“We Just Want to Stay the Same.” Not Possible.

“We Just Want to Stay the Same.”  Not Possible.

I have heard something a couple of times now and it grieves my heart to hear it.  I have heard it said right before a church begins its nosedive to closing…and usually closing with money in the bank.  I have heard churches simply say that they have decided to stay as they are…to do nothing new…rather than attempt hard changes that might make them healthy again.  I say “healthy again” intentionally.  It is unhealthy to say that a congregation is choosing to “stay the same”.  It is unhealthy because staying the same is an illusion…or more precisely, it is a delusion. I support every congregation’s right to make their own decisions. That being said, I don’t think that supporting that right precludes others from attempting to say things to that congregation that might renew their minds.  Truth matters.  The truth sets us free.  Jesus is the way and the TRUTH and the life.  Every congregation is spiritually competent to seek divine revelation out of which they can steer their congregation.  But we are not entitled to embrace a lie and call it the truth without that lie being challenged. We cannot claim to love people and not be willing to tell the truth. Paul wrote, “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up into him who is the head, the Christ.” (Eph 4:15)

Nothing stays the same.  That is the truth.  It is completely counter to the Gospel…and to physics, by the way…to believe that any person, relationship, or community has the ability to stay the same.  Change is constantly happening.  Simply gazing upon something changes both the object and the subject of that gaze.  We do not stay the same.  Refusing to grow personally or as a community…refusing to grow up…does not mean that you, individually or collectively, will stay the same.  Not at all. Choosing to take for yourself with no eye toward others means that you will grow, but you will grow into the attitude and thought that led you to choose to focus on yourself.

If your choice is to stay focused on yourself, you will be etched deeper into and become more entrenched in self-serving and self-centeredness. Attitude and speech lead to patterns of behavior. Selfish attitudes become selfish behavior. Behavior gains momentum as it becomes habit, and habit gains momentum as it becomes character.  You will not stay the same.  You will become more adept at answering the question of “What do I want?”  And you will become less and less able to even hear the question, “What does God want from me?”   Your own needs become more and more central, and the world around you begins to look more and more like a resource to better serve yourself.  You might even find yourself developing a more and more detailed story of the world that supports your claim to centrality. That delusion is called Narcissism, and that phenomenon can be collective, as well as, individual.

Narcissism is not inert.  It is not benign, either.  All of us know someone who has been spoiled and enabled through their whole adolescence.  They do not stay the same.  They get worse. Adolescence is the process of coming to understand that you are no longer a child whose needs are central to your world.  As a baby, your world does revolve around you.  You can’t feed yourself or change your own diapers or control your own impulses.  But as an adult, we come to realize that in the scope of the universe, we really don’t matter very much.  We are like the grass that fades.  Some families never let their kids grow out of adolescence.  They are afraid that if they tell their kids the truth, their kids won’t love them anymore…and their own need to be loved becomes more important than the truth. But it isn’t that their kids stay the same.  They become more adept at manipulating people into giving in to them.  They become more hostile, more morose, and more of a pain in the neck to everyone.  They become utterly poisonous to every community that they wheedle their way into. They grow in their ability to feed their own need. They grow, in that they become less and less able to hear any “will” other than their own.  Over time, and left unconfronted, they start to hear their own will and think that it’s God’s will.  God’s voice grows farther and farther away, and their own voice grows more and more central.  When that happens, their actions cease to be benign.  They begin to do damage to anyone that they have power over, and because their will is central, that seek to have power over everyone in their lives. It is simply not true that people (or communities) that are fundamentally selfish or self-preservation-centered (whatever you want to call it) stay the same. They do not. They get worse.

As those communities that are getting worse get worse, the healthy people in them leave or are driven off.  The sick only attract the sick, and there are only so many sick people that a community can tap into for growth.  The congregation ages.  As it ages, giving drops off.  They get to the point where they can’t afford full-time professional leadership.  They drive off part-timers because dynamic people willing to work part-time have an eye towards growth – and these congregations thwart every effort put forth to do that. So they get pulpit supply just for Sundays.  Through the years, they’ve made no effort to develop solid lay-leaders who can help them grow, and no tent-maker pastor in their right mind would take on a tiny and dying congregation that has decided to “stay the same”.   The spiral downward gains momentum.  Members die and are not replaced.  Between chasing off healthy people and members simply dying, the congregation dies…it becomes unsustainable.  Selfishness in community is unsustainable.  So those congregations do not stay the same.  They die.  THAT is the truth.  They get sick.  The sickness goes unconfronted.  The sickness becomes entrenched.  They get sicker.  And then they die. THAT is the truth.  It is a flat-out lie to claim that your choice is to stay the same.  You’re going to grow sicker or you’re going to grow healthier.  But no community stays the same ever.

Healthy things grow.  It’s not a question of growth. It’s a question of health. Healthy congregations grow out of adolescence and come to realize that they are not the center of the universe…nor are they the center of the Gospel.  The Good News IS for them, but never for them alone.  The blessings of  God ARE for them, but never for them alone. Those whom God calls, and Jesus claims as his, are not his for their own sake.  They are called as vessels through which Jesus can continue to do what he said he came to do – “To seek and to save the lost.”  They are vessels through which the Kingdom of God can spread outward…and inward…but certainly outward.

Does that mean that every congregation has to drop what they’re doing and go out into the streets to reach gangsters and drug addicts today? No, I don’t think that would be a truthful expectation either.  But just as an attitude of selfishness grows, so also an attitude of selflessness grows.  Small steps matter.  Small changes matter.  Small decisions matter.  They matter because they grow.  They do not stay the same.  Small acts of kindness to those outside our walls fed by an attitude and realization that while Jesus might be our personal savior, that doesn’t make him our personal servant…those small acts of kindness change us, and they change the world. The world starts to look a little bit more like the Kingdom of God, and we start to enjoy participating in God’s present reign as his servants. The enjoyment grows.  As that joy grows, we become more warm and open.  That attitude grows.  As it grows, we become healthier and more mature and more responsible adults.  Healthy attracts healthy, and healthy grows.  It just does. Churches that decide not to stay the same are living in the truth.  And those churches that decide that they want to grow in selfless service will grow in courage and boldness and audacity.  And they will grow in their trust in Jesus.  They will not stay the same.  What started as a tiny mustard seed sown within them will grow up and become the greatest of all bushes, and the birds of the air…the lost, the disenfranchised, the addicted, the exploited, the humiliated, the suffering…will come and find shelter in its branches (Mat 4:32).

Every congregation is spiritually equipped to make their own decisions.  But no congregation is entitled to their own truth.  It is a lie to say that you are choosing to stay the same.  You are choosing to become more selfless and Kingdom-oriented, or you are choosing to become more and more selfish and self-serving.  You are choosing to grow up and grow healthy, or you are choosing to die.  THAT is the truth.



1 Comment »

  1. stacey martyniuk Said:

    Planting seeds.

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