It kills me to know that many churches simply do not make it. Their doors are closed, whether literally or spiritually, and it seems like there’s nothing we can do about it. People leave churches for stupid reasons (yes I said it) and church leaders are left with a decision to make: make the church a community club so people can stay or make it a place where the expectation is to deny yourself and carry your cross to follow Jesus.
We need to wake up and realize how different churches in America are today from the churches we see in Acts. We see God doing supernatural things back in Bible times or even overseas today but not many can say the same about their own church.
I wrote this blog after preaching this in the church God called me to plant, Pure Word Church (listen to the sermon here). It is a tough message to preach because there’s no way of knowing how people are doing spiritually. We can only see the fruit. However, God placed this message in my heart and I am compelled to share it with anyone willing to listen.
How do churches die? In Matthew 16, we can find 5 ways a church can be destroyed. Here they are.
1. Seek for things beyond the Gospel (v. 1-4)
“1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”So he left them and departed.”
It is in our nature to want something better, newer, and shinier. Today, you can lease a phone and get the next best thing every two months, and we want it even if it keeps blowing up in our hands. The sad thing is, we do the same thing with the church. When Jesus mentioned Jonah, He was referring to the fact that He will die and rise from the grave. Unfortunately that isn’t enough for us anymore. We need more programs, better services, and more activities to keep us motivated in the church.
This isn’t new. This has been happening since the Old Testament! Remember how God sent supernatural plagues in Egypt to rescue the Israelites from slavery? Then when it seemed like the Red Sea was a dead end, God split the waters so they can walk on dry ground. When they were hungry He sent manna from heaven. Still, the Israelites kept looking back and desired the food from Egypt. So God sent them meat from the sky (I picture it was like in Kazaam when the kid wishes for candy). However, they still complained and doubted.
In the New Testament, it’s no different. Jesus walked on water, healed the blind, died, and rose from the grave, and still His disciples doubted Him. Why do we keep looking for more? Why do we keep looking for a sign, a reason, a motivation to go to church? We do it because Jesus is alive! We preach because Jesus is alive. We have children’s church because Jesus is alive. The reason why our church plant is looking at the demographics of our city and trying to learn more about the people we are reaching is because Jesus is alive! How do we destroy a church? By seeking for things beyond the Gospel.
2. Let our emotions take over (v. 5-12)
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread.6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
A small hint of leaven permeates through the entire dough and causes bread to rise. Jesus is talking about two extreme attitudes that can permeate through a church and destroy it. Here are the two kinds of emotions, or attitudes, Jesus is referring to
These were very religious people. They were judgmental and spiritual (which is not always a good thing). In our day, these are the people who care more about making a point instead of making a friend. These are the people who judge others without ever speaking to them first and hearing them out. This is when we believe living a perfect life will actually get God to love us more. It’s a performance-based religion, not a relationship-based lifestyle.
These guys were very political. They were people pleasers and did not like conflict. They were anti-spiritual (i.e. did not believe in demons, angels, and the afterlife). In our day, these are the people who spend more time convincing someone of a political view instead of leading them to Jesus. This is when we bend to people’s reactions and opinions because we want to be liked by everyone. This is when we forget that we are in a spiritual battle and not against each other!
Jesus is saying watch out! It only takes a small hint of this attitude to permeate through an entire church. Sins like gossip, division, and rumors can also destroy a church. Letting our emotions take over can destroy a church. If we stick to the Truth, it will keep our emotions in check!
3. Forget the purpose of the church (v. 13-20)
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
The world has their opinions about Jesus but what do you believe about Jesus? Peter said, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He was correct, but what did Jesus emphasize right after that beautiful confession? Jesus said, “I will build my church. Nothing will prevail against my church. I chose my church to be the avenue by which people enter the kingdom of God” (paraphrased).
Jesus is talking about HIS CHURCH! If all of that is true about His Church then why aren’t we revolving our lives around the Church? We have the power to welcome people into the kingdom of God as the Church, but we make that the last thing on our list! If our life was a mansion, Jesus would only have a small closet! Why do we say yes to everything for our schedule and then when it comes to the church, we need to try and fit it in our schedule? Shouldn’t it be the opposite? Do we truly believe that giving our children more programs and activities will do more than what being involved in the church can do? Must we say yes to everything else and put the church at the end of the list?
If we truly believe that nothing will prevail against the church, shouldn’t we then speak about Jesus with boldness and without fear? Shouldn’t we know that if there’s an obstacle the size of the Red Sea, God can split it open in front of our eyes and make a way where there seems to be no way? Do we serve the same God of the Bible?
Knowing all that God can accomplish through us and in us, we still waste our life with hours of Netflix, time on Facebook, our own little projects and aspirations, and then say, “I don’t have time for anything else that involves church.” I get it. We are busy. We have jobs. We have kids. Yes, we do need some down time, but let’s be honest. We make time for the things we prioritize. We know more about our political candidates than we know about the people sitting next to us in church.
We destroy the church by forgetting the purpose of the Church. It’s not about us and what we want. It’s about Jesus and what He wants.
4. Stand in God’s way (v. 21-23)
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Peter had good intentions! He loved Jesus! He JUST confessed that He is the Christ! It did not make sense to Peter that His Messiah would die. He was not focused on the bigger picture, the things of God.
Sometimes we set up our ministry in such a way that it does not require faith. We are capable of doing many things without faith, but I believe when we do that, we’re standing in God’s way. God wants the credit for what the Church does. He wants us to get rid of the safety net, take the plunge, and catch us at the right moment. God wants us to step out of the way so He can roll up His sleeves and say, “Watch me work.”
Satan is an expert at standing in the way. While Peter wasn’t possessed by him, he was definitely being used by him. Don’t think that we are exceptions of that reality. Satan has and will use people in the church to stand in God’s way. When our mind is on the things of man, we will try to control everything instead of stepping aside to see what God can do.
5. Seek comfort (v. 24-28)
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
When we read verse 24, we need to seriously analyze our idea of going after Jesus. It doesn’t take much to realize that we are really selfish. At the end of this life, when we face God, what will we say? “God, I gave you my Sunday mornings (thank God it was at 11am. If it was earlier I wouldn’t go!). I gave you my 10%. I gave you some Bible reading and prayer each day!”
That’s it? Can we seriously call that denying ourselves and taking up our cross? That was all we saw God do? What are we willing to sacrifice for God? I think when we see Jesus in His glory, we’ll say, “Ohhh man! This is too amazing! This is so glorious and beautiful! If only I knew how amazing this was, I would have given EVERYTHING for my friends to be here. I would have given EVERYTHING for my neighbors to be here. I would have given my own life for it!”
When we set our minds on the things of man, all we think about is the now. Our minds are not on eternal life and the beauty and comfort we will experience in the next life. We don’t naturally sacrifice for that comfort because we want comfort NOW! Peyton Jones (a church planter) said, “After all, why would the Comforter come to the comfortable?”
I know that this is tough Truth. My heart is broken for our church and even for myself. I have seen how selfish I am when I have to decide to either hide Jesus from the world or put Him on display. I have seen moments when I was ashamed of Jesus in the workplace. How pathetic is that? Would I be willing to die for Jesus? If not, I’m probably not ready to live for Him. Are we ready to deny ourselves and take up our cross?
For those involved at Pure Word Church
I’m going to be honest with those who are involved at Pure Word Church. I can write a blog and explain for hours what we’re doing in these next 6 months of our church, but I realized that it won’t matter if we don’t first get this right. I can try to convince all of you as to how important it is for us to take a step back, plan, prepare, and raise funds, but if you’re not convinced of Matthew 16, it won’t matter.
If you don’t agree with something, that’s fine! I have and will make many mistakes. All I am asking is for you to communicate with me in love. Someone approached me last week with a concern. We spoke for three hours. By the end of that conversation, we had so much joy because we spent so much time talking about God and His Word and the exciting things He will do through us. A few others have approached me, and in every conversation, we understood each other, and we were more excited about the vision.
I personally need to know if you are on board. If you are not as excited about what God is doing and will do, then let’s figure out why.
So I’m going to finish this very long blog by turning the question around: How can we avoid destroying our church?
- Seek first the Kingdom of God
- Do not let our emotions take over
- Live out the purpose of the Church
- Make room for God to work
- Run after Jesus no matter the cost
Go through Matthew 16 and ask God to reveal to you the areas you need to work on.
We’re in this together.