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“Restoration or resuscitation is not the same as resurrection.”

I heard this phrase on ‘Thought for the Day’ on Radio 4 last week; I was driving to an appointment and left the car before I listened to the full context of the message, but needless to say, it stimulated my thinking.


I am currently researching the topic of church closure for some formal study I am undertaking, and thus far, my conclusion is that we don’t deal with death very well when it comes to the church. It could be that because death is part of our fallen human nature, we transpose this onto the church, therefore concluding that death can never be a positive thing. I’m not suggesting that death should be celebrated, but I do think a life well-lived should be. Perhaps rather than lamenting the potential closure of a church and desperately trying to keep it open, what might it look like if we celebrated the life of the church instead, giving thanks to God for all that has been, ending well whilst looking forward to what might come next? The season of God for a congregation might end, but God’s mission will continue until the return of Christ.


For a faith rooted in the notion of death and resurrection, I find it curious that so much effort is made to avoid death as churches. For there to be a resurrection there needs to be death first, as painful as that may be.


It strikes me that with restoration and resuscitation, the original is preserved, supported, and restarted using the same model as before but with more effort and resources needed to keep it alive. In resurrection, it is new, changed, re-birthed. Yes, there will be a familiarity with before, but it will look very different. Consider for a moment the resurrection appearances of Jesus, where he was mistaken for a gardener, fellow traveller, and a shoreline fishing expert. He was not immediately recognisable, but when he spoke, broke bread, identified a miraculous shoal of fish, people knew.


Friends, the truth of our faith is that we are Easter people, beneficiaries of the resurrection, the new and transformed. I want to be a person of hope and faithfully support the church, but I am a realist; not everything is meant to live forever. There seems to be little evidence of any New Testament churches surviving today; does that mean they failed? Should more effort have been put into restoring, resuscitating, and keeping them on life support?


“The church’s bias has always been that you do whatever you can to keep a congregation going,” so notes Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, former general secretary of the Reformed Church in America. “This is neither a healthy nor correct Christian theological approach. Death is never the last word, and the new is always seeking to break in.”


I would like to encourage you, wherever possible, to preach, discuss and dream about resurrection. Rural congregations need to hear about life beyond the church that can appear to be dying. Death did not defeat God, nor should it defeat God’s children. It certainly doesn’t defeat God’s church. When a church closes and dies, new life sprouts elsewhere within the body of Christ. Friends, there is hope and optimism in rural churches that are thriving and in rural communities where the resurrected church looks different, yet familiar. Restoration might not be your calling; resuscitation rarely is, but resurrection is the heart of our faith.


Pay close attention now:

I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.

All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain

are things of the past, to be forgotten.

Look ahead with joy.

Anticipate what I’m creating (Isaiah 65:17-18a)

Simon Mattholie CEO, Rural Ministries


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