Summary: Churches, like individuals, have "body language". If we seem to be slumping, let’s look at our victories; and let’s look at the body language for mission: bending the knees, touching power, expecting the Presence.
Even if you cannot hear what someone is saying with his lips, you can often read his body language. The words may not be clear, but the body language may be eloquent. What is body language? Body language is posture, gesturing, facial expressions, the way you present yourself to others. And that may speak volumes, even though your voice is saying nothing.
Several people have told me, for example, that I have a clear body language up here on this platform. They say that if I am excited and pleased about whatever is going on in our worship, I sit up straight and grin from ear to ear. Positive, alert body language. But, if I am uncomfortable with whatever is happening, I will slide down in this chair and look as though I am trying to hide behind the pulpit! If I am not pleased, they tell me, my body language is a slump. A definite, pronounced slump. Do you know that word, slump? Does that bring a picture to your mind? When the body slumps, it sags, it hunkers down, it goes into disorganization. And that communicates something.
This week our television screens once again carried a now familiar story, the story of a young person destroying others’ lives at a school. Just an incredible epidemic we are running through, isn’t it, in which so many troubled young people are acting out some deep issues in their lives? Now what I noticed, as they brought this fifteen-year-old to court, is the languid look on his face and the slump in his body. The posture of that slump said, “I don’t care. I am out of it. My life is over, I am out of here.” After what he had done, his slump told us everything. Body language.
And when the body of Christ called the church falls into a slump, you might not be able to hear it in our language, because we know how to keep right on saying all the correct things, but you will be able to see it in our body language. You will be able to see how a church slumps in what it does, or does not, do.
Churches, just like individuals, slump. Churches get into a position in which they keep on going through the motions, but their hearts are not in it. They aren’t really accomplishing anything. They have their Sunday services and their committee meetings and their classes and the like, but the wind has gone out of their sails. Churches get into a slump, and usually it means that they are on the way to self-destruction, it means they are on the way out. Some churches never come out of the slump; do you know, I read the other day a study that showed that 60 to 75 % of the churches we have today will likely not even exist twenty years from now? Wow, do you think that will happen to us? I’ve already signed on to preach for the 100th anniversary in 2019. Should I cancel? I think I have something else to do that day. Churches fall into a slump, and it is often fatal.
My message today is motivated by a number of things. I want to think with you today about our church’s body language. And there are several reasons for this.
First of all, I can begin with something very positive. We are succeeding in many ways. We are not a dying church, we are moving forward. There is plenty of evidence for that. Our attendance in general is stronger than ever before; the number of new members we have been able to attract, while not what it should be, is certainly better than last year; financially, we have done phenomenal things, meeting our ambitious budget goal, financing several over-and-above projects, like the new van. We have discipleship classes, solid ministries, well-wrought plans for new programs. There is hope all over the place.
But: and you knew that word had to be there. But: I see some signs of slump as well. I see some signs of disappointment and tension. I see some getting very suspicious of others. And I hear some resisting the leadership of others. That can lead us right straight into a slump. I see some questioning where we are going as a church, and I hear others wondering if we understand the things we are committed to. And so, at the beginning of summer, I want to point us, if you will allow me to speak in slang, I want to point us to sump’n other than slumpin’.
You all recognize that kind of talk. I picked it up last week in your precious North Carolina! I know how to say “something other than slumping. But that is not nearly as effective as taking the southern route: sump’n other than slumpin’. My aim today is to think with you about our church, our posture; how we can do sump’n other than slumpin’.