How to Keep Your Fire When Your Church is Frozen
I talk to people all the time who are seriously fed up with the state of their local church. They preach, teach, admonish, rebuke and inspire the members (or try) with zero results. It seems, no matter how hard they work, the church simply will not change, evolve or revive. And if they manage to take a few steps forward, its only a matter of time before the church slides back into its old habits. Transforming our church culture feels like dragging a giant boulder up a soggy, muddy cliff.
Cynicism sets in. They keep attending church but have lost faith in the people. From time to time they run into someone who feels like them but for the most part they feel alone.
Over time, these people lose the capacity to say anything positive about the church. Everything is bad. Everything sucks. There is nothing redemptive. Their fire isn’t necessarily going out but its burning for the wrong reasons. What was once a flame ignited for mission and love, is now a raging inferno that burns with anger and disenchantment. If they have anything positive to say, its minimal compared to the long list of church-fails they have compiled.
I know these people because I meet them all the time. I also know them because from time to time, I am one of them.
I’m human. And despite my faith in God I must admit, sometimes I lose hope in the vision of a vibrant, meaningful and world-transforming local church within Adventism. I hear stories of toxic church after toxic church, pastors uninterested in making a difference, church members vehemently opposed to anything remotely different and fear-mongering ministries derailing missional churches into pointless debates over nonsense that I wonder - are we simply too far gone to turn around? Its not simply our structure that needs to change after all - its our culture! Structure is easy. Culture is a whole other monster. Changing our culture from fundamentalist argumentation to relational servanthood could take another two generations at the least! What are we to do in the meantime?
Some people I talk to just give up. The SDA institution is simply incapable of generating missional churches designed for interacting with and reaching post-modern societies, they say. So they walk away from the church altogether. Others stick around, but they are not happy - sowing seeds of discontent wherever they go. And fewer still keep pushing against the grain, pacing themselves so they don’t get exhausted, but patiently waiting on Gods timing to do what they know can only be done by his Spirit.
Its a tough scenario, I know. But in the midst of this I have found that they key to keeping your fire when your local church is frozen is to recognise that the current state of the church is no surprise in the narrative of redemption. In fact, God revealed that our day would be marked by churches that think they are all that - but are “miserable, poor, blind and naked.”
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:14-18)
So what do these verses say that can help us keep our fire despite the Laodecian state of the church? Here are five key points that I have found.
They show us that the current state of many local churches as a program-centred, relationally lacking, culturally disconnected, tradition obsessed, mission-less clubs was foreseen by God over two millennia ago. In other words, our current experience is meant to be this way. It’s been prophesied. So before you get all bent out of shape and walk out, keep in mind - this is the way its currently prophesied to be. God is not in heaven surprised by our coldness so we shouldn’t act surprised either.
They show us that our current disgust with the state of the church is shared by God. He goes so far as to say that the Laodecian vibe makes him want to puke. So if church ever makes you want to puke (or like, leave, run, hide, hit the snooze button) then you are not alone. In fact, its the people who are comfortable with the church’s condition that should be worried. But if you are uncomfortable with it you’re probably feeling a tiny bit of how God feels. So you’re in good company.
They show us that we are not the solution, but part of the problem. God’s solution to the Laodecian church is not, “I counsel you to listen to pastor Marcos, subscribe to his podcast and download his eBook.” And his counsel is not, “pay attention to all those people sick of the way you do things and let them redesign your church.” And for good reason! You and I are not the solution. This means despite all our good intentions, we remain part of the problem. So before you run off thinking you are better off without this messed up church, stop and remember - you’re pretty messed up too. Let that humble you and balance you in your journey.
This is a big one for me because my main focus is speaking truth to Adventist tradition with the goal of a redesigned Adventist local church. But I have to remember that the solution remains Jesus - not church strategies, methodologies or structures. Realising I am part of the problem also helps me to avoid cynicism and enables me to look at our broken church with enthusiasm, noticing the good things that are happening and not just the bad. Among those good things is a generation of passionate young people rising up as well as a generation of older leaders empowering and inspiring those young ones. I want to recognise and celebrate this as often as I can.
They show us that Jesus is the only answer. He is the only one who can give us that gold, white garment, and eye salve that we need to be reborn in his image. And the result is spiritual wealth, health and vision. Now imagine a church filled with spiritually wealthy, healthy and visioning Christians! That would be awesome. But the answer is not the next trendy church growth book. It’s Jesus.
They show us that Laodecia is not the end. After the church of Laodecia, the very next thing we find in terms of a church is the remnant of Revelation 12. That remnant are a group of people passionate about Jesus and living for him alone. In a world locked in an apocalyptic struggle over empire, there emerges a community of simple people who are all about Jesus and they stand alone against the darkness. Laodecia is not the end. Its just a chapter in the story. We are in that chapter today. But don’t be discouraged by it. Instead, look to Jesus and remember, he has a final remnant of people who are so in love with him they don’t have time for anything other than lifting him up for the world to see. And this is what our focus should be “in the meantime”.
If you are frustrated with church I want you to know, I get it. I sometimes get super jaded as well. But the solution is Jesus and I take comfort in knowing that he has a remnant in the end. So long as I lift him up in Laodecia, he will use those efforts to gather his true lovers into a final community that will walk through the injustice of beasts and liars reflecting the beauty of God’s heart of love in the midst of a generation that has lost the capacity to love. So focus on Jesus. Lift up Jesus. Be comforted in Jesus. And keep the vision of an “Adventism. Redesigned.” alive in him.