No doubt, you’ve heard the depressing statistics: church attendance is dropping, millennials are staying away from organized religion, and there is a rising number of people unaffiliated with any church. Headlines remind us about the aging of the American church and the cultural divide of congregations around the nation. Too often, the future of the church looks dismal and hopeless.
But let’s stop for a moment to remember that similar headlines and statistics could have been written about the church throughout history. There have always been enormous barriers, huge failures, and great opposition within and outside the church. Can you imagine the headlines in Daniel’s day? The Babylonian Research group could have reported: “Four Weak Kids Left to Represent Yahweh; Elders Abandon the Cause.”
Instead, King Nebuchadnezzar sent this decree to the entire Babylonian Kingdom: “Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” Daniel 3:29. King Darius published this lead story: “In all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” Daniel 6:26–27
Statistics were against God’s Kingdom. Public sentiment sneered at Yahweh’s rule. But the God of Heaven pulled off a miracle. As He did over and over again—all way to Jesus. And all the way to today.
During a visit with my wife to the Magnolia Silos in Waco, I saw a sign that said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
It’s a good sign. It puts God’s work for His church in perspective. In spite of headlines and statistics, God is still in the miracle business. We may not always notice, but God is always up to something very good. He is living and active. His Word doesn’t return empty. Jesus is risen from the dead! We live in the midst of miracles. God is doing great things.
You may recall when the prophet Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the angry King of Aram’s forces. As Elisha’s servant looked at the menacing army, he began to lose hope. The evidence pointed to total destruction. But Elisha said to his frightened friend: “’Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.’” 2 Kings 6:16–17
Today, the God of heaven is still at work. Our prayer is not, “God, are you doing anything?”, but “O Savior, open our eyes that we may see.”
It is such a joy to see God’s many miracles in the Texas District. Congregations are bringing Jesus’ love to others. Innovative ministry is crossing cultural and generational divides. Just recently, I sat with an evangelist in a small and crowded apartment located in an out-of-the-way town as she told how she is befriending a forgotten young man confined to a rehab center. She has become like a mother to him, he told her. She’s been sharing Jesus with him. It’s a miracle of God’s grace. Not long ago, I was honored to gather with a few followers of Jesus in a cramped meeting room in an urban Texas neighborhood. There I met a young man—a junior in high school—who is now teaching music to kids from single parent families who live in an apartment complex next door. These kids are coming to faith in Jesus. Many are now newly baptized. Some may become Daniels, Elishas, or Esthers for their generation. It’s a miracle of God’s grace right here in the Texas District.
Jesus promised that the gates of hell cannot withstand the advance of His Church (Matthew 16:18). Whatever the statistics say and however the headlines read, God is doing great things. Jesus is at work. He is transforming lives. He is in the conversation. He is working through the wonderful people, congregations, new starts and ministries of the Texas District. We are privileged to be part of His work. Let’s keep calling attention to it and let’s steward it well.
By Rev. Michael W. Newman