“The nice thing about apathy is you don’t have to exert yourself to show you’re sincere about it.”—Anonymous

The bad thing about apathy, however—at least, spiritual apathy—is everything.

There are few things a pastor or spiritual leader fears more than apathy. (And if we’re wise, we fear it creeping into our own hearts as much as we fear it undermining the spiritual growth of those we lead.)

How do we recognize and diagnose apathy before it’s too late? Below are seven symptoms of spiritual apathy in the local church:

  1. Decline in attendance—When there is a slacking of attendance, there is also a slacking in hunger for the preached Word of God. Obviously, there are times of the year when vacation or other factors play a part. But when a decline becomes the trend rather than an exception, there is cause for spiritual concern on the part of a shepherd.
  2. Lack of concern for souls—When soulwinning and outreach times are attended by fewer and fewer people, there is a spiritual disconnect between what we say we believe (that the Great Commission is our great priority) and how we behave (that soulwinning isn’t a priority).
  3. Lack of participation in congregational singing—The Bible commands us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. When Christians come to church with a heart of praise, the opportunity to sing is welcome. When they come distracted and bored, their singing reflects it.
  4. Indifference to the needs of others—Growing Christians are caring Christians. Scripture commands us to bear one another’s burdens. When we don’t care enough to know what the people around us are going through, we’re slipping into self-focused apathy for sure.
  5. No pastoral encouragement—The Bible commands us to know those who labor among us and to remember them for their work’s sake. Just as a maturing teenager or an adult will notice and be grateful for the care and sacrifices of their parent, so growing Christians will give thanks for spiritual shepherds who serve them.
  6. Declining concern for missions—When a church becomes inward focused, they are no longer concerned for the fields white unto harvest. They lose their sense of eternal realties and of spiritual responsibility to reach the world with the gospel.
  7. Failure to invest in the next generation—When a church fails to see young men and women as their future and fails to invest in their development, apathy is setting in. Frankly, the church may not continue in the next generation.

When Christ rebuked the Laodicean church, it wasn’t for gross immorality or even doctrinal compromise. It was for apathy born of pride:

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:—Revelation 3:15–17

Apathy is a serious condition indeed. In my next post, we’ll look at how to address these symptoms early on.

Also, although this list is directed toward pastors in detecting spiritual apathy of the congregation as a whole, it is a valid list for any Christian to narrow down to personal indicators to detect apathy settling into our hearts.

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