Churches are composed of people; that is what the church is about. These people are either attending or not attending. They are either worshiping and praising God, or conniving with their political agendas and practicing deceit. They are either coming or they are leaving. They are either visiting or becoming members. They are either becoming more active, or they are fed up and are leaving! It is the reason for their leaving that concerns us here, and how we can avoid this exodus. We will explore the attitudes and motivations that cause them to leave.
For us to further understand the reasons for people leaving God's house, we not only need to know why they left, as was previously stated, but, what our call is in regard to the purpose of the church. We need to know God's desire for our undertaking, and the how and why of building His church. It is not a building, a program, or a vision; it is the people of God, the body of Christ who claim Jesus as Lord and God of their lives.
What Went Wrong
For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. Jeremiah 7:22-24
Sacrifices without any love for the Lord or any obedience to Him were worthless then just as they are today. If all we do is sit in a pew, we are just like a dog chasing its own tail. Going to church for a long period of time but not knowing what it is about is like a farmer not knowing what he is planting. The farmer would not know how to water, fertilize, cultivate, harvest, or how to take the produce to the market. A Christian who does not have a heart for the Lord and a passion for His church is also like this farmer; how can Christians grow or be used if they do not know their own potential and the plan of God?
Empty ritual was detestable before a Holy God in Jeremiah's time, and since God does not change, we should take careful heed from this passage. God desires us to be in a relationship to Him with obedience; this is the top priority over any external notion we may have, even sacrifice. In the Old Testament's sacrificial system, obedience was the main concern for the people of God. When they turned from obedience to a false idol, the wrath of God was unleashed, not because they missed a sacrifice, but because they missed the point of who their God was. God desires morals over ritual, our devotion over our motions-God desires us over what we do.
Just as the early Jews negated their obedience to their Lord, many Christians today have perpetuated this behavior! We have a God who personally delivered us out of our sin and out of our punishment. He gave us Himself; this is His promise and His fact. The question is what are we to do with it? What will be our response, and what will be our action to His call and to our responsibility?
The key to building your church so it will run right and for people to not only come but be aligned with Christ as worshiping, growing members begins with your obedience to His call. What is the purpose of the Church as He has clearly called? It starts with this theme: obey me. Then, as this passage continues to state, I will be your God and you will be my people. How are you and the leadership of your church responding to this? Are you obeying Him? Are you responding as people that are His?
Why Reforming the Church back to Christ is So Essential
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:3
I was at a youth pastor's conference a few years ago and heard a story that really caused me to shutter and think. It was a story of a teen who tried to join a youth group; he was small and awkward, and seemingly unlovable. None of the other youth would have anything to do with him. The youth pastor invited him to a fun youth trip to an amusement park, a supposed fun and community-building event. The other kids shunned him; the youth pastor himself did not recall if he spent any time with the new kid. Instead, he spent all of his time with the popular kids. No one would pair up with this new kid or reach out to him, because they considered him undesirable and unlovable, so he roamed the amusement park all by himself. He was a skinny loaner whom no one wanted to befriend, and his name was Brian Warner.
This was a shy, reclusive, timid youth whom no one wanted to show and model the love and care of Christ because they were too busy in their cliques, too busy pretending to be Christians, singing the songs and discussing the spiritual things but not implementing them because it was inconvenient. It got in the way of their private agendas. So, Brian left disillusioned. This was perhaps his one last hope for receiving care and love or checking out what the Christian life is all about. There was no Christ-like outreach from the people who are called to be the best at it. Since love and care was not presented, Brian received none.
He grew up and changed his name. He took the first name of a famous actress who committed suicide, and a serial killer for a last name. His name became Marilyn Manson. He was the favorite of the two teens who killed all those youth in Columbine, and the various other school shootings, the one whom so many youth listen to, finding life totally hopeless and unmeaning, and some even ending up killing themselves!
What if the youth group had reached out to Brian? Would he be a great Christian singer now, attracting the youth who feel hopeless, attracting the two teens in Columbine to live for Christ instead of killing for Satan? We may not know until the Day of Judgment what could have happened, but we do know what did happen, and we do know what we should have done as Christians. We know what Christ calls us to do. We just all too often choose not to. How different our world would be if just one person in a youth group in Florida had reached out to a seemingly awkward and unlovable kid….! How different and better would our world be if you and your church did as we are called to do-to be truly loving and caring, presenting those Christ-like characteristics? Just how different world our world be if our churches were collectively doing as we are called, if we just would get off the pews and get in Christ.
Remember this important point: being a Christian is more about expressing our new life in Christ and less about seeking what we want.
A church is called to be healthy, to be biblically oriented, and above all, to be actively focused on Jesus Christ. Thus, a healthy church will know and practice the supremacy and centrality of Christ so that it glorifies, trusts, and worships God wholeheartedly. A healthy church will be passionate for Christ and then for one another. A responsible church is a healthy church, and this is shown when we are genuinely learning from and growing in Him. Then, our church will encourage the spiritual formation of each member, and be able to bring into being and equip disciples with a teachable spirit who know Him and desire to make Him known. Our church will connect with others, and in so doing, develop vital relationships that work and grow in the Fruit of the Spirit. When a church is functioning in Christ, it will be better at mobilizing its people with their spiritual gifts. This church will be an effective, generous steward of all He gives us individually and collectively. Then, it will have a mission and purpose, and engage in intentional evangelism, missions, outreach, and the meeting of key community needs-all led and envisioned by called, effective, empowered, servant leaders who are Kingdom oriented. Sounds like a mouthful, but this can be you in your church-leading others! This will be broken down more in the next chapter.
We have a Responsibility
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Hebrews 6:10-12
Yes, Brian Warner was ultimately responsible for his own choices and actions. People with far worse circumstances and experiences have gone through the bad times, yet embraced Christ as Lord. My point is this: we too have responsibilities; we are to be obedient to His Word and carry out His call. When we do not carry out that call and responsibility to be in Him and act within His character, we pay a big price. We must ask ourselves what our inactivity will cost us and those around us. When we do not accept our duty, the cost will build up and may even overwhelm us-not because God is without compassion and love, but because we refuse it, or we refuse to share it. The cost we may accrue is the cost of "lost opportunities," "what if," and "what could have been." The comparison is of a church that is flourishing and being used by God versus the church that is closing its doors after decades of being there (in a physical building form) but not really being there (for the community and use by God). A church can "be there" with facilities, but "not be there" with heartfelt worship and poured out teaching. Or, it can "be there" as a club, but "not be there" as a church. What are you costing God? Is your church a haven of lost opportunities, or a haven of rest? Is your church surrendered to His will and holiness, or to self-seeking motives and desires?
When we think of the church, we tend to think of it as buildings and programs. However, the real, true church is people-all interconnected to one another while being intertwined with Christ as LORD. When we get this, that Christ is eminent and He reconciles us to Him, we can start to see how important our commitment to honor Christ and His percepts are. We were enemies to God; dammed for eternity with no hope or plan; now with Christ, we have salvation, assurance, and an eternity of hope. Perhaps, we can start to rebuild our churches, turning them in a godly direction of making disciples and giving Him Glory. It is about His fullness in us. It is to be our passion and directive to lead other Christians to grow in Him, into His way and away from false perceptions. All Christians and especially Christian leaders need a desire to see their church committed to His purpose and poured out to His ways. When we are proclaiming Christ as Lord, then we will see revival through real prayer and devotion to His Lordship. By allowing His work in us, living in His presence, being a doer of the Word, standing firm in our faith and teachings, and never drifting away from His truth, His precepts, or His love, revival will come.
Living as Children of Light!
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
© 1999, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, http://www.churchleadership.org/