I attended a dying church this past Sunday. My father was asked to preach at their service, and I decided to come hear the old man address this country church. I knew it was a small church, but I was surprised to walk in and see about 15 people singing from the bright red hymnals in their hands.
A man in a gray suit greeted me at the door with a smile. He said, “Are you new here?” I thought to myself, “You know all 15 people here, right?” But he was just being kind, and I was not, so I told him “yes,” took a bulletin, and walked in the room.
The rows of chairs were bundled into three sections. To my right, on row 3, sat two women in their late 70s, one of whom would drift in and out of sleep throughout the service. No one sat to my left. In the center section, another 10 or so people were scattered among the seats. The worship leader sat by himself on stage in front of a synthesizer.
As the service went on, I began to wonder why these people were there. They were of very different ages, the youngest being in her early 30s and the oldest being in his 80s. They were of different races, and they seemed to be of different backgrounds and social status. They seemed to know each other; during the announcements, several of them talked about upcoming events with each other and the leader on stage. But they also didn’t sit together, and I couldn’t help but wonder what draws them back week after week.
This church may or may not be dying. But I was more struck by the metaphor to our own lives of faith. Our faith is a growing one, where God is continually conforming us into the image of His Son. And if we are to be growing kinds of people, then we need to understand a few things about our spiritual botany:
- God gives the growth. Someone once planted the gospel seed in our life, and someone else watered, but God is the one who gives the growth. We can, and should, plead with Him to grant us the grace each day to grow, but we must continue to put our faith in a God who is accomplishing the good work He started in each of us.
- Ritual can destroy growth. Gardeners will tell us that the ground must be tilled at times, and replanted at times, and laid bare at times. Planting and watering in the same way over and over may work for a while, but it will eventually destroy the ground. Sometimes, dying churches slowly fade away because they cling to their rituals rather than Jesus. And sometimes, dying souls slowly fade away because they cling to their rituals rather than Jesus.
- Isolation inhibits growth. We are like plants that wither alone but flourish together. The Christian life was never meant to be lived in isolation; we are a body that works together under the head of Christ. If our experience at church is limited to coming and sitting and never engaging with the body around us, we will likely wither over time.
May we be a people who understand the botany of our souls, who look to the creator and giver of spiritual nourishment, so that we might grow up into Him, bearing much fruit for His glory and our joy.
Question: Where is God growing you at this moment?