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I’ve watched the influence of the church ebb and flow for the past 30 years, and I have to confess that in most cases, the message and energy behind a movement was much more impressive than the fruit it created. Maybe my expectations are high, but based on the time, money, energy, promotion and presentations strategy that’s flowed into the public arena in the name of modern Christian ministry, I believe that, if Christ-followers were giving our time and attention to the right things, we would see much more lasting fruit in the world.

Before I go too far into the deep end of the pool where it sounds like I’m just splashing around and complaining, let me preface these thoughts with my confession. I’m a committed member of a local body that is using it’s time and resources to build the kingdom and send the gospel around the world. We’re not a perfect church, and I’m not a perfect Christ-follower. Yet I have to return to the standards by which Jesus gave us to measure myself, and periodically ask “How am I doing? How is my church doing? Are we fulfilling the commands Jesus gave us to make disciples, expand his kingdom and transform the world?”

In business or ministry, it’s easy to be busy – and still accomplish little of lasting value, and the larger the church, the more momentum the congregation can create, and by mistaking momentum for God’s presence and anointing, churches can carry on for years (decades), never fulfilling the great commission in a way that is commensurate with their abilities, gifts, resources, and calling.

Ouch. As Christ–followers, we all know this is true. We just want it to be true of other churches . . .  “those guys over there” . . .  not us.

Looking Back

In the past 40 years, since the Jesus People movement of the 60’s, the corresponding Charismatic movement in the churches, and the explosion of creativity which followed, contemporary Christianity has become its own subculture. Social calendars in every major city are filled with Christian concerts, conferences, cruises, musicians, magicians, comedians, authors, and events in ways that would have never happened just 40 years ago. When I came to Christ, contemporary Christian music was only found in dimly light coffee houses, street corners, and barn pastures. How things have changed.

My lament is not meant to criticize, but revolves around this single idea. As the culture changed, and contemporary Christian ideas became part o the larger church culture, Christians thought, and popular magazines of the contemporary Christian movement proclaimed that the cultural acceptance and transformation would carry with it deeper Christian influence in the world. We thought that because Christian music was appearing on the airwaves along with other top 40 and rock and roll music, that Christianity would be more accepted, and have greater influence. As money flowed into the Christian subculture grew in the name of evangelism, missionary and outreach budgets shrunk, and yet Christian influence in our culture diminished. Something is wrong with this picture.

At the same time Christian concerts, music, conferences, art, t-shirts and book stores have proliferated, the church’s influence on the secular world has measurably decreased. Virtually every survey has revealed fewer people attending churches, fewer people believing and regularly reading the bible as a source of their faith. The country and the church has more divorces, more violence, more single parent homes, and more brokenness. By any objective measurement, the gospel is making less of an impact on the American continent today that is was 50 years ago.

Jesus said that our Father’s will was that we bear fruit, and that our fruit remains, and this is the reason for this retrospection. I’m not writing to condemn or criticize. I’m writing to say, with the exception of a few pockets, the church today has a huge disconnect between our effort, activity, and outcome. We are called to be salt and light in a decaying and dark world. Over the past 40 years, we’ve lost ground.

Spending our Resources for Eternity.

I’m not writing today to propose one size fits all, uninformed solutions. I’m not that arrogant. I’m writing to ask four simple questions.

  • Is there passion in your heart for what you’re doing, and for what your church is doing? Confirmation of God’s blessing and purpose is passion. If our hearts are cold, it’s time to do visit the Heart Surgeon, empty our hands of everything that consumes our time and energy, and give him permission to change things, and change me.

  • Are you living on purpose or just spending time?  Jesus and his followers in the church’s first centuries were clear about their mission. They didn’t allow the needs of the day, hour, or moment, extraneous entertainment and time hungry hobbies, and to pull them away from God’s Word, prayer, and doing the things which God entrusted into their care. They knew they were stewards who would give account, not owners who could do what every they wanted.

  • Is there power in your life, church, family, and ministry . . . real, life changing power? The early church and the Christian church throughout history, during times of revival embraced and flowed with supernatural, life-changing, relationship-healing power. Like a vineyard which no longer yields fruit abundantly, maybe it’s time to ask God to prune our lives, and surrender leaves and branches that consume energy without returning anything of eternal value.

  • How is your prayer life?  In Jesus’ life, passion, purpose, and power all flowed from his connection to his Father in prayer. When the disciples got up in the morning, and Jesus wasn’t around, the gospels tell us that they knew He was off praying. In fact, the only thing that the disciples specifically asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray. They knew his life flowed from his Father, and they wanted to live the same way.

At the heart of what I’m asking is this question. Why don’t we have revival? Why doesn’t the church live like, look like and have the influence on the world like the first century church, and like the church in the US during the Reformation, and the first and second great awakening. The late revivalist Leonard Ravenhill wrote that today's Church didn’t have revival because we are content to live without it. While we can’t manufacture revival, every outpouring of God’s power that changed the course of the world was connected to a period when his people loved and obeyed passionately, lived purposefully, walked in the power of God’s spirit, and prayed fervently.

The world is becoming a darker place. Are we the generation that will start the next great awakening? 

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