It seems the chief end of some local churches is to exist. Maintaining the building, meeting budgets, and preserving attendance by making sure the congregants have a pleasant experience so they will not leave is what drives the decisions of many church leaders. There is nothing wrong with working toward these goals. They are fine as long as those aims do not become more important than the gospel and obeying the word of God.
Beautiful buildings, healthy budgets, and pleasant experiences can all play a part in the life of a healthy church, but they are not our primary objective. In the book, The Trellis and the Vine, we are told that true church growth is seen in spreading the gospel and increasing the word. That is the vine. Everything else is the trellis. The trellis exists to help grow the vine; the vine does not exist to expand the trellis. A church that will see the most vine growth is the one that is willing to sacrifice its trellis if keeping it kills the vine.
Rarely is a mega-church, or even a quaint little chapel, able to show the power of the gospel to the world as a church banded together by scripture while facing cultural criticism and persecution that threatens to close its doors. No local congregation will have a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God if they are unwilling to be uncomfortable. Kingdom work is neither glamorous nor without resistance. It involves being engaged in the difficult aspects of this world, such as standing uncompromised when ungodly principalities and powers come against us.
We are often quick to bow to the pressure of culture to protect our trellis, and we are regularly unwilling to do any challenging work. When you contrast that with the fact that the Lord Jesus called us to be willing to die for the faith if necessary, we begin to see just how much self-interest and self-preservation have formed our gatherings.
It is easy to shake our heads at the leaders in churches like these, but if we are congregants who desire a pleasant experience where nothing is expected of us, we are as much the problem as anyone. We are servants of Christ just as much as the leaders are. Please know, if that is us, self-interest has become our god. We are contributing to the slow death of our soul and our local church—even if its trellis is thriving.
May your buildings be beautiful, may your budget be overflowing, may your gatherings be pleasant, and may you be willing to sacrifice it all for the glory of God if necessary.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Jesus (Luke 9:23)