The elephant in the modern North American Assemblies’ living room, is that the assemblies are dying out. Fellowship after fellowship have closed their doors during the last decade. To say nothing of the assemblies that are on life support, populated only with saints who are 60 or older.
There are no young people, no young families. If something doesn’t change in those assemblies, they will literally die out within the next 10-20 years.
If you were to survey those still in these assemblies, they would cite the slippery slope of music plus not making Christ the priority (i.e., not valuing the Lord’s Supper) as the reasons people leave assemblies.
Why the exodus?
But, if you were to ask those who have left, why they left the assemblies, you’d hear that it is lack of leadership, lack of good teaching, and lack of community.
We can pat ourselves on the back, reminding each other that we are the believing, faithful remnant. It’s the last days, cold hearts, apostates and all that…
Or we can examine our hearts and practices, honestly evaluating what we are doing wrong. Because if it truly was working right, people would be flocking to our gatherings. The early church thrived. The numbers mentioned in Acts are thousands, not tens.
What if we could be faithful and thriving?
There is a handful of assemblies that are vibrant and growing, with all the generations represented in their numbers. They are faithful to Scripture, and it is obvious that they are “doing something right”.
What is their secret? What are they doing that the majority of assemblies aren’t?
They are loving. Verb, not adjective.
That’s the difference.
1 Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a ESV)
Fueled by love
This passage clearly highlights that it is not enough to have the right doctrine, traditions or practices. These things must be fueled by love.
I am not proposing that all we need is love (that would put the church on the same plain as a social club). But, church practice without love is ritual. Rebuke without love is an attack. Acts of service without love is machinery. Teaching without love is a harangue. Worship without love is hypocrisy.
The assemblies that are thriving are characterized by love. They love the Lord. They love people. They love the Lord by loving people.
- Thriving assemblies have shepherd/elders that love their sheep. They know their sheep-gifts, personalities, spiritual state, and day to day lives and concerns. They pray for the sheep and correct them as necessary. They make sure the sheep are being fed through good teaching. They protect the sheep from false doctrine, and from men and women who are seeking to harm the flock. The elders are approachable and lead the sheep without harassing them. They involve every sheep, utilizing gifts, for the benefit of the entire flock.
- Thriving assemblies value their children. They show by action that the children are a blessing and not a bother. They realize children are the next generation of the assemblies. They focus on teaching doctrine and New Testament assembly principles-the why’s and the wherefore’s-from Scripture. They make Sunday School a priority, teaching the stories of the Bible, and their truths. They maintain a safe environment for children, and make children welcome.
- Thriving assemblies love each other. They enjoy spending time together, outside of Sunday mornings. They are involved in each other’s day to day lives. They are each other’s friends, community and support network. They are quick to both admit wrong and to forgive. They bear with different personalities and crack down on gossip. They are determined to make relationships work.
- Thriving assemblies put others’ preferences before their own. They emphasize Scripture not tradition. They are flexible with music choices, meeting times, formats and other such things, when flexibility is not Scriptural compromise, but simply preference.
- Thriving assemblies love unbelievers. They are engaged in deliberate outreach. They realize that morality is not the first concern when dealing with unbelievers, but rather, showing the love of Christ as demonstrated at Calvary. The gospel is the focus. Thriving assemblies love all people, all ages, all races, all social strata, all conditions.
I’ve seen first hand how this works.
Last summer my 5 year old daughter was diagnosed with eye cancer. Our assembly surrounded us with love. They spontaneously arranged a prayer service for her, laying hands on her and anointing her with oil. They gave meals, flowers, and monetary gifts. They cried with us and laughed with us. They loved our family well.
Our assembly has over 60 children ages 16 and below. They enjoy playing 4-square, and they would chalk in the court. Last summer our elders had the parking lot sealed, the lines repainted, and painted a 4-square court in the parking lot. The children at our assembly feel loved.
Our elders recently assembled a hymnbook with new(er) hymns. They are committed to learning and singing these hymns, in addition to the old hymns. Our assembly is loving by appreciating other’s preferences.
Is your assembly thriving or dying? It’s not about perfection, but love. Is your assembly characterized by love or by something else?
They will know we are Christians by our love.