Diagnosing a Do Nothing Church
Doing nothing has become an official sport. It’s true. In an attempt to expose and mitigate the effects of stress and “burnout” in our hyper-connected culture, a South Korean activist has organized the world’s first “Do Nothing” contest. During the event, contestants slip into a “state of chill” by lower their heart rate and “spacing out” from all external activities or movement. Organizers of the contest hope to bring awareness to the stressed-out nature of society and warn people of a looming “nervous national breakdown”.
Korea’s “Space Out” contest highlights three perilous symptoms affecting many churches today. Despite a clear mandate from Jesus to preach the gospel to all nations and make disciple makers, in many instances, the church’s active role in evangelism has frosted over. As a result, desperation has left some churches in a paralyzing state of limbo without any hope of engaging the lost. On the other hand, after years of endless activity, some churches are suffering from an evangelistic nervous breakdown. Facing these challenges, churches are tasked with the sober warning to diagnose and reverse the effects of a “do-nothing” culture.
It’s time for church leaders to take a “passion-pulse” of their church in relation to Jesus and the lost. This simple check up may surface alarming results. Drifting from our “first love” and experiencing evangelistic cardiac arrest can happen to even the healthiest of churches from time to time. Take, for example, the church of Ephesus. Despite praise from Jesus on their labor, patience, and perseverance, the church was sharply rebuked for abandoning their intimate relationship with God. Passion for Jesus had chilled. The fire that once burned in their hearts was now a flickering ember. How could a church that once blazed with love for God and others have become so cold?
Church leaders often struggle to answer that question. After all, when you look at the activities of most churches, there appears to be a great deal of good happening. However, surface activity does not necessarily indicate proper motives. For this reason, Jesus’ rebuke of the Ephesian church reminds us that at any moment, we too are vulnerable of drifting from the heart of God as individuals or even entire congregations. The problem is that neglecting our relationship with Jesus occurs slowly over time. As the pressures of ministry mount, churches have a tendency to operate on autopilot and independent from the sustaining power and presence of Jesus.
Churches that are on the verge of chilling out self-sufficiently turn inward, focus on their own personal interests, and suffer from a drastically low heart rate to reach the lost. If you find yourself or church drifting from the heart of God, Jesus offers one solution: repent. Such a turnaround restores our passion for Jesus and sets us on a pathway of rekindling a burden for the lost.
No church is immune to the devastating effects of focus fatigue. Failing to focus on the right priorities in ministry can lead a church to unproductive, wasteful, and debilitating seasons. The church in Laodicea suffered from these paralyzing symptoms. In one of His harshest rebukes, Jesus condemns the church for being “lukewarm”. Their indifference to God and others was evident in their self-satisfaction and inability to recognize how blind and lost they really were. The fact that the Laodicean’s were neither hot nor cold reveals the desperate condition of the church and God’s strict rejection of their half-hearted efforts.
Unfortunately, many churches excel at spacing out. Some of the symptoms stem from church leadership that is void of vision and focus on the gospel, great commission, and evangelism. With so many new programs, slick advertisement campaigns, or quick growth tips, pastors and leaders run from one strategy to another. In some evangelical circles, conferences have replaced intimate communion with God as the place to acquire fresh direction and vision for Christ’s church. Those who are caught up in the “next big thing” often times find more frustration than help – wasting precious time and resources on fringe issues.
With little to no vision from church leadership that prioritizes evangelism and disciple making, congregations suffer from a festering spiritual apathy that restricts commitment, contribution, and growth. As a result, leaders and churches are caught in a cycle of contentment that confuses priority with preference. When this occurs, churches are in danger of doing nothing significant as their focus shifts to trivial things. Jesus’ rebuke to the Laodiceans serve as a warning for churches today who find themselves incapacitated by a lack of zeal and focus.
In the case of churches experiencing burnout, less is more. The struggle, however, is that churches heap on ministries, programs, and strategies hoping to produce greater results but the opposite happens. With a declining volunteer base and an overworked church staff, many churches suffer from burnout and extreme ministry fatigue – resulting in less effective ministry and many times a complete shutdown of the church.
The church in Sardis was on the brink of such collapse. Despite being a church that had an outward reputation for vibrant and thriving ministry, Jesus’s assessment was radically different. His rebuke revealed an underlying issue of impure and misguided works that threatened the very life and sustainability of the church. In fact, Jesus called this busy church as good as dead!
There are a few indicators that ministry burnout is looming. Church leaders must remember first that we are not called to build our own kingdom but Gods. When a church’s brand eclipses the glory and preeminence of Jesus Christ and His mission then chances are that church is masking a stench of death. The problem with this scenario is that often times people conclude that the appearance of activity is a clear indication that Jesus is the center of that church. However, upon closer examination, ministry burnout occurs when a church confuses busyness for God with the business of God. For this reason, churches suffering from burnout would thrive again by committing themselves to doing less of the right things.
Thus far, I have yet to come across a church with a vision to “do less, be less, and achieve less” for the cause of Christ. However, without a fresh vision of Jesus that kindles passion for God and compassion for the lost, many churches are in danger of evangelistic “cardiac arrest”. Lip service to the Great Commission must practically shift to tangible efforts of active engagement in the divinely ordained mission of the church to preach the gospel, reach the lost, and equip disciple makers. Strategically thinning out ministries in order to prioritize the purposes and plans of God will alleviate burnout and energize the church. Through prayerful diagnosis, your church can turnaround the effects of a do nothing culture and become a fired up, focused, and flourishing force to advance the kingdom of God here on earth.
Sherwood Patterson is the lead pastor of Alpine Christian Fellowship in San Diego, CA. His passion is to teach God's word, equip servant leaders, and advance the missional nature of the church. Sherwood holds an M.Div and is currently pursuing a D.Min in church planting and multiplication. He also serves as a church strength and revitalization coach for the San Diego SBC Association.