Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24
My brother pastor, does your church need to die, in order to live? Can you say with grateful confidence that, alongside the God-blessed human wisdom and effort of your church’s ministry, you are also seeing what only God can do? Is your church a place where, for example, the wolf dwells with the lamb and they do not hurt or destroy in God’s holy mountain (Isaiah 9), where waters break forth in the wilderness and streams of refreshment in the desert (Isaiah 35), where long-standing ruins are built up again and the devastations of many generations are restored (Isaiah 61)? That can be real in an imperfect and even messy church, because God is there, doing what only God can do.
What every faithful pastor longs for is divine mercies like these for weak, exhausted sinners. What every faithful pastor dreads is just maintaining an ecclesiastical institution whose realities can be explained in terms of human promotion and pizzazz.
If you are not satisfied that your church is living proof of the risen Lord, here’s a crazy thought. Maybe your church needs to die, in order to live. And I don’t mean change the style of music. I mean something deeper. For example, maybe in 2016, working respectfully with your elders and leaders, allowing ample time for prayer, discussion and soul-searching — maybe the time has come for your church to be born again. Dissolve the membership, all leaders and staff resign, including you, deconstruct the whole apparatus in a carefully planned, fully explained, non-panicky, humble, joyfully expectant demolition of the institution, and begin again. A new name for the church, a new logo, a new mission statement — nothing grandiose like “Changing the world in our generation” or some such overstatement but maybe something self-deprecating and honest like “Stumbling forward together by the grace of Christ.” Hire a stonemason to carve a tombstone for the old church and place it out on the front lawn right beside the highway for everyone to see. Place a full-page ad in the local paper with a big headline, “We are starting over,” with more details in finer print, and the signatures of all who are pressing forward with you. No one disparages the past; instead, everyone explicitly thanks the Lord for all the blessing of the past. But everyone also agrees that, “We aren’t the church we once were. We aren’t the church the Lord wants us to be. We are not bearing living witness to his power in our weakness. We are too good at ‘doing church.’ We want to deconstruct this monument to our own brilliance, which is really failure, and humble ourselves before the Lord and one another and our city and start all over again with open hands and open hearts. We want to see what God will do for us, as we deeply humble ourselves.” And everyone turns to the pastor and elders and adds, “And we won’t be offended if you begin our new ministry by teaching us John 3:16.”
So this is crazy, I know. But what is it going to take, in 2016, for your church and mine to experience the blessing we all read about in the New Testament? What sort of death might explode with new life? If I don’t have the answers for you — and I don’t — then let’s all find our own answers, as the Lord helps us with his surprising wisdom.
But let’s none of us settle for any status quo that isn’t compelling anyone to say, “God is here.”