What makes a Church a “good” Church? What defines its success? What makes it grow?
In recent years the spotlight has shown—unfavorably—on prominent figures who have built successful churches, only to have their reputations tarnished by scandal. Tongues cluck at how Christianity could allow such a fall to happen. But we often forget one thing: it’s easy to blame the pedestal until we realize we’re the ones holding the hammer and nails. We build pedestals for one simple reason: we thrive on our own sense of success.
We need to hear the words Jesus spoke through John:
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:14-22)
John was commissioned to send letters to representative churches in the ancient world. And if you lived in his day, you’d have loved to attend the church in Laodicea. They had an amazing worship team, that had just released another billboard album. The pastor’s latest book was already out of stock in the church bookstore. A sea of young, attractive faces occupied the coffee shop. They were big. They had it all.
And Jesus was left in the parking lot.
Growing up, the image of Jesus “standing at the door” was a familiar one, dominating the canvas of bad Sunday School art. “He’s knocking on the door of your heart,” it was commonly expressed, “asking you to invite him inside.” The message was simple: Jesus knocks on unbelievers’ hearts. They get “saved” by asking him to come inside. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve come to realize that we might be missing something. John’s not writing a letter to unbelievers, to the people we typically think of as locked into a life of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” He’s writing to the church crowd. He’s writing to people who are attending the biggest church in town, the church whose podcasts are heard around the globe.
And he’s talking to us.
We may roll our eyes at prosperity preachers who tell us silver-tongued lies about being successful. But we fool ourselves if we let our outrage mask the fact that they’re only saying explicitly (“God wants you to be happy”) what we routinely say implicitly (“Will the sermon speak to my heart?” “Will the worship team play that song I like?”). We need to repent—to repent of our idols of success and size, to repent of our confusion of happiness and holiness, to repent of our tendency to see church as something performed for us rather than a community embodied by us.
It is then—and only then—that we may unlatch the gates, to allow Jesus to become a part of every facet of our lives as a church, both as individuals and as a community.