I am back from my recovery from open heart surgery. When we left off we were reading Leviticus; obviously I can’t capture all of our readings for the last seven weeks – so I want to pick up with Numbers 10. In Leviticus and the first nine chapters of Numbers, we find the continued instruction for the people and priests. They are still at Mount Sinai; they camped at Sinai for a year. Israel has been out of Egypt for about 18 months when we come to Numbers 10. The track record of the people thus far is not a good one. It seems that every time the LORD tested them to determine their obedience, they failed. The people complained from the beginning of the Exodus; complaints about being drawn out to die at the Red Sea; complained about no water, or food. We even have the episode of blatant rebellion in Exodus 32 with the Golden Calf while Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law. The scripture tells us that Israel is an obstinate and stiff-necked people. I was reading recently from Thom Rainer about the three kinds of church revitalization attempts. [http://thomrainer.com/2015/05/three-types-of-church-revitalization-introducing-church-answers-monthly/] He identifies them as Acquisition [90%], Covenantal [40%] and Organic [2%]. Acquisition is similar to replanting or restarting a church with new leadership. Covenantal pertains to a church agreeing on certain changes with a catalytic change agent; and Organic is when a church tries different methodologies and programs to stop the declining and dying. My point in referencing this is that Organic is least successful because while the processes and programs have been changed, the people’s behavior/attitude has not. Some churches would die than change. When we know that upwards to 1000 churches will close this year just in the Southern Baptist Convention; obviously something has to done. If Thom Rainer’s success rates are accurate; then only when radical “surgery” occurs will there be any real effect on the dying/declining churches. As I titled this blog post, some things never change. Change is inevitable; if change doesn’t occur, death will.
Back to Numbers 11; when Israel is told to leave Mt. Sinai and head to the Promised Land; the people pick up where they left off with complaining about everything. Their complaints find the ears of the LORD and Moses; now Moses has to be commended for even when the people seem bent on ousting him, he intercedes for them. Remember now the people are still in the Wilderness; they complain about the Manna and wanting meat to eat. The fury of the LORD brings fire that singes the outskirts of the camp. The rabble as they are called continue to stir up strife and controversy. Rather than praising the LORD for deliverance from slavery and the daily sustenance. The people have a nostalgic moment, thinking back to Egypt – their memory was skewed for they made Egypt far better than it was; claiming they ate fish, leeks, cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic. To me that seems like the formula for indigestion! The people continue to complain – “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” This is the struggle with Church Revitalization – that which needs to be done, cannot be done for people would rather be like Israel and remain in Slavery [Egypt] then to move forward in the power of God. Since there are so many churches closing, one would think that people would do what is necessary for the blessing of God – Israel in its complaining still expected to receive the blessing of God – instead they got the plague of the quail. They asked for meat – boy did they get it – the point that it came out of their nostrils. Murmuring continues even from the family of Moses; Miriam and Aaron balk at the leadership of Moses. [Familiarity often breeds contempt]. After a bout of leprosy they get back in line with Moses authority.
Too often churches that once had a viable ministry decline because the focus become “What’s in it for me?” Another way of saying this is the church become “inward focused.” So what is the solution? There must be a heart change before there is a behavior change. The heart must return to the authority of the Holy Spirit, we call this REVIVAL. Israel never did change; they continued to be a stiff-necked people; would that we would learn this lesson in our time.