Jack Graham - Flatline
Take your Bibles and turn with me now to the third chapter of the book of Revelation. This is Jesus' message to the churches and to the church. "He who has ears, let him hear". So this is not only for the church then, but the church now. And it is for you and me personally. The title of this message is "Flatline", because we're going to be seeing and talking about a church that Jesus pronounced dead. I want to show you what I'm talking about beginning in chapter 3 and verse 1:
"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: 'The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. "I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. And you still have a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. And the one who conquers (to the victors) will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the Book of Life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches".'"
This church at Sardis looked alive: action and activity and motion and machinery. But when Jesus took their pulse, dead! Calling this message "Flatline", because it can happen to a church, not only then but can happen now! As a matter of fact in America alone, 3500 churches per year close their doors because they are dead. Once thriving and dynamic ministries, now dead! Shut the doors. Seventy to eighty percent of churches in this country are plateaued which means they are dead or are dying. Again, there may be activity, there maybe programming, there may be tradition and structure, but no life! And so when Jesus comes to talk to the church at Sardis, He's speaking about life and death, life and death. And when He shows up to the church at Sardis, when He stands up, He's holding in one hand the seven Spirits of God, that's verse 1, and in the other hand the seven stars or the seven angel messengers. The seven spirits of God in one hand: what does that mean? Are there seven Spirits?
No there's one Holy Spirit. But seven is the number for perfection; it is the number for completion, and that's in Jesus He holds in His hands the Spirit of God, the wholeness, the fullness of God's Spirit is in Christ. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father is the Spirit of Jesus and He holds the fullness of the Spirit. Now, this is vital to a church that in needing life. Because what's happening to this church that is so dead is there's no spiritual life, there's no breath! There's activity, sort of like, you know, commotion and motion, but no life! And He's going to be talking to this church about renewing and reviving and resuscitating their lives and their church, and so this is a church in need of revival. This is a church in need of the Holy Spirit. And every church is in need of the Holy Spirit.
Zechariah 4:6, "Not by works, not by might, but by My power says the Lord". And then in His other hand He holds the seven stars or the angel messengers. These represent in my view the messengers of the church, or the pastors and the leaders of the church. It's good to know as a pastor that we are in His grip; that we are held in His hand, and we're secure there. And it also reminds us that if revival is going to come the church, it's going to start with pastors and the leaders of the church. So many ministers, just like churches are dying, there are a lot of preachers and pastors that are leaving the ministry. Hundreds almost daily are getting out of the ministry. They're tired or they're weak or they're burned out, or they've defaulted in some way, and we need to remember to pray for the pastors who lead Christ's churches. Pray for the pastors that are on mission sites and around the world. Many who are facing persecution for their faith. Are you praying for the leaders of the church? Do you pray for those in the right hand of Jesus? We're all there, but what a beautiful picture this is of the fullness of spirit in one hand, the plethora of leadership in other hand. And when revival comes, it comes at the hand of God through these means. See that?
William Barclay, a Bible commentary, gave four reasons, four signs, if you will, symptoms of death and dying of a church. Number one, a church is dying when it thinks primarily of the past. You know, a church that is always looking in the rearview mirror. It's like an old athlete who's still reading his press clippings from high school. You know like that guy who's wearing the tee-shirt: "The older I get the better I was". It's all about what happened yesterday, and for many Christians and some churches it's all about history. Now I enjoy history. I love looking back over these forty years that God has given me so far in ministry and remembering what God has done, and that's healthy. We learn from history; we just can't live there. But a church that get's all caught up and concerned about maintaining the past, will ultimately die. Everything that is alive changes! Dead things decompose. Living things grow. Living things are constantly changing. I guarantee you if you have a baby come to your household, you know how a new life will change things. It changes everything. It turns your world upside down. Change happens.
And again, anything that is alive changes! It grows, it develops and it's not all consumed with the past. I know some churches that their memories are so much greater than their future in their minds. That's death. That's the stench and the smell of death. Secondly, the church is dying when it is more concerned about its forms and programs than with life itself. When a church gets more interested in maintaining the machinery, and fueling the operation, when it's all concerned about its forms and its functions and its style, when the members are all just making sure they can serve the way we did that. I mean, the theme song is "The way we were". And we're not going to change anything. We're not going to change our music! We're not going to change our methods! You know music's a hot-spot button for a lot of churches, and people get all bent out of shape about music and worship-style. Churches have actually divided over this, have been disrupted over this. And you got people saying, "Well, I don't like all that new music! Ah, just give me a good old 1900 century hymn, that's what I want"! And then, you know, young kids, they're thinking, "Man, I don't even know what they're talking about".
Now we ought to teach kids the hymns, for sure. I believe in balance in our music, but I'm trying to say that people get all bent out of shape about music style. You say, "Well, I don't like all this new music". Well, we love you but we're not singing all this music just for you. We're singing it for your grandkids. To reach your grandkids for Christ and to reach your children for Christ. Because we're all about reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and worshipping Him. And so I'm simply pointing out there's just some churches: "We're not changing anything"! You know, I'll tell you another, some churches don't like the idea of having screens and multi-sites. People fight that. We're not having that. Guy said to me, "I don't like coming to church and seeing all that video up on the screen"! Oh, really?
Well, the last time I looked you were on the second row and I'm standing fifteen feet from you and you're looking at the screens. I do the same thing. And why do we do this, why do we have multi-sites? I mean, that's different. That's not anything that we did years ago, but now we're able to use technology and to transfer the message as we're doing right now to our North Campus in order to bring the Gospel of Christ and to teach the word of God, expand the kingdom of God! We're all about reaching people! And if it means flexing and changing the way I think about things, then so be it, if we're pleasing God with what we do! But old dead churches, they're just stuck in the past and they're stuck in they're old programming! You know, sometimes we change things. And you know one of the great things about this church is your flexibility and your willingness to accept change. But sometimes we change things that are near to you and you don't like it very much. I mean if we change a program. Try to change a program or a ministry that's been around a long time and see what happens.
Now it may not have been effective in the last five years, but we're still grinding it out, you know. We're doing it! And don't you dare touch our program! You know we're constantly looking at our ministries, our programming to make sure that it's fulfilling the mission of the church: exalting Christ and equipping the saints, and evangelizing the world. And sometimes we have to push the delete button. And it's not always pretty when we do. You know, what's the only thing you should do if you're riding a dead horse? Dismount! Dismount! So sometimes churches have to push some delete buttons in order to change some things and add some new things. At other times we have to dismount and discard those things that are in the past or those things that really aren't effective anymore, but churches that die, they get all bent out of shape about the structures and the way we sing and the way we do things and the way we use technology! Churches that live are willing to put aside anything in order to have the freedom to get the Gospel of Jesus without compromise! Never compromising the message! Never compromising the truth, never compromising the Word of God, but flexing on those things which help us proclaim the Gospel and the Word of God. Churches get old and die just like people get old and die. Look, I have no interest in getting old! I don't!
You say, "Pastor, have you looked in the mirror lately"? Yes, I've looked in the mirror lately! And I am getting older! But I don't have to get old! A lot of people just get old like, because of the hardening of the attitudes. And they lose their heart for life and their joy in serving Christ. There's so much joy in this journey. There's so much joy in knowing and following Jesus. So I'm not giving in to the years. I have to get older but I don't have to get old. And neither do you, and neither does the church. Churches may have years and years of ministry and history but that doesn't mean that you're old and out of it. You can be vibrant and alive. Healthy churches are not controlled by their past or their program. You know, I've said for years around here that you know a church starts, any church. It's the way Prestonwood started. A church, this is the way the Dallas Campus started.
This is the way our North Campus started, Prestonwood Español. It starts as a movement. People that are on the move for Christ, who are led by the Spirit of God, and this movement then becomes the mission. The mission of fulfilling the Great Commission, the mission of Christ, and there's the heart in it and reaching people for Christ, and growing the church, And that mission then is supported by ministries and those ministries rise up and we organize around the movement, what God is doing, we organize around the ministries in order to effectively steward these ministries and do the best job possible. But what happens sometimes is as you work your way from being a movement to a mission and ministries supporting that mission, is that it can turn into machinery. And just paying the bills and keeping up with the programming and running the operation. It happens to a lot of churches. And from there it's a quick slide. It's quick then to becoming a monument and even a mausoleum, housing a corpse that used to be a church.
So we must also, I mean it's good to organize things, but we must never so institutionalize things because denominations die because they become institutions. Churches die because they become institutionalized and therefore marginalized. So dying churches care more about the past than the present and the future! Dying churches are more committed to maintaining their programs and the way we've always done it. And then there's something else. Dying churches. The church is dying when it knowingly or unknowingly loves its traditions more than it loves Jesus Christ. Loves the traditions more than the truth of Jesus Christ. You say, "Well, I like tradition"! Well, I like tradition. We practice traditions in our family, holidays and other times. I think there are certain traditions that you maintain in the church that connect you with the greatness and the glory of God in history. But some people don't know the difference between tradition and rigor mortis. People who want such formality that there's no freedom.
Listen to me, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, there is life, there is liberty, and there is this spirit that says, "Come one, come all. Welcoming churches are alive. People that welcome new people". You know, I was shocked as a young pastor when I first realized that not everyone in the church wanted the church to grow. I was stunned by that initially. Because when the church grows, change is produced and it makes, you know, "somebody's going to get my parking place. And somebody's going to get my pew". And so on. Not everybody likes growth. And some churches are dead and they should be dead. There are churches that are dead because of racism and they should be dead because of racism! There are churches that do not welcome people from the nations and countries of other origins.
Let me remind you that while we have ministries within that teach our children and our students and minister to people, again, equipping the saints, but we exist for people that are not yet here! People who are outside the walls of this church! And the minute we start living for ourselves selfishly rather than loving people that's when we start dying. And so what we need to always be doing is looking for ways to include others, invite others, and bring others, and help them to know Jesus. Our traditions must be laid aside in favor of the truth. The church is all about Jesus! And when it's no longer about Him, it's over! You may keep meeting, you may still have a religious club, but if you don't have Jesus, you don't have a church! The Bible calls Jesus the head of the church. If you don't have a head, you're dead.
Jesus said, "My church is My body" and breathed the Spirit of God into us! And as long as we are the body of Christ who is our head, united and inflamed by the Holy Spirit, we will be alive in His name, in His power, in His grace, in His glory! This is life! There's no church without Jesus because there's no life without Jesus! There's no life without the Spirit of Jesus! This is why so many liberal churches are dead. No Jesus! This is why so many legalistic churches are dead. No Jesus! Rules, routine, religion, but no Jesus! This is why so many loveless, compassionless churches are dead. No life, no compassion, no love cause they're all about themselves. And then the church is dying when it is more concerned with the material than it is spiritual things. Just maintaining the budget, just counting the offering. Just adding up the membership.
As I've been saying, God has called us to focus on the Spiritual, not the material. Not on our buildings or our processes or our structures or our styles, but upon Jesus! It's all about Jesus, church! It's all about Him! To serve, to love Jesus and love people. And a church is dead when it exists for itself, when it only serves itself. Where there's no mission, where there is no vision, where there's no passion. Just people that are showing up every now and then when they feel like it. People who don't really care that the church lives or dies! What kills a church is people who become religious consumers and takers rather than givers. Who are all about being served instead of serving. All about me, my and mine instead of Jesus and others, all about the material and not the spiritual.
You know I want to ask you a question in closing today. What if this church died? Don't know how long it might take but what if after a while this church got sick and starting focusing on the past and started loving traditions more than loving Jesus and getting inflexible with what we do and the way we were and the way we are and what we do. What if that happened to us and we get sick and die? I don't know how long it could take but it could happen. Would anybody miss us? I would like to think so. I would dare to say yes, there are people who would miss the love and the compassion and the ministry of this church and there are families, I mean it would kill me to think that this church somehow could die. Rips my heart out to consider that somehow Jesus would look at us and say, "You've got a reputation, you got a name, but you're flatlined; you're dead".
Ask yourself the question: Am I contributing to the life or the death of this church? Because ultimately the church is you and me, it gets down to you and me, and as I said for some it might as well be dead. Because Jesus said to this church at Sardis, the same thing that He says today. "You just don't care! You're dead and you don't know it"! May God help us to stay alive! He says to this church, as I read a moment ago. He said, "Wake up"! And it's literally like He's, you know, it's like one of those movie scenes where they're slapping the face of somebody who's dying and they say, "Stay with me, stay with me, stay with me! Wake up! Get up! Strengthen what remains! Come alive again! Live again"! And yes, dead churches like dead people can live again by the power of Jesus Christ! And if we will, He said, "Strengthen what remains and remember the truth, preach the Gospel". We say preach the Gospel to yourself everyday! Remember! And you will come alive again. Maybe on a personal level. Maybe you're not dead, but you're just dry. Maybe you're sick spiritually and you need the Lord to renew you and resuscitate you. Your faith just seems like it's dying. Come alive again in Christ.