[Andy]: Alright. Well, we’re Andy and Erica Heitke, and we’ve been at Grace since 2015. So, we found Grace at a time in my life when I was really kind of struggling through my faith with some questions doubting God’s existence. I remember, early on, Chip gave a message called “Maximum Impact” where he told the story of Peter. I was just blown away at the beauty and the logic of Scripture. It’s just a really great time for me to learn that this is a safe place to rediscover a new faith.
[Erica]: Getting connected with the community here has greatly changed both of our lives. That first Christmas party that we went to, I thought I wouldn’t be able to attend because I had been so sick. Then I felt like God partially healed me, and so I was able to go and continue experiencing the community I’d found.
[Andy]: We’ve really found community at Grace. There was one particular night when Erica was feeling pretty down about her place and role in the church. One of our fellow “ya’s,” as we call them, spoke up and talked about how Erica’s welcoming spirit and attitude had really impacted her life. And then everyone else just raised their hand and agreed. It was just a really great moment for both of us.
[Erica]: It’s great to see the impact you can have on other people’s lives, to be able to share what God has given to you with them. And I really enjoyed Andy getting involved in kids’ worship. He gets so excited about it. And then, of course, the young adults, which I have a great passion for. Just the impact you can have, that God can use you, and have on people’s lives, it’s just why we’re here.
[Narrator]: It’s not just my church. It’s our church.
Well, good morning to everybody and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app; our mobile “app-ritioners.”
You know, the video that you just saw, it probably is my fault for not sharing more of these. But, you’d be surprised on a regular basis the amount of stories that we hear like that here at Grace. I mean, from restored marriages to people who have restored faith to people who have found Jesus for the first time, answers to prayer, healings and so on and so forth. We get them fairly often here at the church, whether it’s through a written email or through a Facebook message or on a sheet of paper written to us.
And I think all of us — if this is your first time here, it’s a great day to be here because you’re going to hear a lot about who we are and so on and so forth. But, for those of us who have been here for a while, I think we all sense that there is something really unique going on here. And we were confronted with that uniqueness several weeks ago, once again, when we met, as a board — the annual church board meeting got together. We started talking to them. There’s some really good people on that board that have incredible experiences and incredible wisdom. We started sharing.
We’re at a place where we don’t know what’s next because at three of our four services right now, we are past that threshold of comfort level. Anybody who studies church growth at all will tell you that once you start to get into that 75-80% occupancy, you will not grow anymore. And if you look around, you can tell that this is a pretty full service. The 11:30 is full. Saturday night is full. The only service — and it’s actually at the right numbers — is the 9:00 service. So, we said to them, “You know, we’ve got a space issue. What are we going to do?”
We talked about it and we had said all of the things that we’ve done and all of the places that we’ve looked at. There was no answer. So, we concluded as a board and as a staff that the only thing that we could really do is pray. In fact, the board members said to us, “You have a God-sized problem. You’re not going to be able to, in your own human strength, do the things that you need to do. You need God at this point.”
And we all agreed to that. Well, it wasn’t coincidentally, but I’d already been feeling like I needed to deal with some of this as a pastor. Then we had that meeting. But, as a general rule — and I’m just going to be vulnerable here to you all — I don’t really like talking about stuff like this, because you can be misunderstood. I would just rather teach the Bible and do my thing and tell y’all about Jesus. That is my comfort level. It’s really tough for me as a pastor, sometimes, to stand up and say, “Hey, I want to talk to you all as a church about what we should be doing and where we should be going.”
Because, inevitably, somebody will interpret that as, “The pastor just wants a bigger building or the pastor wants more money.”
That is not true in my heart, but I struggle with having these types of messages because I know that I could be misinterpreted. So, what did I do? I did the typical Chip Bennett thing. I decided, “Well, let’s start a new series and we’ll call it ‘New Beginnings.’”
Instead of dealing with what I needed to be dealing with, we started “New Beginnings.” So, New Beginnings happened and, of course, we had Hurricane Irma and that messed things up. And then we had all this other stuff. Just so that you know, because some of y’all really enjoyed New Beginnings, we’re going to put that into the first part of next year and we’re going to call it “Newer Beginnings.”
Okay? That’s what we’re going to do with that sermon series. So, there’s still a little bit of life left in there, but we’ll do it then. So, I knew I was supposed to talk about what I’m talking about here over these next couple of weeks, but it really got heightened when I was over at Bayside. I teach systematic theology for Southeastern University on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30-12:00. I was teaching a class. I got done. I guess one of the students had ran out and bumped into the pastor there, Randy. Randy and I are friends. We’re in a covenant group together. We’re in a group of pastors that text a lot and communicate with each other. We’re friends.
I guess they had said, “Hey, I was in Chip’s class.”
My phone beeped and it was Randy. He says, “Are you still here?”
I’m like, “Yeah, man. I’m here.”
So, I went and we started talking. They were doing some hurricane relief. I told him what we were doing and talked about the hurricane. I asked if everything was good. He asked if everything was good here. Just what pastors would normally do. I asked him how Bayside was doing and how their growth was going, how their satellites were going and all of that. He was sharing all the stuff. He said, “How are you guys doing?”
I said, “We’re doing good. We’re just at that place, you know, where we’ve been for a little while where we really need some more space.”
He says, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”
I’m like, “Well, we’re praying and kicking on doors and talking to people.”
He’s like, “Yeah, but what are you going to do about it?”
And, well, I’m a Type-A personality, so when you get in my grill about what I’m going to do about it, I’m like, “Come on, man.”
He’s Type-A too. I was like, “Well, we’re doing a lot about it.”
“What are you doing about it?”
“Well, we’re trying this and this and this.”
And he goes, “Look, man. That’s just unacceptable.”
I’m like, “What do you mean it’s unacceptable?”
He goes, “Let me just make it really clear: If you don’t have space, that means people aren’t going to be coming to church and that means people are going to end up going to hell.”
I was like, “Well, alright.”
I’m smart enough. I know when I’ve lost. You know? So, I was like, “Okay.”
Then I got on the phone with a guy that none of you all would know. I don’t know him very well, but I was talking to him. They’ve done over a billion dollars in ministry to churches and helping them out with doing things, buildings and all of that. He said, “Could you send me three years of what the church has done? Numbers, attendance, finances and all that stuff.”
So, we sent that to this guy. It’s a large company. He called me back up and he goes, “Dude. Do you have any idea what God is doing at your church?”
And I’m like, “Well, yeah.”
He goes, “No, no. I don’t think you understand. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Churches don’t grow like this. This is unbelievable growth, what you have in front of you.”
He said, “Can I just speak into your life for a minute?”
I’m like, “I don’t want anybody else to speak into my life. I’m tired of people speaking into my life. I want to just teach the Bible, man. Can I just go get in a hole?”
He said, “Let me just be honest with you. It’s a good thing, but I need to challenge you. You’re scared of your success, and you need to embrace it.”
And I was like, “Okay.”
So, about that time, I was like, “I really need to do what I’m going to do here.”
They’re always difficult for me to do this stuff because of just who I am. It doesn’t mean I’m bad or good, it’s just who I am. Because, the way you see something sometimes determines how you view things. We all agree with that. I mean, you can be negative and see negative, or you can be positive and see positive. In fact, I can demonstrate that through this letter that a girl wrote to her mom and dad.
She said, “Dear mom and dad,
“Since I left for college, I’ve been remiss in writing. I’m sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I’m going to bring you up to date now. But, before you read on, would you please sit down? I’m asking you to please sit down. You are not to ready any further unless you are sitting down. Are you sitting down? Please. Okay. Well then, I’m getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out of the window of my dormitory when it caught fire shortly after my arrival here is pretty well healed now. I only spent two weeks in the hospital and now I can almost see normally. And I only get sick headaches once a day.
“Fortunately, the fire in my dormitory and my jump were witnessed by the attendant at the gas station near the dorm. He was the one who called the fire department and the ambulance. He also visited me in the hospital. Since I have nowhere to live because of the burned out dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It’s really a basement room. But, trust me, it’s cute. He’s a very fine boy. We’ve fallen deeply in love and we’re planning on getting married. We haven’t got the date exactly yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show.
“Yes, mother and dad, I’m pregnant. I know how much you’re looking forward to being grandparents, and I know that you will welcome the baby and give it the same love and devotion and tender care you gave me when I was a child. The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has a minor infection, which prevents us from passing our premarital blood tests, and I carelessly caught it from him. But, I know that you’re going to welcome him into our family with open arms. He is kind. Although he is of a different race and religion than ours, I know your often expressed tolerance will not permit you to be bothered by that.
“Now that I’ve brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire, I didn’t have a concussion or skull fracture, I wasn’t in the hospital, I’m not pregnant, I’m not engaged, I’m not infected, there is no boyfriend in my life. However, I am getting a D in calculus and an F in chemistry. I just wanted you to see those marks in their proper perspective.
“Your loving daughter,
So, the way we see things really challenges us. And I need to see things a little differently and maybe we can see things a little differently. What I got from all the stories that I’ve got and all the conversations that I’ve had and it’s just something I need to embrace and we need to embrace. Our church really has a mandate on it. The reason I can say this is because God would not allow us to do the things that we’re doing and grow the way that we have unless He blessed it. And let me just be honest here: I totally love churches that do the seeker-sensitive thing. You know? They’ll do the iPads and do all the stuff to get people to come in. They play secular music or something or dumb down a message or whatever they need to do to get people in. There’s many, many people that have come to faith in that type of ministry.
But, our ministry has not been that type of church. We’ve been one that’s unapologetic with our worship. We want people engaged. We want hands raised. We want people experiencing God. You all who come here on a regular basis know that I just basically teach the Bible. So, for us to have grown the way we’ve grown, given the type of services that we do, really is a God thing. But, with that mandate and responsibility, there is an equally opposite truth. It’s scary. Because, you realize that God’s doing all these great things, and the last thing you want to do, especially if you are me, is to do something that would wreck what God is doing.
So, my prayer on a regular basis — and I’m being for real — is, “God, if You don’t need me here, just take me and do whatever You need to do so that this thing will continue to go on.”
Because, the last thing I want to do is mess anything up. On top of the mandate and responsibility and the fact that it’s a little scary at times, it really takes everyone in a church to make things happen. It can’t be, you know, like a lot of times with businesses and churches, it’s called The Pareto Principle. 20% of the people do 80% of the work. And that’s a truism. There’s a lot of truth in that. But, in a successful church, in a church that’s really going to do the things that God’s called it to do, it really needs everyone involved doing all the things that God wants us to do. And the reality is that we are at a moment in many ways where we’re going to have to decide: Do we like the comfort level that we have? Do we like the chairs that we have? Do we like the building that we have?
“That’s sort of what we like. We really don’t want to go forward.”
I can’t make you see anything different than that. If that’s what the church sees, that’s what we see. Or we see something different. We see, “Hey, you know what? Maybe there is something God’s doing here and maybe we do need to step up.”
It reminded me of the story of Moses and Joshua. Let’s talk about Moses for a minute. Who doesn’t love Moses? I mean, that’s Charlton Heston. I mean, he’s an awesome dude. You know? So, Moses has got this huge character in the Old Testament. He’s huge in the New Testament. Moses walks up to the promised land, and God’s going to give it to him. And God says, “Okay. It’s yours, man.”
So, Moses sends 12 people into the promised land. They go into the promised land and they come back. This is what they say: “Man, the land is awesome. I mean, it is absolutely incredible. God could not give us better land.”
But, 10 of the 12 said, “However, the guys in that land, the people in that land, they’re bigger, they’re faster, they’re smarter, they’ve got better weapons, they’re better military people. There’s just no way we can do this at all.”
And Joshua and Caleb said, “No, man. We can do it.”
But, the 10 people who said that convinced a while generation that they were not going to get into the promised land. That’s what happened, is they didn’t get there. And can I be honest with you? Because, I’ve heard that sermon preached a lot of times. But, I want to make this very, very real for everybody here. The 10 people that said what they said were not wrong. They were right. The people were bigger. The people were faster. All of that. It was true. In a human standpoint, from a human perspective, they were right. In fact, I call that the first church board meeting ever in the history of the Church.
Because, the reality is they were right. There was nothing wrong with what they were saying, but they were not looking through the eyes of faith. They were only looking through the eyes of humanity. So, what happened was for 40 years the children of Israel walked in circles. For 40 years.
I like John Bennett, one of our board members, who says, “That’s where NASCAR was invented.”
But, they walked in circles. Well, 40 years later, Joshua is standing at the same place that he was willing to go into 40 years later. But, don’t you think for a minute that he hadn’t thought about that. God speaks to Joshua. Here’s what He says:
“Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give to them.”
Joshua, you’re just the person I’m using, dude. The promise was to somebody else. You’re just the one I’m using. But, you need to be strong and courageous.”
It’s interesting that He says, “Be strong and courageous.”
In fact, it’s almost as if God realizes that Joshua will not hear, “Be strong and courageous,” so He says it to him again.
“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you’ll meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that’s written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Listen: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Don’t be frightened, and don’t be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
What’s God saying to Joshua? Here’s what God’s saying to Joshua:
“Joshua, when you look out there and you see all the things that would make you have fear or you see all the things that would make you dismayed or you see those things — Joshua, the thing that will keep you and my people,” — the thing that will keep you and me from getting the things that God has for us won’t be giants, won’t be people, won’t be stronger, won’t be faster, won’t be any of that. It will be you and me that decided to not be strong and courageous and to listen to what God had said to you and me.
“Joshua, be strong and courageous. Don’t get down, because you’re the one that will determine whether or not you go in and take the people in. I need you to be strong and courageous.”
So, I realized that we’re at a moment where we have to decide what we’re going to do. And we’re either going to decide collectively what we do or we’re going to not decide collectively what we do. Because, ultimately, it takes everybody. So, what I want to do for a minute is I want to tell you a little bit about the church. I’m probably not the best. There are pastors that are far better than me that do this far better than I do. It’s not really my deal. But, I want to tell you a little bit about our church, because many of you don’t know. This is all you know. What you know is what you’re seeing right here.
This is not what Grace Community Church has been from the very beginning. We started at Swift and Ashton off of Clark Rd. In fact, I’m going to show you a picture of Day One, August 1st, 2010 when Grace Community Church started. I took this picture. Here it was: The church. You may notice that there’s no instruments up on stage. That’s because, on the first day of church, I led worship with an acoustic guitar and I sang. I also ran sound, I did ushering, I did greeting and I did the message. We did it all. This was our church, and there was a handful of people.
The only thing we had going for us — and I’m telling you it’s the only thing we had going for us — was this cool coffee machine right here. This thing was awesome. It was like the Coffee Machine 3000. I mean, it was awesome. You pressed a button. It would grind your coffee for you. It would make you fresh coffee. It would make lattes. It would make hot chocolate. I mean, it was awesome. It was fantastic. We were like, “We’re going to grow because of our coffee machine, man. That’s what’s going to happen.”
Well, it was great until — because, at the time, I was working like 50-60 hours a week. I’d come in, have church with just a handful of people, most of it was my kids. So, I’d get up and preach and, right in the middle of my message, when I thought I was really, really saying something that mattered, somebody, inevitably, would decide to get up and walk over to the coffee machine because they needed a cup of coffee. They would press the button and, all of a sudden, the grinds would start grinding in the middle of my message.
It was like, “Seriously?”
But, that wasn’t the worst part of it. Somehow — remember Pavlov’s dog? Remember when they would ring the bell and the dog would start salivating? Somehow, there was a Pavlov’s dog moment here. Because, when the coffee grounds sound would go on, there was this electromagnetic radio wave that would go back all the way to here to this door and back where the kids were. When the kids heard the coffee grinds going on, everybody decided they needed to go to potty break. So, what would happen is they would come marching out of here, all the way over to here where the bathrooms were.
So, not only in the middle of my message was I dealing with an idiot at the coffee machine, but I was dealing with the toilets flushing and kids going to the bathroom. It was glorious, let me tell you. It was fantastic. That was where we started. And then we moved up here. I remember when we came here, Fred Starling said, “I’ve got some property here. It’s not really been used in a long time. I’ll give it to you cheap.”
We walked into this particular room. This room had cubicles in it. It had purple flooring that had holes in it. The ceilings were hanging down. I mean, this was a dilapidated building in many ways. I walked in with like 10 people. I was trying to do the pastoral vision thing.
“Can you see what I see?”
And one of the older guys that came to our church and was pretty faithful — I don’t know what curse word he used, but he used a curse word. He said, “It is a [blank] warehouse. I am out.”
And he never showed back up again. I’m like, “That’s great, man. This is going to be a fantastic church is what this is going to be.”
Then we got up here and we started growing and people didn’t like it and they complained about some of the things and whatever else. And we just sort of kept going. This over here used to be offices. All of that over there was offices. There were three offices there. We blew that out and we decided we’d put space there. Well, the day we opened that up, it filled up. We said, “What are we going to do?”
Well, we decided we would go back this way. The door over there on the side is where you used to come into the church. That was the Hub. All of that back there was the Hub. Behind that, later on as we’d grown, we had a youth room. So, we blew out the youth room and we made a new Hub. And we made a new Hub out in the front. We just sort of cannibalized the building. What happened is we went from one to two to three to four services. Many people in our church don’t realize that there are four services that go on here, and, for the majority of those services, they’re full. When you get past that 75-80% maximum capacity, you stop growing. And the reason you stop growing, I’ll give you the example that everybody will understand.
When you’re out in the Hub and you’re talking with somebody and they stand about 3-4 feet away from you and you have a conversation, it feels really good. But, when they get close to you where you can tell they had Mexican the night before, it’s just not really that fun. It’s like, “Dude, you’re in my space.”
Well, we as humans are like space people. When you have to come into a building and you can’t find space easily, it’s not fun. And we’re there. We’re there in three services and we’re approaching it at 9:00 at different times as well. That’s where we’re at. So, we get to make a decision as a church. What are we going to do about it? Where are we going to go? Where are we going to be comfortable?
And I get it. Some people are just comfortable. They want a church that’s smaller.
“I want a church that’s smaller, man, because I just can feel like I know everybody’s name and whatever else.”
And I say this with all the love in my heart: I get that. But, there is a sense of selfishness in that particular statement. Because, here’s the reality: Churches that do and move forward and have mandates that do great things for God, they realize a couple of things: First of all, they realize that church growth doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t just stumble into church growth. There’s a reason why the majority of churches in America have about 75 people in attendance. And I’m not knocking that. There’s people that pastor those churches that are probably 5 times more spiritual than I am and love God. But, when you go to those churches — and they’re good people that love God — what happens is they’re more inward focused than they are outward focused.
And I’m here to tell you that it’s hard to read Scripture — whether you’re reading the Old Testament or the New Testament — and come away with some conclusion that God doesn’t want His people telling other people about who He is and seeing people come to faith. Period. End of story. So, church growth doesn’t happen by accident. I’ll show you: Even in the early church you can see this. You can see how it doesn’t happen by accident. It says, “They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all as any had need.”
They were saying, “Hey, we’re going to go out and we’re going to be intentional neighbors. We’re going to be good to the people around us. If somebody has a need, we’re going to try to fill it. If somebody has something they’re struggling with, we’re going to do our best to help them out.”
That’s what they were doing. And it says, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes,” — notice here that they would meet in larger groups and they would meet in smaller groups. They did both. They had large settings and they had small group settings. They did both.
“They received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God...” — listen — “...and having favor with all the people.”
If you talk to many Christians — I have Christian pastor friends. They think that if the church isn’t offending the neighborhoods and isn’t preaching messages of judgment to the neighborhoods, we’re not doing our job. The early Church had favor with all the people because they were doing good things. I get people calling me all the time: “Hey, how did you guys get Lakewood Ranch to shut down Main St. so that you could preach a Gospel message on the Christmas thing? How did you do that?”
Because, for 12 months out of the year, we serve them. They like us. They like who we are. So, we have favor with the people. And guess what it says here?
“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
See, the thing is you and I can’t save people. God saves people. But, we can create environments where it’s easier for God to get ahold of people’s hearts by the things that we do. And here’s the reality of church growth. I think everybody would agree with this. Even if you go, “Yeah, you know, I sort of like it at this comfort level. I don’t want to get too big.”
Okay, I’m going to ask you a question. If that’s where you’re at, I’m not trying to make you feel bad. But, if somebody walked through that door right now in the middle of our service and said, “Hey, I’m in desperate need right now. I need Jesus.”
Would we say, “No. You know what? We’re really comfortable, dude. There’s probably a church down the street that’d probably like to lead you right now to Jesus, but we don’t want anymore.”
No, no. We wouldn’t do that. We’d do whatever it took. Because, here’s the stone-cold reality: As long as there’s a hell, church growth isn’t optional. It’s just not optional. We have to decide: Is that us or is it not us? It doesn’t have to be us. We don’t have to be that. But, I think that we would be unbiblical as a church if we didn’t see it that way. Man, we want to reach as many people as we possibly can in every way that we can.
The second thing I think you’ll see in churches that really fulfill mandates is that they realize that ministry isn’t easy and that it’s usually messy. You know, I hear people say — and I get it. I mean, I understand that. People say, “I’ve been hurt by the church. Chip, people that do what you do have said things to me and hurt me.”
Can I just be honest? I’m not trying to offend anybody. Just listen to me. Do you not think if you put a bunch of people in a room that somebody’s not going to get offended every once in a while? Come on. I mean, have you never been offended with your spouse? I offend myself. I don’t even need anybody. I offend myself.
So, God has ordained the Church in such a way that there’s going to be conflict, there’s going to be issues. And do you know why? That’s an opportunity for God to work and for us to understand how He does forgiveness and reconciliation and all that. That’s why the Church is the way it is. It’s going to be messy and it’s going to be ugly at times.
In fact, let me just give you an example. Many people, they may have read this passage of Scripture, but maybe they haven’t really followed the logic of this passage of Scripture. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul is writing to Timothy. Timothy’s a really good dude. He loves people. In Philippians 2, Paul says, “I’ve got a lot of preachers. I’ve got a lot of people that’ll go preach. But, I’ve only got one Timothy. Timothy is the only guy I’ve got that will genuinely put your needs before himself. He’s the only one I’ve got like that.”
That’s the guy Timothy was. Timothy was a timid guy. He was a shy guy. He loved people. Typical personality of someone that loved people. A little shy. A little timid. So, he writes to Timothy and he says, “Hey, listen. I know things are going okay in Ephesus and the church is growing and you’re the guy over the whole thing. But, you’ve started to put elders in these house churches. These elders are teaching and preaching and they’re doing the things that they’re doing. And it’s all good. I’m all for the elders and I believe that they’re worthy of all the things that they do. But, dude, some of these people are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Timothy, it’s your job to set them right, dude. It’s your job. When you’ve got an elder that sinned, you’ve got to deal with that.”
And Timothy’s natural deal was to be timid and not deal with it. Paul says, “You’ve got to deal with this, man. Ministry is sometimes not easy, Timothy. It’s going to be difficult and you’ve got to deal with this stuff.”
And then this is what he says right in the middle of all that stuff about elders and how he’s got to deal with it and if they’ve sinned, rebuke them, and all of this stuff. Here’s what he says to him: “Timothy, don’t just drink water anymore. You need to use a little wine for the sake of your stomach. I know your stomach’s in a knot all the time. Drink a little wine, because our stomach’s upset and you have frequent ailments. I know you’re sick quite often because of the burden of the ministry that you carry. But, Timothy, you can’t quit and you can’t give up. You can have a little wine, but you’ve got to keep going, dude, because ministry, sometimes, is just difficult.”
And it’s difficult for churches that grow, because here’s the reality: There’s going to be people that come in here that don’t smell like you smell. There’s going to be people that come in here that don’t look like you look. There’s going to be people that come in here that don’t agree with what you think is right. There’s going to be people that see things socially and politically and theologically different than you. But, the reality is do we want to look like the Church the way we want the Church to look like or do we want to look like the Church that Jesus shows us in the book of Revelation that’s from every tongue, kindred, people, background and all of that stuff?
That’s what a local church should look like, because a local church should look like heaven. It’s messy.
The third thing: Effective churches need everyone’s help and support. Listen, I understand. People get mad at church and get frustrated at things. Man, that’s just God working in your life. Can I tell you something? Just hear me on this. Just hear me. When you’re frustrated at something at church, that’s God dealing with something in your life. That’s what He’s doing. He’s dealing with something in you and me. I can tell you every time I’ve been frustrated in my life it’s something I needed to work on. I needed to learn to be more forgiving. I needed to learn to be more giving. I needed to learn to be quicker to not talk and quicker to listen.
What happens is we get frustrated. But, the reality is, for a church to work, it really takes everybody’s help and everybody’s support. Can I tell you something? If you go to Grace Community Church — now, if it’s your first time here or maybe you’ve only been here for a little while, this doesn’t really apply to you. But, if you’ve been going here for a little while and you’re not involved in something in this church, can I tell you something? You’re hurting our church. And do you know why I know that? Because, you have a gift and a talent that God has given you. When that gift and talent isn’t being used, we suffer as a local church.
Can I go ahead and tell you something else? What I’m doing up here may seem like it’s important, but the guys right back there in the sound booth, they control everything. They can shut me down. They can turn the lights off. They can flip it all off. You go, “I didn’t think that job was that important.”
That is a very important job. Greeting and shaking hands. Being involved in First Friday. Doing stuff with nursery. Getting involved in our youth departments. Getting involved in young adults. Somewhere along the way, I’m asking everybody in this church. If we’re going to do what God’s called us to do, which I think He’s called us to do something big, then I’m asking you to get involved in something around the church and watch God start working in your life and watch Him start promoting you in ministry and watch Him start doing things in your life that you never, ever, ever thought possible. Stop looking for the big things. Look for the things where there’s a need. Fill that need and watch what God does in your life. Amen?
Not only that, but I’ll tell you this. Another thing I’ve learned going here: I didn’t realize how expensive it would be to do ministry. It just is. It’s expensive to do the things that we do and hire the staff that we need and all the things that we need. I was reminded — I went to this pastor’s conference and this older man got up. He was like 70 years old. He’s like, “Y’all have heard everything here. Everything you’ve heard is great. Go do all that stuff. But, I’m here to tell you the truth. I’ve been doing this for 70 years. I’m older than everybody in the room. I’ve been doing ministry for over 50 years. You spell ministry m-o-n-e-y. That’s it.”
And he sat down and went home. That was it. That’s all he said. I was like, “Alright. That’s pretty good.”
It’s like Floyd McClung used to say when I was at Westmore Church of God. He would say, “Good news, church. We’ve got all the money that we need here. Bad news: It’s in your pocket.”
But, I say that and a lot of times when you have these conversations, people are like, “Oh, the pastor’s just trying to get more money.”
I’m not. I’m not trying to do anything. I’m trying to say I believe God has a mandate on our church. I believe more people can step up, more people can help, more people can get involved than what’s going on. And if that happened, what’ll happen is we’ll get over to where we’re at right now and we’ll move into the areas that we need to move into. I just believe that with all of my heart.
And the last thing I’ll tell you is that churches with mandates have defining moments. There’s moments where it’s just what’s going to happen next. What are we going to do? And these are two things I can tell you for a fact. Number one: God never gives a purpose that He doesn’t prepare us for. He’s prepared us for where we are right now. And the last thing I’ll tell you is this for sure: God will be with us wherever we go, but how far we go is up to us.
“Joshua, I will be with you wherever you go. But, Joshua, if you’re not strong and courageous, you’re not going to take the promised land. I’m going to be with you. My presence is going to be with you. I’m going to be with you. But, what are you going to do with what I’ve called you to do?”
We’re at a defining moment. Here’s the vulnerable part of Chip Bennett that normally, if you’ve been in church long enough, this is the time where the pastor then puts up the land or the building or whatever. I don’t have any of that. I’ve got nothing other than I know that we need God. We need God to step in and help us out, which is why what I’m doing — and you’re going to get emails and you’re going to hear it a lot — is we’re going to commit to a massive season of prayer. And it’s not going to be like for seven days or twenty-one days. It’s going to be until God gives us a God-sized answer, because we need a God-sized answer.
I’m going to tell you this: If 10 people in the church pray, we’ll stay. The mandate will move from us and it’ll go to another church. If all of us are in and all of us want to do it and all of us want to be a part of it, then God will do it. But, it’s really going to come down to you and me. You know? And I want to read you something. Again, the temptation here for many people is to think that I’m reading this for self-serving reasons. I’m not. I’m genuinely not. I was in here yesterday. I prayed over the chairs. I go through my message one more time. I set up the sanctuary so when the band comes in at 4:00-4:30, everything’s set up and the air conditioner’s down and they can just jump in and do the rehearsal.
While I was in the middle of my message, my phone beeped. This was the message that I got. I’m going to read it to you. And again, many of you may say, “He’s reading this to be self-serving.”
I’m not. I’m just reading this to you. I’ll tell you why I’m reading it to you when I’m done.
It says, “Dr. Chip, I just wanted to write you just to say how much your teachings have been a blessing to my fiancé and I. We’re both Christians. But, at least on my end, I’ve been very dry in my walk. My fiancé was on vacation with his buddies down in Sarasota this past August, and he came to your church on a Sunday. He was so touched by your sermon, I believe it was one of the ‘Risk’ sermons, that he messaged me to check it out and download the app. Since then, we’ve regularly been tuning into your most recent sermons each Sunday as well. I watch an older series in the morning during my work week. I’m so blessed and challenged by your sermons and how you bring to light so many key and amazing points in the Word of God. You’ve struck us with your intelligence, insights, gentleness and approach, and, most of all, your genuine nature and passion for the Word.
“I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to delve into the church sermon series. It feels so at home watching the series as if I’m in sort of a 1st Century church gathering and how it may have operated; personal, intimate and impactful. May you know God is using you and having you touch others around the world.”
That is coming from someone who does not live in the continental United States. Hold on. You can clap. We need to work on clapping. That’ll be another sermon series. “Clapping.”
Why did I read that? I read that because I want you to know that doesn’t come here without you. See, I can get up here and talk all day long. But, if you all don’t support the church and we can’t buy the cameras and we can’t put stuff on the internet and we can’t do a mobile app and we can’t do the things that we do, none of that works. It doesn’t happen because of me. It happens because of you. It happens because of us. We have to decide: Do we really believe that what we have here is something that God wants to do and reach this town in ways that are far above what we could probably see or not?
And we get to make that decision. It’s not going to be my decision. It’s going to be our decision. And we have to make that decision. So, what I’m asking you to do is I’m asking you, please, as the pastor of this church, to commit to prayer. And I’m not talking about a little prayer. I’m talking about really praying. I’m talking about every small group stopping in your small group and praying for the church.
When you’re at home at night, praying for the church. When you’re with your wife, praying for the church. When you’re driving in your car, praying for the church and saying, “God, open up some doors. Open up things for this church. We need to hear from You. We need an answer from You.”
And I’m not asking you just to pray. I’m also asking you to put legs to your prayers. God may lead you to go, “Oh, you know what? I know this guy. I know this girl. I know this person. I know this piece of land. I know this property. I know this person that likes to help churches out and gives a lot of money or whatever else.”
I’m asking you to let God use you, because it may be you that He uses to answer the situation that we have. On top of that, I’m asking you to also pray, “How can I step up? How can I do more than what I’m doing right now? Can I serve more? Can I give more? Can I get involved more? Can I get involved for the first time? Can I step out on the water for the first time and really believe that maybe I could walk on the water?”
I’m asking everybody sincerely to make this a matter of prayer, to get down on our knees and say, “God, we believe that You’re doing something great. Everybody else sees that we’re doing something great. People that don’t even know us realize that we’re doing something great. God, we need You to help continue to move us forward. As uncomfortable as it may be, as difficult as it may be, as scary as it may be, God, give us the ability to be strong and courageous to move forward.”
Because, I believe the best years are ahead for Grace Community Church and I believe God’s going to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think, and we’re going to get into heaven one day and go, “Man, what a ride that baby was to be in Lakewood Ranch.”
So, pray with me.
Dear Heavenly Father, I come to You. Lord, You know my heart. You don’t need me at all. This is Your church and Your people. But God, I do believe there are moments where we have to decide: Are we going to be like Moses and that generation or are we going to be like Joshua in his generation? And Lord, we’re there. God, we need a God-sized answer. We need You to really, God, get involved and deliver things to us that we cannot do in our own strength.
Lord, I’m asking You to burden this church with a spirit of prayer, Lord, and a spirit of encouragement and support like we’ve never had. Lord, I just give it to You. I’ve done the best I can do, Lord, and You know that. I give it to You, Lord. The outcome is ultimately You. We can plant and we can water. But Lord, it is You that gives the increase.
So, Lord, I pray that as we ponder these moments and we think about our church, I pray, Lord, that everybody here would have a real honest moment with You and think through what they’ve heard. And Lord, I pray that You would continue to lead, guide and direct us as we go our separate ways. I pray, Lord, that You would continue to birth within us the DNA that we want to be the people that reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ in everything that we do. We love You, we praise You and we honor You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap and tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.