It was a Christmas Eve morning national news broadcast when I heard the report: 72% of Americans say, “Religion is important.” Then came the reality shock: “Yet worship attendance continues to decline.”
That’s not news to around 98% of pastors and church leaders. What does all this mean? Almost three-quarters of the American nation says faith is important, but church, for them, is a failure: out of touch, not productive, irrelevant, or worse. Being a pastor in this situation must be one of the most discouraging callings in the world.
In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, you can hear from another “pastor,” actually, from an apostle, a leader of pastors and churches. He is gut-wrenchingly honest about how challenging ministry can be. But what he has to say is not discouraging, but enlightening!
Paul says, “We carry this message around in plain old clay pots.” He’s right! We are ordinary containers of an extraordinary message about the ultimate, amazing Son of God, Jesus Christ.
There’s no pretense here! Paul says, “We are surrounded and battered by troubles, spiritually terrorized, thrown down; but not broken.” Why? “God is with us.” He explains that when your life is constantly at risk for Jesus, it makes Jesus’ life in you more evident.
For Paul, that was a different time. The “New” Testament people had a different way of looking at God—actually a fulfillment of Old Testament promises. But the entrenched people in the old way actually fought against those who were called “Christians.” There were also unbelievers and followers of pagan religions. They were antagonistic as well.
It was a demoralizing fight for clay pot people. Except it wasn’t! By the power of Christ, they could rise above—thrown down, but never broken. Clay pots with remarkable inner strength!
Today, believers like you and me are no different. Fragile, but sustainable, in Christ. Our unique enemy is the irrelevance and impotence of “the church.” We inherited a form of church that has lost its movement power and become bureaucratic. It has lost the priesthood of believers and replaced it with professional staff. It has lost discipling and replaced it with programs. It has lost the gifts of the Holy Spirit and replaced them with volunteers.
It is one thing when you are terrorized because of your spiritual convictions. It is yet something different to suffer from dry rot because you have lost your spirituality!
If you recapture the New Testament way of doing church, you will thrive. The movement will return. However, be forewarned! You’ll still be terrorized. However, you’ll get it for all the right reasons. And when you do, you will experience the power of Christ at a whole new level!