Years ago, I watched a romantic Hallmark movie (yes, I admit it) about a soldier who arrived in a small town and fell in love with one of the local girls. It was a nice movie, but there was one scene that really caught my attention. The girl the soldier fell for was already engaged to another guy when she started to fall for the soldier. Then, in one of the scenes she kisses the soldier (the French way that is) and then takes off running, terrified about what just happened. When she tells her mother, her mother tries to reassure her with these words: "It was just a moment of weakness honey, nothing more."
But to those of us watching the movie, it was clear this wasn't just a moment of weakness. From the moment the soldier arrived, he and the young lady had been exchanging glances and it was clear that she was not simply into him, but nurturing those thoughts and feelings. As a result, the kiss wasn't the result of a moment of weakness it was the result of a slow, steady and almost imperceptible pattern that she had engaged in since the two met.
This is how temptation works. The "moment of weakness" thing is really more of a myth. We don't simply fall into temptation out of the blue. When we fall, it is the culmination of a pattern of events, small and often hard to notice, that are strung together to lead us to our next fall. A good way of picturing it is like a chain where every link is a small, seemingly harmless choice. But over time, the chain grows longer until it is long enough to imprison us. Then we fall.
But here is the key to this whole thing. Your "fall" is simply the effect and every effect has a cause. The cause are the little links in the chain. The effect is the fall. And you will never find freedom from the effect if you do not seek to undo the cause.
Transforming your church works the same way. When it comes to the local church here are the "failures" people often complain about:
- Our youth are leaving
- Our church is divided
- There aren't any real relationships here
- We aren't reaching our neighbors
- Our tithe is down
- We haven't had a baptism in years
- There is too much infighting going on
- No one comes to Sabbath School
- Few people support church activities (social/ outreach events etc.)
- Our church is boring
However, here is what I want you to see. Like falling into sin, these items above are "effects". And every effect has a cause. So rather than complain about the effect we need to ask, what is the cause? And once we know, the next step is to make a plan on how we are going to undo that cause.
The problem with many of our churches, however, is that we want to change our results without having to change ourselves. But results are effects. And every effect has a cause. So if you want to change your results, you have to change. You can't have a transformed church if you are not willing to go back and change all the small, little links that have created this imprisoned church to begin with. You can't have different results unless you are willing to do different things.
Temptation and church optimization work the same way. The issue is not the dramatic "fall" or the painfully obvious "dead church". Those are simply effects. And every effect has a cause. So the real issue is, what are the little links that are being added along the way? When it comes to temptation it can start with a moment of stress, which we respond to by going to a certain place in our minds. And we repeat that day after day, week after week until one day, the chain has gotten long enough to confine our wills. The only way out of this is to break the chain of events - the chain of small, incremental decisions. And likewise, the only way to transform your local church is to break the chain of events that nurture it's current state.
So here is my challenge for you today. Meet with your leaders and do the following exercise with them (you can do this in relation to overcoming temptation as well):
Write the answers down on the board (make a chart for ease of use) and then commit to the final step. The change wont come over night, but in time - as you repeat the good behaviors and not the bad ones - your results will begin to change all by themselves. Results are effects. And every effect has a cause.
VERSES TO STUDY
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
1 Corinthians 10:13
13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.