Let me be honest right out of the gate–this is a hard article to write. I am sure it will be received well by some and not-so-well by others. Nonetheless, the biggest problem in your church, my church, and EVERY CHURCH needs to be addressed. This is not an isolated problem, but a growing problem in many churches. What is this problem? It is the problem of commitment! I do not like to talk about problems. Who does? I would rather view problems as possibilities. After all, that is the positive approach, right? But, I am afraid we need to be positively honest about this problem! There is just no other way to put it.
I have heard it said, and I have even said it myself, "Our problem in the church is a lack of commitment." Honestly, it's more than a lack of commitment, it's "no" commitment from many of our "members." One of the most amazing things I have noticed as a pastor is that often the "attenders" to my church are more faithful than some "members" of my church!
In his book, I Am A Church Member, Thom Rainer speaks of church membership as "functioning membership." Rainer writes, "We who are church members are all supposed to function in the church. The concept of an inactive church member is an oxymoron. Biblically, no such church member really exists" (p. 16). At the end of the day we are either committed church members or we are not committed church members.
One thing I have learned, personally, is that I am committed to those things which are important to me...
I am committed to my walk with Christ. I cannot depend on anyone else for my spiritual growth. Yes, we are called to disciple one another in a maturing walk with Christ, but at the end of the day I am ultimately responsible for my relationship with Jesus. As a pastor I have had to come to terms with the fact that I cannot "make" someone have a passion for Jesus. That work rests in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am also committed to my family. My wife and kids are the most important people to me on this earth. Next to God, they deserve the best of my time and energy. One day someone else will pastor the church where I lead. Another man will sit in my office and stand in my pulpit. But no one else can be the daddy to my kids like me, their dad!
I am committed to my church. Not only am I the pastor, but I am a church member. Yes, God has uniquely called me to lead this particular group of people, but I am called to serve and function in the local body, just as every other member. Part of my functioning means that I am to support the ministry of the church through consistent tithing, actively serving, and faithful praying.
As I look across the landscape of "the church," I cannot help but see a tremendous lack of commitment. It is no secret, in our own Southern Baptist Convention, baptisms are declining, less people are serving, and fewer are supporting their local church through tithes and offerings. The more I think through this problem, the more I realize that it actually goes deeper than commitment. It is a matter of love. I am afraid many believers have followed the steps of the Ephesian church and have "left their first love" (Rev. 2:4). You see when we love Jesus, as we should love Jesus, we will be committed to Him and His church! No excuses!
So, how do you know that your commitment to Christ and His church is waining? How do you know if you are on a path of "leaving your first love?" Here are some signs that your commitment to the local church might be waining...
I am sure there are other signs, but these are a few of the first thoughts that popped into my mind. So, what can we do to avoid these landmines?
Last week my wife and I were invited to speak on a panel of adoptive parents for the agency we used to adopt our two sons--Bethany Christian Services. The panel discussion was part of Bethany's new family orientation. These couples are just beginning their adoption journeys. Our assignment for the panel discussion was to address the issue of waiting. I guess they thought we were pros at this, considering we have gone through the adoption process not once, but twice.
When it comes to waiting we definitely know a thing or two. Our first son, Caleb, was adopted in 2012. From the time our adoption paperwork and home studies were approved, to the time of placement, we waited eleven months. Looking back that really was not a long wait. However, in the moment it seemed like an eternity. What was a long wait was the two years we waited for our second son, Camden. Honestly, this wait was almost unbearable.
The wait for Camden was difficult for our whole family, including Caleb. We were open and honest with him about his siblings adoption. He had to sit in on meetings and interviews as we went through the home study process. For the first year of waiting, almost every night, Caleb would ask, "When is Jesus going to bring us our baby?" I wanted so desperately to be able to give him a definite answer, but I could not. I always responded with the same answer, "When He's ready, son. When He's ready." While this might not seem like much of an answer, I believe it is actually the correct answer. God always responds to our prayers when He is ready! Not a minute before or after.
Are you in a period of waiting on God? Maybe you are waiting on a job, a healing, a relationship, an answer to prayer...you fill in the blank. Here are a few truths to remember while you wait...
1. Remember God is sovereign!
You see at the foundation of waiting on God one must have a strong view of the sovereignty of God. To believe God is sovereign is to believe the He maintains absolute control and authority over humanity and all of the affairs of creation and life. When we have a strong view of God's sovereignty we can find comfort therein. R.C. Sproul said, "No truth is more comforting that God's sovereignty over suffering." I think we could include His sovereignty over waiting.
2. Remember God is working!
It's been said, "While we are waiting, God is working!" I believe this is an absolutely true statement. God never sits twirling His thumbs. The Psalmist was clear when he said our God "neither slumbers nor sleeps" (Psalm 121:4).
3. Remember God is faithful!
In Psalm 143 we find a powerful prayer from David. It is a prayer of deliverance as David is fleeing the pursuit of his son, Absalom. In his prayer, David begins with this declaration v. 1 - "Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness." In this verse David calls on two powerful attributes of God–His faithfulness and His righteousness. David was in essence saying, "God answer me because that's who you are and that's what you do--you answer prayer!" God cannot help but to answer your prayers. He is bound by the attributes of His character to answer. Now, we must remember that He will answer in His way and according to His schedule. His answer could be "yes," "no," or "not now!" But He will answer.
There could be one hinderance to your prayer though–unconfessed sin. Psalm 66:18 says, "If I regard sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Stay clean before the Lord, confess the sins of your heart to Him, and trust that He is faithful!