Our future is assured in him

I don’t remember a time in the church when we weren’t talking about the doom and gloom of the future. Shrinking congregations. Tighter finances. Scandals impacting the place of the church in society. The latest ‘discoveries’ regarding sexuality pushing the church to the margins. And the apparent supremacy of science and human reason over the faith handed down to us (Jude 1:3).

Perhaps it’s predictable that we tend to be pessimistic about the future of the church, just as we are about life in general. But what does Jesus have to say about this?

Read Matthew 16:13–19.

Who does Jesus say builds the church? With what does he build the church?

What does Jesus say about threats to the church? You might like to explore what ‘the gates of hell’ represent in this context. Most consider it a figure of speech that refers to whatever causes a person to enter hell.

See Psalm 9:13 and 107:18.

Jesus’ language here is deliberately strong. If the gates of hell have no power to destroy the church, what threat do changing socio-economic and political factors pose to us?

Even though we have Jesus’ assurance, dwindling attendances demand our attention and action and, before you know it, mission becomes a survival strategy. ‘If only we can get a few more members who will share the load.’ ‘If only we can have a few more backsides on seats, we will meet our budget.’

But is that the purpose of mission? To fill seats and ensure the financial viability of the church?

Not according to God’s word! Mission is about proclaiming the gospel in order that people may come to faith and be saved.

Read 1 Corinthians 15:1–11. Where is the focus – on the survival of the church or the salvation of the lost?

I know what it’s like to be part of a small congregation with an uncertain future. But our worry about the future often reveals that we are trusting the wrong things. Instead of trusting in the Lord, who promises the church will endure forever, and having faith in the gospel which is the power of God to save, we too easily trust in our own endeavours to save the church.

Does that sound familiar? Has your heart been weighed down by such misplaced trust? Well, let me tell you some good news. You are forgiven in the name of Christ. Jesus has suffered and died that your sins of misplaced trust and doubt and despair might have no power over you and you are freed to live as one deeply loved by your Heavenly Father. Your lack of trust in the future of the church has been crucified with Jesus and you are free to face the future with confidence in his promise (Matthew 16:18).

The church of tomorrow may not look exactly like it does today and our place in society is not guaranteed. But our future is guaranteed – not because of ‘our’ mission work, but because the Lord of the Church will continue building on the foundation of forgiveness and life he won for us on the cross (Matthew 24:14; Colossians 1:5,6).