Repentance and Church Vitality

My mind remains occupied with two thoughts – the work of revitalizing the ministry of the United Methodist Church, and the work of living more fully into God’s vision for the local church I serve. I expend a lot of brain power on what we could do, what we should do, what we might do, and what I can’t believe we think is the right thing to do! But I begin to wonder, where is the talk of repentance? Where have we been unfaithful and need to confess and repent?

I think of the situation like this. Let’s say I tend to leave my dirty clothes all over the bedroom floor (this is purely imaginary!). My wife is willing to put up with it, but it does hinder our relationship. Realizing that things could be better I decide to make a change. The next day I no longer just throw my clothes on the floor I fold them and lay them carefully on the floor. I make a change but nothing of real substance and nothing that constitutes real change. I haven’t repented of my inconsiderate actions and I haven’t fully recognized the reality of what my wife would like from me.

That’s where I see things right now – both in the United Methodist Church as a whole, and even in our local congregation. We recognize things are out of sorts and we’re making some changes, but there’s no real substance to our change and no recognition of what God would desire in us and from us.

In my own setting the fault is mainly mine. As the spiritual leader I have not been attentive enough to the spiritual work of the church. Oh, I do pay attention to the church and hope to see God glorified and pleased by what we do. But, the focus on how to engage people and the focus on how we manage the logistics of a growing community with limited space, and the desire to find a way to have more people serving the needs of others – all of that is being done while giving lip service to the real need. The real change that needs to happen is in our commitment to follow Jesus and to bring glory to God. There is a need for me to repent of my misguided focus of trying to figure things out and instead focus on leading others into a deeper, stronger connection to Jesus Christ. All the things I mentioned above are not bad, but when they become my priority then I have gone off in the wrong direction. Those answers come from God, but I have made those answers my way of showing God I’m serious about the church I serve.

We don’t have to prove ourselves to God, God wants to prove himself to us. If Moses had worked hard to find a way to get water for the people to drink he may have shown God how serious he was about caring for the people, but God had a different priority. God didn’t want the people to see how serious Moses was, God wanted them to see how powerful, providential, and loving He is. So, God directed Moses to strike a rock with his staff – and viola! WATER!

The same lesson is true for the United Methodist Church and the work we continue to do to renew and revitalize the church. We are neatly folding the dirty clothes but not making any real change. We’re trying to figure out how to get the water and not asking God to do what God can and will do.

The main sin of which we need to repent is this:
We have made the fruit of faithfulness the work of faithfulness.

There is much talk about the need to measure aspects of the church – attendance, giving, involvement in serving others, etc. The latest “Call to Action” report highlights 4 drivers of vital congregations – having multiple small groups, inspiring pastoral leadership, a mixture of worship styles, and lay leadership that is regularly rotating so that 20% of the congregation has, at some point, been involved in the leadership. The problem is that we are focused in the wrong place. All the aspects of the church we seek to measure, and the aspects of the church we label as drivers – all of these are the fruit that comes from life in the Holy Spirit. And we’re not doing much to address that. When we look at vital congregations we should look at how they were faithful to God’s vision for THEM. It is their faithfulness we want to emulate, not their results. God may have given them water from a rock, but for us God wants to turn water into wine.

The call to follow Jesus and lead others to him and to call upon the Holy Spirit to act in us and through us seems to be secondary to the work of making the church strong in numbers, and of that we need to repent. We don’t need to figure out ways to form more small groups until we decide that discipleship is the main task of our small groups. We don’t need to measure our attendance in worship, we need to measure the heart of those who worship. Someone made the comment that “worship attendance = staying in love with God” – great definition, but “in-love-ness” is not what we’re measuring – and of that we need to repent. We are working on strategies and programs and “dashboard” internet reporting, but we have not asked people to get on their face before God. We have called for holy conferencing and conversation, but we have yet to seriously call upon the Holy Spirit in prayer – and of that we need to repent.

On the local level and the global level, until we recognize and confess our misguided notion that we can make this happen, nothing new will happen. Until we repent of our unwillingness to do the greater work of seriously following Jesus as individuals and then together as a church, the work we do will amount to little.

I realize I am the worst of all sinners in my own spiritual neglect. I confess to all those who read this and seek to repent of my ways. My hope is that my brothers and sisters will hold me accountable to living rightly and not falling back into sin. My desire is for all of us to confess, repent, and rejoice in the new life that ONLY comes through the power of God’s Spirit given to those who follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Do you agree with me on our need to repent?
Do you think we’re doing good enough and I’m stirring a pot that doesn’t need to be agitated any more?
Are there other ways you see to bring renewed vitality to our church – locally and globally?

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

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2 responses to “Repentance and Church Vitality

  1. Thanks for your transparency and clear challenge. You are over the drop zone; the issue is all about discipleship and the subsequent transformation the Spirit brings.

  2. You are so right— if we ever get our faithfulness and repentence in the right perspective, we should be better disciples. It is so much easier to just fold the diry socks neatly. Your blogs, our Called to Sent, our Small Group Study on Sunday Morning are really pointing in the right direction , if only we will take that path.

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