I recently bought new glasses. That purchase was warranted because my old glasses broke. They were basic & functional, did what I needed them to do, & had been with me for at least 5 years.
I knew they were breaking down. I could feel it. They didn’t fit right, couldn’t get clean, & always appeared warped. But I just needed to see. And then they broke. An entire arm just fell off while I was walking through my bedroom. And for a week, I kept them. I couldn’t bend in any direction without holding them, or they’d fall off. As they sat on my the bridge of my nose, they would inevitably begin leaning to the left, away from the break. They were done. I knew it. But I did not want the expense or the work of repair or replacement. So I wore contacts all day, every day. My eyes were exhausted…
Churches matter. I love church. I don’t always like churches or agree with them, but I do love them. Churches, more than the ocean, a sunrise, or childbirth are the visible expression of God’s authority, power & presence in the world. Christ commissioned the church & left it to do His work. So I love church. She’s the bride of Christ, & I’m a part of her.
So terminally ill churches break my heart. Churches that are unaware of deficiencies, extra-biblical offenses, or cultural irrelevance really do hurt my heart. It’s enough that there are smatterings of Christ emissaries all over my hometown & this country that aren’t doing what Christ blatantly & simply commissioned them to do. But imagine a loved one wearing broken glasses every day, & claiming clear, undeterred vision. How disheartening, to become so comfortable with deficiency.
The first step is admitting that there’s a problem.
Dying churches… maybe dead, but certainly dying. That’s the church that lacks spiritual development among its attending believers. The dying church is actively not evangelizing the Gospel that does not return void, is not baptizing new believers, is not taking discipleship seriously, & is not seeing vibrant transformation.
But worse than dying/dead churches – yes, there’s something worse – is the assembly of believers that doesn’t seek help for its tragic state.
Admitting a problem & addressing a problem are not the same.
Who admits that they are not fulfilling their promise to follow Christ in faith, obedience, evangelism, & discipleship with enough gumption to actually address it?
A couple of nights ago, I was sitting on the floor with Parker, putting together a jumbo puzzle of our solar system. Allow me to brag — my kid is advanced. He loves puzzles & has learned to articulate things that don’t seem quite right (when he doesn’t throw a tantrum, that is). He’s such a wonderful, intelligent kid. I love being his dad. Anyway, back to the story — I open the box & take all of the pieces out. He grabs an edge piece (again, brilliant). Then he finds a corresponding edge piece. Then a corner piece to match. And then my favorite part of activity-time.
“Dad, look at what we did!”
But then there’s a pause. He stares at the puzzle for a minute, & then looks back at me. I asked him what was wrong, but I knew. He looked back at the puzzle & simply said, ‘Something’s wrong Daddy.’ Then he leans in close, touches his work, & smiles. ‘Daddy, I’m so silly. It’s upside-down!’ Then he quickly turned it around & back we went to completing our task.
How many churches were doing the right thing, pulling out the right work & tools, but never questioned if they were doing what God wanted, the way He wanted things done. And someone may have even noticed that it wasn’t quite right, but the myth of church business took over & they thought they’d address it later. Or unbiblical hierarchy stepped in to push the group through. And then, as the pieces got snapped into place, it started dawning on people that everything was upside down. Maybe someone addressed it to no avail. Maybe people saw it, saw the collective ignorance to the problem, & just chose to go down the street where the puzzle was right side up. Or maybe the whole group, seeing the mess they’d made, got embarrassed & just found a pew to maintain. The puzzle that God had given them was just left lying on the floor, unfinished, upside-down. And now you have irrelevant, uninspired, stagnant church… Heart-breaking. Absolutely gut-wrenching.
Broken bones don’t reset themselves.
I broke my finger once. I knew something was wrong immediately, so I pulled it as if it was jammed. And in true manly fashion, I pulled it a few more times, & then told no one for a few weeks. But Mom noticed a purplish, mildly mangled finger that I was favoring. And an x-ray revealed a break that had, by that time, healed over crooked. Even worse for me, I did the same thing to another finger a year later. I am the proud owner of two crooked fingers, one on each hand.
And broken churches, no matter how you tug, twist, yell, & ‘business meeting’ them to death, do not self-heal correctly. So I end with this with a prayer & petition:
God, raise up a league of humble, Christ-longing churches that will admit brokenness, stop self-inflicting more damage through bad choices & apathy/atrophy, & ask for help
And Lord, raise up an army of church revivers. Men & women of God skilled to wisely diagnose ailments, skillfully express errors in church life, & biblically revive, rebuild, replant &/or revitalize churches in America
Churches need this. The lost need this. Christ is still commissioning His church.