The Path of the Cross
Main Idea: Loss is a matter of perspective. There is much, everything, to be gained.
Shrinking, struggling mainline churches often get stuck in “David and Goliath” thinking and tend to avoid the path of the Cross.
Both stories, both paths, are of God. We struggle against the fact that God decides what “winning” looks like. We resist when God’s definition of “winning” is really different from the world’s or what we want. But both stories are about, both paths lead to, our relationship with God. That is the outcome that matters.
Sometimes we win a glorious victory and get all the “goodies.” Sometimes we lose everything to gain the gifts God intends for us. The point, the outcome, is always our healed relationship with God. Wealth or death are fairly meaningless in comparison.
We can look at our shrinking mainline churches and get distracted by success and death. We can compare ourselves to those churches we’ve heard of who re-booted and grew and did so in godly ways. We wonder what we’re doing wrong when we don’t experience this sort of success - gaining both godly and worldly “goodies.” We’re afraid of dying. We are afraid of the path of the Cross.
Well, maybe our path *is* that of the Cross.
Knowing which path we’re on requires discernment. Discernment requires looking deeply at concepts and options that we would rather avoid. Painful ones, unpopular ones, and ones that can threaten and anger. This sort of discernment requires spiritual and emotional maturity.
The ironic thing is that developing the spiritual and emotional maturity to engage in deep and godly discernment will attract even more spiritual and emotional growth. It’s a key ingredient of church growth.
Most of us are on the path of the Cross. As we walk through Lent this season, we hold all the pain and loss of the Cross in Christ’s life and in our own. We hold it and ponder it and do not run away from it. We can do the same as we look at the path of our churches.
And it doesn’t matter at all if our church is called to grow or shrink. The only thing that matters is our healed relationship with God as the Body of Christ - individually and collectively. Loss and death might actually be our growth strategy. It’s the tried and true method far more often than not.
The early Church should have died with Jesus on the cross. It didn’t. Mere days later, there were thousands of new believers. The early Church should have died with persecutions and martyrdoms. It didn’t. For every Christian that killed there were dozens of new believers. For every gathering busted up, a bunch of new churches formed.
What is the message for us today? That we should gather and allow ourselves to grow spiritually and emotionally in every way so that we may discern fearlessly.
We resist the Cross. We resist death and loss. We resist thinking about painful things and sitting with suffering. But we can’t have a healed relationship with God while resisting these things.
Where is your church resisting? What topics do you avoid? What does your leadership refuse to talk about? What is your greatest fear?
We must look at what causes us pain, and then put this on the altar. It sounds so easy to say, “give it to God.” And yet to truly give something to God in order to be healed, we must hold it and feel it and lose it. That’s hard and painful.
Let’s honor the pain and suffering. Let’s stop resisting and start holding that which is painful so that we might, at last, give it to God and watch it go. Watch it die.
Our healed relationship with God is the only thing that truly matters, and the only thing the world cannot take away from us. It is eternal. It is the good news of the gospel. It is what makes us the Church.