What does it mean when a church fails? It doesn’t matter the cause… maybe it ran out of money, or out of people, or likely both; maybe the pastor was corrupt, or the people were corrupt, or both; maybe the building was destroyed in an earthquake and the people moved away. Whatever, it failed. The church fell. What does that mean?
There are mythological stories in a lot of churches about when times were better. A church had a golden age when its membership swelled and there was plenty of money for both salaries and missions, and new services and ministries were spinning up constantly. Everything the church did was successful, and everyone was happy, and everything was great. Those were heady days, a golden age for the church. What does it mean when those days are gone?
It could mean that we failed, or the pastor failed, or the board failed. Certainly, in this broken world, any and all of these happen with such frequency that it is not startling.
But as I reflected on how a church gets from There to Here, from Golden Age to slow and painful death, something occurred to me.
This world is at war. The enemy seeks to divert worship from God and wants to see every church in ruin, and he’s not particular about whether that ruin is physical or spiritual. A corrupt church is just as good as a church that doesn’t meet at all, and probably better. And the enemy is crafty and has amassed such power that corruption of our Christian leaders, or even of ourselves, doesn’t often startle us.
For a church to fail is not startling. For a church to succeed at all, to live at all, is the startling thing. From the perspective of someone who has attended a small church for a few years, it is astounding that a church could make it a single day, let alone a decade, or two, or a hundred.
A church lives only upon the goodwill of God and its attendees. It suffices on the donations of many, each giving a tiny portion of what God has given them. It continues to stand despite our sin and the ease by which we are distracted and our continual stumbles.
There is no such thing as a Golden Age, for the church is always in decline. It was in decline the moment it began. It was in a foxhole from the moment it was conceived. The church was under attack before Jesus began his ministry.
And the church is continually saved. It is continually resurrected. In this way, it is eternal. If a church ends, its members dispersing to other sanctuaries, its doors closed and the building sold to another, we should not lament its passing. We should praise God that it lasted as long as it did. We should shake our fists at the enemy and shout with excitement that we lasted so long. And we should learn and plan and devote ourselves to doing better next time. We’ll make sure the next church lasts longer. And when that one fails, God will raise us up again, and we’ll last even longer. For Jesus has already conquered hell and risen to the right hand of God.
In our weakness, His strength is made perfect. There is no Golden Age, there is only our eternal weakness, and God’s eternal strength.