youth ministry, worship ministry, Christian Ed) An entire industry has been created, with experts and consultants that will come and analyze your church and provide nice neat programmed solutions that may result in growth in numbers, in budget, etc.
Another industry has grown up that counters the church growth movement. Usually, it calls for more precision in doctrine, a more historic approach, looking back to the glory days of the church when everyone came and the pews and coffers were filled.
The battles between these groups have led to denominations being devoured in conflict, which drives more people away, burns out more pastors.
But what if the answer is found, not in treating the symptom of decline, but what causes the decline? What if our studies and the raging wars around what to do with the data, are part of the problem.
What if the issue isn’t “church growth” but simply being aware of the presence of God in our lives? Whether it was Roland Allen or Donald McGavran, or C Peter Wagner or John Wimber , whether it is Paul Boland’s theories on revitalizing the church, Webber’s Ancient-Future thoughts, there is a focus on prayer, on communion with God. The call to prayer, the call to awareness of the relationship, the theosis, the intimate contact between a God who comes to us. It’s there, in all of their works, the essential component, yet so forgotten in most implementations. Overlooked because there is no way to measure the results, no way to quantify in a timely matter the success of such things. Overlooked because it cannot be measured against a creedal or confessional statement. Maybe it is overlooked because we ourselves aren’t actively living a life walking with God?
Let’s admit that Jesus is right – we don’t know how the kingdom of God grows, so why are we focusing our energy on that? What would happen instead if we spent the time and effort walking with God, exploring the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love? What effect would that have on our worship? Our preaching? Our teaching? Our lives lived, with the Holy Spirit, in our communities?
What effect does the glory of God have on us, who should have experienced it? We see it in the eyes of those given the first Bible in their language, the crowds that rejoice in mass baptisms, the barely trained evangelists and pastors in the third world who cry fro training because their churches are growing faster than they can manage.
Without programs, often without full Bibles, sometimes not being even able to read. Yet full of the awareness of God’s love, something happens. They make Him known. People come to know God, and know He loves them, they are so joyous over walking with Him, they share this with those who are blind, but will see, with those lost, but are found. Without the studies, without the consultants, without the experts in growth, these churches are growing – simply because they know Jesus!
God chooses to commune with us! God is here, not distant! He loves us! We have been found by divinity, and He wants us to enter HIs glory! Here it is, givet this to your people, help them to see
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.