Why I Refuse to Give Up on the Local Church

by | Jan 17, 2012 | Blogs, Fire in My Bones

This is not a time for gloom and
doom. The church can shine its brightest in a dark hour.

When my friend Ferrell Hardison
moved to the town of Princeton, N.C., in 1990, he began pastoring a Pentecostal
church with 70 people. Founded in 1918, it was a tired, aging congregation with
a tiny budget. Ferrell was the 25th pastor to lead the church, and some of his predecessors had stayed
only a year or two. Not exactly a young pastor’s dream job!

Today,
the church has a new name—The Bridge—and it has grown to 1,250 in weekly
attendance. Last fall the vibrant congregation broke ground on a new worship
center, and they’ve planted a satellite congregation in the town of Goldsboro,
N.C., that already has 300 members. A large percentage of the church’s $2.6
million annual budget is marked for outreach, and Ferrell estimates that at
least 3,000 people have come to Christ through their ministry in recent years.

“Because of this
pervasive negativity, many Christians have settled into a gloomy cynicism. They
think America is ripe for judgment (Haven’t we been for decades?) and that we
might as well shut the blinds, curl up on the couch and wait for the
rapture.”

“In a down
economy, our giving has been up,” Hardison told me. “We have discovered that
people give when they understand how their giving changes lives for eternity.”

Ferrell is a
simple guy who believes in prayer. He’s not a celebrity CEO pastor who runs his
church like a business, nor is he a self-appointed “apostolic” tyrant who barks
orders to his staff and treats people like dirt. He believes in core biblical
values like servanthood, humility, team ministry and compassion. And people are
flocking to The Bridge because they find Jesus-focused worship, Bible-centered
preaching and, most of all, New Testament-style love.

I’m pretty sure
this is how church was meant to be.

I’m sharing
this success story because I hear a lot of complaining these days. I know
people who have stopped going to church altogether, for myriad reasons:
(1) They were hurt by a pastor or snubbed by church members; (2) They think all
Christians are hypocrites (I don’t know one Christian, myself included, who
does not have at least a streak of hypocrisy); or (3) No church within an hour
of driving distance meets their standards or suits their tastes.

Because of this
pervasive negativity, many Christians have settled into a gloomy cynicism. They
think America is ripe for judgment (Haven’t we been for decades?) and that we
might as well shut the blinds, curl up on the couch and wait for the rapture.

That is really
sad, because this dark hour is our best opportunity to shine.

I refuse to
give up on the church. Every month I meet new pastors like Ferrell Hardison,
and I see encouraging signs of spiritual life. Many pastors are trading in old
wineskins and praying for new wine. Congregations are working with local city
officials to help the poor. Young people are finding Jesus and passionately
fighting social injustice.

Even though we
are in a desperate hour economically, politically and morally, some leaders
have decided it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. They
know lost people are more open to the gospel when times are tough.

When we stepped
into 2012, I felt the Lord told me that this is the year for local churches to
thrive. He gave me Revelation 3:2a, which was a message
to the ancient church at Sardis: “Wake up, and strengthen the things that
remain, which were about to die” (NASB).

I also felt He
told me this was the year for smaller churches to grow. It will require us to
prayerfully change how we’ve been doing in ministry. But there are many small
congregations that are wired by God to be like Gideon’s army. If we trust Him,
He will use little churches to do big things.

I know churches
can get off track. They can become mired in religious tradition or
denominational programs; they can become ineffective because of sin in
leadership; they can lose their edge because of a loss of intimacy with Christ;
or they can be derailed by charismatic excess. But in each case, Jesus offers
the chance of revitalization.

Please don’t
give up on the church. This really can be our finest hour.

More than 100 years ago, British preacher Charles Spurgeon reminded his generation
that God does not have a Plan B for reaching the world. “Some Christians try to
go to heaven alone, in solitude,” he wrote. “But believers are not compared to
bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ
are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks,
and so do God’s people.”

I encourage you
to find your flock, pray for your shepherd, love God’s people and use all your
spiritual gifts to bring the lost into a community of faith where they can find
shelter from the coming storm.

J. LEE GRADY is the former
editor of
Charisma and the director
of
The
Mordecai Project
. He is ministering in
Uganda this week. You can follow him on Twitter at
leegrady.

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