I was talking to the pastor of a church – a large one, in a major city. He’s a good preacher, and the ministries of his church have been built on may years of faithful bible teaching.
“Every Saturday, I wonder,” he said. “Will they come back?”
That’s every pastor’s dark thought, of course. When we open the doors this Sunday, will they come back? Why should they, when there are the options of visiting family, going for a bike ride, hitting the shops – or even just having a lazy day with the papers and some coffee?
And then there’s the other, better, brighter church down the road…
It all feels so very fragile – and it was good to hear that the pastor of a large church has the same worries that the rest of us.
Now, there’s a deep spiritual reality to this. If you read 2 Timothy, you’ll see that Paul and his protegé faced defections from even trusted leaders, and gullible church members were being lured into the glitzy false church down the road. So Paul bucked Timothy up – what do you do when you have the Sunday when you open the doors and no-one turns up? Do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5).
But there’s also something we need to refuse to embrace in this idea of fragility, because the deep foundations have been laid, the gospel is secure, and God’s work will stand. Our work may be fragile, but salvation is secure:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved – even though only as one escaping through the flames.(1 Cor 3:10-15)
The foundation of the gospel is secure, the foundation of the church is secure, the foundation of our ministry is secure. All of that is unchangeable.
Our ministries may be of gold, silver – or wood, straw or hay. For that we shall be accountable. But the quality of the building materials is not determined by the number of people who come, the dazzling nature of the band, or the warmth of the welcome. Timothy’s rivals down the street had all those, and more.
No – proper, strong building is done by the content of the teaching, laid on a secure confidence in the foundation of the gospel of God.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Tim 4:1-5)
If no-one turns up this Sunday, don’t lock the doors and go home.
Do the work of an evangelist. Start again.
To learn more about 2 Timothy:
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