What the New Testament describes as a church is often very different from the concept of a church that we have today. I think one confusion that has existed for a long time is that church is a place that you go to. People think of a church as a building. But the New Testament describes the church as an assembly of God’s people. The church is a congregation. It may be a small congregation, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, or it may be a great congregation “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
You and I are living in what is a becoming post-Christian America. The cultural aspects of Christianity are being stripped away by the secularist as seen in the removal of Truth from schools, the increase of immorality as acceptable behavior, and the denigration of marriage, among others. Since the cultural pressure to attend church has been decreasing, many church leaders have responded by going to extreme measures to attract people to church. Weekly concerts take the place of congregational singing. Positive storytime takes the place of the preaching of God’s Word. And at all costs, everything difficult or challenging is removed as an obstacle so that we can get more bodies in the buildings. But in order to accomplish that, the church had to fundamentally shift from being a body to being an event.
When I became pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in 2005, we were in pretty rough shape. Our pastor and our only deacon had passed away. Our attendance had dropped to the teens. We had no children’s ministry, no youth ministry, no finances to speak of. It was pretty much every Bible College graduate’s dream job!
As I attempted to lead the church out of that dry place, one thing we discussed openly was the need to establish a church as God intended. I did not want to see our church be anything less than what God intends every church to be. And that meant that we would particularly eschew the idea of church being an event. Which worked out well, because at the time we had no musicians. Our building was unfinished and our property was not well kept. It would take laborers, not spectators, to become the Church God wanted us to be.
My goal was for every single member of our church to be a vital part of what God was doing. Many who study church growth say that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the congregation. 80% of the giving is done by 20% of the congregation. I said, “Let’s be the exception! Let’s have 100% of the work be done by 80% of the congregation. Let’s all bring our offering to the Lord. Let’s all be engaged in prayer. Let’s make every member a minister.” And in preparation for that, we engaged in a year long study of the book of Ephesians. It became a running joke for a while that I only preached out of Ephesians!
I have to tell you that over the last 15 years of ministry I have often felt discouraged and disappointed. When I started my goal was to have someone in our new members class every quarter. For a while that happened, but I soon discovered that not everyone would make the commitment to join the church after going through the class. Some people came to the conclusion that they were not really saved while others realized that their baptism was not Scriptural, and yet rather than submit to God and repent they left looking for a church that would affirm their choices. A preacher’s journal recently published an article called “Patience – the Pastor’s Superpower” and I refused to read it! Worst super power ever! But it is a necessary qualification for not only the pastor, but also the congregation.
Through every disappointment I have never doubted that it is better to follow God’s plan for the Church and allow Him to build it as He sees fit rather than to try and use gimmicks and worldly methods to see greater numbers come. 2020 has been a great stress test for the Church and I believe that it has exposed both strengths and weaknesses in our congregation. For the most part, I am very proud of our church and how we are going through these times. We are gathering, we are giving, we are ministering together. So this morning I would like to remind you of some of the great Truths of Scripture upon which our Church is built.
Typically, at this time of year we have a semi-annual business meeting, but due to the strange nature of the year we have not scheduled that. Instead, I would like to use this morning’s sermon to encourage us to Re-Focus. A lot of churches had a big Regather service when lockdowns ended, but it is possible to regather and yet be a little bleary eyed when it comes to the mission and purpose of the church. So here are 5 fundamental truths about the Church that seem particularly applicable considering the year that we have had.
- The Church is not the Church unless it gathers. Hebrews 10:22-25.
- The work of the ministry is the responsibility of the congregation, not of the pastor. 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
- Prayer is effective. Acts 12:5.
- The character of “the church” is a direct reflection of the character of its members. Rev 2:1-4
- There is work left to do. John 4:35