CLOUDS WITHOUT RAIN
Spiritually Ineffective Churches and How to Fix Them
Jesus wondered if He would find "faith in the earth" when he returned. Was Jesus just a pessimist, or did He foresee the prevalence of "religious social clubs" across our land instead of vibrant, effective churches?
This book is dedicated to helpling churches who want to be effective for Christ. It abounds with practical, workable and dynamic solutions to jump start churches on the basis of a realistic assessment of their human resources and a genuine vision for church-based evangelism.
There is much that can be done in any church. Dr. Kaifetz does a masterful job of identifying the need, presenting a very practical plan of action, and tailoring it to include anyone in the church willing to roll up their sleeves for Jesus, regardless of their age or experience.
In John 9:4, Jesus says, "...night cometh when no man can work." What Jesus was saying here was that there was no spiritual "night shift" for doing Godís work. There was only daylight, and the time would come when that daylight would give way to darkness and the great work of redemption on earth would cease.
When Jesus made use of the word "night," he used the Greek word "nux." He used the word, as was common in that day, as a metaphor that often meant a time of moral darkness. Jesus knew that the time was coming when there would be no moral force remaining in the world, only complete moral anarchy. So convinced was He of this certainty that He once asked the question, "When the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8b)
There is only one source of spiritual light on the earth, and that source is God. Jesus Himself said that He was "the light of the world," (John 8:12), adding yet another expression of His deity. Today we see a full scale frontal assault on the influence of Godís Spirit in the world. Jeffersonís "Wall of Separation" between church and state has been misconstrued to the point of creating an overt hostility to religion in American culture. It is vital to note that at this rate of erosion of Judaeo-Christian influence in America, the time will be upon us far sooner than we may think when Jesusí dark vision will come to pass on America.
Until that time comes, the church is charged with bearing the torch of Christ to penetrate the darkness around it. Make that statement one hundred churches and you will probably not find one soul to disagree. Ask then what any individual there has done in the previous week to shine the light of Christ into that darkness, and you will be faced with an uncomfortable silence as everyone gets a good look at the tops of their shoes.
This book is dedicated to helping churches that are tired of being ineffective for Jesus Christ in their communities. It is for those who yearn to find practical, workable and effective solutions to the spiritual paralysis and evangelistic dysfunction that has gripped so many churches today.
This book is without question meant to be constructive. Help and solutions abound throughout. Before any problem can be addressed, however, it must be confessed. The reader must look within these pages and ask of themselves a difficult, if not often painful question: "Is this describing my church?" That kind of introspection and honesty is always the first step in spiritual healing. None of us is immune to this powerful human tendency to rationalize and deny our failures. We would all do well, however, to continually keep in mind that in reality, this is not a matter of choice. Our only prerogative lies in the timing of this great imperative: do we confess it now, as the Holy Spirit of God taps us on the shoulder, or do we wait until we come before Him only to experience the devastation of a Holy and loving Godís disappointment and disillusion with a child to whom He gave so much and received so little in return?
"Having memorable, life-changing services in which a precious, convicting and healing truth delivered in the unmistakable power of Godís Spirit should have a lot to do with why every pastor steps into the pulpit."
Wrestling With Angels
Several years ago, we visited a church in our area. We were looking for a church and felt that this church was a candidate. Not long after that visit, the pastor and one of the deacons paid us a visit in our home. This came as somewhat of a surprise to me, which in itself is a sad commentary on pastors and churches. One cannot help but wonder in what way the leader of an evangelical church presumes to reach out into his community if he does not even reach out to those who have reached out to his church. This ought to be among the very highest of priorities for any pastor. In my experience, however, perhaps one pastor in ten bothers to call on visitors.
This pastor came across as sincere, and he deserved credit for calling on us. He also deserved much credit for a question he asked: "What are you looking for in a church?" Most pastor donít want to know. They have their agenda, and that rarely includes seeking the opinion of any prospective member.
Though delighted to hear it, I was very surprised by that question. I felt that it had been asked in sincerity. Accordingly, I took the question very seriously, thought about it, and then gave my honest response. The pastor and his deacon would later tell me that that was the first time they had heard anything like that in answer to that question. They were clearly taken aback.
I did my best to honestly tell them what my expectations were when I came to church on Sunday, and the things upon which those expectations were based. Here is something that is very close to what I said, if not a word-for-word recounting.
"You are a full-time pastor. You have been called of God, trained and educated to lead Godís people. You have been given a copy of the very Word of God and you have hours every day to study it. You have living in you Godís very Spiritó the same Spirit who wrote that Book. God has a passionate desire to communicate the truths of that Book to you and yearns for you to use it as the powerful tool it was intended to be to change the lives of those people whom He has placed under your care."
"When my family and I invest the many collective hours of our time to get ready for, drive to and sit through one of your services, I fully expect you to deliver on a level that is commensurate with the power and tools you have at your disposal to effect that delivery, and to have an impact on the people. That means that as a reasonably regular part of your services, there should be people convicted of specific sins, heartbroken over having realized their shortcomings in the presence of the holy God whom you have effectively and passionately conveyed. They should be inspired to live better, to love others more and themselves less, and to model themselves in specific ways after Jesus Christ, according to your detailed instructions. They should be regularly comparing themselves to Jesus Christ as the pastor consistently reveals Him in a convincing, powerful and convicting way."
The silence in the room became palpable. I almost felt like a person having come to the drive-through of fast-food joint and ordered Chateaubriand, Yorkshire Pudding and Baked Alaska. In a moment, however, the silence (first followed by a hard swallow) gave way to a delightfully encouraging and candid admission by the pastor that I in fact had every right to that expectation. Now that was good to hear, and a church to which we would return!
As you may well have surmised, there was a good reason why I phrased my answer to the preacherís question the way I did. I was weary of sitting in church and hearing bland, overly general, unstudied preaching that lacked the power to convict, inspire or transform anyone.
As a preacher, I hold myself fully accountable to the same standard I related to the two men in my living room that evening. Has that happened every time I stepped into a pulpit? Of course not. What I do not believe myself to be guilty of, however, is stepping into the pulpit the way an insecure baseball player steps up to the plate: "I am here to take three good swings and go back to the dugout. I have studied how to swing a bat. My uniform is nicely pressed. My cleats are polished. I even have two meticulous black grease marks under my eyes. My purpose, however, is to take three proper swings showing good form and go back to the dugout and sit down."
In fact, as a preacher my eyes are "on the fence," because I know that I am the product of the best coach in the universe, and it is in HIS power that I swing the bat! I want the pitcher to be able to take one look in my eyes and know that! I am not stepping up to the plate to go through a ritual, to "give it a try," or to "meet the ball." I am there to hit the ball deep or screw myself into the ground trying! How could any man ordained and anointed of God with His very power living within him step up to the pulpit with a lesser expectation?
One Sunday I was invited to preach at a church that was without a pastor. I stepped into the pulpit with the very frame of mind I have described above. If anything, I was even more intent on bringing the power of Godís Holy Spirit to those people, because they were without a pastor. I had prayed and I had studied and I had asked God for His power. At the end of the service, however, I felt a sense of disappointment. I felt that my message had been "cafeteria food." (All the food groups but no freshness or real nutrition.) Then, the invitation time came.
As the invitation began, I started to feel the presence of God grow in that building. I was not the only one to notice. God seemed to be saying to me, "Are you through now, son?" Because if you are, there is something that I need to do here." With that, I quite honestly became all but paralyzed at the power of Godís presence in that little church. I knew that God was there! I felt that I needed to say something, because God was telling me something for these people. There was a reason why they were without a pastor, and God wanted them to deal with it now. Again, I tried to speak, but I could only stammer. The presence and power of God grew in that room until I felt as if I were standing under a water fall. Far from melodrama, there is no other way to describe it. I simply could not get any words to come out. I was not the only one to notice.
I managed to get out a few semi-intelligible words, and as I did, it became apparent to me that others in the church were fully aware that something of divine proportion was taking place. A moment later, a woman in the church ran up to the platform and took my hand. She was sobbing uncontrollably. She knew exactly what was going on, and she knew why. She confirmed exactly what I believed God had revealed to me and begged and implored me to help the church to see and understand it. The church was spiritually dead and she knew it.
Once again, I tried to speak, but it was not any easier, and I am a person who is rarely at a loss for words. I did manage to convey, as the instruments softly played, that God had not given up on this little church. Those were the only words as I could get out, as tears began to stream down my face. Soon the church leadership began coming to the altar one by one, and more of the ladies came also. For about thirty or forty minutes, people confessed, testified, wept, prayed and poured their heart out to God. They told God that they would pay any price to make their church the church He wanted it to be. The whole time, I still felt like I was standing under a waterfall of pure, raw, God-power. It was the kind of experience that one never forgets. The altar was filled with men who had sat in their pews during invitation time for decades, and that by their own admission.
God had reached down to that little country church that Sunday morning, quite likely in spite of me instead of through me, and left many there with an experience they would not soon forget. I know I never will. We use the word "revival" too lightly at times. That Sunday morning, revival came to that little church. It came when the preacher was done, and the people were slipping their feet back into their shoes & gathering their Bibles and purses.
Should this be the expectation for every church or for every pastor, every Sunday? In a way, yes it should. While this kind of service is understandably not the norm, having memorable, life-altering services in which a precious and convicting healing truth is presented in the unmistakable power of Godís Spirit by a man anointed of God should have a lot to do with why every pastor steps into the pulpit and why every church member walks through the door of a New Testament church on Sunday morning. We should all be like Jacob when he wrestled with the Angel: "I will not let thee go except thou bless me." (Gen. 32:26)
What every reader will probably want to know, is the epilogue to this remarkable account Did this little church follow through on Godís innundation of His love and power? Sadly, they did not. They chose a man as a pastor who was anything but anointed and whose only goal was to maintain the status quo in order to keep the comfortable job he had found at the expense of Godís people.
I have never forgotten what happened there one day, and the indescribable way in which God revealed His love and power. I donít think God has forgotten it either. Last winter that little church burned to the ground.