The Missing Power in the Local Churches – Part 2
“The True Church can never fail. For it is based upon a rock.” T.S. Eliot
Recent statistics on churches in America show that four thousand churches are closing every year, and only one thousand are being planted.i Every year, thousands of pastors are leaving the ministry discouraged, burnt out, and frustrated.ii Needless to say countless church members are no longer attending the church, and a large number of millennials have soured on the concept of institutionalized religion. Christianity appears to be at a crossroads. Churches are in decline and pastors are leaving the ministry. The Bride of Christ is in trouble, and it never should have come to this.
To Conquer, not to be Conquered
Bill Gates, the creator of Microsoft, has consistently been one of the richest men in the world. The idea of his kids struggling financially would be ridiculous. It wouldn’t make any sense! The probability of seeing his kids begging for money to survive is negligible. Instead, because of their father’s fortune, which has been accumulated throughout the years, their kids, and the kids of their kids will have enough money to live well. Their future is secure! In fact, due to their wealth, we even expect them to share their means with the less fortunate through charity, right?
The world is God’s creation. He is the creator of everything, and nothing exists without His permission. He is not only the creator, but the sustainer of life too. There is no one in the whole universe more powerful than Him. If God is so incredible then why is His church “begging” to survive? Or in some cases, barely surviving at all?
If the church is God’s idea, why is it in so much trouble? It doesn’t make any sense! Why are churches closing, and why are pastors leaving the ministry? If God is who He says He is, we should be spiritually wealthy with the ability to share our wealth with the people around us.
Jesus said, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18, KJV).
The word prevail means “more powerful than opposing forces.” Jesus was clearly saying, there is nothing, not even the gates of hell, powerful enough to prevail against His church. The Message Bible version says “a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out”. Expansive, a church that spreads out. A church that grows, that is alive, full of energy, vibrant, and nothing can stop it.
The New Living Translation uses the word conquer, “all the powers of hell will not conquer it”. The church is not supposed to be losing its force. It does not exist to be conquered, but to conquer.
My Church Versus His Church
St. John the Baptist Church was built in 1902 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to serve a growing community of immigrants from Ireland and Scotland. This beautiful cathedral was serving its purpose for its existence. It helped hundreds of families during the First and the Second World Wars, distributed food during the Depression years, and opened its doors to those who lost everything during a flood in 1936.
As the years went by, the community around the church changed, and that magnificent temple somehow lost its relevance. In 1993, after ninety-one years of serving the community, St. John the Baptist Church closed its doors.
Today, the building no longer houses a church. It has become The Church Brew Works, a pub that sells drinking and entertainment. The place maintains its church structure. From the outside it looks like a church. From the inside, the church structure is still visible, with all the columns, beautiful windows, and even the remodeled pews. However, it no longer serves as a place of spiritual nourishment for the community, but as a place to drink beer and eat junk food. What was once a beautiful, relevant church has transformed into a community pub.
Jesus clearly stated that His church would not be overcome, yet more and more churches are closing every day in the United States and around the world. Now it might smell like His church, it might look like His church, but if the church is not thriving, if it is not helping being a changing agent in its community, then it is not functioning as Christ intended it to.
When Jesus sent His followers to make disciples, He said, “All the power is given unto me” (Matt 28:18, KJV). All the power—that means, more power than the disciples would need to accomplish the task in front of them. And yet, today, we have powerless churches, and powerless disciple makers. Does this make any sense to you? It does not to me!
Could a church that belongs to Jesus be a powerless church? Could a disciple that is sent by Jesus to be fisher of men be a powerless disciple? If Jesus is sending us, we are supposed to be nurturing the church, not starving it!
Along the way, we have forgotten His instructions on how to spread the message of Salvation to all nations. If we do not listen to Jesus’ instructions regarding His church, we are going to fail.
i “Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline.” Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline. Accessed June 15, 2016. http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=42346.
ii Viola, Frank; Barna, George(2008-01-17). Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (pp. 137-138). BarnaBooks. Kindle Edition.
* This article is an excerpt from Paulo Macena’s book “The Missing Power” published by the General Conference Ministerial Department.