In reading an article written by Dennis Bickers (found at http://www.ethicsdaily.com/7-reasons-smaller-churches-struggle-and-close-cms-21028), one of the reasons he states that smaller churches end their ministry and cease to exist is due to this: many smaller churches have forgotten why they exist. Some are so focused on survival they have forgotten they exist for mission.
When I read articles like this, I begin to examine and analyze my current state and that of the church I lead. And here is the conclusion to which I am being drawn.
While there is much evidence that this community of believers is very good at reaching out to others, sharing in practical ways the love and hope of Christ, there doesn’t seem to be, at least to my knowledge, much evidence of people being drawn into the kingdom through sharing, in word, the actual message of the Gospel. I say this because I don’t remember the last time someone in this building, for the very first time, gave his/her life to Christ or a story of how someone clearly communicated the gospel to someone the previous week.
I find it interesting that I read this article this morning. The text for my sermon yesterday was Colossians 4:2-6. In that passage, Paul says the following: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being alert in it in thanksgiving, praying at the same time also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I make it clear as I ought to speak.”
I wonder, how well do we do that, clearly speaking the mystery of Christ as we ought? Is it important to share the implications of the Gospel in practical ways? Absolutely and crucial to be done. But, it is also of crucial importance that the connection between our actions of reaching out and the mystery (gospel) of Christ be explicitly made, not just assumed.
If we do not speak the connection, people are left to come to their own conclusions. And, in a mid-west culture that emphasizes being a good neighbor, it has been my experience that rarely do people connect our good deeds with the gospel of Jesus. Therefore, it is of crucial importance that we explicitly and directly make that connection.
While I believe that it is far too common that churches have mistakenly measured their success in wrong ways (butts, buildings and bucks, the 3 “B’s”), I also believe there is one number about which I believe God is very concerned: the number of people being drawn into the kingdom as they come face-to-face with the explicit message of the gospel and the natural expressions of it. I say this because of Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:9: “God is patient…(because He is not) wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” This is the beginning of the disciple-making process to which we, the church are called.
In my years of ministry and interaction with many other churches, I have discovered that many churches grade themselves quite high in the area of discipleship. But I wonder, how many of those disciples are “reproducing disciples?” If a disciple is a person who is obedient to the direction of the Lord and the Holy Spirit, then a disciple is one who reproduces, meaning that s/he is drawing others into the kingdom by sharing the gospel in clear, unambiguous ways.
Maybe how disciple-making is assessed should be directly tied to the number of new people being drawn into the kingdom, or, at the very least, the consistency and frequency of which the gospel is being clearly communicated to different people.
So, I guess the question I must answer is this: to and with whom have I recently clearly shared the gospel, the mystery of Christ? I ask the same question of you as well.
As a practical application with “small” churches, many are worried because they are not growing. The problem is that many of them are just sitting around hoping that the growth will just happen. Sometimes God goes outside of His normal way of doing things and draws people to specific communities of believers, but it has been my experience that His normal way of doing this is through His people sharing clearly.
Just like when everybody thinks that somebody will do it, nobody does it, if every follower of Jesus doesn’t him/herself commit to being the one to share clearly, how can we every rightfully expect to grow?
So, how much do I believe in the power of the mystery of Christ, the gospel? How much do I believe that God will open doors for me to clearly speak it? My seeing of and response to these open doors will demonstrate exactly how much.
May I, and you, be found faithful and deep in my and your belief.