“Take off your shoes!” –Hope for the Dead/Dying Church
Thoughts to draw us closer to Jesus….
When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” 14 “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the LORD’s army.” At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?” 15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told. Joshua 5:13-15 NLT
So it is in the Church of Christ. It is literally true that some churches are dead. The Holy Spirit has gone out of them and all you have left are “the remains.” You have the potential of the church but you do not have the church, just as you have in a dead man the potential of a living man but you do not have a living man. He can’t talk, he can’t taste, he can’t touch, he can’t feel, he can’t smell, he can’t see, he can’t hear—because he is dead! The soul has gone out of the man, and when the Holy Spirit is not present in the Church, you have to get along after the methods of business or politics or psychology or human effort.
In this petition you will notice that God bids us to pray against ourselves. In that way he teaches us that we have no greater enemy than ourself. You see, our will is the most formidable element in us, and against it we must pray, “O Father, do not let me get to the point where my will is done. Break my will; resist it. No matter what happens let my life be governed not by my will, but by yours. As no one’s own will prevails in heaven so may it also be here on earth.” Such a petition or its fulfilment is indeed very painful to our human nature, for our own will is the greatest and most deep rooted evil in us, and nothing is dearer to us than our own will.
Therefore, we are asking for nothing else in this petition than the cross, torment, adversity, and sufferings of every kind, since these serve the destruction of our will. If these self-willed people really thought about this and noted that they are praying against their own will, they would turn against this petition or even be frightened by it.
Over the years, I have worked with several churches that I was told were dead, or would soon be dead. My first church was one of these, and yet it is now nearly 20 times more than it was when I got there 25 years ago. (Most of that growth after me…. to be honest) The desk I sit in presently, one expert said would be abandoned 8 years ago…as the church was impossible to save. We are still here, in some ways struggling… yet more alive than ever.
I didn’t think either was, for the Holy Spirit was there. There was a hunger to hear about God, His compassion, mercy and forgiveness.
I’ve also seen much larger churches where that hunger was non-existent, and Tozer would say they are dead, even though they have hundreds or thousands showing up on a Sunday. They have the book of the month club which shows them how to “do” church right. Or they adapt the latest thing from the mega chruch in the next city, hoping to replicate what is happening there. Their faith ends up to be more in the program, than in the person of Christ. And so year after year, the “hope” for the future changes. Their guide book changes, and they get further and further from trusting in Jesus.
Here is where Luther’s discussion of the phrase, “Thy will be done” is so relevant. Whether a chruch is 12 or 50 or 5000, will it seek the Father’s will – knowing that their own will must die at the cross? Will they embrace the suffering, the sacrifice, the death of their preferences, in order to see what God is calling them to be? That is a dangerous prayer! If we realized what it could cost us, as Luther pointed out, people would run rather than pray it…
Unless they realize how desperate they are…. and that God is their only hope. Individually – and as a congregation.
As Joshua and Israel met Jesus as they crossed the Jordan, we see what all church leaders and their churches need to realize. God doesn’t have our back because He is impressed with His partners in ministry. God isn’t impressed with our plans for His church, the systems and visions we “borrow” may not work in our setting, especially if we put our hope in the system or vision, and not in the Lord.
He is the Lord, He is God. He is the one that gives each church its mission and vision in each community. It is His presence that turns the sancturary and campus into Holy Ground.
For He has come to dwell with us….and that is the other reason to take off your shoes… you are home. When our will is crucified, when our plans and desires are nailed to the cross… we have not only died, we are risen in Him, together.
Take your shoes off, make yourself at home in His presence, and let Him lead His people….
Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 42. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Posted on February 17, 2022, in Ancient Future, Devotions, Martin Luther, Theology in Practice, Tozer and tagged church vision, dead church, Holy Ground, missional church, revitalization. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.