The Abandoned Church
A certain church recently sold their building to a real estate developer and moved into a smaller location in another area. On the online news article there were dozens of comments from people complaining about the church's decision to sell. People were blasting the church leadership. They blamed the pastor and slandered his name. They were absolutely furious that the church was no longer there.
One said "I grew up in that church... I can't believe they sold it and now it has been torn down". One said "so sad, I used to go there". Another said "I used to teach Sunday School there". Another said "I used to sing in the choir". Another said "I was a member there for decades"
I couldn't help but notice that every person who complained about the decision spoke of this church in the past tense. It seems that everyone stated what they "used to do". The reason that their church was demolished and turned into retail stores is that somewhere along the way those people abandoned it!
It is estimated that in America 4,000 churches close their doors each year. The reason that many close, is that the members have abandoned the church. Some have abandoned one church and gone to another. Some have abandoned the church and gone to the house. Some have abandoned the church even though they attend every time the doors are open. Some people attend the services but they don't support the leadership, they don't encourage the brethren, they don't give, they don't participate and they don't serve. They simply walk in the door sit down and warm a pew for a little while.
Through God's Word He has sent a warning of the perils of abandoning the church. In Revelation chapter 3 Jesus had a message for The Church at Sardis. He said unto them "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead".
As a church, our reputation among men does not matter! Others may look at a church and think that they are healthy, vibrant and full of life. But Jesus may look at that same church and say that they are dead!
Understand this... a church does not dissolve overnight. There are warning signs that appear in a dying church. If those issues are not addressed, one day there will be nothing left of that assembly except for an empty building and memories of what used to be!
I can take you to a church building within 10 miles from here. The membership had remodeled the sanctuary and had big plans for the future. But through a certain chain of events the membership dissolved and the building now sits idle. The facility is deserted. Trees, shrubs and grass have overtaken the exterior of the building. When you walk inside that old church, the hymnals are still in the pews. A bible sits atop the pulpit. The offering plates and flower vase remain on the table in the front. Markers and art supplies cover the table of the children's Sunday School class. It is as if they locked the doors one week with every intention of worshipping the Savior the following Sunday. But now the work and the worship are gone!
The People Of Israel found themselves in a similar situation some 600 years before the birth of Christ. I would like to look at their story and preach on the thought "The Abandoned Church".
At this point in Israel's history they had been taken captive by Babylon. Jerusalem was plundered and burned. The Temple was destroyed as well. Babylon eventually fell to king Cyrus of Persia....and after some 70 years in captivity the people were set free and allowed to return home. God then charged Cyrus to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. This is recorded in - Ezra 1:2 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
Though God had made it clear that the Temple was to be rebuilt and even though God had set things in order for this task to be completed... the people had other plans. Instead of working on the Temple, the people went about their daily lives and sought to fulfill their wants and desires. Their lives took precedence over the things of God!
After a while the Lord sent Haggai to confront the people concerning their disobedience. Notice - Haggai 1:2 Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD'S house should be built. 3 Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? 5 Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
Their story is a great illustration of the modern church. Think about it for a moment: God had delivered them from their adversaries, He had rescued them from their captivity, He secured their freedom, blessed them mightily, and commanded them to accomplish a specific task.
In the same fashion God has delivered us from our great adversary, rescued us from bondage to sin, provided us with freedom, blessed us mightily, and commanded us to accomplish certain tasks for Him. Sadly, many have responded by ignoring His commands, forsaking their duty, and living for themselves instead of serving Him. God called for Israel to "Consider their ways", and I believe He is calling on us to do the same today.
Solomon's Temple was a sight to behold. It was built with great care and skill and took 7 years to complete. The materials were the best of the best. Stone and cedar were used and gold covered most of the inside. When the Temple was complete there was a great dedication ceremony. As the people were gathered together, there was a time of prayer and an amazing time of worship. 2 Chronicles 7:1 ¶Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house. 2 And the priests could not enter into the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD'S house. 3 And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever. 4 Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices before the LORD.
The Temple was a beautiful, special place. It was a place that was very important to the people of God. Now picture in your mind this glorious Temple as it was plundered, destroyed, and left in ruin. Then after years of bondage the people return to their homeland and see this heartbreaking sight. You would think that they would immediately set out to rebuild what was broken down. According to scripture that is not what happened. After all they had been delivered from.... instead of honoring God, the people of Israel decided that their own comforts, conveniences and desires were more important. Instead of building the Temple, they abandoned it!
If you look closely at the church today, it seems that the same thing is happening all over again. Instead of building the Lord's church, people are quickly abandoning it. As we walk through these verses I pray that we see the tragic consequences that occur when the church is abandoned. These verses go to show that When The Church Is Abandoned. The first thing i would like to consider is that:
I. Exaltation Is Abandoned - To "exalt" means to "elevate" or to praise. That is (or should be) our purpose for gathering here today. Our Lord is worthy to be praised. As the Temple lay in ruins, the people were not gathering to praise their Lord.
Though there is a good number here, I can't help but think of how many who profess to love the Lord have forsaken the opportunity to praise Him today. Why are they not in church today? Many would say that they just didn't have the time. This is a common factor in The Abandoned Church.
A. People No Longer Offer Their Time To The Lord - It is amazing what people can find the time for. It is even more amazing how many insignificant things can hinder people from offering the Lord what He truly deserves.
An old cliché says "if your too busy for God...YOU ARE TOO BUSY!!" - Many people who claim to be followers of Christ, apparently don't have time for Him.
1) They Don't Have Time To Pray - Prayer is vital in the life of a child of God. It is also a great privilege. We are blessed with the opportunity to go boldly before the throne and make our request's known. We can talk to God and He hears us. Not only that... He desires to hear from us. He cares for us. He has promised to answer our prayers.
A problematic prayer life is often one of the causes of someone abandoning the church. How is your prayer life? Do you spend time communing with the Lord? If not, you may be on a slippery slope towards abandoning other areas in your walk with Christ!
- Not only do these people not have time to pray...
2) They Don't Have Time To Worship - The Temple was the place of worship. But the people didn't have time to worship. They didn't have time to rebuild the house of worship. Why? They were too busy building their own fine homes. The Lord confronted the people and there priorities. He said "You say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord....you are dwelling in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?
The Lord called on His people to "consider their ways". I believe He is calling on His people to do the same today.
When attendance numbers are down there is no shortage of excuses that are offered. A couple of weeks ago we heard that it was race weekend and that is where some of the people were. Today people say "well this week was graduation and some are traveling with their children". Next week, memorial day will be used as an excuse. Then in June and July we will hear that people are gone to the beach. When August comes we will hear that people are absent because they are getting ready for school to start back. Then band, cheerleading, baseball, football, soccer and scholastic events will be the cause. The truth is... these are all excuses used to mask the fact that you don't have time for Jesus. And to put it bluntly these things are more important to you than worshipping your Savior!
The reason that we see churches with "for sale" signs in front of them is because people no longer offer their time to the Lord. The reason that countless assemblies are having to cut their budgets in half, lay off ministerial staff and sell their buildings in order to survive is because people no longer offer their time to the Lord. People not offering their time to the Lord is a cause AND consequence of The Abandoned Church.
- We also must address the fact that:
B. People No Longer Offer Their Treasures To The Lord - We are still talking about "exaltation being abandoned". Giving is a form of worship. In fact it is commanded in scripture and if you are not doing it, you are being disobedient.
Money was not an issue for the people that the Lord confronted through Haggai. The text tells us that they were "dwelling in their ceiled houses". These folks had the money to install cedar paneling in their homes. This was not the actions of poor folks. The time that they were spending and the treasures that they possessed would have been better used rebuilding the Temple. But they had other plans!
One of the key factors in an assembly that has been dissolved is financial hardship. People abandoned the church and took their tithes with them. I have never seen (or even heard of) someone who has turned their back on the Lord, backslid, and quit the church but they still send their tithes in the mail. When people leave their financial contributions go with them.
This has a negative impact on ministerial staff salaries, ministry support, missions giving, evangelism efforts, day to day operations of the church and many other areas of the ministry. Not only have these people abandoned the church, God says that they have robbed Him! - Malachi 3:8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
There are dangerous consequences that come when you refuse to offer God your time and treasures. And God is calling for you to consider your ways! In The Abandoned Church "Exaltation Is Abandoned". Moving on we will see that:
II. Edification Is Abandoned - Edification is "instruction, education and/or improvement". God wants you to grow closer to Him. He wants you to learn more about Him. In fact He has given His church people to accomplish this task. Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
The Lord has set in order a process for His people to mature in the faith and to grow spiritually. In order for this to take place... you must be present! When you abandon the church you abandon the opportunity to be edified.
A. This Has An Impact On Those Who Teach
B. This Has An Impact On Those Who Are Taught
- Let me give you a "hypothetical" situation to illustrate my point: Suppose that there is a medium sized Southern Baptist church in the southeast United States. We will say somewhere near east central Alabama. In this church there is a Senior adult Sunday School class, Senior ladies class, Young adult class, College and Career class, Youth class and Children's classes. This "hypothetical church" has some talented, devoted and gifted teachers who volunteer their time each week to prepare to teach their specific class. These teachers don't just read over the lesson on Saturday night, they study for hours throughout the week, taking notes and making plans for Sunday. They spend time in prayer for those who attend their class.
- Let's suppose that Sunday rolls around and when time comes for Sunday School one of the teachers shows up and not one person is present for class that day. Maybe one of the others has a handful who are present but they could care less about learning from God's Word. No one is prepared and everyone is counting down the minutes until the bell rings. Then let's imagine that the teacher of the youth class shows up to teach a class where 15 are enrolled but he only has 1...2 or maybe 3 students in his class. When he asks where everyone is, he learns that 2 of them stayed up all night and slept late, 4 of them had to attend a ball tournament and 6 of them just stayed home because their parents gave them the option.
- Let's also suppose that these are not sporadic occurrences but more like an every week issue. As a result the teachers begin to question themselves. They wonder if they are doing something wrong. The Devil jumps up and whispers "it's all your fault". After a while they begin to believe it themselves. So, they resign their position... the nominating committee searches but there is no one willing to fill those positions. Eventually those classes dissolve completely. Then those people who abandoned the Sunday School program begin to complain. You see, they actually worked it into their schedule to show up one day. But when they did they didn't have a class to go to.
- Likewise the parents who thought it was more important to take their children to a recreational activity, a sporting event, a school function or just decided to stay at home on Sunday they begin to complain too! They say strange things like "that church just doesn't have anything to offer me", and things like "they don't offer anything for my children". As a result these "complaints" turn into excuses to stay at home next week. Now they feel that their abandonment of the church is justified!
And we now have 2 groups of people who are impacted. The teachers are discouraged and the others are declining. All because "Edification Has Been Abandoned". You may think I have an agenda, but let me remind you this is a "hypothetical" situation. (A parable so to speak.) But if this were a real situation then I believe the Lord would say the same thing to you that He said to the people of Israel... CONSIDER YOUR WAYS!!!
God has also given pastors to His church for the specific purpose of "edifying the saints". Each week you have the opportunity to come into this place and hear God's Word proclaimed. When you do, you will grow and mature spiritually. But if you abandon the church... you abandon edification as well. And this will have a negative impact on your spiritual growth!
Let's move a little further and see that when The Church Is Abandoned...
III. Encouragement Is Abandoned - Encouragement is to give support, confidence, or hope to someone. I am sure that there were some people in Israel who needed encouragement. For some, things were going well. The people had been delivered from bondage and oppression. But some of them had family members who died while they were enslaved. Perhaps some were struggling trying to adjust to life in Israel when it just didn't seem like home any more. They were filled with sorrow and consumed with grief. If they had been able to go to the Temple, they may have encountered someone who could have provided some encouragement.
Some of our brethren are facing some devastating circumstances as we speak. Life is hard... troubles are many. They are hurting, discouraged and depressed. But in their grief they have forsaken their place of refuge. They have abandoned the church. Can I tell you, if you are facing difficult days the last thing you should do is abandon your church family. There are people here who love you and care for you and will do anything in their power to encourage you. And church... if one of our brothers or sisters is hurting... the last thing we should do is abandon them!
As members of the Lord's Church we have the opportunity to be encouraged by others. Likewise, we have the responsibility to encourage others. But when you are not here you cannot encourage or be encouraged!
- Moving on we see that another consequence of The Abandoned Church is that:
IV. Evangelism Is Abandoned - When you see a deserted church building it is more than brick and mortar that is decaying and falling apart. That building is a metaphor for the souls in that surrounding area. The reason that this church is here is because God lead a group of people to plant a church in this community in order to reach the souls of the people in this area. The same can be said for the many empty buildings all across this land. More significant than the fact that some building sits idle is the fact that in those areas (in most cases) the work of the Kingdom sits idle. We must comprehend the fact that the one reason this meeting place is so important is that souls are at stake.
In The Abandoned Church Exaltation Is Abandoned, Edification Is Abandoned, Encouragement Is Abandoned, Evangelism Is Abandoned and finally we see that:
V. Effort Is Abandoned - As we ponder this Temple as it lay in ruin, I can't help but wonder about the Temple Servants. I wonder how they passed the time since there was no longer a Temple for them to serve in.
Consider the empty churches that we see as we travel through our area. Those churches once had pastors, deacons, teachers, singers, musicians and many other servants of God. I have no doubt that many of them are serving the Lord in other assemblies. But I know that there are also many who simply gave up, went home and stayed there. In fact, as we have seen that is the reason for many abandoned churches.
For the people of Israel (at this time in their history), their effort was misplaced. And that is the case for many in the church today. They are focused on the wrong things and the wrong people. And the majority are simply focused on themselves. If that describes you, the Lord is calling on you to CONSIDER YOUR WAYS!
Some of you have been given gifts, talents and abilities to use for God's glory. But you are spending your time building your kingdom instead of His. That is exactly what we see of Israel in Haggai chapter one. Instead of building the Temple of the Lord, they were building mansions for themselves. God was not pleased with them and He is not pleased with you! And He is calling your to CONSIDER YOUR WAYS!!
Everything we have seen today is just a symptom of a greater problem. If you have abandoned exaltation, edification, encouragement, evangelism and effort.... if you have abandoned the church.... it is an indicator of the fact that somewhere along the way YOU HAVE ABANDONED JESUS!!
Sadly, it seems that this is a problem that is ever growing. And I want you to know that the future of this church depends on you!! I know what you are thinking... "but preacher, things are so good in our church!" Would you consider for a moment that good is the enemy of great. Good lulls us to sleep, deadens us and seduces us into thinking that we don’t really need to try to move forward.
Israel was in a very good place compared to where they had come from. But they were not where God wanted them to be. They were not doing what God wanted them to do. The Church at Sardis had a reputation among men as being alive, but Jesus said that they were dead! May we seek to be what Jesus would have us to be.
When I talk about "The Abandoned Church" you may picture in your mind some small rural church where the community moved away and left the building behind. Don't think for a minute that this just happens to small rural churches.
Take a look at this picture - (PowerPoint slide) You may recognize this facility. It is located about 20 miles from here. This church once had a vibrant ministry that reached many people for Christ. Today this state of the art church building is vacant (after foreclosure) and is for sale for 2.5 million dollars. This church is still in existence, they now meet in a strip mall a few miles away from this location. I do not show this picture to glory in their demise... I used this to illustrate the fact that no church is exempt from trouble! Don't think that it cannot happen to you!
A church is usually not abandoned simultaneously. But over time... one by one people begin to neglect the church, the ministry and the Lord. And in many cases those who abandon the church do not do so intentionally. I am sure that most of the people in Israel had plans to build the Temple...ONE DAY! We should learn from Israel that complacency leads to apathy, apathy leads to neglect, neglect leads to abandonment and abandonment leads to an empty church.
Maybe you have plans to return to your place of service and return to active church attendance. My friend, it starts with you returning to the Lord that you have abandoned. God is calling you to "Consider Your Ways". Will you do that right now?
When God called on Israel to "Consider their ways" ... they listened and they obeyed. Notice v14 - "and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God"
May we respond accordingly today. Let us take the steps to ensure that we never become "The Abandoned Church".