Unity In Times of DisagreementSeveral years ago I was getting ready for a meeting when someone in our office came in and said, “Mike, there is a pastor from Texas on the phone who wants to know if he can come to see you tomorrow at noon?” I didn’t have any information on what the pastor wanted, but I said, “Sure.” The next day the pastor, from Wichita Falls, TX. walked into the office and said, “Well, I can see from driving around the neighborhood that we have a lot in common.” I said, “What do you mean?” “Well, it looks like you are in a racially mixed neighborhood and that this church has been here since before the change starting taking place.” I said, “You are a perceptive man.” We spent the next ninety minutes together talking about his church in Wichita Falls and the dilemma they are facing. The church has been in its present location for many years. The church hasn’t changed, but the neighborhood has changed dramatically. On the day that we sat in my office he shared with me how his church had been slowly dying even though they wanted to live and thrive.
While we were eating lunch, Pastor Wallace said, “If the congregation here was made up of mostly older people when you came, how did you convince them that they could reach out to people from different walks of life? I mean, most older people are pretty set in their ways, but you said it was the older people whom God used in such a powerful way to begin a brand new ministry. How did you convince them?” I smiled and said, “Well, you see the older people in our churches are different than most of us young folks today – they really believe God’s Word. Those of us who are younger just believe the parts we like. When we come to something we don’t like we can explain it away or attribute the absurdity to the culture of long ago. Older people really believe God’s Word, even the parts that make them uncomfortable. So when we began studying the Word of God and He led us to passages like Matthew 25 where Jesus said, ‘I’m going to separate the sheep from the goats and those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and give water to the thirsty are the blessed sheep of My Father’s fold’ – they really believed Him. Today, these people, old and young, are feeding the hungry, offering medical assistance to the sick, and clothing the naked because Jesus said so. When our study led us to Galatians 3, and we learned that, ‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ We knew that it didn’t matter if this church had always been ‘white’ in the past, we were going to reach out to all of God’s people with His grace and mercy.”
I told Pastor Wallace, “When I came here I was honest with the folks and told them that I was a youth pastor and that I didn’t know a thing about what being a pastor was all about. Today is no different, I still don’t have a clue, but it’s not important that I have a detailed description and analysis of all that goes into turning churches around. What matters is that we, as a church, know that God knows what He is doing and that we remain obedient to following His lead in reaching out to our community.”
Too many Christians today want to be able to chart God’s movement, to unbox a proven method of growth, and to experience the glory of God through something other than seeking after His heart on a daily basis. Too many churches have stood by for years and watched the ship slowly begin to sink while convincing themselves that the rising waters are not all that bad. When all is submerged but the mast, and the few that are left are desperately hanging on, they decide that they want to turn things around. That’s not bad, but what is bad is that they simply want to unbox the latest in church growth manuals to breath new life back into their “sending out an S.O.S. church.” It won’t work. All churches are called to preach Christ and Him crucified, to share the Good News of Jesus with all people, but God’s specific ministry for the church in Ephesus is different than His ministry for the church in Enid, which differs from the ministry of the church in Ethiopia. If we were to start a ministry in Vail, Colorado it would look different than the ministry we begin in Velma Alma.
We can’t simply unbox a program and expect God to bless it simply because it worked for some other church, but there is something we can do, principles to employ, in seeking to build a strong church. I want to let you know, these principles will work for building our personal lives, if you are a business person, these principles will work in your efforts to build a strong business, and they will bless us as we seek to build godly families which will bless, rather than curse our mates and children.
The First “R” is “Reading.”
The first “R” in building a strong church is “Reading.” We need to be well-read folks, we need to study our manual, our methods, our message, our Messiah. We can come to know the heart of God by studying His Word and allowing it to shape us as a church. Through studying God’s Word, the Lord will give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that is bent on pleasing Him. The problem with most churches is, quite simply, that it’s too hard, too esoteric, too ethereal. We want some hard facts, just tell us what to do, show us how to do it, better yet – do it for us! God says, “Seek Me with your whole heart and then you will find Me.”
The church is not prepared in our day. Our nation has changed. The way people think has changed in many ways. We don’t ride in a horse and buggy anymore. We listen to music on our phones today instead of a Sony Walkman or a record player. Most homes have both the mother and father employed outside of the home. Day Care centers are big business. Morals have plunged down a slippery slope. In spite of all of the changes that have taken place, most churches are still trying to minister to Ward and June Cleaver’s family. They just aren’t around much anymore.
The statistics which are being given are startling. The number of urban churches which are closing is alarming. The reason they are closing is not because there aren’t any people in the neighborhood, but it’s because they expect the people to reach other people using the same methods that worked in the 50’s. Those just don’t work any longer. The people of our community watch us and come to the conclusion that we don’t have anything relevant to offer them in their struggles to survive in this day. As a result, so many turn away and the members of the church continue to grow older until finally the church closes its doors. Our cities citizens are hungry for a place where they feel they can belong, where they can receive encouragement in raising their children, healing their broken marriages, and finding direction for life, but oftentimes they can’t hear our message because we are so far removed from where they are.
Even though churches are closing we must never forget that God hasn’t closed up shop. We need to find where He is working and join Him in His work touching the lives of the people.
The Second “R” is “Relationships.”
The second “R” in building a strong church is “Relationships.” As we, as a church, commit ourselves to studying the Word of God in order to discover what God has called us to for His Kingdom, we must place at the top of our priority list building relationships.
Over the past several years we have been so blessed with many new people who are now part of what God is doing at Britton Christian Church. The attendance at our worship services continues to grow, but there is a great need for us to continue to develop more and more small group opportunities for the people who come to share in worship with us. Relationships take root in small group settings.
There are two statistics offered by George Barna, the church demographics guru, which I believe tell much about the lack of relationships in the church and the people of our country. Mr. Barna says, “70-80% of all growth in churches is due to people transferring their membership from one church to another.” The second statistic is, “A majority of people who make decisions to become Christians have dropped out of church participation within six to eight weeks.” Why are so many people jumping from one church to another only to drop out in six to eight weeks? I’m sure there are many theories, but the one I think fits best is this – folks are looking for a place to belong, a place where they can share their hurts, frustrations, and joys. When they don’t find it, they continue their search until they do find it. As a result, they jump from cold church to cold church looking for something that is not there.
A third statistic Mr. Barna shared tells me why many of those looking are not finding what they are looking for in relationships in the church. Mr. Barna says, “Only 20% of people went to Sunday school last week.” My friend, I hate to break the bad news to you, but if you are looking for deep, intimate relationships simply by coming to worship on Sunday morning, you will never find what you are looking for. Worship is not intended to accomplish intimacy with others. Worship is intended to facilitate intimacy with God.
It is in small groups, like our Sunday morning classes, K-Groups, and Celebrate Recovery that we build those strong, intimate relationships, where we learn to love one another, care for each other, and press each other in our walk with God. Paul told the Philippians,
1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: (Philippians 2:1-5 NIV)
We are not given those traits of deep caring, compassion, love, and consideration of others at “new birth.” We learn from walking with Jesus and His people how to love others. We learn by building relationships.
The Third “R” is “Righteousness.”
The third “R” in building a strong church is “righteousness.” There is a very unsettling trend taking place in many of our nation’s churches today. I don’t know if it has happened because the morals of our nation have declined or if we are just trying to take advantage of grace, but the church has lost her passion for holiness, for righteousness. We have convinced ourselves that if we are ever going to grow and reach out to new people we will have to loosen up a little bit and relax. Turn the Ten Commandments into the Ten Suggestions. Nothing is farther from the truth. God said, “Be holy because I am holy.” God has annointed and appointed you and me to be a lighthouse of holiness to a hollow nation. We must always hold high, and unapolegetically, the high standard of Almighty God, but be willing to reach out to the person who has scorned God’s holiness and ended up in the gutter of life.
We will never change our culture by catering to its whims and cowering to its insults and slurs because of our allegiance to Jesus and our submission to His call of holiness. Paul told the Romans,
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18 NIV)
The strong churches of the future which will be effective in changing their neighborhoods will be those churches who understand the righteousness of God and are willing to model that righteousness to the community.
As we head into a new year I want to challenge us to prayerfully consider each of our roles in building Britton Christian Church into a “Lighthouse of Hope” to this community. Let’s study the Word of God so that He can show us where He is moving. Let’s get involved in a small group so that we can build strong relationships which will make us a strong church. Let’s pursue a holy and righteous life as we follow our holy God.
Britton Christian Church
December 9, 2014