What symptoms accompany the loss of mission purpose in a congregation? Peter Steinke writes that such congregations:
1. engage in conflict;
2. suffer a malaise of spirit;
3. decline in some statistical manner;
4. adapt to their most immature members;
5. fail to mobilize people’s gifts and energy;
6. surrender to apathy or complacency;
7. do little planning;
8. become turned in on themselves;
9. blame outside forces (or perhaps one another) for their depression;
10. prove unable to make effective, appropriate changes.
Peter Steinke, A Door Left Open. Alban Institute
Most interesting in my opinion is his use of the word “depression.” Luther defined sin as “being curved in on oneself” which is not a far cry from the modern definition of depression, being turned in on oneself. Congregations are emotional systems. They behave like people do. They can even show signs of lasting depression. So focused on itself that its forgetting the needs of the other…and the grace of God.
Christ’s resurrection and return from the tombs of our sin and death breathes the peace and new life Christians and their congregations need. “Forgiveness means leaving the past behind,” as one member of St. John’s put it nicely in our Bible Study Sunday. This too can happen in congregations. “Mission Drift” (as Steinke calls it) is the direct consequence of not hearing the Word of forgiveness and apprehending the hope God gives us.
I thank God that so many people from St. John’s have spoken to me recently about a renewed joy here at St. John’s. Christ has opened a few doors recently and, while it is always an anxious thing to go through them, He blesses us. We could identify any number of factors for that joy, but the main one is always the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps it’s finding new expression here at St. John’s, but it’s still the Gospel nonetheless.
I pray the Lord continue to increase our joy, bolster our sense of hope, and sharpen our mission direction as we move ahead. It’s all His marvelous work.