Without a vision, people perish. Without God’s call on our lives, we languish in a stale repetition that does not forward the kingdom. “Boredom is rage spread thin,” said William Blake, and anyone who has sat through a lifeless church experience knows how enraging it is.
There are churches all over the American landscape that long ago gave up a vision in exchange for a comfortable place to be religious. They have devolved from a movement into a museum.
But it’s a myth to assume that such churches have no vision. They do have a vision – it’s just the wrong one. It’s not a God-size, Spirit-inspired vision that calls them outside of themselves and their comfort zones. It’s a vision dreamed up by false priests preaching, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. A wrong vision has the power to get in front of a crowd an lead it confidently to a dead-end.
Here are three of the most common visions that church embrace that lead eventually to closed doors.
1. Preserving the Golden Years – Churches that have had a relative level of success are at particular risk of this one. They came to a point where they were doing well, they were growing, and word of the church was spreading through the community. But time passed, growth stopped, and the church stagnated. There is usually a group of long-time church attenders who, at this point, try to relive the Golden Years. Unfortunately, they don’t look to the vision that originally inspired the growth of the church, they look to the means by which the church was growing. They try to go back to the same programs, same preaching style, same music, and same events that, 20 years ago, were drawing in.
The problem with this is that, 20 years later, the culture has changed. 20 years of cultural change is like 500 years of transformation that the English language has gone through, and going back to the programs that worked 20 years ago is like preaching with a Shakespearian vocabulary because that used to be cutting edge.
2. Grow Deep Not Wide – There are a few outspoken proponents of this with blogs that gather around them like-minded readers. Their mindset is that churches that grow in their outreach and size have necessarily compromised the depth of the message. Healthy churches, they say, just focus on growing deep and don’t worry about reaching new people.
The problems with this are three. First, churches like this shrink into non-existence, and you can only be so deep when there’s no one left to attend your church. Second, this means that the early church, in the book of Acts, was shallow, because God was adding to their number daily those who were being saved. And third, this has less to do with profundity and more to do with pride. Sitting around and thinking about how deep I am is not spiritual growth, its spiritual arrogance.
3. Fight the Culture – Some churches have held out as a circle of wagon protecting the insiders from the pagan, persecuting world out there. To their minds, Christians must be insulated from a corrupt culture.
Jesus taught exactly the opposite. Far from circling the wagons, Jesus walked among the lost and the corrupt. The Pharisees were the ones who taught an insular faith that avoided lost people. Jesus described himself as a shepherd on the hunt for lost sheep.
Christians that create an insular culture that avoids the world around it have their own vocabulary, their own insider practices, and they are virtually impermeable by someone who might want to know God. These churches protect themselves together, age together, and die together.
Jesus has a heart for lost people, and he empowers churches that are kingdom-minded. Kingdom-minded churches don’t settle for what used to be or what can simply be maintained. The churches take risks, make changes, and don’t go backwards. They will put everything on the line to make the gospel of Jesus known in a lost world. Be a kingdom-minded church! The world can’t wait!