Your church will die, and other encouraging thoughts

Ecclesiastes is a hard book go through. It talks much about death. It does so because death is a reality that is hard to live with, but a reality, if embraced, that will make you wiser. A sampling:

“For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool. So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving under the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:16-17

“For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. they all have the same breath and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 3:19

“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and change happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them” Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

Now Solomon brings out these dark sayings so that you would live life without delusion. The fact is, you will live differently if you keep death before your eyes. Death informs all important questions of life, questions of meaning and purpose, goals, and legacy. Knowing that you are finite has a way of sobering you up and sharpening your focus.

Now what Ecclesiastes is meant to do for your life, Aubrey Malphurs did for my view of the church. In his book, “The nuts and bolts of church planting” he lays out a simple graph that maps out the rise and fall of every church. The graph is a simple bell curve with 5 points on the graph. Birth-growth-plateau-decline-death. That basic cycle is not what is not shocking, what is startling is the fact that that graph applies to every church. Every church. All churches that do not last until the second coming of Jesus will die. To say a church is healthy doesn’t mean that it will never die, any more than saying a person that is healthy won’t: the healthy will just generally live longer than the unhealthy.

Now this has serious ramifications for the way that we do church. To know that our churches will one day die will give us a healthy intensity and desire for fruitfulness in ministry. Not only that (and this is the point that Malphurs was making) it will cause us to plant new churches.

As an individual, I may only do a little for the kingdom of God, but if I train my children to spread the kingdom, and have them train their children to spread the kingdom, we get into the science of force multiplication. So too with churches. A healthy understanding that our churches will one day die will cause us to plant other churches with the DNA of church multiplication within them. That is how we do the most for the kingdom.

All this to say, if our churches will one day die, then the fool in Luke 12 should not be our church model.

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

There is a temptation to stockpile resources, whether that be our money, our time, our leaders, or our members. The goal is not to build the biggest, most impressive church we can. The goal is, with one eye on the clock of our church’s mortality, to send our money and our people out in order to do the work of the kingdom of God. So, if I can take a little liberty with Psalms 90:12,

“So teach our churches to number their days
that they may gain a heart of wisdom.”