Summary: Sermon delivered at the Mell Baptist Assn Annual Meeting 2010 regarding the decline of our churches, associations, and conventions

Text: Rev 3:1-6, Title: Clear and Present Danger, Date/Place: Mell Assn Annual Mtg, 10/14/10

A. Opening illustration: Dying Churches video, tell about the shock and broken heartedness that I felt when I did the OMC in Screven Co. read the Finding New Life for Struggling Churches, Stetzer about our “crazy aunt”

B. Background to passage: Sardis was built on a little finger of rock that jutted out from a mountain range. On three sides it was guarded by sheer rock cliffs of several hundred feet. The only approach to the city was from the south, and that was uphill, and dangerous. So the city was impregnable. In fact, the saying, “to take the acropolis of Sardis” meant to do the impossible. Only twice in it’s 1500 year history had the city ever been taken by invaders. Both times the overconfidence and comfort in the unassailability of their city had caused the people of Sardis to be lulled to sleep while the enemy scaled the 400 foot walls of rock, and let themselves in at night. And thus the church in the Bible belt may be comfortably asleep as our life fleets away in a culture that used to be friendly, but has subtly become our poison. Jesus said (without commendations or comments of persecution), you have a name, you look alive, but you are not. I know that I will probably offend some of you tonight (may have already done that), but what I ask of you is that you look into the possibility that at least some of the things I mention could have an element of truth.

C. Main thought: four things that we must do as individuals, churches, and as an association the poison of nominal, apathetic Christianity that will cause our light to dim, and possibly candles to be removed

A. Wake Up (v. 2)

1. Jesus says to “be watchful,” another trans says “wake up,” word means to arise, refrain from sleep, and be alert to what is going on. This is Jesus’ theme throughout the discussions on the end times. This admonition surely had to do with the city’s history, but also with the fact that the church there at that time was spiritually lethargic, unconcerned, apathetic, and ignorant of the dangers that lied ahead. We must heed the warning…look at us!

2. Argumentation

3. Illustration: 8000 SBC churches last year baptized no one, SBC baptisms been on a constant decline for the last 10 years reaching their lowest level since 1977, in Tift Co pop has almost doubled in last 40 years to 43K, in ’72 MBA churches had almost 30% of Tift Co pop, now we have less than 20%, baptisms in ’72 were over 400, last year they were 240, and we saw a low of 156 in 2006, now we are only reaching 65% of our seniors, 35% of our middle aged, 15% of young families/college students, and 4% of our students, percentage of lost ppl in GA is climbing upwards of 70%, 85% of our young people are dropping out of church by their freshman year in college,

4. WAKE UP! We are a denomination in decline, an association in decline, and churches in decline. And if we don’t wake up now, we will wake up one day and wonder where it all went! We don’t even realize how bad it really is. And we are massively out of touch with our society. They don’t come to our churches because they have been, and they are not interested in politicking and squabbling over budget line items and other minor issues. One writer said they do not come, not because they are scared that they would change, but because they are scared that they won’t.

5. We are the only organization on the planet that uses 400 year old furniture and decorations, sings 400 year old music, with books with 400 year old language, and does things just like they did 60 years ago, and expects to reach people. Social Networking video. 83% of Americans have cell phones, 86% have internet access, 91% have email, 42% have a Facebook account. WAKE UP! Our culture has left us behind, and we are losing ground fast, and nobody seems to know or care. In the ‘50s we determined the culture. In the ‘60’s-‘70’s we began to divert, ’80’s-‘90’s we were in two worlds, and now we are comfortable having our place, and giving them theirs.

Lifeway’s research consultant Ed Stetzer commenting on dying churches and necessary changes says, “change sounds good, until you start to experience it.” Later he remembered one of his Dad’s favorite sayings, “He was right. Since 3500 to 4000 churches close their doors each year, it is obvious that most churches will not make the turn around. There are two main reasons for this. First, most churches will not admit how bad it is. Second, most churches will not make the needed changes.”

B. Strengthen the Remnant (v. 2)

1. Jesus doesn’t count them out yet, and He always has a remnant—that few left among the nominal that maintain their burning heart and longing heart in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. Jesus says that their work is not perfect before Him, but that there are things that remain that can be strengthened. He doesn’t say exactly what those things are, but they are there.

Illustration: “We may have an all time high of church attendance with a corresponding low in spirituality,” –Ravenhill, 1959, pew research society showed evangelical protestants fifth behind atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons in a recent study about religious knowledge, “The problem in our culture…isn’t the abortionists. It isn’t the pornographers or drug dealers or criminals. It is the undisciplined, undiscipled, disobedient and biblically ignorant Church of Jesus Christ,” the cost of non-discipleship is very high, christian publication that had side by side articles: FBC opens its new $23M sanctuary, and Baptist raise $5000 to relieve suffering in Sudan. “The price of our non-discipleship is high for those without Christ and the poor of the world.” just put a church up in our back yard, literally

2. We must recommit to discipleship. We have programs (SS, bible studies, women’s/men’s ministries, children’s ministries), conferences and seminars, youth and children’s camps, trainings and workshops, DVD curriculums, leadership summits, webinars and consultants, book after book, and sermon after sermon; but it seems like the average disciple is far below those of the first century where they had no such programs. If what we are doing is not working, let’s do something different. We must get back to faithfully pouring our lives as individuals in the context of relationships. We must recommit to excellence in ministry. We continually tolerate mediocre ministry because we are all too sensitive for our brothers and sisters to talk to us about our inadequacies. And we are far too committed to our own personal status than the betterment of the kingdom. So our churches are plagued with people who do things OK, instead of great. We must recommit to self-sacrifice and cross-bearing. And that comes from real bible teaching. Teaching it long, and hard, and tough, and verse by verse, chapter by chapter, knowing that God promises to use His Word, and commands us to rightly divide it, and put it back together. We must strengthen struggling churches, as Stetzer said, “not out of guilt, but out of the potential that they have.” Church in OH who constantly takes over other churches for a year, funds them, transitions them, transforms them, then sets them free. We must realize that we are not in competition, but on the same team!

C. Remember Truth (v. 3)

1. Jesus tells them to remember, consider, think back on what and how they have heard and received. He doesn’t say to do things the way that the Jews did it, nor the way that you do it in Sardis, nor any way you want to, but to do things as they were taught, by apostles, to do it. Not all tradition is bad, some is very good, but it is never a substitute for deep truths of the faith that shape us.

2. Illustration: you watch those NAMB videos of them going around and asking people who they think Jesus is, and we laugh at their answers, as well as gasp on occasion, but we tend to make Jesus out to be like we want him to be: most evangelicals would describe Jesus as “a nice middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, want us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American Dream.” Read the greatest quote ever from Piper, S&SofC,

3. We must remember the One True God. When was the last time you heard and entire sermon about an attribute of God? Christianity is really about Christ, not a grand set of doctrines or creeds. Remind our people that we have a holy and just God that breathes out wrath against ungodliness, who cannot tolerate even the presence of sin, before whom the mountains melt like wax, and the earth shakes. Remember the gospel and great commission. Know that individual giving to missions is down to about 2.5% per Christian, and CP giving is down to 5% per church. Tell the story of the pastor overlooking the urban center of Hyderabad, India, seeing the temples, smelling the incense, seeing the masses of millions of people, and it hitting him that all these people were lost… Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry? Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die? Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand? Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you damned? Remember the great Baptist distinctives that we have lost—reg chr mem, non-res mem, discipline, liberty, suffering…

D. Repent (v. 3)

1. Jesus tells this complacent church to remember the things they had been taught, hold fast to them, and repent from where they have fallen. He pleads with them to turn around, promising to come down upon them unexpectedly if they didn’t.

2. Illustration: “If our single all-embracing passion is to make much of Christ in life and death, and if the life that magnifies Him most is the life of costly love, then life is risk, and risk is right! To run from it is to waste your life,” –Piper, Henry Martyn, missionary to India in the early days of the missions movement said this, “the chief thing that I mourn over is my want of power and lack of fervor in secret prayer, especially when I plead for the heathen. In proportion to my light, warmth does not increase within me.”

3. We must rescue our faith from the Bible Belt/American Dream Christianity that is light years away from authentic faith. We must reorganize our priorities, and examine our goals and methods. We must let those goals drive our budgets and our lifestyles and our ministries. We say that we are about missions and ministry, but look at how much we spend on ourselves. We say we love the poor and downtrodden, but look at how little we give away. You see, the Christian faith is not just about having a good time in Jesus, but about being so satisfied in Him that you will forsake all, suffer all, and risk all to gain Him. We must beg God to send authentic, life changing, applecart upsetting, weeping and brokenness revival to our area. Not just “God send revival” or “revive us, o Lord,” but weeping, fasting, praying, puddles of tears on the floor when you get up, in the wee hours of the morning, wake you up at night, as if your life depended on it, feel the urgency kind of pleading. We must surrender our self-centeredness manifested in our lifestyles and ministries and embrace 1) missions! Go, go, he’s called us to go! Every believer in this room is a missionary, and it is now easier than ever to find avenues to share. 2) We must embrace church planting. It is the best way to reach unchurched hands down. Each church should be working to plant a church somewhere. And it is the only way that we are going to reach the changing ethnic populations. There will not be a majority ethnic group in GA in 2020, and most of our churches are white, middle class, and homogenous. 3) We must embrace our urban centers. There are many of GA’s 12 largest urban centers that will experience a 75% growth rate in the next ten years. And 60% of our GA’s population will be living in an urban center. This was Paul’s strategy in the first century. But we are losing ours. 4) We must be committed to the rising numbers of Hispanics and African Americans in our area. The next church I vote we plant is an African American church! It’s easy to shout “amen” to a message like this, but when it comes right down to it, are you willing to weep over your transgressions and those of your church and those of our association and change your/our ways?

A. Closing illustration: Ravenhill said, “This is an hour (1959) in need of burning hearts, bursting lips, and brimming eyes! If we were a tenth as spiritual as we think we are, our streets would be filled each Sunday with throngs of believers marching to Zion—with sacks on their bodies and ashes on the shaking heads, shaking at the calamity that has brought the church to be the unlovely, unnerved, unproductive thing that she is!” But “instead,” David Platt said 50 years later, “instead of weeping together on our faces before God, we calmly sit on plush chairs in beautiful buildings.”

B. Recap

C. Invitation to commitment

Additional Notes

• Is Christ Exalted, Magnified, Honored, and Glorified?