Ed Stetzer on Reversing Our Decline: The Cure, Part 2

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So what do we do?We cannot simply mandate how churches, pastors, and believers live. Our theological convictions of the priesthood of all believers and local autonomy of the church lead us to allow each church to heed God’s will on their own. But on a denominational level, I believe we need to heed the words sounding from numerous places in the convention for a Great Commission Resurgence. Our situation would be much worse if we did not have the Conservative Resurgence, but a Conservative Resurgence without a Great Commission Resurgence is an exercise in belief without action.

I believe this must be our wake-up call. Again. If not, there will be plenty more days like this in the coming years.

Last year, I quoted from Christ’s message to the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:

I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

We have been lulled into evangelistic complacency and missional inaction. We fought and won a battle over the Bible but are now struggling live it out through cooperation, collaborative missions, and personal evangelism. As Chuck Kelley has explained, Southern Baptists have become the new Methodists (no offense to my Methodist readers, please).

“Cooperation, collaborative missions, and personal evangelism” is a pretty good recipe for success. In a world that despises the rancor that divides denominations, cooperation has to be transdenominational — and we can’t wait for others to initiate the effort.

Collaborative missions, in Church of Christ terms, means working not only with other churches to raise money, but with organizations that know how to recruit, train, support, and organize mission efforts. Experience shows that church planting requires sending teams — supported by multiple churches, overseen by multiple elderships, and supported by experts with experience and expertise.

Personal evangelism has to change, too. We have to create congregations that truly believe in Kingdom living, that live the Kingdom parables, that center their lives on the Sermon on the Mount, and that show the world a better society — not just better teaching and better laws. We have to become a people who look like Jesus. And we have to become salt and light, making everything we touch a little better.

I am grieved, but I also see opportunity if we can ignore the responses that are soon to follow explaining how it is all going fine and we just don’t need to worry. Those in charge know what to do to fix it. Instead, I think we need to see this as the bad news it is but also an opportunity to change.

Change?! Yes, unless you think the death of our congregations and the damnation of our children is a good thing.  If so, we should keep on doing what we’ve always done.

It is an opportunity for discovering a regenerate church membership living on mission.

This is a great point. In Alexander Campbell’s writing, being “regenerate” means a change in legal status in God’s eyes from lost to saved. But biblically, it means being changed into the image of Christ by the Spirit.

We so emphasize “getting saved” that we don’t have time left over to talk about getting changed. Rather, we teach that baptism accomplishes what really matters, when, in fact, baptism simply puts in a place where we can yield to God’s reconstruction of who we are. Being born again means having to learn to walk and talk and behave all over again. We aren’t reborn as adults, but as infants, and growing up in Christ is about much more than learning sound doctrine. It’s about your Father raising you to be the child he wants you to be.

And until we understand the importance of personal change, our evangelism and church growth will continue to be anemic at best.

It is an open door to pray for God’s reviving of the church.

You know, we still don’t pray as we should. Ask your church to forego a sermon on Sunday morning in exchange for a service devoted to prayer. See how well that goes over! If your congregation tells you it was great and long overdue, you’ve got some members well on the way toward full regeneration. If they are angry, well, they are infants in Christ and need to grow up.

It is the motivation for a Great Commission Resurgence for all Christians, in the hearts of pastors, through a church planting renaissance, and in our denominational structure.

We talk good “Great Commission” game. We genuinely believe it, I think. We just aren’t very good at it.

I’ve often noticed how little teaching there is in the Bible on evangelism. It’s there — but it’s about 1/100th of the teaching on “love one another.” And I’m thinking the solution to our evangelism problem will be found in our love-one-another problem.

But change does not come easy for us. …

Here is the principle: People do not change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. And, neither do denominations…

So let me ask you a simple question: Are we hurting enough to make the changes we need?

It’s a great question. And as I read our blogs and forums, I think the answer for most of us is “no.” We aren’t hurting, because we aren’t hurting. We don’t adequately feel the pain of the lost. It doesn’t haunt us and torture us.

Rather, we are quite comfortable in the assurance that we know how many elders a church should have — forgetting that the far more important question is how many members a church should have!

We’d rather be right about how we worship than with whom we worship.

We care more about whether the building wears the name of Jesus than whether our neighbors wear his name.

And until that changes, we’re going to continue to decline.

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2 Responses to Ed Stetzer on Reversing Our Decline: The Cure, Part 2

  1. Alan says:

    And I’m thinking the solution to our evangelism problem will be found in our love-one-another problem.

    That's the issue. If we don't love our brother whom we have seen, we cannot love God whom we have not seen… Much more, we cannot love the lost (mainly, total strangers) if we don't love our brother. Don't try to get people to pretend they care about lost people when they don't demonstrably care about the members of their own congregation (and the *children* in their own congregation!) After all, outsiders see how we treat one another. And if they have a lick of sense, they'll keep their distance from a church that is all about quarrelling and condemning people.

    But the church also has to *stand* for something. We can't just be the good guys on the corner that get along with everyone and never rock the community's boat. Beware when all men speak well of you. Righteousness will never be popular in the secular community. That's ok. We still need to shine like a city on a hill.

  2. Rich says:

    Excellent post that seems to address the root cause of our issue.

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