God does his best work when things seem hopeless. He always has. This is true when it comes to working in the lives of individuals, and it is also true when it comes to working in the lives of dying churches. God’s heart is FOR His church, including churches that are dying. When considering this topic of God’s heart for replanting, I believe there are four biblical convictions that are critical for us to hold. Four convictions that if not held, if not believed at the very core of who you are, I would question whether you are truly on board with this work of church replanting. Let's consider conviction #1 in this blog post.
Conviction #1: God desires to see dying and declining churches come back to life for His glory.
Without a doubt, I believe that God desires to see dying and declining churches come back to life. One of the many things that I love about God and about the Scripture, is that it is so clear that in our weakness, He is strong! He’s always looking for humble servants that He can use for His purposes. That He may be glorified. We must become less so that He might become more. Here’s the thing about the Lord: Unlike our fallen world, He loves underdogs! He loves to use underdogs! Everywhere in the Scriptures, whether you’re talking David and Goliath, or Jesus’ the disciples, or the Apostle Paul, the Lord always goes after and uses the “wrong” people. He chooses players on His team that you and I would never choose. He chooses the weak, the foolish, the uncool, and He uses them in mighty ways.
This is the heart of God. This is the heart of God for individuals, and I believe this is the heart of God for churches. God loves underdog churches! He loves it when the world is saying, “That church is dead. That church is done. That church just needs to shut the doors.” That’s when God says, “You watch. I’m ready to do my best work right here, right now.” The Lord is like that, and He’s always been that way. I praise Him for it!
In 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 9-10, the Apostle Paul writes this:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This is key to every one of us as believers. First of all, that when we are weak, we are strong because of the Lord. Moreover, as church leaders, it’s in recognizing that we are weak, that we are hopeless and helpless without Christ, that we’re strong. And it’s true as churches, as congregations. When a church recognizes it is weak, that it is dying, that it is broken, it is in that place of humility that the Lord does His best work. It is in that place that God does the impossible. It is in that place that God makes a church strong again and brings back to life for His glory.
Years ago, I came across a powerful quote from Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, that I come back to often. Concerning weakness and humility in ministry, Spurgeon writes,
“A primary qualification for serving God with any amount of success, and for doing God’s work well and triumphantly, is a sense of our own weakness. When God’s warrior marches forth to battle, strong in his own might, when he boasts, “I know that I shall conquer, my own right arm and my conquering sword shall get unto me the victory,” defeat is not far distant. God will not go forth with that man who marches in his own strength. He who reckoneth on victory thus has reckoned wrongly, for “it is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” They who go forth to fight, boasting of their prowess, shall return with their banners trailed in the dust, and their armour stained with disgrace.”
What a great, yet convicting image! How often do we seek to go forth in battle by our own strength. What foolishness! What pride!
Spurgeon goes on,
“Those who serve God must serve Him in His own way, and in His strength, or He will never accept their service. That which man doth, unaided by divine strength, God can never own. The mere fruits of the earth He casteth away; He will only reap that corn, the seed of which was sown from heaven, watered by grace, and ripened by the sun of divine love. God will empty out all that thou hast before He will put His own into thee; He will first clean out thy granaries before He will fill them with the finest of the wheat."
In other words, until we recognize our emptiness, until we recognize our weakness, He can’t fill us with the Spirit and with His power. And if you’re like me, I not only want but I know I need His power. I need His power more than anything in my life and ministry.
And then listen to Spurgeon’s final words of hope and encouragement,
"The river of God is full of water; but not one drop of it flows from earthly springs. God will have no strength used in His battles but the strength which He Himself imparts.
Are you mourning over your own weakness? Take courage, for there must be a consciousness of weakness before the Lord will give thee victory. Your emptiness is but the preparation for your being filled, and your casting down is but the making ready for your lifting up.”
Such wise and truth-filled words for each of us. Let me offer two simple but important points of application, the first being personal for each of us. As pastors and church leaders, we must understand and embrace this truth: Until we empty ourselves, humbling ourselves before the Lord, He cannot do what He wants to do in us and through us for His glory. The Lord doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need anything. However, it is His delight to use us and invite us into His work of ministry and mission in the world.
A second application is for dying and declining churches. Until a congregation humbles itself, until a congregation recognizes its need, a church should not expect the Lord to pour out His Spirit and bring dead bones back to life. He is looking for a humble people. A dependent people. A people who seek to make a big deal about Him as they joyfully submit to His Word and His Will. Remember, both in our personal lives and in our churches, God loves to give strength to the needy. To those who are desperate for Him. Will we be those kinds of people? Those kinds of churches?
In John 7:37 – 39, Jesus says this:
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Jesus is pointing to the indwelling Holy Spirit and the power we need as individuals, as leaders, and as churches. I don’t know about you, but I pray that the church I serve will be filled with the Holy Spirit of God! That many would be saved by the Spirit. That marriages would be restored. That children, at a young age, would come a saving faith. This is what I desire to see in our church. And what I know is that the Spirit of God desires to see this and do this far more than I do. He always has. But it begins with we, as His people, humbling ourselves in faith, asking and believing that the Lord can do these things according to His perfect will. It begins with each of us on our knees, praying with David in Psalm 51:10–12:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
May this prayer be the cry of our hearts as individuals and as churches. The hard truth is this: Any church that cannot pray this prayer, “Oh God create in us a clean heart, renew us, revive us, humble us,” if a church is too prideful, too proud, too hard-hearted to pray that prayer, that church should not expect God to do miraculous things and bring that church back to life. So our posture must be one of humility before the Lord.
That’s conviction #1. God desires to see dying and declining churches back to life for His glory.