Sardis: The Dead Church
This message was written and delivered by Sue Sweeney.
I attended a Christian university up in Oklahoma for college. There was an attractive scholarship opportunity at the school for some friends I had in the Ministry and Theology program if they could get an internship in one of the local churches in our denomination in the city. Students were “placed” into churches by the professors in the program.
Some churches and ministry intern positions were more prestigious than others because some churches had more of a name- or better reputation than others. They were in nice buildings in more affluent parts of the city. They had lots of fun programs already going. There were constantly big events and Christian concerts which would draw people from all over the city. An intern in one of THESE churches wouldn’t have to do much to earn their big internship scholarship. They could just plug in somewhere and then coast through the next few years, riding the coattails of that church’s “success.”
Some churches offering internships appeared to possess no real status at all, much less a good reputation in the city. These churches were often small and didn’t have much going on. Or if they did have things going on, they weren’t very glamorous- they were providing free childcare to mothers with low incomes or working to provide affordable housing. An internship at one of THESE churches promised difficult work in some of the less desirable parts of town. It was difficult work, but it was important work run by people who were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Churches in every city or town have reputations or a name.
Some are known as the “big” church so there are lots of activities and things to do for individuals and families. Some churches are known for their “small” church feel- it’s insular and “safe.”
What does it mean for a church to have a good reputation? What makes a church successful? What do we measure? Is it membership? Is it the number of rear ends in the seats on a Sunday morning? How much money do the people bring in?
We can all think of a “successful” church that had a great reputation. That had a lot of good things going for it, even those who weren’t into church thought it seemed like an important organization in the community- until it was rocked with scandal. In the news, we hear about The Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention and their struggles with allegations and evidence of abuse.
We know a church can look much better on the outside than it does on the inside. It’s people can put up a good-looking front, but their behaviors and actions tell a different story. It’s interesting to see how many churches today conflate the culture of God’s kingdom that Jesus calls us to with the culture of our larger society. For example, It’s easy for churches to get caught up in the culture of consumerism. We think of the church as a business or corporation and the people who attend church are the customers. We want to make the customers happy, so we try not to do anything to make them uncomfortable so they’ll keep coming back and opening their wallets.
The news Jesus brought us is good, but it’s not meant to make us comfortable.
Do we want to be well thought of or do we want to be faithful to Jesus? If we’re really living the way God has asked us to, then we can expect to be pretty uncomfortable at times. This is how the Spirit transforms us. And it’s a good thing, I promise.