Essential #1 - Unconditional Love
Series: 7 Essentials of Church Revitalization
Gary Becker (Executive Director of Biblically Balanced Ministries)
In our last post we noted that 65% of churches are at a plateau, and 20% of churches are in stagnation and could be dying. The obvious conclusion is that we need revitalization in the majority of churches. Some churches may actually need to be replanted. The letters to the 7 Churches in Revelation give us reasons why churches need revitalization and give 7 Essentials in the Revitalization of Churches.
Ephesus is the first of the seven churches (Rev. 2:1-8). On the Church Life Cycle mentioned in our last post, this church would fit into the “Organizational” or “Stabilization” stage of life. It was functioning well in the community, notable for its good works and enduring, not growing weary. The people were holding firm the doctrines of the faith. These are characteristics that are a must for sustaining a church. But when a church runs like a well-oiled machine, it does not always mean revitalization is not needed.
The missing ingredient in this church is what gives birth and life to the church. Hear the words of correction to this church,
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. (Revelation 2:4-5)
The church at Ephesus had lost the kind of love it had at first. It needed to go back and rediscover that love.
When a church is born it has a special vibrancy coming from a “First Love.” This kind of love is unconditional, in that it is ready to surrender and trust the Lord in all things. The birth of the church is a time when people are willing to give up time, money, gifts, and almost anything.
Unconditional love can only be discovered or rediscovered when we begin to understand God's Love. Two of the specific characteristics of God's love that can revitalize the church are:
His love is universal as described in Christ words, God so loved the world He gave . . . (John 3:16). A revitalized church shares God's love with a passion for the Great Commission.
Secondly, His love is undeserved. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). A revitalized church is a church that loves because God loved them first.
It is the kind of love that is called for in the first commandment to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). Let's relate the four parts of love in this command to revitalizing a church and keeping your life refreshed.
This is a call to surrender of our passion (the heart). We all have things we are passionate about. True love for God is wiling to set aside your passions for His. Applied to the church, we need to be willing to set aside our passion for what we want in a church for His plan.
Secondly, it is a call to surrender with purity. The soul is our God-conscious part and because of the fall it is corrupted. True love for God is going to seek purification. When we first come to Christ we are conscious of our need for forgiveness. Sometimes, as the Christian life becomes more common, we can lose our sensitivity toward sin. A revitalized church is a church that has awareness of personal and corporate need for a purified soul.
Unconditional love calls for surrender of my plans (mind). Love is not simply about passion; it involves our thinking. It is not what I think is right but what God has declared right. He has given us a plan for His church, and we need to study and implement His plan as described in the book of Acts and the New Testament. A revitalized church is ready to change their plans and follow God's plan.
The fourth point of surrender is our power (strength). Our strength includes not only our personal stregth but our resources. A revitalized church must have people willing to give what they have and make sacrifices.
Unconditional love is about a passion that loves the Lord with all. It is love that is shown at the birth and missional stage of church life. The most evident characteristic is a willingness to surrender all out of love for the Lord.
The church at Ephesus in Revelation 2 was a church that had a good organization and ministry, but it had lost the priority of loving God with all. The Lord calls the church and His people to have ears to hear [and] listen to what the Spirit says . . . The message is simple: return to your first love. This is where revitalization has to begin.