Through the Threshold Week 3: Unlearning Church
Everybody wants to be the first, the one to overcome, the one to break the barrier. In this world, we are told to do, try, perform. But, sometimes, we feel like we’ve hit a wall. What if true living was an unlearning? What if real life was not found in performance, but a person? It’s a new year, a new opportunity, maybe even a new life. Let’s find a way through the threshold.
Well, good morning to everyone. How are you today? Good, good, good. My name is Tom Jones. I’m one of the pastors here at Grace. I’m also known as the anti-Chip here at Grace. Our reverend is out of town this week. We’ll talk more about that in a moment. By the way, I am interested to know: Who here had the opportunity to hear last week’s sermon that Pastor Chip preached, Week 2 of the Threshold series? Was that not the most amazing message you’ve ever heard in your life? Oh my gosh. I mean, it’s really top 3. I told him it was one of the best messages, and the best I’ve ever heard on being intentional neighbors.
But, do you know what? I realized he was hitting another one out of the park last week, and I started to notice a pattern. So, I went back and did some research. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but Chip’s best sermons always, always happen the week before I’m supposed to preach. Like, it’s a thing. I went back. I don’t know why, but for some reason, every time I’m about to preach, Chip just comes out with this bombshell of a sermon that shocks the world and changes everyone’s life forever. I’m telling you there’s something going on there.
Now, some may ask, but I’m too spiritual to ask, but others may ask, “Why is that? Why does Pastor Chip feel the need to do that?”
I don’t know. Some may say that Pastor Chip may be a little intimidated by the old man. I still have a little game and he knows you guys are going to finally hear a real sermon. But, that’s what others say. I don’t say that. I would just like to think simply that my presence inspires Pastor Chip to do better. Either way, when I think about it, it’s such an incredible win-win for you guys, because you get a great sermon by Pastor Chip every time I’m about to preach, and then an even better sermon the week later when I preach. All this great preaching around here all the time. So, I just want to stand up here today and humbly say, “You’re welcome.”
It will certainly be the last time I preach. Okay. So, we’re in a series called “Through the Threshold.” We’ve been learning to really live life by unlearning large portions of life we’ve been living. Today, we’re going to be talking about unlearning church. Specifically, we’re going to be talking about unlearning church culture. If you think about it, over the years we have had a lot of unlearning and relearning and unlearning and relearning in our lives. Now, this is an amazing stat: There has been more technology and lifestyle changes in the last 40 years than there was throughout all of the rest of history combined. Can you believe that? That’s crazy.
I mean, for me personally, I was thinking of some of the big changes in my life. In the 70’s, I remember when my parents brought home the first microwave oven. We all just sat around and watched it cook, especially popcorn, because you could see it through a clear thing and it was just amazing. In the 80’s, I remember going to a store called “Circuit City” — who remembers Circuit City? — and hearing my first compact disc. How it changed the way we listened to music. In the 90’s, we learned a new way to work and a new way to gather information through the use of personal computers and the internet, thanks to Al Gore.
I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. That was wrong. And the cellphone. We learned how to crash into other people while we drive our car through the use of a cellphone. Most of my life has been in ministry, but some of it has been in business. In the 2000’s, I was a traveling sales guy. That’s when the GPS got hot. You could, in your car — you didn’t have to go back to the office and print loads and loads of directions or call people on the phone. There was this thing that would literally navigate you to a house.
And then, even in this decade, from 2010-2020, we’re going to see the reality of self-driving cars becoming more and more of a thing here in the next few years. So, when you think about it honestly, our whole life has been chock full of things that we’ve had to unlearn and relearn, because times change. Guys, that’s just life. But, did you ever think we’d be talking about unlearning church and church culture? Yet, here we are, 2018, and a lot of things in church are different than they used to be.
For those of us who are little older, you youngins just need to understand that this isn’t the America we grew up in. This isn’t the Judeo-Christian culture we grew up in, and it certainly isn’t the church we grew up in. Things have radically changed. And just like Pastor Chip talked last week about the vision of our church, to be intentional neighbors outside the four walls, there’s also an intentional church culture of how we want to do church inside the four walls. There’s an intentional culture of how we want our church to look like, feel like, be, practice from the inside, even before we go outside.
And in order to pull that off, it’s going to require all of us to perhaps unlearn just a little bit regarding how we may have done church culture before, and perhaps learn something new. I said the word “culture” a lot. Let’s start with a working definition of culture. It comes from Tony Dungy.
“Culture is the predominant attitudes and behaviors of the people that characterize a group, team, business or organization.”
Again, the operative word, it is the attitudes and behaviors of the people. That’s what makes up the culture. I spent much of my life growing up in Georgia. I was a young kid. I’d have a lot of adults usually say things to me like this: “Now, boy, there’s a certain way we do things around here, and that’s not it.”
And what they were telling me is, “Hey, you’re messing with our culture. We do things and act and behave a certain way.”
So, just like any other team, group, business or organization, every church has a culture; a predominating attitude or predominating behavior of how we act and do things. And the culture says a lot to everyone who walks through those doors. Sam Chan is exactly right when he says, “Culture trumps vision every time.”
That’s powerful. Culture trumps vision every time. And what does he mean by that? Again, he’s not downplaying vision at all. Vision is incredibly important, but how your people act and behave when they’re together, that’s really who you are and that’s what new people remember about your church. Today, we’ll be talking about the four cultural shifts that we must embrace in order for this church to be the world-changing church that God’s called us to be.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start out by saying, “Look, we know, as a church, we already get a lot of this right,” because we just have great people here and we’re so thankful for that. But, we don’t want to be a people who rest on our laurels. We don’t want to be a church who thinks we’ve arrived. New people join our church every week, and it’s terribly important for us as a body of Christ to continue to challenge ourselves to continue to grow in this area and be the best church culture we can be. Because when unchurched people walk through those doors, our culture — not our vision — will have a lot to do with those people deciding if they want to stay and hear about Jesus or not.
Culture shift number one. Lets’ get started. Moving from just attending to preparing to attend. Now, in some church cultures — and some of us grew up in these churches — oftentimes the goal was simply just to make it to church. That was the win.
“I’m here, God. I showed up. I get my gold star. You’re proud of me.”
Just attending was the big Christian win of the week. When I go to movies — I like to go to movies — I’ve got to be honest with you: I just attend. I don’t prepare to attend a movie at all. I just attend the movie. And why is that? It’s because my goal when attending the movie is to simply be entertained. That’s all I’m going for. Unfortunately, we have a lot of that going on in the American church today as well. People just attending so they can be entertained.
Scriptures like Psalm 15, Psalm 24 and then the Psalms of the Ascent, which are Psalms 120-134, you look through these and you see loads and loads and loads of passages referring to how God’s people should prepare their hearts and how they should prepare their spirits before coming into the house of God to worship. In the New Testament, Jesus gets in on it as well when He says, “Look, if you’re going to worship me, if you’re my true followers, you will worship me in spirit and in truth.”
He’s telling us there that there’s a thought and an intentionality about how we’re supposed to do this thing called “worshiping God.” Now, think about it for a second, because we truly believe this here at Grace, and we certainly hope you do as well. Every time we gather as a church, every single time, we believe that God is going to show up. We believe that God’s going to speak to us, move amongst us, change us and direct us every time. That’s why we gather. And we believe that through four specific things, through the preaching of God’s word, through the assembling together of the saints, through the worship of songs to God, and through us just simply coming together in the name of Jesus — those things, all four of those, posture us to experience the presence and the power of God.
To be in God’s presence is a weighty and glorious thing. The reality that God could show up when we meet together should be both a little bit exciting and honestly, a little bit scary. Hebrews 10 reminds us that as His children, we can enter God’s presence with confidence and joy, and that’s a beautiful thing to enter God’s presence with confidence. But I beg you to consider that there’s a difference between entering God’s presence with confidence and entering God’s presence with casualness. There’s a different way.
One of my favorite quotes in life comes from a book I read a long time ago called “The Trivialization of God: The Dangerous Illusion of a Manageable Deity.” That title will get you saved just on its own. But, in the book, noted writer Amy Dillard pokes a little, talking to us about the dangers of coming to church with such a casual, nonchalant attitude towards the Almighty when she says this:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians sufficiently sensible of their conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke or, as I suspect, does no one really believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear lady straw hats and velvet hats to church. We should all be wearing crash helmets. Yes, crash helmets. An usher should issue life-preservers and signal flares, and they should all lash us to our pews, for the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out someday to a place where we can never, ever return.”
That’s pretty good, isn’t it? Let us not only attend church, guys. Let us prepare ourselves to attend. Yes, come into God’s house joyful and happy and all that, but also come with reverence and expectancy that Almighty God is planning to show up and do some amazing things. If we continue to switch from a culture of attending to a culture of people preparing to attend, what that says to the unchurched visitor is this: They really act like God’s going to show up around here. Maybe He’s real after all.
Cultural shift number two: Moving from a me-centered culture to an others-centered culture. Now, just like the first one, the second one, in some churches, the primary reason I attend church is because it’s all about God doing something for me.
“God, show me. Move me. Bless me. Help me. Answer me.”
But, some could even argue, especially attenders of Grace, “Hold on, Tom. Time out. Hold on. We, as a church, spend a lot of time outside these four walls loving on people. So, when we come to church, look, we do want ‘my’ time. I do need to be refueled. I do need God to speak to me. I do need God to meet my needs.”
To that, I would say we whole-heartedly agree with you. Church is a time that God wants to fill you up and meet your needs, but if you’ve hung out with God long enough, you know that how He does things is kind of an upside-down, topsy-turvy, opposite way than the world does things. The world says, “Go get yours first. It’s about you. Fill your cup up first. Then, with whatever leftover you have, give back and maybe be nice to others.”
God says, “Seek me and my kingdom first. Do what I say first, and then all these other things will be provided unto you.”
What God wants, even when we come into His house, is He wants us to be others-centered, actively loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus said it this way: “How is everybody going to know that You’re my disciples? By the love you show one to another.”
See, as the others-centered church, it’s a church where all believers — not some or half — are running around loving and serving and blessing each other, all the while knowing that if we come to God’s house loving and blessing on other people, God will come to our house and love and bless us. We’ve talked before about the hundred verses in the New Testament that have the phrase “one another” in them. Well, think about this: There’s one hundred verses in the New Testament alone telling us how we should love, bless, encourage, help and pray for one another. If you’ve noticed, some of those verses, if you’ve read through all one hundred, are a little weird, to be honest with you. I thought I’d pull one out for this.
Romans 16:16: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
Let’s talk about that for a second. Now, look, you and I need to chat here, because we need to set the record straight, especially here at Grace. I know I’m an extremely good-looking man. And I understand your temptation. The struggle is real. I get it. I get it. But please don’t kiss me. Just please don’t kiss me. First of all, I’m just not that into you, so there’s that. But I came up with a great idea this week. I thought, “Here’s a great idea for all the church: Feel free to kiss Pastor Chip.”
That’s awesome. I’m sure he’ll love it. He’ll love it. His wife, Mindy, will think it’s awesome. I’ll just that there. I’ll let y’all pray about that. But anyway, we come to church with a different mindset, right? I’m going to love others first, totally believing and trusting that God will supply all of my needs. If we continue to switch from a culture of me-first to a culture of others-first, what that says to the unchurched visitor is, “If church people really matter to one another, then perhaps I really matter to God.”
Alright. Cultural shift number three: Moving from consumer to contributor. Now, listen. From the get-go, I must say again that per capita, I know that we have a lot of people involved in this church serving, volunteering and contributing. A lot more than many churches. Pastors call us and say, “Man, with all the stuff you guys do inside and outside, how in the world do you get the church people to be involved like that?”
So, we know that. We know that a lot of you are plugged in. And to that, we say a thousand times, “Thank you.”
But look, guys, our church has grown quickly. Sometimes the struggle of a fast-growing church — church growth tells you this — is that the first couple of waves of people find it kind of easy to plug in and find their place on the wall, while the next three or four waves that come in sometimes find it a little bit more difficult to find their place and get plugged in. And for tons of reasons. They could be scared or intimidated, or they might’ve asked somebody one time, and somebody blew them off, so they had a bad experience. They might just look around and go, “It looks like they’ve got everything straight. They don’t need me.”
But people come in and just more and more people keep showing up and they say, “Man, it looks like they’ve got stuff covered. I’ll just wait a while before I plug in.”
And then weeks become months, months become years, and the next thing you know is you’re coming to God’s house on a regular basis and you’re not a contributor. There are many, many, many great churches in America, and I’m not trying to be mean, but let’s be honest: Unfortunately, there are many consumer-driver churches in America as well.
In his book, The Empty Church, historian Thomas Reeves says this: “Christianity in modern America tends to be easy, upbeat, convenient, compatible. It does not require self-sacrifice, discipline, humility, a zeal for souls or a fear as well as love of God. There is little conviction, and the payoff in heaven is virtually certain. What we now have might be best labeled as consumer Christianity. The cost is low, but the customer satisfaction seems guaranteed.”
Wow. Lord, help us. We are not customers, as you know, of the Almighty God. We are His children and Christ did not die for our satisfaction; He died for our sins. And the Church was never supposed to be the great supermarket of the gods where people come in, shop and pick up the stuff they like about God and leave the rest on the shelf. The reality is it’s not the church people who created this monstrosity. It’s not the church people’s fault. Church leaders did this to the church.
In order to get more people, fill more seats or whatever, we just kept dumbing down what it meant to be a disciple of Christ. And Jesus seems to be a little anti-consumer when He says, “If anyone desires to really come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever desires to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake, they’re the ones that will save it.”
We’re talking about moving from a consumer to a contributor here. Let’s get practical here about what we need to do at Grace here just for a second. This is God’s house, and you are God’s child. And like all houses, God’s house has chores. Some of those chores are fun and easy, like maybe greeting at the door. And then some of the chores are not that easy at all, like changing diapers in the nursery or being on parking lot duty when it’s 112 degrees outside.
But we have four services, guys, and we’re probably going to need to add one or two more very soon before we move into the new building. And we don’t want to burn out all of the wonderful volunteers we already have. So, we need everyone to be a contributor in God’s house. For those of you who don’t know how to get started with your contribution, simply just give the church a call and set up a quick meeting with me or one of the other pastors, or people on staff that you know, and we’ll help you out. We’ll share all the different ways you can plug in.
Some of you who volunteer once a month, we really appreciate that hour a month that you give us, but we want to ask you to prayerfully think about kicking it up a notch to a little bit more than one hour a month. And for those of you who serve multiple, multiple times week in and week out — and we have a really strong core group of people who do that — we just want to say thank you and God bless you. We couldn’t do anything here at Grace without you guys.
For those looking to jump in, a good target may be, “Hey, why don’t I serve one and attend one.” That’s one of the cool things about going to a church that has multiple services. A quick side note while we’re talking about this: In many traditional churches — and some of you were raised in these churches. I’ve had some conversations with some of you guys. I think the landscape of these kind of small churches are littered all throughout America. The traditional church where the senior pastor wears 100 hats, and he and his family do 90% of the work while the congregation just kind of sits there and watches. That is what we would call the ultimate consumer model.
Our senior pastor, Pastor Chip, has a couple of roles. And we’re going to keep it to just those couple of roles. Pastor Chip is our lead teaching pastor. He is the one who prays for the church and he is the one who carries the vision of Grace Community Church. That is Chip’s main goal here at Grace. But there’s another calling that our pastor has in his life that I want to make sure everyone in this church not only knows about but is hopefully proud of and is prayerful about as well. And that is the fact that God has placed a unique, special calling on our pastor to teach the next generation of preachers how to preach the Bible correctly and passionately.
God has given Chip an incredible skill set on how to help other pastors bring God’s Word to life. And, again, not trying to be too critical, but you just don’t understand how bad it is out there right now in terms of there’s many pastors who have gotten in the game, they’re really good guys, but maybe they didn’t go to school or maybe they didn’t learn from somebody else and they just have no clue how to teach God’s Word in a way that their people go, “Wow. That’s just amazing. I need to go read that for myself.”
God’s Word is supposed to be life-changing. Sometimes, pastors can’t get the Word to be life-changing, so they switch and talk about other things besides God’s Word. And I think the responsibility and the mantle that God’s put on our pastor, we want to celebrate that and let him do that. So, part of the time Pastor Chip is going to be here, the other part he’s going to be traveling, he’s going to be teaching in different seminaries. He teaches in two right now. And speaking with other pastors and doing his teaching thing.
As a matter of fact, right now, this weekend, Chip’s in Seattle. He’s with Logos Training Bible Software. They’re the largest training Bible software company in the world, and he’s putting together world class teaching materials with about five or six other theological heavyweights. They’re putting this world class material stuff to put it online so pastors all over the globe can learn how to preach God’s Word effectively. Well, that’s good stuff, guys. That’s good stuff. And, again, I want you to know something. Please don’t get me wrong about this: Pastor Chip’s heart will, first and foremost, always be Grace. He planted this church. He has a shepherd’s heart. He would never tell you this, but I would. He’s gotten multiple offers to go to bigger churches and to even travel and go be a full-time professor at big schools.
He’s like, “I’m not even praying about it.”
It’s just not on his horizon at all. His heart is here. God called him here. He has a shepherd’s heart. He wants to be here. So, Pastor Chip’s not going anywhere. But, we’re not going to build this church on the back of our senior pastor or his family, nor are we going to build this church on the back of a few staff doing everything, or a few volunteers killing themselves and burning out. We are taking seriously the biblical mandate that all of God’s children are supposed to be ministers, all of God’s children are supposed to serve, and all of God’s children are supposed to be part of the solution.
A church of contributors is the only way Grace is going to achieve its calling and be what God’s called us to be. If we continue to switch from a culture of consumers to a culture of contributors, what that says to the unchurched visitor is, “Contributing actually connects me with the God who made me. I don’t need to shop. I need to contribute.”
Alright. Last one. Cultural shift number four: Moving from thermometer to thermostat. One of the greatest leadership lessons I’ve ever learned is that all of us in life have the opportunity to either be a thermometer or a thermostat. This is a leadership lesson that we talk about a lot in leadership meetings and staff meetings. Let me explain: The definition of a thermometer is to reflect the temperature in an environment. It simply reacts to the environment around it. If it’s hot, it shows hot. If it’s cold, it shows cold. It’s not an intelligent instrument in that it has no multi-purpose functionality, it just reveals the current temperature in the room.
On the other hand, a thermostat has the ability to adjust the temperature in the environment. Unlike a thermometer, a thermostat is an intelligent instrument that can monitor the environment, regulate the environment and even change the environment. This is a leader versus follower discussion. Followers, like thermometers, react to their surroundings. They just become whatever the environment is. If they walk into a room and everyone’s sad, bored and uninspired, they become sad, bored and uninspired.
Leaders, however, like thermostats, have the ability to change their surroundings. They can walk into a room where everyone is sad, bored and uninspired, and help change the temperature in the room to happy, excited and motivated.
Here’s my point. Here’s my charge to everyone in the room right now: When you come to church, be a thermostat. That’s what I’m charging for you. Be part of the solution. Help continue to upgrade the culture of Grace Community Church. Please don’t come dragging in here for weekend services looking like you’re about to go to a funeral. Have you ever seen people? They come in and you’re like, “I am just so sure they’ve already died, they just haven’t laid down yet.”
You’re like, “Wow. Wow. I’m so glad you came here. I want to shoot myself now.”
I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. Lord, forgive me. Alright, come in here with a joyful heart and an expectant faith, ready to serve, ready to love people and ready to worship God with all of your heart.
Speaking of which, we need to talk about worship for a second. We do need to chat for about how we want to worship, specifically how to be a thermostat when it comes to worship. And what we’re talking about precisely right now is that part in the service where we sing praise and worship songs during the service. Look, we know that we have a church of many different people from many, many, many different backgrounds. Religious, denominational, non-denominational church backgrounds. And that means we come to the table with a hundred different ways that we’ve probably over the years learned what worship was or defined what worship was to us.
Some of us came from high church where they did orchestra, pipe organs and that type of thing. Some of us came from churches that played really quiet, reflective music. And I know for a fact that we have some people at this church that came from loud, head-banging type of music. Some of us came from churches that didn’t do any music at all. Did you know that there’s churches that don’t even participate with musical instruments?
Some of us came from churches where you didn’t participate, you just watched while all the talented people up on the stage did all the worship and you just sat and observed. Then some of us came from churches where you waved flags, blew horns, ran up and down the aisles and played with snakes during worship. That’s Pastor Chip’s background, because he’s from Kentucky.
So, all of us came from many backgrounds, right? And we all have different styles. We probably all worship a little differently, but here’s the thing: We’re not looking for uniformity, but we’re looking for unity and we’re looking for developing a church culture and getting everyone on the same page. That is this: Here at Grace, we want to challenge everyone that we should all want at least this, and that is we should want to worship the way the Bible tells us to worship. We should worship God the way God should be worshiped.
And because of that, again, some of it’s going to be maybe a little bit different than your tradition, but I want us to look at it for a second and look at a couple of Scriptures. I want, while I’m reading these Scriptures, for you to paint a picture in your mind as to what this really looks like coming to life. Okay? Psalm 150.
“Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in the mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with a trumpet; praise him with the lute and the harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with the strings and with the pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”
We move on to Psalm 100.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord,”
By the way, for those of you who say, “I would sing, but I don’t really sing good,” that’s okay. That’s what God’s saying right here. It’s okay. If you can’t sing well, just make a joyful noise. But do something. Do something out there.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,”
Psalm 47. Finally, just the first part:
“Clap your hands, all people! Shout to God with loud songs of joy and triumph! For the Lord, the Most High, is to be revered, the great kind over all the earth.”
Now, if you painted the same picture in your head that I did, that sounds like a place that during worship is pretty alive. And listen, I know. Look, I know it’s uncomfortable, especially if you spent years and years doing it differently. Trying something new, I get it. But, look, when we come together, God wants all of us to sing out loud and clap and engage and worship and be a part with energy and excitement and joy. That’s what God wants His house to be like during the time of worship. And nobody’s asking you to come and swing from the chandeliers and run from the aisles and twirl like a helicopter and play with snakes. We promise we’re not going to do that until we move into the new building. We promise.
But we do, guys, want to worship God in a way that the Bible tells us to worship. And, moreover, we should want to worship the way God deserves to be worshiped; with everything we’ve got.
Andy Heitke is a young adult here. He and his wife Erica do so much for the house. They’re great servants. I was talking to him two nights ago that I was going to touch on this in my sermon. He said something to me that I just found interesting. He said, “You know, when I was unchurched, watching believers worship God with genuineness and authenticity, like they really believed it. That had a lot to do with me moving forward in my faith.”
See, it does matter, people are looking, and it does change the whole culture when everybody gets involved. Speaking of changing temperature, Jesus said it this way: “You’re the salt of the earth. You’re the light of the world. Let your good deeds shine out for all to see so that everyone will praise your Heavenly Father.”
See, even Jesus says that we’re supposed to change the temperature in the room, because we are the flavor and preservative of life. We are the ones that shine the light in a dark and dreary world. That’s our calling from heaven. If we continue to switch from a culture of thermometers to a culture of thermostats, constantly upgrading the temperature of our culture, what that says to the unchurched visitor is, “This place is loving, exciting and full of life. Maybe God is the same way.”
Listen, guys, we have a great church. We really do. And we have a great pastor and we have a great group of people. We have a great opportunity in this city to do something amazing, and we have a greater opportunity to build an even greater church culture so God can use us to do even greater and greater things than we’ve done before. I want you to imagine a church for a second where an unchurched person walks in the door. And, by the way, when we say “unchurched,” that can mean a lot of things. An unchurched person can be someone who just moved into the area that can be a Christian and they’re just looking for a church home. Or maybe someone is in between churches. Or maybe someone is like a prodigal son or daughter. They went to church when they were young, and they haven’t gone for 10, 20 or 30 years, and there’s something in their heart stirring them to give God another try.
There are other people who walk in who were seriously burned by religion, and they come up in the house with so many guards up because they’re so afraid. And then there’s people who walk in the door who have no spiritual background at all. And I constantly am amazed, the longer I live life, how that group is getting larger and larger and larger in America; people who have never darkened the doors of a church at all and have no spiritual background.
I want you to imagine those guys walking in to our church. Imagine that they come in and the culture is amazing, life-giving and electric. Where God’s people, who attend that church, are pumped up and expectant about coming to church in the first place. Where those some people are others-centered, they’re running around loving people, they’re not self-centered, and they see all of God’s children in the house contributing, not spectating or being a consumer, but everybody’s trying to serve and find their place on the wall.
And they see, when all God’s people get in the room and start singing, they see worship as a celebration; like we really mean it. Everyone is singing passionately to God, doing the best they can. And they see everybody in the house using their leadership gift to be a thermostat, constantly raising the bar in the church.
Now, guys, why would we take the time, energy and effort to build such a glorious church culture? Three reasons, but we can stop at one. We build that culture, number one, because God deserves it. That’s why we build it. We build it because He’s worthy. We build it because He loved us first and it’s our way of loving Him back. That’s why we build such a glorious culture.
But the other reasons aren’t bad either. Number two, because the unchurched people need to see it. Because what you and I have to remember is when people come in and see how we act and how we behave, to them, that’s going to be the picture of who God really is. So, it matters because unchurched people come in and they need to see it.
And finally, it’s worth mentioning. We do it because we always reap what we sow. If we live our lives coming in here expectant, having high faith that God’s going to move, listening and trying to hear what God wants to do in this place, being others-centered and not self-centered, and coming in and finding a place on the wall and serving and celebrating with all of our heart during worship.
When we do these things and we come and we give God our best, we know the end of that story. God’s going to come into our life and give us His best. We can be that church. And, like I said, we know there are so many good things that are already going on here. But let’s not rest on our laurels. Let’s push the bar, let’s encourage each other, let’s challenge each other to be the best church we can be so God can use us to do the greatest impact that ever could be done here in the Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota and Bradenton area.
Father, I thank You for everyone in the house today, and I thank You for such amazing people. When pastors call Chip and I and say, “How do you guys do everything you do?” we go, “Well, one, God is good, and two, our people are amazing.”
And we know that. But, Father, we know that You’re not calling us to rest on our laurels. It is not finished. We still need to be about our Father’s business, which means as we continue to grow, we need to make sure we’re creating the culture that first and foremost pleases You, and, secondly, that unchurched people come in and it inspires them to stay, learn and get to know Jesus, and, three, Lord, we want a life that as we pour in and bless Your house, You’re going to bless our house.
So, God, we just come to You know with all our traditions, our agendas and everything we’ve done before, we lay it at Your feet and we say, “God, we all want to be part of the solution. Help me be someone who changes the temperature for the good in Your house.”
Finally, Lord, as we’re about to leave, I know everyone came in here with different needs and different requests and different issues and different burdens, and I just pray You give everyone the courage right now to lay all their burdens at Your feet. May the blessings of God and may the favor of God and may the wisdom of God go with everybody until we meet again. In Jesus’ name, and all God’s people said, “Amen.”
God bless you guys. Have a great week.