Powerless churches are everywhere in our nation. Within Henderson, Kentucky, the town where I live, there are over fifty churches within the county according to the Internet and phone book, yet there are still scores of people hurting, people longing for something more in life, and people dying and beginning an eternity in Hell. Within these churches, many of the congregations often have less than a hundred members in attendance on Sunday morning. The church of the twenty-first century is a far cry from the churches that dominated the communities of our nation in the previous four centuries.
From the early colonial days of America until the 1870s, the members of the local church oversaw questions dealing with morality and public behavior in the town. Members of local congregations were often called by the town to serve on the school board, to serve as justices of the peace, and were even elected to public office. It was the local church that served to meet the needs of the poor, the homeless, orphan, and widow. Two “Great Awakenings” happened in our nation’s history that started when preachers stood up and taught the belief that the time of Christ’s return was near. Since the mid-Twentieth century, there has been a decline in the importance of the church in our communities. What has happened to change the church from a place of God’s authority, compassion, and mercy in the community to a place of inconsequential importance?
It is easy to blame the lost world for the diminished role of the church in modern times. I have even heard pastors, missionaries, and regular church goers comment that it is because the temptations of the world have grown greater than what once existed. While this argument may satisfy some, it is a rather weak and pathetic defense of the church. Yes, the world has progressed in technology and the means to sin, but temptation, wickedness, and sin have always existed. To find out why the church has grown weak and ineffective over the last hundred years, I believe it is imperative we take a look at the local church. The first thing that is easy to notice is many Christians and local churches have forgotten the simple truth that Jesus is coming again.
How powerless churches begin
The return of Jesus Christ is a real, foretold event. Early Christians, and those disciples that made up the first church, truly believed in a literal second coming of our Lord. The disciples believed it to be true because they had heard from Jesus’ own mouth a promise that would burn in their very hearts: In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:2-3). They believed this to the extent that it gave them a great strength and boldness to preach the gospel, to bring the lost to Him, and to do so even in the face of persecution and death.
I often think of the parable that Jesus used to illustrate this very concept of His return and what he expects of His followers until He does: For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey (Matthew 24:14-15). Jesus himself is the “man traveling into a far country” each born – again believer is His servant, and we each have been given some job, some task, some calling to do while we await his return. The most common application of this parable is that Jesus expects us to do something with the gifts and talents that he gives us; however, the teaching is there – He is coming back. He is going to return. Two of the servants realized this and did what they knew must be done while the third, unsure of when the Master would return, didn’t put what was left for him to do as being that important. This is where powerless churches begin.
When Christians do not believe the Lord could come back at any moment, it becomes easy to for the church to lose its importance within the community. The sole mission of the church is to spread the gospel with its secondary purpose being for the edification, the worship of the Lord, and the teaching of His people. When Christians do not take the return of the Lord as being a real event that could happen at any moment; this is what allows for complacency to happen. Unbelief in the return of Christ allows the need to spread the gospel seem less urgent. It makes separating ourselves from temptations to sin less important, and it makes the need for immediate and sincere compassion on those around us a little less important. When we live as if we do not believe His return is imminent, then we become comfortable in our sins, we become lazy in our Christian service and the result is powerless churches and weak Christians.