Summary: I came, I saw, I stuck. Choosing Velcro over Teflon.
The Baptist Standard of last year made this sad prediction:
“The Southern Baptist Convention is dying rapidly, and resistance to change could kill more than half the denomination’s churches by 2030, SBC President Frank Page said. Unless something is done to reverse the downward trend, Southern Baptist churches could number only 20,000—down from the current total of more than 44,000—in fewer than 22 years, Page said. His comments came in a conference call with pastors, hosted by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
“Page said the problem ‘resided in the churches’ that refuse to change to stop their inevitable demise. ‘Many Southern Baptist churches are small groups of white people who are holding on (until) the end,’ he said. ‘Not only have we not reached out to younger generations, but we have failed to reach out to other ethnic minorities who are all around us.’ Rather than embracing a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality to change and restore a local church to health, Page said, many pastors and churches have ‘chosen to die rather than change, and they are doing it.’”
From Baptist Standard, May 16, 2008, Douglas Baker; Contributed by Matt Neace at sermonnews.com
That report hits uncomfortably close to home. A majority of Southern Baptist churches are resistant to change. We’re losing our stickiness. Rather than unchurched folks and unbelievers coming, seeing, and sticking like Velcro, they slide in and slide out. Most churches are more akin to Teflon than Velcro.
Believe it or not, this became a problem for the church at Ephesus. Paul planted churches in this region for the purpose of stickiness. He knew that those believers had the potential to reach and retain people for Jesus Christ. The church at Ephesus grew quickly in the early years, but they also began experiencing some problems. Words of wisdom someone shared with me before planting a church, I’m sure were true of the Ephesians: “Anytime you start something new, the nuts will find you first.” Early on, whacked out false teachers began to infiltrate the church at Ephesus. They became such a problem that Paul had to send some of his best and brightest pastors in to silence whatever bizarre teaching was going on:
Timothy my true son in the faith … As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. 1 Timothy 1:2a, 3-4
They eventually solved the false teacher problem, but in their zeal to drive out the heretics the Ephesians began to lose their stickiness. Rather than attract and keep new converts to the Christian faith, the Ephesian church became somewhat repellant. They were more like Teflon than Velcro. Less than 10 years after Paul’s letter to them, Jesus had to send this rebuke:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: …I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Ephesians 2:1a, 2-5
There’s disagreement over what it means to lose your first love. Some commentators think it’s love for God. Others think it’s love for people. I think it’s both. The Ephesians morphed into heresy hunters. They became so proud of their doctrinal purity that they left love for God and people created in His image in the dust. The threatened removal of their lampstand is their testimony or witness to an unbelieving world. They were going to lose their influence if things didn’t change.
What I find amazing is that Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, saw it coming. That’s the only way I can make sense of chapter 2:11-22. Here we have a rather lengthy discussion of Jewish and Gentile relationships. This is odd because, as far as we know, there were no problems in the relationships between Gentile and Jewish believers at Ephesus. I see these verses as preventative medicine. Paul wanted to prevent them from losing their stickiness.
We shrinking Southern Baptist churches can learn a lesson or two from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Our historical context may be different, but the threat is the same. Will we be Velcro or Teflon?
The Sayings of Sticky Christians
“Walk a mile in their shoes.”