Why I'm Not Giving up on Church

The stories and statistics may be dire at times, but here’s why there’s hope for the Church yet.

In 2011 the largest denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the results of a survey showing a significant decline in baptisms and church membership. Ed Stetzer, a missioligist and researcher with Lifeway Research, commented at the time: “This is not a blip. This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline.”

In the very same year, across the Atlantic, a report on the Church of England highlighted the challenges it was facing: aging congregations, faltering clergy recruitment and waning attendance. While church leaders used words like “crisis” and “time bomb,” the report predicted the church would likely be extinct within 20 years.

More recently, the Pew Research Center released a study on the state of religion in the United States entitled “‘Nones’ on the Rise.” The study brings into focus the increasing growth rate of those who do not identify with any religion at all. Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. adult population—and one-third of those under the age of 30—identify in this way; an increase from 15 percent just 5 years earlier.

I believe Jesus wants to speak a powerful word of resurrection into the Church today.

For many people, these are signs that the church is, if not already dead, steadily moving toward the grave. And many have been calling for followers of Jesus to return to the original vision for our faith.

I have lived within the inner workings of the church for the past 15 years, and I will be one the first to agree with many who point out that the Church is full of brokenness.

When you stand on the inside of the church, you see the good, the bad and the ugly. I have been disheartened by the hypocrisy within the leadership of churches. I have experienced disillusionment when it seems like the church is more about ‘nickels and noses’ then it is about real life transformation. To be even more honest, I have seen my own failings and weaknesses as a supposed leader and wondered if this thing called church is truly real or worth it. There are times when I have wanted to give up on the church and ministry altogether.

But I'm not ready to sound the death toll for the Church. Here's a story to tell you why.

When Lazarus was dead in the tomb and his sisters were surrounded by mourners, it seemed like everything was at an end. But Jesus made the days-journey to come, saying, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him" (John 11:11). In the face of all the mourners' wailing, Jesus shouts a powerful command to Lazarus that sends revivifying power into his cold, lifeless form: "Lazarus, come out!" (11:43).

Like Jesus’ call to Lazarus, I believe Jesus wants to speak a powerful word of resurrection into the Church today. I believe Jesus is calling the Church to awaken and come out of the death that entraps it. I believe that Jesus has not given up on the Church, and neither should we.

I can think of at least three reasons we should not give up on the Church.

Jesus loves the Church

From all the recent discouraging commentary on the Church, you might wonder if Jesus actually hates today's Church. A cursory look at the Scripture will bring us back to our senses. In one of Paul's most moving passages about husband and wife relationships, he intertwines a description of the relationship between Christ and the church:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Paul highlights the great love that Christ has for His church, which is marked by purposeful self-sacrifice, seen ultimately at the Cross. As he writes, Paul apparently becomes so caught up in his reflections on Christ's love for the church that he veers off course from his discussion of the topic at hand: marriage.

Woe to the person who gets between the lover and the beloved! Jesus loves the Church.

Paul’s captivated words on the love that Christ has for His church overflow from Paul’s understanding of what a tremendously powerful love it is. That love, Paul says to husbands and wives, serves as an example for how we are to love one another. It is a love full of selfless passion and zealous fire. Woe to the person who gets between the lover and the beloved! Jesus loves the Church.

Jesus is building the Church

In Matthew, Peter makes a bold declaration of Jesus' identity: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Jesus responds to Peter's declaration with a very surprising statement: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (16:18).

Regardless of our understanding of the "rock" in this setting, there is one thing that is sure: Jesus will build His church. He will build it with such strength that hell's gates will not stand in the way of this living church. And we are part of this as well. Later in his life, Peter writes about this reality: "you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5).

Not only does Jesus love the church, but we also see that He is personally involved in building His church. Like a construction foreman, Jesus stands in the midst of an ongoing work project called the Church. It is His house built from the living stones of His followers. Undoubtedly, the church is imperfect. Yet, at the very same time, Jesus Himself is making a masterpiece out of this imperfect assemblage in which He dwells by His Spirit.

Jesus will come for the Church

Whatever our understanding of eschatology, the New Testament is clear that Jesus will one day bring all the Church together with Him at the consummation of human history (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). In this great gathering, the Lord Jesus Himself will call out both the dead and the living in Christ.

John, in his apocalyptic work that concludes the Bible, describes this gathering through the metaphor of marriage. In the midst of a new heaven and new earth, “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).

This bride is the ingathered people of God we call the Church. We can accurately say that, whatever else may go along with it, the consummation of human history in spiritual terms has a lot to do with the Church being prepared and restored for eternity with Jesus Christ.

Since that is part of God's cosmic aim for all the cosmos, we may want to stop and reconsider how we think about the Church. Jesus loves His church. He is building His church. And one day, He will come again for it. So in the meantime, let us join His good work of building His Church.

5 Comments

Bethany Tompkins

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Bethany Tompkins commented…

"The report predicted the church would likely be extinct within 20 years." -But that is not predicting the extinction of the Church (body of Christ). While this article has good things to say and reminders for the Church...the beginning is disconnected from the rest of the article.

"For many people, these are signs that the church is, if not already dead, steadily moving toward the grave. And many have been calling for followers of Jesus to return to the original vision for our faith."

Yes, let's return to the original vision. Let's love and take care of the poor, the forgotten. Let's give the word community a resurrection and then perhaps we will truly be the Church.

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Erika Cordoba

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Erika Cordoba commented…

I believe the church must die to itself. To religiosity, to selfishness, to self-centeredness, to egoism to everything that separates us from our neighbours and a needy world. God will raise up a new kind of church...alive in Christ, which will reflect His love and glory in His fullness by being practical in loving one another not discriminating and embracing the poor and the little ones as Jesus did.

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Klint

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Klint commented…

I don't think the Church is dying. I think what is dying is the Christian institution, the 501(c)3's. What starts as a love motivated organization that seeks to serve the community eventually takes on a life of it's own and feeds on the people for its own preservation. It's a business model that can easily begin using people for it's own gain even if the people in leadership are truly genuine and want to serve the Lord. Not all places are like that, but I think it's true for most. That's why people are leaving, but not everyone is turning their back on God. I still go to a place because I want to connect with fellow believers and I even give some money to help keep the lights on and bathrooms clean :). But I have no illusions about what it is and how it can manipulate people. Despite all that, Christ still works within them in miraculous ways!

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Laura Coulter

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Laura Coulter commented…

This is a subject I'm passionate about. While we do see a decline in Western Christianity, I don't think the Church is dying. As the article clearly explains, Christ has big plans for us and is always building us. On the other hand, I've heard it said that "the Church is always one generation away from extinction." How does Christ build the Church and expand his kingdom? By using unworthy but redeemed people in the Church to make disciples. That's how it's gone on for 2,000 years and that's how it will continue until Jesus returns.

I actually wrote a short post about why I'm sticking with the Church last year on my blog: http://knownrenowned.com/2012/03/26/one-reason-ill-stay-with-the-church-...

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toddotaylor

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toddotaylor commented…

One might think, 'Well yeah, Matt's not giving up on church - he's a pastor.' It is a convenient notion, but I poured my heart and soul into dozens of churches, two of the last three WERE GIVEN UP ON and abandoned carelessly and selfishly by the very shepherds who solicited them. So kudos to ya there, bro. Most others churches we struggled to fit in with simply disregarded the gaping cracks that sweet and hurting people who were steadily plummeting through.

Back to the article - in spite of its valid points, to me, it reads a bit messy, no offense. There is a gross distinction (I mean that both ways) between this group of people committed to Christ and that group of religious structure attendees.

I don't think 'churches' are dying. That implies there was real life to begin with. Programs and marketing methods are what's on the decline. Man's efforts can only take you so far. Sure, I keep going back to buildings that host a great lack any resemblance to Christ, His Love, His Grace, His Joy, and it's heartbreaking every time. Yet, I've found an abundance of 'Christian fellowship' in many other public spots. So I know God's still alive and kicking, and caring.

Actually, I have little recollection of Christ 'doing church' other than to confound the priests, rebuke profiteers or proclaim his personal deification. Aside from that, the ministering and miracles took place nearly anywhere else!

So I guess I'm honestly fine with giving up on church. It sounds great. It's giving up on God and discarding seekers that really bothers me.

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