Should Churches Stay the Course? MT1

‘Stay the course’ is failing, report says

By BILL ADAIR, Times Washington Bureau Chief
Published December 7, 2006

WASHINGTON – For nearly four years, President Bush has repeatedly vowed to stay the course in Iraq and portrayed his critics as cowards who want to “cut and run.

Since the war began in 2003, Bush has used the phrase “stay the course” 60 times and has mentioned cutting and running 39. But the sobering report of the Iraq Study Group now asks Bush to do the very thing he has criticized: to dramatically change course
The report, issued on the same day that 10 more American troops died in Iraq, paints a bleak picture

“The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating,” it says, declaring that Bush’s approach has failed.

“Current U.S. policy is not working,” the report says. “Making no changes in policy would simply delay the day of reckoning at a high cost.

James Baker, the co-chairman of the panel and a longtime friend of the Bush family, put it this way: “We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution. In our opinion, that is no longer viable.

As we consider President Bush’s “stay the course” strategy in Iraq – and the harsh criticisms of the recent Iraq Study Group – I am challenged by the parallels to the church in America.

‘Stay the course’ is failing.It appears obvious that the strategy being implemented by the American church is losing ground. To borrow from the words of the Iraq Study Group report – The situation in the United States “is grave and deteriorating.”Lost in America

The Western world is the only major segment of the world’s population in which Christianity is not growing. The percentage of adults in the United States who attend church is decreasing. According to George Barna – “There has been a 92% increase in the number of unchurched Americans in the last thirteen years. In 1991 there were 39 million unchurched Americans compared with 75 million currently.” (2004)

In Lost in America, Clegg and Bird state: “The way Christians do church today is the equivalent of ignoring millions of desperate, but unrecognized, cries for help. We’re letting an increasing number of our neighbors and friends die without a personal exposure to the life-giving good news of Jesus Christ. Unless we make some drastic changes, many people are likely to perish, and we’ll fail in the mission of what God has called us to become and to do.” (p 15)

Are changes necessary? Absolutely.

Should the church simply “stay the course”? Is that option even viable? Absolutely not.

As my friend Mike Livingston emphasizes – we need more boots on the ground. This doesn’t mean that we need simply to deploy more professional pastors, but rather we must train and deploy every Christ follower for the mission – to be missionaries in their neighborhoods and workplaces. Just think what could happen if churches became missionary training centers all across this country?

Instead of seeing local churches as the place to invite unbelievers to hear the gospel, what if local churches became the place to equip every believer as a missionary?

“Stay the course” means that churches function as institutions, rather than becoming local movements of missionaries that transform America. “Stay the course” means continued decline and the closing of churches across this country. “Stay the course” isn’t working. We need a new direction – a new strategy.

It’s time for Missional Transformation. This is what the church in America desperately needs. Missional Transformation is a process of discovery that begins when believers recognize their responsibility before God to align themselves (passions, desires, behaviors, habits) with the missionary purpose of Jesus. This transformation is fueled by a passionate, fervent commitment to the knowledge of the glory of God filling the earth as the water covers the sea (Hab. 2:14). Missional Transformation requires a shift away from “doing church” in ways that are familiar and even comfortable to actually “being Jesus” to everyone! This process of discovery will require an abandonment of many pitfalls of Americanized Christianity including attractionalism, dualism, internalism, duplicitism, clericalism, infantilism, consumerism, and mega-ism. (I will be posting on these pitfalls over the next week.)

Let’s not “stay the course” any longer. May the church in the US become all that God designed the church to be!


Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
8 replies
  1. Bob Carder
    Bob Carder says:

    NO! Business as usual will not save the church nor advance the Mission of Jesus and purposes of the Great Commission.

    New wine in old wine skins never worked then and shall not work now. God has other plans to bless! Stay if you want, but my wheel is turning against the current.

    There is a better way -turn the wheel and let Jesus pilot His ship!

  2. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Alan – it’s amazing how much effort and money and resources are going into bigger and better so that we can win at the “wrong game.”
    I’m so encouraged by believers that are starting to learn a different way – a more missional way! That’s the course we need to head on!

  3. ZooMuse
    ZooMuse says:

    As, I think, Albert Einstein stated: “The definition of insanity (political, spiritual, ecclesial) is to do the same things over and over again, expecting different results.” Einstein also said, “The level of thinking which which will get us out of this mess must be qualitatively ‘other’ than the level of thinking which got us into the mess in the first place.”
    Dave, I appreciate your question on my own recent posting. Yet, now I see you are already answering it in your most recent blogs. You’ve suggested some powerful things. More comments later as I have time to ponder your thoughts.

  4. ZooMuse
    ZooMuse says:

    Oops, ,one more thought. Now President Bush’s mantra has become “the way forward.” In fact, I heard him this week make this profound statement: “The way forward in Iraq is to go forward.” Wow, such insight!

    However, you have not fallen into his rhetoric. You are bringing to the table some good ideas. Now, we need to put mutliple feet to the ideas, beginning with the most critical: first, transform the “inherited” DNA of current Jesus followers into missional DNA, and second, create movements which are infusing new, missional DNA into new and not-yet disciples.

  5. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Thanks Rick – I think that the process of infusing “missional DNA” into new followers of Jesus is key.

    Over the next 10 years, I fear that many churches will close in America. Rather than make the difficult changes necessary – they will just die.

    Alan Hirsch has suggested that “threat” causes us to change. The rapid and discontinuous change that the church in America faces is unlike anything that we have seen before. He expresses concern that the church “cannot adapt to the rapid changing environment that we find ourselves in.”
    I hope the American church doesn’t simply conclude that “the way forward is to keep moving forward.” I hope the church is willing to adapt and abandon some of the pitfalls of Americanized Christianity –
    1. Attractionalism – the belief that changing aspects of our worship experience will make church more attractive to unbelievers
    2. Dualism – the dichotomy of sacred and secular
    3. Internalism – focusing internally on the growth of the church to the exclusion of focusing externally on reaching the harvest
    4. Duplicitism – the failure of leaders who keep telling people to do what that they aren’t doing themselves
    5. Clericalism – an unhealthy dependence on professional clergy (trained and paid) to teach the Bible, serve the church, and meet the needs of the faith community
    6. Fragmentation – the separation of local churches from other local churches which destroys the unity of the church’s testimony in the world
    7. Infantilism – the inability of a Christian to spiritually feed oneself, resulting in an unhealthy dependence on supplemental nourishment from pre-digested food (sermons, books, study guides, etc.)

    8. Extractionalism – the moving of people out of relationship with non-believers and into church relationships
    9. Separatism – a pietistic avoidance of sinners based on a fear of contamination and a “holier than thou” self-righteous attitude
    10. Consumerism – the rationale that the church exists to serve its members
    11. Pragmatism – the practice of seeking answers in conferences and seminars from church experts who are achieving the results we desire for our church and duplicating their model or program because it worked for them
    12. Mega-ism – the obsession with size as the measure of a successful church or ministry
    13. Edificialism – a preoccupation with property and buildings
    NOTE: In the future I will post on all of these pitfalls…

  6. Steve Bagdanov
    Steve Bagdanov says:

    Interesting Biblical note: I am preaching from Luke 10 this week, the sending out of the seventy. Jesus says to his disciples here: “the harvest in plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
    Interesting usage of words by Jesus here that are cloaked in our English translations.

    For instance the word for beseech is literally the word for beg – it will take a new compassion for the lost for us to beg.

    Secondly, the word used here for “send” is ekballo which means to “eject by force.” Maybe our methodology in the sending area needs to be more emphatic and forceful, as opposed to optional.

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