I love the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. There is such a wealth of wisdom in the, usually, short sayings. One piece of wisdom that stands out to me is Proverbs 24:33,34. It reads, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” God thought it was so important to say this that He led the scribe of Proverbs to include it two times! In Proverbs 6:10,11 we read the exact, same saying.
While some of the proverbs can leave one scratching his or her head, this one is easy to understand. One must work diligently throughout their life, or everything worked for will be gone in what seems like an instant. People will wonder, “How did this happen!”
I often think of this proverb in relation to churches. I’m passionate about the local church. My intensity regarding the local church is too much for many people. I get that and I don’t like that it makes people uncomfortable, but I see the times and I have concern and I grieve regarding the state of the local church.
Here are some anecdotal reasons why. Here in Louisville, there is a nice church facility that was operating as a Baptist church when we moved to the area some 25 years ago. It is now an Islamic school. I don’t begrudge Islamic parents seeking parochial education for their children, but it grieves me that this Baptist Church no longer exists at that location.
There is another church facility near me that was once a large Baptist church. That church is now owned by a Christian school. Again, I’m happy that children are being trained in the Christian faith, but I grieve that the church is no longer worshipping in that location.
A few years ago, there was a church that was very involved in local area ministries and had a building in which they housed volunteer Vacation Bible School workers who came to Louisville for the summer to help various churches. On one occasion I drove by the church and the property was surrounded by chain link fences and was apparently closed. I asked an associational leader what happened. He told that the church had gotten to a place financially where it was largely supported by one elderly woman. She passed away, her support stopped, and the church was no longer able to keep the doors open.
There are many more stories I could tell of Baptist churches that have closed or merged with other churches because they became too small to stay open and or be self-supporting. There are many other non-Baptist churches that are no longer operating like a Presbyterian church that is now owned by Indians (India Indians). Again, I don’t begrudge the Indians practicing their faith, but it grieves me that an Evangelical Christian Protestant church is no longer functioning.
Then there are the statistical studies. For 40 years or more I’ve been told in various meetings that 80% of churches are plateaued or declining. Thom Rainer’s organization did a study and found the number was more accurately 65%; better but still troubling. Recently I reached out to one of our state Baptist workers regarding the number of Baptist church closures over the past few years. He reported that 30 church had closed in the previous four-year period. That is an average of 7.5 churches per year! While not as bad as I had expected, 7.5 churches a year still makes me grieve and that is just Kentucky Baptist Churches. The reports on mainline church decline are much more troubling.
Following is a clipping from the July 13, 2021, Christianity Today article, “Mainline Protestants Are Still Declining, But That’s Not Good News for Evangelicals”, “By their own membership tallies, mainline denominations are showing drops of 15 percent, 25 percent, and even 40 percent over the span of the last decade.”
Finally, in 2009, I served as Part-Time Minister of Music for a church in Louisville. In the 1960s and 1970s the church had as many as 1,200 people attending worship. At one time they were a leading Southern Baptist church in growth. When I came in 2009 the church usually ran 150 in worship with occasional “special day” attendance of 200+. By pre-COVID 2019 the attendance was approximately 70 and now the church is averaging 40.
Certainly, COVID has hurt our church attendance, but it doesn’t deserve all the blame as church decline was well evidenced before the Spring of 2020.
I believe I am justified in my grief and intense passion regarding church decline. I’m no expert in church growth. I have read Thom Rainer’s books and followed his blog for years. He is a leading Southern Baptist professor, author, and researcher on church growth. I have also stayed informed by publications released by The Barna Group especially when George Barna was alive and heading the organization.
I don’t know the answer and the truth is there is no THE answer that applies equally well to each church. A friend, George Yates, has written a book, “Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church.” In addition, he has worked as a consultant with many churches across the United States to help them avoid and reverse decline in their church. I’ve heard Reverend Yates say that he feels the decline can be traced back to an initial cause mentioned in Revelation chapter two. God is speaking to the church in Ephesus. Initially He commends the church for their hard work. However, in verse four God says, “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first!” (NIV)
I think there is a lot of merit to his observation. Too many churches seem to have lost their, or have a seriously reduced, love for Jesus Christ. I fear too many in the church do not have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.
I grew up attending church and I have a deep love for the local church, any local church, not just the one I attend. I want the churches, including my church, to be healthy and growing. I want them to be a joy to attend. I want to sing with my friends the great hymns of the faith and the great new songs of faith. I want to be challenged and enlightened by a deep look into the scripture and I want to challenge and enlighten those to whom I am sharing God’s word. I know there is a wonderful abundant life in store for those who love God and live according to His purpose, and I get very intense in trying to help people grow in Christ and have that abundant life.
If my intensity has offended you, I apologize. It was not my intent to offend. However, I cannot serve my God with a lukewarm attitude and action. I will try to be less offensive while maintaining my zeal for His church. My prayer is that God will remind you of His love for you and that your love will be restored to what it once was.
Finally, if you know you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and you have never accepted Him as your personal Savior, I urge you to get with me or some other Christian you respect, and resolve this today. Also, if you believe or thought that you had made a genuine profession of faith years ago but today are not sure, I urge you to meet with me or some other Christian you respect and resolve your position with Christ today!
I am really excited this year because I have finally attracted some hummingbirds to my backyard. I've put out the feeders, changed the sugar water regularly, provided a bird bath with a floating fountain, made a small wild flower garden, and planted other plants to attract the birds. This Spring we regularly saw two hummingbirds visit our feeders. I think those two had children because we now see four flying around and two are larger than the other two. They are getting more bold as well as we watch them drink from the feeder, hover nearby, rest in the trees, and chase each other around.
The hummingbirds aren't the only guests we have. I also have a regular bird feeder and it is visited daily by up to a dozen mourning doves, Chick-a-Dees, Tufted Titmouse. Cowbirds, House Sparrows, and Blue Jays. The Blue Jays really like the whole peanuts I put out there for them. They must watch for me because I no sooner put out the peanuts and walk away that they don't swoop down and grab a peanut. I think there are probably a half-dozen Blue Jays.
I'd heard that hummingbirds can be aggressive and it is true. I've seen the daddy sit on a perch nearby and as soon as another hummingbird comes to feed it swoops down and chases it off. I also see them chasing each other around the yard. It is quite fun to watch them.
Another interesting observation on the regular bird feeder is that the most aggressive bird(s) are the Mourning Doves. We think of doves as peaceful and we talk and sing about the Dove of Peace but they are the most aggressive bird at that feeder. There is one dove that must think the feeder is hers. She will plant herself in the middle of the feeder and eat while keeping other birds at bay. I'd always heard Blue Jays were aggressive, and they can be, but at my feeder it's the doves that rule.
Oh, and I shouldn't forget the squirrels. Of course, I have squirrels.
But as much as I do for them As soon as I unlock our back door and step out on the deck they fly away as quickly as they can. Obviously they are scared of me. even though they wait for me to bring fresh food out and as much as they enjoy playing in the bird bath fountain. And though I would never hurt them.
I don't expect a Disney experience with them like we see in Disney movies but I wish they'd at least not act like they think I'm going to catch and roast them. I'd like to be able to be close to them and enjoy their beauty, songs, and antics.
Recently, I started wondering if that's how our heavenly Father feels. He provides for us day by day and moment by moment. We don't even know all the times He has protected us, provided for us, and met our needs. I'm sure He longs to commune with us like He did with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they sinned.
After Adam and Eve sinned there formed a separation between man and God. It wasn't possible to have full communion with Him because of the sin in our lives. When Jesus came He took our sin upon Himself. When He died on the cross He carried those sins to the grave, and when He rose from the grave He left the sins behind. Because of His work on our behalf we can now have a full and unhindered relationship with God. We must only believe that Jesus died and redeemed us. Then as we continue through life, when we fail and commit some sin, we have only to confess our wrong to Him and ask for forgiveness. The Bible teaches us that if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin.
That means we can have a free and unhindered fellowship with Him. He can walk with us through the garden and through the struggles. Wherever we are, God is there walking along side us.
But too often I am like the birds I described. I'm afraid to be in God's presence. I run away when He comes near. When I run away I rob myself of communion with God and basking in His love for me.
John 3:17 tells us Jesus came to the world (us) not to condemn the world but to save the world and reconcile ourselves to Him. He came to give us life and that more abundant. Jesus said He wants to call me His friend. but in my guilt and fear I run away from His love.
I'm going to try and not be like my hummingbirds or any of the other birds. I'm going to strive to not sin and when I do confess my sin. That way I won't feel guilty. I also won't feel like God's out to get me and or punish me.
I'm sure I'll be happier basking in the Savior's love. We'll you join me there?
No matter what you've done in your life, Jesus is ready to forgive you and open His storehouses of heaven to you. He forgives and forgets, Trust in Him today. And if you don't know Him the way I've described, please let someone near you know so they can help you resolve your conflict with God. Then your spirit will soar like a hummingbird!