A long time ago in a land far away there was a church. The church had been founded by a handful of men and women who wanted nothing more out of life than to make a difference in their community for the Kingdom of God. They had read the Word of God and been gripped by the simple, yet profound message of grace that raced throughout its pages. They had been captured by the heart of God and by God’s call to establish a house of worship where all people could come to find healing, hope, salvation, biblical counsel, and the encouragement they needed to begin to catch a vision of God’s plan for their life. These committed men and women made a covenant together that the church God had birthed through their prayers would forever remain in their neighborhood as a sign of God’s love for all of the people in that community.
Over the next several years these men and women saw hundreds of people, young and old alike, come to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They didn’t stop there they set up small Bible studies where these new believers could meet on a weekly basis with those who had matured in their walk with the Lord. They set up opportunities for regular prayer where those who were sick with physical ailments, those who were emotionally distraught, and spiritually struggling could bring their brokenness to God with His people supporting them. Their little church became a Holy Hospital where people could come for healing, restoration, and renewal.
As those original founders of the church began to age, a new generation of leaders came on to the scene. They had watched for years as their parents and grandparents had sacrificed weeknights away from home to disciple new believers. They had seen how their elders had gone out of their way to reach out to people that other churches really didn’t care too much about. They had watched their families do without the extras so that they could give their money to the work of Christ in reaching those who didn’t know the Lord.
Those, who were younger, didn’t possess the passion to reach people for the Lord like their elders had and as a result the church began to make decisions that were very different than the decisions made years earlier. Those who had founded the church found great excitement in partnering with another person and leading a Bible study or visiting the widows in the church. The younger folks wanted fellowship opportunities that were simply fun. Their plans for the church began to reflect what they wanted instead of what God desired for their community. Their money, they felt, was their money.
With each new generation a little bit of the fire and passion faded. The fire that once drove the people to commit themselves wholeheartedly to reaching out with the gospel to those who were lost and hurting evolved into nothing more than a struggle to make it to church on Sunday. The church that I am speaking about this morning is not a church unknown to us. We, in the United States, have witnessed an evolution of the church that is more than sad, it is tragic. We have more churches in America today than we have ever had in our nation’s history. Don’t let that fact lead you to conclusions that are untrue. The impact that our churches are having pales in comparison to the little group of believers who came out of the upper room in Jerusalem and took the world by storm shortly after Jesus’ resurrection.
Today, the church has redirected its attention and energy from winning people to Christ and discipleship to packaging the best entertainment for our people that we can muster. I would challenge you to take a look at the churches around you, take a look at Britton Christian Church while you are at it. Ask the questions, “Where is the money going? Is it being used to reach out to those who are not seated in the pews each Sunday or is it being used to make the pews more comfortable for those who are already present? Are the programs of the church designed to help people grow in their relationship with the Lord or are they designed to allow the members to simply have fun?
Some people would say, “But why would I want to join a church that spends so much time and energy on reaching people who don’t even belong to our church?” Why wouldn’t I want to join a church that makes it fun to go to church? Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of a church that makes social and recreational opportunities for me and my family a priority?”
Let me say that the social and recreational opportunities that are offered to me and my family here at Britton Christian Church make this a good place for our family. I’m thankful that my son is going skiing next month with the church. That’s something I’ve never done. I’m thankful for the opportunities that Ray provides for my kids to go and do fun things, but I’m even more thankful that last Wednesday night my three kids were in Bible study learning how to improve their walk with God. I’m even more thankful that last Sunday night Dan was with a group of kids his age studying the Bible. I’m even more thankful that my kids are being challenged to bring their friends who do not know the Lord so that they can come to experience the joy that is in Jesus.
I get phone calls each week from pastors around the country who are lamenting the fact that they can’t get their people excited about evangelism and discipleship. I received a phone call this week from the pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, IN. Pastor Jack Scott told me that he is worn out and wondering if there will ever come a time when he doesn’t have to do it all at his church. He said, “I’ve come to realize that if it is going to get done then I have to do it.” The people at Faith want to watch their pastor do the work. They want the pastor to build the kind of church that will make them happy and comfortable. How did we ever get to this place? How will we ever get out of this mess? That is a great question!
Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today and there we can find the answers to this heart wrenching problem that we are facing. Take a look at Mark 1:14-20 as we begin our study, “Going Out To Bring Them In.” 14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15″The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” 16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17″Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18At once they left their nets and followed him. 19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:14-20)
Why has Jesus pulled back the veil of our blindness, saved us from our sins, and empowered us by His Spirit to live in newness of life? Is it so that we can simply go to Heaven and know that our eternal status is secure? Is it so that all of our problems in this life can be solved? Neither of these are right. Jesus has saved us so that we can go out and bring them in. That is our mission. That was the mission and vision that gripped those early believers who left the upper room and took the world by storm. That was the mission that gripped the little church that became a Holy Hospital and that is the mission and vision that must grip us. We must go out so that we can bring them in.
Don’t you find it rather odd that when Jesus first began His ministry, at the calling of His disciples, He said, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus didn’t invite Simon and Andrew to join Him at Club Med or to retreat to some monastery where they could live out the rest of their lives learning theology. Jesus invited them to become fishers of another kind!
Equally as odd is the fact that when Jesus ended His earthly ministry, as He was getting ready to ascend to Heaven, He spoke the same message. In Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus said,
16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He could have followed that statement with absolutely anything He wanted to say my friends. Jesus could have said, “All authority has been given to me so now I want to give you the charmed life that all of you have been wanting.” He could have said, “All authority has been given to me so now I’m going to set each of you up as CEO’s of your own companies.” Jesus could have said anything He wanted to say and it would have become reality in the lives of His followers since He had been given all authority. What Jesus chose to say was “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus has been given all authority and He has commanded us to go so that we might bring them in. We are not told to “Go” just for the sake of being on the go. We are to go with purpose. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We have been given a three-fold purpose: Evangelism – “Go and make disciples or followers.” Baptism – “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Discipleship – “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is our mission. This is our purpose. This must be our passion if the American church, if Britton Christian Church, is going to return to the heart of God and see the power of God once again exhibited through her ministry.
This is our mission, but this is not the reality that we are experiencing my friends. On any given Sunday there are about 300 people who attend our worship services. Less than half of the 300 are involved in Sunday morning Bible study. Less than half of the half are involved in some mid-week Bible study group that meets here at the church. This equation of half is not abnormal when you look across the spectrum of churches in our country. The involvement of half of the people in Bible study is average, but I refuse to be average for the Kingdom of God. I refuse to settle for what others say is normal or average when it comes to the Kingdom of God.
It may be normal to have half of the people who attend worship to take the next step of commitment and get involved in small group Bible study, but I will tell you that we are experiencing the effects of this nonchalant approach to the things of God. I will tell you that I see a dramatic difference in the lives of the those who simply attend worship and those who engage in seeking God with all of their hearts by being involved in Bible study during the week. This really should not surprise any of us. Stop and think for a minute about athletes. Let’s take two athletes who play basketball in the NBA. One athlete disciplines himself and submits his life to a rigorous schedule of lifting weights, running, eating right, and honing his shooting and defensive skills. The other athlete decides that he really doesn’t need to put himself through all of that torture. He eats whatever he wants, never lifts weights or runs, but he shows us for all of the games. Do you believe you will be able to tell any difference in the ability of the two men to play basketball when they step on the court? Of course you will! And if you can tell a difference in their game then you can bet that you will be able to tell a difference in the lives of those who spiritually discipline themselves to grow in their walk with God.
I want you to know that I am thankful for every person who takes the time to be involved with us at Britton Christian Church. I praise God that He has led you here. At the same time, I have watched many of us who have come into the church and we are still in the same place spiritually as we were the day that we arrived. We are like that little girl that her daddy went in to tuck her into bed. After dad read her a book and they said their prayers, the little girl’s daddy left and went back to his business. About an hour later dad heard a loud thump followed by the sound of his little girl crying. When he went up to her room he found her lying on the floor crying. Dad said, “What’s wrong honey?” The little girl said, “I fell out of bed.” Daddy said, “I can see that, but what happened?” The little girl said, “I guess I stayed too close to where I got in.”
Too many of us are like that little girl. We rolled into the church, right inside the door, but we haven’t moved since then. We’ve got to roll over in the church and not stay in the same place we were when we came in. My heart’s desire for you as our pastor is that you and I grow up and mature in our faith. There are ample opportunities for us to do that my friend. We are starting new Bible studies next week, there are ongoing Bible studies each Sunday morning, there are women’s Bible studies, Recovery Bible studies for those struggling with addictions, youth Bible studies, and more. There are so many opportunities for us to grow, but we have to take advantage of the opportunities or they will do us no good. I have to share with you my prayer for us as a church. I am praying for God to raise up six new home Bible studies that will meet once a week in homes across the city. These cell groups are designed to accomplish the mandate that Jesus gave His disciples when He ascended to the Father. I am praying that God will move on these six people’s hearts and that they will be willing to take a small group of six to ten people and pour their lives into them. Let me share with you how the cell groups will work. First, I will meet with the six cell leaders for eight weeks. During the eight weeks we will go over the study materials, learn about how to lead a group, and how to recruit a leadership team.
Second, during the eight weeks that we will meet together to study and pray we will recruit our leadership team made up of a host home, refreshment coordinator, and prayer intercessor for each cell group. Third, we will find out who desires to be in a cell group. We will group each cell together by location across the city. This will enable us to get to know new people as well as build relationships with people that we already know.
The purpose of the cell groups will be to evangelize, baptize, and disciple. By starting with a core group of people who want to be involved we will build relationships with one another while at the same time looking for friends who do not know Christ to invite to join us.
For more than eight years I have stood before you as your pastor and again and again stressed the importance of our drawing close to God through the study of His Word and prayer. Sometimes I feel like the message is not getting through. At other times I feel like we are making progress. My desire to see more and more of us draw close to God and begin to study His Word is based on my desire to see us live victoriously.
Just stop for a moment and think about your life and the lives of those around you. Are you living victoriously? Are you living life to its fullest, walking in the knowledge of the grace of God, and seeing God bring you to a new level of maturity? Or do you feel that oftentimes you are just getting by? Is your marriage struggling? Is your relationship with your kids struggling? Do you have that firm knowledge that God’s grace is sufficient for every situation you face in life? Do you know that God’s love is the one thing in this life that will remain a constant no matter what you do or fail to do? Or do you feel that you have to perform for God to love you more?
I will assure you my friends that the key to living a victorious Christian life and seeing the power of God manifest in your life is your committing yourself to draw close to God through study, prayer, and fellowship with God’s people. Once this foundation is laid in our lives then we can move on to the icing on the cake – going out to bring them in.
There is nothing in my life that brings me more joy and satisfaction than seeing people come to know Jesus as Lord of their life and begin to grow up in their salvation. There is no trip that I could ever take that would bring such satisfaction. There is no award that I could ever receive that could bring me such fulfillment. Once we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior then we need to go through the equipping process so that we can begin
“fishing.” Jesus told Simon and Andrew that He would make them fishers of people – Jesus desired for His followers has not changed.
So, have you been on any fishing expeditions lately? You say, “Mike I’m just not catching any fish.” If that is the case then you might rethink where you’ve been fishing. Where is the best place to go fishing? Wherever there are fish of course! Find where the fish are hanging out and go there. Just because you aren’t catching any fish don’t assume that there are no fish. Jesus told His followers in Luke 10,
1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves… (Luke 10:1-4; 17-24) The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. There are more fish than you can shake a stick at my friends, but we must go where they are or we will end up shrugging our shoulders and say, “There just aren’t any fish.” We must go out in order to bring them in!
I want to challenge you this morning to do two things. First, I want to challenge you to go fishing. Sometime between now and Easter Sunday, the first Sunday of April, I want to challenge you to bring a friend to church. Don’t go down and invite someone who always has a church home to join you. Find someone you work with, live next door to, play on the team with, or know from some activity you are involved with and invite them to come to church. Do you know the number one reason why unchurched folks don’t attend worship? Because they are not asked.
Secondly, I want to challenge you to pray about being a leader for one of the new home cell groups. We are not talking about rock science my friend. You don’t have to go to seminary or have a degree in theology, but you do have to possess a willing heart. If you will make the commitment to being a home cell leader then I will give you all the tools you need to hit a home run and God will give you His Spirit of leadership to enable you to do His work. If you don’t feel that God is calling you to be a leader, then will you open your home one day or night a week? Will you commit to being on the leadership team in some capacity?
As we head to the year 2000 I am praying that God will sweep us up in a spirit of revival and that we will become gripped by a burning desire to draw close to God so that He can send us out to bring them in. I pray that you will join me in prayer and action.