Church membership in the 'last days'

by Joe McKeever, |

NEW ORLEANS (Christian Examiner) -- "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God–having a form of godliness but denying its power. And that's just the Christians!" (II Timothy 3:1-5)

I added that last line. Forgive me.

I did it to make a point: Paul is not talking about the world's crowd here.

The people of the world have always been self-centered, money-mad and pleasure-driven.

It's God's people–the redeemed, the members of His churches, those entrusted with the gospel–who will be this way.

Read that and weep.

Some observations on what this means for ministry in these last days ...

1. This is not all bad. Everyone is welcome at church, so we have always had a mixture of the good and evil in the pews, and that's how it should be. (See Matthew 22:10 where both evil and good people became guests at the banquet.)

2. But we must be prepared to deal with the presence of ungodly people in the mix. We must lower our expectations concerning the membership's behavior. To expect everyone to act like Christians since they are members of a church is to do what God does not do and sets oneself up for major disappointment.

3. The devil will use this misbehavior, of course, to discredit the church and to slander Christ. And there's not a lot we can do about that, other than teach the truth.

4. Churches must always be careful never to select as leaders the worldly, the immature, the carnal, and the spiritual dwarfed. We're glad to have the worldly crowd in church—maybe the message will penetrate their hearts and they'll come to Christ–but we must not elect them to anything.

5. Leaders should focus on those responsive to the truth, to the Gospel, to the Holy Spirit. We must not wait until one hundred percent of the people want to move forward, otherwise we'd do nothing. Go with the godly ones, Pastor. Trust the Lord to draw the rest in.

One problem that immediately surfaces is what to do in churches with congregational type governments where every decision is voted on and the majority rules. If a large percentage of your members are unspiritual and indistinguishable from the world's crowd, you're going to have a problem. I suspect this is why more and more churches in our Southern Baptist Convention are going to an elder-type arrangement where a representative group works with the ministers to set the agenda.

6. Ministers must prepare themselves and their families for mistreatment from the carnal who are wrongly placed in influential positions. As with hurricane preparedness–always a hot topic in the Gulf South where we live–the best time to prepare is in the sunshine, when life is great, no storm clouds are bearing down and no one is after you.

Far from pessimism, this is a realistic understanding of fallen humanity and our divine assignment.

7. We must not despair that church people are this way. Despair is never appropriate for the Lord's redeemed. We are people of faith and hope, love and victory.

So many preachers (and many a Christian friend on the social media) seem to have forgotten that we are bearers of good news about a Loving Christ sent from an Almighty God to a fallen humanity. The easiest kind of preaching to do is harping about sin, since it's all around us. Let us stay fixed on the North Star of God's Grace and keep preaching Jesus.

8. Be faithful. In the passage that follows the above text, the Apostle Paul reminds young Pastor Timothy of the following:

  • Such (worldly) people will not grow and make progress (3:9). Since there is no spiritual life in them, there's nothing to grow. In fact, they'll just get worse and worse (3:13).
  • You must make sure that you remain true to your raising! (3:10)
  • Remember that suffering and persecution will be the norm for God's people.( 3:12) So, do not be knocked off course when these setbacks come.
  • You continue in "the things you have learned," which is to say, "Stay in the Word." (3:14-17).

Keep your balance, Christian. Stay the course.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

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