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Stagnant: How Complacency Kills Your Church, Leaders, and Faith

by Pastor Chris Kumpula

Complacency is Spiritually Lethal

Standing water is dangerous. Movement maintains water's cleanliness and usefulness, since waterborne illnesses are less likely to survive in cold, faster-moving water. The same is true of discipleship and ministry. Just as stagnant water invites the growth of bacteria and potential pathogens, stagnant spiritual life is perilous.

"Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth." -A. W. Tozer

Complacency invites spiritual disease both individually and corporately as a church. To say it kills isn't quite right; it invites death. Yet the calm, placid surface of the waters can deceive us into contentment for the appeal of simply maintaining our position. After all, fast water is harder to navigate than not having to navigate at all! Here's how complacency kills your church, leaders, and faith:

1. Complacency denies discipleship and growth.

The nature of Christian life is to be a Jesus follower. The same way disciples were called to follow after Jesus and learn from him, we are called to be disciples who study and grow in His Word. The concept of discipleship implies a need and desire to grow. Complacency always denies this need for growth, whether as a matter of arrogance or apathy.

"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ." (Ephesians 4:15)

Growth matters. The passion of Jesus followers is to live in Him, by Him, and like Him. This progressive lifelong process of spiritual shaping (sanctification) involves continuous improvement, whether as a matter of learning biblical teaching (doctrine), developing personal character (piety), or living ethically unto the good (virtue). Complacency reveals a heart that either says "I'm already good enough" (arrogance) or "I don't care" (apathy).

2. Complacency reveals our contentment with sin.

Sin is pervasive in our world, in the church, and in us. Complacency is an increasingly passive nonchalant attitude about our failure before God's Law. We increasingly justify our subtle sins to avoid addressing our need for growth and change. Pride's danger is in masking our need for repentance with a mistaken sense of self-sufficiency.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean." (Matthew 23:24-26)

Spiritual complacency develops from short patterns of skipping over root-level sin. Like our favorite coffee mug in the shop, we often skip tending to the cleaning.

3. Complacency mistakes placidity for peace.

The devil's ploy is to make the status quo the measure of peace. But God's peace is defined in terms that conflicts with our preferences and expectations. Complacency invites combat by avoiding confrontation. We are prone to become lukewarm Christians, ones who seek enough of God to stay out of trouble, but not so much that sacrifice is required in our service to Jesus.

Revelation 3:15-16 “‘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."

God wants us to focus solely on His will for the future. This view shapes our present. Though the imagery of lighting fires may be an overused in image in worship songs, it's true that like a fire, it's hot or it's not.

4. Complacency welcomes spiritual neglect and ruin.

One of the themes of Christian life through the whole of Scripture is to wait without falling asleep. In the parable of the coming bridegroom, those who were alert and prepared who are commended. Elsewhere, God warns of judgement against the complacent.

Zephaniah 1:12: "At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’"

God desires that we be spiritually watchful and vigilant in our walk with Jesus. Our desire is for Him to find us ready. A lack of watchfulness is equivalent to denying our Master's return.

5. Complacency rewards sluggards over servants.

The church will always be full of those who pay lip service to the desires of God. We can say that we want to see more people worshiping next to us Sunday morning, or that we desire more to come to know Jesus, but our actions often tell a different story. We look much better in the mirror when we evaluate our good intentions over our bad habits. Sluggards despise evaluation, because they don't crave growing closer to Jesus.

Proverbs 13:4 "The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied."

The diligent never cease to look for where God is calling for the next change in their life. And because these changes are most often invisible to others, they're easy to neglect.

Trust the promise of Christ, that fruit results from time spent growing deeper in Christ. Resist complacency, and embrace growth. Your walk will be stronger, your leadership will be more effective, and your church will be healthier for it.


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