According to Jesus, the church is not only significant; it is vitally important. In fact, as you see Him establish the church, you come to realize that it is the most significant institution on the planet. This gathering of born-again, transformed people reaching out to tell the Good News of Jesus was started by Him and will be rescued one day by Him. In Matthew 16 Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The church building is not just to meet in, but for taking transformed new lives and putting them together with other transformed lives and creating a fellowship that literally is a force to move against everything that Satan would move toward. According to that verse, Satan is on the defensive.
Gates and walls are put in place as defensive measures, and the church is to be on the march. At times it seems as though it gets turned around and the church is on the defensive and the world seems to be marching against everything that used to be sacred, good, and right in our lives and society. Still, Jesus’ words are true and He established the church, and it will be in place until He comes again to catch it away. Jesus is the founder of the church, the financier of the church, the foundation of the church, and the force that literally keeps it intact.
Do you remember in school when you had to study in some biology-related course what is going on in the life cycle of some bug or insect from the time they are hatched and born, live and die? Let me suggest to you that you can see a life cycle taking place in many churches. In truth, you can mark it down that a church will be alive and well when Jesus comes again. Even though a specific individual church may be going through a downward spiral, that’s not all the churches of Jesus. There are other churches that are alive and well, dynamic and moving forward. Since most of us are connected to an individual church, what is taking place in our home body part of Christ in our local church? Let me just suggest for you to think about four stages in the life cycle of a church.
Stage One is the miracle stage. That’s where people are coming to know Jesus. New birth is taking place. More births are taking place, and the wonder and the marvel and the miracle of God bringing a people together to serve Him. It could happen in a church plant. It could happen in a church start. It could happen as a group of people come to recognize their community needs a church and they begin to reach out. Souls are saved. The miracle, a new life, new life from Jesus, new life that is heavenly life, begins to be exhibited and people come to know Christ one after another after another. The numbers increase. The work is strong, and this new church has begun.
What a marvelous time those days are in the life of a church — wondering, praying, hoping, trusting that God will give His strength so that the church would survive, the basic needs of the church will be met, and the miracle will continue to expand. It is a glorious thing to be part of a church during the miracle stage. Thousands of testimonies can be given about what God does in that period when so many people are coming to the Lord, and the church is beginning to come together as the people of God.
Stage Two is what I call the mission stage. It’s during this time that the church begins to recognize the church does not exist for the church. The church exists for those outside the church. It is not unusual to see a church begin to struggle, as so many in the church may feel like, “It’s my church. These are my programs. This is the way I want it to be.” They totally ignore the reality that the reason God has put us here and left us here is for the folks who need to hear the Good News of Jesus just as we once heard it.
The mission phase of the church is when the people begin to see clearly that God has put them there on mission. Evangelism is vitally important, as people are reached. Raising people, helping them to grow in the Lord, and providing materials, challenge, and inspiration to be mature Christians, growing Christians, Christians who recognize the depth of what Christ wants to do in them and the expansion of what He wants to do in them in touching others for His Kingdom’s sake.
The mission phase can be lost. It can become a part of the diminishing of a church as people may reject what had started in their own hearts as they came to new life in Christ but did not share that life with others.
If Phase One and Phase Two diminish, the miracles of new life and new births, if the miracle of missions is lost, Phase Three can become a sad reality. In this stage of the life cycle, the mission has been forgotten, and the miracle can no longer exist.
Phase Three is the museum phase. It’s during this time that the church literally exists to think about and look back over their shoulder about what they used to be. Not what they’re going to be this coming Sunday. Not what they’re going to be in the days ahead with new ideas and new expansion and new programs of reaching people for Christ, but remembering what may be shared as the good ole days. The days when mission and miracles were apparent but have long since been lost. The church becomes a museum.
I have been to towns where churches have closed, been taken over by a group, and literally became buildings that are now museums for the presentation of artifacts and experiences of years gone by totally, unrelated to church. Before that happens, sometimes churches enter into the museum phase. You can see what used to be. We can talk about those days but sadly, tragically, the church was never intended to be a museum simply remembering days gone by.
Phase Four is the mausoleum phase. A mausoleum is a large burial chamber, usually above ground, into which people’s caskets are placed. Rather than burying in the ground or some other form of burial, it is above ground in small chambers. Sad that a church would come to that time and place that they had lost everything of the vision of Christ that had started them and permeated them. Sad that there is no more dynamic of the presence of God and His Spirit moving in hearts. Sad that there are no more people being won to Christ, called by God to be on mission for Him, celebrating His wonderful presence among them. Now, they are simply relegated to a museum that has turned into a mausoleum and death has come.
It did not come because Jesus is dead. It did not come because Christ has withdrawn His Spirit from us. No, it takes place when we withdraw from Him, when we lose sight of what He wants us to do and where he wants us to be. When we become so removed, isolated, caught up in our own little world that we have no existence other than with our own dying thoughts. This does not need to be. The church does not need to become a museum or a mausoleum. No, it is the living presence of Christ moving in a community and transforming lives because Jesus is there. You and I, if we are in our right spiritual minds, come to the feet of Jesus and say, “Dear Jesus, live among us until the day you come to take us.”
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.