Author’s note: This is an amended version of a post I did at my blog on my church’s site — bethlehemcarthage.com.
There is a lot of talk about church health these days, particularly regarding smaller, rural, more traditional congregations such as the one I pastor. While we place our faith in Jesus Christ, who said He would build His church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it, churches do die off in various ways and for various reasons.
Sometimes those reasons have to do with regional demographics. More people are moving to urban areas so there are less people out in the country.
But more often than we probably care to admit those reasons have to do with a church focused too much on ourselves, something written about by Thom Rainer in his book my church has been talking about in Sunday School, Autopsy of a Deceased Church.
To be sure, we should be looking at ourselves, but not so that we can think about the good ole days, how things at the church seemed so much better in the past, how pews (if not filled) were substantially fuller, how there was always activity. We should be looking at ourselves for the reasons the Bible tells us to; namely, to practice the one anothers — to love one another, help meet the needs of one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, and one too often neglected — confess sin to one another.
One of the problems of small, rural churches is that — in the community — almost everybody knows almost everybody, so we not only know the people we like, we know the people we don’t like. We know people’s faults. We know their histories. We live amongst people who’ve made us mad for decades. And sometimes (more often than we care to admit) this carries over to the local church, and so those in the community wonder why they should bother — going to church with those people.
That makes it all the more incumbent upon the body of Christ to look within — so that any sin in us might be done away with. We ought to be praying to God (while at the same time being fully submissive to His will) that He might blow the sin out of us, even when it makes things hard for us. So, yes, we ought to be looking ourselves in the mirror — and your church (if not Bethlehem), should be, too.
But we must not neglect the window… and the door… If we only look internally, then we will neglect Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. You can’t do the latter if you’re not doing the former. As a church we have to be willing to be ridiculed, castigated, rejected for the sake of the gospel. As a church we have to be willing to go to those people in the community we’ve known forever and say, “Yeah, you’re right, we don’t have it all together. We’ve made mistakes. And we will in the future. But that is why our sufficiency is found is Christ and not ourselves.” We have to love people enough to not be content to live among them, but lay ourselves on the line that they might hear the gospel, and by God’s grace, respond in obedient faith.
Kind of like Jesus did.
By God’s grace may we respond in obedient faith. To God be the glory!