There were four of them. Their dreadful disease had rendered them outcasts from society, shunned by anyone who saw them, and forced to live outside their city. They had survived on meagre scraps for several weeks, but even that was drying up because of the siege. They faced a difficult decision.
Even if they could find a way to get back into the city, the siege was so effective that there seemed to be no food there. People were starving. So trying to get into the city was pointless.
Staying where they were was equally pointless. Sure, they had managed to survive in the past, but now they faced inevitable decline and certain death.
The only other option was to move out towards that which was the source of their problem - the enemy encamped around the city. It was dusk as they set out. Perhaps, they thought that the fading light would hide the consequence of the disease from which they suffered.
The strange thing was that at precisely the time these men set out for the enemy camp, the enemies heard a sound like that of two armies coming towards them. They fled leaving all their supplies behind, so the four men ate what they could and also passed on the news to those inside the city, thus bringing an end to the famine.
While this could well be a contemporary story from any one of the parts of the world affected by warfare, in fact it can be read in 2 Kings chapter 7.
My experience in rural mission leads me to conclude that this biblical story has contemporary relevance. Far too many churches seem stuck in a situation of decline. Some realise that very soon the church could cease to exist. But what can be done? We cannot turn time back, so no matter how much we might desire a return to “the good old days” when churches had better attendances. Going back to where we were before things got this bad, is not an option. Neither is staying with things the way they are, facing ultimate demise.
Like the four men, we need to face up to what appears to be threatening us, and - also like them - take the risk that comes with change. Many churches that have done so, have experienced a reversal in their circumstances, but it comes with a cost. The cost is that we have to be willing to leave the comfort of the old familiar ways, and the familiar structures of our church services and meetings. But you probably know that the final words of a dying church were recorded as “We have always done it this way!”
If your church did not see numerical growth in 2018, you need to ask why. Churches that are static (not to mention those in decline) are contrary to the experience of the vast number of churches throughout the world. It ought not to be tolerated. Usually, the cause of a church becoming static or in decline is resistance to change. Such is the state of resistance to change in many churches that when I am asked, “Why don’t people come to our church?” I am tempted to say, “Because of the people who are already there!” This is not because I would want them not to be there, but because I long that they would become instruments of change.
Being willing to let go or to move aside is vital. Holding things tightly under a control that denies change is a death sentence. Of course things might be done differently, or at different times, or on different days, but it’s worth the risk. Staying as we are, when that means we are gradually declining, is not an option. Some will say, “There is noone to take over if I give up!” but is there an honest willingness to let go and step aside? Sometimes, it starts with a willingness to let change happen. I know that it’s hard. My experience in three episodes of pastoral leadership of churches, has always involved those who have been faithful becoming willing to allow (or even encourage) change. But where this was combined with love and prayer, we saw God at work in ways that might have been hard to imagine.
So, as we enter 2019, please do not sit still. If you are not seeing God at work through all you do at church: take the risk. Are you willing to be open to God doing new things in new ways? If not, is it time to re-dedicate yourself to God who brings life and change wherever he is welcomed. Give yourself to earnest prayer that anything and anyone resisting change (no matter how sincere their motives) will be changed or moved. The work of salvation is far too precious to be hindered.
Make 2019 a year for taking calculated and prayerful risks for the sake of the gospel where you live. Please!
Barry Osborne - 27th December 2018.