OPEN: I once heard about a church that was so dead, that when a member happened to die during the worship service – the paramedics actually carried out 5 people before they finally got the right one.
APPLY: Have you ever seen a dead church? (I asked for a show of hands).
What does a dead church like? (Got several replies).
When people think of dead churches that’s usually what comes to mind. A dead church is usually believed to be:
A small group of believers rattling around in an old building.
Composed of mostly older people in their 70’s and 80’s.
And this group is usually quite content to stay as they are.
Experts tell us that churches often go through four stages of life. One person classified them this way:
1. The Movement Stage. This is the beginning stage of most churches. It is a small, intimate and driven group of believers. At this stage the people are nearly 100% committed. They come for Sunday School, Worship, Sunday Evening, Wednesday Night. They spend time together at each other’s homes and in Bible studies.
2. The Magnificence Stage. At this point they’ve reached a high level of attendance. They’ve attained critical mass. Now, because of their size, they can begin to do things they could only dream about before. However, at this point the commitment of the group dips to between 50 and 70%. They still have the vision, and a dream, but the intensity has diminished slightly.
3. The Monument Stage. At this stage, the congregation still does things to increase growth, but they begin to talk less about the future than they do about their past. They’ve reached the point where they work at maintaining their past reputation. They do things because that’s the way they’ve always done them. At this stage, the church is often cursed by power struggles and many talk about the church as “my church” and “our church” as opposed to the “new” people that have only been there for 20 years or less. Commitment level dips to between 10 to 30%.
4. The Mausoleum Stage is the one we would most commonly identify as the “dead church.” People have drifted away or died. Attendance levels are between 10 to 50 on any Sunday, and new people - when they show up - are suspect (they’d take control).
The Mausoleum church is the one we most often identify as the “Dead Church”
But what puzzled me about today’s text is that the church that Jesus calls "dead" (Sardis) has a “reputation of being alive.”
What that indicates to me is that Sardis wouldn’t have been a church you or I would look at and say "that’s one dead church!"
They look alive (even though Jesus declared them to be dead).
Their parking lot may have been full every Sunday, their pews packed to capacity. Their preacher may have been the finest that money could buy. But something had died inside.
I don’t think this church at Sardis had reached the level of a Mausoleum. I suspect Sardis was a church in the “Monument stage.” They appeared to be alive, but as far as Jesus is concerned, they’ had reached a state of being COMATOSE.
And here’s Jesus at their bedside, trying to slap them awake. “Wake up! Wake up!” he tells them.
Things have gotten so serious that Jesus was ready to pull their life support. If they didn’t wake up and change, he would come as a thief in the night and possibly even blot their names out of the book of life.
But Sardis was a church that looked alive!
What happened to them?
More to the point – how can we avoid ending up like them? We don’t want to be a dead church! So, how do avoid their fate?
I have two observations:
1st – to avoid becoming like Sardis, you and I (as church members) need to maintain a high level of commitment. I believe part of the problem in Sardis was that its people had begun to compartmentalize church. In other words: they’d made a compartment in their lives for church, and they had other “compartments” for work/ friends/ TV & entertainment and so on. Church WASN’T the MOST IMPORTANT part of their lives. It was simply one of many parts of their lives.
Jesus told Sardis in Revelation 3:2 “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” Their deeds were not complete – they’d lost their intensity in commitment.
Notice what happens with a church as it goes through it’s stages:
At the Movement Stage = a church has a nearly 100% involvement
At the Magnificence Stage = it has dropped to 50 to 75% involvement
But at the Monument Stage = (Sardis) 10 to 20% involvement
Now, I’m not sure how precise these %’s are – but they do point to a reality. The farther along a church is in these stages, the less involved it’s people are.
ILLUS: Halford Luccock noted in The Christian Century …"if the habits of that company in the Upper Room had been like the habits of multitudes in our churches today… The meeting was called for the 1st day of the week, but so many things interfered that of the company of 120, only 40 could be present. Peter and his wife had bought a cottage on Lake Galilee and were away from the hot city over the weekend. Bartholomew had guests and of course could not come. Philip and his family had been up late the night before and overslept. Andrew had a business conference about a new fishing boat. James had to stay at home and cut the grass…"
The Point IS: The more intense our church is – the less likely we are to be like Sardis. And that commitment has to come from every member here. Not just in attendance, but in a commitment to PERSONALLY make things happen for Jesus.
ILLUS: I once heard of a preacher in large church who addressed his congregation of several thousand “how many of you are involved, or want to become involved in some form of ministry for Jesus – stand up.” About 60 percent of the audience stood. Then the preacher said to those who were seated: “If you don’t intend to get involved with ministry – when you leave today, don’t come back.”
Can he say that? Well, he did, and he was right. There’s no excuse for any of us to just sit through church and not be involved in some form of ministry for Jesus. If you can do nothing else, you have the time to devote to intense prayer in support of your church, its teachers, preacher and youth ministry. Or in prayer for the many who are suffering from sickness or loss. You have no excuse for not doing some form of ministry for Jesus.
ILLUS: In my first ministry, I regularly visited a woman member who now lived in the nursing home. She had suffered a stroke that left the entire left side of her body useless. The left side of her face drooped and her left arm was useless. But, there were times when I visited that I found her bending over the portable table in her room (like the one they have in hospital rooms) writing letters of encouragement to her friends at church.
To avoid becoming a dead church, every one of us needs to devote ourselves to a high level of commitment to Jesus and this church.
However, all the commitment in the world will do our church no good if we miss the 2nd problem that plagued the Church of Christ at Sardis: They didn’t walk with Jesus.
Notice what it says in Revelation 3:4 “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.”
Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua and others - they all walked with God. These were men of power, courage & deep spirituality because they spent time with Him. In fact, they spent so much time with God that they began to think like He did. What was important to God became important to them.
That kind of “walking with God” is what Brad (our youth minister) the Elders and I are supposed to model for you. That’s our job. If you find us not doing our job – you point it out to us. You might want to break it to me gently (my feelings get hurt easily) but you point it out to us when we fall short in our “walk with God.”
A story out of book of Acts may illustrate the type of thinking a Spiritual leader should exhibit.
In Acts 4, Peter & John had healed a cripple and preached to a large crowd and several hundred became Christians. But the Sanhedrin wasn’t pleased:
“The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?" (Acts 4:5-7)
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
He is "‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:8-12)
The Sanhedrin held a short consultation where they asked: "’What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.’
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:16-18)
But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20)
“After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them.” (Acts 4:21a)
Now, Peter and John had been brought before the Sanhedrin, been mistreated and disrespected. AND then they were commanded not to preach in the name of Jesus anymore. What do you think the first thing Peter and John did? (Ask for a response). Well, sure, that’s what I’d do. I’d show them. I’d go right on out and start preaching all over again. Yes sir, that’s what I’d do!
ILLUS: Years ago, when I just got out of Bible College I started working in a local factory because I couldn’t find a church that wanted to hire me. One of my preacher friends asked if I’d like to put an article in local paper in the “Preacher’s Corner.” (After all, I was a graduate of Bible College and I was just brimming with enthusiasm). So I wrote my first major article – an expose of two cults – the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons. If I do say so myself, it was a pretty good article… but with one glaring error. I wrote that the Mormons didn’t believe Jesus was God. That wasn’t entirely true. They did believe Jesus was god, one of many gods, and that we also could become gods ourselves – perhaps even more significant gods than Jesus or the Father.
Well, there was a flurry of letters to the editor from Mormons – and then from Christians -debating this issue in the public forum. I’m sure the newspaper may have experienced an increased circulation due to the argument, but they were not pleased. After the dispute my article created, the newspaper staff created a new guideline: no articles from non-ordained people would be allowed in the paper.
I was incensed. How dare they create a rule just to exclude me. I’d show them – I bought advertising space and began to submit some more of my articles in a way they couldn’t censor me. Looking back, those articles were not particularly impressive, but I proved my point… and - I WAS WRONG!!! I’d have been wiser, had I learned from how Peter and John dealt with their censorship:
“On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” (Acts 4:23-24)
Acts 4 goes on to describe the prayer and then we’re told:
“After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:31
That’s the behavior of a church leader who “walks with God” and “thinks like God. ”
This is the type of leader who hears when Jesus says: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
He’s the type of leader who knows God doesn’t need him. God accomplishes His will - “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6
The leaders in Dead churches never understand this.
To this type of leader, it’s always their church, not God’s.
To this type of leader “if anything’s gonna get done – it will be by their wisdom and
plans = not God’s
To this type of leader, control AND “who is in charge” are the most important things in the church.
They’ve forgotten that the power in Church comes from Jesus Christ
Not from their buildings
Not from their committees
Not from their little groups that manipulate the workings in the congregation.
It’s from Jesus Christ alone.
ILLUS: After WWI one of the great heroes of that conflict - Lawrence of Arabia was in Paris with some of his Arab friends
He showed them the sights of the city: the Arch of Triumph, the Louvre, Napoleon’s tomb, the Champs Elysees, but none of these things impressed them.
The thing that really interested them the most was the faucet in the bathtub of the hotel room. They spent much of time in turning it on and off. They found it amazing that one could turn a handle and get all the water he wanted.
Later, when they were ready to leave Paris and return to the East, Lawrence found them in the bathroom with wrenches trying to disconnect the faucet.
"You see," they said, "it is very dry in Arabia. What we need are faucets. If we have them, we will have all the water we want." Lawrence had to explain to them that the effectiveness of the faucets did not lie in themselves but in the vast reservoirs of water to which they were attached and he had to point out that behind this lay the rain and snowfalls of the Alps.
So also, churches and Christians are like that faucet. Without the reservoirs that fed the pipes to the faucet, no water was going to come out. Likewise without the reservoir of Christ flowing through our lives we are useless. Unless we realize that, our churches become ill and die
As Jesus said: "... apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
But, until you come to know Jesus - nothing else will matter. That’s why we offer an invitation for you to place yourself in the hands of Jesus, so that your life will have real meaning and make a real difference.
SERMONS IN THE “JESUS DIARY” SERIES
Remember... - Revelation 2:1-2:7
Where Was God? - Revelation 2:8-2:11
The Comatose Congregation - Revelation 3:1-3:6
Making An Open Door- Revelation 3:7-3:13
The Poor Little Rich Church - Revelation 3:14-3:22