There has been a lot of rhetoric in the political arena over the last few years about change. And, as you would have guessed, there is no shortage of opinions about whether the changes have been good or bad: everyone claiming authority and historical precedent for their perspective on the subject.
But what about the Church?
Everyone seems to agree that the Church needs change too. The numbers point alarmingly to our decline, the loss of adherents, and a general disinterest in the culture in anything that appears to be “organized religion.”
So, over the last twenty years or more there has been a mad rush to recommend reasoned solutions to the Church’s problems; more contemporary music, less formality in our presentation, a return to liturgy, more “practical sermons,” more marketing, ministries focused on felt needs, shorter services, less demanding theology, political correctness, and a general accommodation of the culture…to mention a few.
The problem with these solutions is that they are all very superficial. We are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The solutions miss by a mile the heart of the issue, or, for that matter, the hearts of the people that we are trying to disciple or reach.
Jesus was pretty adamant that the heart was at the center of our relationship with Him. He said that our actions happen out of the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:34). Or, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). The disciples struggled to understand or believe in Jesus, even in the presence of miracles, because of the hardness of their hearts (Mark 16:14). Jesus said the greatest commandment was that we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).
So, it seems logical and right that what we need most at Westgate Chapel, is not more contemporary music, liturgical worship, different preaching, more marketing, shorter services, or accommodation to our culture. We need hearts deeply touched and moved by God, including the pastor. Transformation (change) is a heart issue, not a methodological issue (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley lived in the heat of spiritual awakening in New England and Great Britain. Both of them saw lives radically transformed in the heat of revival and identified the source as God, bringing about change in the “affections” of the people. Affections are the dispositions of the heart. God working in and through the human heart.
This is what the Church needs today more than anything else if we are going to be God’s agents of change in a world hurtling towards destruction. We need a new heart. And after 35 years of pastoral ministry there is only one way I know to get to the hearts of the people, even in people who are adamant that they don’t need God.
It’s God, moved by the prayers and intercession of His people.
God has ordained prayer as our partnership with Him in the process of getting to and changing hearts. Prayer is not incidental. Prayer is not light seasoning on the ministry. Prayer is not an afterthought. Prayer is fundamental to God touching and moving on human hearts, beginning with the pray-er, then inside the Church and eventually in our communities.
We must have a massive and renewed awakening of prayer in the local church. That is what I am asking God for. Because without prayer we don’t have a chance of getting to the heart of the matter, no matter how innovative or creative our methods may be.