I would assume that most of my readers would remember Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. If not, please feel free to Google it.
Many people have spiritually moonwalked. In the church world, we call it backsliding. Many think of backsliding as when someone who professes to know Christ quits going to church, starts partying, stays drunk, and runs around with a bunch of people of the opposite sex. However, backsliding is much more subtle. Backsliding begins in the heart. Proverbs 14:14 says, “The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied from above.”
Two things happen when people backslide:
- They are no longer satisfied in Christ.
- They selfishly seek to find satisfaction outside a thriving relationship with Christ.
Backslidden people can be faithful church attendees who give, serve, and meet all the spiritual checkmarks. The truth is that you and I have backslidden when we are not as close to Christ as we once were.
Have you drifted in your relationship with God?
Is your heart longing for something out of the will of God?
Are you no longer satisfied in Christ?
If you answered “yes”, it’s time to come back to the One who never changed or moved. Ask God to forgive you and go back to that place where your love for Jesus is greater than anything else.
Today was heartbreaking as many of us found out about Jarrid Wilson, an associate pastor to Greg Laurie, took his own life. He has struggled with mental illness and has been a huge advocate for mental health. This happened just a little over a year after Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, another California pastor, took his own life.
Mental illness touches every family in some way. I’m the fourth generation of those battling depression in my family. Because I see many pastors who carry burdens alone, I am dedicated to pastoring pastors and also helping educate those within the church about anxiety and depression.
The part that makes me angry is that many will say Jarrid Wilson is rotting in hell now because he committed suicide. Many hold this erroneous belief that those who commit suicide, even if they have trusted Christ as Savior, automatically go to hell. The reason for their “logic” is that the person had no time to confess the sin. I asked a man who said that to me if he lusted after a woman and died in a car crash as a result of his distraction, would he go to hell. He stammered. I tried to use his “logic”. He did not want to believe the truth of Scripture because it appeared to give people an easy way out. He obviously had no comprehension of what is physically happening in the brain with someone who struggles with mental illness.
May we not be quick to dismiss those we do not understand. Reach out. Help them get the help they need. Love them through it. You may not understand what would lead someone to commit suicide, but many struggle with these thoughts. There are also many who suffer today because their loved one committed suicide. They don’t know to process all this. If you have the knowledge, educate your family, your friends, and all those within your influence. The Christian community can no longer turn its head. Those who struggle need a voice. Let’s be that voice!
A dying church is a sad yet increasingly common thing. When I speak of a dying church, I do not mean the body of Christ made up of all born again believers. I am speaking of the group with whom you gather and call yourself “First Baptist Church” or fill in the blank with any other name. What are signs of a dying church?
- Decreased attendance – Churches do have times of attendance fluctuation, but you want to take inventory if it continues for a long period.
- Blame-shifting – Dying churches tend to blame everyone or everything but the real problem. I hear many arrogant pastors and church members say, “People don’t come to our church because we preach the truth, and people don’t like truth.” Rarely is that the case. It is time to find the root cause rather than try to look super spiritual.
- Poor leadership – I have seen leaders stay too long or operate outside their area of giftedness. I have been that person at times. Some leaders are not happy if they cannot control things, so they will give their co-laborers minimal liberty to minister.
- Nostalgia – I filled in at a church with 6 in attendance outside my family. I was getting weekly calls about being their next pastor. When I asked one of the early members of the church about their best days, she said, “Our favorite preacher was ______.” I moved on and allowed them to focus on someone better suited for their desires.
- Spiritual neglect – Many churches have prayer, preaching, and spiritual disciplines incorporated into the services, but they do not practice them outside “the sacred hour”. No wonder there is little to no power! When people don’t share Christ and do little to nothing to grow in their faith, the church becomes anemic.
- Misplaced priorities – I encourage you to read the latest information on First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. I referenced this church in my last blog post. This church takes up nine city blocks and has been known for its iconic leadership, facilities, and programs. Well-known pastors, nice facilities, and programs will only go so far. Their attendance has declined by over half in the last 20 years, and they can barely afford to keep going. Does this sound like the proclamation of the gospel has been the priority? They realize they are distracted by upkeep that is preventing them from fulfilling God’s call.
What do you do when your church is dying?
- Repent – Ask God to reveal to your church what has been done wrong and repent. That means stop doing what you’ve been doing that has caused the problems. That could be anything from wars of music style to platform decor to power struggles. If anyone other than Christ is on the throne in your church, someone needs to be dethroned. I pray that will happen because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. This requires some intense honesty and humility.
Restructure – You can’t keep doing the same thing and get different results. First Baptist of Jacksonville, Florida voted to get rid of a ton of nostalgia in order to be good stewards and make the Great Commission top priority again. Your church may have 60 people meeting in a facility that seats 600. It’s a disgrace to God to continue to try to meet in such a place when you can’t pay bills, no one is coming to Christ, and all you can afford to do is come around the spiritual campfire once a week and sing “Kumbayah”. Why not sell your current facility and restructure? Rebrand? Or would you rather hold on to a building that contains memories of what used to be and die while “Titanic Church” sinks?
I believe that many of you are attending churches like what I have described. You may be the pastor of what I have described. It’s a tough place, and some people would rather see a church die as it is than to see God do a revitalizing work. Don’t let that be you! Die to your selfishness and pride! For the sake of lost souls and people who need to come back to Christ, PLEASE be selfless enough to do the right thing.
I had one of those prayer times tonight that everyone needs – the kind when you are honest with yourself and God. I admitted to God that I have been protecting my flaws for years rather than exposing and correcting them. God already knew it, but I had to admit that to myself in order to begin experiencing freedom.
Many of us are good at this type of self-defense. We are masters at our defense mechanisms and will defend them to the death. The problem with that is we become stagnant and never grow. We are quick to blame everything and everyone else when we must take personal responsibility.
I see this in churches too. Many churches don’t want to face the facts about themselves. When they are in decline and are in dire straits, they often say that the community is the problem. Or they are quick to say that people just don’t want the truth preached anymore, so they’re going to churches that compromise. It may be true in some cases but not all the time.
I watched a video from First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida that has been long overdue. I became acquainted with this ministry in January 2004 when I attended a pastors conference there. The pastor for whom I worked idolized this ministry. For approximately 60 years, it was led by two pastors. The father passed it down to the son. For the last 18 of those years, it was co-pastored by the son and his choice to come alongside him. That pastor assumes the role of single senior pastor until his retirement in 2007. The church covers 9 city blocks and is an edifice that memorializes the father-son duo and antiquated ways that worked well once upon a time.
This church that once averaged 9,000 in attendance is less than half now. They are facing the tough facts and are doing something about it. I am more hopeful for established churches now than ever. Many continue to bury their heads in the sand, but I’m glad that this church is refusing to be a casualty. I encourage you to watch this video.