Summary: God wants HIs church to live!
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
John 11:11 (HCSB)
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
The other day I purchased a book by Thom Rainer that I began reading this afternoon. The title of the book is Autopsy of A Dead Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive. In the book, he looks at 14 different churches that were at one time thriving and vibrant, but who gradually ceased to exist. He tells about the reasons for these churches decline and offers advice on how to prevent the death of churches. He begins by telling a story about a church where he was hired as a consultant. Those on the pews thought he was unneeded and refused to hear anything he had to say. The members felt everything was okay. He stayed on for a while because one member decided to pay for his services. He laments that on his last day at the church as that member walked him to his car and asked the question, “What do you think? Will our church be okay?” He answered that his diagnosis was that the church wouldn’t last another 5 years. He was wrong, it struggled on for 10 but eventually met its demise. It had at one time been a booming church of over 700 members but dwindled down gradually until it died.
Jesus warned the church at Sardis to strengthen the things that remained. He warned them that if they continued on down the road upon which they were heading that eventually, they would cease to be a church. I want to talk to you about some of the things I have gleaned from Mr. Rainer’s book tonight—I believe it is the will of God that the church thrives—not just the church worldwide, or the hidden church within the visible church, but the entire church—the local church. The church at Springs of Life in Deer Park Texas at 1111 Center Street! It is His will that we live! But we must do things that tend toward life! He told Israel in Deuteronomy that He set before them life and death, a blessing and a curse and obedience to His commands and precepts meant life—Wisdom said in the book of Proverbs that she offered to all who would heed her soft words life! The Lord Jesus said that He came to give life and life more abundantly! I want to live! I don’t want us to just exist, I want us to thrive! Jesus said that the gates of hades would not prevail against His church, so why do some churches go under? Why do some seem to find their demise in so many cold graveyards?
1. In Order to Live Let Go of the Past and Cling to New Life
Mr. Rainer writes:
The most pervasive and common thread of our autopsies was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as heroes. They held on more tightly with each progressive year. They often clung to things of the past with desperation and fear. And when any internal or external force tried to change the past, they responded with anger and resolution: “We will die before we change.” And they did. Hear me clearly: these churches were not hanging on to biblical truths. They were not clinging to clear Christian morality. They were not fighting for primary doctrines, or secondary doctrines, or even tertiary doctrines. As a matter of fact, they were not fighting for doctrines at all. They were fighting for the past. The good old days. The way it used to be. The way we want it today. For sure, there were some prophets and dissenters in these churches. They warned others that, if the church did not change, it would die. But the stalwarts did not listen. They fiercely resisted. The dissenters left. And death came closer and closer.