S4ep13 – Complacency in the Church and How We Can Begin to Reverse It

Recently I saw a social media friend of mine (who also happens to be a pastor) post the following question:

“What are you going to do about your complacent approach to Jesus and His church?”

And it got me thinking about the many times I have accused the church body of being too complacent, or apathetic, or disconnected from the Church. Reality is, back then, what I really meant was that they didn’t come to church enough. And they didn’t volunteer in church programs enough. Or that they so quickly left one church to go to another church.

I don’t know if my pastor friend had those thoughts when he posted the question, and my point isn’t to suggest that was what he was meaning. Instead, just informing you of what I know I used to think about when I posed the same question, and what I know MANY other pastors thought about and even vocalized as well.

To be fair, I don’t know that the fault of complacency lies 100% on the shoulders of those who do not serve in church ministry as we currently understand it. If we are honest with ourselves, we have developed a church culture and a model where the paid professionals provide services to the consumers, where people aren’t doing ministry if they don’t have a title or a seminary degree, where our gatherings don’t actually equip the people to do the work of the ministry, and then we get frustrated that all they do is consume and never produce.

I would argue, albeit unpopularly, that the fault is certainly with each member in the church body, but that a lot of it lies heavily on the shoulders of the leaders of the western church who haven’t done a whole lot in the way of producing disciples that produce disciples. And I say that as having been and continuing to be a church leader myself.

We have propagated through our conferences, books, and seminaries this whole idea of “If you build it they will come”. We treat the church more like a business trying to attract customers than a body of people trying to build eternally life changing relationships. We lead churches to spend vast majorities of their budgets on buildings, programs, and salaries to the neglect of those within the body (and outside the church body – our neighbors) who are truly in need.

Let me say it again, yes, the average church attendee is at fault. But church leaders, we need to be honest enough to admit that they are only living out what we have led them to and that as long as we (the church leaders) treat them (the Church body) as customers and not equal parts of the Church wholly and uniquely gifted to do the ministry of the church…then we will always be left wondering why people in the Church are so complacent.

Now, I could leave this at simply being a complaint against how we do things, but I believe we need solutions and not simply critiques to help the church body grow toward what she was designed to be.

So, with that in mind, here are 3 things we should stop doing and 3 things we can start doing now to begin to reverse this:

  1. STOP calling the church body the “laity” and the pastors and paid staff the “clergy” and START recognizing that hierarchy in the Kingdom of God is flat – This is first on the list, because I think it’s one of the most damaging things we do to the church that can impact complacency in others. We have drawn a line between the paid professional “clergy” and the church body “the laity” as though one group is inferior to the other. This came about in the Catholic church many centuries ago, and is something that evangelicals have carried over into evangelical circles. We need to understand that the church does not exist in some kind of caste system where those with degrees and titles are better than those without. That’s not the picture we get from the scripture. In Ephesians 4 we get a VERY different picture altogether. There Paul tells us that certain roles exist to help equip the church body to do the work of the ministry of the church and to help the church pursue right doctrine and unity. Those roles are apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. These roles are not intended to be some sort of ruling body of the Church, but rather a group of people who work together to help equip the Church body to function in a healthy way. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul expands a little on this and clearly states that these roles are but a part of the vast church body that exists.
  2. STOP putting so much emphasis on church attendance and START putting greater emphasis on discipleship – Please hear me when I say this, because apparently every time I say something like this people jump to the conclusion that I’m somehow against the church gathering. I AM NOT! What I am saying is that the great commission said “Go and make disciples” not “Go and make church attenders”. Yet, we have somehow equated church attendance with discipleship. Our church attendance is indeed important. It is in those moments that we can come and feel connected with the larger church body, be refreshed through corporate worship, and hopefully feel encouraged to go into the next week and continue the work of the ministry in our neighborhoods, jobs, schools, etc. like we were doing the week before. But, this isn’t discipleship. Discipleship is a much smaller, more intimate setting between two people (maybe a few more) where a person (or a small group of people) are walking out the faith with someone who is more mature in the faith. Take a look at what Jesus did with his disciples. It was a daily walk. It wasn’t preaching. It wasn’t music. It was the Savior, walking alongside his disciples, taking advantage of the events and interactions of the day to teach them The Way and to guide them into becoming the people God had called them to be. This won’t happen on a Sunday morning, and we need to stop thinking it will. It will, however, happen in those smaller more intimate settings. It also won’t happen with just the pastor. It will, however, happen because each person in your local church body understands that they are disciples who are also making disciples.
  3. STOP trying to fill volunteer positions and START spending more time helping equip people for their unique calling – I know this may sound crazy, but the programs of the church aren’t the most important thing going on for your church. The people are. And the people in your local church body are all passionate and gifted for many things. Most of which probably have nothing to do with the programs your church is doing. This doesn’t mean those things aren’t important, or that volunteers to fill those spots are bad. It just means that our programs aren’t the sum of who we are as the Church. The volunteer roles we come up with to pad the ministries of the select few aren’t truly utilizing the many people in your local church who are hungry to understand how God has gifted them and to know how to use those gifts. You will be amazed at how much more fulfilled the people in your church body will feel when they find out what their gifts are, how to use them, and feel encouraged to go out and use them the way God intended them to. Which may not fill any volunteer spots in your church programs at all. But we have to be OK with that. For example, my wife has never felt like the volunteer roles at church were what she was designed for. Of course, the people in the church assumed she must be a good nursery person because hey…she’s a mom. The first time she truly felt fulfilled in doing ministry was at the beginning of the whole COVID thing when there was an initial mask shortage. She saw her opportunity and began to make masks for all sorts of people. She was serving, but in the way God designed her to serve. And through that she felt the most plugged in, connected, and utilized as a member of the Church body than she ever has in her entire life.

I realize that there is a lot more we can do to begin to reverse church complacency, but it’s going to be hard enough to try and tackle three things much less all the things at once.

My hope is that these three things will help get you and your local church body moving in the right direction. From there, I hope you’ll continue to dive deeper in to the various things that plague the Western Church and find creative ways to address them. Each local church body is unique and has it’s own struggles, but I know for a fact that these three things a pretty common across the board.

Perhaps one day, if we are vigilant, we will see that complacency turned into a fire that can never be put out.

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