It is no surprise to hear that the Church, especially the Church here in New England, is operating in a weakened state. With just a few exceptions, churches are losing attenders much faster than they are growing new ones. Many, if not most churches that are growing, are doing so not by reaching new converts, but by pulling believers from other churches. If this trend continues, the fate of the Church in our region is obvious. The question is, what is causing this decline?
Why are we so weakened and ineffective? The Message and Truth of the Gospel of Christ is power unto salvation and new life! Why is this power not bearing fruit as it should?
I am pressed to wonder whether we are properly following the directives given by Christ. Though we may use different words to express our goal, the mission of every church must be to fulfill the great commission given by Christ to go into all the world and make disciples. I believe our intentions are good. I believe we want to see God’s kingdom advance. I also believe that our human frailty taints our motives, and in turn, our practices. If our desire is to honor Christ above all else, we need to look to his own expressions of concern, his prayers to the Father, to see what burdened him. And the prayer given in the crucial moments before he fulfilled His greatest purpose of coming, shows the core of his concern. When all else was done, he became overwhelmed with the thing that would hold it all together and bring the work to full completion in us. The prayer, detailed in John 17, stresses the importance of his followers being connected and united. It is clear that our unity pleases the Father; moreover, it intensifies our ability to reach the lost by illuminating the truth that Jesus is the very Son of God. To be one in Spirit, under the headship of Christ, was and still is Christ’s ultimate intention for all believers, regardless of geographic location or which individual church gathering we meet with. True oneness will be evident through the character we display and the Spirit we carry. And when we live this way, the lost will see and know that Christ is God, and personally be drawn to the Savior.
The Body of Christ is divinely appointed and led by Christ Himself. While organizing this Body is absolutely important, it can and does often go awry. This happens when we work individually rather than uniting to combine and intensify our abilities. Especially when our small organizations are just a few paces away from one another, yet still isolated, oneness is short circuited and the central mission becomes a competition between the gatherings rather than a focus for all to rally around.
Things within God’s economy often seem backward.
We like to stress this when we are trying to motivate people to give tithes and offerings. We love to teach about the principle of giving, and trusting the Lord to provide all our needs, even in abundance. “Test and see,” we quote, “if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” “Give, and it will be given to you,” we say, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Do we really believe this? We ought to since it is the Holy Scripture! Likewise, we ought to believe and submit to this principle when it comes to our individual gatherings and the collective Body of Christ, the One Church. We want to have a spiritually vigorous community of faith, a vibrant gathering of believers that is healthy and growing both in depth and width. So we put our focus wholly on this gathering, and shut out other gatherings right in our own zip code. The thought of serving another gathering in one way or another doesn’t even cross our minds. Certainly it wouldn’t be a wise strategy to serve the needs of another gathering if we are trying to grow our own organization. Or would it?
We want a community of faith! We need to realize that we already have the community, now we need the faith. Let’s exercise our faith together! It is time to put our faith into practice and submit ourselves to Christ, and through Him, to one another. Throughout Scripture, in the Old Testament as well as the New, the unity of believers is stressed and celebrated. Not just the individual unity of our separate gatherings, but the spiritual unity of all believers. When we are collectively united under the headship of Christ, we foster the free move of the Holy Spirit. We know that it is only the conviction of this Holy Spirit that illuminates Christ as the Son of God, as well as the need for the forgiveness and salvation He offers.
If we truly want to advance God’s Kingdom, we must give heed to Christ’s instruction and directive. After all, He is the head of the one Body. Our duty is to obey His instructions alone. His priorities, displayed in His last prayer, ought now to be our own priorities!
All believers must be one as He is one with the Father, then the world will know, and the Church will grow.