WHAT IS HAPPENING IN OUR WESTERN CHURCHES TODAY?

Why are so many churches having a hard time producing real disciples, and why do today's Christians often look just like the rest of the busy world?  Why have many "famous" Christian leaders fallen from grace?  Why do many followers remain stuck at a certain stage in their growth, even knowing that something is missing or wrong?   

Many great thinkers are weighing in on these topic.  Read on to hear a few of their thoughts.

WHY AREN'T WE GROWING AND MATURING IN CHRIST?

     “After a few years down the road, however, most Christians find themselves in a place where their growth is slowing down and discontent is setting in. They may have outgrown the resources of their church, wondered if there is more to the Christian life than they have seen, or even burned out from too much volunteer work.
 
      What may come as a surprise to some is that the greatest cause for this disillusionment comes from what we have been taught about living the Christian life! For the last few hundred years, the Western Christian world has been stressing an approach to spiritual development that is heavily based on setting a high standard of behavior and then attempting to motivate people to try hard to live up to that standard. But this approach has a short life span, because it is not how true spiritual development occurs. While people are certainly capable of some levels of restraining over their inner impulses and are able to commit to doing good things they may not feel like doing, this kind of effort is a far cry from the abundant life we read about in the New Testament. 
 
…If we are honest with ourselves, Jesus asks us to do a lot of things we actually cannot do. He tells us to love our enemies, do good to those who take advantage of us, forgive seventy times seven, and not harbor any resentment or contempt toward others.  How do we follow His commands when we are unable to make our heart go along with what we are supposed to do? 
 
When we stop and ask what it is Christians need to do in order to grow, what do we hear? ‘Read your Bible, pray, and get involved in ministry.’ 
 
…What all these approaches have in common is the belief that it really is up to us to do what Christians are supposed to do, and that God’s part is to provide the necessary energy to keep us going. 
 
We need to come to grips with the fact that this approach to the Christian life has very little to do with life led by the Spirit. It is essentially life under the Law dressed up in New Testament terminology. No matter how much we try to give the Holy Spirit credit for whatever good happens under this paradigm, this whole way of proceeding is firmly rooted in our own effort, based on our own willpower and our own understanding of what we need to do in order to become better Christians. 

…Purity, wholeness, healing, and restoration of the ruined soul result directly from engaging with God-not in traditional one-way prayer, but from dynamic tangible interaction in which we are involved both actively and consciously. Instead of trying to make ourselves do more of what we think Christians ought to do, hoping it will make us into the people we were meant to be, we need God to make us into who we were meant to be so that we can do what He wants us to do." 
-Forming; David Takle

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Now, spiritual formation talk has emerged within evangelical circles because of a pervasive felt need--felt on the part of many people within the laity as well as within the clergy--for "something more" than the group and individual activities that have been recognized and encouraged in conservative religious circles in recent decades. Especially, as Fundamentalism fell away and our contemporary (post-WW II) version of Evangelicalism emerged, we had a period of great success, and still enjoy that in many, many quarters; but because of the particular dynamics of that period, we came to think that, in the language of some Protestants, "the Word of God is the only sacrament."

 

And what that meant practically was that the sole means of spiritual growth was being taught and "preached at"--that we're saved and transformed by hearing the truths of the scriptures; we're redeemed by the truths which the conservative and evangelical segments of the church rightly stood for. We're saved by believing them, we're sanctified by believing them, and all issues of spiritual growth are dealt with simply by taking the word in through reading it, through hearing it, through exhortation and ministry from the scriptures. Or so we thought.

 

But I think that what we found, beginning some years ago, was that this "method" really does not do everything that is needed or that we thought it would do. And during the period since WW II, especially, we came to accept the marginalization of discipleship to Jesus. We came to see it as something of an option that we might choose to exercise should we wish. But if we would just like to believe the truth and receive the ministry of the word, and get on with our life without discipleship, that's okay too. And as a result we have now come to the place where we can be a Christian forever without becoming a disciple.

-Dallas Willard

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“Christian spirituality, without an integration of emotional health, can be deadly—to yourself, your relationship with God, and the people around you.”

 

― Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ

“When it comes to the church and numbers, the problem isn’t that we count, it’s that we have so fully embraced the world’s dictum that bigger is better that numbers have become the only thing we count. When something isn’t bigger and better, we consider it — and often ourselves — a failure. What we miss in all this counting is the value Scripture places on internal markers. What constitutes failure in the eyes of the world isn’t always a failure in the kingdom of God. ”

 

― Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply

 

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“Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place." 

 

— Parker Palmer