Not the kind of word you usually see standing on its own.
The thing about the word WE is that it kind of leaves you hanging. It’s different than US. US can kind of stand on its own. It doesn’t need a verb or anything else to go with it. But WE does. WE implies action – as in WE DO SOMETHING – or definition – as in WE ARE SOMETHING. WE is not a complete sentence. But WE is what I hope this church will become.
One of the things WE in this room ARE is…
WE ARE in a UNIQUE SITUATION.
And because of that situation, I feel like I can be totally transparent with you and tell you what kind of devious scheme I’m up to.
The unique situation we are in is this:
- New Pastor
- New Vision
- New Location
- All at the same time.
Which means that there is a very good chance that those of you who are here right now….really want to be here (or you thought we were the church that just left) – but if you were with us before today this move would have been a great time to leave if you were thinking about it.
But I’m going to assume that each one of you here – even if you are a guest – really wants to be a part of the vision that I shared the previous five weeks before we moved. And assuming that is true, that also gives us something that WE HAVE…
WE HAVE a UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY.
Only makes sense that a unique situation would also provide a unique opportunity.
But before I tell you what that is, let me briefly recap that vision in case you forgot it in the heat at the KOA for the last two weeks or if you happen to be joining us for the first time today.
All of this you can actually find in the inside cover of your bulletin, so if you feel so inclined you can follow along and even shout out the answers if you like (I would like that).
Here we go.
We are a church that is GROUNDED IN GOD’S WORD
We are a church that is dedicated to seeing lives changed by the transforming, restoring power of Jesus Christ.
We will see lives changed by
Doing life together in authentic community.
Loving others together in community involvement
As we do these things we will be guided by three core values that define our personality:
Add Some Awesome
Keep It Real
People Matter More
Now that we’ve all been reminded of what we are about, let me tell you what kind of unique opportunity I believe that we have.
We have a unique opportunity to try something NEW. We have an opportunity to EXPERIMENT.
You see, because we are an autonomous non-denominational church – we can pretty much do whatever we want. We are not beholden to any overarching denominational hierarchy that requires us to do things a certain way. This, of course, has its pros and cons. A pro is that it makes us flexible. We can basically do church how we want and change it whenever we like. A con is that there is no built in accountability structure – but rest assured as soon as I took over as Pastor I set that up. I not only have a board of advisors, but I have also submitted myself to the oversight of the leaders of the Bridge Network of Churches as well as several other local pastors. Their role is to ensure that I and my team do not lead us down any non-biblical or heretical paths. But aside from those two possibilities, we are free to be WE.
Also, we are mobile. Which means that we are light and can easily change almost every aspect of the physical church service – from the stage show to how the children’s church looks. We could even change venues again if we wanted. But don’t worry, that’s not the plan for now.
We are also relatively small. While we do want to be bigger at some point, it’s easier to turn a smaller ship and we can try things perhaps that would be very difficult or even impossible with a very large group of people.
And on top of all that, as I said earlier, I believe the group of people that we are right now is what could be called the core. The few but dedicated members who believe in what this church can be. And are dedicated to seeing it realized.
And that combination really sets us up to try something that I and others think will be amazing if we can pull it off with the help of the Holy Spirit.
And to illustrate what I’m talking about, let me start by asking all of you a question. But before I do that, I would like each of you to raise your hand.
The question is: Who in here wants to be physically fit?
Excellent! All of you! You can put your hands down.
Seriously though, the general truth is that everyone WANTS to be healthy, to be physically fit, to look more like the cover of SHAPE than OUT OF SHAPE. But most of us are not except for those few savants who were born in the gym. We are not, mainly because it’s hard. And it is in our fast-food convenience-centered culture. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to eat bad-for-you food than good-for-you food, and who has the time or the money to go to a gym every day? Physical fitness is difficult in our society. It’s not impossible, but there are many roadblocks.
But that doesn’t stop us from WANTING to be healthy. Especially when the pants are tighter and you don’t want to go to the beach, or when the doctor comes in the room with a concerned looking face.
So, what do we do?
We start a diet – probably one of the latest fad diets that Facebook is raving about, and we start running or join a gym and we try to willpower ourselves into good shape. I know I’ve tried this many times. It would be almost weigh-in time in the Navy and I needed to pass the rope and choke so I starved myself or did the Atkins diet and rode my bike as hard as I could until I was soaked with sweat, puking, or passed out. I tried lifting weights a few times but I was always so sore after the first attempt that I didn’t go back again for years.
I know I’m probably the only one with this experience, but I’m sure you can imagine what it’s like. Needless to say, those attempts were not long-term successful.
What’s a better way to do that?
One option is to do it with a friend or two. You decide to start working out together, to hold each other accountable. You might even talk about what kind of food you’re eating. But my experience is that, while this is better than going it alone, this method also doesn’t seem to work long-term. One or more of the group eventually gets too busy or too frustrated and gives up, or maybe they are all horrible at actually holding each other accountable – and so it fizzles after awhile. One of the reasons this happens is because even though there are three of you, none of you actually know what you’re doing. You’ve all subscribed to some internet diet and you focus on calories on the treadmill or stair master. While this method can be productive, it’s not nearly as effective or fun as if you had some guidance. Like from a personal trainer.
Now, let’s say you are back on your own because the group thing fizzled out, but you still want to get in shape so you go out on a limb and hire a personal trainer. It’s at some gym and get weekly appointments with him/her. They teach you how to work out correctly so you don’t hurt yourself and see maximum results and they teach you how to eat properly and even give you a doable menu so you don’t have to figure it out on your own. It’s all well and good until it’s the middle of the week and you are tired from a long day at work and you’d much rather just grab some McDonalds than have to cook something – and the next morning you hit the snooze too many times and now you don’t have time to go to the gym. The trainer asks you how your week went and you confess and they say “don’t do it again”, but in the end – even with the tools – you are still left to yourself to have the willpower to use them.
But what if your friends joined you with going to the personal trainer? What if you went as a group and then during the week you work together and hold each other accountable to the teaching that he gave you. He probably even taught you how to be better accountability partners. Now you have the best of both worlds. You have someone who can teach you the right way to do things for maximum results AND you have a group of friends who have your back and you have theirs. How do you see the chances of your success now? Pretty good.
It’s almost like that show “Biggest Loser” – sure it’s a controlled environment, but the results are amazing. None of them were able to do it on their own, but with the help of a trained professional and a support team, they were able to achieve something they had failed at their whole life.
Now, all of you are pretty smart, so I know you’ve probably figured out what I’m really talking about already – This illustration is about physical fitness – the truth is that the same principles apply to spiritual fitness.
It is true that every human with a body desires to be physically healthy.
Likewise, every human with the Spirit of Christ inside desires to be spiritually healthy. If you have no desire to know God more or have the fruit of the sprit or experience this abundant life that Jesus and preachers talk about – then you may not truly be a Christian, because those are inevitable results of having the Holy Spirit inside of you. I’m not saying that you succeed at these things, but simply that you have the desire to. I believe that if you are here today, you probably have that desire but perhaps have not been able to see the results you hoped for.
That’s because just like in physical fitness, many of us try to grow spiritually fit on our own.
Maybe we come to church, try to read our bible, pray a little – but it’s hard and the bible is difficult to understand, and life has a way of getting in the way – so we really only go in spurts, rarely seeing very much long-term or even short-term growth.
It’s like being in a dream. You ever have one of those lucid dreams where you kind of know you are dreaming and you have a little bit of control of what you’re doing, but not enough and things start happening that you can’t control and you feel trapped and want to wake up but you can’t? I have. I don’t remember how old I was, but I used to have a recurring dream where I was in a bathtub paralyzed except for my mouth and eyes and I was sinking with just my face above water, slowly slipping under and I tried to scream but no noise would come out. Then I would wake up. It was horrible.
And I think that many people, possibly some of you, believe in Jesus, have accepted his forgiveness, identify yourself as a Christian, but you are still not seeing this abundant life he talks about. You feel trapped, stuck in the same ruts you were in before, like in a dream. You want to grow, but you don’t know how. Or maybe you do know how, but you feel helpless to do anything about it. It’s like you’re in a dream and can’t wake up.
My friends, this is what breaks my heart.
- It breaks my heart to see people who have been set free by the power of Jesus only to remain in their cell.
- It breaks my heart to see Christians broke, stressed out by money, chained to massive amounts of debt to the point that they can’t quit the job they hate.
- It breaks my heart to see Christian marriages suffer and end in divorce because they’ve bought into the lie that love is just a feeling.
- It breaks my heart to see Christians stumbling around in the darkness when they should be thriving in the light.
Ephesians 5:8-14 (par)
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them…This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
- It breaks my heart to see so many Christians, so many people who truly believe in Jesus, walking around like zombies. No direction. No hope. Just going through the motions. Earn a buck, spend two.
- It breaks my heart to see so many Christians being the reason that non-Christians are not interested in our savior – because they see no difference between us and them.
- It breaks my heart to see so many people missing out on the life they were made for by the Creator of the Universe.
And it’s not your fault.
I believe the church is to blame. At least mostly.
While there is certainly a level of personal responsibility on all of us for our own spiritual wellbeing. I believe the church has dropped the ball that only it can carry.
WE have FAILED
But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Let’s read what Paul wrote to the Ephesians. This is a passage we are going to use throughout this series because I believe it explains what WE are SUPPOSED TO BE.
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.
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.
This, coupled with what we covered before in Acts 2, presents a beautiful picture of what the church should be, and what roles all of us play.
- I as the pastor – it says that my responsibility is to equip you, to equip you to do God’s work. It is my responsibility to build up the church, which is the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ.
- And that this responsibility will continue until we are all perfect. Until we are all so united in our faith and knowledge of Christ that we are mature.
- And if we do this. If I do my part, and you do your part we will stop being like immature children tossed around and believing every lie – we will stop living in a dream feeling like we have no control.
- Instead we will speak truth in love, which will cause each of us to grow more and more like Christ, who is the head – our head. We are the body. He is our head.
- And he causes us to fit together perfectly. Each one of us are created and made to fill a unique role in his body, in this church, and when we all do our parts – it helps each of us grow, and we become healthy and full of love.
Oh how I long to live in that. Oh how I long to pastor a church like this.
And that is exactly what I believe WE CAN BE – if we all do this together.
NOW THAT I’VE LAID THE GROUNDWORK, LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THIS UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY
THIS NEW THING
I HOPE YOU WILL DO WITH ME
Today I am going to give you a brief overview and then spend the next FOUR weeks unpacking it. Then at the end of this series, I’m going to give each of you the opportunity to do the experiment with us.
The experiment is regarding church membership.
Now, depending on your upbringing – that term “church membership” probably conjures up a different image in each of us. But I would venture to say that for most of us – at least in this church – “church membership” doesn’t have much meaning at all. It’s probably the same in most churches – at least that I have seen. It typically consists of a very short class on a Sunday afternoon where the Pastor shares the details about the church, then at the end you sign some kind of commitment or covenant saying you want to be an official part of the church. That paper gets filed away, and you never hear about it again.
I’m not going to ask for a raise of hands, but for those of you that are official members here – do you even remember what the paper said that you signed? Do you remember what you committed to? Are you doing it? Has anyone ever asked you about it? Have you ever personally done anything with that membership?
Having worked at this church for several years, I can confidently answer all of those questions for you: NO.
Now, I’m not saying all this to bash the previous administration – especially since I was a big part of that. I’m also not saying this is unique to us. I know from many conversations I’ve had with other pastors and just my own experience, that this is pretty much the norm when it comes to church membership.
What I am saying is that in general – church membership is rather meaningless. It has no benefits or responsibilities – at least none that are enforced or counted on.
But what if church membership could be more like that personal trainer – group of friends – getting healthy – picture I painted with my illustration?
What if church membership actually mattered – actually had value.
What if church membership resembled what we read in Ephesians 4? The leaders equipping the people of God and building up the body. The people of God filling their unique roles. All of us working together to become mature, to grow, become healthy, and full of love?
What if the body of Christ actually functioned as a body? Where each member is looking out for every other member. Where we all work together and take care of each other. All for the glory of God and the spiritual growth of those that participate?
What if that’s what church membership meant? Well, I believe it can be that. And I believe WE can do this here at Reality Church. I believe we can even look like that Acts 2 church from 2000 years ago, right here in 2015. I believe that we can practice a kind of church membership where each one of us actually grows spiritually, and as we do that our lives are changed, and as our lives are changed people begin to notice and want what you have too and you can tell them about Jesus and about how great it is to be in a community of believers who do nothing but love each other, and I believe as he did for the Acts 2 church that the Lord will add to our numbers those who are being saved.
And for the next FOUR weeks I’m going to share with you how this will work. And at the end of it, each of us will be given the opportunity to join in this experiment. My hope and prayer is that each one of you will want to.
For now I will give you a very brief overview.
Basically, this church membership experiment will work similarly to how I described the personal trainer with a group of friends model for getting healthy.
It begins with the base assumption that you actually do want to grow spiritually. If you don’t. If you are satisfied where you are and hope to remain the same year after year, then this is not for you. You don’t have to be a member to attend the church, but as you will see in the next few weeks there are many benefits to being a member that you won’t get as just an attender.
The next truth to this is that just like there are some basic practices that naturally result in a healthier body (eating right and exercising) there are some basic practices that naturally result in spiritual growth. They come straight out of the bible and are guaranteed to work if you do them and guaranteed to not if you don’t.
The pastor and church leaders are your personal trainers. As your pastor, I have been designated and gifted by God to equip you, to teach you, to build you up – to do His work. I can show you how to grow. I can encourage you and give you tools to help you. I and my other leaders.
The members are like the friends. You will come to church as your personal spiritual trainer, then together you will help each other stay on the right path, to keep doing the exercises and eating right.
This will result in a community of believers who are all looking out for each other and lifting each other up, who are devoted to learning about God and doing what he says – just like the Acts 2 church.
And within that group, because all the others have committed to the same things you have committed to, you know you can count on them to help you in your time of need. Because that will be one of the things you commit to when becoming a member. I’ll discuss more details about that in week 3 and 4.
You will also commit to certain biblical spiritual practices that are guaranteed to help you grow, and we – the church will equip you and help you succeed in those things in a personal way.
The fuel that makes all of this go is the Holy Spirit. If you have the spirit of Christ inside of you, you will have the desire to grow, and as you choose to follow the spirit – he will give you the ability to do so. And we, the church, will teach you how to do that.
But there is one thing that is the glue that holds all of this together that is completely lacking in most other church membership models. IT IS THE KEY:
Just as it is necessary for a good fitness program or for kicking a bad habit. It is necessary for spiritual growth as well. I’m not talking about mean accountability but encouragement and spurring each other on toward good works. But the bottom line is that you will be held accountable to the things you commit to when becoming a member.
And do you know what the great thing about accountability is? It’s like being part of a professional sports team…or the military…Because those other people in uniform had to actually meet certain standards, it makes being a part of it something valuable.
One example I like to give is a professional baseball team. If you are on that team, you know that you can throw the ball at any of the other players as hard as you can and they will catch it. You don’t know that on a co-ed duffer team.
Like in the military…to wear the uniform you have to maintain certain standards and you are obligated to certain things, this means that if you also wear the uniform you already know what you can count on from the others.
What if a church membership worked the same way? What if each person that signed on to be a member actually intended to keep their commitments and that the church actually held them to it, meaning you can actually lose your membership? Since one huge part of this will be the commitment the members make to each other to help each other when in need (just like the Acts 2 church) then you can confidently know, not just hope, that when you raise your hand in that group that everyone is going to step up to help you if they can because you will do the same thing. It could be a group of people who are all dedicated to following Jesus and growing and being a part of his body here on earth, the church. Then we could experience what that early church experienced, and we could each lean on each other as the world around us crumbles.
I don’t know about you, but I want this so bad. I want this church, you, the people in this room – all of whom I love dearly, to be a part of something you can’t get anywhere else. I believe we have a chance to do something new here if we are all on board. And I absolutely believe it is going to change lives…mine, yours, and others we don’t know yet.
Because it’s all about intentionally doing whatever we can to make Jesus Christ the center of our lives, because that is how life is supposed to be lived.
I hope you will join us.
I hope that what I talked about stirs something inside of you. I hope that the spirit of Christ inside of you is pulling on you to be a part of this because it may be just the thing that could pull you out of that dreamlike state. If that is the case, don’t brush it off. Make a commitment to be here for the next four weeks, where I will be spelling out the details of what a wonderful thing this could be. Make this a priority. If you absolutely can’t make it, then watch it on line. This is the beginning of the future of our church. Before we came here I laid out where we are going. Today is day 1 of that journey. I pray that you will be here for the ride.