Jump Start # 2461
Revelation 3:8 “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”
Our verse today describes the church at Philadelphia. There are many things about this church we’d like to know, but we are not given those details and obviously to the Lord, those things do not matter. Who preached there? How large were they? What was their contribution? Those are the things that we ask about. The Lord saw a wonderful future for them. An open door which no one can shut, ought to be a dream for every congregation. An open door to spread the Gospel. An open door to teach and encourage others. An open door to glorify God and show the saving message of Jesus Christ.
Closed doors stop us. If you go to a store after closing hours, you’ll find the doors closed and locked. You can’t get in. It means you have to go home. It was a wasted trip. God closed the door to the ark. Those on the outside didn’t make it. In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the door was closed and those foolish virgins who showed up too late were not allowed in.
I read a couple of statistics the other day, unrelated to each other but it caused me to wonder if we are closing the doors ourselves to the future. I saw that the average size congregation of churches of Christ is 55. Average of course means, 50% are higher than that and 50% are lower than that. But 55 is much smaller than I would have guessed. I would have thought the average would be close to 100. The other stat I saw was about the astronomical amount of student loan that college grads carry. Many are burdened for decades paying off these loans. Connected to that was the fact that 1 in 4, or 25% of those student loans was behind in payments. In comparison, less than 5% of home mortgages are behind in payment.
Now, connect the dots. Half the congregations number 55 or less. A large percentage of young families are tied down with student loans. What does that future look like? Small congregations with little money. That’s a closed door. No money to spread the Gospel. No money to bring preachers in. Fewer people to be teachers, fewer to develop to be shepherds. And the truth be, for some of these small congregations, every funeral makes folks wonder about the future. What does ten years look like? Who is going to be around? Who will keep the doors open? Who will be gifted enough to make wise decisions and remain true to the Lord?
There is nothing wrong with a small congregation. But we shouldn’t want to stay small. We should work to grow in all areas, spiritually and numerically. In some small congregations, it’s like the ole’ one room school house for Bible classes, simply because there are not enough teachers or kids. It’s easier to get weary in a small congregation because there are so few to do things, that you must always teach, or lead singing, or clean the place.
What’s the answer, if there is one? Here’s a few thoughts:
First, every congregation, big and small, ought to take a serious down the road look at themselves. We do that at home, it’s called finances. If we live paycheck to paycheck and never consider what happens the day we no longer can work, we will be in trouble. Retirement planning starts early in your career. It’s necessary. Congregations need to think about who will be the next elders. They need to look at who can be developed into being teachers and leaders in the congregation. Ten years seems to go by quickly. Just carrying on week to week, will find you in those ten years, unprepared. Good leadership and great planning looks often at that ten year projection. Adjustments will be made. Special classes will be taught. All of that is to prepare, develop and keep things going in the right direction.
Second, there may come a time when a congregation must seriously look at merging with another. Two congregations sized around 50 each can become one congregation of 100. But it’s more than that. It means having one church building, rather than two to heat and cool. It means having one preacher rather than two. It means having more people to help out. It means more talent.
Now, there are all kinds of serious things that need to be ironed about before one congregation merges with another. First, which building will be kept. This is enough to kill most congregations coming together. Many are in favor of merging, but they want you to come to where they are. Pride, history, ancestry must be tossed aside in favor of what’s best for the Lord’s work and best for the kingdom. When two congregations merge, you don’t won’t a congregation within a congregation. You want them blended together. So, you don’t want everyone from one congregation sitting together and those from the other congregation all sitting together. You want everyone to be one. The folks that are coming in must be accepted, loved and used.
So often, when two congregations merge, it’s like forcing a square peg into a round hole, and it doesn’t go well. Feeling get hurt. There never seems to be a smooth transition and after a few months, people leave. Many, many discussions need to take place. Many wrinkles need to be ironed out. With planning, and leadership it can go well. But with pride, stubbornness and anger, it will fall apart. The glory of the Lord must be kept before all people. The work is the Lord’s, not ours.
Third, parents need to help guide their teens into right decisions about college and debt. Helping your child from starting his career in a big financial hole is parenting. Advice them. Show them numbers. They do not have to be like everyone else their age. Guiding them into a study that has job potential is important. Helping them to understand that they are to be useful to God’s kingdom by supporting it and using their talents is part of parenting. I’ve talked to some college students and what some of them are studying as a major is odd to me. There isn’t a huge demand for degrees in ancient Roman history. I’m sure that’s fascinating but will it bring in a paycheck? And, what kind of paycheck? Or, will that person be working at Hobby Lobby and trying to pay off a student loan for the next 25 years of their life?
It’s time to put some thought into where we are at and where we are headed. Let’s not close doors because we have failed to look down the road.