Church Leadership: Signs of an Inwardly Focused Church

This is from a blog post by church growth consultant Thom Rainer (and there are further, excellent thoughts at the blog itself) —

* Worship wars.

* Prolonged minutia meetings.

* Facility focus.

* Program driven.

* Inwardly focused budget.

* Inordinate demands for pastoral care.

* Attitudes of entitlement.

* Greater concern about change than the gospel.

* Anger and hostility.

* Evangelistic apathy.

Yep.

Here are some additional signs from the comments at his blog —

* Dominant homogeneous culture — the culture is shaped by the preferences of the members, not the needs of the gospel.

* The Simon Cowell effect — the members have moved from seeing themselves as consumers (bad enough) to critics (even worse)

* Isolation from the greater Body of Christ.

* Appointment of leaders based on longstanding membership rather than love for the body of Christ.

* All they want is a chaplain to tell them that everything is OK and hold their hand while the congregation dies.

* The congregation has such a distrust for leadership that it seeks to control it through polity (bylaws, that sort of thing).

*  Issue-driven (strongly pro- or anti-homosexual; political agendas; denominational fights).

What do you think?

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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11 Responses to Church Leadership: Signs of an Inwardly Focused Church

  1. Skip says:

    An inwardly focused church does not want to shake things up or reevaluate their priorities.

    An inwardly focused church wants to be safe and let the deadness continue.

    An inwardly focused church is consumed with intellectualizing scripture and debating points of doctrine rather than with love.

    An inwardly focused church is filled with frozen orthodoxy.

  2. Alan says:

    Racial mix of the church doesn’t match the racial mix of the community.

  3. I once worked with a congregation in West Texas which had split off from the largest CoC in town. The resulting group was essentially a traditional CoC, but with a worship band and where women could read scripture in the church service. They had rented a storefront building with an enormous plate glass window in the sanctuary which looked out on a busy street. One of the elders remarked that this was a good thing, because it would let the world see the church inside. I also thought it was a good thing, but for the opposite reason.

    The most distressing thing to me about the list Rainer offers is that most of these symptoms indicate significant spiritual disease on a very pervasive and personal level. This will not be successfully treated with a new evangelism program, or a new preacher, or zero-based budgeting, or by having a “Unity Night” where a local Hispanic congregation is invited in for a joint service–in English, of course.

    The problems Rainer surfaces are not like random cancers, which crop up unpredictably from God-knows-where. In the vast majority of local cases, these are like heart disease in a 300 pound man who has lived for fifty years on a regimen of fried potatoes and cigarettes. These symptoms are the inescapable, predictable consequence of building a religion club to suit ourselves– creating quite literally, “the church of our choice”. Every single thing on Rainer’s list comes directly from the same root of self-centeredness from which the institution itself initally grew. We wanted our own way before, we built a place where we could have our way, and we have changed nothing except how we express this same sentiment all these years later.

    This is at the heart of my lack of optimism for reforming or remodeling the American local church as we know it today. It is not a spiritual institution with human flaws. It is a human institution with spiritual aspirations. One does not grow roses on a hackberry tree, no matter how much horse manure he piles at the base.

    Certainly, I believe the church can flourish in our communities. I am a great believer in the power of the Spirit to accomplish just that in the Body of Christ. But we must honestly look at the real foundations of our existing organizations, and consider whether it is practical –or even possible– to jack up a long-standing organization with decades of human traditions, to jackhammer out from under it its carnal “my way” foundation, and to reset that building on the foundation of Jesus himself. The jackhammer of recognition and confession, if powerful enough to uproot the old foundation, is likely to take the rest of the structure with it as collateral damage.

    Even in the hands of the most perceptive of leaders, efforts at broad reform of a local congregation bring up the question, “I see what we are trying to fix. But what are we trying to SAVE? And why?”

    I once was a contractor restoring a historical landmark home. It took several times the money and effort to do this job than it would have taken to build the house again from scratch. We changed so much on the inside to make it livable for contemporary owners, while working hard to give the external impression that nothing had changed. A home which was initially built without indoor plumbing or electricity or closets or central heating was brought “up to code” to make it usable– all the while cleverly disguising the changes. The only reason we did not simply build a new house was that this one had been there such a long time. In essence, we went to all that trouble primarily to save the bronze plaque on the front of the house. All that work for a fiction to present to passersby– that nothing really needed to change, and that the old house was just as good as it always was.

  4. aBasnar says:

    I think we use a VERY broad brush here:

    An inwardly focused church does not want to shake things up or reevaluate their priorities.

    We can also say, as a Hutterite friend of mine explained: “The path is clear, we just have to walk it.” Hutterites, typically, only read the sermons from the 1600s. Their preachers copy them by hand. And yet, some of their communities (as I have experienced) are very much alive to Christ. Doing as they have been taught for generations.

    Change in itself is no value. When we get older and weaker, that’s change, too. On the other hand: Holding fast to what we have received is a scriptural virtue, as we all know.

    An inwardly focused church wants to be safe and let the deadness continue.

    If that’s so, it needs to be corrected. But if we judge “change-resistant” churches automatically as dead, we might misjudge them. There also might be phases in the life and development of a church where it is appropriate and even necessary to be more inwardly focussed. If we judge a church that is going through such a phase as dead, we are misjudging it (most likely) . And judging BTW is none of our business.

    An inwardly focused church is consumed with intellectualizing scripture and debating points of doctrine rather than with love.

    Well, I think all of us are “guilty” on this. The differences are not in our intellectialism, but in the inferences we (intellectually) draw from God’s word. And some unloving judgments come regularly from those who always speak of love …

    An inwardly focused church is filled with frozen orthodoxy.

    Sound doctrine, brothers, will always be viewed as “frozen orthodoxy” by our flesh that does not want to hear it. Of course there is something like “frozen orthodoxy”, but not everything we “feel” as such is such.

    Do you get my point? Such lists and statements lead to nowhere. They are a dead-end road.

    Alexander

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    Alexander,
    I truly wonder if you really meant to state, “Holding fast to what we have received is a scriptural virtue, as we all know.” And I hope that you really don’t believe that the communication stated by your Hutterite friend, “The path is clear, we just have to walk it.” is the example that we are hold to in our journey following Christ. Because, if those are true, we will have already reached perfection in all understanding of the scriptures. Study to learn would be out of the question. If you studied as the Bureans did and actually learned that something that your forefathers or leaders had passed down was in error, you would be bound by the statements above to do the very same thing that the Jewish nation has done, refused to become a disciple of Christ. Or stated as in the flow of this subject, refuse to do the needed changes.

    You also mentioned of judging, “change-resistant” churches automatically as dead, we might misjudge them.
    I believe that we don’t have to judge these churches, they shout the message of their deadness to us and the communities that they are in. We have many churches in the area that I live and am familiar with that have absolutely no youth attending, the less than 25 members average age at least 70 years old. They may have two or three visitors within a year from the community that don’t attend any church that may be there to secure help for their present needy situation. I am not sure if they have had a conversion or a baptism in the last decade. I know that a church existing in this form is not only dead they are a hindrance to the cause of Christ, they refuse to change and so doing display to the community that is fully aware of their plight the wrong message about Christianity. In the areas described, if there was a effort by a strong church such as a mission to restore the church, unless there was no tie (name or association identified to the church described) the community would not accept and participate. IMO congregations that only exist until the last member passes away, should have ceased to exist and merged with a larger congregation, before they create a negative view in the community.

  6. Jerry says:

    Larry wrote: IMO congregations that only exist until the last member passes away, should have ceased to exist and merged with a larger congregation, before they create a negative view in the community.

    IMO congregations that only exist until the last member passes away, should have ceased to exist and merged with a larger congregation, before they create a negative view in the community.

    Of course, if such a church were to decide to merge with another, larger congregation, they would most likely pick one that was in the same death spiral as themselves – just maybe not as far down it – yet.

    The merger of two dying churches is still a dying church.

  7. Bob Brandon says:

    As Randy Harris once put it at a Jubilee long ago, as I remember it: “We are not united in our strength; we are united in our weakness.” Much of our warring among ourselves seems to stem from a frustration that we cannot do as we please instead of as God would please. Presuming ourselves strong when we are not tends to lead to an emphasis on “sound doctrine” instead of the Cross, and “sound doctrine” was all the Pharisees and Sadducees had to offer. In that regard, here’s John Mark Hicks’ latest: http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/mark-1218-27-who-is-your-god/ for consideration.

  8. Todd Collier says:

    Alexander raises – to my mind anyway – an important point.

    A healthy church is one which will faithfully observe the Scriptures to the best of their ability and understanding.

    A healthy church that is growing will usually be able to differentiate between what is Scriptural (in other words “this” is the way the apostles wanted things done and we shouldn’t mess with that) and what is merely habitual, traditional or practical.

    I believe that many of our problems stem from an inability to properly determine the differences there. It is so easy to take what I prefer and read it back into the text and make it Scriptural and therefore inviolable.

    Also the definition of spiritual health that Jesus gave in Matthew 25:31ff can’t be ignored either. A congregation that is not involved in meeting these needs in their community in a noticeable way cannot honestly be said to be a healthy or even a faithful congregation.

  9. When Peter preached on Pentecost, he established a foundation of “who Jesus is” for those who would believe. Paul built upon this, focusing on who WE are in Christ. So in the early church we find a basic apostolic foundation built around who Jesus is and who we are in Him.

    Today’s doctrinally-based (advertised as “bible-believing”) groups have, alternatively, created a foundation of “what we rationally think the Bible means by what it says” and “what we are to do about that”, and have built their hundreds of religious houses upon that.

    I know this sounds heretical, but our Cornerstone is NOT the Bible. Those who cannot tell the difference between the risen Lord and the American Standard Version are confused about their following and certainly ought not be leading believers anywhere. The current “Bible-believing church” model reminds me of the fellow who married a picture of the woman he loved, and wondered why neither he nor she were fulfilled in their relationship.

  10. Dan Nieman says:

    Any time that a church loses upward focus (Loving God with all our heart, soul etc.) and outward focus (Loving neighbor as ourselves) a church is the church is self-focused. That church will take on a number of these characteristics. I am without a church, fellowship at this time. This conversation gives me many things to consider as I look for a healthy church. My question is what are some of the positive characteristics that someone like me should look for when seeking a church fellowship.

  11. aBasnar says:

    Whether we look at churches a sbeing healthy our sound in doctrine, inwardly or ouwardly focussed, let us please not forget, that our Lord is in the midst of them all. It’s Him we seek first, Him to glorify, to feed on, to proclaim, to imitate. And Him to be the judge and savior of all.

    Alexander

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