"Stated simply, the most common factor in declining churches is an inward focus.
The ministries are only for the members. The budgetary funds are used almost exclusively to meet the needs of the members. The times of worship and worship styles are geared primarily for the members. Conflict takes place when members don’t get things their way. You get the picture." (Thom Rainer, http://thomrainer.com/2014/05/common-factor-declining-churches/)
We are not here for ourselves. The consumer mentality in the church has to stop because it's an endless pursuit because the church was not established as a means just to make people happy. Some people will leave a local church because they aren't getting something out of it that they want. And they this becomes a lifestyle of church-hopping because you'll never get everything you want out of a church. That's not what they are designed for.
The church is on a mission. That mission is seeing God glorified by people being reconciled to Him by trusting in Jesus Christ's work on the cross. We are ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5), given the task of taking the gospel message to the ends of the earth.
Go back to Acts 1. Eleven guys are standing on a mountain called Olivet experiencing the incredible ascension of Jesus to heaven. They're standing there revelling in what they've just seen and these two guys in white robes appear next to them and say why are you looking into heaven? In other words, don't just stand here, do what He told you.
And what did Jesus tell His followers to do? Acts 1:8 .
Bring up 11 people. What would be your expression if you heard these words from Jesus? The world? We don't even know where that is.
It's amazing that God has committed His mission to mere people. 2 Cor. 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20, ESV)
This is our mission! And the response of the 11 disciples and other early church leaders tell us what we need to be obedient to God: The mission requires prayer & courage.
What's the first thing the 11 disciples do after receiving the task from Jesus and watching Him go back into heaven? Acts 1:12-14.
Prayer. I wish some of those prayers were recorded. What would you pray for at that time? I bet those prayers weren't filled with some of the petty things we sometimes pray for.
Quotes from Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies devotional (9/13 entry):
"Prayer acknowledges God's existence. This is the bottom line of all true prayer. It begins and ends with the recognition that there is something more ultimate in the universe than you."
"Prayer is not bringing your list and asking God to sign on the bottom. Prayer is handing God a blank sheet that you have already signed and trusting Him to fill it out as he sees fit."
We are so prone to figure it out on our own though, arent we? How tempting would it be for those 11 to go to the drawing board and put their best project ideas together?
Nathanael-- you were there when Jesus told us to cast our nets in and we couldn't haul the amount in that we caught. You figure up the best way that we can be fishers of men.
Andrew--your boat was always the best. You figure out how we can travel all over the world.
Peter-- you've always been one to talk. Why don't you craft a really good message we can tell people when we stop.
Matthew-- you've always been one with money. Why don't you put that tax collecting experience to work and figure out how to get us some money. Maybe find donors.
We need to prioritize prayer because it keeps us dependent upon God.
Turn to Numbers 20:2-13. Moses struck the rock, but what did God tell him to do? He was supposed to speak to the rock. In other words, something had to be done and Moses and Aaron didn't trust God's way of doing it. Notice Moses and Aaron's words in v.10: ...Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?
It is only an act of grace that God allowed the water to even come out--but it wasn't with the full blessing of God. There were consequences for Moses and Aaron--they were not allowed to enter the promised land.
V.12 is maybe the strongest indictment against a person: "...you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people..." And that indictment came because they trusted themselves more than God. They wanted to steal the glory from God.
This is tough to hear but listen: When we don't prioritize prayer, it shows our disbelief in God and is not upholding him as holy. What did the disciples do when they were given the largest task in the history of the world? They gathered together and prayed.
We are still carrying the mission that these 11 disciples and other early believers were. And we still need God to lead us in the mission. We need to commit to prayer.
But can we be honest?
The quickest way to get low attendance in church is to schedule a prayer activity.
The fastest way to quiet a room of Christians is to ask someone to lead in prayer.
Yet, think about the spiritual forces we are up against in our community as we would carry out the ministry of reconciliation: drugs and addictions; broken families; depression and other mental issues brought on by a number of situations. Can we break through this darkness on our own??!!
Can I ask us to consider two things:
Would it hurt you come 15 minutes earlier than you usually would to attend an EquipCentral class, and pray during our prayer time at 9:30am?
Would you make prayer a priority in your own life? I read recently someone saying that one of the greatest ways to strengthen your witnessing is to pray for lost people. Because when you pray for them, they're on your mind, and when they're on your mind, you're more prone to take advantage of the opportunities to be that ambassador of reconciliation.
Transition: The Mission Requires prayer. It's the first thing the disciples did. We need to follow that example.
In Acts 2, Do you think it took courage for Peter to stand before a large group of Jewish people and preach about how they killed the Messiah and needed to repent and turn from their wicked generation?
In Acts 3, Do you think it took courage for Peter and John to preach, and then In Acts 4, for them to be taken in and questioned before the Jewish High Priest?
In Acts 5, Do you think it took courage for the apostles to be put in prison?
In Acts 6, Do you think it took courage for Stephen to minister in such a way to be seized by the Jewish council and then, In Acts 7, to give an incredible sermon before being stoned to death?
I could continue to give examples--Paul, John, etc.
But let me tell you two reasons that the mission of God requires courage: it is counter-cultural; you have to put yourself aside.
When Jesus first preached (Matthew 17), he declared that the kingdom of God was at hand. This was incredibly counter-cultural at the time to go against a Roman kingdom. Just like Herod felt threatened when Jesus was born--King of the Jews--so would any other leading political figure.
Jesus even said that His followers would be hated because they hated Him first. The truth that we preach flies in the face of everything the world wants to believe. So if you're going to stand firmly on truth, you need to be ready for the ridicule of the world. But its worth it.
This take courage too. You have to fight your flesh.
Your flesh will tell you to give in.
Your flesh will tell you to give up.
Your flesh will distract you from the mission by focusing on your preferences.
Your flesh will keep you from being committed to the mission.
The early church leaders knew this, and expressed it well:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
We have to die to our selves--our fears, our preference, our flesh, in order to be committed to the mission of God.
Wesleyan Methodist missionary, James Calvert (1813-1892), committed his life to reaching the indigenous peoples of the Figi Islands. It is widely reported that upon his voyage, the ship’s captain warned him to turn back, saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” Calvert purportedly replied, “We died before we came here.”
A commitment to Christ should make God's mission a priority.
Luke's summary of the early church's activity in Acts 2:43 says that awe came upon every soul. They were praying. Teaching. Seeing signs and wonders. Seeing many more people added to the number of believers. God's work should leave us in awe!
The word for awe is the same word for fear. They were in awe, or had a proper fear or reverence of God. Sometimes the routine Christian life appears boring for some. Like there's no joy.
When you see God at work, it fires you up to want to be part of more because you come back to the realization that
we are on a mission that can transform lives.
we are on a mission that is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
we are on a mission that is worth it!
I want to be part of God's mission. I want our church to stay part of God's mission. Like Thom Rainer noted of many of the churches that closed up, we don't need to develop an internal focus, becoming all about us and not focusing on taking the gospel message to a lost world around us.
Let's not conform to the ways of the world, and not conform to the ways of the content and comfortable. Let's play our part in the mission of God!