Rainer’s 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

As the People of God, we should be consumed with a passion for His Glory, a wholehearted love for Him and His Kingdom, and a love for our neighbor that equals the kind of love and care we give ourselves. That’s a high standard. Jesus did not say these two Greatest Commandments were Great Ideas, or Great Suggestions, or Great Goals. He used ‘commandment’ to describe what He said is to be the driving focus of our lives.

I don’t know about you-but I’m not there yet. If I’m honest, I must admit I often have a divided heart. And, if we are honest, our ministries and churches are, for the most part, not there either. We tend to do things for ourselves because, well, we love ourselves at times (again if we are honest) far more than we love Him or our neighbor.

I just received my copy of the Summer 2012 Fact and Trends from LifeWay. In the opening section is an article by Dr. Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO, LifeWay Christian Resources, entitled “The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church.” We might as well say “A Selfish Church,” or where applicable, a “Selfish Ministry.” The article fits perfectly with what I’ve been sensing in terms of our need to repent as Christians, though he does not use the word ‘repent’ in his article, the idea is there. Rainer maintains that “No church is perfect; indeed most churches will demonstrate one or two of these signs for a season.  But the real danger takes place when a church begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs for an extended period of months and even years.”

I’ll use Rainer’s 10 Warning Signs and paraphrase his main points. A little corporate self-examination might be healthy at this point:

1) Worship Wars. Yes, these still go on in some places. Rainer states: “One of more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change.” In other words, it’s not theological disagreement, simply matters of taste that lead to anger and outrage.

2) Prolonged Minutia Meetings. The church spends a lot of time in committee meetings and business meetings over the most inconsequential items (though these ‘items’ may be quite important to some)-bottom line, the Glory of God, Worshiping God, Growing as disciples of Christ or making disciples of Christ are rarely discussed, but almost anything else is-over and over. Of course prayer meetings that focus on worshiping and adoring and interceding and confessing and repenting and asking God to pour out His Spirit certainly not taking place either.

3) Facility Focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the priorities of the church becomes ‘protecting and preserving’ rooms, furniture, spaces, turf, etc.. I know of one church that spent 10 million dollars on restoring something that is truly inconsequential in the larger scheme of the Kingdom, but was important to members sense of ‘self’ and ‘history.’ Do you realize how many churches I could start with 10 million? I digress…

4) Program Driven. Every church has programs whether they admit it or not. Whenever we start codifying how we do ministry, it becomes program. The problem is not the program. The problem develops when the program becomes an end in and of itself instead of a means to a greater end. For example: How many ‘ministries’ still exist simply because ‘we’ve always done that ministry?’  Program driven ministries easily lose their focus and soon the program is mostly ministering to the ‘already reached’ and doing little to grow the already saved.

5) Inwardly Focused Budget. A disproportionate percentage of the budget is used to meet the needs and desires and wants of members instead of reaching those outside of Christ. Simply put: The budget reflects the church or ministries true focus.

6) Inordinate Demands for Pastoral Care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need or crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect regular visits simply because they are tithers, or long-time members, or simply members. Even deeper though, is the Problem We Won’t Admit: We are rather “Romish” in how we view our ministers. “Only the Minister has that special hotline to God.” This kind of thinking dovetails into a the problem of poor discipleship. Nevertheless, unhealthy demands for constant care show an inward focus. My favorite personal example? I once had a church member call me at night because said church member had “real bad gas and would I please pray?” I’ll stop there.

7) Attitudes of Entitlement. This is just the manifestation of selfishness and so many of the problems can fall under this umbrella. The problem here is when people have a demanding attitude and expect special treatment.

8) Greater Concern About Change than the Gospel Itself. We can say we are ‘passionate’ about the Gospel or ‘committed to the Gospel,’ but often our real passions and priorities betray us. If something is changed and we don’t like the change? Well, you’ve never seen such passion. Those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the Gospel to change lives or to let the Gospel change our own life.

9) Anger and Hostility. My first death threat came in the context of church.  I had the nerve to bring Black young people to the church. That is an extreme example, but when members are consistently angry (about anything and or everything) and regularly express hostility to the church staff and or other members-something is severely wrong.  Some churches are simply toxic and contentious. I know of one church who ran off four pastors in five years. One of their deacons said “We just need to find God’s man.” I should have said, “You just need to repent of your corporate anger and sin. You’re damaging people’s lives and ruining Christ’s reputation among the outsiders.”  I was much younger and more polite back then.

10) Evangelistic Apathy. People don’t share their faith and really aren’t that concerned about the outsider. They are, however, very concerned about their own needs. Making disciples is outsourced to the paid clergy, who, in this particular toxic environment are more chaplains than pastors.

May He give us new hearts, hearts that are undivided, consumed with a passion for His Glory, a deep and abiding love for Him and for others.

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