One dark stormy night, I dreamed God placed me in a church preparing for their Sunday worship service. God had me walk up and down the aisle among hundreds of people. They all looked – gulp – they all looked dead! There were all kinds of people: children with crayons in their hands, teenagers sitting among friends, mothers cradling babies and choir members holding music. They seemed normal enough – for dead folks. God asked me: “Preacher, can these dead people live?”
I said: “Lord, you are the only one who knows.” (From Ezekiel 37)
You may recognize my creative translation from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel: a passage better known as the Valley of the Dry Bones. The question asked by Ezekiel: “Can these dead people live?” Or, for me, can today’s church still make a difference in the world of 2011?
I see several important trends shaping our church and society.
- Our nation is still in crisis: ethically, morally and financially. Wall Street may be recovering but Main Street is still suffering. How can the church play a significant role?
- The continuing war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the War on Terrorism changed our nation forever. How can Christians respond in a way that will foster peace?
- Interest in spirituality remains high. Web sites and book sales on spirituality are still popular. We seem to be interested in renewing our relationship with God.
- Yet, individual Church and denominational influence is at an all-time low: declining attendance combined with higher costs makes it difficult for religious institutions to even pay their bills. There is little left for ministry.
The first two trends are somewhat obvious but three and four seem to contradict: Interest in spiritual growth is increasing yet the traditional source of our spiritual growth, namely our churches are experiencing steady decline? Why is that? Surveys and opinion polls suggest many typical Americans are saying: “I believe in God but don’t need to be involved with a church.”
There are many reasons why those who seek deepened spirituality are not necessarily utilizing the resources offered by the church? Frequent comments include:
- “Worship services are boring and irrelevant.”
- “Churches are always asking for money.”
- “I want to be in ministry and they put me on a committee.”
- “Churches don’t seem to do much in our community.”
- “Church people are quick to judge and exclude.”
- “Church people are a bunch of well-dressed hypocrites.”
- “Churches are quick to tell what is right and wrong without listening.”
Are these statements true?
No – well – sometimes. But if others believe these statements then we as the church have a problem. We need to do a better job of communicating the passion and the daily excitement of serving God.
Then God said to me, “Preach to these dead people and say to them, ‘Dead people, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Lord says to you. I will breathe into your dead bodies and you will come to life. You will begin to smile at one another and offer a hug. You will welcome the strangers, visit the sick and volunteer to help those who are helpless. I will put breath into you and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” (Larry’s Translation of Ezekiel 37)
Can God still breathe life into the church? Of course, but are we ready to receive God’s answers?
Ezekiel continues: “So I preached to the dead people as God commanded. First one person began to smile and then another moved his head to look at me. One woman began to fold her hands together as if in prayer but there was still no twinkle of light in any of their eyes or color in their cheeks.”
Next: A few ideas that could help any church receive God’s new life. Meanwhile join me as we pray for our nation, our world and our churches for 2011. Together may we seek God’s will.