What? How can you be a thriving church if you are a dying church?
First, we must consider what it means to be a church. Let’s look at Jesus’ conversation with His disciples in Matthew 16:
13 Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
15 He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. 18 I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it.
Peter proclaims that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is thrilled by this answer. He says that God revealed this truth to Peter. On this truth, on the truth of who Jesus is, He will build the church. Whose church is it? It’s His church, and Jesus is defining church as a group of people who all believe that He is the Christ. Jesus is the One coming to bring life.
Later, Jesus and Peter have another conversation. Jesus tells the disciples He is going to die. Peter doesn’t want to hear this.
22 Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” 23 But he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
Jesus is telling Peter to stop focusing on what you want. Stop thinking about this in a way that makes sense to you. Trust me. Trust my plan. Remember, it’s “My church, and I am going to build it.”
What makes this hard is that Peter thinks he is doing what is best for everyone. Peter thinks it is best for everyone for Jesus to not die. Yet, Jesus basically tells him, “No, you’re being selfish.”
How many times do we, like Peter, offer up suggestions, ways to make church “better,” thinking that what we want is best for everyone? We make suggestions about order of worship, music, and length of worship service. We talk about starting new ministries. We discuss whether or not to stop current ministries. When we have these discussions, how often are we really saying, “I want what I want.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 25 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. 26 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?
Jesus carried His cross to His death. Now, we know He didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave, defeating death! He came to bring life, not death. However, for us to live the life God is fully calling us to live, it means being willing to die to our wants and desires. Too often, they are more selfish than we realize. Instead, we are to put Jesus first. When we do this, and only when we do this, can we love as Jesus loves.
So yes, a thriving church is a dying church.
Blessings. Pastor Matt