Josh Trombley is the lead pastor of Life Boat Church in Halifax, NS. He is also the author of a new book entitled “Hidden Faces: Discovering Our True Identity in Christ.” Pick up his book or check out his blog at joshtrombley.com
Originally published on July 22, 2019
Sure, death seems final. After all, the lungs and heart are no longer pumping, and the brain is no longer firing. Yet, I’ve heard of people coming back to life.
My father is in the military and has had the opportunity to meet some exciting fellows over the years. One time he invited his friend who was in the Australian special forces over for dinner. He began to tell us stories of grand adventures as if they were pulled straight out of a Robert Ludlum book. Amid these stories I presume to be true due to their wild nature––without revealing too many details (after all, if he told he would have to kill me…)–he stated that three times he awoke with a priest over him pronouncing his last rights.
Clearly, death is not the final note!
Just because someone else has pronounced you dead that doesn’t mean you are. You aren’t dead until you decide you are, not until you give in to death (which isn’t necessarily a bad–a natural life cycle has death at the end).
What I am alluding to isn’t the death of the physical body, although this may certainly apply. What I am thinking of is all the talk of the cycle of an organization or a church. Whether it is Les McKeown’s wheel of Predictable success or a someone like Paul Borden’s life cycle of a church, an organization can find themselves pegged on the wheel and deem themselves to have no hope. These are not to tell you to roll over and die. No! These tools are to help you diagnose symptoms. Whether in business or the church, these resources are meant as a prognosis, not a diagnosis. Yet, big and small churches alike confuse the two and accept a lesser fate then they should.
Congregations all across the world have been pronounced dead by communities, politicians, philosophers, and most shockingly, other church leaders. While it may be true that these congregations are operating in a “death Rattle” (to use Les McKeown’s phrase, until the congregation either gives up or in, there is always a chance that there can be life again.
In the vein of Jesus, many parables about plants (mustard seeds, scattering seeds, and vineyards). I would like to tell you about my orchid.
Two years ago on a Mother’s Day (or was it anniversary…or maybe it was Valentines), I bought my wife an orchid. I had heard on an episode of “Stuff You Should Know” that they were a pretty resilient flower, which is perfect for my wife. Let’s just say my wife is the place plants go to die. My wife tended the plant while it was in bloom, but as soon as the petals fell, she pronounced it dead. Yet, we couldn’t bring ourselves to throw it away. It didn’t have flowers or buds. Just the stem was sticking up from green leaves.
The green leaves should have been a sign to us that life was possible. We just figured that there was no hope that the leaves and the stems were merely signs of past life and not the present.
The plant stayed in this state for over a year.
Over a year of no flowers–no buds.
Our neighbour is one of those weird plant people. What I mean is her plants live… When she saw our plant, she just couldn’t help but perform her plant voodoo on it.
She explained how the orchid wasn’t dead. She did this water and drain thing and told us to only give it a little water once a week.
Now that is my kind of plant.
We watered once a week.
Just over two years after this plant had lost its last flower, it now sprung life. Currently, multiple buds are ready to bloom.
Just because things seem dead, it doesn’t mean they are. Sometimes we just need an expert to give us a little nudge on in the right direction, on how to foster life.
It is recorded that Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me?
What we first must do is yield to God and allow Him to prune our life. We also need him to prune the branches in our churches. Trimming the dead branches off, God brings the plant back to life. The sacred cows get thrown away, selfishness departs, and desire to see people encounter the risen Christ remains and grows.
We can also learn a little from our neighbours. Like my wife and I did about our orchid. Authors like Thom Rainer, Rich Birch, Daniel Im, or Nelson Searcy have great resources for you to begin to trim branches, see the prognosis, and foster life.
Just because you have been pronounced dead, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. There could be new life right around the corner, you just need the knowledge and tools to make life happen.
We must yield to the gardener, God. We must be willing to hear the advice of those who have travelled this road before. We must see the prognosis is not always a diagnosis.
Where have you seen a prognosis be accepted a death sentence?