The Union Church of LaHarpe has been ministering in this community for 82 years. But the two churches that merged to form the Union Church have roots back to 1836. That means that this church body has been a witness in our community for 161 years. During these years the church has maintained a vibrant witness in our community.
The key to the effectiveness of the Union Church has been a willingness to change and adjust in ways that best would minister to the changing community. This is a rare and wonderful characteristic. I have been the envy of many Pastors who felt stuck in a church that defined “new” as “that which we’ve been doing for only the last ten years.”
As we prepare for a new century it is time for us to take stock once again of what our purpose is and how best to fulfill that purpose in our present time. So, for the next four weeks I am going to share with you our expanded purpose statement. Our goal is to “all get on the same page” in terms of our ministry so that we can continue to minister effectively in our community.
Our mission statement is presented as an acrostic GRACE. Since God’s grace is our salvation, our joy and our basis for hope it seemed only right to make it the key word for our ministry together. We will look at the first two purposes this morning and some of the implications of taking these things seriously.
A simple Command
Jesus gives His followers a simple command, “go and make disciples of all nations, 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.” It’s fairly straightforward, I think you’d agree. However, we have two common ways of responding to the clear command: First, we respond by WAITING. We build our churches, put ads in the paper, announce our service times and then we wait for people to come to us. Yet, Jesus doesn’t tell us to wait for others . . . we are to GO to them.
The second way of handling this command is to SEND others. The most common approach of the church is to hire “full-time ministers” so they can go to the lost and hurting and minister. However, this is not the Bible’s concept of the Pastoral ministry. In Ephesians 4:11,12 we read, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until all reach unity in the faith . . . “ The role of a Pastor is to equip the people for ministry.
Much of contemporary ministry is like a football team. Each week the coaches work to prepare the team. They study films, design plays, push the players to get in the best shape possible. What would happen if on game day the players stood on the sidelines and the coaches went out on the field? They would get creamed! When the other team was substituting freely the coaches would be exhausted. They would be at a severe disadvantage and no matter how hard they worked they would not be able to overcome the opposition. This is a common picture of a church: Pastor’s working long hours, feeling guilty for work not finished, cutting back on vital preparation time, all the time being cheered on and directed by the congregation. Is it any wonder that the church has made little impact across our country even though church attendance is on the rise?
The members of the church are called to be the ministers of the church. The Pastors are to do the equipping. We hope to begin to move toward this Biblical model.
Different Dimension of “Going”
The PERSONAL DIMENSION comes from us learning to recognize the world we live in as our mission field. If you work on the farm, the people you see at the restaurant, the people who work with you, the salesman you encounter are your mission field. If you teach, every student that comes into your classroom is a part of your mission field. If you are a “stay-at-home mom” then your mission field is your children, your children’s friends, and the parents of your children’s friends. No matter who you are, God brings people into your life every day who become your mission field. These are the people you must “go” to.
In addition to recognizing our current mission field we need to work at expanding that mission field. We must look to make contact with non-Christian people. What about the people you encounter regularly in the grocery store? What about those people you work with but never talk to? What about your neighbors? We are called not to wait for them to come to us, OR to wait for somebody else to go to them . . . . WE are to go.
Jesus spent much time with unbelievers. In fact, Jesus spent so much time among non-Christians that He was called, “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners‘” (Mt. 11:19). He was guilty by association. In fact, let me be bold . . . if there are not people criticizing you for some of the people you spend time with . . . .if people don’t raise an eyebrow now and again when they see you talking to certain people . . . you are not “going” far enough. Christians are called to go into their world looking for a way to demonstrate Christ by their service or declare Christ with their conversation.
There is also the CORPORATE DIMENSION of an outward directed church. If we are conscious of the unchurched in our community we will want to make sure that our worship and other gatherings are places where you can bring your non-Christian friends without being embarrassed.
We need to plan with the visitor in mind. Now let me make sure that I state this carefully. There are two extremes we want to avoid at all costs. First, WE MUST NOT COMPROMISE THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL. We cannot omit talk about sin, judgement, repentance, absolutes, the cross, simply because people find that kind of talk uncomfortable or unpleasant. If we compromise these truths we are no longer a church! Second, WE MUST NOT SEEK ENTERTAINMENT OVER WORSHIP. There is a tendency to want to entertain . . . to please the crowd. We want everyone to have a “good time”. However, entertainment is geared toward the audience; worship is geared toward God. Our methods may change but our purpose should be the same . . . we want to draw people into a vital, genuine relationship with God.
What we DO want to do is make our presentation of the gospel relevant. Some people seem to feel that the gospel is boring. Please hear this: the gospel is never boring . . . .it’s how we present it that is boring. Our challenge in the years ahead will be to present the true gospel, in a an attitude of worship in creative and interesting ways. Here are some ideas we’re thinking about
- picking up the tempo of our worship
- using a variety of musical styles
- putting together wider instrumental accompaniment for some hymns
- utilizing drama on occasion
- adding an electric piano
- working on eliminating unfamiliar vocabulary
- utilizing modern translations of the Bible
- keeping preaching relevant to life
In fact, you can help us in this area. If you are new to our church family or you find the worship boring we’d like to know how we could do things better. It’s difficult for those on the inside to know what is helpful for those on the outside. We want to be an outward directed church.
In our desire to make contact with and serve our community we must not forget our primary purpose – to make disciples. It is easy to become so involved in serving our community that we can forget our primary calling. We are to be more than a social services organization (though our Christianity should have practical expression).
The apostle Paul says it well, “from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’ the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (2 Cor. 5:16-20).
GREAT reasons for sharing the Gospel
Good News. The Gospel is Good News. The gospel tells people that there is a way to start over, there is a place to find forgiveness from our past.
- Redeeming News. The Gospel tells us how to know God intimately.
- Essential News. Apart from the gospel we are doomed to eternal death.
- Affirming News. There is no more affirming words we can give than the great news that our friends and relatives are loved by the Father. No matter who alone or unknown you feel . . .the Creator of the Universe knows your name.
- Transforming News. We talk about all the woes of our society. There is nothing that will bring change to our community, area, country, world than a revival. There is no medicine more powerful than the Gospel.
In light of all of this, what are we to do?
- We need to be prepared. We are told to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15). We must think through the message of the gospel so we can prepare it simply and accurately.
- We need to be open to everyone. We must work and pray that we might see others through the eyes of Christ. We can no longer only notice those people who seem like us. We must come to notice everyone who comes our way. Each one is a potential resident of Heaven.
- We need to be alert. We each have many opportunities every day to give expression to the hope that is ours in Christ. We can’t afford to miss these opportunities. Our friends and neighbors can’t afford for us to miss them either.
There are certainly those who will always resist anything that smells of change. You may say, “But, I like things the way they are.” My friend, I share a couple of thoughts with you. First, you don’t know that you won’t like things after they change. Second, don’t make the mistake of thinking that we no longer care about the traditions of the past. Our concern is not to overthrow tradition . . . our goal is to make our traditions relevant.
In 1 Corinthians 8:9 Paul gives us a timeless principle: “Be careful, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” We are certainly entitled to structure things the way they are most comfortable to us. However, as believers we should be willing to give up some of our comfort if it means we will be more effective in reaching others with the gospel. Paul also said,
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. [1 Cor. 9:20-22]
Few of us likes change . . . .but if change is what it will take to present the gospel relevantly to our community . . . then change we will.
The fact is, that we are missing a large segment of our community. We are having trouble reaching and ministering to those who are in high school and college. Someone has said the extinction of the church is just one generation away. We have a heart for these folks. We want to reach and minister to these people at this critical time of life . . . . just as we want to keep ministering to you.
Change can be fun if we view it as an adventure. I encourage you to look at things this way. There will be ideas that don’t work. There will be ministries that are no longer necessary and others that need to be developed. There will be things we do that we will wish we hadn’t done. But there will also be ideas, program and ministries that are effective. Pray that God would guide us and motivate us. Pray that He would work through us to make a difference in our community.
For all of this to work, we must work together. If we are going to be an outer-directed church we will need ALL the ministers of the church serving the Lord. Age, gender, background are not barriers to you being used by God. I encourage you to be willing to LEAD:
- L ook for opportunities to share Christ with others
- E ncourage non Christian Friendships
- A cknowledge that lost people matter to God
- D emonstrate and declare your faith whenever you get the opportunity
It is my hope that you will catch the vision of what we are being called to do and be. And even more . . . may you not only catch the vision . . .but may you be a part of making it reality.