Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Letter to the Struggling Church, Part I

We live in an age where success in the church is expected and applauded and flocked to in just about the same way it is in any endeavor attempted by man. It is less an American phenomenon than it is a global one, as large, successful churches dominate the scenery in places like Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong, Accra, Lagos, Buenos Aires, Guatemala City, and Rio de Janeiro (not that there are not other places which could be listed).

Often the thought is that those churches which reach this lofty status must be doing things right, whereas less successful churches, even struggling churches cannot be. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with church success, great growth or megachurch status--the very first church in Jerusalem had all those characteristics, but there is also nothing inherently wrong about being a struggling church. At least that would seem to be true from Christ's perspective, at least as far as we can tell from his letters to the churches in the Apocalypse.

A church could be doing exactly what Christ would have them do and still not appear to be successful. Truth be told, there are not necessarily great harvests in every place the gospel is preached. All any believer and any group of believers can do is what they are bidden to do by God--the results are really up to him. Persecution is not in itself a hindrance to church growth, nor is entrenched false religion, for even the Devil can't keep folk blinded forever, but in some places, there is an abundance of good soil; and in some places, not so much.

A church could be doing exactly what Christ would have them do and still not appear "blessed". Financial straits, community disapproval (even animosity), a lack of maneuvering room or perplexity about what to do, and even a lack of ability (power) are not necessarily signs that a church lacks anything that God intended for it. A church could be experiencing all this, in the absolute awareness of Christ, and neither be reprimanded for it nor promised a better day without it. Apparently, in some churches God intends things to go swimmingly, and in some others, not so much.

Christ may not expect the struggling church to stop struggling, but the one thing he does command of it is that, regardless, it remain faithful to the end.

Part II

3 comments:

  1. This is a truth that I wish could be sent to every pastor in our country and to denominational leadership. Although I agree that big is not necessarily bad and small is not necessarily good the early church was made up of groups of slaves and poor people who were constantly suffering persecution. One point we forget also, if the early church had been perfect we would not have any of the letters of Paul because he wrote in response to the problems that were manifesting themselves.

    Grace and peace.

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    Replies
    1. Pumice,
      I think there are a couple of directions denominations, churches and church leaders go in response to this truth. Some decide to skip the hard work of making disciples and instead settle for serving consumers, hoping to not experience the reality of the church at Smyrna and skipping over all that troublesome correction the NT epistles are filled with. Sometimes the struggling church is treated like the "orphan sister" and the pastors of such as the marginally acceptable but evidently incompetent. And sometimes, while stuck in the notion that if the right approach could be discovered and employed the church would "take off", they turn to anything and everything that anyone else anywhere else has tried to good advantage, and turn the struggling church into a testing laboratory going from experiment, to experiment, to experiment. I'm sure there are other generalized reactions we could identify, but I wonder (and worry) that these kinds of reactions are transforming churches from the struggling but commendable (Smyrna) into the successful but threatened (Ephesus).

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    2. So similar to what goes on in education, with the same results.

      Grace and peace.

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