A perceptive post from Sydney Anglican minister Gordon Cheng on early warning signs of “a spiritual power brownout”.
How can you tell when you’re “in need of a good cleansing zap of spiritual power”? Well, it’s not the sort of external things by which we may sometimes be tempted to assess ourselves:
[I]t wasn’t because your ‘miracle a day’ had dropped to a ‘miracle a week’. And it wasn’t because your evangelistic conversations had stopped resulting in a flow of conversions, and started to turn to sniggers behind your back. It wasn’t even because your popularity rating amongst your fellow-believers had plunged below 35%, your lowest in a decade.
And it wasn’t even because your blog hits had gone down, or your daily devotions had stagnated. No, it was something more subtle and spiritual:
[W]e knew there was a spiritual power brownout when you started to compare preachers. “That sermon was too long.” “This sermon was the best I’ve ever heard.” “This one was the funniest.” “That one was the most inspiring.”
And when you invited us to come to the convention to hear the “most brilliant speaker ever” (your minister), and be amazed by the political dignitaries who made an appearance, that was when we knew you’d really lost it.
As Cheng points out, this spirit of preacher-comparison and sermon-assessment (pretty endemic among conservative evangelicals, it has to be said) has a long pedigree in the church.
What makes this so perceptive is realising that it is situations of apparent strength and blessing that can often conceal the seeds of spiritual decline. It was the very fact that the Corinthians were so blessed with top-notch Christian leaders to follow – Paul, Peter, Apollos – that encouraged divisions among them.
In the same way, the more great preachers and other Christian teachers we have access to, the more easily we can forget that it is the gospel itself that is the power of God for salvation, and focus on the “gospel-givers” rather than the gospel they are giving.