People of the Rut

People of the Rut

I recently watched a video presentation by Alan Hirsch. Not sure where he was and after watching the video I don’t really care. I was swept away in thought about ministry and the church I serve after hearing what I already knew to be true but had put no real effort to understanding. That truth I heard was, “the contemporary church growth model of attractional ministry may have large appeal but as a whole is ineffective.” Attractional ministry demands that people “join us” in our culture whereby they are “churched” or adopted into a church culture through some process of assimilation. The cultural divide in America is spreading. It is a fact that can’t be denied. People in America have wider interests, increased information, and more diverse backgrounds than ever before. Some things in our culture remain similar and the most relevant for us is the fact that people are willing to engage the topics of Spirituality, God, and even Jesus. However, when we start talking church the crowd of people willing to engage shrinks considerably. There are many reasons for the disdain of organized religion and I can’t take the time to unpack that here but they are well documented for those interested in that pursuit. The reasons that this model are ineffective are numerous, and the widening culture is certainly a main reason, but the one that gripped my heart was the “death of imagination.”

First, the attractional model has been the model that most churches have adopted over the last few decades. I like to think and for sake of this argument will concede that the motives for doing so are pure and based on God’s plan of redemption. (this thought is destined to become another post) As culture shifts, and it is shifting constantly, the church continues to reproduce the same efforts with more and more proficiency resulting in less and less results. This is the point I started asking some serious questions…why is that we are getting better at what “we do” but the results are worse than last years efforts? Simply, what got us here will most likely NOT get us to our next destination. The insanity of doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results (thank you Einstein) is a thought lost on most churches. Maybe we believe God will somehow supernaturally bless our efforts, but here is another place I asked a tough question. Is this hope for blessing “what we have always done” an excuse to be creatively lazy? When the results of our ministry are less and less do we use that as a judgment on those we serve or an indictment to our lack of creativity and courage?

I am guilty of relying on last years efforts without any thought of relevance or need. It hurts to say but I have enjoyed some “ruts*” for way too long. The pattern of ministry has created a groove where others have crossed time and time again, and instead of carving a new path, I have nestled gently down into the crevice that others have created and I now make it deeper. Without thought, and certainly no hesitation, I do the same things…killing my creativity, leadership, and vision. Then I fear we create and institutionalize what we do; to the point that it can’t be changed without stepping on someones toes, or someone abandoning ship and leaving for another church. This is a slippery slope and leads to a somewhat slow and agonizing organizational death. In it’s path of destruction lay the over-worked, under appreciated, passionless, and creatively crushed people of a church that has given up…and leaders that resigned in their minds ages ago.

The good news is that this can change. We can fight and claw our way out of the rut and do those things that are relevant now…and not rely on those things as “what we do” but what we’ve done. They serve as reminders that creativity, risk, courage, boldness, something different, and something daring can clear the path for greater eternal results. It is a return to some of the principles Jesus used when he walked and served on this Earth. He broke the mold and set a high mark…His path was never a groove and always challenged those who followed Him, those who opposed Him, and even those who needed Him. What has God asked you to do that is not recognized by the “people of the rut” as acceptable? Maybe the most important of all questions, does God think of your idea and desire for ministry is acceptable? If so, break free and enjoy the thrill of ministry outside the “ruts” right now.

*RUT: a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.

3 Comment(s)
  • Clay Posted March 22, 2010 1:40 pm

    This is good. Just because things have always been a certain way doesn’t mean that they should always be that way. While we should respect and learn from what has come before us, we can’t be stuck in that rut. What is God calling us to do that is out of the ordinary and beyond imagination?

    I’m sure some missionaries are told that what they are doing is crazy, but yet they do it anyway because God has imprinted that upon their being. Let’s get out of the rut of every day life.

    Speaking of creativity, check out this video from Sir Ken Robinson:

    • phil Posted March 22, 2010 2:30 pm

      Without fundamental innovation of our strategy the church will remain largely in a cycle of ineffectiveness. It makes me sit down and question what we do week in and week out and ask if there are better ways…then when I come up with a possible solution I need to be brave and present it and work through implementation. It is in the presentation and implementation I have the most fear. I am not nearly as afraid to think of solutions…its the implementation that gives me nightmares (for reasons the post includes).

  • Laura Posted March 23, 2010 12:02 pm

    After a bit of chewing on this in my noggin’ (a very dangerous thing) I am compelled to expound on something that may be quite obvious. You mentioned it in your comment … fear. ‘People of the rut’ are content to sit by the sidelines and question the radical, seemingly irresponsible, actions of believers who live as if there is no tomorrow. Why? Because of fear. ‘People of the rut’ are often the more critical, the more negative and the more vocal. Why? Because of fear. Rather than stepping out on the water, ‘people of the rut’ are happy in the boat, complaining about the storm. In truth, they are afraid of the storm and afraid of following the God of the storm.

    How do I know this? Because I have walked in that rut, lived in that rut and criticized those who were boldly climbing out of the rut. Warning, if you choose to ride with God wildly through the mud, your safety and the safety of those around you is at risk. But I promise you this… you will be riding with a huge smile on your face because you are smack dab in the middle of the purpose for which you were created. I’ve lived that, too!

    Feel free to delete this if it is too controversial, Phil :).

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