The Doctor puts his stethoscope down and switches off the cardiac monitoring machine.

You ask “Whats wrong with me, Doctor”. 

He replies “It could be a number of things”.


This is always going to be the case when we have an ‘in-depth’ look at our churches.  Always we will have to diagnose the disease before we can do anything about it. 


A church illness is simply some situation within it that impedes its spiritual growth.  There are many causes for this.

 OLD AGE:  The church is made up mostly of elderly people and they do not have the energy to do much about church growth.  Nothing on earth lives for ever.  Perhaps things could have unfolded differently but they didn’t.  Life expresses itself in circles of birth and death.  The continuation of anything is assured not by the preservation of an individual specimen but by the capacity of the present generation to sow the seeds of the next.

LACK OF CLOSE CONTACT WITH THE COMMUNITY IN WHICH IT IS SITUATED:  The church in the sense that it is a building and congregation in a specific place, depends for its essential life blood supply and vitality on the people who live in its ‘catchment’ area.  If through its methods of out-reach and worship programmes it fails to be seen as attractive and openly welcoming (and that means more than a handshake at the church door and “a pleased to see you”.  It will be viewed by those outside in a negative light and not come very high on the list of options at the worship hour on a Sunday morning, or any other day or time it chooses to meet.

PEOPLE BLINDNESS:  Churches that suffer from this believe that all Christians should talk alike, worship the same way, like the same music, have their services at the same time and of the same length.  A second symptom of this is when any evangelism is focused only on special missions which are largely conducted by those thought to be ‘the experts’. 

THE LAODICEAN CONDITION:  When, for whatever reason people lose “their first love”.  The people at St Laodicea are described as “being neither hot nor cold”.  Other things have taken priority in their lives, self-worth and self-sufficiently have taken away the ‘towel and basin’ brigade and their worship and fervour for Christ hangs now as a tattered garment in need of repair.

THE ST. JOHN’S SYNDROME:  When soul winning takes a back seat to other activities.  When we are always in ‘maintenance mode’ and not ‘mission mode’.  When the past in one way or another interrupts the present moment and interferes with the changes that are necessary for progress; the desire to preserve memories, to retain power, the wish to protect our ‘own turf’.


The moment an illness is diagnosed, there is no time to lose. In the mainline churches time is not on our side.  In the world things are changing at a speed that we can hardly keep up with.  It is in that changing world that we are called to fulfill the Great Commission, “Go ye into all the world and preach the good news”.

The American preacher and writer, Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a visit she made with a group of friends to Turkey.  “One afternoon in the middle of no-where our guide led us up a dirt road toward a small settlement hidden behind some trees.  We turned a bend and the outline of a ruined cathedral appeared.  Grass grew between what was left of the roof tiles and the whole structure was crumbling”.  She goes on to say, “Stepping into that empty shell, the whole group fell silent, looking for permission to enter.  No permission was needed.  No living thing remained inside.  I sat down on a stone chair and surveyed the ruins of God’s church. It is one thing to talk of the post-Christian era and quite another thing to walk around inside it.  Christianity died in Turkey – the land that Paul found so fertile for the sowing of the gospel – the land of Ephesus, Galatia, Colossae, Nicaea”.

Superimpose an image of your own church onto the picture that Barbara Taylor paints – a disused building in the centre of your town or village, its doors tightly shut, the peeling paint work, the windows broken, the sacred things removed to a museum and the records and history archived in some denominational library.  All you see are the faded reminders of a faith no longer practiced.

Barbara Brown Taylor commented when she returned home to her own church, “God has given us  Good New in the person of Jesus and the grace to proclaim it..  If we do not attend to God’s presence in our midst and bring all of our best gifts to serving him where we are, we may find ourselves selling tickets for a museum”.

 John R.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: