Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back to Life

Take a look at the previous blog.  It's dated March 15, 2012, and is titled "Teetering Between Life and Death."  It's a startling look at the fact that 1,000 Southern Baptist Churches closed every year.  I list four reasons that churches die:  1) Failure to Re-Dream; 2) Clinging to the Comfortable; 3) Choosing Religious Tradition over Biblical Community; and 4) Creating a "Church Culture" rather than Developing Disciples. 

There is no denying the reality.  Thousands of churches are plateaued or declining, on the downside of the life cycle.  Oft times, a few will recognize that there is a problem, but far too often, we look for answers in the wrong places.  Let me give you some examples:

         * We need pastoral change!  It is inevitable that churches and pastors will need to separate from time to time.  Ideally, it should be a mutual agreement based on the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  But far too often, it occurs because of control issues.  Seeking a pastoral change, by the congregation or the pastor, doesn't have to be the initial step. 
         * We need a Youth Worker!  That might be true, but it will not result in the kind of changes that are necessary for sustained spiritual and numerical growth.  The fact is that anything "new" will spark enthusiasm temporarily.  But when the new wears off, the result is often the 'same old same old' or worse.
         *  We need to change our style!  Moving a traditional church to a blended or contemporary style of worship is one of the most difficult tasks that any leadership team will ever undertake.  Occasionally it will work.  More often, it can leave bodies in the wake, metaphorically speaking.  If the truth is told, God does not speak in any particular environment or through any particular style.  In fact, He speaks and acts where and when HE chooses regardless of location or style.
        *  We need to build a Family Life Center (Gym, larger fellowship hall, etc)!  Ditto the above.  He speaks and acts WHERE and when He chooses.  New buildings, especially if they incur debt, do not necessarily guarantee numerical growth, much less spiritual growth. 

So what are the answers?  How do we change direction?  How do we revive those teetering between life and death?  Here are some clues based on 2 Chronicles 7:14:
1)  Humility -  We must come a point of utter, desperate dependence on God.  Part of our tendency to cling to comfort is manifested in our planning and budgeting.  When we attempt only what we know we can cover with personnel and pay for with money in hand, we don't need God.  We pride ourselves in our buildings, our accomplishments, our giving to missions while the communities around us hurtle towards hell.  We do what we want to do to convince ourselves that we've done our part.  No sacrifice, no surrender, no selflessly.  Church becomes about us and ours when it should be about God and those He sent His Son to save.  God forgive our arrogance, spiritually, culturally, and nationally.       James 4:6; Matthew 23:12
2)  Prayer - Those who utterly depend on God will spend much time praying.  Those who act as if they don't need God will use prayer as a cursory identifier of their faith.  Let's face it.  Many of us have been involved in churches, classes, and mission groups where prayer was tacked on at the beginning and end of meetings to validate those meetings.  The fact that we "pray" makes us different from civic clubs and fraternal/benevolent organizations.  Yet, what often happens between those prayers does not positively reflect the God of the universe.  And quite often those prayers seem canned and rapid-fire.  God forgive our prayerlessness.  We seem to have forgotten how to fall on our faces and worship you.  We've reduced prayer to a recitation of our needs and wants when it should be a battle zone where we wrestle with spiritual forces of darkness for the souls of our neighbors, family members, and friends.   2 Chronicles 7:15; Ephesians 6:18; I Thessalonians 5:17
3)  Submission - This is another way of saying "seek (God's) face."  There is a statement that I have heard far too often from the lips of folks who were supposed to be mature followers of Christ.  In talking about their church, their pastor, and/or their worship experience, I've heard far too many say something like this:  "I don't get anything out of it."  How selfish can a person be?  It's not about you!  Worship is about God!  The American Church culture has become as consumer-oriented as the culture at-large.  We go to church for what we can get out of it rather than to meet and experience the God of the universe.  Realize this!  Even if your grandfather gave the property, the church is not "yours."  The church belongs to God.  It has been bought and paid for by the precious blood of Christ and you are simply a part of it.  Whenever we meet, whether for worship or work, revival or rehearsal, meals or meetings, we should be living out this truth:  Let what we say and do here bring glory to God our Father and point others to Jesus as the way of salvation.    James 4:10
4)  Turn - The Greek equivalent of this word is "metanoia" which simply means turn or change direction.  It's been said that to continue doing the same thing while expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.  Well, it might not define insanity, but it can define death.  Paul told the Corinthian disciples, "If any person is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come."  2 Corinthians 5:17  As human beings, we are in a constant state of change.  Appearance, preferences, passions.  None of us is the same person we were a year ago or 10 years ago.  The only time we really stop experiencing change is when we die.  That's one reason medical science is now encouraging senior adults to work, exercise, read, study, and engage in challenging new activities.  It keeps us young and energized.  Don't be afraid of change when God's in the changing business, you might miss out a blessing or two.     Acts 3:19

If . . . My people who are called by My Name will humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, THEN I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land.

The answer to the death rattle in so many churches today is not necessarily new staff, new style, or new buildings.  It's new hearts, humble and submissive before almighty God, prayerful in seeking to know and do His will, and turning away from the things that displease Him.  The answer is you and me doing our parts to come before Him with clean hands and a pure heart and making ourselves available for His use. 

Check out these passages:  2 Chronicles 7:13-15; Nehemiah 1:4-11;  Psalm 51:17; Psalm 25:9; Jeremiah 32:38-39;  Ezekiel 36:26; Matthew 5:8;  Matthew 6:21; John 7:38