Yesterday I attended my first prayer gathering of pastors from the Everett area. It was refreshing, sincere, mutually supportive, and powerful. I plan to attend these gatherings in the future, whenever possible.
The Church has gone through a rough stretch during the past few years as politics and social issues have taken the forefront for many believers and differences have been elevated above the things that unite us. This has resulted in decline, division, and disenfranchisement, with many believers severing the essential connection with the Church. Research indicates that every major denomination in the United States is in a current trend of decline (see Barna and the Pew Research Center). The church that I am now pastoring has declined by a substantial amount since 2020.
This trend can be reversed, but that depends on what happens within each congregation of Jesus followers.
In John 17:20-23 Jesus prayed for you, me, and every person claiming to be a Christian:
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (NIV)
Unity is essential to evangelism through the Church. Working together in a united fashion is a characteristic of “health” and healthy things grow and reproduce.
Presently, the Body of Christ (the Church) is suffering in two ways:
- Sickness: Sin has a way of growing as a cancer within us. When it is not challenged, it spreads. Churches that enable dysfunctions become toxic. Dysfunctions including abuses of power, favoritism, nepotism, nationalism, racism, abuse, financial sin, sexual sin and harassment. The list goes on and on. Factions quickly develop. Loyalty becomes focused on individuals rather than God. Vision for the mission is lost, and energy is turned inward. When these things are not addressed, the fruit of the Spirit rots on the vine. We have seen this occur in churches and in denominations. It also occurred in the early church (see 1 Corinthians). Rather than judge others, we have to look in the mirror and deal with our own culpability.
- Wounds: Dysfunction and sin leads to hurt. Sadness, confusion, deception, divisions, wanderings, isolation, mistrust, and anger enter into the hearts of the hurt. The church becomes weighed down by these things.
Wounds or sickness, left unattended, can be fatal. What can we do?
The good news is that Jesus is The Great Physician! He specializes in healing. This is what He does! Some things are healed quickly, but others take a long time. This is often related to the severity of the sickness or the woundedness.
He wants to heal His body, from both sickness and injury. He can do this, and is doing this, right now.
My prayer, to quote the ancient proverb is, “Physician, heal thyself.” We are in need of a revival to reverse a recession.
This requires our cooperation. The body of Christ is healed is when His people become proactive agents of health and healing. We have to experience His wholeness in our lives and also humbly make sure that we are helping with the healing process. We have to resist codependent patterns that enable dysfunction and division. We have to cease from gossip and taking sides. We have to set aside political differences and divisive opinions.
We have to focus on Jesus, our mission, and the real battle that is being fought. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood…” Our weapons are not intellectual exercises or issues solved through an organizational chart. Our real weapons are expressed in prayer and by loving God and by loving our neighbor.
We all have work to do. That work begins on our knees, and then requires courageous actions that will result in a culture that more accurately represents Jesus. My prayer is taken from the Lord’s prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…Forgive us of our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
I am excited for the future. God is not finished yet!