As part of the research work that I’ve been doing, I’ve tracked down various churches that are mentioned in biographical sketches or represented in various events. Just today, for example, I tried to find information about Point Breeze Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh (where Harold Ockenga ministered); Central Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga (where Wilbur Cousar pastored); United Presbyterian Church in Wheeling, WV (where John Reed Miller served for a time) and Central Presbyterian Church in Jackson (where R. E. Hough pastored). What do these congregations have in common? They were all thriving, large, significant churches, pastored by conservative, talented men: and they no longer exist today.
Now, the reasons why these churches no longer exist are as various as the congregations themselves. Still, as late as the 1950s, they all were thriving congregations; and if congregational death can happen to these congregations, it can happen to my congregation and to yours. God’s mercy has been evident in the fact that FPC Jackson, a downtown church, has continued to thrive and prosper even as the city of Jackson, Mississippi, has changed several times through the decades.
But it would only take a generation for a church to show signs of decay: perhaps a poor pastoral choice; a failure to continue to preach God’s Word faithfully; a transition in the church’s understanding of mission; an inability to see and adapt to the neighborhood around it. It is enough to cause us as pastors to get our knees and to beg God to continue to grant mercy to our congregations and to grant them mercy in the generations after us.
You can read the whole post here.
Don’t forget Don Carson’s perceptive analysis and warning (my emphasis):
In a fair bit of Western evangelicalism, there is a worrying tendency to focus on the periphery. [My] colleague . . . Dr. Paul Hiebert . . . . springs from Mennonite stock and analyzes his heritage in a fashion that he himself would acknowledge is something of a simplistic caricature, but a useful one nonetheless.
One generation of Mennonites believed the gospel and held as well that there were certain social, economic, and political entailments.
The next generation assumed the gospel, but identified with the entailments.
The following generation denied the gospel: the “entailments” became everything.
Assuming this sort of scheme for evangelicalism, one suspects that large swaths of the movement are lodged in the second step, with some drifting toward the third.
. . . What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? . . . Today there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and countries have a full agenda of urgent, peripheral demands. Not for a moment am I suggesting we should not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?