“Where Jesus is, there is life. There is abundant life, vigorous life, loved life, and eternal life. There is life before death. I find it deeply disturbing and unsettling whenever I think about how we have become accustomed to death – to the death of the soul, to death on the street, to death through violence – to death-before-life.” (Jürgen Moltmann, The Passion for Life: A Messianic Lifestyle, trans. M. Douglas Meeks, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977, 19.)
The first thing I notice about this quote is that it was first written more than thirty years ago and yet it seems to capture a stunning reality about our culture today. It does seem that we, as a people, have become far too accustomed to death in all its forms and that we have become numb and accepting of the things that often cause death in the world around us. I am not talking here about those “natural causes” that claim lives in the due course of illness and aging. What I am thinking about here are the more preventable causes of death…I’m sure you can think of one or two yourself.
The second thing I notice in this text is that “death” is not only being considered in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual realm – “the death of the soul.” This is truly more frightening to me than all the other issues we might contemplate as part of this discussion. We can talk about drug abuse, alcohol abuse, child abuse, gun control, war, and any number of other issues that cause physical death. The death of a soul, however, conjures images of truly catastrophic separation from God for all eternity. This is an issue that should stimulate sincere conversation among thoughtful Christians throughout the world.
What are the causes of the death of the soul? What can we do to avoid this death? What is our role in preventing the disease and decay that contribute to soul death? Where does the church fit in this diagnosis and treatment plan? What can individual Christians do about it? These are all very hard questions, but I believe they are the kind of questions we need to be talking about as we try to re-discover what God has planned for our church.
The quote above is cited at the beginning of a wonderful book by Paul Nixon called, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church. This is a challenging book that speaks prophetically to leaders in churches everywhere. You have heard me say more than once that, as we leave behind our first one hundred years as a church, we must look ahead to discern what God wants us to be in the next one hundred years. The mainline church is changing in America because it must change or die. If this congregation is to survive and thrive in the future as a beacon of Christ’s Light in this community, we must be willing to change as we are led by God to change; we must be willing to set aside our personal feelings to reach new people with God’s message. Church leadership must also change and make the commitment to refuse to lead a dying church. I have made that commitment and I am calling on all of you to stand in agreement with it.
We need to imagine what it would be like if we were starting a brand new church in Sand Springs right now. What would we do differently in order to grow and thrive in today’s environment? Why would someone wake up on Sunday morning and decide to come to worship with us? Would our community even notice if suddenly we were not here? Does our community recognize who we are and what we contribute to Sand Springs?
What I am talking about here is a matter of life or death for the soul. Are we willing to accept that soul death is part of the natural order of things? Are we willing to let souls die for a lack of effort on our part? Or, are we committed to doing the hard work of seeking out those wounded souls and helping them find healing in Jesus Christ?
I recently read a book about the decline in churches in America and saw how, usually, decline goes largely unnoticed in the local church, rather like the frog placed in a pot of water who sits calmly soaking as the temperature gradually reaches a boiling point and the frog only notices just before he is too dead to do anything about it. The local church rarely sees its own decline until it is far too late to stop it; it usually takes someone from the outside to look in and point out where things are going and how to stem the tide. Our recent challenges have caused this kind of outside-in view of us to take place and we are trying to take advantage of this new perspective. From meetings with our District Superintendent to planned workshops with church-health experts, we are working to turn our ship toward God’s course and we need everyone’s help. Begin to engage this conversation and have prayerful thought about how we can better live into the mission God has called this church to. Be intentional about recognizing where your personal feelings and comfort are getting in the way of objective evaluation of the church. Pray that God will lead us where God wants us to go.
Listening for Jesus,