Summary: The characteristics, consequences, and cure for Spiritual Atrophy? (Thanks to Dr. Brunson & Dr. Caner for their book, "Why Churches Die")
The Local Church
Is it Dead, Dying, or Dynamic?
Part 2 – “Spiritual Atrophy”
* Let’s begin with a story. While it has been true dozens of times, the names have been deleted to protect the guilty.
* There was once a visionary pastor who developed a visionary group of believers. This group believed God for every part of their lives. In fact, they sensed that God was leading them to plant a new church and so they stepped out in faith. The only thing greater than their excitement for this new church was their love for God and the passion to reach and disciple people. They had committed before God to be “life-changers” taking the Great Commission and the Great Commandment seriously. The launch of this new local church was heralded and by all accounts a tremendous success. During those early years, the core group met regularly for prayer, fellowship, spiritual growth, and praise. Coming out of those meetings they always seemed have walk in harmony in the spirit and unity of purpose. As a result, God saved many people, the church grew rapidly, and their reputation became well known throughout the region. Purchasing of land and the building of structures ensued as the enjoyment and excitement continued. However, some things began to change. Now, that the church was ‘up and running’ the core group saw no more need to meet as often. Now, at their level of maturity, surely they could pray at home, they could hire staff to take care of the nuts and bolts, and they could back off because they had done their part for the church and now it was someone else’s turn. At first, this seemed to work, but the longer it went to less vital the church became. And then, horror of all horrors, they were not growing anymore. What happened?
* This story could be told a hundred times, extended to include many more details, and always come out with the same ending. How many times have we seen a church like this, watched it grow up and fizzle out, and ask ourselves, “What is the cause of it.”
* I would like to suggest to us that the deflating or dying of a local church is probably never of God, but rather, is the result of a disease or sickness. Over the next several weeks, we will consider several of these diseases which a local congregation might contract. Tonight’s disease is “atrophy”, “spiritual atrophy.”
* Atrophy is defined as a wasting away or decrease in the size of a body organ, tissue, or part owing to disease, injury, OR LACK OF USE.
* Consider that last 3 words, “Lack of use.” Candidly, in High school I could get on the leg machine and work with several hundred pounds while today I could only lift a fraction of that weight. My leg muscles have atrophies from lack of use. Were I to take a rope and tie your arms to your side for six months and then release your arm, the mobility of that are would be greatly impaired because the muscles would be atrophied or wasted away.
* In Amos 6:1, we see a picture of this condition. (Read) Consider the 2 words “at ease” and know the ways they are translated; complacent, lounging in luxury, resting in comfort, enjoying life, have an easy life, are wealthy and secure. The Greek word literally means all these PLUS “careless, wanton, arrogant, and prideful.” The life of the believer is never a life of rest until the day he enters the Promised Rest of heaven. Yet many believe that we can take our ease down here, when there is work to be done.
* Let’s consider one quick case study and then make the application. The poster boy for spiritual atrophy would have to be Isaac. Let discover some characteristics and consequences of spiritual atrophy.
1) The Characteristics -
a) You live in the Past – Consider the life of Isaac. He was the child from, of, with, and for, promise and it was God’s promise. He was in the lineage of 4 great patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph) and began life as a miracle baby. Furthermore, we all remember the time God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and yet reading that a text, we walk away with the sense that Abraham’s faith grew, but with Isaac, it didn’t even register. Isaac’s greatest feats were always behind him.
> Now think about the local church and ask yourself, “Are the best days behind or ahead?”
b) You let others Provide – In Genesis 24, we see Abraham having to get his 40 year old son a wife. It is true that in a cultural concept, things were done differently back then, but the principle still holds. Even as an adult man he was disengaged. How many in the church today (young and old alike) are there to let other serve them? Ask not what your church (Lord) can do for you; ask what you can do for the Lord. When we disengage and let others “do” for you, you begin to atrophy spiritually and as you begin to weaken so does the church.