This story is a familiar one. In 1972, and after 308 years, the First Church of Newton, Mass., called it quits. It gave its assets to a museum, sold its building to a Greek Evangelical Church, and disbanded. The church started in 1664. It rose to a high of 1,200 members in 1952 but dropped to 325 in 1972. Three-fourths of the membership was over fifty.
In my current ministry position, I see congregations at various stages of the life cycle. But that is not the focus of this post. For the church to carry out its mission, it needs never to lose sight of the reason for its existence. The church can easy fall into the first two descriptions listed below without every realizing it has done so.
The Church as a Museum.
What does that mean? First, by way of a definition. “A museum is a building or place where works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed.” – Webster’s Dictionary.
works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed.” – Webster’s Dictionary. I remember my time in Detroit as a parish pastor vividly. I toured so many historic churches in that once great city. These buildings were massive structures, that displayed with great detail man’s ability to create amazing buildings. These monuments are a fitting tribute dedicated to worship a God worthy of those accolades.
The problem is those days had passed for many of the churches in Detroit. There were not thousands of people praising God in those beautiful structures. There were less than a hundred people there. Those few faithful souls left were spending every penny they had to maintain the building’s beauty. If you took the time to stop and talk with those who remained, they would regale you with stories of the past. They would walk you down memory lane. It felt like a museum tour. They could tell you how the church was built and how it was making a difference in the lives and fabric of their community.
Sunday morning becomes the major donor event to keep the museum open. The patrons have very little time for outreach. And the outreach they do is to increase the donor base. I don’t blame the supporters; the mission got lost when the focus became survival. Don’t get me wrong I know that God is still proclaimed there, but if reaching the lost is not the primary focus, survival has replaced mission.
The Church as a University.
“Knowledge is useless without consistent application.” Julian Hall
I have been blessed in my life with great Christ-centered brilliant men of God who taught the mysteries of the faith. It was a joy and blessing to learn at the feet of such scholars. There are a certain number of churches that have been blessed with similar people of God who teach and share God’s truth in a powerful way to the flock who attend. The caution with a focus that centers primarily on education is there is a need for mission action as well. I love this quote. “Knowledge is not power. Applying what you know is power.” That applies to the work that the church is called to do. We are called to take the message of truth that we learn from gifted and knowledgeable people of God and take that into the world to be ambassadors of Christ. The apostle Paul reminds us of this in 2 Corinthians 5. “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The call to reconciliation is the work the church is called to do.
The Church as a Lifeboat.
C.T. Studd, said, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell, I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”
The church has been given the task to carry on the mission that our Lord Jesus Christ began. He did not spend all his time in the Synagogue. Nor did he just go around preaching and teaching the truths of the faith. He never lost sight of his mission. Jesus’ mission was to give up his life to save others. Jesus came to set the captives being set free. He conducts a search and rescue mission to find the lost sons and daughters. Jesus’ ministry afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted. We are called to continue the work our Savior started. The Church is not about meetings and building projects, or even denominations conventions and politics. It is about the lost, the brokenhearted; the disenfranchise all finding their place in the King’s kingdom through faith. Reaching those outside of God’s sheepfold is the burden of the Gospel; this is the responsibility of the Church’s mission. We are called to go out daily on search and rescue mission and proclaim the love of God to those who are looking for hope in a hopeless word. Go armed with your grounding in the Word of God and be a lifeboat.
God in His plan for us (and for a lost world) spared not His own So tell the world of His love. Love is costly, but we must show it to the world at any cost.