Are You Stuck in a Rut?

By David Church

Five Things you must do to get Unstuck!

Has your church replaced truth with tradition?  Have you done the same things for so long that neither God nor man could change things at your church? Do committees and programs substitute for the moving of the Holy Ghost? Has your church become boring and predictable? If so, your church may be stuck in a rut and may be unable to see a way out.

In his book, Rut, Rot or Revival, A.W. Tozer states,

"The treacherous enemy facing the church of Jesus Christ today is the dictatorship of the routine, when the routine becomes "lord" in the life of the church. Programs are organized and the prevailing conditions are accepted as normal. Anyone can predict next Sunday's service and what will happen. This seems to be the most deadly threat in the church today. When we come to the place where everything can be predicted and nobody expects anything unusual from God, we are in a rut.

The routine dictates, and we can tell not only what will happen next Sunday, but what will occur next month and, if things do not improve, what will take place next year. Then we have reached the place where what has been, determines what is, and what is, determines what will be. That would be perfectly all right and proper for a cemetery. Nobody expects a cemetery to do anything but conform. The greatest conformists in the world today are those who sleep out in the community cemetery. They do not bother anyone. They just lie there, and it is perfectly all right for them to do so.

You can predict what everyone will do in a cemetery from the deceased right down to the people who attend a funeral there. Everyone and everything in a cemetery has accepted the routine. Nobody expects anything out of those buried in the cemetery. But the church is not a cemetery and we should expect much from it, because what has been should not be lord to tell us what is, and what is should not be ruler to tell us what will be. God's people are supposed to grow. As long as there is growth, there is an air of unpredictability. Certainly we cannot predict exactly, but in many churches you just about can. Everybody knows just what will happen, and this has become our deadliest enemy."

Here are five steps you must take to pull you or your church out of your rut:

1.      You must first recognize that you are in a rut.

This may seem elementary to you, but for some a rut is no more than a, routine, habit, tradition or comfort zone. When people get comfortable where they are, they don't think of it as being stuck. They don't want to change, they have actually learned to like their routines and traditions (as boring as they are). In effect, they have become spiritually stagnate and blind.

A psychologist was making a presentation to the leadership team of a large corporation. He began by describing his experiments with rats. He would put a rat at one end of a maze and a piece of food at the other end. Then he would watch the rat stumble around until he finally found the food. The next time he put the rat in the maze, the rat would stumble around less and find the food faster. After several more times in the maze, the rat would rush through the maze and grab the tidbit of food within a few seconds. Then, the psychologist explained to the group of leaders, he would take the food away. The rat, as before, would make a beeline for the end of the maze, only to discover no food waiting for him. The rat would continue doing this several more times. Eventually, however, the rat would figure out the food was not going to be there and would stop looking for it. At that point in his discussion, when the psychologist had the attention of the entire seminar group, he presented this dramatic conclusion: “That’s the difference between rats and people. The rats stop!”

This illustration is true of most people, and to a greater extent, people in the church. We allow our methods to become like doctrine, and we sometimes forget the reason we chose the method. We have used the same methods for so long that we become blinded to the fact that the method is not working anymore, and we just continue plodding on because that is what we have always done. If that is the case in your church, you as the pastor must be the one who gets the people to recognize that your church is stuck in a rut.

2.      You must have the desire and willingness to get out.

The problem with being stuck in a rut is that you are plowing down the same row over and over again. You are not making any progress at all. To top it off, the rut you are in is only getting deeper and deeper. The longer you are in your present rut, the harder it will be to get out. The process of getting out will vary depending on the depth of the rut you are in.

Nobody wants to be stuck in a rut. Once people truly recognize that they are stuck, most of them will want to get out. If not, it is up to you as pastor, to birth that desire in them. Once the desire is there, you must be willing to stick to your decision. It can be hard work breaking free from the pattern of predictability, you must stick to your decision as a leader and lead by example.

3.      Start changing your thinking and attitude.

Breaking free from the mundane requires a change of thinking and a change of attitude. Everything begins as a thought and grows from there. Big thoughts make big people. Shallow thinking forms shallow people. The bible states;

Prov 23:7

7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.

We become what we think! At first, a man is a master of his thought, but eventually the thought can become the master of the man. Does your thinking control you, or do you control your thinking? You must cause your thinking to change to break free from your present situation. That will probably require much more time in prayer, more time fasting, more time reading the word and studying. You need to surround yourself with people who are thinking out of the box. Spend time with them, and glean from their experience.

When your thinking changes, your attitude changes! When your attitude changes, your action changes! Ultimately it is going to take action to break free from your rut.

4.      Take a risk, and step out of your comfort zone.

When your car is stuck in a deep rut, a gentle turn will not break your wheels free, you have to turn the wheel sharply as you accelerate the engine before your car will break itself free. The same is true in a spiritual sense, you must do something drastically different than what you are presently doing to get your church unstuck.

Monty Roberts was a famous cowboy who could break the wildest horses into functional partners. A movie was made about his life entitled “The Horse Whisperer.” Roberts was invited to be on the television show “60 Minutes” to tell the world about the secret of horse whispering, whispering into the ear of a wild mustang. It involved his getting into the corral with the untamed mustangs and staying as far away from the animal as possible, without leaving the corral. He also refuses to allow any eye contact between him and the horse. By moving slowly, but surely, away from the horse, and by keeping his eyes averted from the animal’s gaze, Monty slowly draws the horse to himself. Even though the beast is pounding the earth with his foot, and snorting and circling with great speed, Monty keeps steadily moving away from the horse. He won’t look at it. He won’t approach it. As astounding as it sounds, Monty can have a wild mustang saddled and carrying a rider quite happily in no time at all. When asked his secret, he says, “The animals need to be with others so much, they would rather befriend the enemy than be left alone.”

That can't be an easy thing to do, stepping into a corral with a wild mustang. Stepping out of your comfort zone is never easy. Yet , there are a lot of challenges you and your church could conquer if you would only take a risk and step into the ring with the enemy. You don't realize how much this world wants to be part of the church. Jesus stated;

Luke 14:23

23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

The church must come out from behind its four walls and get rid of its 'captive' mentality. God has called us to reach our world, if we are not doing it, the Mormons will, the Muslims will and the philosophies of this world will. Step out of your comfort zone, do something bold, do something different.

Don't wait until you think you are ready, step out now. You will never be 100 percent ready for the risk and challenges of life. You will never have enough money or training or experience to do all that God wants you to do. Yet God is still calling you to do more, and accomplish more both as an individual and as a church. If we only do what we know we can do, then we will never do what God can enable us to do. You may say, “I’m not ready.” Well, was Moses ready when he met Pharaoh with only a staff and a word from the Lord? Was David ready when he went to meet Goliath with only a few stones and slingshot? Was Abraham ready when God called him to go to a country that did not yet exist?

If you want to get out your rut, take a risk, and step out in faith. Extend yourself beyond what you know you can do. When you do, I promise you that God will stand up and take notice, and He will bless your efforts like never before.

5.    Understand that rescue isn't always an option, but sometimes it is a necessity.

I stated earlier that the longer you are stuck in a rut, the deeper it gets. Going back and forth in that same rut causes you to get stuck so deep that eventually you have no chance of pulling yourself out. If you have been stuck in tradition or routine for a long time, chances are good that you or your church cannot get out on their own or even see a way out.  

It makes me think of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is one of the largest ruts in the world. It was formed by the Colorado River wearing away through the millennia at the rock strata underneath until the vast canyon was formed. If you were to get stranded in the Grand Canyon, there is no way you could get yourself out on your own. It is so long and so deep you could not even see a way out. You would need the help of experienced guides. You could try to go through the Canyon on your own, but it is 277 miles long. It is only a one day hike down into the Canyon, but the shortest way out is a full three day hike that should only be attempted by an experienced hiker who is in great physical shape. You could try to climb the Canyon walls, but they are over 5000 feet tall, and straight up. Only an experienced mountain climber would attempt such a climb. You could try to float out on the Colorado River, but it has extreme rapids throughout that should only be entered when accompanied by an experienced rafter. My point is, there are times in the life of a church or the life of a person, where you need to depend upon the experience and expertise of others to get you where you need to be.

I have always been one who feels like I can do whatever is needed to make things happen. That is how I have been raised. "Fend for yourself. Don't depend on anybody else. If you can't make it happen, it is not going to happen." It has taken me a long time, but I have learned that I don't have all the answers, I can't do it all by myself. I can't afford to think that way anymore. Now it is not just me I am caring for, but my whole family, and an entire congregation of people who need their own direction and encouragement. I need God's help, and I need the help of others in ministry who have more experience and expertise in certain areas than I have. Our churches need the voices of others of like faith to speak into our lives! That is why the five-fold ministry is so important. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't be afraid to call up an elder or more experienced minister in your area. He can pray with you and for you, but most importantly he can see your situation from a perspective that you do not have. His experience can be a vital key in moving your church to the next level. No matter how hard it is to ask for help, sometimes it is a necessity.