Momentum can be an amazing thing. As a sports fan, there is little more interesting during the course of a game than changes in momentum. Momentum can level the playing field between teams that are not evenly matched. Momentum can take an evenly matched game and turn it into a blowout. Coaches preach changing momentum or keeping the momentum. Momentum is not just for sports fans. It exists in the life of the church.
After the Exodus, the people of Israel had the momentum. God had orchestrated their redemption through a series of miracles. They plundered the Egyptians as they left. They even received the Law from God in the wilderness. Everything that had happened behind them should have encouraged them to move forward and enter the Promised Land. But unfortunately, the people of Israel stopped. They took a look into the land and paused. They lost the momentum and forgot what God had done to redeem and protect them. Losing the momentum cost many of them their lives and forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
I’m afraid that churches today often either can’t get traction or keep the momentum of God’s movement in their lives. Momentum in the life of the church can come in several ways. Maybe several people have recently been baptized. Maybe you’ve completed a necessary building or renovation project. Maybe you’ve hired a new staff member or pastor. Maybe God has given you a season of repentance and revival. Maybe you’ve just completed an influential preaching series in the life of the church. Maybe you’ve witnessed the benefit of a program or ministry that has had a great impact. Whatever the momentum builder, don’t fall prey to these surefire momentum killers.
1. You kill momentum when you take the credit for success.
Momentum can be found in biblical movements throughout the Old and New Testaments—Joshua leading the people into the Promised Land or the gospel multiplying disciples in the book of Acts. As we are warned by countless biblical examples—David being in the wrong place at the wrong time when he saw Bathsheba—we must be careful not to take credit for the momentum. If you have the right kind of momentum, God gave it to you. Give God credit. Use the momentum to point people to him. Anything less than giving God credit is sure to squelch momentum.
2. You kill momentum when you fall into a spiritual lull.
Closely akin to the previous example, we must be cautious not to live off of the spiritual energy of the mountain top moments. Momentum encourages. But the experience of momentum alone cannot sustain you spiritually. Elijah experienced discouragement after the glory of the encounter with the prophets of Baal. Guard yourself carefully after momentous experiences so that you don’t fall prey to discouragement.
3. You kill momentum when you become discouraged by the grind.
While momentum ebbs and flows in the life of the church, pastors experience the day-to-day grind of ministry. “The tyranny of Sunday” as someone coined the phrase referring to the constant need to study, write, and preach every week could become a momentum drain. Ministry is often distant from the public perception of success and momentum. Don’t become discouraged by the daily grind. Rather, realize that momentum is stabilized and even grows upon the fertile soil of consistent ministry.
4. You kill momentum when you give too much attention to the critics.
While momentum can minimize disappointments and criticisms, it often necessitates change. Change creates criticisms. If we allow the critics to dictate ministry, then the status quo or decline ensues. Nehemiah refused to listen to the critics in his day, and the wall around Jerusalem was built. To keep momentum, we must refuse to be afraid of the critics.
5. You kill momentum when you lose sight of the mission by basking in the success of the past.
Momentum itself is never the goal. Seeing people come to faith in Jesus, making disciples, and worshiping Jesus are the goals, and momentum can help us with those goals. But we must guard against the tendency to live in the experience of the momentum and somehow sanctify that experience. Churches that idolize tradition or nostalgia once had momentum, but instead of building upon it, they idolized it and stopped moving forward by glorifying the past.
6. You kill momentum when you lose sight of the success of the past and run past the vision of your people.
Opposite number 5, the tendency here is to think so far ahead and move too quickly for the momentum to bring everyone else along. Momentum certainly aids vision. But there has to be a clear path between the reality of the present and the vision of the future. Often that path can be found by learning from the past and even using the stories of the past to capitalize on momentum and bring actualization to a vision.
7. You kill momentum when you ignore the wisdom of the body.
We must be careful to avoid an overestimation of our individual importance. Momentum only really matters in the body of Christ as it helps the church glorify Christ, make disciples, and build up the body. During and after momentum-building experiences make time to listen to suggestions, ideas, and thoughts of others. God does lead through the pastor no doubt, but he also gives wisdom and insight to others. Listening might just be the key to keeping momentum and involving others in God’s vision for your church.
What other momentum killers can you think of?