For the past several years I've been searching for answers to the growing dilemma of Nominal Christianity. In case you’re not familiar with the term, it simply means one who professes Faith in Christ, but shows little evidence of Spiritual Maturity even after years of attending church. I travelled from church to church, city to city and state to state looking for patterns and practices that might help us understand what causes people to grow spiritually mature. We studied at all kinds of elements. We listened to pastors teach; and scrutinized their use of the bible. We observed the level of reverence and attentiveness the members showed for the message being given. We noted the qualities of the communities and church member’s interactions with one another as well as with us. Was there any correlation between size, style or denomination and the apparent level of Spiritual commitment and growth? Not really. So, what is the cause of Nominal Christianity?
Some will tell you that competition with the world is the reason. People are just too busy to focus on reading the Bible. Getting to church for an hour each week is the most they can do. Some will tell you that too many pastors are “watering down the Gospel”. I’d argue that the Gospel is a simple message that professes who Christ is, why He did what He did for us, and His plan for our salvation. You can’t really water that down.
How much can a pastor do to help a Christian grow spiritually? Most churches provide a variety of opportunities for Christians to learn and grow; weekend services, mid-week services, Small Groups, Bible Studies… but even attending those doesn’t assure growth. Remember the old adage; You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
Some would say that Christians aren't committed enough. While that may be true in some cases, it doesn’t explain the millions who are committed, but who still don’t seem to be growing.
Why are 42,000 people leaving the Christian Church every month? Why are more than 80% of Christians making precious little progress at becoming more like Jesus even after years of regular attendance? Why are the churches in the United States making so little impact on the world around them? Perhaps, rather than examining the elements that are present we need to focus on what’s missing.
Our pastors can’t make us grow spiritually. Reading the Bible won’t make us grow spiritually. Going to church 7 days a week won’t make us grow spiritually. Being committed to our Small Group won’t make us grow spiritually. Not even believing in God will make us grow spiritually. The Bible says in James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”
The reality is that being in a relationship with God is the only thing that will lead to spiritual growth. I don’t mean simply joining the God Club that meets at the coolest church in town; I mean an authentic face-to-face, heart-to-heart relationship with HIM. Because it’s God who makes us grow. Apart from Him we accomplish nothing.
1Cor 3:5: 5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
Don’t lose heart, because this is great news! This is the answer we've been looking for!
If you’re waiting for your pastor to give a message or provide a program that will make you grow – you’re never going to grow. It’s that simple. It’s up to you to humbly go to your Father in Heaven and ask Him to open the doors of your head and heart that have long been sealed off by doubt and fear. Don’t just talk about Him, talk to Him; not like someone who is far away but like someone who is as close as your own skin. Listen twice as much as you talk and you WILL discover the joy of hearing “a Word” from Him. Ask Him to reveal His wisdom and direction for YOUR life. Conform to that rather than conforming to the culture of your church. Only then will what you hear on Sunday morning have the potential to change your life. Only then will what you learn from His Word show up in the way you live.
It's ironic really. What’s missing … is Him.