This article was originally released on July 20, 2016 as a guest post for ChurchTechToday at http://churchtechtoday.com/2016/07/18/grow-or-shrink-an-open-letter-to-my-church/.
For too long you have wandered the desert looking for Me. Good that you reflect upon My Word, but ill that you do not believe. You reduce My Word to simple platitudes; slogans for billboards and Internet memes. You prop yourselves up by them in your times of distress instead of remaining in grace through faith.
The world slaps at you and instead of loving all the more and turning the other cheek, you retreat and pray your circumstances and oppressors will change. Your words burn My ears. Do you not see My artistry all around you? So busy are you, so caught in the flesh, you don’t dare look up for fear of losing your weak grasp on your paper lives. Your bodies are not meant to continue forever, yet you insist on consuming as if they will.
“Love,” was what He said. Love is not idolatry. Loving Me is you returning to your Source. I call you. All of you. Regardless of your world views and your sins, I am calling you. Yet you play judge and jury amongst yourselves, passing judgment upon one another from within your own flesh. So few of you even try to see as I see you. You all bear Our image. Yet you insist on drawing lines upon the maps in your minds. This one is blinded by color. That one is blinded by sex. This one is blinded by prejudice. That one is blinded by fear.
And so you fail the second Commandment to love your neighbor because you fail to see them as I see them. You fail to see them as I see them because you fail to see yourselves as I see you. My Blood has paid a high price for you. Your value to Me is endless. My love for you is endless. This alone is enough if you understand, yet you cling to one another, blindly grasping for comfort at things made of dust. If you would pray ceaselessly, My Presence would fill you more than any pastor’s sermon, child’s love or personal mission. Your business is My enemy if it’s taking your eyes off Me.
I denounce My church. I have never told you to build large buildings. My grandeur cannot be captured in rock and metal and wood so why is your focus there? I have never told you to stay in one place. He said, “Go.” Your buildings are anchors around your necks. You worry about keeping the lights on. You worry about the lawns and parking lots. You worry about paint and carpet. I have said, “Be still and know that I am.” You worry about audio and video. You model the concerns of the flesh and yet preach a story of spirit.
You believe the lies and then you spread them. You meet the world on the world’s terms. I have not changed. I have shown you the path; the narrow gate. I have preserved My Word in you, yet you choose to look away and follow the Aggressor’s lead. His songs tickle your ears as they did in the Garden. I call you back from the pit. Here is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Your world is paper. Do not be deceived by it. You are all My children. See yourselves for you who are and return to Me.
Awaken, church. You are redeemed in blood and Spirit. Recognize yourselves and each other as one people of the One True and Living God. You must be transformed in faith, from image to image, sanctified daily in My Spirit. Seek Me and you shall find Me. That joy in your heart is My gift. Now go and share it with others. Do this and discover what it means to be My church.
A Note from the Author
When Lauren of ChurchTechToday asked me to consider writing another guest post, she mentioned I might write an introduction for a short paper I produced years ago called The Top 10 Reasons Why Your Church is Shrinking. I liked the idea and agreed, but as I went back to review that work, I realized I may have missed the mark.
When I produced the piece, I was very much operating from the corporate mindset that churches should be in the business of growing. The underlying thought there is plain to see: To be growing in numbers and popularity as a church is to be advancing God’s Kingdom on Earth.
What should hopefully be equally obvious is the blatant fallacy that growth in headcount means spiritual victory. It means nothing of the sort.
It was painfully clear to me I had written the Why Your Church is Shrinking paper from a flesh-driven point of view.
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8 KJV)
When we as a church begin to ask the question, “How do we grow?” we begin to take our eyes off the Spirit and place them squarely upon worldly metrics for what we perceive to be success. This is nonsense. When we plant a seed, the most we can do is to nurture and protect it. There is nothing we can do to force it to grow. Ever notice forests don’t seem to need humans to plant them. God does just fine with that all on His own.
Want to grow your church? Jesus gave us that example. Prayerfully receive those the Lord presents, regardless of what you see with your eyes. Disciple them in the ways of the Spirit, nurturing them from faith to faith. (This step assumes you’re walking in Spirit enough to lead others, of course.) Then send them into the world to multiply. Rinse. Repeat.
That’s it. Simple, right?
The whole process seems to take about three years if you’re already walking on water and raising the dead. If you’re not there yet, allow for extra time (just to be sure.)
Kidding aside, when I dove in and began researching for this article, I found plenty of examples on why it might be okay for church to be shrinking and even more examples trying to explain why a church might be shrinking. I didn’t find too many articles that suggested maybe institutionalizing God’s Word might be off in the bushes.
So, I prayed on it. I prayed to be emptied of me and that the words would be those of the Holy Spirit. I believed they would be and then I listened. When I received the “My church” opening, I felt my stomach drop a little. I wrote what came up anyways. Sometimes the words flowed easily. Sometimes I had to stop, close my eyes and be still for a while before more words came. It’s a lot harsher than what I would produce on my own. I don’t think it’s meant to enflame, but it sure feels to me it’s meant to purify by flame. I never felt any anger, righteousness or anything rough. I felt peace, fatherly correction and—from my side—occasionally guilt or sadness and a small dash of, “Yikes.”
If your church is shrinking, your mission is to grow in the Spirit; not to grow in the numbers. Our mission is to share the Gospel in faith; it is the Holy Spirit who converts hearts. In Luke 14, we see Jesus give a tough message that surely frustrated many who heard it:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27 KJV)
Does this sound like the soft gospel of tolerance being preached by many churches today? Jesus’ focus was in Spirit; not on flesh and blood. This is where our focus should be as well.