This post is part 11 in a series where I post excerpts from the book Old Paths New Power written by Daniel Henderson. I resist making a commentary on the book. Rather, I pull out excerpts that caught my attention at this stage of my pastoral journey.
Chapter 11: God is Truly Among You
The Barna group recently reported that 46 percent of church attenders testified that “their life had not been changed at all as a result of churchgoing.” Asked to think about their last church visit, three out of five (61%) said they cannot remember a significant or important new insight or understanding related to faith. Even among those attending church in the past week, half admitted they could not recall a significant insight they had gained. Beyond this, one-third of those who attended a church in the past had never felt God’s presence while in a congregational setting. Page 183
In contrast, when a leader has embraced the old paths declared in acts 6:4 – the paths of “prayer and the ministry of the Word” – as the primary task of ministry a new culture in the church is energized. Page 183
Among those in this generation [millennial’s] who say church is not important, they are split between two reasons: two and five say church is not important because they can find God elsewhere (39%), and one-third say because church is not personally relevant to them (35%).
These realities should compel us to a new awareness that the antithesis of “sell” and “attract” are “substance and awe.” Page 184
Is the substance of our worship gatherings leaving people in awe of a living Christ or just impressed (maybe suspicious, as Barna says) with our efforts to gain more market share? Page 185
The whole illustration of a congregation as a physical body described in 1 Corinthians 12 argues for diversity and multiplicity in the local assembly, which would include variance in age, race, and social status. No target audience (body part) should be valued in overemphasized above another. Page 185
Newsflash! When we stand before Christ there will be no mention of attendance, budget, and buildings. Page 186
The final accounting of our ministry will not be the “size” of ministry we forged but the “sort” of ministry we shaped. Page 186
The quality of the lives of the people who have been influenced by our ministry will be the acid test of eternity. Paul notes that the faithfulness and fruitfulness of his followers will be the final assessment of a life of reward vs. vain pursuit (Philippians 2:16). Page 187
With this in mind, we should leave the target audience and seek a target experience – one that is transformational, week after week, and it produces a certain kind of Christ-follower. Page 187
A New Testament experience transcends age, race, status, and the spiritual condition – lost or saved. Page 188
Paul describes it this way: “But if all prophecy, an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (first Corinthians 14:24 – 25). Page 188
The goal is not to be impressed with targeting techniques, the media capabilities, facility, or even the friendliness of the people. Instead, the “visitor” is to be in awe of the living Christ who is undeniably powerful and present in the lives of his people. This is the reality of the glory of God – the magnification of the person of Christ by his people and the manifestation of the presence of Christ within his people.
Maybe that’s why Jim Cymbala declared to a one-day pastors event, “Our greatest fear should not be that people leave our church but that they should stay in our church and remain unchanged.” In a similar vein Cymbala writes, “Nowhere in the Bible do we see examples of Christ-followers watering down or holding back parts of the message in order to hold the crowd. They preach the gospel with power and let God take care of the numbers.” Page 188 – 189
As was noted in the previous chapter, it is best to build the sidewalks where the paths already exist. The most important environment in church life where a prayer culture flourishes is in the context of the weekend worship experience. Page 189
Have you ever asked why we plan our services the way we do? They are incredibly predictable with planned segments of music, announcements, offering, and a sermon.” Page 189
The worship of God is thus reduced to little more than a well-rehearsed production. The time for openness to the Spirit, free-flowing praise or prayer – this is anathema to contemporary church philosophy. Page 192
AW Tozer notes how this constrains the work of the Holy Spirit in our churches: “Because the Holy Spirit is not given a chance to work in our service, nobody’s repenting, nobody’s seeking God, nobody is spending a day in quiet waiting on the God with an open Bible seeking to mend his or her ways… For the most part, spiritual rigidity that cannot bend is too weak to know how weak it is. Page 192.
Note: there are two sections at the end of this chapter by Allister Begg and the other by Jeff Wells that speak of their perspective and experience that are worth reading.