What if Church was a Verb?
Today we begin a new sermon series focused on the church. This series will lead us up to the church conference in which we will vote on our proposed renovation and expansion project. This is an extremely important time in the life and history of our church. As we prayerfully prepare to make some big decisions regarding our future I want us to also take some time to explore once again what it means to be the church.
In the series I want to try to answer these questions: What is the church? Why does it exist? Why is it important? Why does it even matter? Over the course of four weeks I want to share with you my thoughts on these questions and what that means for us as we seek to live into our motto and build a church for life.
Now let’s start off by recognizing that the way many people, especially young people think of the church is not necessarily a positive today. There are a lot of young people who have an impression of Christianity or the church – well it’s captured in the words of a blog post that I read and posted earlier this week as I was studying and preparing for this message:
Hello my name is church,
I'm sure you've heard a lot about me. I have no shortage of critics. Perhaps you have heard that I am...
A waste of time
You've heard that I am full of:
Maybe you have visited me before and discovered:
Maybe you needed me and I was:
Maybe you joined me and found I was:
Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by:
Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody:
Invited you back
The poem goes on and in my Facebook post I asked for reactions and thoughts on the article and on the following questions: Why has the church gotten such a bad rap through the years? Why are so many churches struggling to stay relevant and vital in the world? Why are so many young people turned off by the church? How do we build a church for life?
Here are a few of the responses: One person said, “I think some people go to church searching for something. When they get there, they don't find the One. They hook onto the wonderful preacher, or the wonderful music, etc. All these things are fallible. Only God is infallible. So the person gets discouraged or feels betrayed. Especially, if the person feels betrayed by the church, they will not get over it easily.”
Another commenter said this: “Many people are unprepared for how much really being involved in a church community is like being involved in ANY community - it can be messy, political, and it doesn't always feel "holy". A gap between expectation and reality keeps many people from accepting that a church is made up of flawed, imperfect people. As Christians, we should do a better job of reminding people that church is meant to be a hospital for sinners, not a club with impossible standards for membership.”
Finally this comment: “For a church to remain vital and relevant and attract young people, it has to stay focused on Christ and mission to others, keep it's integrity, but yet be willing to change, think outside the box. However, walk a fine line so as not to turn away others and make them feel they are no longer wanted or needed.”
In my experience most of the time when you visit a church what you will find is a lot of people gathered together seeking to understand who is God and what does God want from me. And how can I live my life in a way that pleases God? And most of them fumble around at it at times, and we are no different here at Sterling, but aim at trying to send people back out into the world to demonstrate love to the world, not hate. To demonstrate compassion and kindness not judgementalism and hypocrisy.
You know the church has made plenty of mistakes over the centuries, but by enlarge what the church has sought to do be is the hands and feet and voice of Christ in the world bringing healing and hope and love and light to a world that desperately needed it.
Some people say the church is filled with hypocrites and that’s why I don’t want to be a part of a church. Well if you don’t want to be a part of a church because it’s filled with hypocrites, what are you going to be a part of? Because last time I checked there’s no human being on this planet who lives according to their ideals all the time. You know we all fall short of our ideals. The truth is we’re all hypocrites. Me too. I don’t fully live up to what I believe 100% of the time. But I want to be that person I see in my mind. I’m not there yet, but I want to be that person.
And the church is a place for hypocrites to come and to become over time formed into the likeness of Christ. So if you recognize that all of us are hypocrites this is a pretty good place for hypocrites to come and gather and to be transformed by the power of God.
Well today there are many people who are opting out of the church not because they are turned off by the church.
So I came across a book this week by Tom Rainer who talked about 18-22 years olds that go off to college and many of them who are actively involved in church when they were in high school dropout. And I mention that because all of those kids who were here a little while ago for the children’s moment at some point are going to be 18 year olds going off to college or going out to work. And many of you have young people who are going to be moving away from home. And something like 70% of all of those kids who were actively involved in church when they were in high school dropout when they’re in college.
So this study was done and they asked young people why do you not stay engaged if you were actively involved in high school? Most of don’t say, “Because I no longer believe.” They still believe. But their experience going to church is something like Mr. Bean’s experience when he went to church. Take a look.
I’ve seen a few of you do that once in a while. But not very often. You know when it comes to the Christian faith oftentimes we go out to churches and what we find is the Christian faith seems boring, dull, irrelevant, not connected to my daily life. It sounds like the “Wah wah wah wah wah.” But that’s not the gospel. I mean the Christian faith if we really understand it is a call to live a life that is most full. It’s a call to live a life of mission and service. It’s a call to live life boldly. And coming together to worship God, to give thanks to the Creator of the universe. And to be filled with His Spirit and to be formed into His image; to be clay in the hands of the Potter. And to go out and to shine light into the darkness. That’s exciting stuff! It’s not boring and dull and so often we in the church help make it seem that way.
I pray that we don’t do that here at Sterling. The mission of the church is exciting and our role in it as followers of Christ is exciting. It’s something we can be passionate about.
So we want to think about this then. What is the mission of the church? And what exactly is the church? And over the next three weeks I’m going to be giving you different answers because the Bible doesn’t just give us one answer, it gives us a multitude of answers to what the church is.
In our scripture passage that we read a moment ago from Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus using the word church one of only two times in the gospels He actually uses this word. And the word church is a translation of a Greek word that is ekklesia. And this word is really two Greek words, ek – which means out and klesia from kaleo which is our English word “call”. And so the church are those who are “called by God out to serve God and to be God’s people.” So church is a verb. God always wants us to do something as His people.
And so when Peter was speaking, Jesus said to him, “Peter, who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “I know who you are. You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Now the word Messiah is a Hebrew word. In Greek its Christos. That means King. Peter is saying in a world in which Caesar was the king, in a world in which Herod Antipas was the king, in which Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea, he says, “I know who you are Jesus. You are the King. Not just any king. You are King of kings and Lord of lords.” That is, “My allegiance to you is higher than my allegiance to Caesar or to Herod Antipas or to Pontius Pilate.”
And this is the fundamental claim we make as Christians, that Jesus is Christ. He is the King. And so when you call yourself a Christ-ian, you call yourself a follower of the Christ, the Messiah, you are a follower of the King.
This is a pretty dramatic statement. It is a counter-cultural; it’s a revolutionary statement that you make. When you become a Christian, when you become a follower of Jesus Christ as your King you place your highest allegiance in Him. And here’s what you begin to ask; “Lord what would you have me do with my life? How would you have me live? How can I please you? How do I live according to your precepts? How do I live into your kingdom?” And we pray it every day…”Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And so we become citizens of the kingdom of God. And we become followers of the King.
That’s what Peter said. He boldly stated this. And then Jesus makes this statement. This is one of the two places where He uses the word church. He says, “Simon, I will now call you, I will change your name to Petros, to Peter(which means rock) and on this rock, on you Peter and upon your faith I will build my ekklesisa, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
It’s a very very powerful statement. So the church is the gathering of people who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ as their King. At the core what brings us together, our identity is the fact that we are those who are followers of Jesus who is the Christ. That’s the beginning point.
But remember it’s not enough to simply be a follower of Christ we go out to do the work of Christ in the world.
I remind you that before Jesus left this earth He turned to His disciples and he said, “Now, I’m going to be with my Father and I’m sending you out to do what I have been doing. Your task now as the church, He says to His disciples is to “Go into all the world a preach the good news of the kingdom of God. It is to teach the people what I have been teaching you. And it is to help them to become my followers so that this kingdom spreads throughout the world.” This is our task. And so for us as Christians our role is not simply to be followers of Jesus privately, but very publicly to be able to announce the good news. To proclaim the glorious deeds of the One who’s called us out of darkness and to follow in His light as Peter has said in his epistle.
Now what I am saying is that there are two parts to the gospel. There is first the personal part; our personal salvation in Christ. And there are many churches where that’s all the gospel that they preach. And so in that gospel we invite you to give your life to Christ, to become one of his followers, to accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior; to invite His Spirit to dwell in your heart. To read your Bible on your own and to spend time in prayer and to grow closer to Him. And all of that is very very important; that’s our foundation of our life in Christ. And in that we are born again or born anew. God changes us from the inside out. We become a new creation. But that’s only half the gospel; to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, that’s half the gospel.
The other half of the gospel however is how we live that faith out in the world; to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Now every church should know this. And every proclamation of the gospel should include both the personal dimension and the social dimension; but sometimes we forget that. And so there are whole swaths of the Christian church where they are primarily interested in me and Jesus and my personal salvation in Him. And when we do that what we become is what one author says spiritual narcissists. We find we become even more self-absorbed than we were before we became a Christian because now God is involved with me and God just cares about me. And it’s me and God all the time. Just the two of us and no one else.
The gospel always when it takes root in our life it turns us outward towards the world.
This is exactly what John Wesley the founder of Methodism understood and taught, this two-fold gospel – and the earliest Methodist people knew both the saving work of Christ, being born anew, born from above. But always then Wesley sent them back out into the world to change the world. So he invited the people – the farmers and the coal miners – to come to faith then he sent them out into the world to be engaged with the poor, to visit those who were in the prisons, to ensure that people who were hungry had something to eat, and those who were naked had something to wear. This was the emphasis within Methodism from the very beginning – the personal gospel and the social gospel, personal holiness and social holiness – these two go hand in hand.
Now today we live in a world in which many young people aren’t sure what they think about the church. They find Jesus an attractive and appealing figure. They might believe in God but they’re not so sure what they think about the church. Never has it been more important for us to show them both the personal and social dimensions of the church. Because this generation of young people are very interested in changing the world.
I’ve talked to kids who don’t go to church. They say, “You know I want to feed the hungry. I want to see our nation have less racism. I want to be involved in helping to stop poverty and homelessness. And these kids learn from us and from the economic drop of the last several years that maybe it really not all about money. There’s more to life than money. So they’ve got this figured out. And they want to change the world. And that calls for us to be able to show them first, and to invite them first to join us in our social gospel and then in the process to help them understand the personal gospel.
Let me illustrate this. Rick Warren, you may know him as the author of The Purpose Driven Life, has a way of describing the Christian life and the progression of the Christian life and he used a baseball diamond.
1st base: we bring people to faith in Jesus and help them to give their life to Christ.
2nd base: We help them to grow in Christ and send them to Sunday School. And they come to understand the scriptures and theology.
3rd base: We help them to understand their spiritual shape, and they learn what their gifts are and the way God has wired them to serve in the world. Home: We finally send them out into the world to be out in mission to the world.
Many churches have adopted this view point over the years. I too for many years have believed that model to be the most practical and workable.
But I would suggest to you that today as we try to build a church for life that baseball diamond needs to be turned on its head. That the way we do evangelism in the 21st century doesn’t start with telling people about Jesus and inviting them to come and follow Him and come to church. For some people, yes! But for many, especially young people what we have to do is we have to show them Christ. We have to invite them to be involved in mission. So before we invite them to church, many of these young people many of whom have turned away from God, we invite them to join us to serve the needy. And then in the process we begin to show them why we’re serving the needy; why we’re engaged in service and ministry to the poor and those who are in need; that its Christ’s calling on us. We help them to know who Jesus is.
Then maybe at this point we begin to invite them to come with us to church. And then they come to know Christ. They give their lives to Christ. And then we send them out to do even more courageous and bold things in service to Christ in the world. They continue to grow deeper in their faith. They continue to get more engaged in the church. They grow deeper in their love for God. And we send them back out to do increasingly bold things in the name of Christ.
That’s the model for a church for life.
This is exactly what Jesus was saying us in Matthew 5:14-16. In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is telling us what he’s expecting of us as His people.
Here’s what He says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Did you catch that? You are the light of the world. God is counting on His church. Jesus is counting on His church to illuminate the darkness in this world.
Last week we gathered here on Christmas Eve and we turned off all the lights and it gets dark in here and I go and take the light from the Christ candle. And when start with the light of that one candle right? And we remember that Jesus was the Light of the World. He came to illuminate the darkness, to show us what it means to be authentically human. To help us understand that there is a God of love in this world. To help us know what God’s kingdom is like and what God intends for us to be as human beings. To spell the darkness and the fear and the anxiety and the pain and to give us hope and life and love. He came to do that.
But you remember what He said in this passage of scripture from the Sermon on the Mount. He turned to his disciples who were the church at that time; they were the ekklesia and He said to them, “Now, you are the light of the world. You are a city set upon a hill that cannot be hidden.” He said, “Let your light so shine before others that they might see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The church is Christ’s continuing presence in the world. When God wants to do something in the world, He sends the church. He calls us to take that light, to be bearers of the light into the world. We gather here to remember that. We gather here to sense God’s presence. We gather here to be reconciled to God. We gather here to hear God’s Word once more. We gather here to be recharged and refreshed so that we can go out there and we can let our light shine together for Him.
Now I want to come back to why you should be in worship every week. Church is not just what we do in worship, it’s what we do out in the world. But gathering here is really important because gathering here we remember our call. We remember the mission. Gathering together in worship we come and we confess our sins. Gathering together in worship we encourage one another in the faith. Gathering together in worship we remember that we’re called to be light. And gathering together in worship we find the power of the Holy Spirit that allows us to go into the world; that allows us to be God’s transforming agents in the world; to be His light.
Some of you may have heard that we are fostering two rescue puppies at our house. And these are very young puppies and like babies they wake up in the middle of the night and need to go outside. The other night it was my turn and so I got up at about 3:30 AM and trudged downstairs to do my duty.
It is dark and so I went to get the little flashlight that we keep beside the back door. So I grabbed our little flashlight right here. And I turned it on and wouldn’t you know it…what was the matter? It didn’t work because the batteries were dead.
And while I was out there in the back yard with the dogs in the middle of the night with this dim little flashlight I began thinking, “You know this is an awful lot like a lot of Christians I know.” You know we’re called to let Christ’s light shine through us but we haven’t been recharging the batteries.
Now the way we recharge our batteries, one of the primary ways is we gather together in the church. So when I think about the church, we’re going to talk about different pictures of the church over the next few weeks, I think of the battery charger for my flashlight. And when I think of what we do when we gather here for worship is we come and we place ourselves in a position to remember who we are, to be recharged and renewed, by the power of the Holy Spirit and to go out inspired, encouraged and equipped to be Christ’s light in the world. This is why it’s important that we gather together every week. And this is what’s supposed to happen as we gather for church.
You know this is just a whole lot of potential for light without the power that goes with it. And that’s true in our daily lives.
So let’s gather for worship each week. Let’s make it a holy habit in our lives; to be in worship, to be recharged and then Sterling church let’s go out into the world and let our light so shine before others that they might see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.
Let’s build a church that is a verb. Let’s build a church for life!
Almighty God, we give you thanks and praise that you have called us to be your church. To be followers of the king. Help us to do that. We pray that you would place in our hearts a deep desire to be in worship when the congregation gathers together that we’re here being recharged and renewed and ready for your mission in the world. And help us as a church not to squander the opportunity you have given us, but instead to be your light. Help us to get on board with what you are doing. Help us to go where you are. Help us to build a church for life. In Jesus name. Amen.
 “Hello, My Name is Church”, The Unappreciated Pastor,October 16, 2013. http://theunappreciatedpastor.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/hello-my-name-is-church/ : January 2014.