The first three steps of the 12 Steps of Recovery have often been summed up as follows:
I Can’t, God Can, I think I’ll let Him.
It seems the Church in Laodicea needed to hear these recovery principles for their church. According to Mounce, “Their self-confidence had blinded them to the fact that in reality they were ‘poor, blind and naked.’ Assurance that they had it all together had resulted in a lukewarmness that made Christ want to spit them out of his mouth.” They needed to remember that they can’t on their own, God can, and they need to let him:
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:14-22 (NIV)
Although it is a stereotype for sure, Anglican churches in North America have tended to be made up of “middle” to “upper class” people who have experienced success in life. It is easy for us to think that we can do church or even revitalize the church on our own. We often have enough time, talent, and treasure that we think, maybe subconsciously, “I can do it on my own and if I get in real trouble I’ll ask God to step in.” Having manageable lives makes it easier to forget our need to depend on God. And the results of doing church on our own are “lukewarm” religion which looks more like a country club than an on-fire, missional church that zealously seeks to fulfill the Great Commission locally and globally.
Perhaps the summary of the first three steps of recovery, “I can’t, God can, I think I’ll let him,” need to be applied to our efforts to revitalize our congregations. If I was to rewrite the first three steps of recovery for churches based on Jesus’ words to the Church in Laodicea, it would go something like this:
- Realize that I’m not God and that I’m powerless to revitalize my church on my own.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Rev. 3:17
The first step to recovery is to step out of denial and admit our powerlessness. If you think you don’t “need a thing,” you will keep trying to do the work of the church on your own power. We were never meant to! Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18b (NIV) It is his church and he said he will build it. Yes, he works through us, his body, however we were never meant to be the body without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. It’s like Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” A branch has no life by itself. So, it’s always good to remember our own powerlessness or “I Can’t.”
- Earnestly believe that God exists and has the will and power to revitalize my church.
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. Rev. 3:14
The second step in recovery is to recognize there is a power greater than yourself who loves you and very much wants to help you! I love the way Jesus describes himself to the church in Laodicea here. He is “the ruler of God’s creation.” Do you think as the supreme ruler of the universe He has the power to revitalize your church? You bet he does. And as the “faithful and true witness,” who came and died and rose again for you, do you think he cares enough to help you revitalize your church? You better believe it! So, it is good to remember, God can.
- Choose to commit your life and church to Christ’s care and control – daily.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Rev. 3:20
The third step in recovery is to choose to let Jesus in as not only your savior but also your Lord. Just admitting you are powerless and believing God can and will help you doesn’t mean you will automatically let him. In our pride and sin nature we have a tendency to want control – to be like God ourselves – as the snake said to Eve. Letting him come into your life daily and lead and guide you as you work to revitalize your congregation is a choice. There is certainly a one time “opening of the door” to him for eternal salvation. But notice how Jesus wants to come in and eat with us. That describes a relationship. He wants to come in and do life with us now, not just when we get to Heaven. This reminds me of one of my favorite lines in our Eucharistic Prayer, “Sanctify us also, that we may worthily receive this holy sacrament, and be made one body with him, so that he may dwell in us and we in him.” (ACNA Renewed Ancient Text) It is a daily choice to let him come in, dwell in us, and take the lead in our life and in our churches.
So, since You Can’t, God Can and wants to, doesn’t it make sense to Let Him revitalize your church?
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching at the American Anglican Council. Find out more about Church Revitalization at ChurchRevive.org