Someone said there is no such thing as coincidence in the life of a child of God. I love that thought. It’s Scriptural, and it reminds us of God’s sovereignty: that He is in charge of everything.
In December I wrote an article, “Concerning the Future of Our Church”. Then in January I wrote about my mild heart attack in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Deacons Meeting”. In the December article I stated something obvious to anyone who’s paying attention: our church is going to look very different in ten years’ time. And my heart attack in January only emphasized that fact.
Does this mean I think I’m going to die in the next ten years? I don’t think so. I sure hope not. Only God knows for sure. But one thing’s for sure: we’re all going to die sometime. And the impact of that for our church in the next ten years is going to be major.
It’s easy to be alarmist about church closures. The statistics are difficult to ascertain because there is no central source of information. The numbers have to be tallied from each denomination, movement, or group, and estimates vary widely. But we only have to look around to see the reality that churches really do close down.
So let me give you the low estimate, just to be on the safe side. Reliable polling organizations like Gallup tell us that there are approximately 350,000 churches in the United States. And the most recent numbers indicate that about 4000 churches a year close their doors for good. That’s a little over 1% of the total number of churches in America. And that doesn’t take into account the number of churches that are started every year.
Nevertheless, even though the sky may not be falling, it’s still true that a lot of churches close down every year. And there is nothing about our church that makes it immune to all of the trends affecting every other church in the country. I told you in December about First Baptist Church of Franklin, Indiana, in so many ways like our church: the same name, about the same age, dealing with the same decline in congregation. They had to close their doors, and people who still care are trying desperately to prevent a nightclub from opening up in their old building.
We can’t take our church’s existence for granted, or blithely assume that Linton First Baptist Church will always be there. An attitude like that will almost certainly guarantee that it won’t always be there. We can’t just presume that God will do something to make sure our church survives. I think instead we have to ask: why should He do anything to make sure our church survives? Are we glorifying Him? Are we worshiping Him in spirit and truth, and serving Him in our generation? Or are we carelessly going our merry way, assuming that God understands just how lucky He is to have First Baptist Church of Linton?
Let’s ask some other questions: If our church was gone, who in our community would miss us? How much difference would it make? Would it make any difference in the life of the city of Linton?
All this is why I believe we should take very seriously the special prayer meetings we are having for our church this Lenten season. We’re not a liturgical or “high church”, but the forty-day period leading up to Easter has been very significant at times during church history. In the early church it was a time to teach new converts and prepare them for baptism on Easter Sunday. Later it was intended as a period of introspection and repentance for believers. Has the Lenten season become to some a more-or-less empty religious exercise indulged in without much thought? Sure…and you can put on your coat and fumble for your car keys during the invitation time when you’re supposed to be prayerful.
We’re not going to observe Lent, as the liturgical churches do. But our church is going to set aside the seven Wednesdays, beginning on March 2nd with Ash Wednesday, and continuing on through April 13th, the Wednesday of Holy Week just before Easter, to hold special prayer services in our church sanctuary. I will be leading these prayer services, but I will not be preaching or teaching. We will worship God together in song, read the Scripture together, then pray together in various ways for a few minutes. We are going to learn a way of remembering how the Lord Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. We will not be using the Prayer List or taking prayer requests during these services. If there is someone you believe needs prayer, you will have opportunity to pray for them.But our specific focus during these meetings will be to worship God together, seek God together, and pray to God together about the future of our church.
Furthermore, the Deacons and I are calling on the church to set aside Wednesday, April 13th (just before Easter) as a day of fasting and prayer for our church. All are encouraged to seek God and ask Him to show us the way we should go and what He would have us do. Those who are willing and not hindered by health concerns are also encouraged to fast from just after the evening meal on Tuesday, April 12th to the evening meal on Wednesday, April 13th.
Why fasting? Fasting in the Bible was not a way to twist God’s arm or force Him to give you what you want. That’s a really pagan, and even juvenile, way of thinking about prayer. No, fasting is intended as a way for us to step away from normal, everyday activities—like eating—in order to help us to listen to God better. During the time we would normally spend eating we read a portion of Scripture, turn it into prayer, and then quietly listen to God.
In all of this we earnestly desire that God would unite our hearts to seek His face and know His will concerning the future of our church. No doubt there will be some things we will need to do. But these things better not come from a book, a seminar, or a planning session. Whatever we do eventually, it better be because we have sought God together as a church, and we believe with all our hearts that we have ascertained His will for our church. For His church.
Because the hour is too late, and things are too serious for us to do anything different.
I have often prayed, “Father, when it is Your time for my time as pastor of this church to be done—whether it’s this year, next year, five years from now, or whenever—please write a good and happy ending to our time together.” I still pray that. And I still want from the bottom of my heart for God to revive this church for His glory—and our joy—and to see a new generation of this church poised and ready to go into the future, lifting up the Lord Jesus and making the Gospel plain in Linton for decades to come.
I think we should pray about that.
Soli Deo Gloria!