the missing ingredient

after more than a decade of ministry work and church attendance, i have noticed something very peculiar…there is something missing…something very important…central…essential…and it’s totally missing. a.w. tozer spoke of this same principle when he wrote his book the divine conquest…he said that there is no greater reality than the utter unreality with which the Christian church approaches worship. what mr. tozer was saying was that the most real thing in the life of the church is that when we worship, we don’t act as though we actually believe in the Object of our worship…resulting in just another ritual which we are going through to check off the “religion” box for our week. i have been in very traditional settings as well as charismatic ones and the same truth is very observable in both…it’s just expressed differently. in the traditional setting, there is an insistence on dignified behavior and speech, and in the charismatic there is a desire to have an “experience.” but in both circumstances, i notice that people leave and then eventually begin down the same paths of habit and life as they had before…because transformation wasn’t/isn’t occurring…just temporary highs or reminders…but life-altering, mind-invading, heartfelt change was not/is not happening.

so then i ask why…(my wife says that’s my favorite thing to do…)…why is there not change? oh, sure there are examples of people making changes. there are what i would call anomalies…but on the large scale…church congregations are simply static…no matter what their particular bent is. why? what is missing?

i can’t be dogmatic about this, but i just think the truth is that the majority of us are not encountering the power of God in our services or in our personal lives.  and i think that the reasons for this are varied and somewhat complex…but also there may be one profoundly simple reason…it may be because we approach with the wrong intentions and/or desires. in the more traditional setting, the goal could be viewed as just trying to assimilate as many people as possible in order to make them like ourselves…and in the contemporary/charismatic setting, the goal could be viewed more along the lines of how entertaining we are…but both are so very concerned with numbers and…well…numbers…i can’t tell you how often i have conversations with other pastors and we ask each other how things are going…the response virtually always comes back to how many people we have attending our services. just fyi: high numbers=things are GOOD, low numbers=bad…

all of this tells me that we are in this for the wrong reasons and therefore we are not experiencing the power of God in our settings…or our lives. so there’s no power, and therefore no lasting change…no lasting change eventuates into no experience of the truth of our message…no experience of the truth results in no effective impact on those around us and therefore a total dysfunction of one of the Christian’s main purposes….making disciples…

some may argue that their church experience is not like this…that they have true worship services…and i pray that they are correct…i guess i’m just a little jaded towards a lot of what i see in contemporary circles. the excitement and emotion that takes place is not much different than the reaction of fans at a football game or a concert… (check out this article for more on this subject: http://llamapacker.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/when-worship-is-wrong/). meanwhile, in more traditional circles the excitement seems to be about the static nature of things…and both are so concerned with getting more people into their circles…which we should be concerned with doing…but to what end? to keep it going in the same direction? to keep it solvent? to make it more financially viable? to puff up our egos as pastors/leaders? hopefully none of these are our reasons. hopefully, our true reasons for a desire for assimilation of more people is that we want to see more people experience the power of Jesus Christ in their lives…changing them…unchaining them…justifying them…letting them understand or at the very least experience His forgiveness, and moreover…His resurrection.

but if we’re not able to do that last part…that is, if we’re not able to exemplify this before people and in turn have them want to experience it themselves, perhaps it’s because we have wandered away from the Almighty, and forgotten His Glory…perhaps we have failed to remember that we were at one time lost and are now found…and if we forget that…then the rest of the story loses its power because when we don’t remember who we were and we have wandered from His presence, we have no real desire in our hearts to worship…and we have nothing to sing about…so we go through the motions…we care about entertaining…we care about the “performance” and we definitely care about attendance…because that is tantamount to how many customers we had over the weekend…

but…if we repent…if we pause…and we realize with Whom we have to do…if we regain our awe of Him…if we see ourselves through the lens of His radiance…and we see how He has made us clean…He has made us alive…He has redeemed, resurrected, and reconciled us…then we will sing…we will stop worrying so much about attendance (or our attendance concerns will be out of a true concern for people hearing the Truth)…

He is the missing ingredient…His presence…His reality…His power…and none of that is something we can conjure, command, or really even conceive.

if we change…He will change people…and they will follow Him much more efficiently than they follow us (that makes me cringe)…they will stop looking at their watches…and they will stop finding excuses to stay home…because when He is lifted up…He will draw all people to Himself.

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9 comments on “the missing ingredient

  1. I think it’s because we’re too far away from doing God’s work. We aren’t out with the poor, hungry and needy like Christ was. We aren’t sharpening our beliefs by talking with unbelievers. That’s what I think. We aren’t living like Christ.

  2. Candice Dillingham says:

    Great post but how do you as a pastor propose to “flip the switch”? Make ppl see the “missing link”, that it’s not just about going to church on Sundays b/c that’s what your supposed to do or simply going through the motions & not truly getting the message? Just curious b/c I for one am a habitual offender of the above message!!!!

    • steve c. says:

      great, great question…one that i wish i had a great answer for. truth be known…i don’t really know what the silver bullet solution would be, but here’s my best shot. i think that the first thing i AS a pastor need to do is realize this issue. i need to be very self-reflective to determine why i do the things i do…what my truest motives are. and as i repent, then i lead, and others follow their pastor and begin to be contagious in the world around them in the same way. maybe they will see me living with a true reverence, fear, love, and passion for Him. in short, i would say, leading by example within the framework and language of humility.

  3. leohaskin01 says:

    Great Post! I believe that we,like sacredstruggler said, are so far away from being like Christ. We have to get the “Not On My Watch” mentality. What I mean by that is the Devil isn’t going to do anything in our neighborhoods, schools, jobs, or anywhere else unless he has our permission. If we don’t give it to him then he doesn’t have a right to be there. Will the real Son’s of God please stand up!

    I was talking with my wife after a recent death in our neighborhood and the question she asked was “Are we doing enough?” The answer was no we aren’t. We are so distracted by situations and circumstances, what people are saying and what they aren’t saying to us, how they treated us instead of doing the thing that God asked us to do, Love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves. True worship is simply doing the things that God asks of you but you must do it the way 1 Corinthians says do it, With Love.

    I leave you with this scripture:

    Zechariah 4:6
    Amplified Bible (AMP)
    6 Then he said to me, This [addition of the bowl to the candlestick, causing it to yield a ceaseless supply of oil from the olive trees] is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit [of Whom the oil is a symbol], says the Lord of hosts.

    The only way to get things back in line is by the Spirit of God – the missing ingredient.

    Great post and I will be sure to follow you.

  4. arthawkins@charter.net says:

    If the only reason that I went to church was to “check off the ‘religion’ box for our week” then it would take about two weeks for me to decide to sleep in. Instead, for the past fifty something years, I have gone just about every Sunday, because I expect to leave with a better relationship with and understanding of my great and wonderful savior, the creator of this great universe!

  5. janet sawyer says:

    For me, as someone who was really never exposed to attending Church on a regular basis, I’ll be honest—there are Sunday mornings when I could easily justify WHY i need to stay home—but, I get up and go and then when I leave church I feel so renewed and ready to tackle the week—I have to do this to stay on track–I go over the things that I learned in Sunday School and church at work and it helps me stay focused on the reason I’m there, other than a paycheck. I have gained some of the weirdest, most liberal friends there, BUT they know I love them and I am treated with respect because I show them love. They know where I stand on issues but they still respect me.
    This is a very hard place to work, but with the growth and love I’ve experienced with my church family, it is so much easier to deal with and as I said before–I need a renewal every week.

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