Why do some flames burn longer than others? It’s a question we seldom stop to ask. Present reality forms the limits of our vision. It’s a flawed condition of human nature. We ponder that which burns the brightest today — the churches growing the fastest, the discipleship movements multiplying at the greatest rate, the fads consuming popular culture — to the neglect of what was yesterday.
We view that which is growing the quickest as though it always will. True, a raging fire is an impressive sight, its newfound brilliance overshadowing the modest glow of what came before. Until it inevitably fades to become that which it replaced.
How often do we return after twenty years to look again at what once so powerfully impressed? Do the flames still burn? Or do the cold embers lie a mausoleum to yesterday’s fad? Thoughtful evaluation is generally usurped by a new-burning blaze, alighting to capture our fleeting attention. We rarely pause to consider the obvious reality that if we follow the latest craze then we will someday meet its same fate, though perhaps looking more the part of a cheap substitute.
The success of a fire depends upon the quality of its fuel. There is no other factor. Gimmicks and trends might spark quick growth, some spiritual equivalent of lighter fluid. But depth alone determines longevity. This requires a radical commitment to that which is often unseen — healthy relationships, a rich life in God, a commitment to holiness, financial integrity, the list goes on.
Our Enlightenment-era obsession with knowledge contributes to the problem, we know what is required for depth, like we know that dry wood is needed for a fire. Unfortunately what we know is often different from what we do. It’s easier to learn something new then it is to live something old.
Every church movement of substance grew out of the same basic ingredients — radical faith, holiness, love, humility, sacrifice, and a commitment to mission — but their form varied greatly. God allows churches to grow with very different structures to prove that structure is not the cause of growth.
Chasing fads buys into the fallacy of the spiritual silver bullet. It simply does not exist. However, this provides a wonderful alternative: Our problem is not knowledge we lack, but rather living that which we know. So start today.