Thursday, April 28, 2016

The hardened heart

In the book of Mark Jesus was confronted by a man who had a withered hand. He asked the religious leaders if it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil. No one would answer. The text goes on to say that Jesus looked at them with anger at the hardness of their hearts before He healed the man's hand.

I can't help but think that He may also look upon much of what the church does today with anger. Like the Pharisees of his time, we too often prefer our rituals and traditions over the opportunities we have to touch people for the Kingdom of God.

Such churches live in the past preferring their memories to a vision of the future. After spending 14 years in judicatory ministry and visiting in many churches I've seen many with large pictures hanging on their walls showing hundreds of people attending church events 40-50 years ago, but they could not tell you the last time anyone was baptized in their church. They point to these pictures with great pride, but they cannot point to a vision for doing ministry in the future.

In his commentary on the book of Revelation John MacArthur, Jr. wrote

A church is in danger when it is content to rest on its past laurels, when it is more concerned with liturgical forms than spiritual reality, when it focuses on curing social ills rather than changing people's hearts through preaching the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, when it is more concerned with material than spiritual things, when it is more concerned with what men think that what God said, when it is more enamored with doctrinal creeds and systems of theology than with the Word of God, or when it loses it conviction that every word of the Bible is the word of God himself. No matter what its attendance, no matter how impressive its buildings, no matter what its status in the community, such a church, having denied the only source of spiritual life, is dead.

If any of this sounds like your church, it's time to take a serious look at the heart of your church. A church in this condition will need a heart transplant or it will eventually die, and while it's waiting for the inevitable it will accomplish little of significance for the Kingdom of God. What will it take for a church to receive a change of heart.

  • The church must be confronted with the hardness of its heart. This is what Jesus tried to do in the Mark passage, but the religious leaders refused to repent and instead sought ways to destroy Him and His ministry. The same may happen to you.
  • The church must repent of its hardness of heart. Prayer will be an essential part of this repentance. God is more than willing to forgive us our sins if we will first acknowledge them and repent. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a powerful promise to the church, and as we repent of our sins we need to stand on this promise.
  • The church must begin to see people through the eyes of God. Until they matter as much to us as they do to Him, our repentance will not be complete.
  • The church must seek a fresh vision from God as it prepares to move into the future. Your church started due to a vision, and if it is to continue to have an effective ministry it will need a God-given vision that is fresh for today and the future.
For more helpful thoughts on this subject I refer you to my book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

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