Summary: Some churches suffer from a defeated attitude when Jesus calls us to take simple steps, not giant steps. We aren't on an escalator, but must move our legs to climb the stairs set before us.
Attended a confernece on recognizing, halting, and preenting decline in the local church this past Saturday. In reading the foreword to the book "Reaching the summit" by George L. Yates, the illustration of the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida is used to demonstrate the attitude of some churches (and makes a good sermon about some people's spiritual condition).
The man was coming to the pool hoping for a miracle, as tradition had it that an angel would stir the waters and the first person into the pool after that happened would be healed. (I don't know if that was tradition or something that had happened) Jesus, hearing how long he had been coming there asked the man, "Do You want to get well?" The man didn't ask Jesus if he was an idiot-- but respectfully responded essentially that he could not be healed and told why:
“I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Let's look at his answer (though it ignored the question) and the attitude it demonstrates:
I. The "I Ain't Got Nobody" syndrome
For the spiritually hurting, this is extremely sad. Nobody will take the time to help them along the way.
For the church, it shows up in the "We need more workers" attitude, and while the need may be true, the church has to be careful about entering into an attitude that it cannot accomplish God's Will because of a lack of workers. Many times a church needs to recognize that it is trying to accomplish goals and ministries that they don't have workers to accomplish. So they need to move back to square one and discover where their strengths really are. It is much better for a church to have a vacant ministry position than to have a position filled by someone who is doing the job wrong or just pretending to do the job. I thought a good example would be a store security guard. First, if he just goes through the motions and doesn't keep his eye on the store he won't be effective. Maybe his personality is such that he does not feel confident challenging those who might be stealing. Maybe he is just not overly observant. But if he isn't doing the job the store is worse off for thinking he is doing it. If he is beligerent and overbearing with custoimers then the store will be worse off having him in the position. If he is assisting thieves than the store is worse off. It is better to have no security guard than to labor under the impression that the security guard is accomplishing the purpose he is there for when he is not doing so.
In order to get past the "I Ain't Got Nobody" syndrome a church has to do two things.
1) Pray for more workers
2) Utilize the workers that they do have more efficiently
We've already been praying for more workers. This second concept challenged me to approach a number of our people yesterday individually and challenge them to become more involved. For some, this meant reminding them of their value to the church and myself and pointing out that some of their life sturuggles had become distractions from their service to the Lord. For others it meant pointing out a small area of need and asking if they could fill that need. For one young man, I approached and told him that he was becoming an adult and I wanted him to being praying about finding a place of service in the church.
II. The "I'm Really Trying" Defense
The man at the pool stated, everytime he tried he failed. He was still at the pool. He was still hoping he might make it into the pool.
Churches use this defense. Don't blame us for our failures because we are trying. It iis great that they are still trying, but a lot of times they are so busy declaring how hard that they are trying that they aren't really ministering effectively.
III. The "Other Churches Have it Better" Barrier
The man at the pool said someone else always got to the pool ahead of him.
Hve you ever visited a church, perhaps while on vacation, and noted how beautiful its facilities were, how wonderful its music program was, and all of the cool programs it was offering. It is easy for a pastor to become covetous of all of the gadgets, musicians, workers, programs, projects and people.
While visiting with a State convention official at the conference I mentioned how neat it would be if we could get a network established that would send workers from large churches to serve for a period in small churches, helping to shore those churches up and strengthen them. I was shocked when he told me that the greatest need in large churches is workers. He explained that large churches have difficulty getting people to really commit to service. Big churches don't really have it better than smaller churches and when we will feel that they do we create a barrier that keeps us from growth.