outside the box

We’re always being challenged to “think outside the box.” Easter suggests that we think outside the tomb. No one was prepared for what happened early that morning. All of the explanations for the empty tomb were found inside the box. Only the angels’ message was outside the box: “He is risen.” Hundreds of years earlier, Ezekiel was shown the valley of dry bones and asked, “Son of man, can these bones live?” To his credit, he answered, “Lord, you know.” If one only thinks inside the box, the answer must be a resounding, “No.” If some were to assess the spiritual condition of their congregation and hear a voice say to them, “Can this congregation survive?” they might be tempted to give a quick, “No” as well. All indicators point to a slow death as old-timers die off with none to replace them. Or as younger folk go in search of a church home where all of their friends attend. Or as pastors and people become contentious and fail to heed Paul’s warning about devouring each other.

God can’t be left out of the equation, though sometimes that’s what happens. That’s not to say that we should have faith that God will transform every ailing congregation in order to spare it. He still kills in order to make alive, so death is the necessary step before resurrection can happen. Congregations more interested in bazaars than the eternal fate of their unchurched neighbors cannot expect to escape His judgment. Professional church workers more interested in cruising the internet than in tending to the spiritual vacuum of their people will also come under heavy scrutiny. Death may come in the form of repentance or in the form of a church closure or by a call being terminated. But Easter still reminds us that death – even congregational death – is not the end. Whether or not a resurrection is possible lies in God’s hand. Continue to trust that when God kills, He does so only to make alive. Because of changing demographics, a church in my former district decided to close their doors. But the proceeds of the sale went to start a new mission, bearing the name of the old congregation. A fitting rebirth.

As congregations of the Ohio District are forced to face the question, “Can this church live?” let’s allow God to answer that and be prepared for His answer. It may well be death. But the longer we fight death, the longer it will be before a resurrection can take place.

- President Cripe