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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Chuck Swindoll's Urgent Call for Renewal

Q: How has postmodernism affected the church?

A: Ours is a whole new world, and nothing has been more adversely affected by postmodernism than the church and its relationship to God’s Word—the Holy Scriptures. When the Bible loses its central place in the church’s worship—even if good things replace it—the fallout is biblical ignorance. The longer substitutes replace the preaching of the Word as the centerpiece of Christian worship, the more we will witness the drift into ignorance intensifying. The more postmodern thinking dominates the church, the weaker and less important the church becomes in the eyes of the world. Over time, a congregation that is distant from the Word of God seeks more entertainment and less biblical truth.

I’m concerned about the intensifying embrace of postmodernism. The result of this is that we have eroded from a Christian era to a post-Christian era. I remember when we used to say that about Great Britain. I now say it about the United States of America, the land I love, a land I have served to help protect. But over the past thirty years we have slid into the murky waters of a post-Christian swamp.

Q: Why have you written The Church Awakening?

A: This book is a call for the church to become aware of how far we have drifted. The time has come to wake up and renew our passion for what Jesus is building. This new volume stems from my firm belief that we can stop the church’s drift only when God’s people commit to following the inspired blueprint set forth in God’s timeless and ever-relevant Book.

I have written The Church Awakening primarily to two groups of people. First, to serious-thinking churchgoers who know there is a better way. In the Bible there was a group of clear-thinking, tough-minded men called the “sons of Issachar” (1 Chron. 12:32). They were those who “understood the times [and knew] what Israel should do” (v. 32). We need that same clearheaded discernment today in the church. And along with discernment, we need an equal supply of courage. My aim is to ignite that passion within those who are willing to think seriously.

I am also writing to pastors, especially to those who are on the fence, who need a voice of permission to buck the tide and to put the preaching of the Word of God back in its central place of the church’s worship.

Q: You’ve had first-hand experience confronting spiritual erosion in a local church. Tell us how that came about in your congregation at Stonebriar Community.

A: In our early years, Stonebriar was growing exponentially. And like a mother with too many kids, I was a pastor with too many people. I could not keep up with the details of our expansion, so I delegated too many of the responsibilities to others. They were good individuals, but I discovered some of them did not share my heart or vision for ministry. I realized I had delegated without mentoring, training, or shaping the thinking of those leaders. Staff had been hired who never should have been hired. Some elders were appointed who, frankly, weren’t qualified (according to biblical standards). And when I finally realized all of this, the erosion was well under way. I should also mention that we had just begun another aggressive building campaign! I’ll be honest: that’s a tough place to find yourself. I felt like the lookout atop the Titanic the moment he saw that massive iceberg in the distance. I prayed fervently that we could turn our large ship in time to save it.

Q: And some tough decisions followed?

A: Those were the most difficult months of my five decades in ministry. Very challenging. Very stressful. Very painful. Stopping the erosion and getting back on target meant moving in a direction we had not been going. It meant certain staff did not remain. It meant some elders could not stay. There were difficult times that included tears, hurt feelings, tough decisions, sleepless nights, hard moments, and misunderstandings. I’m grateful that we never lost our financial integrity. We never had fistfights in the back room. There were no lawsuits or ugly public temper flare-ups. I simply realized how far we had drifted from God’s plan for us, and I resolved to stop the erosion wherever it was, regardless of the cost, and in spite of others’ reactions. I determined to pay no attention to harsh letters or lengthy email messages or the wagging tongues of some who participated in gossip. Thankfully, God was merciful.

Why do I share all of this with you? Because erosion can happen to anyone and in any church; it happened in our church . . . and it can occur in yours. Maybe it already has. I also share it to assure you it can be stopped. But it won’t be easy!

Our church’s tenth anniversary was a good time for evaluation and course correction. The events of those difficult months have convinced me how essential it is for every church to have cyclical milestones—deliberate times to look back at the church’s initial vision, to look within and evaluate the current situation, and then to look ahead to determine where the Scriptures say the church should be going. All the while there must be a strong commitment to doing what the Bible says, not doing what people want, not doing what other churches do. I can say from experience, when that process is carried out correctly, the result is a church awakening.

Q: What advice do you offer to pastors who have been intensely focused on church growth?

A: In our marketing-driven culture, many churches struggle with staying on task. A desire for church growth often overrides a commitment to biblical principles. How tragic . . . and unnecessary. A growing, contagious church includes each part of the body functioning as a healthy, caring, growing, and maturing whole. It’s all about context. But as important as it is, even being a contagious church is not the primary purpose for the body to gather together on Sunday mornings. It’s still something else.

Q: Then what is the primary reason for the people of God to gather?

A: The underlying objective any church should be the cultivation of a body of worshipers whose sole focus in on the love of God. Because God seeks our worship, it stand to reason that the church is to represent both a place of worship and a place that cultivates worshipers. It isn’t a place that makes you feel good. It is, first and foremost, about worship

Q: What advice do you give to pastors and churchgoers who want renewal in their church?

A: It may sound simplistic that my counsel to the church in difficult times is to recommit itself to the inspired Word of God. I mean . . . that’s it? Why not offer ten points for rapid church growth, or seven surefire principles for leadership, or twenty-five ways to—wait a minute! That’s marketing talk . . . that’s consumer lingo . . . that’s turning the church into a business with a cross stuck on top. That’s not what Jesus is building.

The best counsel I can offer the church is for us to recommit ourselves individually, as well as corporately, to believing and living the inspired Word of God. But let me add that a deep commitment to biblical doctrine and a dedication to every good work—from local ministry to missions—is not enough. A local body of believers can still drift away from Jesus’ plan for His church . . . even with solid doctrine and genuine deeds.

Q: So what else is there to consider?

A: We need to remember our first love. I ask pastors and churchgoers alike, have you left your first love? Have you lost the delight of your walk with God? Has it become “business as usual”? Maybe you are busy in the Lord’s work, but you now realize you have lost the awe of it all. The joy of ministry has fled away; now you’re simply maintaining a schedule. I urge you to find a quiet place and ask yourself these two questions: Is Jesus really the first love of my life? Does He truly make a difference in how I live my life? God’s mercy is here, and He will help you through it. Honestly acknowledge where you are. He won’t rebuke you for coming with that kind of honesty. On the contrary, He welcomes you.

Q: So what will a church awakening look like?

A: The marvelous opportunity of ministry that lies before the church awaits only one thing: the church’s awakening. Stated simply, the people of God must return to a hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . the ministers of God must repent of their failure to fulfill their calling . . . and the house of God needs to represent its biblical purpose for existence. In spite of all the spiritual devastation and famine in our land, it is not too late to turn it around—by God’s grace.

 

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