Among the evangelists who traverse the country each year conducting gospel meetings, there is a real and genuine concern. Although there are some churches that are thriving and growing, there are many more that would fall into the “struggling” category. It seems that. in some places all it will take is another funeral or two and the doors of the church building will be shut, perhaps forever. Who is to blame for this deplorable condition? Some may wish to blame the evangelists, and it may be that some of us will have to accept the responsibility. However there are others who share the responsibility.
Some years ago in the state of Oregon, an old, abandoned church building was put up for sale. There had been no services in it for years and the denominational heads decided it would be wisest to dispose of the property. But a storm of protest arose and the local paper was full of letters written by irate citizens objecting to the sale of a historical landmark. The man who had one time been its pastor remarked that, if people had shown that much interest in it while it was still alive, it would not have been abandoned.
In a religious journal that comes to my door, I recently read an article in which the writer charged that we are “preparing the soil for the planting of the seeds of Pentecostalism” in the churches of Christ. My first reaction was to deny it, but as the writer stated his case, I found myself inclined to agree. If we do not feed the spiritually sensitive souls of those who attend our services, they will look elsewhere for spiritual satisfaction. Brethren, as distasteful and humiliating as it is for us to admit it, we need to own up to our responsibilities for dead, lifeless services and work and do what we can to correct the situation.
The Saviour warned the church at Sardis: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die” (Rev 3:2). Williams renders this: “Wake up, and strengthen what is left, although it is on the very point of dying!” We have lost some ground, brethren! It is an undisputed fact that we have lost more young people than we have kept. In many places, we have lost our enthusiasm and zeal. We have lost our sense of purpose and direction. Jesus’ words are so appropriate for us. We need to “wake up and strengthen what is left!” What can we do? How can we help?
CHANGE OUR ATTITUDES
I am convinced that some of us need an “attitude adjustment,” as the country song suggests. Maybe we have been attending worship entirely out of a sense of duty, and we sit, watching the clock, or filing our nails, or worse, we sleep through the worship. Maybe we present our bodies completely uninhabited by the spirit, and our attitude is expressed: “Well, here I am; entertain me.” I say to you – could we not bring some enthusiasm with us? Could we not open up and join enthusiastically in the songs? Could we not give the brother who is trying to teach our respectful attention? Could we not shake hands and greet strangers with warmness and affection? And if we are filled with joy and gladness over being spared for another week of life, could we not notify our faces? David said: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). Maybe we can’t teach or pray or lead publicly, but everyone can be an encourager of those who do.
Most of the congregational singing that I have heard could stand improvement. Far be it from me to discourage anyone, for I believe that when anyone does the best that he or she is capable of, it will be acceptable to God. But are we doing our best? Is the worship the time and place to train song leaders? To me, the idea that everyone must be given an opportunity to lead songs is contributing to the death of good singing. Singing that is consistently pitched too low and with a tempo too slow and draggy is discouraging and uninspiring. Doing our best means trying to improve. Doing our best may mean finding someone who can teach us how to pitch songs correctly and how to sing them at the right tempo. And having the right tune would help, also. And how many song leaders would put up with the teaching giving the same lesson each service? But I have noticed that in many congregations the same five or six songs are sung at each service. If we want to lift spirits and inspire others, let us study to improve the singing.
OUR PRAYING AND TEACHING
Another area that could use attention is in our praying and teaching. What would be wrong with casting aside memorized prayers and addressing our petitions to specific needs? And when the brother finishes his prayer, why not let every brother in the house audibly say “AMEN”? I do not get to hear much teaching in any local congregation except my own, but if what I hear is a specimen of teaching in general, I know we could do much better. Much of what I hear is dry and uninspiring. Some teach because they have to say something and some teach because they have something to say, and there is a big difference in the two. How long has it been since you have heard a lesson spoken with courage and conviction which calls upon the hearers to act and respond? And how long has it been since you have heard an “Amen” from one of the brethren? I realize that could be overdone but the last time I heard it, it was so rare and unexpected, I almost leaped out of my skin.
The great spiritual and political leader of India, Mohandas K. Gandhi, told of attending a church in South Africa when he was a young man. He said: “I attended church every Sunday. The church did not make a favorable impression on me. The sermons seemed to be uninspiring. The congregation did not strike me as being particularly religious. They were not an assembly of devout souls; they appeared to be rather worldly-minded, going to church in conformity to custom. Here at times I would involuntarily doze. I was ashamed, but some of my neighbors who were in no better a case lightened the shame. I could not go on like this and soon gave up attending the service.”
We wonder what impact it might have had on the nation of India if he had found it inspiring and enthusiastic? And how often has that been the identical experience of young people in America?
Oh, brethren, let us “wake up, and strengthen what is left.” Souls are at stake. The soul we save may be that of someone very near and dear, and it could be our own.
Published in the February 1, 1986 issue of the OPA.