(A typical experience for many believers)
You begin to attend the Sunday morning worship service. Then the pastor says you should be in Sunday School, so you start going to Sunday School. Then someone says, “Why don't you come Sunday evenings?” So you start to attend on Sunday evenings. Then you are urged to participate in the mid-week service or a Bible study and you become more involved.
Next they say, “You know, we have an early morning prayer meeting”, or “We have a wonderful men's fellowship.” A call comes to tell you of the need for a Sunday School teacher and, since you're so good with young people, you help out. Someone notices that you have a good voice and they suggest that you must use your talent for Jesus. “Why don't you join the choir? By the way, we practice on Thursday nights.”
Soon you are so visible and respected that you are nominated for the church Board. Of course, everyone should do his or her part, or the church won't function right. Committee assignments follow. Soon you are so involved with the church that you are neglecting your own life in Christ and even your own family. Frequently spiritual burnout occurs and you eventually become only an "attendee."
Many people have been through this cycle, some several times. It is so easy to have our lives revolve around activities "for Christ" instead of around Christ Himself. This doesn't bring the abundant life that John speaks about in chapter 10, verse 10, but we remain among the ranks of the over-committed. However the truth is that these commitments are about all we have. We were not made for commitment but rather for intimacy and closeness. The only value of commitment is to keep us together until we begin to experience intimacy. We usually think something is wrong with our commitment so we condemn ourselves. Many of us go to renewal seminars or wait for the next traveling speaker who can arouse our spent emotions.
This ongoing cycle produces "Christian fruit" like church growth, mission programs, prayer meetings and Bible studies but "Christ-like character" is what God desires. Our churches have too much gossip, dissension and division. Our impact on culture is minimal and, in fact, our culture is shaping us. Paul speaks to this in Romans 12:2 when he says, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity" (Phillips version).
It may seem that I have given up on the church but nothing could be further from the truth. I am completely committed to the local church but the Scriptures admonish me to, "test all things and hold on to what is good" (1st Thess. 5:21). After careful evaluation my conclusion is that something must change if we are to realize our true destiny. One definition of insanity is, "continuing the same activities while expecting different results." We must cooperate with God as he re-trains our minds to think His thoughts rather than continue happily along the path that led us to our present condition.
I do not propose a new method but rather an increased emphasis on helping people understand how to "Walk In The Spirit." We need an emphasis on personal spiritual growth instead of church growth. We have thought we were doing this but the fruit of our collective labors does not confirm that. May God cover us with His mercy and grant us a new and abundant grace as we move into the new century.
"...receiving the message with great eagerness and then checking the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true." - Acts 17:11