Author’s Note: This post concludes a 3-post set offered in companionship to a 3-part sermon series I preached in August titled “Distracted”. You can view the series here, as I preach from 3 of John’s 7 Letters to the Churches in Revelation 2 and 3 to talk about the distractions of busyness, the fear of missing out, and complacency. Thanks for reading.
There is an old fable about a frog who was put into a kettle of tepid or lukewarm water. He was quite comfortable in the water and so stayed there. Gradually, however, the water temperature was turned up until it came to a boil. The change was so incremental that the frog did not perceive the danger and he was cooked to death.
Perhaps that fable is an illustration of complacency and the dangers such a condition poses to our faith. The living Christ describes the Church at Laodicea, in Revelation 3:14-22, as “lukewarm”. He wishes they were either hot or cold, but because their spiritual condition is lukewarm, he threatens to spit them out of his mouth. As a coffee drinker I find I can relate to the illustration. I like my coffee hot or cold (iced coffee being a relatively new enjoyment). When it’s lukewarm? No thanks! Yuck! In fact, I think I have spit it back into the cup before.
But I’m not sure anyone who is in Christ sets out to become lukewarm, or end up as a boiled frog. Complacency in faith sneaks up on us. We get lulled into it. We grow comfortable, used to how we express and participate in following Christ. Overtime our practice becomes routine, and sometimes a routine becomes a rut. Take it from a boy raised in the country: You can get stuck in ruts.
This seventh letter to the churches gets my attention. It causes me to examine my own practice of faith and ask how I am making myself available for God’s new things and fresh expressions. It causes me to pray that our congregation, that all congregations, might avoid the very common and gradual slide into complacency.
What does it look like, you ask? Perhaps it varies, but the following may be some indicators of a church bordering on complacency:
- The past holds a greater focus than the present or future.
- Words like “we tried that once” or “that will never work” are more common than “let’s see what happens” and “I sense God is leading us in this direction.”
- Congregants wait for staff to initiate and carryout ministry. And staff fail to equip others or act as permission givers.
- Maintenance and inward focused efforts dominate the church budget and calendar.
- There is a general lack of energy and joy.
Each time I have studied the 7 letters of Revelation I’ve come away asking myself: What message would Christ send to the church today? It’s a sobering question, but one worth consideration. I believe the message of the letters is timeless, and churches, depending on their context or current situation, may find one or more especially relevant. But it’s this seventh one that has always felt the most poignant to today’s church (in contexts similar to my own) for me. It was sent to a congregation settled in an affluent community, where the relative successes of day to day life made for a comfortable existence. In short, the people didn’t seem to want for much. They felt content, even complacent.
How easy it is to say, “that’s a message for someone else” and to simply go on with our lives, comfortable and unconcerned about the water temperature.
Did you notice how the letter comes to a close? The living Christ ends this letter with an apt word: Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying the churches.