Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Believers church about the 10 Tsunamis. In particular, we talked about the Tsunamis of Generational Transition, the Millennial Generation, and Narcissism. The passage that came to mind was Matthew 17:1-9: the Transfiguration.
This is one of many stories from Scripture that occur on a mountaintop. In the Old Testament, we find Elijah on a mountaintop near the end of his life, after he has been serving God as a prophet for many years and has trained up Elisha to be his successor. In this story, God takes Elijah up to heaven, leaving Elisha behind, to return down the mountain and continue in the work of the Lord. In our Matthew passage, we find Elijah on a mountain top again, this time with Moses, Jesus, and 3 disciples.
Now Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, doesn’t know what to do when he sees all this, and I don’t blame him. These big wigs from the history books have come back to life and are spending time with Jesus. The Bible tells us that the 3 disciples were all terrified. While the rest of them are presumably shell shocked, not saying anything, an idea hits Peter.
What if they could just set up camp and stay here forever? It’s not that Peter understands what is going on with Moses and Elijah and Jesus, he just has this gut instinct that it is something very glorious and holy, and he doesn’t want that to get away from this setting. He’s got a good thing going on…and I think many churches today share his mentality.
Why worry about all the people at the bottom of the mountain? Things are good right here, the way they are.
So Peter boldly breaks the silence, and puts the plan in his head into words: alright guys, Jesus, Moses, Elijah, you do whatever you’re doing, I’m going set up some tents for you and we will all have a good time.
But, apparently God didn’t envision this camping trip or vacation for them. For immediately, a voice came down from heaven, and said that Jesus was the Son of God and that they should listen to him.
After God speaks to all of them, Jesus and the disciples return back down the mountain – they go back to their regular lives, they go back to traveling around Israel, reaching the lost, going to the dark places and healing those who are sick as they teach about God everywhere they go.
The church in America has largely focused on staying on the mountaintop and they’ve forgotten to go back down the mountain to continue the work. This is clear, when we recognize that only around 3% of Millennials are a part of a church – we were too focused on church being what we wanted it to be, to take them into account, and now they are nowhere to be found.
Furthermore, some estimates show 3,500 people a day leaving the church and 5,000 churches close a year. Yet if we were to keep up with the United States growth in population we would need to be adding 10,000 churches a year.
In Scripture, the mountaintop experiences are never the goal. When we see Peter wanting to stay there, setting up tents for everyone, Jesus insists that the disciples had to go back down the mountain. Elisha too, must have wanted to stay and mourn the absence of his friend, his mentor, for longer on the mountain, but he too recognized that he eventually had to go back down the mountain. There was work yet to be done in both of these stories.
The reason churches need to wake up and become beacons embedded in their communities is the same reason that Elisha and Jesus came back down the mountain. There is still work to be done. There are still people to be loved and cared for and there are stories of the Good News, of God’s provision and presence, yet to be told.
The Great Commission is not done on the mountain – it is done when we come down.
The fact is that the day we each gave our lives to Christ, we signed a full-time ministry employee agreement. Within the United Staes we have more unchurched people than the entire population of all but 11 of the worlds’ 194 nations. The United States may well be the new mission field. You are in a mission field with far more people not knowing Jesus than knowing Him. So what are you doing about it?
Are you stuck on the mountaintop? Content with things the way they are, content with Christianity and church being just about you?
Or are you on the trek down? Trying to pull yourself away from a mentality that ministry is all about you and trying to actively focus on the Great Commission?
Or are you already in the midst of the city, the people, the mission field?
Wherever you find yourself today, we can’t wait a second longer – the world around us is changing rapidly and the future of the church in the USA depends on how we react. We need to reach out to the lost, audaciously following God’s Word, and honoring Him in all we do.
And that starts with getting up out of our comfortable pews on the mountain, and becoming an unforgettable part of our communities.