A Word From Steve Jones
January 14th, 2019
Under the heat of the scorching sun the bones were sapped of all moisture. They were absolutely useless. One step away from dry dust. Behold – what do you see when you see the state of the church in Canada today? Could Canada be characterized in the same way? A land of dry bones.
Today, we continue my “President’s Address” from FNC2018 in November. Last week we clearly stated the discipleship drought in our churches and the dry bonesfound in the pews. The problem was outlined in last week’s blog; the solution follows from Ezekiel 37:3-5: “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’”
Recent surveys and studies indicate the Canadian church is shrinking. One of the starkest indicators is the exponential growth of the religiously dissatisfied in Canada, often referred to as the nones, or those expressing no religious affiliations. The Canadian average is 24% indicating no religious affiliation and this grows to 29% on average among those born between 1987 and 1989 – the millennials. In BC it’s even worse with 44% on average indicating no religious affiliation. The trending is bad across the country.
Last week we investigated in vv.1-2, that:
Ezekiel’s vision should cause us to pause and look at our own land
The dry bones of lives that exhibit no spiritual life, lost in sin with no means of escape. Churches that are so spiritually sapped and dry that they have become useless to the Lord. Slowly being pounded into dust by the constant waves of secularism, distraction, and apathy. Churches that have forgotten they’re supposed to be on mission. In fact, some have forgotten what the mission is. Now they’re only seeking their own survival.
A few months ago I heard a report about three mainline Protestant denominations who are currently seeking to sell almost 5,000 church building due to closures. It was heartbreaking to hear, knowing that at one time these were vibrant witnesses who lost their way. Denominations are becoming real estate business, rather than mission agencies.
Is the Evangelical church in Canada doing any better?
It actually is, but the trends don’t point to a future of tremendous vitality. Church health and church planting barely keep up with the national birth rate. And so, a visitation of the Spirit of God needs to invade our typical Boneyard Baptist Church, or we could be closing many churches in a generation or two.
What is the solution?
The Lord spoke to Ezekiel and told him what needed to be done. He had a responsibility to be on mission with God to reignite and revitalize these “dry, dead bones.”
“Can these bones live” (v.3). “O Lord God, you know.”
This responsibility rests upon the preachers of our churches, and I’m not only talking about the clergy.
Ezekiel’s first responsibility was to:
A. Preach (37:4 ESV): “Prophecy over these bones and say to them, O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.” Like any fellow follower of the Most High God, Ezekiel was to preach life into these dead dry bones by preaching the Word of God. The level of death and desolation represented by these dry bones in the valley must have made Ezekiel initially feel his assignment was utterly futile. But God’s Word is more powerful than our plans and methodologies.
The prophet and preacher Isaiah reminds us of this in Isaiah 55:11 (ESV) saying: “So shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth: It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God’s Word penetrates “joint and marrow … [and the] thoughts and intents of the heart” according to Hebrews 4:12. God’s Word will infuse truth, infuse life, into these dry bones.
For the past few years I have been meeting with our five Regional Directors discussing and considering best practices to revitalize the 30+% of our congregations that are not exhibiting mission-effectiveness. They find themselves on the descending side of the church life cycle, feeling dry and struggling to turn the ship around. But there is some good news on this front in every Region. Signs of health are showing in all our five Fellowship Regions, though we still have lots of work.
One of the critical reasons why revitalization is happening is because of what Ezekiel is commanded to behold or look for, found in verse 5 (ESV): “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” Until the Spirit of God breathes new life into these dry bones, our preaching will be in vain.
B. Ezekiel’s Second Responsibility is to Pray (v.5): Ezekiel had preached the Word of God to these dry bones. They seemed to appear to be alive, but they remained dead. They needed to be touched by God before they were fully alive. Ezekiel was commanded to pray that God might breathe on them and reanimate these dead corpses.
One of the seven reality principles of the Experiencing God discipleship toolkit is to look, watch, behold, and engage wherever God is already clearly working. Revival, revitalization happens when we join in where God is already doing a work of grace. Pray and ask the Lord to show you where He is breathing new life into dry bones. Join in with God’s purposes by not only preaching with urgency, but also praying with fervency. And let the outpouring of the Spirit of God bring life to dry and lifeless people and churches who have lost their way and have forgotten their purpose in life.
Next week we’ll investigate Ezekiel 37:6-10 and discover the result of this kind of preaching and praying. The insights we’ve learned so far is as follows:
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… I recently heard a church planter say, “Our future is in the harvest”. That got me to thinking: If we have no harvest, do we have a future? What are our churches doing to ensure we have a future harvest?
So started my address at our Fellowship National Conference (FNC2018) this past November. I spoke about what I was seeing across Canada in these days. We investigated Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones. My hopeful message was the “rattling” I was hearing among the dry bones.
A young 25 year old must have been thinking just how lean his future seemed as he and his people were marched into exile.
Ezekiel was a preacher’s kid who was taken to Babylon in 598 BC with King Jehoiachin, who had only enjoyed his coronation, becoming king three months previously. Thousands of the finest and most promising citizens of Judah who had not been left for dead in a brutal battle in a valley were taken into exile to Babylon.
Ezekiel’s name means “strengthened by God”. There is little doubt his repeated visions over his 20 years of faithful ministry were used to challenge and strengthen God’s people.
In Ezekiel chapter 37 his vision of a valley full of dry bones is a message specifically for the nation of Israel. Verse 11 mentions: “the whole House of Israel” (ESV). The nation is dead but God promises it will come back to life and bring glory to God.
So, is Ezekiel’s vision a word for the church today?
The church in Sardis was described in a similar way in Revelation 3:1: “…I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Like Ezekiel we too are surrounded by the dead. Everywhere there is existence of decay. It dominates our cities, our counties and our country. Our task is to spread the message that the dead can live again. God is in the restoration business. The conditions that surround us, should sober us, cause concern, and stir us into action. Ezekiel’s vision was shocking, even gruesome! A valley full of bleached white, scattered bones; this is the remnants of the nation of Israel.
So, in this growing hostile environment, what is the solution? We believe the hope of the world is Christ and the platform to deliver this hope is the local church. Is the local church healthy enough to stem the tide? In 2015, the Barna Group completed a significant study on the state of discipleship. Let me briefly share several findings from this large study on the state of discipleship health in the church today. While listening to these stats, ask yourself: Is there sufficient evidence to indicate that the Canadian church is healthy enough to address the growing indifference and even hostility toward the church?
Barna’s study involved the interviewing of 833 pastors and 2013 Christian adults:
An encouraging 52% of Christian adults definitely believed the church was doing a good job of helping people to grow spiritually, with another 40% saying the church was probably doing a good job.
However, church leaders were far more pessimistic. Only 1% said the church is doing very well at discipling young believers, and 60% said our churches are not doing well at discipling.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Edinburgh Mission Conference of 1910, four conferences were held in the four cities of: Edinburgh, Boston, Tokyo, and Cape Town. At each conference, just eight years ago, the overwhelming concern was the lack of discipleship in churches as a universal worldwide problem.
The Cape Town conference produced a document referred to as The Cape Town Commitment (2010). One commentator writes: “The Cape Town Commitment (2010) uses the language of confession, lamentation, and repentance more than 25 times referring to the scandal of the shallowness and lack of discipleship in churches.”
The encouraging thing is that in Barna’s 2015 study, 77% of practicing Christians indicated a desire to see growth in their spiritual life. In fact, 23% or one quarter indicated they are currently discipling someone and 94% of pastors said they were discipling someone. 25% of practicing Christians wanted their spiritual growth to happen in a small group while 40% wanted to grow all alone and another 16% would prefer to be discipled one on one with someone.
The picture is not an encouraging one. There remains so much our churches could do to help people grow spiritually. Very few Fellowship churches have developed a clearly defined Discipleship Pathway or Process. The result is a lot of spiritual dryness in the pews.
Ezekiel looked over the valley and he saw death. In verses 1-2 of chapter 37, Ezekiel sees a revelation. He looked over the valley and he saw death. The bones pointed to death. Many Bible commentators believe Ezekiel’s vision was the scene of the aftermath of a great battle. A valley filled with the bones of his own countrymen after their battle with Babylon. Thousands of Jews never receiving a proper burial (a horrific thought to a Jew), were left to rot where they fell, this was death on a massive scale.
What do we see in our own communities?
We see the living dead, the spiritually dead, sheep without a shepherd. The Fellowship’s mission statement declares that we are, “A movement of churches making passionate disciples of Jesus Christ.”
“Lord, open our eyes. Help us to see the devastation, help us to not become so familiar with the stink of death that we remain half-hearted in our work of making passionate disciples.”
John 4:35 (KJV) reminds us: “Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.” The word behold used in the ESV and KJV is a dramatic way to say look; look carefully and feel the immensity of the moment. Look carefully and see what the Lord is doing, and will do. Behold the mighty deeds of the Lord are at play, at work. Look! We must see the world as it really is: dead.
But in Ezekiel 37:7 (ESV) we read: “And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a great rattling, and the bones came together, bone to bone.”
Next week we’ll investigate the rattling that is going on in our land. Some encouraging signs of health and Gospel advance in our Fellowship of churches and the Evangelical church in general in Canada.
Have a blessed week,