A Prophercy Self-fulfilled: The Church Life-Span
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20 May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21 May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)
1 If GOD doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks. If GOD doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap.
Psalm 127:1 (MSG)
About 12 years ago, I was in a program that trained pastors for what is called Intentional Interim Ministry, or what I prefer to call Transitional Ministry. It trained pastors, many retired or about to retire, in how to help a conflicted church or a church whose identity was found in relationship to their old pastor prepare to be shepherded by someone new.
A lot of the material was excellent, but there was one theory I questioned then, and I question even more now. It was called the “life-cycle” of a church. It proposed that most churches were lasting about 40 years, and 25 years into that cycle they began to decline. Often overlooked in that discussion was the exception. I questioned the theory and the basis for it. I have seen too many churches that have existed for hundreds of years and are still a cornerstone of their community. I also wondered about the correlation of the theory to the generation it originated in – the baby boomers.
Now, I see the theory has become self-fulfilling. But I still don’t think it is accurate. Here is why.
1. How we use our talent.
If we buy into the fact that a church has a specific life-cycle, then we will see a move to use our human resources and gifts accordingly. Our brighter seminarians will be taught that the best will be the large church pastors or church planters.
After all, the statistics infer that the biggest “bang for the buck” is not in established parishes and congregations, but in doing something new. Those churches in the decline or approaching 40 years will be relegated to men who go through the motions, or as the clergy crisis draws nearer, to retirees who are great preachers, but don’t have the energy or drive to disciple and work in the community.
2. How we use our money.
What we will see here is similar, Rather than invest in the costly upkeep of 40-70-year-old churches, we will fund new initiatives, and ministries that make us feel like we are accomplishing things now. Effectively we will teach the next generation that sacrifice and determination are not as important and that it is better to give up and abandon, rather than dig deep and care for a community. (we already see this in the wastelands of cities that have been abandoned)
By the way, I am not just talking about the gothic cathedrals, but the store front chapels, the inner city, and extreme rural churches.
3. We devalue the people in a place
The first church I was called to pastor was a little place with 14 senior citizens left by the time I got there. I was told by “the experts” that the most effective strategy was to drive off the people, close the doors, and re-open the church six months later with a new name. They were willing to put their money where their mouth was and offer me a generous salary if I went with their logic.
But they couldn’t answer how these people would be cared for, where they would hear of God’s love. I have since heard other leaders say it doesn’t matter; they will find some place to go, if they can’t travel to the new church plant, well they can go to some other church in their community. These people of God didn’t matter, what mattered more were the resources they were hoarding, that they weren’t using. They didn’t see any value to them. They didn’t see them as children of God, as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
Where there’s is no prophetic vision, scriptures tell us, people will perish. When we teach them that their church must leave a legacy, rather than have them share what God is doing, then that is all that is left. A legacy. We’ve robbed them of what is theirs in Christ Jesus.
4. We dishonor God, and dismiss His promises
As I look at scripture, while the church is the people of God, there is always a special bond between the people and the land where they gather with God. The promised land to Abraham, the altars of Jacob/Israel, the role of the tabernacle and then Solomon’s temple. God always talked of a place where He would put His name, where He would gather His own. The only time those places “closed” and something new was started was during times of sin and rebellion. Times where people did what was right in their own eyes. Times when the people forgot the promises of God, and leaned on their own strength and understanding.
While a church building today isn’t the same as the Temple – it is still dedicated and set aside for a purpose. There are still those who are baptized there, where the Body and Blood of Christ is a feast of our communion with God. Where we celebrate new life, both physical and spiritual, and where we give thanks for those who are part of us, who have died and gone home.
When we invest in the new, as if it is the best, if not only hope for the church, we dismiss God, and we discount people.
But what if we invested in these places, in the communities? What if we sent pastors who would sacrifice and strive, who would guide and be patient? What if we rededicated those buildings, and re-read the gospel as the Jews were told to do regularly. What if we treasured what happened in those buildings, and invited people to join us there. What if we realize God was with
What if we sent pastors who would sacrifice and strive, who would guide and be patient? What if we rededicated those buildings, and re-read the gospel as the Jews were told to do regularly. What if we treasured what happened in those buildings, and invited people to join us there. What if we realize God was with us there, and put His name there for a purpose, for people?
I bet that would fulfill a different prophecy, and we would see that God doesn’t abandon a congregation, that God doesn’t forget His promises.
That God hears, and forgives, and reconciles and bless His people. What if that vision were given, in such a way, that the people and the church didn’t perish?
Could we give that a try, rather than just abandoning people and planting new wildernesses?
Pray to the Lord of the Harvest – for these fields are still ready for harvesting..