Beverly and I have used the last 32 years of our lives together preaching, teaching, and evangelizing for churches who we knew had been struggling and declining in numbers over the years. We sympathized and wanted to help because we knew many had gone from an attendance in the 100’s for some of them, to 10 and less. We believe many could benefit by examining the most common excuse we have heard from most, if not all of them. First, they talk about how so many of their kids have fallen away (a tragedy many can relate to today), and then they talk about how their last gospel meetings were so discouraging for the congregation because nobody attended, and then refuse to cooperate with any more of them. It isn’t hard to see why so many kids have fallen away. From the age of five, practically any kid can tell you what is most important in their parents lives. It works the same way in the community outside. The community is able to see a living, active church’s priorities, and should know the number one priority of the church of Christ is to preach the gospel. Go back for a refresher course on the book of Acts to see what I am talking about. Read about the Lord’s whole purpose for coming into the world. In Luke 19:10 Jesus said, ”For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” He didn’t come to build a denomination governed by doctrines and commandments of men. Matt. 16:18 shows us He came to build HIS church. Acts 2:36-47 and 1Cor. 12:13 show us salvation is in the church today just as salvation was located in the ark of Noah’s day (1Peter 3:18-22). I even had one preacher, a man in his 80’s who spent the last 27 years preaching for one of the churches I am talking about, imply to me that my family and I are wasting our time when he said he “felt sorry for us out there pounding the pavement door to door”. I was shocked by that one. He didn’t believe it was worth the effort.
The problem isn’t so much a hardened community as it is a hard-hearted church. Too many of us no longer understand what should be the real reason for our work, the real purpose of our work. None of us in my family are out there doing the work for anything we could possibly gain in this life. Maybe my preacher friend should think more about the lyrics of that beautiful old song we like to sing. “Don’t think me poor, or deserted, or lonely. I’m not discouraged; I’m heaven bound.”
You see, the number of responses that we get with our door to door campaigning, and the ever so important gospel meetings isn’t so important to us as the assurance we have that comes from obeying God and doing the work as a top priority of His church that He built. We feel sorry for the churches who quit evangelizing with campaigns and gospel meetings. Those who claim to be “holding their own” never manage to do so for long after they stop doing the work. When it comes to “friendship evangelism”, people eventually run out of friends to evangelize and the church starts to die off. The ones who stop working fall into a lukewarm state, at best. Revelation 3:15,16 Jesus was speaking to a church like this when He said, “I know your works that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Jesus needs to be the reason for our work. Rather than making excuses for not obeying Him we need to trust that His will will be done and go out and fulfill His purpose for putting us here. Leave the results up to them and Him. He won’t use you for good if you don’t obey Him. He may use you the way He used Pharaoh in Egypt in the days of Moses, but you won’t have the assurance that comes with a clear conscience knowing you are obeying Him. When Jesus is the reason for your work, and you can show book, chapter, and verse in the Bible in order to know you are doing His will, you don’t get discouraged. You will be disappointed from time to time, like everybody else, but you don’t get discouraged. You don’t quit. If you get discouraged doing His work, you may need to re-evaluate your motives. If you get discouraged when your works don’t turn out the way you hoped, just ask yourself, “Am I doing this for Jesus, or am I trying to work my own will to accomplish my own purpose?” There is a big difference, and it matters.
Timothy A. Sundlie
Preacher / Evangelist for the Tazewell County church of Christ