When I look at the church today, indeed throughout history, it makes me wonder how on earth the church has been able to survive through all these years. Like the churches in Revelation today’s churches are dysfunctional in every way imaginable and it’s a wonder that people are being saved and the gospel is growing.
I’ve seen churches where there are major inhouse fighting between pastors. There are churches filled with bigotry and racisms. Others are more concerned about their comfort than about the lost. I was speaking to one pastor who was talking to his church members about raising money for the flood victims in the Philippines. The response was one of terrible terrible indifference. Some churches are theologically weak if not dangerously shallow. Others are serious stuck in a major maintainence problem they can’t get out.
Some are too cowardly to make radical changes to break the plateau and reach those around them. Still many of these churches lack any good solid teaching of the scriptures from godly pastors and teachers. And given how few people go into full time ministry it will be many years before many of these churches find a full time worker.
So what do you say to these churches? How do you encourage them?
I remember wrapping up a leadership conference in Brisbane trying to work out what word of encouragement I could say to them. Many of these churches did not have a pastor and the lay leaders were struggling to know what to do. Our weekend conference, great and awesome as it was could only do so much.
At this I was reminded of Paul’s farewell speech to the elders of the Ephesian Church in Acts 20:28-31 . Paul was its founder and pastor and now, after a few years was leaving to plant other churches. Once he leaves he knows all too clearly what lies ahead of them. He warns them of the rise of false teachers both from outside the church, and worse still, from within the church.
When I look at the church today what it faces is no different to what awaited Paul’s churches. So I think his word of exhortation is really something
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:28-31
A few things are special and really stand out
Firstly Paul reminds us just how very special the church is to God. Paul reminds the elders that God purchased the church with his very own blood. You cannot get more precious than that. To be wiling to die for someone is the most powerful testimony of just how much you love someone. And God’s underlying love for his church was seen in the death of his son. What this assures us is his unwavering and unconditional commitment to protect and provide for his church throughout her life on earth. I’m reminded of those great words in Romans 8:38,39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So to all the churches struggling with whatever problems they may be facing, we can take courage in the knowledge, that despite all the difficulties, this does not change one bit how much God loves your church and will do all within his infinite power to care for her. Hard to believe at times isn’t it?
Secondly Paul reminds us that, ultimately the church is in God’s hands. In his farewell speech Paul commits the church to God. One of my biggest passions has to been to identify, challenge and equip people for full time pastoral ministry. I see so many churches struggling without a good shepherd to lead the church. Yet, I’m becoming painfully aware that no matter how hard I work, we will never ever find enough pastors for all the churches in the world. Yet Paul’s words is an encouragement in reminding us that the life and health of the church ultimately and supremely lies with God. So despite how incompetent or inadequate our leaders, or the very that we do not have pastors or teachers, God is more than adequate to bring his church to her perfection. And we see this don’t we in Revelation 21 where we see the Church on the last day, beside her her husband decked out in garments of righteousness and shining with the radiance of the Lord Jesus himself. Awesome!
And lastly Paul reminds us that God has given us all we need in the word of God. Paul commits the church both to God and to the word of his grace. It reminds us of the sufficiency of God’s word to keep his people safe. With all the books about church growth, leadership development etc, it is easy to rely on these as the very things that will bring our church to our perfection. Yet Paul takes us back to the very word of God and therein lies all we need to build the church up.
So for all of us who are tempted to throw our hands in the air in despair as we look at all the seemingly insurmountable problems in our church then be encouraged by Paul’s words of exhortation to the Ephesian elders. Remember that despite what we see with our eyes, the eyes of faith is able to see the God who is so in love with his people and his church that it staggers the imagination and that he is unwaveringly committed to our church and will protect, provide and bring her to her final glory.
What an encouragement!