Jump Start # 2760
Revelation 3:1 To the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars says this: I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”
This verse ends with such a solemn pronouncement, “You are dead.” The death of a church is not something that puts a smile on a face. And, like Sardis, a church can be dead, but not out of business. They can continue to assemble, worship and go through the motions of life, but they are dead.
There are two sad realities about death. First, death requires no effort. It takes energy to stay alive. But to die, do nothing. This is true physically. Decades ago, there were a group of protesters in Ireland. They refused to eat. Days and days went by. They would not eat. They died. If you get an injury, a sickness or a disease and you do nothing about it, there is a good chance you could die. Infections spread when there is no medicine to stop it. And, the same principle works for a church. It doesn’t matter the size, the history, nor the age of the church. Do nothing, and the church will die. Stop evangelism. Stop encouraging. Stop teaching. Stop connecting. And years and years of growth, will wither away and the church will die.
Second, a dead church offers no comfort. Comfort comes from hearts that care. Comfort springs forth out of love. Comfort demands contact, cards sent, calls made, prayers offered. That doesn’t come from a lifeless church. What you find in a dead church are people who only care about themselves. Visitors are ignored. The discouraged are abandoned. Those with questions and left to themselves. No thought about the future. No plans. No goals. No comfort. People still shuffle in every Sunday, but it’s more out of duty and habit than love and dedication.
Now, what is interesting about this passage and true to all congregations is that a church doesn’t start out dead. Sardis wasn’t dead to start with. It takes effort, zeal, focus and planning to launch a new congregation. There is an excitement about it. But in time, a church can die. It can die when error replaces the truth. It dies when members are more interested in their happiness than the holiness of the Lord. It dies when people no longer care. And, what is interesting about a dead church is that it doesn’t take very long before one can sense it. You can just feel the lack of interest, the lifeless worship, and the apathy about the work. I’ve seen it. Such a sad, sad situation.
The Sardis example also shows us that Jesus knew what was going on. He knew what others thought about Sardis. They had a name, Jesus knew that. Many thought they were alive, Jesus knew that. And, Jesus knew the truth about them. They were dead. They weren’t what people thought they were. Their character and their reputation didn’t match.
And, from this, here are some thoughts for us to consider:
First, we must be more concerned about how God sees us than how others see us. Reputation is built upon an image of how others see us. Some are more concerned about the outside image than a heart that is true, righteous and pure before God. The image that we present can actually misled and hurt people. Some see us as perfect people. And, for a new person, they feel like they can never measure up to that. Perfect marriages. Perfect obedience. Always in the right place. Always saying the right things. We ought to strive for that, but we know all too well, that we are not that way. There are days this preacher doesn’t feel like preaching. There are days when temptation seems so strong. There are days when our attitudes are not so noble. There are days that we leave kindness at home. Paul reminded folks that he considered himself “the chief of sinners.” We don’t hear that much these days. We can leave the impression that next to Jesus, we are the best thing that came along. Image and truth. Reputation and character. How God sees us and how others see us. Being honest, open and transparent will humble us and keep us close to the Lord.
Second, unlike physical life, spiritual life doesn’t die suddenly. We know of those who died suddenly in car accidents, storms and falls. But spiritual life isn’t like that. A person doesn’t go from being a vibrant, growing Christian to dying spiritually in an instant. Instead, spiritual death is a gradual process of wrong choices, pulling away from the Lord and a weakening of the soul. One stops growing. One stops praying. One stops attending. One stops connecting. Slow steps, but each step away from the cross. More associations with those who are not Christians. More justifying what is wrong. More temptation allowed than resisted. Many of these steps are private and very few people see them. By the time people start recognizing a slipping saint, they have been going that way for months and months.
This is where family plays an important role. When one is married to someone who is not a Christian, that slipping saint will be allowed to fall all the way. But when one is married to a strong Christian, red flags start showing up all the time. The mate can try to turn things around. The mate can call in for help. Before spiritual death becomes a reality, help can arrive. This is why marrying someone that will help you get to Heaven is so important.
Shepherds of the church ought to be noticing things. A lack of interest, a lack of attendance, a lack of involvement, all points to a spiritual heart that is in trouble. However, leaders that are occupied with the maintenance of the church building, the financial wellbeing of the church, often never notice a slipping saint.
And, for Sardis, without knowing all the details, one would have to assume that a lack of spiritual leadership allowed the congregation to die. It happens today. Leaders acting like out of touch CEO’s, who have little involvement or connection to the members, can pay all the bills on time, while the church slowly dies spiritually.
It’s hard to watch someone die. I’ve seen it many, many times. Little can be done other than keep the person comfortable. But watching a church die, when something could be done, is worse. A dead church is made up of dead members. And, dead members are not pleasing the Lord. They are not a Heaven-bound people. They are not living as God would have them.
So, what can be done? How do you turn death around? Sardis had a few that knew. They were not like the rest. They refused to die. They continued to walk with the Lord. Connect with those who are interested in the Lord. Fire the engines up of passionate worship. Get some real preaching going. Revive hospitality. Get some home Bible studies going. Invite family and co-workers. Dust the cobwebs off the place and out of the hearts. Get back to what is necessary, needed and most helpful. Get out those jumper cables and jump start those hearts. Bring in some guest speakers. Get some challenging Bible classes. Don’t settle, but rather, push. Push yourself and then push others. Get up out of that dusty pew and start marching to Zion.
There is no reason for a church to die. It happens when people no longer care.