When working as an engineer our firm was hired to do some renovation work on a building in downtown Fort Collins. This building was a red brick building with a basement and three upper levels. The building had character and distinctive architectural features and was nearly 100 years old! The center of the building was supported by massive 10” x 10” wooden columns. One of the “distressing” features of the building was a noticeable sag in the floors in the center of the structure. The cause of that problem became the focus of an early part of the structural investigation. We discovered that in the basement the columns had been partially encased in concrete. The concrete was designed to protect the 1umber but in fact had acted to its detriment. The concrete sealed the wood from fresh air and caused dry rot. These vital structural members were so rotten that we could push a pencil all the way to the center of the 10 x 10’s without difficulty. (That certainly gives one great confidence with three floors hanging over your head!)
I want you to catch the thought. That which was designed to help (the concrete) actually caused the foundational elements of the building to decay.
I have been privileged in the past few years to spend time with pastors and churches that have been distressed. I think a good way to describe many of these church situations as “dry rot.” Churches that at one time were vibrant and healthy now suffer from internal decay. The culprits that have caused the near-collapse of these bodies are often the very ministries that made them at one time spiritual giants. Here are two very apparent culprits.
Churches and church popularity seemed to reach a zenith after World War II. Each church group had a distinctive style of ministry. Many churches experienced great success with their particular style. However, over time dry rot set in. The “style” became more important than the ministry. That which was designed to help actually became a hindrance. Those churches were set in concrete and began the slow, painful process of internal decay—dry rot!
In the Conservative Baptist movement another form of dry rot set in. In this case the very good focus was missions. However, many churches were so focused on reaching those “beyond” they forgot that God had called them to ministry right in their own backyard. As a consequence we are seeing many CBA churches in rapid decline as their congregations grow older and numbers of those who can financially support the ministry decline. These churches are in danger of not only losing the support base for missions but in losing the very church itself!
A Solution to the Dilemma
In order for churches to begin to make an impact for the Gospel once again we must RETOOL. We need to begin to think again like a church on a mission, not like a church who has arrived! The following three shifts in thinking and in ministry are a place to begin.
First, we must recapture our biblical man-dates. Each church must grasp the fundamental reasons for its existence. We exist for God and God’s purposes of Worship, Evangelism, Edification and Spiritual Reproduction. Does this mean we ignore missions? Absolutely not! But it does mean that we recognize that we are a mission outpost with a missions ministry of our own!
Second, we must understand our culture and the language of our culture once again so that we might make an impact in our neighborhood. When we send missionaries abroad we ask them to learn the language and learn the culture and then we ask them to minister. In America when we in the churches speak our “50’s culture language” and use our “50’s culture methods” it’s like we are speaking a foreign language to those around us. We have to learn to speak the language of the culture if we want to make an impact for Jesus Christ!
Third, become missionaries once again. Pastor Les Magee moved to Washington Heights in Ogden, Utah from a foreign mission field. One of the first things the church did was show the movie The God Makers. They advertised around town and invited the community. The Mormons stayed away in droves After the showing Les thought, “If I were ministering in a Catholic country the last thing I would do would be to show a Catholic bashing film. I need to put on my missionary hat and begin thinking like a missionary.” That’s exactly what Les did and Washington Heights has grown tremendously ever since!
What am I saying? I’m echoing the words of 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:
For though I am free from all men, I have made my-self a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
It’s harvest time! Let’s be about the master’s business.
Retooling for Christ Jesus,
Copyright © 2005 Fresh Start Ministries, Gordon Penfold
Last modified: 07/04/08