By Jennifer Slattery, Crosswalk.com
When churches struggle or begin to die, it’s easy to point fingers at leadership. If only the sermons were more engaging, or the music was different, or perhaps if there were more ministries available, then people would come in abundance! But what if we, the congregants, are the reason for a stagnating or declining congregation? As part of God’s body assigned with the gospel message and the task of growing His church, what we do or don’t do can have a huge impact.
Here are 10 ways we may be destroying our church.
Editor, Novelist, and speaker Jennifer Slattery has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, (http://whollyloved.com) she and her team put on events at hosting churches designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. She has five novels out with New Hope Publishers and is the managing and acquisitions editor of Guiding Light Women’s Fiction, an imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.
Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte.
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1. With Our Words
Gossip, backbiting, slander, and venting can all create ripples of disunity that ultimately lead to severed relationships, shattered ministry teams, and wounded Christians.
Scripture says love always protects.* When tempted to say something, we must ask ourselves: Am I protecting this other individual? And, am I protecting the unity of the church? When we share with others regarding an “offense”, we risk harming a fellow church member’s opinion of someone else, thus laying the foundation for division.
If we must vent, we can do so without mentioning names, and we can always vent to God. He’s the only One who perceives the situation and all involved accurately. If we must bring others into a conflict, we should do so following Christ’s very clear instructions found in Matthew 18:15-17.
*Please note, this doesn’t pertain to situations of rape or abuse.
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Complaining may seem harmless, but it stems from a negative outlook, one that we spew to everyone else, thus bringing them down with us.
In Numbers chapter 11, Scripture tells a story about the Israelites as God was leading them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. He’d rescued them from the Egyptians, brought them out of slavery, and provided for all their needs.
But as the journey continued, and they walked through the hot, dry desert day after day, they fed and voiced their negativity. Numbers 11 says, “Soon the people began to complain about their hardship, and the Lord heard everything they said. Then the Lord’s anger blazed against them…” (NLT).
It’s interesting to note, Moses, God’s chosen leader, complained a great deal, but there’s no evidence in Scripture that this ever angered God. Why?
The difference was, Moses complained to God whereas the people complained to one another, and before long, this negativity grew, infecting the entire camp. Shortly after, Moses’ siblings criticized their brother, potentially leading to an uprising. Then, in chapter 13, when God sends scouts out to explore the land He’d already given His people, they continued what had become a culture of negativity and convinced the people that the opposition to God’s plan was greater than God Himself.
Negativity is contagious, toxic, and can lead a people group and church to believe the hard or unpleasant is greater than God.
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Scripture tells believers to “die” to themselves (Matthew 16:24-24) and live for Christ and His mission. The church isn’t here to serve us but rather, we are to serve the church. Though we certainly benefit from godly community and sound teaching, that’s so we can better serve.
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul says, “… I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is the true way to worship Him” (NLT).
We are to give our whole bodies, our entire selves—thoughts, will, actions, word, gifts, time—to God to be used as He wills.
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God intentionally places visionaries within our churches—those with the gift of dreaming big and enlisting others to help. To catch and pursue a vision, the church must embrace a certain amount of risk and, often, change, two things many are uncomfortable with. We may be tempted to limit or criticize the vision God has cast, but He has called us to continual growth and impact.
May we never be the limiting factor within our church.
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This trait can present in numerous ways—entitlement, misery, being easily offended, and overly insecure. Whenever we obsess about ourselves, whether that’s focusing on our shortcomings or our problems, we lose sight of the mission God has called us to. Our world steadily shrinks, and instead of spurring us to grow in love, faith, and service, this usually causes us to grow in misery. It might even cause us to isolate and self-protect.
The more we focus on ourselves, the more miserable we become. The more we focus on others and God’s redemptive mission, the more peace and joy we experience, and the greater our impact in our church and community.
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We all have a bit of Pharisee in us, and it often comes out when we’re least alert. It might be that first thought that zips through our brain: “She never reads her Bible.” Or, “He’s always so gruff. He needs to develop more fruits of the Spirit.”
Though God does call His children to speak truth into other’s lives, we need to make sure we’ve developed the relational bridge to support loving admonishments. If we haven’t, chances are, we’re misreading the situation and much more is going on beneath the surface than we’ve even considered.
And more often than not, our judgment doesn’t come from a place of love but rather pride, triggered by the thought, “I’d never do that.” Pride is ugly, and others tend to notice, whether we voice those negative thoughts or not. The solution? We need to check our hearts, daily, asking God to remove all those things that get in His way.
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7. Unrealistic Expectations of Our Leaders
Today’s pastors and ministry leaders are expected to visit the sick, counsel the hurting, be everything to everyone, and more, all while researching and preparing each week’s sermon. We somehow forget that they have lives outside of ministry, families they’re responsible to, and that there’s only so much one person can do in a given week.
We must remember, a pastor’s primary role is to preach truth. They must sift every opportunity and congregational expectation through the will of God. Our role is to trust they’re doing that, to support them in their God-given mission, and to seek to be blessings, not leaches. Their role is to obey Christ, not the loudest, most offended, or most disgruntled congregants.
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8. People Pleasing
In the church, people pleasing is most often seen when, out of guilt or perhaps a desire to look good or avoid looking bad, we assume roles not meant for us. When we do this, not only do we risk feeling frustrated and ineffective, we may be preventing others from taking on the tasks God has assigned.
This is also one of the quickest roads to burnout, which could result in us doing nothing. When we serve because of God’s prompting, however, He ignites a passion within us and gives us the strength and ability to complete whatever He has assigned.
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Our churches are filled with too many immature, stagnating Christians. Those who come on Sunday morning, listen to the sermon and sing a few songs, then go about their days as if they’d never attended. We spend more time talking about that next clothing sale or football game than we do the things of God.
But He has so much more planned for us than mindless shopping and momentary entertainment. He’s called us to live a great adventure, one of incredible impact and consistent growth, one that will fulfill us more and leave us satisfied longer than a quick trip to the mall ever could.
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10. Pew Warming
Imagine going through life without a leg, or navigating the city without eyesight. For some of you, that’s a reality, so you know the challenges. But what if that leg was within reach but was unwilling to help?
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul uses the analogy of the human body to explain the various spiritual gifts and roles within the church. “If one part suffers” or disengages, “all parts suffer with it” (1 Cor. 12:26, NLT). Imagine a church filled with nothing but feet!
If our church feels unbalanced, before complaining or pointing fingers, we should check ourselves. Are we doing what God has called us to do, or have we chosen to become pew warmers, thus exacerbating the problem?
God will grow His church. He’s been saving humanity and changing lives since creation, but He’s invited us to join Him. More than that, He’s given each and every one of us the responsibility of fostering a thriving church and leaving an eternal impact on our community. May we practice those behaviors that facilitate unity, growth, and transformation while simultaneously turning from church-destroying behaviors.
Because much more is at stake than our feelings, pride, or preferences.
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