The Spirit’s words of encouragement and warning to early churches have relevance for congregations now, preachers said during the IBSA Pastors Conference Nov. 2-3. Convening for the first time since 2019, the gathering featured six preachers teaching sequentially through the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.
A combination of “comfort and command” marks the letters to the churches, said Tony Merida, and often the command is to repent. The North Carolina pastor and author preached on two of the seven churches, Thyatira and Laodicea, noting both looked from the outside like things were going well. But Thyatira lacked discernment to handle a false teacher encouraging them to sin, and Laodicea had a pride problem.
“Affluence and prosperity can make a church self-satisfied, lukewarm,” said Merida, pastor of Imago Dei in Raleigh. Laodicea thought it had it all together, but the church actually made Jesus want to vomit, he said. God is not pleased with the fruits of pride and of a wealthy church no longer reliant on Jesus. The message is especially relevant for the Western church today, Merida said. “But he hadn’t given up on them, and he hasn’t given up on us.”
Wake-up calls for strugglers
The Spirit’s words to a few churches leaned more in the direction of command than comfort. The church at Sardis was alive with activity but dead in spirit, preached Jonathan Davis of Delta Church in Springfield, but not beyond hope. “The church in Sardis is not beyond repair,” Davis said, “which means the church you pastor that looks a little too much like Sardis is not beyond repair.”
Davis noted the faithful few in the letter to Sardis. “Throughout God’s story of redemption,” he said, “God has always had a remnant to work with. And pastor, it just might be you.”
What if a church has lost its first love, like the church at Ephesus? You could open any commentary and get a dozen interpretations of what love they’d forgotten, said Michael Collins, pastor of Mercy’s Door in Mascoutah. But the church’s beginning in Acts 19 describes a helpless, hope-filled, honest love of Christ.
“The church is weak, but it is kept and held and cared for by the only one that is strong,” Collins said. “The only strength that we have is Christ.”
The church at Pergamum had traded the truth they knew for that of false teachers. The church today could be accused of the same, preached Michael Byrd, pastor of Faith Community Bible Church in St. Louis. The church is losing ground, he said, because we have lowered our weapon.
“What is our weapon? I’m glad you asked,” Byrd said. “It’s the word of God. Jesus is here in this text, y’all. He’s commissioning the church!
Faith and perseverance
“You don’t have to be big to be faithful,” preached Charlie Dates. The pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago said the church at Philadelphia was a small church commended for a faithfulness not of their own making. “You and I do not have to manufacture our own faithfulness,” Dates said. The words to the church at Philadelphia signal “it is the character of Christ that enables our faithfulness to his church.”
From early Christians in Smyrna, preached Chicagoland church planter Daniel Yang, the church today can learn perspective from the poor church and perseverance from the persecuted church. Smyrna was both, Yang said, urging leaders to embrace churches in disadvantaged communities as partners in the gospel, rather than projects. The Spirit’s words to Smyrna are also an invitation to question what rewards we are seeking, Yang said. “Will we get the crown of life?” he asked. “Or will we earn our rusty crowns here on earth?”
David Seaton, pastor of Heights Community Church in Collinsville, served as president of the 2021 Pastors Conference. Vice President Belafae Johnson, pastor of Purposed Church in Mascoutah, was elected president of the 2022 conference and will serve alongside Vice President Jonathan Davis, pastor of Delta Church in Springfield, and Treasurer Vaughn Sanders, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bolingbrook. The 2022 IBSA Pastors Conference is Nov. 1-2 at Metro Community Church in Edwardsville.