The Western church is in decline.

It is hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with that statement. The evidence of our failing condition is overwhelming. Here are two (of many) examples:

  • Based on a 2019 Pew Research study, only 69% of Americans identify as Christian – down from 77% ten years earlier.
  • In a 2018 Barna Research survey, when asked “Have you heard of the Great Commission?”, only 17% of churchgoers said they had heard of it and could explain its meaning. 51% said they had not heard of the Great Commission at all!!

More than a few well-meaning and conscientious individuals and organizations have offered their opinions on how we might reverse our trending decline. Most of these prescriptions address symptoms, not the source of our unhealthy state (i.e., start teaching the Great Commission). Consequently, much of the Western church seems to have checked into hospice care, rather than pursue the cure for our disease.

To state the obvious, the cure we have been offered is God’s grace. The simplicity of that assertion does not make it any less true – particularly when we understand the meaning of grace. From Blue Letter Bible’s Outline of Biblical Usage, grace (charis) is:

[T]he merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.

Grace is the cure for all that ails us. So, how do we, as leaders, acquire the grace of God for the restoration and transformation of the Western church? How do we participate with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the good work they have committed to accomplish in our midst (Matthew 4:19, Philippians 2:13-14, 2Corinthians 3:18)?

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God… Ephesians 2:8

What is true of salvation is true for all of God’s grace; the grace of God is accessed through faith. Therefore, we humbly propose that the source of our unhealthy state is our struggle for faith. We further propose that our struggle for faith can be attributed to two faulty assumptions.

The first assumption we have in mind relates to the manner in which faith is acquired. The commercialization of the gospel, accompanied by “easy believism”, has reduced faith to an eventful response to an emotion-charged invitation. The Scriptures have something more to say; specifically, that faith is a process.

God is a process-oriented problem solver. Sanctification, transformation, and salvation are the most notable examples of God using a process to solve an existential problem. Why would it be any different with faith?

Generally, the process of faith consists of the hearing of faith (Romans 10:17), obedience to the faith (Romans 1:5), and the work of faith (1Thessalonians 1:3-4). Recognizing faith as a process opens the door to broader and deeper understanding. We discover, for example, that God has provided spiritual disciplines for each phase of the process: prayer for hearing, obedience through reckoning the truth and taking every thought captive, and the work of faith via fellowship and service.

Faith must be considered and pursued as a process to be effectual in the attainment and release of God’s grace.

Our second struggle for faith comes from the assumption that faith is an unconditional gift. This notion is simply and completely contrary to biblical truth. Faith is conditioned on our ability to hear the word of God (Romans 10:17). Our hearing is conditioned on our positioning before God (John 7:17). We must be willing to do God’s will to understand it; we must be surrendered and submitted bondservants.

The Father is filled with love for His children. He is merciful and gracious… and He is righteous and just. Honestly, why do we think God would speak to those bent on disobedience, much less give us faith for His grace?

How long will we continue to struggle for faith? As leaders, how long will we continue to offer prescriptions for the symptoms of our failing health? As Jesus encouraged His disciples, we must strive to enter the narrow gate, for many will seek to enter and not be able (Luke 13:24). We must be diligent and faithful to His word. We cannot expect others to follow where we have not been ourselves.

God bless you with determination and courage for the well-run race.

Humbly yours and forever His,