Diagnosing Spiritual Complacency

One of the terrible diseases of Christianity today is complacency. There is a major complacency epidemic spreading amongst the Kingdom. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

I certainly believe that Satan is a master deceiver and uses many techniques to disarm and neutralize Believers. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Satan’s strategies is to plant the seed of complacency.

I have a friend who served a tour of duty in Iraq. On that tour of duty he worked many road checkpoints and was issued, along with his other soldiers, some very particular gear. Among that gear was the normal body armor and helmet, but that gear also included padding and armor for their upper arms and thighs, as well as a groin guard. All of this gear had one mission in mind: to keep them alive and protected in the event of an IED explosion. As you can imagine all that gear made the already intense heat nearly unbearable. So for that reason many of the soldiers would remove the gear when officers were not around. One particular day there were no officers on site and a newer enlisted soldier was in the guard tower wearing his helmet causing many of the others to poke fun at him. On that particular day an enemy assailant just so happened to be taking aim with a long-range rifle and shot that soldier in the head. The helmet and his lack of complacency saved his life, whereas many of the other soldiers would have been killed. I say all of that to make this point: in combat complacency kills.

In Amos 6:1 the Lord spoke to the backslidden Israel through His prophet Amos. It says,

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!

The Lord was addressing to the people who were self-satisfied and in their comfort zone. They felt self-sufficient and strong enough in their own power. These people had little desire for God, and little hunger for His righteousness. They were self-confident and self-sufficient. Thus the Lord warned them about the impending judgment upon them.

How often do we fall into this exact attitude? We allow ourselves to grow complacent and live a self-satisfied life. Do we truly live dependent on God or do we try to maintain some independence? Remember, complacency makes us to feel secure in our job, safe in our strength, good about our knowledge, protected in our money and possessions, eventually blinding us and leading us to our downfall. Sometime the strike isn’t immediate. Like the enemy assailant in the story above, sometimes the enemy patently takes aim and waits. He allows us to grow comfortable, and complacent all the while he is disarming us without much effort.

A.W. Tozer says,

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.

Let’s get one thing straight. Complacency is a killer that can ruin ministry. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

Revelation 3:14-22 says,

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

We see above that lukewarmness is a spiritual condition that apparently, Jesus can’t stand. Another name for it might be “complacency.” Complacency is not contentment. Where contentment is finding joy in the blessings of walking with God, complacency is when we have stopped walking.

How do you know that this killer has crept into your ministry? Here are some telltale signs.


  • Lack of Zeal

One of the most obvious and beginning stages of complacency is a diminishing presence or absence of zeal. We all can probably remember a time in our life when we were passionate about something, maybe you are like me and when you find a new interest or hobby you dive in headfirst and it is all consuming? Hopefully we can all think back to a time when we were like that with Jesus. We didn’t need complex theology or big “spiritually correct” words. Yeah… I just went there.

Too many of us have substituted zeal for knowledge!

I honestly am pretty tired of seeing Bible believing friends of mine tearing each other to shreds over theology on Facebook for the whole world to see. I have been there too! At times I myself have replaced my zeal for pursuing Christ and acting like Him for merely knowing more about Him and maybe letting others know about it. Before anyone gets all tore up please understand that I am talking to myself here! Maybe the dissection of the Word down to the last punctuation mark was just a distraction to keep you from understanding it and doing what it says? In actuality Satan, the deceiver, doesn’t care how much you know the Word if you don’t do the Word.

Please read the Word, dissect the Word, understand the Word, memorize the Word… but then go put into practice!

  • Tradition is Doctrine

Tradition entails so much more than what most people typically think of when it is mentioned. Tradition is more than robes, recited prayers, hymns, etc… Tradition is something that can invade and ultimately take over any church, regardless of its denomination, history, or style. Let’s get this straight, when we depend on tradition for our “religious” involvement, relationship, worship, or gatherings we stop depending upon something else… namely the Bible and the Spirit of God. When that happens, we’re on a rapid descent to destruction. In fact, our gatherings become nothing more than scripted ceremonies that we have rehearsed and polished in hopes of gaining something. We might keep ourselves happy, we might grow our church in numbers or financial security, but we aren’t truly pursuing the renewed work of Christ and the Kingdom of God here in our ever-changing ministry field.

There is nothing wrong with tradition itself. But… there is something wrong with depending on tradition!

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Security is mortals’ greatest enemy.

But what kind of “security” is he talking about? I believe he is talking about the security that comes with comfort. Maybe your comfort looks different than the blanket that Linus drags around everywhere, but it’s still serving the same purpose. Do your traditions make you feel at “home” or secure and comfortable?

Complacency makes us feel secure, but feelings can lie.

Ephesians 5:14-17 says,

This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

How is it that we can be told to make the most of every opportunity and still pass up so many because they didn’t fit into our idea of “church?” Let’s put it out there, we as a whole have become slothful, habitual, uninspired, secure, and complacent, often doing what we do for traditional reasons rather than because it’s best.

Why is it that we, who have had the precious blood of Christ cleanse our sins, now take such a mediocre and habitual approach to those things related to Christ and His cause? From our outreach, in-reach, preaching, worship, programs, aesthetics, etc… in almost every area of corporate church complacency has unfortunately become the norm.

The message is the same, but the messengers and avenues they take change!

The secular world has caught on to this! Look at the music industry. Songs and albums were once put out on vinyl, then tapes, then cd’s, and now everything is digital. The same songs that were once on vinyl can now be downloaded on iTunes for .99 cents! Businesses don’t always change the product or name… they just change the presentation, method of delivery, or audience. Why aren’t we who have the best “offering” putting forth the same effort in our church activities as we do in our personal activities and businesses?

Andrew Grove, a founder of Intel, is famously quoted for saying,

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.

If we stay the same, for the sake of staying the same, we get left behind and we do the message an injustice! We must understand that our complacency has eternal implications, and I’m afraid that a culture of mediocrity has now become the new tradition.

  • Tolerance of Sin

Last week I asked you to imagine a trashed house full of garbage and the flies that go along with the garbage. Sometimes our lives look a lot like that house, and the natural tendency is to clear out the flies. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, the solution is to get rid of the garbage in our lives. We need to be concerned with the flies, but we also must work to remove the garbage to keep them out! Every trashcan is going to look different… but we certainly all have one. In his strategy of complacency, Satan watches as we clear our houses of garbage and flies…except for one room. It’s more than likely a hidden room, one we keep to ourselves. That room may be continual sin, it might be a relationship, bitterness, or a wound we haven’t allowed to heal. At times the door to that room full of garbage stays shut for a while and Satan allows us to have successes in other areas all the while the flies are just multiplying and building up in this little room. Then, out of nowhere, the door of the hidden room flies open, freeing thousands upon thousands of flies who have been breeding and waiting for just this moment.

Why does this happen? We get complacent and our complacency leads to tolerance or apathy.

Think it doesn’t happen? Take a moment to consider prominent Christian leaders, celebrities, or politicians whose lives and careers have been ruined when they fell in disgrace from one sin or another. We all know them so there is no need at mentioning names. We might look in from the outside an ask ourselves, “how would they allow that to happen” or, “why would they do that with all the success they have?” Rest assured. That fall wasn’t part of the plan when they began their career. Nobody begins a ministry with the goal to ultimately disgrace themselves and God by being brought to their knees by their own hand. Too often the fall comes from complacency. They believed the lie that they could “get away with it,” or, “it’s not that big of a deal,” and when they seemed to have it all together and under control, they grew complacent in their tolerance of sin.

Sin is sin, and all sin is bad. Don’t tolerate it! The church is to be a place of healing for sinners, but a Holy God doesn’t wink at or bless iniquity. He sent His son to die for and erase that iniquity and sin… not cover it up. The only reason the church welcomes sinners is because by God’s grace, sinners can be reborn with Christ’s righteousness. Do not tolerate sin in your own life! Letting a few “little things” slip leads to bigger slip-ups. I recently watched a video of a poor woman who slipped on an icy sidewalk and every time she would begin to regain her balance and composure she would begin to slide and fall again until ultimately she ended up on the ground. We’ve all been on an icy sidewalk… when you begin to slip it is all over. But… you know how you avoid slipping and falling? Stay off the ice.

  • Lack of Pursuit

What is a pursuit? I would define it as an intense chase of something in order to attain it.

My parents have a German shepherd by the name of Obi and he is extremely quick. One afternoon while playing and walking Obi his leash fell off of his collar and went limp in my hand. I looked down in shock only to see him looking at me with the same look of shock in his face that I had in mine. At that point the chase was on.

Why did I pursue Obi the dog? I pursued because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t catch him, of what would happen if I stopped pursuing him!

How many of us have stopped pursuing holiness? Lost interest or will to pursue God and spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth is marked by an aggressive intense pursuit of God. We desire His fellowship, His people, and His word. A life that lacks prayer, Bible intake, and neglects spiritual nourishment is a life that has slipped into complacency and that will see little or no fruit.

Mark 11:12-14 says,

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree for its failure to produce fruit in the verses above He gives us a sobering lesson. Empty religion, lacking fruit, needs to and ultimately will die. In actuality the parable of the fig tree doesn’t end with Jesus’ withering curse, because the very next verse says,

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

The spiritual complacency or “religion” of the people had reached the place where they were making a total mockery of the temple and of the message. We may not see our situations as that bleak, but if Jesus walked into our churches what things would he need to overturn or shake up?

  • Inward Focus

One of the surest signs of complacency is a church that is self-absorbed or entirely inwardly focused. You might ask, “Tanner, what does than mean?” Let me begin my answer with another question, what is the mission of the church? That question can evoke many answers like: to provide teaching for Believers, to be a place of fellowship, a place of worship. To all of those I would say yes… but what is the first and foremost mission of the church? In Matthew 28:19 it tells us about that mission. It says,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The mission of the church is to spread the good news and make disciples. In fact we may have to get out of our comfortable and familiar zone to do it! Acts 1:8 says,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Is your church inward focused or outward focused? Are you so concerned about not “rocking the boat” that you leave it docked? We see in the book of Acts that in order to achieve our mission we have to wander outside of ourselves! Are we so overly concerned about keeping “our people” happy and content that we miss opportunities to reach those that haven’t yet been reached by Christ or the church? I will step out in an unpopular way and say that when a church is absorbed with just its own activities, its own problems, and its own people, it has become complacent and ineffective at achieving the goal and mission.

The primary challenge, and our primary concern, should be, “how do we reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus?” Most inward-focused churches are not sensitive to or even aware of this challenge. We might bank on our “friendliness” or position in the community to cut it… but the numbers show that it doesn’t! We can’t simply pray for a harvest and not plant any seeds or till any ground!

So many of us are so complacent that we fear any change or decision that might push insiders away and, frankly, impact the bottom line. Ironically, any organization, including a church, that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die. In the book of Acts, James the brother of Jesus, told the Jewish Christians, who were the insiders of the day, they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles, the outsiders of the day, to turn to God. Why is it that this many years later that problem still exists? Are we making it easy for outsiders to turn to God, or are we stuck in the busy complacent work of keeping insiders happy?

Jeremiah 10:21 says,

For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Proverbs 1:32 says,

For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.

What is our focus as a church?


Zephaniah 1:12 says,

It will come about at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’

Are you complacent? Go to war with the complacency in your life.

 

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Where’s the Map?

What is the plan for our ministry? Where are we going… and how are we getting there

Have you asked yourself these questions? I hope so!

Mark Dever once wrote,

It would be patently stupid to start construction on a building without first knowing what kind of building we plan to construct. An apartment complex is different from an office complex, which is different still from a restaurant. They all have different blueprints, different kinds of rooms, different materials, uses, and shapes… The same goes for building a church… It only makes sense, then, for us to revisit God’s Word to figure out what exactly He wants us to be building. Only then will we understand how to go about building it.

Today we are talking about three things that are absolutely necessary in any ministry, a theology, philosophy, and methodology of ministry. Obviously my direct application is in congregational worship… but it applies directly across the board for whatever ministry you are involved in. Having a theology, philosophy, and methodology for a ministry has been compared by some to having blueprints for the construction of a building, just as it would be a disaster to work on a building without a carefully thought out plan, it would be disastrous to a ministry to not have a philosophy of ministry.

A church’s theology explains what the church believes, a church’s philosophy explains the practical ramifications and outworking of those beliefs, and their methodology provides the roadmap for how the church is going to get there. Invariably, these things will inform and affect each other in this sense, a church’s philosophy of ministry is also her theology of ministry. What the church believes will ultimately determine how its ministry is carried out.

Now… we have to be careful and thoughtful when putting these things down on paper! Unfortunately the tendency is for us to make up our own philosophy of ministry, based on our own concept of what the church is supposed to do and what the church is supposed to be. The truth is, however, that God has clearly laid out for us in Scripture what the ministry of the church is!

The weight has been lifted off our shoulders!

We don’t have to decide why the church exists or what it’s purpose is… in the same way, we don’t have to determine what it is supposed to do. The mission is clear and laid out for us already! God has already established these things because the church is His institution on earth and not ours! We are just the custodians or caretakers. It is our responsibility, however, to determine how to most effectively and appropriately achieve our biblical mandate in our local context.


So… you may be saying, “Everything here is going fine. Why do I need to do these extra steps?” To that I want to offer you these practical benefits that flow from defining a biblical theology, philosophy, and methodology of ministry.

  • First, it forces you to be B Sometimes we treat our preferences in ministry as if they are Biblical and they just aren’t. Having a guide on paper helps us to cut through the fallen human aspect of ministry and keep our eyes on “the prize.”
  • Second, it just makes practical sense. You wouldn’t construct a building without a plan the same way that an army wouldn’t head off into battle without a strategy! Having a theology, philosophy, and methodology laid out helps us set actual goals that are consistent with our biblical
  • Third, it heightens our effectiveness, and improves our efficiency by preventing us from spending time on activities or beginning ministry efforts that are not part of the biblical mandate for the church. If we don’t have a road map we won’t know where we are going, and, consequently, we probably won’t get there.
  • Fourth, it helps us to be faithful to our call to ministry. Remember that call? Having a theology, philosophy, and methodology before us helps us to cut through the fog that comes with everyday ministry and pursue that particular call that the Lord put on our hearts at the beginning.
  • Fifth, and definitely not last, it motivates the church or ministry because they collectively know and are able to clearly see the direction in which they are heading. Nothing can be more frustrating for members than following a leader or leadership blindly.

So… we have talked about the benefits. Now, let’s lay out the plan. Below I have supplied an example by providing my theology, philosophy, and methodology for worship at the church in which I serve, New Hope Community Church. Take a look, copy and paste, and modify to fit your needs in ministry.


  • Theology

Theology of worship is simplistic in one nature but very involved and complex in another. The center of all Christian worship is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, establishing a New Covenant with the Father through His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. It is because of the redeeming work of Jesus that we worship. Therefore our worship is to be formed by our relationship with God the Father through God the Son, as led by God the Holy Spirit. We are merely responding to His revealing. Our worship is an outpouring of our gratefulness to God our creator for the grace he has lavished upon us.

  • Philosophy/ Vision

My philosophy of worship is one that places values on things that exemplify Christ and His nature. If we are attempting to honor and glorify Christ in all that we do, including our public and congregational worship, then our worship needs to place the focus on none other than the Biblical attributes, characteristics, and principles of Christ. God-centeredness is of upmost importance and is the primary reasoning for all items listed and discussed below. Our services must be both vertical and horizontally oriented, and our worship should be both glorifying and edifying. We must draw near to Christ in our worship and in return He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

My philosophy of worship contains many values, the first being that our worship communicates the supremacy of God. Which in turn causes all worship to be shaped by and focused on God and encourages an expectancy and eagerness to encounter and engage with God in worship.

We should strive to provide and partake in worship that values and encompasses the Word of God, causing our worship to be reflective of the Word and reinforce Biblical teachings. Worship that places value in Biblical teaching through both proclamation and song will encourage believers to interact with Scripture and to make connections while applying it to their own lives and personal worship. I believe that often we overlook the foundational impact that our music plays in the lives of our congregations. We are forming their beliefs about God and the Gospel on a weekly basis through what we sing. The things we proclaim through song are taken out of the church within the hearts and minds of the people every week.

Worship should value both traditional and modern worship styles. If we approach our worship in this manner it will in turn cause us to continually “seek out” a “new song” to sing unto the Lord (Psalm 96:1). The equal value placed in both traditional and modern worship keeps us from becoming complacent in our worship and/or all consumed with being the most cutting-edge in our worship.

My philosophy of worship also values heart, mind, and spirit. Worship should not be purely emotional in the same way that it should not be over thought or criticized. We should place importance in both heart and head in our worship. The head should inform the heart and inspire the mouth. Our worship should cause us to think, evaluate, contemplate the things and ways of God, but we cannot disconnect that aspect from our emotions and heart. We should also put emphasis on expressing ourselves and our emotions for Christ. A husband who speaks love to his wife and doesn’t show it would cause her to wonder, the same goes for us in our worship to Christ. This mindset causes us to approach worship in an open non-judgmental state and with an openness to worship however we feel led, although this isn’t meant to provide an open excuse for chaos or distraction. We are given Biblical instruction and example of worship, we are to seek to build up and unify the body of Christ not distract or tear down.

Our worship should value authenticity and inclusion. If we value both authenticity and inclusion then it should cause us to lay our own desires and preferences down at the foot of the cross and to lift up Christ alone. This also should encourage congregational singing in a “unifying” and “body-building” way. We aren’t worshipping merely for ourselves… we are worshipping for the edification of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ also.

Our worship isn’t limited to proclamation or song. Our worship should also value other artistic elements within it, whether it is sound, staging, lights, projection, drawn or written art, etc. We will strive to use our strengths to glorify while keeping the distraction of our weaknesses minimal. We will pursue un-distracting excellence in our worship and never go beyond our means or range of gifts or blessings. This should cause us to be diligent in honing our individual crafts, and well-rehearsed but open to the Spirit.

Lastly, our worship should value the work of the Spirit. We will plan and rehearse our services and programs prayerfully and with diligence but maintain openness for the Spirit to move, change, and lead. We must worship in a way that values Christ and the work of the Spirit more than our schedule.

  • Methodology

My methodology is one that was formed because of my theology and philosophy of worship. I believe that our reasoning for worshipping Christ is constant but many times the method can change freely. I believe that my method primarily includes, but is not limited to, the following discussed ideas:

I believe that we should be prayerfully planning and rehearsing our services. The Spirit isn’t limited to moving and leading only within a service, the Spirit can just as easily lead in the planning of a service or program. We must be prepared and rehearsed to the point where we can lead with excellence and without distraction. It also helps the musicians/ band/ choir to worship more freely in the service if they prepare adequately beforehand. Preparation isn’t limited to planning and practicing, but we should be prepared to worship spiritually ourselves. Every service should be approached with expectancy to see Christ move amongst our congregations. We should prepare spiritually before all.

I believe that an important aspect of our method of worship has to be creativity. As born-again-believers we should be even more creative than the secular world because we serve and know the ultimate mighty Creator. Replication of things that work or that are popular isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we shouldn’t always resort to that. We should use our creativity to honor and glorify Christ the Creator.

Our worship should also provide opportunity to engage the congregation. We should provide the opportunities in our worship for people to dwell in the Spirit of the Lord and in order to do that effectively we must provide sing-able songs (in keys that are applicable to a wide variety of people) and we should attempt to remove and discourage distractions amongst our churches. We should teach biblical ways to worship and provide the opportunity to utilize those in our services.

We should be appreciative and balanced in our worship. Just because something is “old” doesn’t mean it is “out-dated” and just because something is “new” doesn’t mean that it is “groundbreaking” or superior. We should strive for quality of content overall and as far as sound or preference goes it’ll come along for itself. We must be plugged into the heart of our church and provide worship that is beneficial to the congregations needs instead of always going with our own preference.

In all things that we do we should approach with excellence. We serve a great God and He deserves great worship. In some cases that doesn’t mean sounding like a professional band, in some cases it does. We are to serve and worship with what God provides for us. We should be authentic, transparent, and excellent worshippers. Our striving from excellence shouldn’t distract from the purpose of excellence, but hopefully a balance can be found there as well.


In the end I believe that worship theology, philosophy, and methodologies should work together with the primary goal of providing excellent worship to God. Scripture provides examples, reasons, and instruction for worship but in the end it has to be personal and consistent. We serve a God who is faithful to us even when we aren’t always faithful to Him, that alone is worthy of more than we can give.