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Emphasis: The Church



[Today's reading is part of a mini-series I'm doing on the church. If you've already read the introduction to this mini-series, please begin here to read my response to the fifth question.

If you've not yet read the introduction, please read it first. The intro sets up the purpose for this mini-series and will help you to make sense of it all. Click here to go to that intro].




Question Five: Does the church today look like the church God wanted to see in the 21st century?

The story is told of a man who ran a rescue station by the sea. Anytime a boat would capsize, he and his team would row out in their rescue boats and save the passengers from drowning. Because of the beaches, that particular area was very beautiful and drew more and more boaters over the years. With each passing year, the team of rescuers grew larger and more and more people were saved. There were many risky, daring, and memorable rescues in all kinds of weather conditions.

Gradually, however, the team grew old and weary. They began to find more enjoyment in just sitting around and talking about rescuing instead of actually being out there and rescuing boaters.

One day, one of the wealthy rescuers convinced the team to build an all new, shiny and impressive rescue station. All their time and efforts went in to building it to the neglect of everything else. When it was finished, they spent all of their time in the new rescue station, sitting around the fire, eating delicious meals, and reminiscing about all the wonderful rescues they'd made over the years. Plaques were given and received and hung on the walls; trophies were mounted in beautiful cases. Everything they did centered around that rescue station, and no one ventured out into the elements to rescue the perishing. All they did now was talk about how daring they used to be and how wonderful they thought it was to enjoy the rest they thought they'd earned.

When I consider this fifth question: "Does the church today look like the church God wanted to see in the 21st century?" that's what I picture. The church started out as the Body of Christ actively pursuing those drowning in their sins and seeking to get them safely to the other shore to be revived, helped, fed, clothed, and cared for. But, over the centuries, it seems the church at large has begun to sit around more and more, talking about the good ol' days, and building one monument to itself after another.

Today, I wonder if the church of the 21st century looks little like it did when it was built on the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus; and less, still, than the church God had hoped to see in this century?

Though we know from scripture that the church will not fail, that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, still, it seems to have strayed over the centuries in four critical areas that have greatly affected its effectiveness. And, just as these detours have greatly crippled the church's effectiveness, so each one reclaimed will lead the church back closer to where God had hoped it would be in the 21st century. The church has to:

1. Reclaim its Passion for its First Love - We've heard this before. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus criticized one of the churches in Asia Minor for this very thing. In Revelation 2:4, Jesus told the church in Ephesus, "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love."


How awful that must have been for Jesus! The Body of Christ no longer loved the Christ of the Body. They had forsaken Him and He let them know that it was a huge offense that He took very seriously.


Evidently, their problem was contagious because it has spread far and wide to the point that many churches today act as if loving Jesus first and foremost is an unrealistic expectation. God wants us to be passionate, but are we passionate about the wrong things? Are we more passionate about political action, cool campaigns, feel-good faith, and ear-tickling monologues than we are about Jesus?


For the church to be what God wants it to be in the 21st century, we have to wonder if God would want many of us to join in a chorus of repentance and then to return to our First Love. In order to gain the spiritual stamina and power to confront the other areas thwarting the church's effectiveness, shouldn't we address this issue first?

If so, then each one of us individually must return to Jesus and surrender our wills to His, our desires to His, and our control to His lordship. Such a move on a large scale would certainly result in dramatically moving the church in the right direction for the 21st century.

2. Reclaim its Passion for Prayer - Have you ever noticed that when one of your relationships is strained, you tend to avoid that person and no longer enjoy talking with him or her? Similarly, when we lose our passion for our First Love, we lose interest in prayer. Oh, there might be the going-through-the-motions kinds of praying, trying to keep up appearances; but that's just mumbling, not communing.

God has called us to commune with Him through deep, intimate, abiding prayer. Prayer is to the Christian soul what breathing is to the physical body. Prayer is just as necessary for maintaining spiritual life as breathing is for maintaining physical life.

Jim Cymbala began at the Brooklyn Tabernacle as an ill-equipped, under-educated, time-strapped preacher. He also led a second congregation in New Jersey. The Brooklyn church members had no money to pay him. They only had a ramshackle building, and barely enough attendance to bother with weekly meetings.

Today, the Tabernacle hosts around 6,000 spirit-filled worshipers. The difference came when Jim, in a moment of desperation, set aside his planned message and called the church to pray. The weekly prayer meeting, not the Sunday worship service, became the focal point of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Jim's belief that "God can't resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him" guides his work. It is prayer, not preaching, that brings revival.

Part of reclaiming our passion for our First Love is recommitting to prayer. You can't have a passion for one without having a passion for the other; they are two sides of the same coin.

So how's your prayer time? If the church is to be what God needs it to be for the 21st century, we must return to Kingdom-moving, earth-shaking prayer. In the days leading up to Pentecost, the church prayed ten days and preached ten minutes and 3,000 were saved. These days, we pray ten minutes and preach ten days and are fortunate if 3 are saved. It's no wonder the church is ineffective.

Many churches today no longer take prayer seriously. Giving a minute or two to prayer in Bible study, worship, or at prayer meetings is not indicative of serious praying. It has to be daily; it has to be sacrificial; it has to be from a pure heart, seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness. That's the kind of praying to which God is calling the church.

3. Reclaim its Passion for Souls - Vince Lombardi used to remind his team of the importance of keeping the main thing the main thing. For the church, the main thing is leading people to Jesus. But it doesn't always do this well.


Today's church has, in many respects, become the rescue station where the members sit around remembering the good ol' days. We complain of being tired, of having "done our time," of needing a break or a rest. We're all tired, but what's that got to do with anything? We can rest when we get to heaven. In the meantime, we must work while it's still day, we must get back "out to sea" and rescue the perishing, care for the dying, and lead people to the only One who can heal body, soul, and spirit.

4. Reclaim its Focus - According to Jesus' Great Commission, our focus has to continue to be His focus: making disciples, not entertaining the saints.


Do you know how you can tell what your church's focus is? Listen to the announcements; pay attention to what everyone's talking about. In many churches, you'll hear about committee meetings, potluck dinners, and entertaining activities. These things are necessary, important, and good...unless that's all you hear about. In order to reclaim its focus, we should also hear about discipleship seminars (teaching members how to disciple someone), prayer workshops (providing helps for intercession), and evangelism training (including how to know when the Spirit is leading us to share Jesus or to refrain from sharing Jesus).


In order for the church to be what God wanted it to be in the 21st century, it's got to get back to the basics. Making disciples is critically important to the survival of the church. If no one is teaching the saints to be biblically based, scripturally sound, or doctrinally pure, then what will the church leave the next generation of believers? I think we are seeing the answer to that all around us.


Pastors were not called to be entertainment directors, they were called to be disciple-makers. But too often the membership demands to be entertained and people will church-hop until they find the most entertaining church and then stay there until something "better" comes along. How can the church change in this area? It must both reclaim, and readjust, its focus.


The church of the 21st century desperately needs an infusion of life, of grace, of purpose, and of focus. I don't know about you, but to me the church is worth fighting for. I commit to doing whatever God asks and expects of me in order to be one of any number of catalysts needed to lead His church to be revived and to be on fire for the Lord Jesus. I pray that you'll join me!

Copyright 2009. Faith Matters by Dr. Ken Lovelace. All rights reserved.


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