Half of all churches in the US did not add any new members to their ranks in the last two years and it has been even longer since there was a new conversion at their alters* (or anywhere else in or around the church).
George Barna says that ” a church cannot be turned around until a contingent (or remnant) of people is so firmly committed to the ministry of the church that they will sacrifice almost anything for the good of the church, to the glory of God.”
It is no wonder that so many churches are struggling, the fire in the church has turned to smoldering ashes. Until the people of the church get and see the vision and purpose that God has for that local congregation, nothing will happen of any significance. It will be like cooking on the stove with no heat. Leadership or committees can come up with all the programs and activities they can think of and put all kinds of money in it to make the production or project attractive and appealing that they want but until the church is following and obeying the vision God places for them, it will result in human effort and human results which is inadequate compared to God’s effort and God’s results.
I am reminded of Leviticus 6:13 that says, The fire must be kept burning on the alter continuously; it must not go out.” This is the root of the problem that most churches that are in decline face. They do not tend the fire. Some of the many definitions of tend is to; apply oneself to the care of and to have or take charge of as a caretaker or overseer. God is telling the church that we must take care of and stoke the heavenly fire that the Holy Spirit provides and brings to us. But we can be neglectful and distracted and take our eyes off of the vision that God provides for us and when this happens we must seek to rekindle those fires in our church. Somewhere in the beginning history of your church, someone had a vision and fire that God placed in them to start that church in that place at that time. It is time to reestablish and rekindle that fire.
So how and why is the fire so important and essential for the life of a church? In Leviticus it is mentioned several times that the fire in the altar was to burn continuously. God wanted a perpetual fire burning there, and He must have had a very good reason for it to remain.
- The fire was the very representation of God Himself. Before the law was ever given, God appeared to Moses “in flames of fire from within a bush on the back side of the desert. Moses realized that as he gazed upon the sight before him, that even though the bush was on fire it did not burn up or was it being consumed” (Exodus 3:2). God chose the appearance of a continuous fire when calling Moses to lead the people out of Egypt to a new land. Later, when God was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, God appeared as a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:21–22).
Then came the Law. Outside the tabernacle, the fire for the burnt offering was commanded to be kept burning; never was it to be extinguished. Leviticus 6:13 instructs, “The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.” This is mentioned three times in this chapter (verses 9, 12, and 13).
Churches today can try to create an atmosphere of emotional and spiritual awakening but nothing will replace The Almighty Himself in your church through the Holy Spirit.
2. The fire was the demonstration of His power. Another reason the ongoing fire was so important is that it was started directly by God: “Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown” (Leviticus 9:24). So, for this reason, the fire on the altar served as a constant reminder of God’s power. It was a manifestation from heaven. No other source of fire was acceptable to God.
The church can try to manufacture and duplicate but nothing other than the real fire that only can come from God will work for your church. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit in having free reign in the people and in the services will do for God.
3. The fire also represented God’s presence. “God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). The Shekinah glory was visible in the fire at the altar of burnt offering. Shekinah glory is a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell,” signifying that it was a divine visitation of the presence or dwelling of the Lord God on this earth in their place of standing. This ongoing presence of God reminded the Israelites that salvation is of the Lord. The atonement made at the burnt offering could only be made through Him.
In our churches we must allow and tend to the fire and presence of God in our church life throughout our services, our ministries, and our church fellowship. The fire must not go out for any reason or everything we do as a church will be hollow and shallow.
4. the fire represented the purity of God. In the New Testament, John the Baptist said that the Messiah would baptize with the Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). Fire served as a sign of judgment and refining, but it also reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost in the form of “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3).
What our churches need that are plateauing and declining is a renewed and rekindled pure fire that only the Holy Spirit can bring. Churches are smoldering embers, shadows of past glory, dying out because for one reason or for many, have reduced their life to ashes. We need to expose ourselves to the consuming fire of God and allow Him to burn away anything that is not like Him in our churches.
The continuously burning, divine fire at the altar of burnt offering helped remind the Israelites of the reality of God’s presence and of their need for God. The sacred fire endured throughout the 40 years in the desert and likely beyond that, as tabernacle worship continued until the time of King Solomon and the building of the Jewish temple. When the temple was dedicated, God once again lit the fire on the altar (2 Chronicles 7:1). Let us, let God, light the fire in and on us again. The same way that He did when your church first started.
May the remnant of people in your church start praying and seeking the fire from heaven that only God can provide for you. May the fire get inside each and everyone in such a way that they will be willing to do anything that God commands of them that they will do it without abandon. May the fire that is from God be on the alter of the people your church be a continual burning fire that is put out and is always tended and stoked. May the fire that comes to your church reflect His appearance, demonstrate His power, manifest His presence, and most of all cleanse and purify each and everyone for the furtherance of His Glorious Kingdom.
Portions from “GotAnswers”
Pastor Rob Beckett, Shepherdsville First Church of the Nazarene. Shepherdsville KY “Restoring the Image of God to the broken and the hurting”