The Battle for the Church is next in the battlefields we face as believers in the 21st century, and we have looked at the home and family, finances, the mind, our society and our personal fight, putting in the armour of God. Today I want to finish this series looking at the church, and what role we should play in this great battle for the hearts and minds and souls of our people. We going to look at the church in the battle, and the battle in the church.

THE STATE OF THE NATION and the BATTLE FOR THE CHURCH

By any measure the spiritual and moral climate in Australia is poor, with governments making unprecedented moral decisions, backed by the media and social media. Across the country church attendance is down, church influence is down, and recent surveys indicate that the number of Christians that attend church at least once a month is down from 36% in 1972 to just 15% today.

 

There’s plenty of reasons to be down about the state of the nation, but I am strangely upbeat about it. Never before has the church had the incredible opportunities we currently have before us. For decades, we’ve looked the same as the world, but today we are suddenly different. Suddenly the world is noticing us, and they might hate us, but we can be different and the the answer they seek.

 

In all the social upheaval, the prescription for revival remains the same…

 

2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV Strong's)

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

 

RELIGIOUS BUT IRRELEVANT

 

According to McCrindle.com.au, church attendance is down 48% since 1971, but those claiming to have no religion is up 269%. 25% of all church attendees are over 70, with all age groups below 70 under represented, and the average age of a church attender is 53. According to stats, the church is ageing out, and traditional religion appears to offer nothing to the average Aussie.

 

Proverbs 14:34 (ESV Strong's)

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

 

Our nation is not being exalted right now, and up until now it appears that the church offers little to change that situation. McCrindle also asked why Aussies are not going to church, and found this…

 

47% say the church is irrelevant to my life

26% say they don’t accept how religion is taught

24% say it’s outdated in style

22% had issues with clergy, I’m guessing some of the paedophilia claims

19% don’t believe the Bible, and only

18% said they were too busy.

 

From those figures we can see that most Australians find church irrelevant, outdated and of no use.

 

Philippians 2:15 (ESV Strong's)

be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

 

We are losing the battle for the church and society because we value the vehicle over the victory! The church is not shining, folks, we are barely flickering, but this is the time we must get ignited!

 

WE ARE CALLED TO BE SALT

 

Matthew 5:13 (ESV Strong's)

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.

 

Jesus called His church to be salt and light to a lost world. Why salt? Because it seasons and preserves.

 

Salt on a steak tastes amazing, because it seasons it, and Christians should enhance and favourably influence the people and society around them. Salt is a preservative, just as Christians and the church should resist moral corruption and decay, preserving a godly influence on the culture. Salt also has healing properties, so Christians should bring healing to their generation. Salt also creates thirst, so we should create spiritual thirst or desire among our people for God.

 

In many ways, the church has lost its saltiness, lost its edge, and hence is losing the battle! We are getting thrown out and trampled by men, because we are not flavouring and preserving in our culture, were simply confirming to it, and when we do that we become more confused than a chameleon in a box of skittles.

 

WE ARE CALLED TO BE LIGHT

 

Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV Strong's)

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

 

Christians should be shining right now, not trying to fit in an appease a small section of society. We should stand for the truth and what is right, and when society gets darker, like a beacon we should shine even brighter. Our nation needs beacons of hope, and even more so in coming years when the moral decisions made now create long term havoc in the next generation!

 

In the battles we fight, the church is rightly seen as irrelevant, sitting on the sidelines while a few take up the fight. It’s not down to government, legislation or media presence. Our nation is in the state it is today because the people of God have abdicated their responsibility to be salt and light.

 

Are we about RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP?

 

People have always been able to take something precious in a relationship and turn it into a religion.

 

At the giving of the 10 Commandments, the backbone of our culture and legal system, we read this,

 

Exodus 20:18-21 (ESV Strong's)

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

 

The people were invited to meet God, but they rejected that out of fear and told Moses to go and get the rules, and we’ll obey. At that point they chose religion and rules over relationship with God. We must not make this mistake. It’s not how we do it that’s important, it’s about obedience!

 

SATAN’S SECRET WEAPON

 

In the battle for the church in our nation, Satan has a secret weapon. This weapon is powerful, surprising, largely overlooked, but like poison gas, it just rolls across our battle lines, renders us useless as soldiers and undermines our ability to oppose him. The name of this satanic secret weapon is… religion!

 

Ignite is not an overly religious church, but are we an overly relevant church?

 

Isaiah 1:11 (ESV Strong's)

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.

 

Isaiah 1:16-17 (ESV Strong's)

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.

 

Church, we all, including us Pentecostals, need to examine ourselves. We say we’re not as religious as others, but we are in so many ways. Over time even great innovations lose effectiveness. Yesterday’s move of God is not good enough. We don’t want religious ritual, we want revival! The vast majority of Aussies consider the church as irrelevant, outmoded and out of touch.

 

Every movement of God has 4 phases, a man, a movement, a machine and a monument. It starts with a man, someone with a vision, like John Wesley, William Booth, etc. this creates a movement, momentum is gathered and people join to serve, and its impact is big. After a while this becomes a machine… looks the same on the outside, but people are just going through the motions. It’s a religion only, which then declines into a monument to past glories.

 

People have always need sucked into this powerful vortex called religion, chosing rules instead of having relationship. Even God’s people…

 

Isaiah 29:13 (ESV Strong's)

this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

 

Mankind is adept at taking relationships and institutionalising them. Traditions aren’t wrong, but when they replace true worship with a God who wants to connect with us, even seemingly good traditions can become, call it what it is, sin… idols! It’s time we committed at Ignite to igniting our culture, and becoming salt and light to our generation, not unquestioningly going through the motions!

 

DO WE THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER?

 

Please understand, I’m not suggesting we throw out everything you hold dear in church. Many traditions are worthwhile because they remind us what we are about, even outside the church. Pausing at 6pm to remember the fallen at the RSL is a time honoured tradition.  And we build our own traditions here in church, such as the way we do communion, worship, and the way we pray. They’re not wrong, they may not need to change, but they do need to be examined.  Are we just doing church for church people the way we’ve always done church, without even thinking of relevancy?  The question is not one of religion, it’s one of relevancy.

 

And like it or not, as statistics show us, whether you enjoy church or not, the bulk of Australians think the church is irrelevant, outdated and an exclusive club they don’t want to join! It’s a battle the church is losing because we choose to stick our heads in the ground and play holy huddles instead of fighting for the souls of our generation! I’d rather be relevant than religious, but I’m not talking a complete rebuild of church, it’s just a tweak in the way we think and do things.

 

Years ago my Uncle Erick use to walk to his church in his suit and tie, and he would wave to the same guy every Sunday who was sitting in his porch.  One Sunday, Erick was heading to church in his Sunday best, and noticed this man wasn’t there. He stopped and the man’s head popped out of a hole. He was repairing and cleaning the grease trap, the single smelliest and most revolting job ever. God spoke I my uncle, he went home, changed into overalls, went back and jumped into the pungent hole to help the man. He skipped church that day, but a few weeks later this man came to Christ.

 

God contrasts religious verses true fasting and sacrifice in Isaiah 58. He talks of religious fasts, but then

 

Isaiah 58:6-7 (ESV Strong's)

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

 

My uncle chose relevancy over religion that day, and God calls us to the same today. We don’t want a holy huddle. We want a Holy Spirit explosion across our community! People don’t understand Bible reading, or prayer, or communion or worship, but they do understand love, caring, integrity, valuing people, providing for people in need. They even understand fun, relevant messages and kind words.

 

OUR CALLING AS THE CHURCH- OUR SECTION OF THE FRONT

 

In this mighty battle for our nation, we have been given a section of the front…

 

The vision of Ignite church is to be a community of faith reaching out to disbelieving or dislocated people to draw them into and nurture a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We do this by creating an irresistible church where people are encouraged and equipped to pursue intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with outsiders.

 

In summary, we are called to be salt and light to our generation by making church irresistible to the unchurched. The unchurched include those who once were in church but left, for whatever reason, and also those who have never been in church. Is our church irresistible?

 

The world has so many questions about so many aspects of life, and the church is God’s answer,  but we still struggle to be relevant. Often we doggedly hang onto religious traditions that our culture finds irrelevant, frankly at times we love the way we do church more than we love Jesus, or the lost!

 

John 15:16 (ESV Strong's)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

 

I’m not talking compromise here… we do not compromise the Word of God, we do not compromise our love for others. All I’m suggesting is that we think about the way it’s packaged, making church for general consumption rather than a boutique religious experience.

 

Quand je parle en francais, tout le monde ici, ne comprend pas.. What did I say? You don’t know, because I said it in French, and most of you don’t speak French. In the same way, if we speak Christianese, if we develop our own religious culture, if we act like religious bigots or religious weirdos, how will others hear and understand the message of the cross.

 

I’m not suggesting we water down God’s Word or standards, or that we go “seeker friendly,” trying desperately not to offend people.  I’m just suggesting we show our generation God’s love in a language and a form they can relate to, not in religious irrelevancy, and that our church starts meeting the needs of our community in a way that makes sense to them.  Let me ask you…

 

Would you change something you enjoy in church if it meant that we bore more fruit? Would you give up something you like if it meant Ignite became more relevant and people got saved? Would you invest time, money, commitment and prayer into a church that was salt and light? I would.

 

Going forward I believe we must commit to stand on the following core truths…

 

1.      UNITY

 

If we fight each other then we get nowhere, and the enemy wins. As a pastor, I constantly get people telling me their opinions on how we should do things at Ignite, but in the end these are just opinions on a Scripture, they’re not Scripture. Church, however heartfelt our opinions, we need to lay these aside and agree to disagree agreeably, but join in fully whether it suits us or not. If you love others more than your own opinion, we will not have disunity.

 

1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV Strong's)

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

 

Division destroys relationship and hence our relevancy. I know many of you have different opinions on many areas, but I appreciate the maturity you have to lay your opinions aside and serve side by side. Some can’t do it, some leave in a huff because I won’t do what they want, but folks, I’m sick of playing church and being irrelevant, and I will not let even well meaning opinion deflect our vision. When we argue and fight over matters of religion, the devil wins, not you, or me or God!

 

Every decision we make as a leadership is going to be made through the lens of our calling… would this make us more irrelevant to the unchurched, or more irresistible. Unity is irresistible, and infighting makes us an irrelevancy.

 

2.      COMMUNITY

 

We have a wonderful community here, and it draws people, especially those hurting and lonely. But we could lose this edge in a heartbeat if we become cliquey and inward looking.

 

Romans 12:10-13 (ESV Strong's)

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

 

So don’t just attend church, invite someone to lunch, catch a coffee midweek, pray with someone, send a text, love one another in practical ways, because this builds the community we all crave.

 

This was easy when we had 40 people at church. It’s a little harder with 180, but let me dispel this untruth… a bigger church doesn’t mean an impersonal one. We might have to change how we do community, tweak it or systemise it, but we must be willing to grow and change to build the kind of community that welcomes and accepts the unchurched.

 

3.      CONNECTION

 

Again through the lens of our vision to reach the unchurched, are we connecting with our community? The short answer is… no! Sadly, this suburb is mostly unaware that we exist at all.

 

Matthew 5:16 (ESV Strong's)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

 

We will not connect with our community by being more religious. They notice when we love them, they see our good works, not what we say, our good works, and that earns the right to speak the words of God to them.

 

So our pastoral care team are looking at ways we can reach our community. Youth is a way, love came down was a way, moving to downtown is a way. We have a great community, but we must couple that with great connections into society at large.

 

IS THE CHURCH BECOMING IRRELEVANT OR IRRESISTIBLE?

 

I want everything we do here at Ignite to be relevant, again through the lens of our core vision. If we reach out to people, or if you invite someone who isn’t going to church, and we are so religious in how we do things that they feel isolated and alienated, then we will not grow. I don’t want to put live chickens under dead hens!

 

Without compromising our gospel message or godly values, we need to make Ignite the church you are confident and happy to bring others to. We are working on it, we’re doing well, better than most, but I want more.. We can be better.

 

1 Corinthians 3:10 (ESV Strong's)

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.

 

You may not know this, but we think and pray long and hard about how we put services together.

 

We love putting an awesome welcome team in the car park and at the door, because every unchurched person understands the feeling of being welcomed. It’s love in action and it’s irresistible to all.

 

We choose worship carefully. We do songs that people who may have been in church from years past are recognised. If you come to a new church, if all you hear are new songs your first thought is, “I don’t belong here.” If you hear one song you recognise, even a hymn, you feel welcomed. So in worship our style is not dance, or rap, or heavy metal, it is soft rock, a style that appeals to most everyone. And we always do at least one song almost everyone who has had anything to do with church recognises.

 

The preaching is again carefully thought out. Some of you want me to preach through Old Testament books. I have nothing against that at all, may do it sometime, but right now I believe God wants me to preach topically about things that matter on a Sunday, because that’s irresistible to the unchurched.

 

What would draw the average Aussie more? A verse by verse study through Ezekiel, or a sermon on fear or doubt or loneliness or loss. I preach this way because it’s relevant, and I ask the Lord to provide life and hope and the good news about Jesus to our generation.

 

THE CHURCH CHANGING OUR GENERATION

 

At Ignite, our focus going forward is going to be the community. I’m not here to play church, I’m not here to build a nice, comfortable church. I want to make a difference in our generation, and this morning I’m asking you to commit to joining me. I’m not saying we need to change everything, just examine what we do through the lens of being relevant to our people. Remember, the vast majority of people surveyed said church is entirely irrelevant to their life, and I aim for Ignite to be the exception!

 

Remember, God’s prescription for our nation is still the same…

 

2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV Strong's)

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

 

Today I ask you to humble yourself,  to put your preferences and opinions aside, and pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways.

 

Are you content with just doing church, or do you want to become salt and light to this generation? I’m asking you to you join me in creating an irresistible church, one that attracts the unsaved? Will you join me in winning our generation to Jesus, and building the church He desires for us?

About Darin

Pastor Darin Browne is the Senior Pastor of Coast Church in Woombye, Queensland. He is an international speaker and worship leader and has toured all over the world, produced 8 albums and authored several books.