I’ve lived in the Bible Belt my whole life. I grew up in a small town in North Georgia. It was a town where the biggest church in town was First Baptist and where we began each day at my public high school with a brief scripture reading and the Pledge of Allegiance over the PA system. I was in the marching band, and every Friday night before our halftime performance, the entire band would come together and recite the Lord’s Prayer—even those who didn’t go to church. As someone who was not a churchgoer, I actually learned the Lord’s Prayer from marching band, not from Sunday School. Christianity was not only tolerated, but embraced, some might even say it was expected. Looking at where we are today, I guess Bob Dylan had it right way back in 1963 when he said “times they are a-changin.”
I suspect you could still travel to small towns across our state and find hamlets of righteousness where the ACLU has not had the courage to venture. You can probably still find places where liberal is a four-letter word. And there are undoubtedly still areas where Sunday morning is the quietest time of the week because it seems that almost everyone is at church—and even those who are not have nowhere to go, because nothing opens on the Lord’s Day. Places where even the dogs are afraid to bark during church time.
I’ll be honest, there is a big part of me that misses those days. Especially on Sunday mornings. I have found myself listening to the cars zooming down the highway while I preach. It is a sound that breaks my heart. Perhaps, when my sermon waxes long, those cars are filled with people leaving church to spend the afternoon with family and friends, but statistics tell us that the majority of those cars are filled with people who are going about their business just like any other day. Research tells us that as many as 80% of the people around us are not going to church on any given Sunday.
What many Christians have failed to realize is that a not-so-subtle shift has taken place. In 50 years, we have gone from an environment where Christianity was embraced and expected to a time when Christianity is just barely tolerated. We have become known by our hypocrisy and not by God’s grace in our lives. We have allowed the culture to define the church rather than the church define the culture. And the consequences are tremendous, as churches continue to lose pace with the population, and begin drifting off into the bottomless pit of irrelevance.
Jesus accurately diagnosed the situation. The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. Two thousand years later, the harvest and the laborers are abundant, there are just too many laborers who never leave the barn. And truthfully, a laborer who will not leave the barn is no more useful than the thief that jumps the fence to steal the harvest right out of the field.
I have often wondered what it would take to raise the sleeping giant of the church in our land. What would it take to move someone from their pew in passive observation to their feet in active participation? What would it take for us to stop sitting idly by watching Mormon missionaries and Muslim extremists grazing in the harvest field to which God has specifically called us? Perhaps Paul’s quote from Ephesians 5 is the greatest prayer for the church today, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” It is ultimately time to wake up. We should all humbly pray that Jesus would quickly set the alarm clock and stir us from our slumber.