I don’t mind growing older, but I do mind growing softer. Only one of these do I have any control over. Spiritual atrophy is similar to physical atrophy in that I must fight both, or grow softer and weaker.
Atrophy doesn’t just happen to churches, it also happens to pastors. Since the spiritual health of a pastor is intrinsically tied to the spiritual health of a church, you would be wise to ask yourself these questions:
1. Am I growing spiritually soft?
Spiritual atrophy is simply the result of spiritual apathy. When I neglect my walk with Jesus, a natural degeneration begins to set in, which is apparently what happened to the church in Ephesus:
But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent. Revelation 2:4-5
2. Have I abandoned my first love?
Spiritual abandonment is usually not an event. It is slow, spiritual erosion. Abandonment is passive neglect that is so subtle that it is virtually imperceptible. I have never personally experienced a spiritual shipwreck, but erosion has set in more times an I care to admit to you, or myself.
Has spiritual apathy and erosion set into your life? This is a tough question. I’m sure the Ephesian elders didn’t want to go there either.
Go there now.
Stop reading and start praying until you have heard from God.
3. Am I ok with just being a ok?
On the surface, the Ephesians were growing as a church in three significant ways:
- Good works
- Theological purity
- Steadfast endurance
This church was commended for exposing spiritual degenerates. Some believers in Ephesus had “shipwrecked their faith; or became apostates.”
They were a good church. They were led by good pastors/elders. They were “ok.”
Are you ok with being ok? I don’t think the Ephesian pastors and members had completely walked away from their first love, they had simply neglected it. This is what spiritual atrophy looks like. It looks normal. It looks ok. If you are ok with being normal, you are not ok. There is a better way to live and love.
Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. Matthew 24:12
4. What am I doing now to fight spiritual atrophy?
Married couples often diagnose their problems as “growing apart.” That is kind way of describing their relational apathy and atrophy. I love to see a couple fighting for their marriage. If you are married, your top two relationships are with your Savior and spouse. In other words, my first love is Jesus and my second love is Janet.
Love is both. All I have to do for atrophy to set in for either relationship is…nothing. Apathy leads to atrophy every time.
Fight atrophy in your first love. Not because His love for you needs improvement. His love for you can’t grow any stronger, but your love for Him can. “Repent” by putting Him first in your life and ministry; on your schedule and in your heart.
Mark Dance is an associate VP at Lifeway, overseeing Lifeway Pastors. You can receive his regular encouragement in pastoral health at MarkDance.net