On a recent trip, I had a long layover in a city back East where I attended Bible College. I rented a car and drove to my old alma mater. There was nothing there except soccer fields and an outhouse. As I walked and prayed, I grieved and mourned the past. Hundreds of missionaries and pastors had graduated from this school. God had done great things here. Nothing was left.
After an hour of wandering over the soccer fields, I drove a couple of miles up the road to the massive church that had given birth to the college. In its day, the church was known far and wide for sending out scores of homegrown missionaries all over the world. The lead pastor’s contagious passion for missions had helped to inspire Becky and me to go to Sudan. I drove up to the campus and looked for someone who could show me around. The place was deserted. Eventually, I found the church custodian. He took me into the worship center that I’d remembered from long ago. Ropes had cordoned off almost all the pews in the 1700 seat sanctuary… save for the middle-front that could seat maybe 100-150.
As we talked, the custodian revealed that he’d been in the church for most of his adult life. He remembered the glory days when the worship center was packed with passionate Jesus-followers and missionaries were considered ‘heroes.’ I asked about the church’s ongoing commitment to sending and supporting missionaries. He replied: “We don’t do that anymore. We don’t have the money. When the missionaries took our support without giving anything in return… the pastor decided that he didn’t believe in supporting missionaries anymore.” The decades of steady decline had taken their toll on this dear brother. Our conversation was heartbreaking. I asked him how he was doing. “Very depressed,” he replied. “No one gives. No one prays. No one cares about missions anymore.” I held him in my arms and prayed over him. He wept. I didn’t know his name, but I could feel his pain.
After I left the church, I drove a couple of miles down the road to see if my favorite pizza place was still in business. Sure enough… Angelos was busier than ever!
As I sat at the table consuming my 14-inch mushroom pie, all I could think about was this: ‘Why is it that the Bible college and church where God had worked so powerfully in the past have now sunk into irrelevance, while the pizza joint is kicking stronger than ever?’
Knowing some (but not all) of the story, I’m aware that the Bible college and the church had fallen victim to financial mismanagement, incompetent leadership, an inability to address dysfunction, and an unwillingness to change. I don’t know what came first, the lack of passion for global evangelism, or all the other stuff. Either way, it was sad. The Church in America had lost a couple of its greatest voices for global missions. Ok… brothers and sisters, I might sound depressed. I’m not. I’m just a little sobered and reflective. For as long as I live, I want to do all that I can to rouse the Church to the Great Commission. I truly believe this: ‘When a church looks outward, it thrives. When it looks inward, it dies.’ Period.