What are the barriers to our fulfillment of the Great Commission?

  1. A lack of organized prayer for the city.
  2. The absence of congregational missional training.
  3. The lack of vision or a burden for the lost.
  4. The rural mentality, even of city churches.
  5. The failure to steward witnessing opportunities – an almost total lack of evangelism consciousness.
  6. The disconnect of Christians from non-Christians – the insulation of believers into comfortable holy huddles.
  7. A lack of unity and collaboration between congregations. Independence. Self-serving activities.
  8. The intoxication of busyness.
  9. The generational gap and the aging church.
  10. Buildings that are unappealing or not designed for outreach.[1]

There are two cultural obstacles, both of which are deadly. There is growing cultural resistance to evangelism from the outside. Faith as it is permitted in the public square is being redefined. There is a decided shift to pluralism. America, like Israel before us, is rejecting Yahweh! The second barrier is not “the destruction of religion [but]…it is the transformation of religion from a ‘single-faceted religious meaning system, to a multi-faceted religious meaning system’.”[2] These national shifts to pluralism as a cultural norm are alarming, but they should not paralyze us. Our God performs quite well in contests with idols.

The greater barrier is our own resistance to change, a “take us as we are” posture, self-justifications for not reaching outward to those we now classify as “unreachable!” The harvest we must reap is the most unusual we have ever faced. They do not know the Bible stories or easily believe the principles. They may challenge the Bible itself. They have shed traditional values. Their mentors, from the ‘60’s, created a culture of experimentation and rebellion – a dynamic that needs redemption and redirection, but not death. This is the age for experimentation and cultural confrontation. Sadly, this generation sees the church as unhelpful to their personal needs and at cross purposes with their personal desires: “What could the church do to help me with my alcoholism? Or my addiction? Or my anger?” Seventy percent of those who express faith will relapse at least once following their initial commitment to Christ. They will require great patience and sacrificial discipling. Few will have an existing faith support system to sustain and encourage them. Further, they struggle with the reality that they do not fit into the traditional church and do not want to conform to the current membership profile. They long for religious experiences that do not have the trappings of “traditional church.” Many are not sure they want to be a member of “the church” as it is or as they perceive it. Do we have the resolve to reach such a harvest?

Malcom Muggeridge once charged, “one of the most effective defensive systems against God’s incursions has hitherto been organized religion.” He called the church “a refuge for fugitives from God” whose voice was drowned in religious noise, whose purpose was confused and obscured in the maze of creeds and dogmas. In the church, he charged, “one could get away from God.”[3] George Barna charges, “recent decades have seen the impact of the Church wane to almost nothing.”[4]

Most Christians will say that they want their church to grow and to see new people come to Christ, but is saying, “We want our church to grow!” the same as saying, “We want to reach the unreached!”? Growing our church by finding ‘Christianized people’ who are basically like us is not the solution for a national revival that brings cultural transformation. We must open the church to those who are unlike us. To reach the unreached, the church must become seeker-sensitive and simultaneously Spirit-led. We must be seeker-friendly and Christ-exalting. We must be anchored by holy values, and such a tether, become seeker-driven and plunge ourselves into the culture, concerned about the lost.

We have not learned to separate convictions from compassion. Biblical love will never violate Biblical truth – but the arm of love is longer than the arm of truth. Love is unconditional. It is blind and accepting of all. This harvest is filled with people whose behavioral profile is inconsistent with a church that emphasizes holiness of heart and purity of life. We must never let love muzzle truth. Conversely, we must never let truth bind love. Agape reaches to the lost, but only by truth are they set free and liberated. If we allow truth to lead, we may love conditionally. If we love wildly and freely, truth will follow. Love needs to lead truth.

The greatest resistance to revival and renewal is in the church. Do we have the courage to change?

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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1]       Ray Bakke and Jon Sharpe, Street Signs – A New Directions for Urban Ministry (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2006), 140.

[2]       Ron Dempsey (Faith Outside the Walls).

[3]       George Otis, God’s Trademarks (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books/Chosen Books, 2000), 32.

[4]       George Barna and Mark Hatch, Boiling Point (Ventura: Revell, 2001), 311.

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