Ekklēsia sardeis (a church pathogen)
A man was walking through a graveyard when he stopped at a tombstone. On it, this epitaph had been written:
Immanuel Lutheran Church (1906 to 1963)
He left the graveyard with a question: CAN A CHURCH DIE?
Anyone with a sound Bible knowledge will probably say “no” on the premise of Matthew 16:18. Jesus didn’t mince words. He wasn’t being proverbial. The first part of the verse may be misconstrued, but the message of the second part is unmistakable:
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Matthew 16:18 KJV
The Contemporary English Version says “death itself will not have any power over it”. So can a church die?
I think it we need to first strike the difference between “a church” and what Jesus called “MY church”. Jesus’ “MY church” is His body—the body of Christ. And, NO! That will NEVER die. But, Yes! A church can die! An assembly can die. A denomination can die! In fact, not only is it a possibility, we have living case studies of the reality all around us!
So why will a church die?
The fastest way is this: disobey THE LAW OF TRANSITION.
The church is more of an organism—a living organism—than a mere organization. Hence, when a local assembly or a denomination at large disobeys the law of GROWTH—transition—such a church dies!
I’m not a prophet of doom, but, standing on the stairs of TODAY, holding the banisters of TIME and seeing through to the distinct, yet, blurry images of TOMORROW, I perceive, strongly, that many churches are already innoculated with this virulent strain of Ekklēsia sardeis.
(Ekklēsia is the Greek word for “Church” and sardeis is the Greek work for “Sardis”—the dead church in Revelations 3).
I see a generation of churches that are totally ignorant of the peculiarities and intricacies of the coming generation of children. They are only relevant, at most, for the present generation, but lack a comprehensive vision for the GENERATION NEXT!
Post-modernity has created a disconnect between generations and how we view the way things should be done within the church. Younger folks who lacked mature role models growing up tend to distance themselves from older generations and accountability. But is it their fault? The older generation is failing to make adjustments and contextualizing to a new generation—a generation with a limited attention span!
Below are seven indices of transition that I believe any church that will be perpetually relevant will need to take cognizance of.
7 Spheres of Church Transitions
1. SPIRITUAL TRANSITION.
Thank God for all those reformations and the Charismatic renewals. Truth is, God is always dealing with His church per time! There was a season when Pentecostalism bloomed. There was a season when we experienced a revival healing and miracles. There was a season when we experienced a revival of the Word of Faith. And most recently, a revolution of the Word of Grace! Any church that misses out on the move of God per time is sacrificing her future on the altar of counter-dispensationalism.
In this age and time, a church that still majors on the minors and minors on the majors will soon fizzle out. Perish the thought, but many churches are still living like Jesus had not even come! And with the kind of upcoming generation that we have, it will take the GRACE of God—not mere laws and doctrines—to reach the end of the world!
2. CULTURAL TRANSITION.
Culture is the total way of life of a group of people. For a church to be relevant in a society, their music, mode of worship and sermon presentation must be relevant to the prevailing cultural inclinations of the church audience and society at large.
Dear Pastor, you want to see less of yawning and more of alertness during your messages? Then stay culturally relevant. Ask yourself if it is cultural to spend 90 minutes preaching. Ask yourself if your presentation style is culturally timely. May God help you.
3. PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSITION.
Jesus spoke about how TRADITIONALISM makes the Word of God of no effect. I’m not asking you to blend with the world, but there is such a thing as CHANGE WITHOUT COMPROMISE. It takes Wisdom to find it.
4. METHODOLOGICAL TRANSITION.
God bless those bold souls that will wake up extra early to do morning cries or get in a public transport and preach. And God bless those of us that find it easy to use our gift of words to bless lives on the podium of social media. We are both doing evangelism. Only the methods are different!
5. ORGANIZATIONAL TRANSITION.
A church that stays on a particular organizational structure forever has placed a permanent lid on her growth—simple! When processes are getting slower . . . when productivity is waning—it’s time to check your structure for an upgrade!
6. GENERATIONAL TRANSITION.
The symptom for this is crystal clear. Is yours a church that finds it difficult to keep the children of her members in the church? Watch out! As a parent, when your child begins to feel a distaste to your church, it’s a big signal! Perhaps, the church isn’t carrying them along enough!
The children of today (who doubles as the “church of tomorrow”) have some peculiarities and intricacies. They are:
Fully dependent on technology
Short attention spanned
Desirous of attention, connection and expression
If a church is not structured in a way to rightly channel these strengths/weaknesses, they may lose out on the church of tomorrow!
7. TECHNOLOGICAL TRANSITION.
We can’t keep doing things the same way and expect to get a different result. Times have changed! I once heard of a pastor that blatantly castigated her members that were using an electronic Bible and made a law that forbade it. Amongst his claims is that the devil fears the hard copy Bible more than the electronic version. (I laugh in Spanish).
Had the Bible always been in a bbok form? No! It started as scrolls . . . and then, technological transitions gave us Book formats! But because we have become so used to that, we now think “that” is the real deal!
Paul was clear on this: “the letter kills, but the Spirit giveth life!” The “book” is not the Word of God. The “book” is just a container for it. “The words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit and they are Life” (John 6:63b).
That’s just one of the many areas of technological advancements. A church must make the most of these advancements and not wait on the devil to use them against us!
Let me use this medium to encourage those of us that God has called into the ministry of raising the next generation.
The likes of Deaconess Atandare, Aanu Yusuf Elizabeth (DamsEleos AngEleos), Tobi (nee Egbetade), Oreoluwa (nee Oyedele), Elder Ameobi, and the very many countless others . . .
And to my Destiny Friend, Bola (nee Ajidahun)…
Happy Married Life!
God says to tell you that you shouldn’t be afraid to start small. Fulfill the silent whispers. Obey the gentle nudges. Give your ALL towards utmost dedication to raising that Godly breed, from under your roof to the ends of the earth. The local shall become global, says the Lord.
Finally, it’s a time we shifted from being a church that knows what God SAID to a church that knows what God is SAYING! Yes, a church may not have the power to change the PRESENT but she can surely position herself for the FUTURE through TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP!
I’ll end on this beautiful snapshot from the future as seen by a man that dwelt in past:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing…” (Zechariah 8:4-5).
I love that!
People of various ages together.
Not separated by generations or years spent on earth.
May that be our “end”.