People are afraid to talk to anyone. Some people they thought were their best friends have left and labeled those who have stayed as “liberal,” “radical conservatives,” or “without conviction to stand for the truth.” “We thought we could trust them. There may be some like those who haven’t left. Let’s go home. I don’t trust anyone. I thought we had the best church in the world.” When the congregation has a potluck, food often runs out. People are withholding their conversations, their love, and their green beans. They come late and leave early.
What does an interim preacher say to a church like this in transition? Here’s what I say, “This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, NKJV).
I follow with several questions:
- Do you believe God loves His church? We know He does because He gave the blood of His loving and cooperative Son to buy it (Acts 20:28). His church is valuable to Him. He has a lot invested in it.
- Do you believe God loves this congregation? It isn’t too bad for Him to love. I enjoy studying 1 Corinthians with a troubled church. This congregation was divided and had arrogant, prideful people in it. A man in Corinth was living with his father’s wife, and the rest of the church liked it that way. Brethren were taking each other to court rather than using the principles Jesus taught to settle disputes. They had marriage problems. Idolatry was still a stumbling block with some members. Worship had become a time of separation rather than unity. Some were getting drunk during worship. Spiritual gifts provided the opportunity for believers to continue the apostles arguments of “who’s the greatest in the kingdom.” Corinth Church of Christ had severe doctrinal problems. There were some who denied a cardinal part of the gospel: resurrection.
When I finish this study, I ask, “Had you rather be a member of this congregation in Anytown, U.S.A. or Corinth?” I haven’t had anyone choose Corinth yet.
Notice how Paul addressed this church: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
It seems the Holy Spirit if He had anything to do with writing this, (I think He did) and Paul have a high regard for what God and His word is able to do with and for sinful people. I’ve observed many cut and run three weeks, or three months, after the explosion. They think this congregation is hopeless. Paul thought Corinth still had good people and was worth loving and teaching.
- Do you believe you can serve God in this congregation? Often people are still trying to decide if they can worship here. “I don’t know if I can worship with these elders, those members who gossip, because they let the last preacher go, or because they kept the last preacher too long.”
Many choose to go to another congregation or start another church because of sin and shortcomings they see in “the others.”
Often people ask me about starting another church. My answer: “To have scriptural encouragement for planting another congregation for a reason other than evangelism, the church you’re leaving should be meaner than Corinth and deader than Sardis.” Corinth had committed nearly every sin available. Sardis was dead because Jesus said it was dead (Revelation 3:1).
I can’t read that anywhere in the book.
Jesus through John wrote to Christians in Sardis, “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4). Neither Jesus nor John recommended the faithful few to leave Dead Sardis Church of Christ and start Lively Sardis Church of Christ. You and I can be live Christians in a dead church. How do I know? The Bible tells me so!
- Do you believe God will give us wisdom? He promises He will. James, the Lord’s brother, told us to pray for wisdom when we need it (James 1:5). The wise man of the Old Testament instructed us to work for wisdom like we work for money and search for it as if we were searching for buried treasure (Proverbs 2:1-5).
What’s the big question —Who’s in charge of the universe?
If God is God, we have hope. If our faith is in people, I understand hopelessness. We can survive and thrive during this time of transition. I like the sentiment I read: “To love the ideal church is easy. To love the real church is difficult.” I’ve never worked with or heard of a church as bad as Corinth or some of the seven congregations in Asia (Revelation 1-3). God loved them enough to send messages of rebuke, correction, and hope.
We can learn from His messages to them and grow during trying times.