If your church is like mine, then you likely spent the past 25 years deconstructing the unhealthy elements of your faith. You slowly and painfully stripped away the toxic lies. A previous generation had taught a legalistic view of faith, and you needed to undo that. You finally realized that salvation was not dependent on church attendance, a cappella music, weekly communion, or (gasp!) getting every single skin particle and hair follicle beneath the watery grave of baptism. Jesus saves, not our works or rules. Hallelujah. Amen.
But something was lost along the way. A baby got thrown out with the bath water. People lost interest in church. With your deconstruction complete (or close to it), your church now struggles to populate its activities, classes and programs. Your church members apparently got the message that the bar for salvation is low. As a result, they don’t find your offerings compelling enough to sacrifice much of their time and energy for them.
Churches are asking too little of people. Simply hoping that people show up for a midweek gathering or a weekend coffeehouse is too shallow a commitment, and your church people know it. That’s why they struggle to make it a priority.
People want to make a difference in this world. Call it narcissism. Call it the Instagram effect. Call it the wisdom to know that your time is short. Doesn’t matter what you name it. It’s a reality. Most folks can sniff out irrelevance.
They don’t want to be like Eddie, the long-time employee of a hardware store. When Eddie retired, someone asked the owner if they were going to hire a replacement. The owner answered, “No, we’re not hiring. Eddie didn’t leave a vacancy.”
No one wants to be like Eddie, yet churches keep replicating models and methods that make people feel as useless as Eddie. Here’s something to consider. If your church and your church’s programs were to disappear tomorrow, what difference would it make in the lives of your members and your community? Would it leave a vacancy? Would anyone notice?
Along with a couple friends, I once helped lead a young man named Zdenek to Jesus. We spent a lot of time together over a period of several months. One of the best things that happened to him, though, was that we were separated for three years before I moved back near him.
In that interim period, Zdenek had to seek out Christian guides to disciple him. He ended up in a residential discipleship program that emphasized prayer, fasting and evangelism. I visited him there and instantly felt as though I had wandered into a world of committed Christians who were perhaps more sold-out for Jesus than I was. It was humbling.
A year or two later, Zdenek had married and felt the call to dedicate himself to ministry. He embarked on a 40-day fast (forty days!) during which his only nourishment was from fruit juices. I’ll never forget his visit to our apartment near the end of that journey. He looked emaciated and walked with great deliberation. Zdenek told us that he felt weak but that his mind and spirit had never been clearer. He was completely in love with Jesus and wanted to spend his life serving him. And he has continued to do so. I marvel at Zdenek.
Honestly, Zdenek should be thankful that we didn’t disciple him. The Lord led him to Christians who weren’t recovering from the pain of legalism but who were sold out to radical acts of discipleship like prayer and fasting.
What would you give to have a few people like Zdenek in your church? What if your church could finish the deconstruction of the past and could start with the construction of disciples? Not everyone wants to go all in for Jesus, but I’m convinced that many are longing for a deeper sense of commitment and belonging. Instead of giving them Wednesday night Bible studies or a snazzy lounge, how about teaching lifestyles committed to prayer, fasting and evangelism?
Almost every church I know wants to attract young adults like Zdenek. You’re likely fishing around for programs or styles that will cater to his demographic. And like most churches I know, you probably want easy answers that don’t require much more than money or cosmetic changes.
But here’s the reality. Joining God’s mission requires radical acts of discipleship such as prayer and fasting. I believe God’s mission will only break out in your church when you can return to the simple yet powerful practices of early churches as in Antioch: While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:2-3).
As one astute church person commented, “Your church is producing exactly the results it’s designed for.” Are you producing Eddies? Or are Zdeneks multiplying in your midst? Take an honest inventory.