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Why Churches Die: Not Applying God’s Word to Their Lives

This is the first of two articles I was asked to contribute to a series of seven articles about why some churches die. At the end of the article will be a link to this entry where you can also find the other articles in the series.

The lights came on that day in eighth-grade Physical Science class.

Our teacher/coach/driver’s ed instructor pushed a chalkboard eraser along the edge of his teaching desk. He was dangerously close to making it fall over the edge.

“I know it’s hard to see, but there is energy here,” he said. “This eraser is full of potential energy on top of this desk. But that energy will stay stored until it moves over the edge.”

Every eye watched as the 6-inch-long eraser plummeted from the edge of his desk under the gentle promptings of his hand. It tumbled through four feet of free fall before bouncing off the floor, barely making a noise, and emitting a tiny cloud of chalk dust.

“Now, that is kinetic energy! As long as it stays stored, it’s potential. But things start happening once it finds its use.”

He was more excited about the lesson than he should have been. Most students were ignoring him, and the few that weren’t were now rolling their eyes. But that’s the day I got it.

Stored energy is potential. But if it stays that way, that’s all it is: potential.

Every good sermon ends when you push the eraser over the edge of the table. All the Bible study, illustrations, argumentation and rhetorical eloquence must end up as some kind of application, or the rest of it was just an exercise in religious futility.

All that potential energy needs to become active motion as repentance, obedience, evangelism, worship – anything in a God-ward direction!

Many dying churches do not comprehend just how much stored potential energy they have. They are powerhouses and powder kegs ready to explode with gospel energy, but that stored-up potential is never set in motion.

You can find that potential stored energy in almost every verse of the Bible, but let’s look at one of my favorites: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16)

What is the potential energy of the church?

First, we have the gospel! If my Greek isn’t too rusty, that means we have the good news. In a world jumping up and down to share bad news, where horror stories lurk around every corner and every channel reeks of darkness, we have a better story to share.

I remember hearing that the ‘sin of the desert’ was to know where the water was but not tell others who were thirsty. When we don’t take the potential energy of the good news of Jesus Christ and use it to light up the darkness, we are wasting it.

We don’t need a better message. We have the gospel!

Second, if we have the gospel, we have God’s power! I know we’d like bigger budgets, deeper leadership benches and more evident and low-hanging fruit opportunities in ministry, but we don’t need them.

Why? We have the stored potential energy of the God of the universe. If we have the gospel, then we have the power of God in our church, ministry and lives! That means we lack nothing. It’s time to let the power of the Lion loose – and He can take care of Himself!

Third, we have the potential of salvation in our hands. The world is looking for something, and they’re trying to satisfy themselves with many stupid and inadequate things. But we have what every human being is looking for, whether they realize it or not: salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ!

We often look at our lives and ministries through the lens of loss or what’s missing. But we seldom remember the stored potential energy given to us through the gospel. Indeed, we need nothing more, and if we tap into that potential, the frenzy of kinetic energy released would be more than any of our churches can handle.

It would be amazing!

So, the real question isn’t what we need, but how do we release the stored energy God already has put in place? If we would apply what we know and believe already, we would find God already has provided all we could ask or imagine.

Many say knowledge is power, but I don’t think that’s true. I believe knowledge is fuel, stored energy. Only when knowledge is applied does that potential become power.

When I was a young man, they told me I had potential and it was encouraging. When I was a little older, they told me I had potential and it was a reminder. As an older man, when someone tells me I have potential, it’s a warning!

God has given you everything you need: the gospel, Jesus, His presence and power are more than enough.

Let’s apply what we already know, use what we’ve already received and be the church He has called us to be!


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