I wish that beauty was the only perception we distorted. Quite honestly, our culture twists our view of many qualities and institutions. None more than the church. We used to have an idea of what we could expect when we showed up on a Sunday morning. While it might not have been very exciting to some, it was pretty predictable. Not anymore. Practices, expectations, and perceptions have all changed, and those changes aren’t all good.
The desire to make our faith relevant to our culture has had the unexpected consequence of causing that culture to expect accommodation. Even believers, as we said last week, have begun to treat church like a mall where they pick and choose between churches based on what strikes their fancy, or meets their felt needs. They have begun to see it as a sort of a country club where they can come to relax with people who are just like them and with whom they feel comfortable. This perception has led to a weakened resolve, a lowered commitment, and an ineffective witness. Most of all, this perception is plainly unbiblical.
The Bible is clear: When it comes to connection, the church is not a mall, it’s a body. We don’t trade in its programs like consumers seeking what works to our advantage. No! We are a body, inextricably woven together. We are to connect, not consume. And when it comes to growth, the church is not a country club, it’s a gym. Our job is not to rest, but to pursue growth with intentional effort and focus.
The leadership of this church intentionally pursues an approach to ministry that both connects and brings growth to the willing believer. Just like we said last week, We seek to connect seekers to this body by bringing them into a relationship with Christ and helping them to discover their place in His body. Once connected we encourage each one to become involved in the process of discipleship through our directions training and through other Bible study opportunities such as Sunday School and Life University.
Connecting and Growing are the first two steps on the Journey that is our vision for Peace Church. Being a part of this fellowship should be anything but a restful experience. We are on a journey here that has a very specfic destination. This week we’ll take a look at the last two steps on that journey.
And just in case there might be some of you out there this morning who are saying, “That’s great, Rusty, but I really don’t want to hear it. I’m overcommitted as it is. I have no more time to “connect” or “grow.” Go ahead and preach, but I’m just not that interested.”
Well, you might not be interested, but you really should be. You see, the two steps on this journey that I want to talk to you about today could really change you. Maybe you’ve been waiting on the Lord to show you just what He wants you to do, but you’ve gotten no insight. Maybe you’d like to have a “calling” to ministry, but nothing’s ever happened. I want you to listen. I think that the third step on this journey is the primary way Christ goes about showing us exactly what he wants us to do.
The same really goes for the last step, too. Maybe you’ve been living this kind of dull, dried up Christianity that is more boring than anything else. You thought that Christianity was supposed to be challenging, but so far all its done is put you to sleep. Well, I want you to listen today. God wants to take you on a grand adventure like none you’ve ever experienced. It happens in the fourth step of the journey.
So what are steps three and four? Well, step three is this: In order for a believer to mature in Christ, he must
DIV 1: SERVE
I went to the Customer “no-service” counter at a local store some time ago to return an item I had purchased. I was the only one in line and the lady behind the desk had nothing else I could see that she was doing. Nothing, that is, besides talking on her cell phone. I walked to the counter and waited. From what she was saying, this didn’t seem to be a business call, but a personal one. That didn’t matter. I still had to wait. She kept talking like I wasn’t even standing there. Here I was . . . the customer; there she was . . . the salesperson, but that still didn’t matter. I had to wait because it was obvious, she really didn’t care.
Now what was this young lady’s problem? (Well some of you smart alecs might say it was an impatient pastor. OK if you do, you’re probably right). I’ll tell you what, in my humble opinion, her problem was: She had the mistaken impression that the service desk at Target was her own personal lounge.
Now before you nod in agreement, may I tell you that scene gets repeated in church all the time! Over and over again, I run into church members who see church as a lounge. They expect to show up (if they have nothing better or more exciting to do) lean back in their padded pew, sip their starbucks and critique the entertainment. You know, they’re like the judges of gymnastics at the Olympics: “Well, that choir special gets a 6.5. The intro was good, but they didn’t stick the ending. O well, the degree of difficulty was high so let’s go ahead and give them a 7. Hey, that sermon was a 2.5, preacher: The point was fuzzy and the stories were old.” They see the church as their little lounge and the result is we have lots of people who cry out to have their needs met, but very few who are serving.
And that, Peace Church Family, is absolutely unbiblical. Need proof? Well let me first show it to you by principle and then show you by example. The principle you can find in Ephesians 4:11: There the Bible says: And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints (so that they can know how to critique the choir?) No! for the equipping of the saints (so that they can better pick the pastor’s message apart?) No! for the equipping of the saints for the (what? That’s right, say it together with me for the) WORK of ministry . . . And just why must we work so hard. The apostle goes on to say:
for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
In other words, the way we all grow is for all of us to SERVE! The church is not a lounge, it’s a work place. That’s the principle, here’s the example:
I take you back to the life of the Apostle Paul. Just like I said last week, we tend to think that he became an instant Apostle. That was not true. He had to connect and he had to grow, but did you know that he also served? That’s right! Before he ever boarded a ship to become a missionary, he did the menial things he was assigned. Let me show you a few of them:
Acts 9:28 says this about Paul:
So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. 29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. 30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.
When it says in v 28 that he was “coming in and going out” and in v 29 that he was speaking boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, that implies a daily ministry in which Paul was engaged. He was doing the work.
And his work wasn’t just preaching. In Acts 11:27 he is shown doing the duties he was assigned by the church body. There it says:
And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. 30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
The church was sending a an offering to the brothers in Judea and it says that they sent it to the elders “by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” The great apostle Paul is just the
Now we really shouldn’t find this surprising. After all, Jesus Himself said He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. How ironic that the church today turns this completely around. So often today people say, “Hey, preacher, I didn’t come to serve but to be served. I don’t want to greet because it means I’ll have to be late for the service once a month. I don’t want to work in the nursery because it means I’ll have to get up, get ready and get out just to come here and take care of someone’s screaming baby.”
You know what they’re really saying when they say that? “I didn’t come to serve, I came to be served. I didn’t come to give any of my life for anybody else.” Peace church, if we are going to be the church God wants us to be, this has to change. Church is not a lounge, it’s a workplace. People who refuse to serve do not grow! Now, that would be bad enough by itself, but will you hear me? When you refuse to serve, you not only stunt your own growth, but you stunt the growth of others around you. That’s what Eph 4 says. It says that as each of us serves, we create a body that grows. When we refuse, we stunt the growth of the whole body! But the opposite is also true
By the time police arrested him for the 22nd time, John Sala knew that he had reached the end of the line. This time he was guilty of attempted murder, aggravated assault, and grand theft. When the prison gate swung shut this time, it would be a long time before it reopened.
Jail was the best thing that ever happened to him. When he went to the prison in Avon Park, Fl., John met Chaplain Warren B. Wall, who shared Christ with him. John dove right in, receiving Christ, and, under the Chaplain’s care, growing in Christ.
It wasn’t just about teaching and learning, however. It was also about serving. John went to work in the tape ministry of the chapel. As he organized and labeled tapes, he’d listen to Bible teachers and through the work, he began to grow. The chaplain found someone who was willing to underwrite a seminary correspondence course for John and he became a passionate, disciplined student of the Bible. "God was birthing something new in me," he says today. "Before, I wanted to take. Now I wanted to give, love, encourage, and nurture.”
When he walked out of prison in 1983, he said, “I’m not coming back!” But that’s exactly what he did, only not as an inmate, but as a minister. He began the ministry known as Little Lambs, Inc., with the mission of loving inmates into the minsitry’s family and ultimately into God’s. Through in-depth Bible correspondence courses, visitation, counseling, services, concerts, and classes John Salas and his wife Eileen now minister to 2,750 students graduating 250 every year.
Why am I telling you John’s story? Because I want you to see how much serving helped John to grow. He came to Christ, yes, but that’s not where it started. His hunger to learn sprung out of his service in labelling and cataloging tapes for that chaplain, and because he served, he not only grew, but he has an impact on over 2700 prisoners each year.
You see, when I serve, I grow. When I serve, I fulfill my place in the body of Christ and the whole body grows. When I refuse to serve, my growth gets stunted and so does everyone elses!
So let me just see if I can bring this right down to where you live. Let me give you three specific reasons for service: Why should you serve? Well, do it for the Lord. Hey He’s the one who gave Himself for you and the Bible says that not only have you and I been saved by His grace through faith, but that God has created us in Him to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. Do it for the Lord.
And then, do it for His church. If you joined this church in the last 15 years, it has been made clear to you in the New Members class that every member of Peace Church is to be involved in serving in some ministry. That’s part of your membership agreement. For the past 3 years you’ve even signed the church covenant stating that you would serve. But may I just give you the statistics? We currently have _____________ members on our role. According to our records ____________ of them serve in at least one ministry of the church. That means that ________% of you serve and _________% of you do not.
Now right at the start, let me say to those of you who do serve, THANK YOU! You are the reason we’re able to have an Upward program; you are the reason we have a Christmas Theater; you are the reason the choir is able to sing and the orchestra can play. Without you, parking would be a nightmare, guests wouldn’t know where to go and, yes, dirty diapers would not be changed. Without you, we’d be nowhere. Thank you for your ministry!!
Now if you don’t serve, may I just say, we need you. Because you’re sitting and not serving your fellow church members are burning out. Because you’re sitting and not serving, some of them haven’t been to a church service in a year, perhaps. Because you’re sitting and not serving the ministries we need that could have been started and reaching people have been postponed. We need you. Do it for the Lord; do it for his church,
And then, do it for yourself. You need to grow and we want you to grow, but you’ll be a pygmy until you decide to serve. In your bulletin to day is a service sheet which you can use to sign up for a ministry. And what I’m asking you to do is to become involved. It’s the only way you can move on down the road in your journey to maturity. You must connect, grow, serve, and then there’s one more step in this path. This one is the culmination of all the others. In fact, if we take the first three steps, but not the fourth, we miss out on the primary purpose God left us here to begin with. You see, on this journey to maturity we must connect, grow, serve and then we must:
DIV 2: GO:
Really, this is the step that makes the rest of it make sense. After all, what’s the point of connecting, growing and serving? Is it just so that we can have the biggest church in town? Is it just so that we can have people look at Peace Church and say, “Boy, they really got it going on on Tilghman Rd.” Well, that might build our egos . . . especially mine . . . but it really wouldn’t accomplish anything. What would be the point?
It’s this last step of the journey that really makes the point. You see, we’re not here to learn for learning’s sake, or serve just so that we can say we did. We’re here for one purpose: To glorify God by doing what He told us to do.
That’s why Jesus said right before He ascended:“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations. . . We can have the greatest choir, the finest facilities, the most in-depth and theologically sound teachers and still fail. Why? Because we don’t go.
By the way, Going was the next step for the Apostle Paul. I showed you how he connected, how he grew, and how he served. With all of that background the very next mention you find of the Apostle Paul in Acts is in chapter 13, verse 1. There is says:
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
Now, what is happening here is the birth of the church as we know it. Because the Paul connected, grew, served, and went, we are seated in this place today hearing the message of God’s word. That’s how critical his going was.
And going is critical for us as well. In fact, because the church hasn’t gone, we are losing tremendous ground. May I show you a couple of statistics?
In 1990, the percentage of Americans who were in church on any given Sunday averaged 20.4%. That means of the roughly 300 million people in the country around 60 million of them would have been in church. Because of population growth and the impact of a secularized culture, in 2005 the percentage of Americans in church on any given Sunday had dropped to 17.5%. That doesn’t mean that there were necessarily less people in church, but that the percentage of the population in church had declined. As our population continues to grow, this will become an even bigger problem. In fact, it is estimated that if current trends continue, the percentage of people attending church on any given Sunday will drop to 14.7%. If this trend is not reversed, it’s not too hard to see where we are heading. Even in this country which was undoubtedly founded upon Christian principles, we are no longer a Christian nation. Here’s the most amazing statistic. If we are to succeed in simply keeping up with the population growth. That is, if we are going to stem the tide and simply keep things at the same level they are now, that is continue to have at least 17.5% of the people in church (a paltry statistic by any measure!) the churches in America will need to start 48,000 churches in the next 10 years.
Do you see why we must go? And that’s just here in this country. We haven’t even begun to talk about Europe or Latin America or Mexico.
That’s why I believe God is calling our church to begin a church planting movement. I must be honest. I am just beginning to understand the need and seek some answers myself. I plan this year to find an conference I can attend and do some reading in this area. I’ve also asked Doug to help us put together a plan to begin sending out teams of people from Peace church who catch the vision of planting churches in places that have little gospel witness.
But it doesn’t start there for you and me. No! It starts much closer to home. It starts as we begin to reach out to our neighbor, not in some “gotcha gospel” presentation, but in a very sincere loving relationship we begin to develop with those whom our lives already touch. It starts with you and me going to those around us who really need the Lord.
Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Church in Barrington, Il, tells of one such incident in his life. He was attending his son’s soccer game as many of us do. His son’s coach was a man named Brian. Every practice he was there, setting up the practice cones and instructing the kids. One day at practice, Bill says that the Holy Spirit just moved him to walk over, help him set out cones, and strike up a conversation.
Everything went well until they got to the point where they told each other what they did for a living. When Bill confessed that he was the pastor of Willow Creek, he says he could tell the guy wasn’t too impressed. He didn’t press the issue, but just continued to develop a relationship with him. Finally, Christmas was coming around, so Bill invited Brian to attend their Christmas service.
Brian was annoyed to say the least. He said, “Oh man, Bill, I knew it would turn into this. I jsut knew that someday it would land here. Look! I know plenty about Willow Creek – I get tied up in its traffic every week. The whole thing frustrates me. God is not a part of my life, Church is not a part of my life, and I’d just as soon take this whole thing off of the agenda here.”
Bill said he wasn’t expecting such an outburst, but he made it clear that he wanted to put no pressure on him and just continued the relationship until his boy finished with soccer and moved on. That was the last time he saw Brian until he got a phone call.
On the phone, Brian told Bill that he was having a personal crisis and, because of their friendship, he called Bill, but he made sure to tell him, “I don’t want to come to a service, I just need to talk about a few things.” Bill met him a few times, but he said they made little progress.
That’s why Bill was surprised months later to look out at a group of baptismal candidates and see Brian sitting there. His first thought was, “How did Brian get mixed up in this group. Here he is finally coming to something and he’s in the wrong group. Why’s he here?”
After the meeting he couldn’t wait to find out the answer to that question. Brian, as it turns out, was supposed to be there. He told Bill, “A couple of monts ago, I snuck in during a service and sat in the back. You were giving a message on abandoning self-improvement plan and getting on board with the grace plan instead. I gave my heart to Christ.” Brian was saved.
It was sometime later when Bill was walking through the church with his son Todd who had now grown into a young adult. Rounding a corner they almost ran right into Brian. Brian recognized Todd and hugged him and they spent some time talking about their old soccer days. Brian started to walk away, but he turned back and told Bill with a smile, “Hey Bill, I just want to thank you for all those times you walked across the soccer field and opened yourself up. Really . . . thanks!”
Listen! That’s what ministry is really all about! We are called to go, whether that means to fly across the ocean or to simply walk across the soccer field. As your leaders, this staff is committed, not just to ministering to you, but to ministering through you. We want to equip you to become a generation of people who aren’t content to stay in Wilson, if God is calling you to go elsewhere. We want to equip you to be a generation of people whom, if you stay in Wilson, refuses to let Wilson stay the same. It’s time we turned this town upside down.
You say, “That sounds real exciting, Rusty, but its very unrealistic. How can we do that?”
Well, going involves at least these ministries:
It involves Discipleship: Through the Discipleship process, you discover how to practically work with someone to help them grow in the Lord. In this process, you, yourself also are able to grow in Christ. You can’t take someone else where you have not been. Our goal is to see every church member actively involved as a student and/or a teacher in discipleship.
It also involves personal evangelism: The simple principle is this: If you don’t witness here, you won’t witness there; if you don’t share your faith now, you won’t share your faith then. Before you can go somewhere else and plant a church, you must be involved in reaching people for Christ where you are. GROW visitation is a good place to start, but you don’t have to wait for your week to roll around. Get involved with a friend or a co-worker. Share your faith. If you don’t know how, take one of the evangelism classes offered here like EE or Sharing Jesus without Fear.
Going involves discipleship and evangelism, but it also involves service. Before Paul went, he served and so must we. The same principle applies here. You will not serve there if you don’t serve here and you will not serve then if you don’t serve now. Going involves service.
And, last of all, going involves specific training. In the next few months we’ll be talking more about the Bible Institute we are hoping to begin to provide the more specific training you need in order to go. There will be classes on the Bible, on church planting and on leadership. We want to thoroughly prepare those God may send out from us. In fact, one of the criteria I’m developing for this church planting minsitry is that anyone we support must go through our own in-house training. I am praying that before I retire or die, or whatever happens to me, God will allow this church to strategically plant several churches.
CHANGING THE COURSE - BLUE FISH