Jump Start # 2013
Revelation 2:5 “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place.”
The seven churches described in Revelation’s introduction were all different. Different problems. Different opportunities. Different challenges. A common word that is thread through most of the seven churches is repent. The new year is still fresh. Many are still on their resolutions, they haven’t given up on them yet. The very idea behind a resolution is change. I want to look better. I want to save more money. I want to read the Bible more. I want to spend more time with my family. Change. I want to do things better.
One of the things we learn from our passage is that a congregation can change. The Lord was counting on this. If there was no hope, no possible way of changing, why put out the plea to repent? Ephesus, which our verse today is talking about, could once again embrace in faith and passion their first love. They were guilty of leaving their first love. They could get it back. It was possible.
So, all around us, this sparks hope and a brighter future. Things do not have to stay the way they are. Change is possible. Things can be better. Dead churches can come back to life. Churches that seem to have lost their purpose, can find it again. Just this week I received word about a congregation that has appointed more elders and they are set on course to get back to the Biblical pattern of shepherding. This is a dramatic change and a bright future for that congregation. It’s a huge change for them and it will set forth a legacy of compassion, faithfulness and diligence that will help lives for a long time. Change, it’s possible.
How does a church change? How would a loveless Ephesus turn directions? How would a dead Sardis, find life? Here are some thoughts.
First, it doesn’t happen overnight. Patience, staying the course and influencing and teaching are important. We see things that are not right, and immediately we want to fix it. The expression “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” reminds us that people tend to get comfortable in their ways and change involves doing things that hasn’t been done. The easy thing to do is to do nothing. The easy thing to do is to wait for others to change things.
Second, change must come from within. Waiting for your Superhero to fly in and right all the wrongs is not going to happen. An idea can begin from a book, a visiting preacher, a conversation, but those ideas must hit the pavement and slowly, with the Bible, people must see a better way and a Biblical way of doing things. I have found in many places that people recognize that things could be better, but no one wants to do anything about it other than talk. Years roll by and things remain the same. Hearts become stubborn. People get used to what is going on and they give up on things ever being better. Change at Ephesus had to come from the members of Ephesus.
Third, threats and bombastic attitudes most often backfire. People need to see before they will change. They must understand why they need to change. They need to see in the Bible what they are missing. Forcing people to do what they do not want to do, leads to rebellion, mutiny and division. Keep teaching God’s way. Keep showing what is the better way. Keep bringing ideas. Keep encouraging. Show, one by one, how things can be. Just as false teaching can spread through a congregation, most times, not from the pulpit, but member to member, influencing one another, the same is true of truth. Showing and using God’s word, one by one, in classes, from the pulpit, the ideas get across. God told Ephesus to “remember.” That’s a great starting point. Remember how excited you once were about worship? Remember how you couldn’t wait to invite a friend? Remember how busy we once were in teaching, helping out and doing things? Remember. Remember those hours we poured in getting things ready for VBS? Remember getting down to the church building on a Saturday morning to clean it up and polish it before a special meeting? Remember? We can do that again. We’ve done it before. Will you help me? I’ll be there, will you come?
Fourth, don’t expect others to change if you are not willing to change and lead the way. Many will follow, but few will lead. Telling others what needs to be done doesn’t go very far. But rolling up your sleeves and doing what you can, often will get others to do the same. If Ephesus was to change, someone had to start it. Who would be the first to repent? Who would show others the way to follow? I have talked to elderships before, and they were not happy with the way they were doing things. Yet, no one would take that first step that leads to change. They were waiting for someone, but it wasn’t going to be any of them.
Fifth, expect some resistance. Some do not want to change. Some in Ephesus were probably happy with the things as they were. Why change? Change means doing things differently. Change means more work. Change means changing. Some will do all that they can to keep that from happening. They will challenge whether or not change is needed. They will question the direction that some want to go. They will fight, dig their heels in and resist. Some never will change. As the church gets back to where it should be with the Lord, some even in Ephesus, would hold on to not loving their first love. They are content with things just as they are. Those folks will miss out. They will not experience the depth of spiritual growth that others will know. Sometimes, in some places, the majority, at first, is content to keep doing what has always been done. No goals. No legacy. No plans. No challenges to improve. But, one by one, their eyes are opened and things turn. Repentance, change and doing things right is possible.
There are many places that are taking a serious look at what they are doing. They understand the difference between the Biblical model, which can never change, and the generational model, which is how the Biblical model is implemented. How often to meet on Sunday? How many Gospel meetings to have and what length they should be? Every year do the same or find better ways to connect, teach, and encourage.
Changing a congregation is possible. It must be changed for the right reasons and they must always be in line with what God says. But to sit on the sidelines with a hopeless spirit that nothing will ever change, is nether good nor right.
There is a story of Alexander the Great inspecting the troops on day. One soldier was not right. His uniform was messy and he wasn’t standing as he should. When asked his name, he proudly said, “Alexander, like yours.” He was told, either change your ways or change your name!
The Ephesians were told to repent.