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(This sermon is from Leadership Summit 2009 held in Willow Creek.
you can find more sermon and resource from here
I always loved this leadership conference, which is really inspiring and mentoring.
In year 2009, Tim Keller, who is one of my favorite pastors, had a session and I listen and summarized what I learn. He diagnosed the cause of the spiritual deadness in church is religious life style which is based on will power, not the Gospel. he said that it is our elder-brotherism that creates spiritual deadness in our churches. We have to drill this gospel down into our hearts. Otherwise, people think that asking Jesus into their hearts means “Now we should try hard to live for Jesus.” Most of points in this sermon can be found from his book, “The Prodigal God.”)

Spiritual deadness in church. What is it consist of and how to fix it

Prodigal son  the word prodigal originally means that reckless sin

First point, the parable originally meant to point to Pharisees
The story was told when Jesus was eating with sinners and Pharisees asked
Why Jesus was eating with them. That is why Jesus said three parables.
So the main figure that Jesus was pointing to is the elder brother not younger.
The elder brother signifies Pharisees and the younger brother sinners around Jesus.

Second point, both the elder brother and younger brother alienated from father.
Neither loves the father. They both loved the father’s money more than the loved the father or each other. The younger brother runs away with the father’s money. The elder brother didn’t really loved the father because when the younger came back
And the father held feast, he was upset with the father spent his money.

This means that there are two way to have God’s things.
One is to be like the younger brother, who is disobedient to the father
The other is to be like the elder brother who was absolutely obedient to the father.
The people like the elder brother is those who pray, come to church, study bible,
obey God’s command, and very religious people. This kinds people think that they
deserve God’s blessing and God has to bless me. The people like the elder brother think that they are with God, but they are not. At the end of the parable, the younger brother is saved, but not the elder brother. The elder brother was not saved not in spite of his goodness, but because of his goodness.

How this idea plays in the church?

Religion operates in the principle: I obey therefore I am accepted.
The Gospel operates in exact opposite: I accepted because what Jesus Christ has done for me, therefore I obey
. In church these two kinds of people are sitting next to each other.
But the religious people believed that their salvation is based on their performance though
They said they believed they are saved by the work of Jesus Christ. This is why they are not
growing spiritually and there are no spiritual fruits. One level these kind people believe the Gospel,
but on the other level they go back to the elder brother functionally.

The elder brother gets furious and upset with God, when things do not go well in his life.
You can’t be angry against someone unless you feel superior to them. You have pride in yourself.

Two things have to be done

First, you have to have a new level of repentance. Repentance is not being sorry for what you have done wrong. Pharisees also were sorry for their wrong doing. The secret for repentance is that knowing what you are doing right and the reason for what you are doing right. Renewal will come not when your repent for your wrong doing; it comes when you repent for the reasons for your right doing. “The main thing that separating you from God is not sin, it is your damnable reason for your good work” Until you repent for the reason for what you are doing right, you think you are doing God’s favor by following him.

What it cost to bring the younger brother home? The cloth, ring and fatted calf belongs to the elder brother, not the younger. It was at the expense of the elder brother. And he was mad about it.

Second, you got to get to a new level of joy.

Five things leaders need to do to bring renewal in your church

1. Leaders have to work this out in their heart. “Don’t go into the ministry to save your soul.” This is why you live and die according to your attendance. That is why you overwork and why criticism utterly kills you, because it kills your self-image.
2. Leaders must communicate beyond principles to the gospel.
You can just preach to people without telling the story of Jesus. You cannot just pounding on people’s will without taking them to the Crosss and to the Gospel. When you realize the Gospel and believe the Gospel deeply you can give money away instead of trying to give money away on your will. Don’t even preach Psalm23, the way we usually do. “Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” at the end of sermon, “go trust Him like that.” Never end the sermon or teaching without pointing out the fact that Jesus was thirsty, Jesus was alone in dark valley. Bring people to the Cross and let people look at Jesus and know what he has done.

3. Take leaders through this process
4. work it into your congregation
5. Share the good news of the gospel with others

The signs of renewal in your church is “gracious disagreement.” Really disfunctional churches don’t have disagreement, people just leave. (my church was like this. There was no disagreement at least explicitly. when we have a general meeting most of the time a decision was made unanimously. I couldn’t express my disagreement. So the church seems doing fine because no one disagree. That is why left the church)