There is a destructive force at work in the Church today, one that I see week in and week out, one that may be even more debilitating than gossip, doubt, unbelief, exclusiveness, closed-mindedness, and judgmentalism. That force is apathy. Apathy is defined like this:
noun, plural -thies.
1. absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement.
2. lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting.
3. Also, ap·a·thei·a, ap·a·thi·a [ap-uh-thee-uh] Stoicism. Freedom from emotion of any kind.
One of the biggest problems I see in the Church today is that in many ways, we’ve stopped listening for the voice of God, we’ve stopped expecting the movement of the Holy Spirit among us. We either assume we’ve got it all figured out and we don’t need to hear anything else or we really, genuinely don’t care that much if God is still speaking in the world today because we assume it has little to do with how we live our lives. We’ve settled in quite comfortably to our apathy.
Apathy is a destructive and contagious force. It kills our spirits, it drains our energy, it zaps our passion, and it spreads like the plague. What causes apathy? How do you stop apathy? Psychologists contrast apathy with a feeling of being “in the flow.” On a continuum, apathy is the result of a low level of challenge and low skill level required to do something or perform a task. On the other side of the spectrum is being “in the flow,” which results from a high challenge and high skill level required to do something.
Thinking in terms of the amount of challenge and skill level something requires, it’s no wonder people are apathetic about the Church. It’s no wonder we’ve settled into a place of apathy, of passionless boredom. I think it’s due in large part to Church leaders who’ve allowed that to happen. We’ve set the bar extremely low. “All the Church requires of you is to be here for an hour a week, to sit in your pew and listen, maybe to go to a Sunday School class, and that should cover you until next week. Nothing else is really required of you.”
In John 16, Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for the time that’s coming soon when he will no longer be with them. In verses 12-13, he says, “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come.”
In other words, Jesus says, “I’m not the end of the story. There’s more to come. There’s more to learn. There’s more to do!”
The way we approach Church and faith today is as if we are merely passive recipients of some past events that are recorded in the Bible, but there’s not much for us to do now except sit around and learn and wait for the future. But that’s not the vision of the Church Jesus has. According to Jesus, we have a mission that requires a great deal of skill and it is a huge challenge. The message of Jesus found throughout the gospels is that the world has been turned upside down and God has asked US to help turn it right side up. Jesus’ mission wasn’t finished with Jesus, it continues in a dramatic partnership between us and the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, and it requires much more than our attendance. Church is not a social club where we simply get to place our membership! Our job is not complete by sitting in a pew!
So, to all my apathetic brothers and sisters, (and to the apathetic person I see every morning when I look in the mirror), I’m sorry that the leaders of the Church, myself included, have failed to adequately challenge you. But now is not the time to sit in a sanctuary or classroom and stare blankly at the wall. The Spirit of Truth is here to guide us, as Jesus has promised, and we have quite a job to do. Contrary to popular belief, the world is presenting some pretty huge challenges that require a high level of skill that people of faith can solve like no other. Surprising to many, the vast majority of these challenges aren’t going to be solved by our passive participation in one hour on Sunday mornings. God’s on a mission to put the broken pieces of the world back together, and God has asked people like US to join in. Rather than responding with disinterested apathy, let’s get up, wake up, shape up, stand up, and let’s go!
God, thank you for your continued guidance. Thank you that you are still very much at work in our world and in our lives. Thank you that you require much, much more of us than a passive, apathetic response, but that instead you trust us to be your partners in your work. May we have the courage to do what you require of us.