Catherine the Great (1729-1796), Russia’s great empress, had a Field Marshall named Grigori Potemkin who organized a tour of southern Russia for her. The tour was planned over 4 years and covered a distance of 1000 miles. To impress the Empress, Potemkin created fake villages where “happy” peasants were transported back and forth. All along the way Catherine gazed out on seemingly happy subjects lining the streets. Thus, the term Potemkin village entered our vocabulary to refer to “an impressive facade, or show, created to hide an undesirable fact or condition.”
How much of the Western church, and particularly the church in the United States, is a Potemkin village – with numbers, glitz, and sizzle – but little depth?
Truth be told, we have large numbers of “Christ-followers” in our churches who:
- Live off the spirituality of others;
- Pray and read Scripture very little;
- Are enslaved to pornography and romance novels;
- Have not had sexual relations with their spouse in months;
- Are emotionally unaware and judgmental;
- Treat God as if He were their personal assistant or personal, volunteer fire house in case of an emergency;
- Pursue the American dream of security and comfort more than Jesus’ kingdom; and
- Are too busy and distracted to engage larger issues such as systemic racism and the poor in a serious way.
The list goes on.
It is so easy to spend our time as Christian leaders focused mostly on externals – running programs, planning, supervising volunteers, fine-tuning our messaging, strategizing, streamlining our visitor experience, identifying and releasing new volunteers, injecting creativity into our services, growing our numbers and giving.
The problem, however, is that this leaves us with little energy to focus on internals – making serious disciples, laboring till Christ be formed in them (Gal. 4:19), and watching over our own hearts to ensure our doing for God flows from our being with Him. This is slow and messy.
There are only so many hours in the day. But if our priority is excellence in the external appearance of ministry, we end up with little time available to do what Jesus did – focus on the internal.
Our churches may look better on the outside than they really are on the inside. But I fear that much of Western Christianity is empty and unsustainable long-term. Why? We are not making serious disciples.
You and I cannot fix this today. But let me invite you to:
- Ask God for one person with whom you can pray and meet.
- Meet with them, asking the following questions:
- Tell me about your rhythms with Jesus in Scripture and prayer. What is going well? What are your largest challenges?
- How are things doing in your marriage (if applicable)? If you are single, what are you doing to cultivate a few close relationships and do self-care outside of your work? What is one question you are holding as you think about going forward?
And may God grant us the Holy Spirit’s power to follow the narrow way of Jesus, lest we fill the land with churches that are simply Potemkin villages.
Send your comments and thoughts to Pete on Twitter @petescazzero.