Hebrews 12:1-4 (ESV)
Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Do Not Grow Weary
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Where are we at?
The last few articles, we have talked about assessing the foundational issues the church is facing, looking at the resources we have and matching them up with the 3 P’s – The Purpose of the church, the Passions that God has gifted us with, and the People he has uniquely equipped us to reach.
We’ve also looked at going forward in a way that honors the past efforts of those who have worked to give this church the resources it currently has, while looking to what roles this church will play in building the Kingdom going forward.
Is the church dying?
I made the statement last week that the church is a lot like a living organism, you are either growing or dying.
What is it going to be?
The Bible tells us in Hebrews 12:1 that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. BF Wescott in his commentary points that the greek word here “nephos” is used to signify a crowd of people, surrounding us like the people filling the stands at an amphitheater.
Who are these people? The Expositors Greek New Testament explains it this way:
“persons who by their actions have testified to the worth of faith. The cloud of witnesses are those named and suggested in chap. 11; persons whose lives witnessed to the work and triumph of faith, and whose faith was witnessed to by Scripture”
These are Christians that have went before. Great pillars of faith. If you read the previous couple chapters in Hebrews, some call it the “Faith Hall of Fame”.
This church has a unique history. It was one that was planted because those who moved here felt that they could no longer abide by the evils of slavery that was happening near their homes, so they picked up everything, moved from North Carolina to Indiana, Then they helped do everything they could do here in Indiana to end slavery and free people, risking their own families, jobs and property.
If one of the families that started this church in the midst of the societal unrest that was going on 190 years ago was standing here today, what encouragement would they have for you?
Would they be telling you not to lose hope? Not to give up?
This week, I started my homework. I wouldn’t assign all of you to read a book and not do one myself… I am reading Reclaiming Glory: Creating a Gospel Legacy Across North America by Mark Clifton. He is a church “re-planter” that works to replant dying churches and trains church re-planters.
I ran across the following quote that should make us all stop and think:
What is there about a dying church that brings glory to God? Nothing. – Mark Clifton
This should drive us. Not leave us hopeless.
One of the things Mark speaks to in his book is that replanting a dying church is calling them to repent and remember. Repent of becoming distracted from the call that God has placed in this church to reach this community, and remember the what caused the church to be planted there in the first place – the overall goal to bring glory to God.
Mark also makes a very important statement that we need to consider … The right question is never, “How can we save this church?” The right question is, “How can God get the most glory from our congregation right now?”
What weights are holding us back as a church?
This passage at the beginning of Hebrews 12 paints a very familiar word picture to the Roman/Hebrew culture at that time as well as for us today. They are talking about the Greek Olympics. Then, as well as now, you wanted to do things that would reduce the amount of weight you were carrying if you were running a race. Then it was simply less clothing. Today there are millions that go into research for lighter shoes, lighter and more aerodynamic outfits, etc. Adam Clarke explains the spiritual connection that the writer of Hebrews is making very well in his commentary.
Let us lay aside every weight - As those who ran in the Olympic races would throw aside every thing that might impede them in their course; so Christians, professing to go to heaven, must throw aside every thing that might hinder them in their Christian race. Whatever weighs down our hearts or affections to earth and sense is to be carefully avoided; for no man, with the love of the world in his heart, can ever reach the kingdom of heaven.
What is holding us back? It is the idol of past? Is it the fear of the change in the future?
What are our options?
We cannot go forward in a spirit of fear. If we do, we are not following Christ.
Verse 2 reminds us that we are to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is going to give us all we need for this process, we just have to trust Him as we go forward to give us what we need. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that the spirit of fear is NOT something we will get from Jesus… quite the opposite It states this in the New Living Translation: For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
Remember the word dunamis that we get our word Dynamite from? Here it is again. God’s explosive, overwhelming power. He is giving to us to do His will. What does that look like? Here are a few options.
Rebuilding & Restarting
What if the house really needs gutted? No one wants to hear that. But that doesn’t keep it from being true. During the transition we may find some very difficult and scary options on the table. Options that might include merging/partnering with another congregation, closing the doors, or even “replanting”.
Writer and Pastor Mark Clifton defines replanting this way:
Church replanting is working with churches so that they don’t die or rescuing their resources if they do. – Mark Clifton
If you choose the replanting route, what does that look like? How do you put down a stake that says “here is where we start over”, while giving due respect to the people and history that has brought your congregation to the present day?
Is there a group that is planning to plant a church that needs space to meet?
A friend of mine was called to Rochester, New York several years back and worked at a small dying church. The building sat almost empty week after week. There was a Bhutanese Refugee house church plant meeting across the street that filled the house beyond what we would consider safe. Through a chain of events, they were able to share the space with two church plants over the course of a couple years before closing the church and handing it over to the Bhutanese house church that was growing so fast they filled the once empty church. When we were there in 2014, they were considering adding a second service to be able to reach more people because they were running out of space.
“We’ve got more church plants that need space than we can imagine, and we have churches closing every week. We need to get them together.” – Mark Clifton
We cannot simply look at numbers as a sign of health. There are many factors we need to take in consideration. Is the church making an impact in the community outside of an hour on Sunday morning? Have they lost their love and involvement in the community?
Charles. H. Spurgeon said it well, “Just because a church is large doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It could be swollen.”
It all comes back to the question that Jesus asked the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida in John 5:6-
“Do you want to be healed?
As a church do you want to be well? Do you want the see the vibrant work of the Gospel? Do you want to see above all else, God’s glory proclaimed from this church?
I’ll warn you as I have in previous articles, It’s not going to look like it did in years past. Just as our methods of communication, transportation and even cooking have changed, the methods we use to communicate the message of hope and redemption that Jesus brings must be updated. Methods update, the message of the Gospel should not.
So What does replanting look like?
Replanting a church is not for the faint of heart. It is a restart in many ways. It is repurposing a lot of the resources in place to restart ministry operations. It’s not a quick process. It can take years. It is not easy.
In my background, I can give this example. In a lot of ways it’s like “factory resetting” a computer or a phone. It doesn’t make the device any newer. However, it makes the device perform as it did when it was new. There is usually a good deal of work involved.
Why is this a good thing in some situations?
Studies reveal that the average new church gains 60-80% of its members from unchurched people. Churches that have existed 10-15 years or more gain 80-90% from people who transfer from one congregation to another. 
The Friends churches are not unique in churches declining and dying within the congregation. I read this example a couple weeks ago that used the Southern Baptists, a group of over 40,000 churches.
Former convention president Frank Page predicted in 2011 that if the trends at that time continue, half the SBC churches will close their doors by 2030.
Current stats say this about if the trend has continued:
The SBC alone hemorrhages close to 900 churches every year. If God has determined to show his glory through the church, what does it say to the surrounding neighborhood about our God when churches close? When they dwindle, lose focus, disengage, stop evangelizing, and peter out. What kind of witness is that? A sign out in front of the building might say “God cares!” but if the church has stopped preaching the gospel, the church may actually only be caring for the building, and the empty congregation within does little to witness to the majesty of God. God may indeed care, but this church has drifted off mission and the surrounding neighborhood has noticed.
That’s over 2 percent of their churches per year.
So replanting Is in a nut shell is a congregation looking at Hebrews 12:3-4 and saying ”we are not giving up!”
Not for our own purposes and clinging to control, but for God’s glory to result. It’s about Him, not us.
Like I said before, it’s not going to be easy going forward, and it will make us weary at times, the encouragement here is to persevere and keep pushing forward following Christ.
We look at the sacrifice Christ and Those before us have made and It may be time to do something different and start over or “reset” so to speak.
“Doing Church year after year with the same leadership patterns and the same 20% of the people doing 80% of the work can make one weary.
Going forward, we are going to have to take a fresh look at what Christ is calling us to do as a congregation.
A former pastor of mine was a college professor from Texas. He had two things to say about church leadership:
- Aim at nothing, hit it every time..
- Do what you’ve always done, get the results you’ve always gotten.
The writer of Hebrews was addressing a situation that we may relate to..
In the earlier chapters of Hebrews, the writer is seeing some in the early church in Jerusalem have become weary. John Piper points out some parallels from this early church to current churches.
He has heard that some are no longer “taking care.” They have begun to have a kind of lazy sense of security. A false notion that nothing really huge is at stake in their small group meetings or whether they meditate on the Bible or take time alone to pray or fight sin. They assume all will be well. Hebrews is written to teach them otherwise.
In Hebrews 5:12, the writer says,
Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
They made a profession of faith and went into a passive, coasting mode. This is utterly wrong. God means every saint to be moving forward to new gains of strength and wisdom and holiness and courage and joy — from getters to givers, from being taught to teaching.
- John Piper
The question this raises, is that while we coast along in a “Comfortable” Christianity, Is not how did we get here, but why?
Why did we get comfortable? When did we stop being opposed by our surrounding culture? That can cause churches to become complacent. If you are not familiar with the history of this area and this church, I encourage you to look back to our roots and what the early members of this church encountered, simply for living and doing what they felt God was leading them to do and treat others with love and kindness..
Verse 4 of Hebrews 12 speaks to early Christians and what they had gone through. Adam Clarke’s commentary brings perspective that even the early church could look to those that had gone before them.
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood - Many of those already mentioned were martyrs for the truth; they persevered unto death, and lost their lives in bearing testimony to the truth. Though you have had opposition and persecution, yet you have not been called, in bearing your testimony against sin and sinners, to seal the truth with your blood. – Adam Clarke Commentary
As we go forward, I encourage you to become uncomfortable.
We must pray earnestly and make sure our steps going forward align with God’s will, not ours. There is too much at stake.
What is the witness to Christ in a closed up church in the middle of town? How does that proclaim God’s glory?
We are blessed. We have been given much and we have much freedom. Let us use that to project the Glory of God to a lost and dying world.
- Have we become weary? Have we given up?
- What weights can we drop that are holding us back in the building of the Kingdom in Parke county?
- Is what we are doing bringing glory to God and being a witness to Him in the community? If not, what needs to change?