Is the western church arrogant? We parade our household name ministries in our impressive buildings, holding attractive conferences with beautifully designed advertising, broadcast our events on high resolution livestreams and produce super cool worship music available on all streaming platforms – and we offer all this to a worldwide audience who have followed our ‘ground-breaking’ innovations. How marvellous we are!
If we peel back the glossy cover, we are likely to see a less impressive reality….
- Churches are gripped with consumerism despite the central theme of the gospel being about dying to self. We live for our comfort, pleasure and safety – we live for ourselves
- Churches that are growing have learnt to offer better consumer driven experiences than those churches who are losing people
- Mission has become a specialism carried out by just a few people
- Discipleship is a favoured topic that sells books and fills seminar rooms but alludes practise
Yeah yeah yeah – you may feel insulted and want to come back to me with a billion illustrations to disprove these generalisations and ok, whilst your church community may be doing above average at reaching, discipling and sending people out, I still think my concerns about the western church are generally true. There are of course many wonderful things in the western church and so many amazing people who are loving and serving the Lord faithfully and whilst we do celebrate these things I’m convinced we need more than a few tweaks in the western church – we need a revolution and this starts with us humbling ourselves.
And then we hear stories of a wind blowing amongst the church in other parts of the world – something especially amazing is taking place in the Middle East. Hidden by persecution, with leaders whose names we don’t know and whose faces we won’t recognise – something is happening. Researchers suggest that millions of Muslims are coming to Christ each year in nations that are officially closed to the gospel. These new believers hold their gatherings in secret locations and carry out their ministries with very few resources – but despite these limitations, something unprecedented is taking place. I suggest we need to humble ourselves and learn?
They are making disciples in a way that deeply provokes our ‘have a nice day’ western churches. Millions of lives are being radically transformed by Jesus and then mobilised to pass this experience on to others. Just think about that for a moment – millions coming to faith in environments that have little Christian ministry infrastructure. If one of our western churches grows by just a few hundred people we are likely to find ourselves scrambling around to find leaders suitable to help ‘manage’ the growth.
Despite years of church leadership experience, record numbers of theological and leadership degrees and an ever-increasing abundance of resources by ‘experts’, very few of us in the west would be prepared for a modest, never mind a significant harvest. Yet in other parts of the world, millions are encountering Christ, growing in Christ and going on mission with Christ – with little or none of the resources and infrastructure we have. And they are not just seeing growth – they are seeing multiplication.
At best, western churches ‘grow’ – but the early church didn’t just grow, it multiplied and became a movement as every believer passed on what they had discovered. If we were to ask our congregations the question: ‘who has personally led someone to Jesus in the last 10 years?’ I suspect there would be few hands raised. It’s like the western church has developed into being a form of ‘seedless grapes’. Seedless grapes taste wonderful but have been adapted to remove the crunch of the seed. The seedless version may be more convenient but it has no ability to reproduce – this feels like much of the western church.
We may look good, taste good and experience a measure of growth – but these shouldn’t be the key measurements of our success. We may have vast book libraries, afford cool LED walls and be pursuing bigger buildings to house our increasing activities – but if we are not multiplying disciples and sending them out to the lost then we’ve probably lost our multiplicatory seed and need to humble ourselves. I’ll be exploring this further in the weeks ahead – but for now I would like to encourage you to watch this 18 minute interview with a ministry leader who is working in the middle east. As the interviewee exhibits the radical call to Jesus through his life, I invite you to join with me in getting on our knees, repenting of our consumerism and humbling ourselves before the Lord.