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The Need for Revitalization: Why Pray?

40 Days of Prayer for church revitalization  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Why Immanuel Baptist Church MUST pray for God to revitalize us

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Ezra 3:8–13 ESV
Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the Lord. And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
-13Pray

Pray

The question that just comes screaming from the passage I read a moment ago is simple. Why did the old men weep with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of the new temple? There are 2 possible answers to that question. They were weeping with joy or they were weeping with sadness. And since Ezra tells us that others were shouting with joy, we can surmise that the old men were weeping with sadness. Again, the question is why? Many scholars believe it is because the new temple foundation was so much smaller than Solomon’s temple. These men had seen the beauty, the majesty of the first temple that Solomon had built. And this new temple was not going to compare in size. And because it would not compare in size, it is safe to assume that it would not compare in furnishings either. In other words, this new temple was going to be a disappointment compared to Solomon’s temple. Smaller, less ornate, it might remind them of the once magnificent temple, but it would just not be the same.
For the last month or so, I have been telling you that I want the church to enter into a 40-day time of prayer specifically for church revitalization. And while we may all agree that church revitalization is a good thing, I want to lay out for you why Immanuel Baptist Church needs to be revitalized. To be extra clear, I don’t believe a church can be revitalized by man any more than I believe men can be eternally saved by other men. However, I also know that a church is the gathering of those who have been saved by God. And, as such, the church cannot be revitalized if the people that make up that church are not revitalized. In other words, the process for revitalization at Immanuel Baptist Church begins with you and me. Each and every one of us that is a member of this church.
Now, you may be sitting there thinking you are very happy with your life and you don’t really need, or want, anything to change. I am asking you to bear with me through this sermon today and then start tomorrow with the 40 days of prayer. God may begin the revitalization of Immanuel through you. But you will never know if you just sit and doubt without prayer.
The word I am using today, revitalize, means to give new life and vitality to. And that definition implies that new life and vitality are needed. So let me give you a picture of Immanuel Baptist Church as I see it today.

The Need for Revitalization

1. I’ll start with the numbers
1.1. I looked at statistical data on this church all the way back to 1981 which is all that is available online. In 1981, Immanuel Baptist Church reported 357 members, average Sunday School attendance of 94, and 29 baptisms. At the largest point, in 1985, Immanuel reported 618 members, average Sunday School attendance of 143, and 13 baptisms. Looking at every year since 1981, Immanuel’s greatest membership year was 1985, with 618 reported members. Our greatest Sunday School year was 1983, with an average of 221 people attending. Our greatest baptism year was 1986 with 41. There was a time when this church was reaching more people. Worship attendance was not reported until 1991 where we averaged 105, then grew to 140 in 1992 before falling off. Now some of you are probably aware that those years when the numbers were looking good were during Pastor Jim Philips tenure. And you might even be thinking that is ancient history for this church.
1.2. So let’s fast forward a little bit to the reset that happened in 2001. Membership numbers were adjusted to more accurately reflect the reality of Immanuel and only 34 members were listed. Worship attendance that year averaged 68. Sunday School Attendance averaged 46. And Immanuel reported 8 baptisms that year. From that time until 2015, membership numbers have grown slightly to 135. Sunday School attendance was 31. Worship attendance was 43. But we only reported 1 baptism in 2015. In fact, in this century, we have averaged less than 3 baptisms per year.
1.3. Now, I know that was a lot of numbers, but I wanted you to see what I see here at Immanuel. And here is the take home point from the numbers. The church will not, indeed cannot, survive seeing less than 3 baptisms per year. Our membership growth, worship growth, and Sunday School growth have come more from transfers than salvations. What we need is some new births! And, as nice as it would be, I’m not talking about babies. I’m talking about kind of births. (ESV)... And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. It is only that kind of growth that can give new life and vitality to Immanuel Baptist Church. I’ll admit that I have not been as active as I need to be in sharing the Gospel outside these walls, but even if I were to be a gifted evangelist, and God was using me to save many, I don’t think I alone could see people being saved every day. But if the church, the whole church, were active, what could God do with a church like that? That’s the numbers. We, as a church, are not in fine health. We are not ok. We are not on a sustainable path. You can argue with me if you would like, but the numbers are just cold, hard facts. We are in trouble.
The Need For Revitalization: Vital Signs
1.4. I have visited many people in hospitals over the years of my ministry. I have learned what good numbers are and what bad numbers are in terms of the human body. When certain numbers drop in the hospital, the medical staff get very concerned and start to act. If the numbers continue to drop, their actions get more urgent. They know that the patient is in decline and they have to intervene or death is imminent. If we, as a church, pretend that the decline in our numbers is just a blip. Or we live in denial saying it will turn around some day. If we fail to act with increasing urgency, we can be sure the church will die. Yes, we need revitalization. We need new life. We need new vitality, new energy, new fervor. The numbers are dropping. Is our urgency increasing?
2. Having seen the vital signs and they are not good, can we diagnose what is behind the decline? I think so. I think it begins with listening to Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus from
Revelation 2:1-7
Revelation 2:1–7 ESV
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
2.1. Now, I know you. And someone just said to themselves, “How dare he say I don’t love Jesus.” I didn’t say that. In fact, Jesus didn’t really say that in this passage. But before we get to the problem Jesus mentions, let’s look at the rest. The church at Ephesus was doing some good ministry. They were testing self-appointed apostles and finding them to be false. That implies they were measuring these apostles against a standard. That standard would be God’s Word. So they knew God’s word well enough to be able to see the false apostles. That is a good thing!

The Need for Revitalization

2.1. Now, I know you. And someone just said to themselves, “How dare he say I don’t love Jesus.” I didn’t say that. In fact, Jesus didn’t really say that in this passage. But before we get to the problem Jesus mentions, let’s look at the rest. The church at Ephesus was doing some good ministry. They were testing self-appointed apostles and finding them to be false. That implies they were measuring these apostles against a standard. That standard would be God’s Word. So they knew God’s word well enough to be able to see the false apostles. That is a good thing!
2.2. They had endured patiently and bore up for Jesus’ name. They were standing strong in the face of persecution. They didn’t grow weary in the fight. These are all good things!
2.3. They also hated the works of the Nicolaitans, who were false teachers, and Jesus hated those works also. Once again, the church in Ephesus was doing good things!

The Need for Revitalization: Warning!

2.4. But Jesus has this against them. They had abandoned the love they had at first. Look at what Jesus says next. Remember from where you have fallen. Repent! And do the works you did at first. Now, we read the book of Ephesians and we see some of the works of that church, and there have been countless sermons saying this passage in Revelation is about a church that doesn’t love Jesus, but I have a different theory as to what Jesus is saying here. Because He tells them to go back and do the works they did at first. I don’t think the problem is their love for Jesus. I think their problem is obedience to Jesus, particularly regarding the Great Commission.
2.5. Look again at what Jesus says, If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. At the end of , we see that the lampstand represents the church that Jesus is moving in. And Jesus says unless they start doing the works they did at first, HE would remove their lampstand. In other words, if they continue to not make disciples, the church will die.
2.6. The application is simple and frightening. A church that prides herself on chartable good works and standing in the face of persecution. A church that thinks good works are more important than the Gospel. A church that takes pride in how knowledgeable they are in the Scriptures. A church can do all those things and do them well, but if they do not see new disciples, if they are not serious about the Great Commission, then Jesus will take His hand away from that church. He will remove their lampstand. Without the light that comes only from heaven above, that church will die. This is not a message I enjoy preaching, but it is a message I believe we need to hear. The warning signs are all around us. Attendance is declining, giving is declining, baptisms are declining. We must not pride ourselves on the things we are doing well. We need to get back to the works we were doing at first. We need a new passion for lost people. We need new life, new vitality. We need to plead with our Savior to not take His lampstand away. We need to get on our knees. Immanuel Baptist Church needs to pray fervently, pleadingly, humbly before God. The time is not out there somewhere. The time is right now!
As I wrap up this rather somber message, let me remind you where we started. We looked at the rebuilding of the Temple in the days of Ezra. And the old men were weeping that the new temple did not compare to Solomon’s temple. It was different. As we pray for revitalization, let’s keep in mind that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Let’s hold tight to the Gospel that has saved men for some 2000 years. But let us be willing to let go of paradigms and methods that are not directly from the Bible. Let us not weep that the methods we know best are going away. Instead, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and seek to win more of our circle of influence for Him.
I will leave you with a modern-day parable.

A Modern Day Parable

The story is told that after a service one day, a woman came to the pastor and told him that she was going to have to leave the church.
He nodded sadly and said, “May I ask why?”
She replied, “This morning as I walked around the church, I saw one person gosipping about another member. I saw a man pretending he was holy when I know his life is a wreck, clearly a hypocrite. I saw people looking at their phones during the sermon, and they weren’t reading their Bible app! I saw such an ungodly mess, I just don’t think I can stay in this church any longer.”
The pastor asked, “Before you choose to leave, will you do me a favor?”
The woman replied, “There is nothing you can do to change my mind, but, sure, what would you like me to do?”
The pastor said, “I want you to fill a glass with water. Don’t leave any room at all at the top. Fill it all the way to the brim. Then, I want you to walk around the church 3 times with that full glass of water without spilling a drop.”
She agreed. So, the next Sunday she did just as the pastor had asked. And just to prove how futile it was, instead of walking around 3 times, she walked it 5 times. When she was done, she approached the pastor again to tell him she had done her walking with the water and that she was going to be leaving now.
The pastor said, “Tell me about your walk. Did you hear any gossip? Did you see any hypocrites? Did you see people more engaged with their phones than with the service?”
She answered, “No. I didn’t see any of that.”
The pastor said, “The reason is clear. You were so busy focusing on not spilling the water, you couldn’t see anything else. In the church, we all need to be so focused, but not on a glass of water. Rather, we need to be focused on the living water. We need to be so focused on Jesus that we look past the faults and failures of everyone around us.”
Or, as the choir reminded us, “It’s all about the cross!”
(ESV)
Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Let’s Pray

Dear friends, beloved servants of our Lord. For the next 40 days I am asking you to pray every day. Allow the booklets to be your guide. Each day there is a new way to pray, a new issue to focus on. Just know this, what I am praying for with all my heart is that each and every one of us would encounter Jesus in a revitalizing way. That the flames of our faith would be fanned into an inferno! I want each member of Immanuel to be revitalized because I believe when God revitalizes the members of the church, He IS revitalizing the church. Please join me in this endeavor.
Dear friends, beloved servants of our Lord. For the next 40 days I am asking you to pray every day. Allow the booklets to be your guide. Each day there is a new way to pray, a new issue to focus on. Just know this, what I am praying for with all my heart is that each and every one of us would encounter Jesus in a revitalizing way. That the flames of our faith would be fanned into an inferno! I want each member of Immanuel to be revitalized because I believe when God revitalizes the members of the church, He IS revitalizing the church. Please join me in this endeavor.
Let’s PRAY…
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