I hope you had the opportunity to read and think about my blog post from yesterday. For the rest of the week, I want us to consider Thom Rainer’s six pledges for church members. The truth is that Christians all across North America are trying to figure out why church membership, attendance, and baptisms are down. This has particular concern for those of us who are Southern Baptists because even though we are the largest evangelical denomination, we are rapidly losing ground. Folks, this doesn’t concern us because we want to have bragging rights; it concerns us because as the population of our country continues to grow, we are reaching fewer people. In fact, fewer people are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. That means more and more are dying without salvation. So what is the key? First, we need a heart change. As I read in Hosea 10 this morning, we need to break up the unplowed ground of our hearts so that God’s grace can flood in. Then we need to “pray the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest,” as Jesus commanded, recognizing that we are the laborers who must go. So what is it going to take? We need to pledge the following:
I will be a functioning church members. As I preached a few weeks ago, too many Christians have decided that they are going to come to church to sit, soak, and sour – which is ironic because as Dr. Bob Pitman said yesterday at the Morgan Baptist Association pastor’s conference, for many Christians, the highlight of their week is going home from church on Sunday morning. The truth is that when we leave the grounds of the church building, we should understand that we are entering the fields that are filled with lost people who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we must do what church members were created to do: function. The Bible is clear. Every Christian has been given spiritual gifts so that they can help the church accomplish its mission. I believe that God puts just the right people in every church so that we can be the church He has called us to be. The problem is that too many of us just want to sit back and let others do the work.
It’s kind of like our last big trip. Sonya and I were heading to the Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio. We had decided to fly out of Pensacola, Florida so that we could spend some time with Jon, Ashley, and Lucy on Jon’s birthday. Everything was going great until we got to Pensacola and part of our SUV decided it didn’t want to function. A couple of spark plugs and the coil just all of a sudden decided they had done enough for us, so they just quit. Small parts of the whole engine, but man, when they stopped working, the SUV had no power and it was a really rough ride. That’s what happens in the church when individuals decide they aren’t going to be functioning church members. The power to accomplish our task is diminished, and things get rough. It doesn’t matter if other members try to take up the slack, when you aren’t using your spiritual gifts in service to the Lord, the entire church suffers. Read 1 Corinthians 12 and see how the apostle Paul puts it.
So not only do we need to pledge to be functioning church members, but also we must pledge to be unifying church members. I grew up in the church. For many years, my dad served as a bivocational pastor, but there were other years when we were members of another church. I have been on both sides of the fence listening to my parents being critical of our pastors and hearing others being critical of my dad. Now I am a pastor, and I am on the receiving end – anonymous letters and comments to blogs, constant criticism no matter what you do, and the always exciting experience of stopping conversations mid-sentence when you approach a group of people. That will really bless your heart. In fact, it happened the other day as two Morgan Baptist Association pastors saw me approaching in the hospital. One of them even kept sneaking peeks around the corner to see if I had boarded the elevator yet. And we wonder why people don’t want to join our churches? They have enough conflict in their lives; they don’t need to join another organization that will only add to their stress level.
But know this, too. I don’t believe – no, I know – that God will not bless a church where there is constant criticism, backbiting, gossip, and conflict. He is not going to allow new Christians to be born into an environment that is toxic to the point that it will harm these babes in Christ. He waits until the church is a perfect incubator to bring these immature disciples to maturity. Someone asked me yesterday what they could do to help the church grow. I told them several things, but in my heart, there was only one thing that I wanted to say. We need “to do all [that we] can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the gospel.” How do we do that? Don’t gossip. Stop being critical. And when others are being critical around you, tell them to stop. Remind them that the Bible says if you have a problem with a brother or sister in Christ, go to them alone and deal with it. You will be amazed how this can work if both parties are sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Just these two commitments will go a long way in healing the church and restoring the power and blessing of God.