What Does Dying Look Like?
No. I’m not. At least no more than anyone else, a little closer to the grave each day. But, as far as I am concerned, that is my prognosis.
1 Corinthians 15:22 – For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
But the past couple of days have given me pause to reflect on death and dying. Not just in human terms, but also in the church.
My first story starts as I was waiting for a simple medical procedure to be done. I was in the waiting room, a well-lit place with gray and cream walls and these stupid molding squares every foot or so. I was in the waiting room thinking to myself as I was about to get a biopsy done on my esophagus, what if someone comes back with a terminal illness diagnosis? The place that would be seared into my mind would be an ugly waiting room with gray and cream walls and squares on the walls.
They called me back and took me into the next waiting room, a small procedural area with hospital beds surrounded by curtains and people in those curtains recovering from their procedures. I could hear almost every word that was said between the doctor and the patients.
The majority of the people going in there were getting colonoscopies. One person was in there for her very first one. She was nervous, especially about the farting afterward. But the other 3 beds were taken up by people who have had multiple ones this year. One bed had a girl who couldn’t be much older than a junior in high school. She was on her second colonoscopy this year. Another bed had an 80+ year-old woman in it and she has had 2 this year. The man who came in and sat next to me in the chairs until a bed was open was on his third for the year!
The man next to me and I struck up a conversation. It started with small talk and platitudes. He asked me what I was in for, I did the same. He asked me my age, I did the same.
But then it took a little deeper turn.
He said to me that he never believed he would have to be getting multiple colonoscopies in a year. He said on his first one they found multiple polyps. After testing them, they were cancerous. They realized that they missed one that couldn’t be removed with the equipment there and he had to have it done at the hospital so they sent him in again. During that one it had spread a little more and they removed several others. This third time he was in to see if any more had grown.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 – And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
He stared me in the face and told me that he never expected to be staring a potential life-threatening disease in the face.
Now he was upbeat about it. He said he has no regrets for how he lived his life and he was proud of the people his children and grand-children had become. But you could tell there was a tone in his voice that said he just didn’t want this life to end.
One could easily say that this man is being overdramatic. The doctors didn’t know if he had any further issues, so why would he be getting all bent out of shape?
It is because death is final.
At least here it is.
As a Christian I know that this life is simply a small vapor in the wind and then I move on to the next life. But all of the people we have come to know and love in this lifetime, we worry about how they will react to our absence.
Ever since birth, this life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. Some come for a few moments, but others come for a lifetime. It is those lifetime people that we worry about.
I went through with my procedure and he went through with his. After that moment in chairs together we never spoke. I wish I would have gotten his phone number or email or something. I would really like to be able to check in with him from time to time. But I didn’t. #Fredfail
I will always remember this man. He was stoic but scared. Peaceful but a little anxious.
John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live
There are many stories like the man I spoke to while at the surgical center. Too many to count.
A lot of them are happening in our churches as well.
That leads me to story number 2.
Over the past year I have interviewed at a couple different churches with hopes of becoming a pastor. In every single instance I made it to the final round only to get beat out by someone else.
But each time that I interviewed at a church I would sign up for their email list. I like to keep in the know about other churches, I believe it makes me a better minister as I am not the smartest person on church leadership (I could have put the period after “person”, but I decided to qualify it a little more)
Many of the churches that I interviewed at were smaller with older congregations. That isn’t a problem as long as you constantly are replacing those who are dying out of your congregation.
In the past 3 weeks I have received 6 funeral notices for one of the churches I signed up for! That doesn’t even count the other couple of churches I get emails from.
The church is not an easy organization to manage. You have several demographics to hit upon and you are expected to hit them all equally as well. You are expected to be the 7-11 of biblical knowledge. Most churches don’t do that well. They are skewed to one demographic over another. They are either an old church or a young church. A white church or a black church. An English church or a Korean church.
The churches are focusing on being niche-based rather than all-encompassing.
And this leads to some churches dying while others find the right niche for the moment.
Unfortunately, the right niche is usually fad-based. Right now, the right niche is to have a great sounding worship band followed by a charismatic message and do it all in about an hour. But that is changing. We are starting to see the death of the charismatic, evangelical church now as this fad fades.
You also have a lot of other types of venues popping up like the tattoo parlor church, the movie theatre church, the cowboy church, and child-focused church.
The one thing I have noticed time and time again is that those churches need to constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant.
Now I am probably going to get a lot of unhappy comments when I say this, but does the church need to be relevant with the fads of the day, or do we need to learn to be relevant in how to be approachable to the unbelieving public?
Revelation 3:1 – To the angel of the church in Sardis write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead
Let me explain.
Relevance can be seen as adding a high-powered worship band and skinny jeans and fauxhawks on the ministry team. Those will bring in people who are searching to be entertained and don’t have to worry about making personal changes to their lives so long as they get their weekly dose of entertainment.
Relevance can look like the body of believers going to church and enjoying each other’s company before a pastor gets up in front and teaches from the Bible on how to interact with the world outside of the 4 walls of the church.
That was kind of painful for me to say. I enjoy my latte-infused, Bethel Music Group energized, skinny-jean with a fauxhawk preaching churches. Unfortunately, many times they are simply places to hide ourselves away as Christians even though we say we are being a light set on a hill, all too often, because we don’t teach people how to interact with unbelievers, when the unbelievers come to our churches they simply get burned by those who proclaim to be the light.
And that is why the church is dying. Well, that’s my take at least.
If we spent a lot more time teaching people how to interact with the unbeliever rather than being safe houses for the marginal Christians, we would find that we may have smaller congregations, but they would be a lot more fruit-bearing.
So whether you are alone in a gray and cream room with ugly squares on the walls or in the most beautiful high-tech church in America, there is something in common.
Psalm 115:17 – The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.
And many times that death is slow and painful. And even if you do survive, whether it is a life-threatening disease or a church focused on doing church in the church, you will never be the same afterward. The light goes away. It is the equivalence of losing the lamp stand in Revelation.
I’ll end with this example that I got from Louie Giglio. The last 2 letters of the word “SIN” are “IN.” Churches who are “in sin” are “in church.” The first 2 letters of the word “GOSPEL” is “GO.” Churches that are being relevant at the individual level and going to places outside of the church are gospel churches.
And that is the church that Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against.