Ross Sams, Jr. shared this true story about a neighbor’s cat that was run over by car.
When the mother was told of the accident she quickly disposed of the remains before her four year old son, Billy, found about it.
After a few days, though, Billy finally asked about the cat.
“Billy, the cat died,” his mother explained. “But it’s all right. He’s up in heaven with God.”
“Really?” replied Billy, “What in the world would God want with a dead cat?”
That’s a good question. But even a better one is, “What would God want with a dead church?” “Or a spiritually dead Christian?”
In John’s letters to the seven churches of Asia, is this condemnation to the church at Sardis. “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1).
Apparently Sardis was once an active, vibrant, lively church. They continued to have a good reputation, at least in some circles. But they were dead. G. Campbell Morgan called it “reputation without reality.” We’re not told how they reached such a state. Or the specifics that would identify them as a “dead” church.
Possibly they were coasting. Just going through the motions. The leaders weren’t casting a vision for the future. The prayers had become rote. The scripture reading mundane. The singing lifeless. The preaching passionless. The giving miserly. The communion a rushed afterthought. Ministry was neglected. The outreach non-existent. In short, the work and worship had become ritualistic, routine, and lackadaisical.
If you were the member of such a church, what would you do? I suppose you might look for another congregation. But what if that’s not possible? What if there are no other choices? What are your options?
Some might just quit and say “it’s too discouraging.” Others might continue to attend, but descend into the same dispirited condition. Others might spend their time grumbling, griping and complaining to anyone who would listen about how sorry the church is.
However, there is another option. It’s found in this text. And offers a bit of help and ray of hope. The angelic messenger said there were a faithful few.
“You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev. 3:4-5)
How do you stay spiritual alive, when it seems the church is dead? Here are a few suggestions.
#1 Remember that your worship is between you and God.
Even when it feels that the service is dispirited, you can put your heart into it. You can sing “with the spirit and the understanding.” You can reverently pray. You can solemnly reflect on Christ and the cross as you take communion. You can focus on God’s Word and think about it’s application to your life, even if the sermon is boring. Yes, it may be challenging. But you can stay passionate about your relationship with God.
#2 Fortify your faith each day through Bible study and prayer.
Don’t neglect your spiritual growth. Spend time in family devotions. Find a Bible reading program, even if your church doesn’t have one, and make it your own. Today, the internet is filled with spiritual resources to help you. Tap into sermons and classes from preachers who challenge and inspire you to remain faithful. Read books and blogs that will feed your faith with wholesome spiritual truths. Don’t neglect your spiritual health.
#3 Extend hospitality to fellow Christians.
Often in a dead church, there is little, if any, connection outside the assembly. Open your home to others. Provide a place where you can enjoy one another’s company. Eat together. Share life. Work to build relationships that can foster an encouraging and edifying network. And refrain from making your time together a “pity party” by complaining about the church.
#4 Begin a small group study in your home.
Find some good material and invite a few couples to engage in study that will challenge your thinking and plant seeds for growth. Don’t approach it academically just for the sake of Bible knowledge, but look for practical applications that can enrich and enliven your spiritual life.
#5 Volunteer for a class or ministry project.
If the culture in your congregation is one where people have to be begged to do something, step up and volunteer. It may be shocking to the Shepherds or deacons, but it will be encouraging. If you can teach, then teach a class that will edify and challenge the students to greater spirituality. Offer a Wednesday night talk that is thoughtful and practical. If there is a need, then be the first to offer assistance.
#6 Be a positive influence.
Don’t grumble and gripe about the church, the leaders or fellow members. Refrain from gossip. Avoid negative comments. Refuse to become bitter. Be gracious. Greet others kindly with a smile. Find the good and praise it. And thank God for the opportunity to serve in whatever capacity you can. Your influence and involvement may change the culture of the church from being dead to being alive.
#7 Offer suggestions to the leaders.
Usually in a dead church, the leaders just drift along doing things the same way they always have. Suggest preachers for meetings who will present passionate lessons to encourage the church. Offer to organize a special singing night, or special prayer service. Suggest a work day around the building to declutter and add some curb appeal to the grounds. If you don’t have Shepherds, suggest a leadership class on developing men to be spiritual leaders. In short, look for a need and find some way to fill it.
#8 Find outside sources to recharge your spiritual batteries.
If you travel, seek out congregations where you can be fed and learn of ideas you can take home. Plan vacations or weekend trips that will allow you to attend meetings, lectureships or special series that will lift you up spiritually. Seek out preachers, pastors and churches who can offer insights and ideas you can take home.
Finally, note what the angel said that Sardis needed. (1) Be watchful, be alert; (2) Strengthen the few things you do have; (3) Remember the Word you have received and heard; (4) Hold fast and be ready when I come. Think how you can patiently, lovingly, and faithfully help your congregation in those areas.
The bottom line is this. Regardless of what is going on where you attend church, you can be faithful. You can remain pure. You can remain undefiled. You can overcome. You can walk with the Lord in white robes. You can hear your name called from the Book of Life.
“Hear what the spirit says…”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman
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