New years. New beginnings. A time of change. A chance for a clean slate. Some of us will make goals, but not do anything at all. Some of us will actually try for a while. Some will stick to it and make new habits. We do this every new year. Why? Why do we really believe that change can actually happen? Why do so many of us have things we want to change? And why do we always try to do it on our own? People seem to think this is the only season to start building new habits.
So, we make resolutions and we build. And yet, sometimes, it still doesn't go as planned. So, what? Wait until the next New Year's rolls around? Well, what if we had access to a reset for our lives? What if Jesus was offering each and every one of us a chance to be renewed regardless of who you are, where you have been or what you have done? It's time for a restart; a redo. It's time to reset.
Well, good morning to everybody and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. One of the ongoing issues I have at my house – maybe it's not the same at your house, but it definitely is at my house with all the kids that we have. We have multiple iPads; we have multiple computers. You know, kids have got school to do. They like to stream Nickelodeon. Me and Mindy have phones. We have computers. And every once in a while, what happens is because of all the interaction on the Wi-Fi, I have to go upstairs in the loft and have a battle with the internet router.
Anybody ever have that issue? It sort of bogs down. And I've got to take a paperclip, which is what I call my sword of the Spirit, and what I do is I stick it in the back of that internet router in a button called the reset button and I press it. And I wait a few minutes and, all of a sudden from the loft, the internet starts flowing again into the Bennett household and everybody is happy. It's that reset button that does it. So, here's the deal. That's an easy reset. Sometimes resets are more difficult. Sometimes maybe you break a bone and an orthopedic surgeon has to reset that bone and that's a more difficult process. But, we all sort of intuit what it means to reset.
And what I do at the beginning of every year is I try to do a reset for all of us so that we know why we do what we do, what we're doing and all of the things that go on at the church. It's a great time for all of us that have been here for a little while because it sort of just once again gives us clarity. We press that button and everything starts flowing again. For those of you all that are new and that you could not be here at a better time, for those of you all who are watching maybe the mobile app or internet and this is your first time associating with Grace Community Church, you couldn't be listening at a better time because I'm going to talk about, over the next several weeks, why we do what we do, what we're planning on doing. And I'm also going to then deal with some issues that maybe we need to reset in our lives personally. But, if you're new, this is a great time to figure out what we do, who Grace Community Church is. And, if you've been here for several years, it's a good time to reset everything and get going.
Now, before I get into what I'm going to talk about today, I want you to listen here really, really closely to me. I couldn't probably be sharing a more important message as a pastor than I'm sharing today because of the topic that I'm dealing with. So, I really want you to listen to me. But, before I get into it, I need to make sure that I communicate. I am completely convinced that the burden of communication is not on the one listening, it is on the one speaking. So, I want to make sure that I am clear in what I'm saying so that nobody misunderstands what I'm saying. I'm going to start off today's message with dealing with some issues that are going on. But, when I deal with those issues, I am not saying that Grace Community Church has it right and other churches have it wrong. I'm not saying that we're the model or anything like that. We have plenty of issues to work on, we have plenty of things to deal with. There are great churches in America.
But, American churches are in trouble. And I'm not saying we're the answer, because we're not. Jesus is the answer. But, what I do want to do is I want to make sure that I'm clear, that nobody misunderstands, that somehow I'm showing issues and that something's wrong and that we're the answer. That's simply not what I'm doing. I'm bringing these issues up so that we can all take an inventory on why there needs to be an answer to some of these problems and what we need to do about it. And then I'll work into what I'm going to deal with in the message. And I really believe that you'll enjoy today. And for those of you all that are new, I think you're going to enjoy it because you're going to hear a lot of why Grace Community Church is here.
So, let's get to some of these statistics. I think you're going to be shocked. I was. So, let's look at them here. Here they are:
Only 20% of Americans attend church regularly. That's 20%. Not 50%. Some of you all probably remember when it was 50% or when it was 60%. 20% of Americans attend church regularly. That's a problem. That's not good. On top of that, church attendance is steadily declining, which means the next number is 19%, not 50%. The next number may be 18%. And there's not a whole lot of numbers between 18% and 1%. It's steadily declining. On top of that, mid-sized churches, between 100-300, are in the most rapid decline of all churches in America. Those are the ones that are seeing more people leave than any other church.
And you may say, "Wow, a mid-sized church?"
Yeah, the average church in America is 80. That's the average church. You go, "Aw, man. All these big churches."
No. You can go look it up. I think it's like 75 or something, but I rounded it up to 80. That's the average size. So, a mid-sized church is 100-300. A large church is over 500. You may not think that way, but that's the way it is. And on top of that, 50% of pastors don't last 5 years in ministry. You look at that and you go, "Wow. Man. That is a problem."
I mean, there's issues going on here. And the thing is if we look at these issues and just act like they're not there, we might be susceptible as a church to these things. That's why I bring them up. I bring them up to say, "Hey, listen. The bottom line is there are issues and somebody, somewhere, has got to talk about what are solutions to these problems."
And when we talk about that and we say, "What are solutions, what are some things that we can do?" What we're talking about is we're talking about vision. We're talking about, "What vision do we have going forward to make sure that we don't do these things? What do we do as a church in America to make sure that we grow again, that we stave off this decline that we're seeing?"
Listen, I love Grace Community Church. I love being the pastor here. I love you. I pray for you. I genuinely wouldn't want to be anywhere else and I genuinely want to stay here until you guys run me out. I have no ambition to live anywhere else but Sarasota. I love this town. I love Lakewood Ranch. I love being here. But, more than I love Grace Community Church and more than I love Sarasota, I love God's Church. And that's a big "C." That's everybody that meets everywhere from a hotel to a bunker all around the world. It's God's big Church. And God's big Church in America is under attack and has issues. Somebody's going to bring forth a vision. We're going to have to have a vision for local churches, vision for larger churches, visions for churches all across America.
And here's the deal: there's a lot of answers being given right now for what will solve the problems that we see in the American Church. And here's the deal: when you hear some of the answers, the first time you hear them you go, "That's a great answer. That's the answer."
But, when you sort of go a little bit deeper into it, you realize, "You know what? That's probably not the answer."
So, what I want to do is I want to show you some of the things that are being proffered up right now as to what solutions for the Church is. And I want to show you why they're not the right solution. Then I want to tell you a story. Then I want to talk to you a little bit about vision. Then I want to show you what our vision is. And I hope that over this whole sermon today we will leave out of here with some clarity and understanding about why we are here. Because I really want to cast some vision today here for everybody at Grace Community Church and for this weekend.
So, here's the deal: people get paid a lot of money and do a lot of research to come up with these ideas about what the answer is. Here's the first one. The first one is the Church needs more sense of community. That's the answer, Chip. The answer is if the Church had more sense of a community, we would not have the issues that we are having. Here's the problem with that: I'm all for community. I don't want you to hear it in any way, shape or form that I'm not for community. All for it. 100%. Here's the problem though: when this is the vision and driver of the church, let me show you how it works: the churches that have the greatest sense of community in America are the churches that are between 100 and 300 people, and those churches are in the most rapid decline.
You say, "Why?" Because they're inward focused. People don't feel like they can join in because everybody's focused on they're getting their community on, getting their stuff on. Nothing against community. But what happens is when that's the driver, it doesn't work. Another driver is, "Well, here's all the problems," and people sort of just start talking negative about everything. "I don't like this. I don't like this. Don't like this. Don't like this. Don't like that. Here's all the problems."
It's like shooting a shotgun shell and just splattering everything. Let me tell you something. Negativity never solves anything. I tell the staff, I tell people who come to me and say, "Here's the problem."
I'm like, "Don't bring me a problem. Bring me a solution. I need solutions. I don't need problems. I've got plenty of problems. I have 45 kids. I've got plenty of problems. You know?"
So, that's never going to be the answer. Being negative and critical is never going to be the answer. How about this one: what the Church needs to solve the problem is more in-depth Bible teaching and study. You go, "Well, that sounds like a winner."
I mean, I'm a professor. There's nobody that enjoys teaching the Bible more than I do. There's nobody that believes more in preaching the Bible and teaching the Bible than I do. The problem is when this is the driver of a local church, what happens is people start to get critical about other churches and they start preaching and teaching doctrine rather than preaching Jesus. The problem in America is not learning. The problem in America is we need to do what we already know. Come on, now. That's good preaching right there. Y'all know a lot of Bible passages that we don't do. It's not a matter of sitting in a circle anymore and learning some more.
Listen, I've got professor friends that know the Bible. I mean, they know it stone cold. I mean, I've got some professor friends that I hang out with and talk with that teach in schools all across America that I know. Those people know the Bible. I mean, they know Greek, they know Hebrew, they know background, they know culture, they know everything. They ain't led a person to Jesus in 15 years. See, we say, "Oh, we need to learn more."
No. That's not what you need to do. Nothing against community. Nothing against Bible study. Nothing against any of that stuff. But, those cannot be the drivers of a church if we're going to fix some of the issues that we see in the local church in America. So, here's what I want to do. I want you to lean in here. I want to tell you a story. I'm going to tell a story in such a way that I think it's going to set us up for moving into what I'm going to call the vision of Grace Community Church. I want you to really listen to this story. If you're brand new and you've never been in church, we're so glad to have you. I won't make it sound like a story that you don't know. I won't do that. And if you've been here for a long time or you've read the Bible for 30 years, I hope to say something to you in this story that'll make you go, "Wow. I never saw that before."
The story is the story of a prophet named Elijah. You all really should read these stories. They're great stories. In 1 Kings 18, we find the prophet Elijah. He is moving in all of the power of God. He's doing all of the things God's called him to do. He's up on Mount Carmel and he's dealing with 450 prophets of Baal. And the prophets of Baal have said, "Our god is god," and Elijah said, "No. My God is God."
Elijah says, "I'll tell you what. Here's what we're going to do. We're going to have a showdown here. You guys go build an alter and I'll build an alter. And whatever god brings down the fire no the alter and consumes the alter, that's the one that's God."
They say, "That sounds like a great idea."
So, the 450 prophets of Baal, they get their alter together and they start praying and they start praying and they start praying. Time goes by. An hour goes by. Two hours go by. Three hours go by. Elijah says a funny. If you're reading the Bible, this is actually very humorous. He's like, "Hey, where'd your god go, man? Is he in the bathroom?"
That's what he says. In the Hebrew it's, "Is he relieving himself?"
But, it's funny. He's like, "Where'd your god go? In the bathroom or something?"
They start praying again. They start cutting themselves. They're doing all this stuff to get their god to answer them. Nothing. Elijah says, "Alright. Here's what we're going to do. Set up the alter here. Pour a bunch of water around it, too, so nobody thinks that somehow there was fire that came up from underneath it or I did anything. Put a lot of water around here."
He prays to God. Boom. Fire comes down. God shows up. Everything's awesome. People on the mountain are like, "Whoa, man. This is incredible."
I mean, Elijah is really doing the things of God. Not only that, he prays for rain and all of a sudden a cloud starts appearing to rain. He comes down off the mountain and he outruns a chariot that's led by horses. I mean, this guy is walking in the supernatural. I mean, can you imagine outrunning a horse? I mean, think about it for a second. I can't even chase my kids. They outrun me around the house. So, he's outrunning a horse. Well, all of this stuff is going on and all of a sudden he gets distracted. He hears that Jezebel doesn't want him to be alive. Now, you and me would be going, "Dude. You just saw the fire come down on the alter. You've just prayed for a cloud and it showed up. Dude. You just outran a horse. And you've got a problem with this lady? Dude, you're going to be okay."
He gets distracted. He goes away from everybody and gets some sleep because he's wore out tired. God feeds him. And then he ends up in a cave where we'll pick up the story here in 1 Kings 19.
1 Kings 19:9: "There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'"
"What are you doing hanging out in the cave? Why are you here?"
"Elijah said, 'I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your alters, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.'"
The Bible says that God then says, "Well, come out of the cave for a minute."
There's earthquakes and fires and winds, but God's not in all that loud stuff. And all of a sudden, God appears in a very small voice and He says to Elijah, "Why are you here in the cave?"
And Elijah's like, "Dude, I told You. I'm the only one left, man. It's just me. I'm the only one that's doing this thing. Everybody else got it wrong. Everybody else is doing it wrong. It's just me, God. I'm the only one."
And God says, "Alright, Elijah. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to go anoint two kings and I want you to go anoint Elisha, your successor. And by the way, there's 7,000 other people that have not bowed their knee to Baal. You're not the only one."
What's God saying to Elijah? What He's saying is is, "Dude, you've gotten distracted. You were called to go anoint kings. You were called to go pour into others. You were called to raise up successors. And what you've done is you've taken all of the great things that I'm doing in your life and you've ran into a cave and you've turned inward and self-centered and all you can do is think about yourself when, in reality, your calling was to go do something for others, was to pour into others. You're not the only one, Elijah. I've got 7,000 other people that I could call. I don't need you, buddy. I've got plenty of other people out there doing what I've called them to do. Stop looking at yourself and playing pity party in the cave and go do what I've called you to do."
And here's the problem: churches and movements, they get started in the supernatural. They're doing things and people go, "How in the world is all that happening in that church? How's that happening in that movement?"
You study all the church history and stuff and all of the movements and the denominations that started, they start off with all of this great stuff and all of this fire and they're outrunning chariots and horses and doing all of these great things. But, somewhere along the way, they get distracted from the mission and from the vision and they get into a cave. And you see it all around America, churches that are in the cave. They've got their club. "We're the only ones doing it right. All those churches down the street, they're doing it wrong. They ain't doing it right. That's terrible, the way they dress and the way they do this and laser lights and all this stuff. We're the only ones left. We're the only ones doing it right, God. We're in the cave and we're going to be cavemen and we're going to clunk people on the head and tell them how it's right."
Don't be a caveman. He comes along and says, "Elijah, I've called you to reach others and what you've done is you've gotten distracted from that."
So, as I was preparing this message I wrote something out and I was like, "That's good enough for a slide."
Here's what I said: "A church that isn't reaching others isn't outward focused, isn't focused on serving and giving, and lacks a passion for the unchurched is simply irrelevant, becomes self-centered, tired and ultimately dies. What is the vision? What is a God vision? What does God speak to His people? You can write these down if you want.
Number one: God vision isn't tied to self-interest. It is tied to God's calling. It's real easy to get vision confused. It's real easy to get vision tied to self-interest in what I want or what you want rather than God's calling. Look at what Jesus says to the disciples in John 15. He says, "You didn't choose me. That's not the way it started. You didn't wake up and go, 'Yeah, I want some Jesus in my life.'"
In fact, in John 6, He said, "You can't even come to the father unless the Spirit draws you."
Jesus is the one that took the initiative. He says, "You didn't choose me, but I chose you and I called you. I appointed you. What I called you to do and what I appointed you to do is to sit around and talk about it; to argue about it. No. I've appointed you and called you that you would go and bear fruit that your fruit should abide. These things I command you so that you will love one another."
In other words, "I've called you to go. I've called you to be pouring into others. I've called you to bear fruit."
Listen to me. In the Old Testament, prophets were called seers. That's what they were called. They were not called "sayers," they were called "seers." They saw what God wanted and they spoke what they saw. The problem with the Church today is we're blind and we've become sayers trying to tell everybody what it is that we want to see in society. We need vision. The reason Jesus healed blind people more than anybody else is because people have to be able to see. Vision is never tied to self-interest; it's tied to God's calling.
Second, God vision is tough for many of us. It's tough because it's constantly challenging what is by pointing to what can be. And let's be honest, nobody likes change. Nobody likes it when God starts doing something new. It's always, "Whoa. Calm down, now. Let's don't get too excited."
Listen, God's not like The Eagles. He doesn't do The Greatest Hits Tour and the Van Wezel. He doesn't do "It's Time that Hell Froze Over" and all of a sudden we're going to show up again. God does new things. He's constantly putting new wine into new wineskins. God vision is tough for many of us because we like what is. We want to hold on to what we know. We want to hold onto the way it's been. But, God's vision is constantly challenging that by pointing to what can be.
Now, listen to this: Jesus, on the night that He had the last supper with the disciples – and I don't know how you think when you read the Bible. I mean, I'm constantly trying to read. Sometimes when I start to read and go, "Man, I can't believe they did that," I say to myself, "No, no, no, Chip. You would have done the same thing if you'd have been there. You just don't understand it because you don't live in their culture and you don't live in their time."
Jesus is sitting around talking to them about the last supper. He says, "I'm going to die. They're going to beat me. They're going to lash me. They're going to crucify me. One of you is going to betray me."
As you're sitting there reading that you're thinking, "Man, what would they be thinking?"
Well, you know what they were thinking about? Who was going to be the greatest? And you go, "What? Why would they think that?"
Luke tells us right here right in the middle of the last supper.
Luke 22:24, "A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest."
What they were thinking about is they didn't quite understand the dying thing and the crucifixion thing. They didn't get that. In their mind, they though, "Jesus is going to be a king. And if He's a king, we're going to be right underneath Him. We're going to have the power right underneath Him. We're going to sort of really focus in on who He is and we want to be right next to Him. We want to be right underneath Him. We want to have power. We want to be the greatest."
So, "A dispute also rose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.'"
He's like, "I get what you guys are thinking. The way it is in the world, the way the culture is is that when you're second-in-command to the king you're a benefactor and you guys want to be a benefactor. I get that. I understand that's what you're thinking. But, not so with you. We're not doing what is. We're going to do what can be. It's not so with you.
"Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest," – which means you have the least amount of rights – "and the leader is the one who serves."
He's like, "It's going to be different. We're not doing what is. We're going to do what can be. We're not going to grab titles. We're going to grab towels and wash feet. We're going to love and serve and reach out and care. We're going to do differently. We're not doing to do what is. I know that's what you think is. I know that's what your culture says. But, what we're going to do is what can be. We're going to change something."
And also – listen to this, this is huge for everybody to know – Jesus has no problem with you or me wanting to be great and wanting to be a leader. He just has a problem when being great is not the way He wants us to be great and when being a leader is not the way He wants us to be a leader. He says, "If you want to be great, that's fine. But, being great in the Kingdom is not going to be what is, it's going to be what can be. And if you want to be a leader, it's not going to be what is, it's going to be what can be."
Thirdly, God vision is imperative because without it nobody knows why things are done and where we are going. The beautiful thing about Jesus is there was no question why He came. He said, "I have come to seek and save that which is lost and I've come to go to Jerusalem and die on a cross to bring reconciliation to bring those that are lost back."
He knew what He was here for. He had no question. In fact, the last time we see Jesus in the Gospels, He's on a mountain with the disciples and He's like, "Just in case you guys didn't remember, what I want you to do is I want you to go into all the world and I want to make sure you know that. And just, by the way, when I show up in the first chapter of Acts where I'm telling you how you're going to receive the Holy Spirit, you're going to do that because you're going to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world."
Jesus knew what His vision was. His vision explained why things were done the way they were and where they are going. Here's the way Solomon says it. This is the Message translation. It's sort of a renegade translation, but I like it.
It says, "If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves."
The Bible says, in most of our translations, "If there is no vision, the people perish." Eugene Peterson, who translates the message, says, "If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves."
When people don't know what God's about, when they can't see, they just stumble all over themselves. But, when they attend to what He reveals, they are most blessed. This is vision. So, what I want to do is this. Normally here, at this point, I usually do what are called take-homes. Plural. This is take-home singular. I want to have you lean in here. This is the statement that we have all over the church. It is our "why." I want to make sure that we all reset here at the beginning of the year to understand why Grace Community Church is here.
Grace Community Church exists to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. I want to drill in here. First of all, the word "exists." There's a lot of reasons why churches are here. You have a lot of pastors you can talk to and they'll tell you why they exist. We have a reason for existing. We have a reason that we are here. It's not so that I can have a place to come talk. It's not so that we can build a building. It's not so that we can have a big church. It's not for any of that stuff. We exist for a purpose. We exist for a "why." It's the "why" that drives everything we do as a church. Why we're involved in Main St. Why we're involved in the community. Why we go out and do the things that we do. Why we mobilize teams to go out and love on people. Why.
We exist to reach the unchurched. That's why we exist. And the unchurched is a big group. It's not just those that are lost. It's also those people that use to be in church and, for whatever reason, they're not in church anymore. Maybe they got frustrated at God. Maybe something happened in their relationship with God and they said, "I'm out." Maybe they got burned by religion. Maybe they got burned by some bad teaching. Maybe they got burned by a pastor or anything like that. But, we want to reach people that are not currently in church; that are unchurched. And that's a whole, big group of people.
That's why we exist. We exist to reach these people and we do it by being intentional neighbors. We believe, with all of our heart, that when you read all of the scope of Scripture, the scope of the Scripture is that God's people are to be good neighbors. We are to be people that care about people. We are to be people that pour into others. We want to be intentional neighbors. Not just neighbors. We want to be intentional. We want to do things that put us in a position so that we can show the community that we are good neighbors.
Now, if we stopped there, if that's all we did, we said, "We're going to exist and we want to reach the unchurched by being good neighbors," we would have a social club. We would have a social Gospel. We would just be like, "Hey, it's good to see you. It's so good. We just want to be nice to you all."
People would say, "You're nice. That's fantastic."
But, we exist to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors – listen – that reflect Christ. We're not here to tell you about Grace Community Church. We're not here to tell you about Chip Bennett. We're not here to tell you about a worship band. We're not here to tell you about a building. We're not here to tell you about a building. We're not here to lead you to a song. We want to bring you to Jesus because we believe as a Church that, in John 14:6, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
We believe Acts 4:12 where Peter says, "There is no name given among men under heaven whereby anybody can be saved."
We believe in 1 Timothy 2:5 that there's one mediator between man and God; the man Christ Jesus. We believe that Jesus Christ is the answer to every single problem in the world for everybody. And we want to reach these people by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. And some people go, "But, don't you believe in community? Don't you believe in that?"
All of those things. Here's the deal. Listen to me and hear me. Please lean in here. It's so important that you hear me. When you and me are doing what God has called us to do, which is putting ourselves in the front line of sharing the Gospel, what's going to happen is this: you're going to get asked questions that you don't know. You're going to get rejected by people that you're trying to reach. You may even lose your job in trying to do what God's called you to do, which is going to drive you back into here. And all of a sudden the study to learn what you need to learn isn't going to be something that you can learn to tell everybody that they're wrong. It's going to be that you're learning something so that you can tell people about Jesus.
The community that's going to happen is going to be, "Will you pray for me? Because I'm trying to reach this person and I'm trying to do this."
All of a sudden, community starts happening. What we do is we do it backwards. We try to reverse engineer it. We try to say, "Let's get community first and Bible study first."
Jesus didn't do it that we. Read your Bibles. He said, "Guys, go into the town and go preach the Gospel."
They came back and they're like, "Okay. We did it."
He's like, "How'd you do?"
"Well, you know, people didn't want to hear it so we just prayed that God would call fire down on them."
And He's like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Teachable moment. Teachable moment. Come on. Gather around. Let's gather around here. That's not the way we do it. That's not the way we're going to do it."
They come back and they go, "We tried to pray for them, man. We tried to do the Jesus thing and it didn't work."
He's like, "Well, of course it didn't work. You guys don't pray. You guys have got to pray. You've got to believe me."
See, all of a sudden it's different, because Jesus is sending these people out that you and I would say, "Well, they're not really equipped. They're not really ready."
No. It's in the not being ready, it's in the not being equipped that drives you back into the church to get equipped and to get community and to get prayer and to get understanding. Because, the vision and the mission is not you, it's others. Now, you may say to me, "Chip, why are you so passionate about this?"
I'll tell you. I was 18 years old in college at Lee College. Lee University, now, in Cleveland, Tennessee. And I got to work in a youth group with a guy named Matt Willits at Westmore Church of God. One day, Matt came to me and said, "Hey, have you ever heard Pastor McClung?"
Pastor McClung was the pastor of the church. He was 70 years old. His boys are missionaries, and you'll see why.
He said, "Have you ever heard Pastor McClung?"
I'm like, "Yeah. I listen to him every weekend."
He's like, "No. Come here. About every day at about this time for about an hour or two, nobody goes into the sanctuary because they know he's in there. But, I want you to hear him."
We walked into the sanctuary. The sanctuary sat about 900. It had a balcony. We walked in and I heard this groaning coming from the balcony. "God. Please give me a burden for souls, God. God, there's people in this town that don't know You and need to know You. God, burden me for souls."
And for an hour, for two, for three he would pray. One day I walked up there where he'd been praying and it was wet from the tears that he had prayed, and the carpet was frayed from where his two knees had been. It made a mark in my life. The following year I went into a class that I had no desire to do. It was called "Basic Pastoral Care and Counseling." I just wanted to learn the Bible. This was my book. Howard Clinebell. And I remember I opened it up and it was the third floor of this old building. Lee's changed a lot. It's cool now. Back when I was going there it was rough.
Chapter one. Just one little page here of the story. It said that along a sea coast there was a lifesaving station and there was a lot of rocks right outside where the water met the shoreline. Ships would come in and wreck along those rocks. One day, the people of the lifesaving station went out in their boats and they braved the sea and put their life on the line to go out and save these people that would've drowned. They brought them in, they cleaned them up, they fed them. The town heard about it and was like, "This is awesome. We've got a lifesaving station that's incredible. It's a little rundown. Let's make it a little nicer."
So, they painted it and put some new furniture inside and made it really nice. Another ship wrecked along the rocks. But, this ship was different. It was people that didn't speak their language. People of a different color. Those brave souls of the lifesaving station went out and got in the boats and brought those people in and they showered them up and cleaned them up and fed them and everything. But, the people that had put all the money into the lifesaving station came in and they're like, "Man. You're sort of dirtying this place up, man. I mean, you're bringing all these people in and they're not sort of like us. What we need to do... let's just make a commitment. We're not going to let anybody into the lifesaving station until they get cleaned up on the outside."
Another ship wrecked and most of the people didn't go because they were comfortable. The chairs were nice. They could sit around and tell stories and they could talk about things that mattered to them. They liked what they had. Well, some of the people in the lifesaving station said, "This is not what we're here for. We're off mission."
So, they went down the coast and they built their lifesaving station. And as the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself. If you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.
When we forget why we're here, which is to seek and save that which is lost, we become self-centered. We become irrelevant, we become tired and we eventually die. If there's one thing I said to God when I read this – I was 19 years old – I said, "God, if there's anything I can get right, please, if I ever pastor a church, please don't let me get off mission."
And I've made a lot of mistakes and I've failed God in a lot of ways. But, I will not, as a pastor of Grace Community Church, allow us to get sidetracked on the reason that we exist. People say, "Why do you stick those signs everywhere around the church?"
Because I don't want to forget. I don't want to forget. I want to walk in every hub and remember why we're here. I want to walk into the offices and remember why we're here. I want to make sure that we all know why we exist. We exist to reach those that are outside of the church. And when the church is focused on that, God will take care of everything else that you and I have need of. I guarantee it. If you're doing God's will, it's His bill. He will take care of all the other things. Reset. 2017. We exist to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You so much for Your goodness and Your mercy. I thank You, Lord, for the truth of Your Word. I thank You, Lord, for the vision that You have given to this church. Lord, I pray that as we start out 2017 again, that Lord, You will lead and guide us to continue to realize we are a lifesaving station and we are to get in our boats and go do whatever we can to save those that are drowning.
Lord, I pray right now that if there's anybody in here that does not know You as Lord and Savior, if there's anybody on the internet or watching on a mobile app, Lord, I pray that this would be the day that they cross the finish line of faith and say, "I'm in too. I want to be a part of something greater. I want to reach some people for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. And God, for those of us that are Christians, help us to reset here at the beginning of the year to realize we need to get on mission and we need to get on task.
We have a great 2017 ahead of us. We have a lot of souls to go out, Lord, and see You bring into the Kingdom of God. Lord, we want to stay on mission for Your glory. So Lord, I pray that as we leave You would watch over us and protect us, that You would lead and guide us. And I pray, God, that You would bring us back again to when we meet again to be renewed and restored for You glory. And I pray, God, that You would give us a burden for souls as a church to reach the lost in every way that we can. We love You for it. In Jesus' name, and everybody said, "Amen."
Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.