What is the Church to produce? Chevy makes cars, Cross makes pens, Harley-Davidson makes motorcycles (thank you, Lord). So the question then is, “what does the church produce?” The Church produces new Christ-followers who become disciples. If we’re not accomplishing this, we’re not doing our job.
The beginning of the decline of the church in the Middle East was around the 13th century. Of course it was partly the result of a growing persecution of Christians by Islamic communities, and their rulers. Up to this time the Islamic communities had blended, accepted and in fact, interlaced Christians into their socio-political and economic societies. During the 13th century we begin to note a decline in influence and connection the Church held within the blended communities, a declination caused not as a result of outside pressure, but, rather, from inside the Church herself.
Pastors and bishops gradually exhibited a lack of academic engagement in Scriptures, passing this on to the Church. In other words, the Church began to “do ministry” because of traditions rather than reflect a vibrant interest in the Word of God, its vital truths and its impact on society and the human heart. Ultimately this attitude produced a lack of interest in reaching out to the unsaved. Believers became satisfied with passing on their faith primarily to their own children and family “dynasties.”
The decline of the Church from the 14th through the 17th century in the Middle East was first, persecution, of course, but a third underlying cause was also lack of vision for reaching out. Because of religious and political pressures, they choose compromise as an alternative and accepted marginalization within their communities rather than retain the role of vibrant change-agent. Families passed their faith on to their own family rather than reaching out.
In contrast, within the first century, despite growing persecution, the message of Jesus Christ exploded along the trade routes of both the Roman and Persian world, especially along the Silk Road to India and China. As an example, the Gospel, brought by merchants from Jerusalem, reached Mosul in Northern Iraq in 38 A.D. mixing the concepts of business and mission. In fact, one of the early hymns the Church in the East was “let us take the attire of merchants and bring the good news to the world.”
The decline of the modern Church is directly linked to the abdication of engagement in her communities through the daily influence in the lives of neighbors and co-workers, to accomplish what Christ commanded her to do, make disciples. When the Church is singularly focused on itself and fellowship, she loses her influence in society and the outcome is marginalization.
My dear friend, an Iraqi pastor, has been shepherding a church of refugees from Mosul. Two years ago as Mosul fell, he was captured by ISIS, tortured and beaten many times. He was taken to be beheaded a number of times, but as he said, “the Lord has always been with me and watched over me.” After four months, miraculously, he was released and immediately resumed his role as pastor shepherding his flock who were now refugees in nearby Irbil, northern Iraq. Refusing to leave his flock, he has worked tirelessly to emigrate his congregation of over 200 families in the Czech Republic. His key leadership and life example have impacted thousands. Without pastoral leadership and a localized focus upon the people of our communities, the church will founder.
So what are some action points to consider?
- The Church needs a missional heart. Let’s not focus on what we want our community to do for us, but what we can and will do for our community.
- The Church needs to be practical as Moses was when God asked him, “What is in your hand?” God knows our flaws and weaknesses and still chooses to work through us for His glory, and He will take the mundane and make it miraculous and pertinent.
- The Church needs to be actively stepping into the mainstream of her community.
- The Church needs to take courage and stand firm in her faith and confidence in the teaching of the Word. We’ve seen all that Satan can throw at us; this is nothing new. Yet the Church still stands because she is founded upon the immovable foundation of Christ and the eternal Word.
The Lord said, “I will be with you, to the very end of the age.” We may not all teach and preach well, but we can each make disciples, and as authentic, passionate Christ-followers we are linked to the ongoing pulse and unfolding history of the Church that is being made today.
Indigenous Ministries ministers through nationals in difficult-access countries with the purpose of seeing the Church thrive, and are expanding international church planting through the IM Global Church Planting Initiative.