It was back in what seems like another life ago. I was prompted to utter the following words.
“Lord, if the Church is your witness here on earth, why does it seem to be dying?”
I put this before the Lord during a summer jog around a North Carolina conference center lake where I stayed during a training event. At the time, my ministry was to help churches embrace the new landscape of our transitioning North American Church cultural milieu and help Churches find new ways of addressing the topic of “Congregational Transformation.” So I had seen my share of big but empty buildings. This event happened back in the late early 2000s. Now, here we are all these years and a global pandemic later, and the same question might be posed today. What happened next was entirely unexpected. Click Here to Read More
I got what I believe was an answer to my question. I heard a loving and gentle voice: “My Church is not dying, but the institution is.” The voice said to me. I stopped running and pondered what I had just been given. “The Church is not dying, but the institution is.” That unexpected but powerful insight humbled me. This answer might seem like it was just as scary as my prayerful question, but it wasn’t at all to me. Instead, my faith was encouraged by the realization that people are not in charge; God is. What I needed to do was trust God.
The institution of the church is a container for how the Church can live out its ministry in the world at a particular time in history. The story of Abraham and Issac (Genesis 22:1-19) comes to mind. But the Church is invited into the Faith of Abraham and trust God to be able to let go of old institutional models created for another generation. Simultaneously asking God for eyes to see new and relevant ways to express the Good News of Jesus to a new generation
The Church is, by definition, the body of Christ and the embodiment of the Good News. The Church is people who have been called together by an encounter with Love personified. People are the church, and when two or three gather, Love is displayed in the world. This idea of the Church is irresistible
However, the institution is the stuff we have accumulated along the way. The institution is interested in counting – dollars, people, square feet, degrees, etc. The institution of the church once had the ear of society, but not so much anymore. The dilemma is that we, the people that make up the Church, have confused the institution for the actual Church. We have made the institution equivalent to the Church. This confusion has hampered the willingness of the Church to follow the Spirit, which is like the wind that blows where it wills. We must give the authority to lead the church back to Spirit and be willing to follow into some new and strange places. That may make us feel like Peter in Acts 10, who was told to eat food that was considered unclean.
So I ask you, Church, could God be asking the question of Ezekiel 37:3 to us? Can these bones live? How we answer will determine our willingness to risk our comfort of known church models with Church models yet to be tried. Remember the words of Paul, who admonished the Christians in Corinth that we are: “to walk by faith and not by sight.” II Corinthians 5:7.