What do you love most about church? You’re here so there’s some reason you are? What is it?
What I love about church is not only do I get to participate in focused worship and celebration of our God, but I get to do it with all of you. So many people are not attending church and are missing out on all of this. And that trend started long before the virus. Every year, more and more people are missing out on what “church” is.
So how do we get people to church? How do we bring hope to folks who need it? Where do we let people know about God’s good news for us? We will tackle these questions and more in a new series we’re starting today called ‘Beyond 52: Church outside Sunday Mornings.’ We’ll ponder about the future of our community as we think about how we are called, how we are gathered, and how we are sent by God to live in this world.
Why is it called Beyond 52? Simply put, there are 52 weeks in a year. There are 52 possible Sundays that you and I could walk through the doors of a church. However, the Bible’s vision of the church is more than just a couple hours on Sunday mornings; it’s a way of life beyond 52 Sunday mornings; it’s a way of life for 365 days of the year. My hope is that this series will challenge our ideas about church, our concepts and understandings of church, and in the end, we’ll be prepared for an event that YSUMC is hosting on October 4th. I’ll talk more about that a little later.
Today, we are going to start with the basis and talk about why church is important. So let’s start challenging our concept of church. There’s a terminology issue I’d like to address. When we say “go to church” and we think of a building. But according to the bible that’s not church.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
16 Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
So church is not an event. Church is not a building. It’s not until believers gather together, that it’s actually a church. Most days of the week the church is scattered, but when believers gather together like we are here this morning, now church is happening.
And here’s one of the most important things we need to know about church. Even though, most gatherings are only once or twice a week, church, our gathering, is meant to affect every aspect of our lives.
Ever since the instruction to the Israelites to build the tabernacle and temple, the idea of a central place to worship God has remained. That’s okay. We gather at this place every week, so we all know where to meet, no one get confused over switching the place. Visitors know where to find us. But just like today, the tabernacle and temple were not only to be viewed as the geographical center of Israel; they were also intended to be the spiritual center of Israel. Like spokes of a wheel that fan out from the hub, what occurred at these worship centers was to affect every aspect of Israelite life.
It’s like a truck stop. (Yes, I am about to compare church to a truck stop.) If you were a truck driver, you would know how valuable those truck stops are. You can’t put that kind of truck just anywhere and get what you need. But at a truck stop you not only get fed, get rest and refreshed, but you get fueled up for the trip ahead, for the delivery ahead.
We come to church, we gather together to get fed, rest, get renewed, refueled to carry on the mission, to deliver the message. And you may even have to stop a time or two before next Sunday; like to a small group or two. And that’s perfectly fine, in fact that’s even better.
My point is, what we get from being together as the church, should affect every aspect of our lives. And even though there are parts of our faith that we do on our own, there are still so many biblical reasons to gather together in worship and fellowship.
The book of Hebrews talks about some of those reasons. The book was written to people who were coming to faith out of Judaism. These new believers had begun to have second thoughts and perhaps were returning to old methods of worship, like temple sacrifices to atone for sins.
But the author of Hebrews reminds them that they don’t need to do any of that, but instead they can be confident in the cleansing work of Jesus.
23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
They can “hold tight” to the truth of Jesus’ atoning work (it’s done, there’s nothing they can do to help it along, the work has already been accomplished, all they need to do is trust and accept the gift). But here’s what you can put your energy into…motivate one another to acts of love and good works, while remaining connected to the bigger family of God by regularly being together.
Being a follower of Jesus means to be in community with other followers of Jesus. Community is the key word today. Being in community means we are a part of a group of people that have likeminded beliefs, interests, and goals. We pull together in good and hard times, pull together to get the job done, and done well. We are a part of a larger body.
WE BELONG TO CHRIST
And why is that larger body supposed to affect every aspect of our lives? Remember when Jesus said to Peter, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18 NRSV) And Jesus did that, and Hell has not destroyed it! By saying my church, Jesus is making it very clear that the church is His community of people who belong to Him. The church is made up of people whom the Lord claims as His own.
Peter says, “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people, but now you are God’s people.” 1 Peter 2:9-10
The church is God’s. And just as God designed the church to be His, He designed us to need that community. We are all designed to need each other. We are not meant to do this thing called life on our own. We need others to encourage us, challenge us, and even to care for us. This is the way we are wired! As God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – each a member of the Trinity in community with each other, we too are made for community.
Our culture tries to tell us something quite different like spirituality is an individual thing between a person and God and is not to be shared, or even talked about with others. – Schools don’t need to have prayer, because that’s an individual thing. Your faith is between you and God only.
But all throughout the Scriptures, a life of faith is constantly shown as a communion with others all the time – 365 days a year. For instance, in the O.T., living by faith means being a part of God’s community of the covenant people from the line of Abraham and Sarah. In the N. T., salvation – our new relationship with God – means becoming a part of the “new creation” in the body of Christ – in other words, being a part of the Church. We are born again, we are born into a family of brothers and sisters who God is blessing us with.
THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH
Now being born again or saved, does not mean you hold a ticket for a solo flight to heaven. Instead, it means being an important part in the body of Christ right here, right now. It’s in community here on earth that we learn to love God, love each other, and even learn how to be disciples and make disciples. Let’s look at how the early Christians lived out church.
Acts 2:42-44; 47
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
This is the purpose of the church – to foster, build, and serve as a community of people devoted to one another in brotherly and sisterly love, bound together by a common faith.
The believers had “a deep sense of awe” because they were doing it the way it was designed. It fit, it worked well. Again, that’s because that’s how God designed it. The church was not a human invention, it was founded by God. The church (us) is a community that belongs to Jesus.
A wide range of studies have shown the importance of community. We are healthier, happier and live longer when we are in community with others. And from a spiritual vantage point, we will never grow spiritually into the people God really needs us to be, without the church, because so many essential things to the spiritual life are lost when you don’t have a community of others who are holding you accountable, helping you to grow, praying with you and for you, and overall just giving structure to your Christian life.
WE ALL HAVE OUR PART / JESUS IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH
Which leads me to say, in this community, we all have a part….
1 Cor. 12:12-14
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.
THERE IS NO SOLO IN CHRISTIANITY.
The body does not function well without all the parts. Speaking of which, do you know who the Head is?
Christ is the head of the church, which is his body.
Christ is the Head, we the church are His body.
So if anyone were to say “I love Jesus but not the church” is to say you prefer a decapitated head. That’s just creepy and certainly doesn’t work biblically. Christ is the Head, we are the body. A head needs a body and a body needs a head. It’s just as simple as that.
However, with our own natural talents and abilities, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are a successful church without actually living as if Jesus is the Head. Likewise, a pastor can be fully submitted to Jesus as the Head of the church but be left without a congregation to carry forth with the work. We cannot be whole without all of the body.
“The whole body fits together. 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.”
We all have different spiritual gifts. We have gifts like encouragement, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, teaching, service, hospitality, shepherding, giving. We have all these different things that come from all of the believers that you surround yourself with when you are a part of a faith community. So just imagine what the Christian life is like, missing out on all that nourishment. You need to be ministered to by other people. You don’t have all the gifts and you certainly can’t self-feed all the spiritual nourishment you need, so you need be a part of a faith community because that is how we are designed.
And not only do all the other believers have gifts…but so do you. You’re a part of this community to not only to receive, but to pour out and minister to other people’s lives, so that you can be a blessing to them. Just maybe your gifts can be something that keeps someone else’s life on track, and brings them something wonderful from the Lord into their life.
BEING THE CHURCH
And when the church is striving to be the church, she is the most beautiful community in the world, a community that seeks to live selflessly, blessing others, a community where you can be excepted as you are and where you will find family who will welcome you, stand by you, and love you no matter what, people who go the extra mile, out of their way to bless others.
Sometimes churches forget what it means to be the church. We don’t need people who will stand by and criticize. We need people who will lovingly roll up their sleeves and model and live what it means to be the community of Christ.
Occasionally, I hear people say they don’t need church. I want to ask them: Really? You don’t need encouragement from others, blessings of worship and of communion, a message drawn from scripture, or a congregation that is like a family who stands together and has a greater impact on the world, then they could ever do alone?
But even if they could find some way to gain all these benefits without the church I would still say to them: If you are a follower of Jesus, it’s not just that you need the church but that the church needs you! There are people in the church that need you to show up, offer a word of encouragement, teach a class, lead a support group, or just stand at the door and welcome people.
We live in a time when so many people are opting out of the church. Frequency of church attendance by Christians is down. Younger generations are dropping out. And this may be in part because the church failed to be the church. But I think there’s another reason.
We forgot to teach what the church is and why it matters, and we’ve lost sight of the fact that the church isn’t an optional add-on to your faith, but instead an essential part of being a Christian.
Right now, we live in a time when millennial’s, the least churchgoing part of the population, are craving a community of deep friendships, bound together by common values, with an interest in positively affecting the world. That is precisely what Jesus intended the church to be! That’s the very definition of community. So look….
1 Corinthians 12:27
“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”
This image of the church as the body of Christ is so important. I take it to mean that the church is literally Christ in the world today. We are meant to continue the ministry that Jesus began.
In John 20:21-22 Jesus said it this way, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
Immediately following this, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'”
He gave them the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit because He wants them to do something with it. And He didn’t give it to them at individual times…no, he gave it to them all together so they could see the power of it of community.
God has invited you and I to be a part of His church, His body. He wants us to be a part of it. What an honor that is! He wants you and I to experience a deep sense of awe…the way the disciple did. He wants it to work, but we have a part.
So look, we’re going to start our part today by going back to what started the church to begin with. We are going to celebrate what God did on that cross so we could have not only a community with each other, but especially with Him. So let’s commune with Him, let’ commune with each other.
Let’s thank Him for starting the church through a new covenant, giving a sacrificial offering on our behalves, and in return, I ask you to join me in giving an offering, a commitment to not only live in community with God and other believers, but to also share this beautiful thing called church with others.
I’ll share with you what we’ll be doing on Oct. 4th, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back to the basics and why the church started to begin with.