The Scandal of Passive Christianity

“Spectator” is not a spiritual gift. It isn’t a calling.

Yet, many church models consistently produce passive Christians. Instead of making disciples they are making spectators.

When people think of a scandal they often think of sex, drugs, and money. Maybe some combination of these things. But not every scandal involves these things. Some are less conspicuous.

Dictionary.com defines scandal as follows:

Noun

  1. a disgraceful or discreditable action, circumstance, etc.
  2. an offense caused by a fault or misdeed.
  3. damage to reputation; public disgrace.
  4. defamatory talk; malicious gossip.
  5. a person whose conduct brings disgrace or offense.

Scandals bring shame. Scandals ruin reputations. Often scandals are accompanied by public outrage.

Unlike scandals you hear about on the Internet, the scandal I’m talking about doesn’t center around sex, drugs, or money. It’s operating right under our noses.

Many people don’t even notice. Those who do, don’t seem to care.

When you enter most church buildings you will find that they are setup like any other place of entertainment. There is a central focus on the stage (although it may be called something different). People sit in the audience much like they would in any theater, stadium, or concert hall.

From start to finish the service is run by a small percentage of the people. There is little to no expectation of any form of participation from the rest beyond standing when requested, turning off cell phones for the duration, and putting money in the plate when it’s passed.

I understand the setup. It makes perfect sense. If we treat church-goers like consumers then we need to make an efficient way for them to consume our content. This is the most efficient way to guarantee identical worship experiences at every service. This makes quick turnaround for multiple services on the same-day a possibility.

But the church isn’t supposed to be run like the entertainment industry. The church isn’t a business.

It’s the body of Christ.

Every member of your physical body is important. It serves a purpose.

Don’t think so?

Which body parts are you willing to lose?

Somehow we’ve built a system of “church” that has hordes of passive Christians. They float from one congregation to the next. The biggest impact when members drift is on the budget.

Not the community. Not the edification of the believers. The budget.

It’s scandalous.

When people leave your church fellowship, do people even notice? If you woke up in the morning with members of your physical body missing, wouldn’t that impact you in some way? The disconnect should be alarming.

This isn’t a commentary on mega-churches. It’s a commentary on passive churches. Passive churches exist in every form you can think of. This scandal affects every denomination. Every congregation. It applies to home churches and those that have a building.

It is a systemic problem. We’ve built a system that has drifted from the biblical norm of encouraging active participation from every member.

The biblical system is much harder. Messier. More difficult to control. Impossible to guarantee identical 1-hour services. The people aren’t identical in each gathering so how could the experience be?

Although it’s harder, messier, and out of our control, it’s worth it. It’s glorious. It’s glorious because it’s what God designed. Instead of praising the eloquence of our seminary trained pastors or the musical talent of our worship teams we can praise God for using the weak and the small to bring edification to all.

I’m not against leadership. Quite the contrary. Leadership is biblical. But if the leadership is failing to cultivate and promote a healthy congregation where every member knows their function and operates for the building up of the body then it is just that: failing.

It is failing despite the attendance numbers. Where does the Bible ever tell us to measure success by our attendance, budgets, and campus square footage? Where is the passage that tells us to make spectators?

The Apostle Paul wrote:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16, bold added)

Paul revealed God’s purpose for the church. That purpose includes every member doing its part. It won’t happen unless we recognize and submit to God’s design for His church described in Ephesians 4:11-13. That’s why I wrote two books about the church and leadership God has given. It’s important.

Everyone who is in Christ has been gifted supernaturally by God for the edification of the church. If you aren’t using your spiritual gift to edify the church then the body is lacking something important.

Not all gifts are prominent. Some are behind the scenes. But all are critical to the health of the whole. Passive Christianity suppresses spiritual gifts. The whole body suffers.

What’s worse is that the passive model spills over into the world.

The passive system has created a culture of professional Christianity. The ones doing ministry are the ones on the stage. The most active thing that many Christians are encouraged to do is to invite people to participate in the pre-planned and meticulously managed services.

How many people do you have in your life that will never go with you to your church building?

How many coworkers do you spend 40+ hours a week with that have never attended one of the identical hour-long weekend service options?

How many neighbors do you have that you’ve lived next to for years that never came to any of your outreach events?

How many family members do you see on holidays who won’t darken the door of your church building because they are hostile or perhaps because they simply live out-of-town?

The truth is that passive Christianity is shameful. Paul said so to the church in Corinth: “Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34, bold added).

There were an awful lot of scandalous issues going on in Corinth. Division, lawsuits, sexual immorality. But Paul said that they should be ashamed of themselves because their sin was keeping them for spreading the knowledge of God.

The church exists to spread the knowledge of God.

Notice I didn’t say our church buildings, church programs, or church staff.

The church. All of us.

We exist to spread the knowledge of God. When anything keeps us from doing so it is sin. It’s shameful. It’s scandalous.

People drive by our perfectly manicured church campuses without any genuine knowledge of God. They do so because the Christians in their life have withheld such knowledge. We’ve restricted the mission. We’ve handicapped the body.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can reclaim God’s purpose. Doing so requires laying down the American dream. It requires picking up our cross. It requires devotion and accountability to each other.

Is your church making disciples or spectators?

2 thoughts on “The Scandal of Passive Christianity

  1. Important post! I hope people take heed to the truths here. The time is short before the Lord’s return. Forget Christian entertainment & performance, we need to sharpen one another “as iron sharpens iron” !

    Like

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