We can find hope when we are focused on the future. There is a prevailing attitude among some that if a church doesn't have many people, or have a large offering, or ins't saturated with daily programming they are not viable for the work of the Lord. Some people have the idea that bigger is better and that unless you have a large group you really can't do anything. Or others, have the idea that if a congregation is aging, or struggling in a community or area that is declining, they say there is little hope for that congregation's future.
Sadly, these thoughts and opinions are worldly based, and not on God's standard. The small and rural church is the backbone of the church in the United States. Groups of dedicated individuals, of Christians, come together to seeking ways to build relationships and reach out to those who are their neighbors.
It's too simplistic to look at the past and lament and be discouraged at the differences of how congregations were 50 or 60 years ago. Dwelling on what was is neither healthy or helpful. The past is gone, we cannot reclaim it.
We have a God who equips and empower us through the word to Jesus known in our communities. Small is not a bad thing.
"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." — Micah 5:2
Though Bethlehem was a small place from there came our savior. So great things can come from small places. Instead of allowing negativity and pessimism to consume the congregation and cause it to think it's not good enough a new way of thinking must emerge. We must come up with a new way of thinking, a new mindset. The small and rural church is viable. It is vital in making disciples of Jesus Christ. Smaller congregations churches are fundamental of the foundation of the Lord's church throughout the world. We have the ability to vitally serve our God and to have high hopes for the future of the congregation.
Hope Comes When we are Focused on the Future
Hope Toward the Future is Fundamental
- Romans 8:24-25
Hope gives us the ability to continue to live. Hope propels us into the future. For the Christian, hope toward the future also includes contemplation of spending an eternity with God in Heaven.
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Hope toward one’s future must be accompanied by our involvement in helping to bring about the desired future. If we don't do something about or toward our hope we aren't going to do any good. The New Testament contains several exhortations to work for the Lord.
- 1 Corinthians 15:58
- 2 Thessalonians 3:13
We need to understand that when it comes to working for the Lord there is an urgency to it. Jesus knew His work was urgent, and we must recognize that it still is.
- John 9:4
- Ecclesiastes 9:10
- Galatians 6:9
We need to be looking for opportunities to labor for Christ.
- Titus 2:14-3:1
Our labors are apparent to onlookers in this world. They see what we do and they are looking to find some hypocrisy, some fault within us. Yet, we shine among them.
- Philippians 2:14-16
As we live the Christian life we shine in the world. Our zeal encourages others to have enthusiasm for the work of God.
- 2 Corinthians 9:2
God’s workers work with the souls of their fellow mankind.
- Matthew 5:14-16
Each child of God must focus on and have hope toward the future.
Elders Must Be Focused on the Future
Elders have the gravest and greatest responsibility on earth.
Must give an account for the souls of others.
- Hebrews 13:17
- 1 Peter 5:1-4
- 1 Peter 5:1-2
- Titus 1:5-9
Elders must also lead the church with regard to its focus on the future. A church whose elders have no focus on the future will not have a focus on the future either. Churches that have no active goals for the future are stagnant, displeasing to God and will eventually shrivel up and die. Elders must focus on the future regarding the spiritual and numerical growth of the congregation they serve.
Deacons Must Be Focused on the Future
Deacons are general servants of the church under the direction of elders. Deacons must be faithfully qualified to serve.
- 1 Timothy 3:8-13
Deacons are largely responsible for the day-to-day fulfillment of church work related to the future of the church. Deacons must share the vision their elders have for the future. Without sharing the vision of the elders, deacons are at a disadvantage in fulfilling their responsibilities. Deacons must desire and work toward the fulfillment of the congregation’s divine mission now and in the future.
Preachers Must Be Focused on the Future
The qualifications and responsibilities of preachers largely appear in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Preachers serve the church, specifically the congregations with which they regularly labor. Preachers are also under the oversight of elders. It is important that preachers share the vision of the elders for the future. The nature of a preacher’s work is extensively visionary.
A preacher must expect and desire the church to grow spiritually and numerically.
A preacher can hardly encourage other members satisfactorily unless he genuinely harbors hope (expectation and desire) that the church with which he labors has the potential to grow. A preacher without hope or vision toward future growth of the congregation has no business in that pulpit. God’s preacher is convinced that faithfully sowing the Word of God will result in spiritual and numerical growth.
- Isaiah 55:11
We need to understand and believe that if we preach God's word, if we spread the message of God's word it will not be returned unto the Lord void. So preachers must be focused on the future.
Congregations Must Be Focused on the Future
Every congregation is obligated to follow godly elders.
- Hebrews 13:17
- 1 Peter 5:1-4
A congregation must share its elders’ vision for the future of the church. The visionary goals of elders for the future of a congregation are unattainable without the complete cooperation of the church. A congregation must hope (desire and expect) spiritual and numerical growth.
Indifference will destroy visions and goals for the future of a church. Lacking vision for the future is poisonous to growth and maybe the existence of any congregation. The church must reach for tomorrow respecting the three-fold mission of the church.
We must reach out, through evangelism, for the future of the Lord's church.
- Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:18-20
We must build each other up for the future of the Lord's church.
- 1 Corinthians 14:12
We must do good unto all men, and when we have opportunity for the future of the Lord's church.
- Galatians 6:10
God's people, the congregation, needs to be focused on the future, on the goals the elders have set for the future.
Goals for the distant future begin with goals for the immediate future. Our world has changed, but God’s word has not. We may never go back to what things used to be. We must forge a new future – a future of hope.
The same word of God which equipped the early church to forge their future – is the same that we have today and likewise it enables us to have that same blessed hope as they did.
We may be a small congregation. But remember what Mark Twain said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, but the size of the fight in the dog!”
More importantly remember what the Lord said to the church at Philadelphia.
"I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name." — Revelation 3:8
It was a church that was small, that was struggling, but Jesus told them that's enough because God has great strength. We are a small congregation, in a small town. Yet, there are so many great things we can do if we focus on the future respecting the approaching eternity.
We know there is a great day coming, a day when those who are in a right relationship with God will be restored to God. But, there is a day coming for those who are outside the body of Christ, the great day of dread.
You can look forward to that great if you have obeyed the word of God, you can look forward to the great day of salvation. To obey you must believe that he is the son of God, and in believing repent of your sins, and confess His name. You can be baptized to have your sins washed away, then living in a faithful life you too can look forward to the great day that is coming, and be with God forever.
By: Jack McNiel, Evangelist Sources Consulted: Louis Rushmore outline