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Thoughts? Please advise...




I look to some churches in admiration and awe. I've been listening to some of Ron Vietti's sermons (Valley Bible Fellowship, Bakersfield, CA, home of Brian 'Head' Welch) and Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church, Houston, TX). Willow Creek in Barrington, IL is another example of a hugely thriving church. Say what you will about these churches, say they are too big, have too much money are lack focus, but you cannot call them unenergetic. Personally, I think its safe to say that they are full of many people who are on fire in their faith, unlike the lukewarm individuals who put the brakes on efforts to grow a church.

I see images and video of passionate preaching given to equally passionate parishioners. I see faith--at least it appears so. I realize that I am making a judgment call based on a few videos, but its all I have to go by. Am I being envious and simply longing to be a part of a huge congregation? No! What I want is to be a part of an incredibly enthusiastic congregation.

Now, I must clarify, I am not saying these megachurches are better than smaller churches. I use them as examples because many people know of them. There are small churches too where people are on fire.

Admittedly, I also see a problem; The passion at these churches often seems to surround an individual, namely a dynamic speaker and pastor. I wonder if these churches would continue to thrive if they should lose their fearless leader(s). I hope they would thrive regardless, but I wonder. Maybe this is a statement of veiled jealousy, veiled even from myself. After all, my church really did lose its senior pastor, and while nobody would say my church is small (over 600 members), it has been suffering declining attendance ever since.

I recently finished reading Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It got me excited to take my passion and do something with it. Our church needs some energy, so I figured I would start with myself. I sent out some emails and talked to some people about my idea, which I thought was great. It went something like this:

Picture a Saturday evening service, say at 6:00 or 7:00 pm. Its not entirely service like, in that perhaps a church layman can deliver a message here and there, maybe an elder, maybe its simply a discussion with everyone participating. Maybe it varies from week to week. The point is that it is organizationally loose. Its not an additional church service and its not small group either--think small group++.

Maybe we get together and play 3 or 4 songs to begin--no formal worship team scheduling, but a little planning ahead.

Its open to everyone--not just church members and regular attenders. We open it to members of other churches.

Its seeker and spiritual growth oriented. Lack of attendance one week does not mean you're out of the loop the next week. Each "service" stands on its own (we're not reading through a book together as a growth group would).

What do you think?
The reactions I got were invariably, "I would probably go, but it would never work." Those I ask tell me it won't work not to be cruel, but because of past experience, and the inevitable cynicism brought about by a history of failed attempts.

Long before I was there, our church had a Saturday evening service. Young people liked it and old people, as far as I have heard, didn't go. Still, a few people became Christians and members of our church specifically because of that service. After a while the pastor leading it left to move on to other things. With his departure the Saturday evening service died a sudden death.

That's it--end of story! Apparently because of this any future attempts have no support whatsoever. Despite the fact that what I am proposing would not be a typical service, the enthusiasm behind the idea is lukewarm at best, and bitter cold at worst.


Why must a church without a senior pastor be put on hold? Why must a church freeze activities in the warm summer months? Why must cynicism trump enthusiasm when it comes to spiritual growth?

It seems to me that there is a gap in attitudes among church goers. There are those who enjoy going on Sunday and perhaps participating in a few things here and there, but who are uncomfortable with the idea of too much growth. Then there are those other people, the active ten percent, who support the church, lead and get involved. This is a fact of church life, and something we should strive to change, but nothing to lose faith over.

What really frustrates me is when even the ten percent, the "high energy crowd," suddenly seem to lack enthusiasm. It makes no sense, and makes one wonder what kind of warfare is going on.

Some of my frustration is in the reason behind it. People are waiting to be led. Its not enough to say that the church is God's and then too talk about the priesthood of all believers. At the very heart of it, we don't seem to believe that it really is God's church. So we stagnate, and without a senior pastor spiritual growth at our church has been paused.

This is not healthy nor is it what church should be about. In fact, I am going to go a step beyond: Not only is it unhealthy, its offensive to God. God doesn't want us to have to go through a mediator to find him. There should be no mediator to set our hearts on fire and to keep the spirit from becoming lukewarm.

I've been wondering, do I look for a new church, one where people are on fire and coming to God, or do I stay where I am at, supporting a church that needs more people with a passion for worship? Do I leave my friends and the worship team, call it quits, and go to a church that is already ablaze?

As I said before, I don't need church to worship God, but I do need church, and I certainly have many good friends at my church.

I know my church elders are looking hard for a new senior pastor, and taking the search seriously and in a spirit of committed prayer, yet when I hear about one more service or even being cancelled, I can't help but become frustrated with the lukewarm environment.

What can I do to change it? Unfortunately, without a seminary education, it seems that I can do very little, if anything. This is the attitude in the American church, or so it seems, that there are those who know God technically, on an educational level, and there are those who should experience God through those who are in the know. I don't like this attitude.

What I have learned is that when we look to be led, hand-held by a pastor, in worship, we are looking in the wrong direction. So maybe this is a trial for my church, to find out what we are made of, and grow from there.

Our former pastor was great at what he did. He could speak and engage, plus he knew his stuff--he was one heck of a smart guy and I miss his teaching. I admit--his sermons are what kept me coming back to the church and eventually led my wife and I to become members. That being said, there were times when I witnessed people from our church bragging about their relationship with him--as if he was some sort of politician or rock star. They wanted it to be known that they were "friends of Mike." They would drop in a conversation, "well, I'm going out to eat with Mike, so I've gotta run."

I've been down this road before--pastor worship. Its not good. Its really, really bad. Don't do it. Beware.

I'll admit, I have been checking out the websites of other churches, and I've been at least a little jealous at how packed their activity calendars are. One of these churches that caught my eye is new and close to my home. I thought I would check them out, but then I saw their motto: "A Place to Connect." How suburban (yes, I am too am a cynic--cynical of suburbia).

I like my church and I'm staying. I'm also going to put up a fight. I think those who stay the course and don't leave are the ones who know that its not about him or them or the people sitting around them, its about Him.

Staff Member
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