If you want to hinder or even kill the life of a church, allow a religious spirit to invade. It will trade the life of God for a form that lacks vibrancy and power. Religion kills relationship and works to keep a rigidity that conditions people to think they are experiencing God, yet their hearts are disconnected and far.
I offer you seven real ways that a religious spirit can work in the people of God and keep the life of the church from growing and experiencing vibrancy. Pastors all over the world have to fight off these hindrances constantly; most of it because relationship has been traded over for a religious form.
1. The only spiritual feeding time is at a church gathering.
Week after week, masses of believers live on a malnourished diet of only being fed on at a church gathering, be it a Sunday service or Bible study. Many have not been equipped on how to feed themselves, so they depend upon Sundays to be their time of feeding.
This is why the cry of so many can be,, “I am not being fed here.” Although it may be true that their particular church does not bring out the fresh bread of the Word, it doesn’t help at all if the week day spiritual diet is starvation.
One of my biggest frustrations as a pastor was that each Sunday, I could tell that so many were using Sunday as their only day to engage God and dig into His Word. They relied on the Word I would bring as their sole bread to get them through the week. This causes a pastor to feel like each Sunday, he is starting over, rather than truly building from precept to precept.
2. The church leadership does the ministry, but the people are not equipped.
Hundreds of years after Martin Luther declared the priesthood of believers, we still have a mindset that pastors and church leaders are put there to do all the work. It’s risen to the point that we need paid staff, not to equip people, but to carry the full load of ministry.
A religious spirit has conditioned us in this dynamic. It keeps the body of Christ from being equipped and launched into their destiny. Today’s church gatherings are centered more on listening to a speaker every week than each member taking responsibility to use their personal gift mix to add value to the body.
This non-equipped dynamic also allows an unhealthy dependency to remain. Church members can demand that church ministers meet everyone’s needs, return everyone’s phone calls and be personally accessible to everyone all the time.
3. We rejoice at games and celebrate at parties, but we sit somber in church.
Let’s be honest. This is a tough one for most people. But it’s all a mannor of how we have been taught and conditioned. Our church gatherings should be the most epic experiences of celebration. Yet they can often be incredibly somber and lifeless.
Deep down, people know how to celebrate. They know how to worship. They just have terrible gods that they give attention to. The passion is there, it’s just misdirected.
At the same time, a religious spirit has stolen the joyful expression out of our sacred gatherings. To many, celebration has been lost it in their life. It’s amazing how a church service can be the most non-celebratory connections in people’s lives.
4. We judge and condemn others so we don’t feel so bad about ourselves.
When being trained under a religious spirit, you’ll avoid dealing with the brokenness and sin of your own heart. So it’s much easier to focus on others and find fault in their lives.
5. A religious spirit produces a lot of guilt, but produces little change.
A byproduct of a religious spirit is that so much is motivated and driven by guilt, more than being moved with compassion and love relationship. With a religious spirit, people don’t even know the difference.
Guilt can be a powerful motivator to people under a religious spirit. In fact it drives much of their decisions. But it doesn’t produce a life of freedom and transformation.
6. We divide the secular from the spiritual in life.
To the grace filled believer who lives in freedom, God is involved in every aspect of their life. There is no compartmentalization. Everything is ministry. God is connected to us everywhere we go. We don’t have our “God” time and then the rest of our life. God is connected to us in everything.
7. We become quick to criticize new moves of God.
When you hear people pray for revival, you hear a religious legalism right in the midst of it. They want God to arrive in a package and method in which they are familiar with. Yet when God moves in great power, it often arrives in a package that people don’t expect.
That is why the religious Pharisees are very quick to beat down and criticize any work of God. In fact, they always strat off by stating it is not a work of God at all. They are quick to emphasize the flaws and ignore the good that God is doing.
Years ago, I experienced a personal revival in my life. I was getting free from so many areas of my life and was literally experiencing a personal renovation that permanently set me on a new course.
I thought that most believers I knew would be extremely happy for me, as I was shedding off years of fear, depression and religious bondage. My life was being set free. No brainer, right?
Yet what I found was more questions and critical stares than real celebration. It showed me that a religious spirit is not really happy with people being genuinely set free, unless it is done solely on that person’s terms.
Yet at the same time, I can find myself entertaining a religious spirit at the drop of a hat. My thoughts can easily lean into a cynical and judgmental posture that misses the true work that God is doing.
I am praying that each of us can soberly gain more freedom to live in the freeing relationship that our Father has designed for us.
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