5 Grave Dangers For Any Local Church

One of my favorite movies is the 1992 modern classic, “A Few Good Men.” It starred Tom Cruise as Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, Jack Nicolson as Colonel Nathan Jessep, and Demi Moore as Lieutenant Commander Joanne Calloway. It’s a great leadership movie.

You probably remember the famous “You can’t handle the truth!” dialogue, but do you remember this scene?

Kaffee: Yes, Sir. Colonel, at the time of this meeting, you gave Lt. Kendrick an order, is that right?
Jessep: I told Kendrick to tell his men, that Santiago wasn’t to be touched.
Kaffee: And did you give an order to Colonel Markinson as well?
Jessep: I ordered Markinson to have Santiago transferred off the base immediately.
Kaffee: Why?
Jessep: I felt his life might be in danger once word of the letter got out.
Kaffee: Grave danger?
Jessep: Is there another kind?

Grave danger… is there any other kind?

That may seem over-the-top or a bit dramatic for a blog post intro. Most of us who are leaders in the church are not nearly as intense as Kaffee or Jessep, our work doesn’t require us to carry weapons, and we aren’t often in a courtroom.

But as I think about the gospel story, it is dramatic. It is about life and death. When it comes to the local church, the stakes are high and we do stand post for the Kingdom!

We don’t have to get weird about it, but there are grave dangers that we face as we do our part of leading the mission forward. It’s easy for church work to become “business as usual.” Therefore, it’s wise and helpful to reflect on the depth of five dangers that can really hurt your church.

5 Grave Dangers:

1) When systems take the lead over the Holy Spirit.

I’m an advocate of church systems. Good stewardship requires efficiency of time, energy and money.

However, if we ever begin to lean into systems over the power of the Holy Spirit, we are skating on thin ice. Under the demands of a seven day turn around, 52 times a year to “produce” the next service, it’s easier to do than you might think. The machine can take over the mission.

The idea is not to ignore your systems or get rid of them. In fact, you may need to develop them better. It’s more about keeping them in the right priority and knowing how to keep them subject to the Holy Spirit. That’s not easy when you have deadlines.

The Holy Spirit can’t be a tag on at the end if the leaders still expect divine power. We must let Him lead the way, and the systems help us unleash that power to reach even more people.

2) When your church name is lifted above Jesus’ name.

The name of your church matters and a good reputation in your community is important. But there is a subtle and all the more dangerous potential to talk more about your church than about Jesus.

12Stone Church has a good name in the community, and I’m grateful for that. But one of the best compliments I’ve ever heard was from a waitress who said, “Oh, you guys are those Jesus freaks!” She somehow associated us with Jesus, and that’s a good thing.

It’s easy to say “God,” (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but when you say “Jesus” you’ve made a distinct declaration, and people know where you stand.

3) When programs take precedence over prayer.

Programs over prayer leads to experience without transformation. The unique nuance with this potential danger is that the experience might be good, but that doesn’t mean that anything of eternal impact happened.

The longer I lead, the more deeply I’m convinced that prayer is everything. Your church or my church may have great leadership and excellent programs that people love and appreciate, but true long-term success is based on prayer.

The more I fight my schedule for time to pray, the more it fights me. I fight anyway. Why? The enemy knows and will do anything to prevent prayer! In fact, the enemy loves prayerless programs because they pose no threat. But even the smallest and most humble of churches can rock the Kingdom if it’s a praying church!

4) When competition becomes greater than cooperation.

Competition is neither subtle or unnoticed, but it’s a grave danger that is hard to conquer. It’s difficult to conquer because some competition is healthy. It comes from a good and godly leadership drive that wants to make progress and excel.

It’s when competition is driven by jealousy, pride, envy or insecurity that we get in big trouble. When you are upset because someone has more than you, of anything, competition has you by the throat.

Scripture clearly calls us to unity, whether it’s within our own church or with other churches. When we lock arms in a spirit of cooperation, with a fellow staff member or, for example, at a roundtable with another church, we are difficult to defeat.

5) When comfort is allowed to replace sacrifice.

I recently wrote a post about sacrifice, so I’ll be brief on this last point, but it’s no less important.

Have you ever noticed that church planters and new churches never seek comfort? They eat, sleep and drink the mission. They make huge sacrifices to launch the baby church. They do whatever it takes.

And yet the same leaders and same church, years later, often seem to have let off the gas. There are many reasons for that, but let’s be honest, none of them are good. Nothing of any real value continues to move forward without sacrifice.

From your marriage at home to your mission at church, sliding into the comfort zone is like quicksand. You don’t notice what you’re stepping in until you are already in danger. Grave danger.

10 thoughts on “5 Grave Dangers For Any Local Church”

  1. Years ago I was asked to lead a church that had reached a low of ten people. They had lost their building and pastor. They were essentially down to almost nothing. When I met with them I told them I would teach them how to reach people and make disciples. The problem is they did not know what they were getting into with me. I made it clear that leaders were noted by who they led. That church had several programs thinking that through programs they would reach people. When I started asking them about their neighbors so often could tell me very little. In the next two years they began praying for what appeared impossible, all of the leaders started home Bible Studies they started and led themselves, and they were discipling new people. Ministry was going all over. God gave those people passion. They prayed for things as though God had no bounds. At the end of two years I told them that I was done teaching them what I had planned. One of the men said “No, no we need this.” By the end of two years that church was 45 and many more in the community who were in a Bible study were not Christians. They became outward focused and joyful. Those people who were once working a program started reaching people and leading them. Today that church owns some prime land in the area and 20 acres with everything paid for. It really is about leading people and encouraging them to be all that God wants and more than could have ever dreamed. When they catch the vision of Matthew 28:19, 20 and 2 Tim. 2:2 they are forever changed.

    1. Wow, great story. Thanks for sharing it and thanks for your Kingdom leadership! Hey, I’ll bet some of your twitter friends would love to know who you are, maybe include your name if you are comfortable, and your pic for twitter. Just a thought.

  2. Dan, this is why I love working with you. You have such wisdom to know how to navigate the tensions between the “mechanics” of ministry and what is at stake spiritually. I believe it is our spiritual formation that gives us ideas and creativity to help people get better. It’s not the numbers but about the people we are trying to produce. Christ followers not great programs. As Mark Buchanan says, “If your God to Safe?” Thanks for keeping us living on the edge by trusting Him and only Him for our ministry to others. You my friend are a blessing. Know you are loved. Bill

  3. Roger Schweikert

    With regards to the third danger I like the quote attributed to British Lord Gordon I once read regarding prayer in the Anonymous work “The Kneeling Christian” published several decades ago. In it Gordon declared: “There is much we can do after we have prayed, but there is nothing we can do until we have prayed.”

  4. This is one of the greatest tensions in the church right now. How to lift up the name of Jesus with the presence of the Holy Spirit and still work with our systems. This is one of Dan’s best articles of the year! As leaders in the Church we can not allow lose the power and authority of God. It is not our great performances that destroy the yoke of bondage off of people. It is the anointing that comes by being humble with a passion and vision to lift Him up. May we decrease and may He increase. Our systems are a tool to help this to happen.

  5. We used to be members at a wonderful church (Still is). As I was praying for the leadership one day I was focused on prayers for the Pastor/team as they prepared for the upcoming months of services, themes, etc. I prayed for their planning and the software program they used to choreograph every minute of the service. Once in a while I hear the Lord speak in a way that is unmistakable…”The Holy Spirit is not a software program!” I wasn’t prepared for that. Soon there was an opportunity to do something significant in a unified time of prayer with other Christians across the nation. I led a small group of pray-ers from a congregation of 1000. There was no announcement made in the services indicating the prayer time because the services, including announcements, were planned out at least six weeks in advance. Since we made the decision to hold the prayer meeting only 2 or 3 weeks in advance, it didn’t make it into any form of announcement. This is one frustration I have with the mechanical side of planning. I love it when the Holy Spirit decides to interrupt our services and lives. These are precious times. Thanks for your insights Dan.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.