A powerful new movie has hit the video store shelves in the past couple of weeks. In the movie, Dangerous Minds, an unsuspecting, recently divorced woman in need of a job goes to an inner-city school to try and land an interview. In a matter of minutes she finds herself hired to teach in the schoolís ìAcademy.î Academy may have a nice ring to it; connotations of discipline, scholarship, and excellence, but this Academy was altogether different. The first day Miss Johnson arrives at class she finds mayhem and chaos. The kids are wild, their language is rough, and their main goal is to do away with their new teacher. In a matter of minutes they accomplish their aim and drive Miss Johnson out of class. Miss Johnson picks up her satchel, storms out of class, and stops a teacher friend who failed to warn her of the hazards of the Academy.
As the movie rolls, Miss Johnsonís resolve is rekindled and her determination to go back to school takes on new meaning. The way she returns to her classroom of chaos is different than the way she initially strolled in. On her first day she arrived dressed as if she was going to a ìtea party.î She was well-mannered, sweet, and refined. On Miss Johnsonís return she was dressed in roughed-up cowboy boots, leather jacket, and armed with a lesson in karate to get the kids attention. Rather than use the official mandated curriculum set forth by the School Board, Miss Johnson uses everyday life to teach the kids how to conjugate verbs, she uses Bob Dylan as well as Dylan Thomas to lead the kids in a study of poetry, and she entices them to learn by offering incentive programs as rewards for those who choose to excell.
When faced with the most extreme of circumstances Miss Johnson didnít go the route of the administrators who had written the kids off. No, she found a new way of teaching, she became a student of the students so that the students could rise above what was expected of them — nothing — and become what God has destined for them — excellence.
As important as Miss Johnsonís commitment and creativity was inside the classroom, her commitment and dedication to the kids outside the classroom was even more important. In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie the leader of the hooligans of the Academy, a big, strong boy named Emilio, was getting ready to fight two smaller boys. Miss Johnson jumped between them and yelled at Emilio, ìWhat are you doing? You are stronger than both of those boys put together. Now get to class.î Miss Johnson thought she was helping, but in reality she had just shamed the two boys in front of all of their friends and unbeknownst to her, forced them to defend their honor.
Next thing you know the three boys are fighting and the police come to take all of them away. Miss Johnson walked up on the police car where the two boys were handcuffed. One of the boys, Raoul, looked up at Miss Johnson and she said, ìYou promised me you wouldnít fight. Why did you do it?î He said, ìWe couldnít hold our head up around here because of what you said. We had to fight him.î The boys are expelled and Miss Johnson goes to work.
She rolled up on the house where Raoul lived and knocked on the front door. When she sat down in the living room all of Raoulís brothers and sisters left. Now it was just Raoul, his folks, and Miss Johnson sitting alone. Raoulís father said, ìI know why you are here and I want you to know we have warned Raoul not to get into trouble. He has a chance to be the first person in our family to ever graduate from high school. He wonít be causing any more trouble.î All the time he is speaking Raoul is sitting with his head down and no expression on his face. Miss Johnson finally interrupted Raoulís father and said, ìOh no, I didnít come here to get Raoul into trouble. Raoul is such a smart boy. He was jumped on by a much bigger boy. He was only defending himself. Raoul is doing so well. You must be so proud of your son.î And as Miss Johnson speaks the expression on Raoulís face totally changes. His eyes are lifted up in disbelief at what he is hearing. Life invades his lifeless face. His parentís chests swell. Smiles break out on their faces. Miss Johnson turned anxiety and tension into an anthem of hope!
The movie is filled with the highs and lows that take place when people get intimately involved in the lives of others. The highs and lows eventually take their toll on Miss Johnson and she announces that she will not be coming back next year. Too much had happened. Miss Johnsonís star student, a brilliant young girl named Callie had gotten pregnant and left for a school for expectant mothers, Emilio had been shot and killed, Durrellís mother had pulled him out of class because she didnít want her boys being taught by some white-bred devil, and Miss Johnson was endlessly defending herself before the principal and his allegiance to the Boardís way of doing things.
On Miss Johnsonís last day of school, Callie sat in class once again. Miss Johnson said, ìWell Callie, did someone put you up to coming back and trying to talk me out of leaving or did you just want to come back to school?î Callie quoted a Dylan Thomas poem, ìRage, rage against the dying of the light.î Miss Johnson said, ìCallie, Iím not raging. Itís time for me to go.î Callie said, ìNo, Miss Johnson we are raging. You are our light and we canít let the light go out in our lives.î The other students spoke up and each and everyone convincingly got across their point — they loved Miss Johnson and she had made the difference in their lives. They couldnít watch her go away!
This teacher who was ready to throw it all away because she thought she wasnít being heard, wasnít making a difference, found new commitment in the words of her students. Others had said the kids were worthless, they would never amount to anything, but they had changed Miss Johnsonís life and she had changed theirs. She couldnít quit.
As I sat this past week and watched Dangerous Minds I thought of the Church. How often have unsuspecting folks walked the hallways of churches for the first time and thought, ìThis is it! Iím really going to like this.î Only to walk away a few weeks, months, or years later thinking to themselves, ìIíll never change the system. Iím not making any difference.î
There is much criticism being aimed at the Church and the school today. The criticism is falling on deaf ears, for the most part, in both institutions, but Iím here to tell you that our deaf ears are contributing to our own demise. The criticism is that the church has lost its power to be innovative, creative, and genuine in its effort to reach people where they are with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church has focused its energy on maintaining the structures and styles of days gone by so that it can pay its bills, fill its pews, and maintain its tradition. Jawanza Kunjufu, who has written a new book concerning the black church in America, says that only 10 to 20% of churches are prophetic churches which are empowering people to be bold witnesses for Jesus Christ. The other 80-90% of the American churches fall into the entertainment or containment, keeping their doors open on Sunday, category.
The problem that our churches face today is the same problem the School Board had with Miss Johnson — we donít like it when folks color outside the lines we have set for them. There is an additional problem presented to those of us who are followers of Jesus, who are seeking to be faithful to His call to make disciples of all nations. The lines which have been set for us by past generations are different than the lines set for us by Almighty God. For many churches today the traditions which have been handed down by those who started and maintained their church are held in higher esteem than the Holy Scriptures handed down by God.
It is my heartís desire that we steer clear of making such costly mistakes and that we come to understand the marks of a great church which have been given by God. I want to be a Miss Johnson. I want to touch the lives of many with the Gospel. I want to be a student of those around us so that I can find out how to reach them with the Good News of my Savior!
Today we are going to take our time in looking closely at the marks of a godly church. This is such an important lesson. A time-tested, proven method. A structure which gave the early church the strength, encouragement, and unity to face incredible odds and outlast strong opposition in their march to the ends of the earth.
Take out your Bible and turn to Acts 2:41-47 as we seek to hear from God how we at Britton Christian Church might build a strong and mighty church to bring Him glory and honor.
41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (New Kings James Version — Acts 2:41-47)
There are eight different characteristics which are made evident in verses 41-47 of Acts chapter two. In verse 47, as a result of everything which went on within the body of believers, “the Lord added to their church daily those who were being saved.” If we will gain a clear understanding of God’s master plan for the church and begin to implement this God-given blueprint, we will see God’s desire for Britton Christian Church become a reality.
A Godly church begins with learning. Verse 42 says, ” they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” For any church to be faithful it must be a studying church. God has not called us to reach His people with the Good News of Jesus only to walk away. He has called us to invite all people to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, then to train them up in the teaching given to us by Jesus Himself.
The Church in America and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in particular have a tremendous problem today. We have let one of our most basic responsibilities become a secondary priority. We have people in their thirties, forties, and fifties who are joining our churches after years of wandering aimlessly through life, young people who are looking for direction and some sense of purpose in living, but all too often we welcome them into the church and never challenge them to truly become a disciple, a student of Jesus’ teaching. As a result we have people, some of whom are here this morning, who wouldn’t know Matthew, Mark, and Luke from Larry, Curly, and Moe. They know the Daily Oklahoman far better than they know the Bible. The reason why is because they have a disciplined daily routine of reading the Oklahoman, but they haven’t picked up a Bible since last Sunday. I want you to know I don’t necessarily count that as an indictment against those whose daily morning routine includes more of the sports page than the life-giving pages of God’s Word. It is my belief that the leaders in our churches have failed us. God’s master plan for building a strong, dynamic church revolves around the teaching of the Word of God. The leaders must make the teaching of the Word alive and meaningful. We must convey a sense of urgency to the people so all people may come to know God’s will for their life. We, as leaders, must stress by our participation the importance of studying God’s Word. If you are a leader at this particular church, you need to constantly examine your involvement in Bible study and Sunday school. If you, as a leader, do not feel the need to participate in Sunday school or Bible study then how can those who are new to the faith or stagnant in their walk with the Lord feel the need to study God’s Word. I hope I continually communicate to each of you the tremendous need we all have for a daily disciplined study time in God’s Word.