The Dead Hand of Apathy

A few years ago, 2008 to be precise, as part of a paper I was writing at the time, I carried out a small survey in regard to the level of passion in congregations in regard to reaching the community with the gospel. The format was that I asked a number of Senior Ministers to respond to the following statement.
“My Congregation has a real Passion for Mission to the Australian community.”
with the following results (rounded figures)-

Strongly Disagree – 21%
Disagree – 50%
Neutral – 7%
Agree – 7%
Strongly Agree – 14%

As can be seen only 21% of congregations were considered by their church leaders to have significant passion for mission, this despite decades of teaching on and exhortation in regard to the importance of this matter, an importance highlighted by the ongoing decline of the church in Australia. The conclusion I reached, actually just confirmation of my own observations from experience of leading parish churches, is that there is a general mission-blocking apathy and lack of passion for mission to the Australian community among congregational members.
More recently, I have had the opportunity to speak about the ‘Unbound Church’ concept at number of churches. Many conversations that I have had on those occasions indicate that the general reluctance to the development of any kind of alternative, more missionally effective, form of church hasn’t gone away. This ‘push-back’ is strongest when any suggestion is made that church members might have to give up some of their accustomed ways of ‘doing church’.
One objection to change in ‘form’ is often along the lines of –
“We must provide the ‘Christians’ with their (implied Sunday) opportunity to be fed and built up (again implied by talking head sermons).”

This objection to doing things differently (e.g. ‘doing church’ in public locations) seems to overlook the fact that the early church, and the church at various times in history, and in many places around the world today, seems to have done just fine when ‘church’ has been, is being done in a variety of different ways!

This common, and missionally deadening objection is very prevalent and is one reason why I find it difficult to think that the standard parish model can be reinvented, at least fast enough, to achieve the radically increased missional fruitfulness so sorely needed. In fact, it could be argued that not only does the church need to be ‘unbound’ from its Sunday-Centric, In-Drag, Christendom-form (SIC) model, but it may well need to be ‘unbound’ from its current change-averse congregations as well!
I would venture to say that this change-resistance is characteristic of “Christianity-Lite (See the article on this in the ‘Church life’ category of this site). This is a belief system masquerading as real Christianity that is not characteristic of every church member but nevertheless is sufficiently prevalent in churches to seriously damage, even block, mission. The main characteristic of Christianity-Lite being that it is:

“A comfortable ‘truth’ where the spiritual journey is smooth and not too stressful; one into which Jesus can be fitted as is convenient; one where ‘god’ doesn’t make any unreasonable demands.”

However, this way of thinking does not reflect Jesus teaching on the cost of discipleship, or the Apostle Paul’s ‘whatever it takes’ attitude in 1 Corinthians 9:22-
“I have become all things to all people
so that by all possible means I might save some.”

This dead hand of apathy, and the spiritual DNA that creates it, is one of the major reasons for the failure of our mission. For even if leaders want to reinvent the mission methods of their congregation, with the all the costs that entails, congregations lack the Spirit-driven desire and spiritual muscle to make it happen. That is why we need to unbind the church from its apathetic bondage and create a new truly missional one with those whose DNA is passionately missional, as shown by a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality.

3 thoughts on “The Dead Hand of Apathy

  1. It is worth asking why the congregational members are like this. Is it because they are naturally apathetic. Is it because the model of church we have is deadening? Do training colleges and ministers have to change before we will see congregations changing?


  2. Hi unklE- Brief answers to your 3 BIG questions-

    1. Members are not necessarily apathetic about everything- witness the often passionate conversations about football at morning tea after services- it is just that they are apathetic about spiritual things and ministry, especially mission- As to why is a complex issue because it really is about the degree to which the Holy Spirit drives them. Many are probably the “choked by the cares of the world” soil in the parable of the sower, and possibly many are not converted at all i.e. don’t have the Spirit. They are the religious ‘Churchian’ rather than Christian.

    The question should be asked as to why so much ‘going out’ of the Word in services produces so little life changing experience and behaviours?

    2.Yes most church services are fairly deadening but I think that is as much about the absence of the Spirit as anything else

    3. Yes, but I don’t hold out much hope for the standard model anyway. Hence the focus of this ‘Unbounded Church’ site!

    4. An additional answer or rather question. Could it be that God is withdrawing His glory from the church because of its inward looking-ness and corruption by the ‘idols and spirit of the age’? God is working powerfully in the church in many parts of the world, just not in our church. As it has been said ‘If you feel God is far away guess who moved?’

    Your questions are really important and require a much longer answer really but thanks for contributing to the discussion.. . .


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