ReFocus

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In light of my recent lessons learned, God has continued pulling back the curtain and revealing some things to me about the direction I’ve taken the church since December of last year. Not that it’s been all wrong – but he’s shown me what caused me to jump on the shiny object called the BRTFAC.
Basically I lost focus on the main thing.
For those of you that have been with us since last December, you will know that we nearly went bankrupt, but God pulled off a miracle through many of you to rebuild our financial wall, and so far it has been holding well. So, I have no doubt that was from God. Another thing that was from God at that time was the vision I shared with you that I believed it was time for us to grow. Specifically to grow larger as a church – to experience what the Acts 2 church experienced when the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  In fact, at that time, and I even mentioned it again when pitching the “mission: unstoppable” that I believed we would double in size by Christmas.
And while that may very well happen, God has shown me that my error has been in focusing on that instead of the main thing. In fact, I realize now that ever since December I’ve felt self-inflicted pressure to deliver on the promise of growth. Which God has recently reminded me is not my job. It is not my job to grow the church numerically.
My job description as spelled out in Scripture is clear.
Ephesians 4 (NLT)
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
My job is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church. Which I have explained those terms before…
EQUIP
Original Word: καταρτισμός
Transliteration: katartismos
Definition: a bringing to a condition of fitness, perfecting. Properly, exact adjustment which enables the individual parts to work together in correct order.
BUILD UP
Original Word: οἰκοδομή
Transliteration: oikodomé
Definition: edification for spiritual advancement. (figuratively) constructive criticism and instruction that builds a person up to be the suitable dwelling place of God
Notice my job description has nothing to do with numerical growth of a church body, but everything to do with the spiritual growth of the members of that body.
Does that mean a church should not grow numerically – absolutely not – it just means it’s not my job to try to make that happen directly. It’s actually God’s job to grow the church, and He uses you to do it.
Let me read the rest of the Ephesians 4 passage that describes what happens when I’m doing my job correctly.
Ephesians 4 (NLT)
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Notice who is doing the work in verse 16. “He” – Christ – and “each part” – US. And that “growing” is referring to size.
Let me show you another place where this is even more clear. Jesus himself claims responsibility for building his church.
Matthew 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
It is Jesus himself that will build his church.
But the greatest evidence that it is the Lord who grows his church is the passage we try to model ourselves after in Acts 2…
Acts 2
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
It doesn’t say that they – the people or the apostles – grew the church but that the Lord did.
This doesn’t mean we do not have a part to play in it. And it doesn’t mean that God just wants us to stay this size and grow old together without ever adding more people who are being saved and having their lives changed.
In fact, I’m still convinced He wants to grow us this year. The lesson is not about whether a church should be growing or not. The lesson is that growing numerically should not be our focus. And it most certainly should not be my focus as I just showed you in Scripture. In fact, I believe that the modern compromising and watering down of Scripture in the churches today is a direct result of pastors and people being too focused on numerical growth.
Jesus was never concerned with increasing his audience – in fact he intentionally thinned the crowds with his teaching on occasion. And the people in the early church, as described in Acts, were not preoccupied with numbers either. Which, I believe is precisely why they grew so fast.
Let me explain.
I believe it works the same as the analogy of the vine, the branches, and the fruit that Jesus gives in John 15.
John 15
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
I explained this in my talk earlier in the summer about “audience of one”, abiding, and abandoning and such – and I showed you that symbol I wanted to get as a tattoo. Well, I still don’t have it, but Keith does!
Anyway, Jesus explains it clearly that in order to bear fruit, the branch must be attached to vine. Something we all know intuitively. And he relates that to our relationship as believers to him. He is the fine, we are the branches. The only way we can produce spiritual fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc) is by staying attached to the vine – by abiding in Him.
We cannot produce fruit on our own. In fact, we cannot produce fruit at all. We only bear it. It is the vine – Christ – the Holy Spirit – that produces fruit THROUGH us so long as we stay attached to or focused on the vine.
I picture it like I’m a branch – But it’s not having my feet attached to the vine and fruit coming out of my fingertips. If that were the case – my eyes would be focused on the fruit and I would just assume the connection to the vine the same way I don’t think too much about what my feet are standing on but my hands are not only front and center of my focus, but the means by which I control things in my life. No, instead of my feet being attached to the vine and the fruit being something I can marvel at and control, abiding looks more like me holding onto the vine with both arms wrapped around it and my head buried in it such that I couldn’t tell you if fruit is coming out of my toes or not because all that really matters to me is that I’m one with Jesus.
The point of abiding is not the fruit. The point of abiding is to be one with Jesus. It’s the same thing Dan talked about in the Kingdom Gospel. It’s about loving Jesus for who he is more than for what He can do. Because if you’re trying to abide in Jesus for the purpose of bearing fruit, then what is your focus really on?

I think it works the same with growing the church.
Back to Acts 2
I turned it into a recipe for church growth. If we do these things then the Lord will add to our numbers. Which I still believe is true, but not for the same reason.
These things the early church did were not a means to an end toward having a bigger church. They were simply a response to becoming the church. To being saved and welcomed into the body and the family of Christ. To being indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 describes what happens when a group of people get excited about Jesus and they collectively start abiding in him.
They were not trying to grow the church. They were just being the church – loving God and loving each other – and it was contagious. The world had never seen anything like it before. And it’s something the world still desperately needs.
But we don’t do these things with an aim to grow the church. We do these things because we are in love with the King whether he grows the church or not.
And the greatest sign that a body of believers are focused on the right thing is their unity.
Acts 4
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
This is exactly what Jesus commanded us to do.
John 13
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Notice he said this will be the sign to others that we are truly his disciples.
And then he prayed for us.
John 17
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Again, our unity is the sign to the world that we are one with Christ.
The early church had it and we need to have it too, and it doesn’t come from focusing on numerical growth or a place of worship. Those are natural and supernatural results of living this way, but they cannot be our focus or our aim.
What does this kind of unity look like in practice?
Acts 2
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. 
All of these things were a response to what God had done in their lives. And should be the same response we have to the great salvation God has given us through Jesus Christ. Every Spirit-filled believer should have a desire to live this way because these are the actions of a people who are united with Christ – who are abiding in him – who are attached to the vine. These are the actions of people who simply Love God and Love Others with no ulterior motive of having a bigger church, or a building, or a great rock worship band with colored lights and fog machines, and big screens with amazing graphics, and marketing campaigns, and so on.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with a bigger church, or a building, or a great worship band, or cool graphics, and such. (Except for fog machines – that is wrong) The point is not that we should not have those things or even that we should not want those things. The point is that those things are not the point. They should not be our focus. Our focus should be Jesus.
As the author of Hebrews urges…
Hebrews 12
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Greek behind “fixing our eyes”
Original Word: ἀφοράω
Transliteration: aphoraó
HELPS Word-studies
872 aphoráō  properly, “looking away from all else, to fix one’s gaze upon” (Abbott-Smith).
It’s hard to fix our eyes on Jesus when we’re staring at the fruit or lack of fruit, or the numbers, or the building, and so on.
This is all over Scripture.
Psalm 127:1
Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Zechariah 4:6
‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
Matthew 6
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendorwas dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Church, I think God has graciously brought us to this point so that we can refocus. He has stripped away all the extras and made church really easy and simple for us so that we can quit worrying about all those things and just focus on the One who “for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I will be focusing on my job of equipping you – bringing you to a state of spiritual fitness – and building you up – making you a suitable dwelling place for the Lord. And I will do that by encouraging us and facilitating us to remain devoted to the Apostle’s Teaching…
What do you think they talked about? Jesus, of course! Which is what we’re going to spend some time doing here on Sundays.
The Fellowship, Breaking of Bread, and Prayer.
We will still do potlucks and prayer nights, and there are still plenty of ways to serve in the church and if you’re not giving – not tithing – you need to be.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. 
That last part is where Life Groups come in. We don’t have temple courts, and our culture is not set up for us to meet each day. But there is no reason why we can’t make a point to spend time with each other outside of Sunday morning once a week in a Life Group.  We’ll be talking about that more in the weeks to come as we want to get them started in September. We’ll be asking some of you to be leaders and hosts. If you already know you want to be one – or rather that the Holy Spirit is telling you to be one – you could save some time and just let me know after service. And for everyone else, start looking at your schedule now to determine which day of the week you will make open to devote to “breaking bread in someone’s home and eating together with glad and sincere hearts.”
My friends, this is not a total change in vision or direction. This is a refocusing on where we started. Our vision is still to see lives changed through doing life together and loving others together as we add awesome, keep it real, and remember that people matter more. We are still grounded in God’s Word and powered by prayer. The heart of who we are is not changing. I think it’s finally being revealed by stripping away all the excess. I don’t know how long God will keep us in this office, and honestly I don’t care. I care about equipping  you and building you up and keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus and just doing what He tells me.