Guide our Steps IFCOG 7/24/22
I want to share some of my heart with you today.
In my life, I have struggled with discernment when it comes to God’s will. Have you ever felt that way?
I have listened to wise council, followed the open doors, tried to make wise decisions, then ended up nowhere near where I thought the Lord was leading me. Somewhere along the line, I fell out of step and started down a different road. I left the path, and I never realized it. There are other times when I took the more attractive road, the easier road, the road that lead where I wanted to go, instead of the path that was laid out for me. Has any one here ever experienced something like that?
There is a principle Andy Stanley calls the Principle of the Path. Direction determines destination.
We understand it when it comes to driving, but we miss it in other areas of our lives. If we plan a trip to Florida, we pack our bags, we tell all our friends, we hire the neighbor kid to watch the house and take in the mail, we make all our plans and preparations, but when we head out of town with the car fully packed and drive north on 231, we aren’t going to get to Florida. It’s our direction, not our intentions, that determine our destination. In fact, many of our congregations have missed this vital principle.
I am broken-hearted for many of the congregations throughout the United States. Many of us would like to blame COVID for the decline of the church, when in fact, the church started declining before COVID, it’s after COVID that we really noticed the change because many who had wanted to leave for a long time, just didn’t go back. Many of us would like to blame culture for the decline of the church, when in fact, the church failed to respond to the shifts in the culture. People who study societies have determined that under usual circumstances, society shifts every 7 years, but in 2020, in one year, society made an entire shift. Some congregations were able to respond because they had already been preparing, others haven’t reopened. Some congregations are trying to build on the changes they had to make to reach out, while others are gratefully trying to go back to what they were doing. Not even realizing what they were doing had already stopped working, except for them.
What does the Bible say about it all? Does the Bible say anything about church growth? Does the Bible say anything about responding to change? Does the Bible give us direction on what to hold on to, and what to let go?
I am not going to be showing you anything you may not have seen before, but I may tie them together for you in ways you haven’t thought of. God has laid out a direction for his Church. He has given us our marching orders. He has given us examples of what to do and not do.
Let’s start with the most basic… Whose job is it to grow the Church?
In Matthew 16:13-18 it says,
‘When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.’
When Jesus says on this rock I will build my church, some churches will teach that Peter is the rock that the Church is built on. Others will say it is Peter’s confession of faith the Church is built on. The language used would suggest both of those answers are wrong. Petros, Peter, is one kind of rock. Petra is something different. It is also translated as stumbling stone in some other passages.
Earlier in Matthew 7:25, later in 1 Peter 2:8, 1 Corinthians 10:4, Romans 9:33 all refer to this kind of petra, and each time it is associated with Jesus himself is the rock that the Church is built on, and Jesus says he will build his church. Jesus has not stopped building his Church. If our congregations stopped growing, it’s because we fell out of step with him.
Next question, what is the mission of the Church, if Jesus is the one building his Church? Matthew 28:18-20 says,
‘Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”’
Our job is not to build the church, our job is to make disciples. Wait, what is the difference between building the Church and making disciples?
Building the Church is his Holy Spirit bestowing grace upon people who hear the Word of God to incite them into having faith in the saving work of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. To make disciples, wherever we are going, as we invest in relationships with people, share the Gospel, but also baptizing them and just as importantly, if not more so, teaching them to obey everything that he has commanded to us. When the disciples went out sharing the Gospel, they also baptized the new believers and immediately began teaching them. The ones that heard the disciples teaching then went out and taught others, who went out and taught others, on and on down to today.
The early church taught everything, and taught obedience. Our churches today teach less and less of everything and leave out much of the obedience even to what we do teach. However, there are always extremes, aren’t there. Some hyper focus on obedience to the point of legalism, others turn the sanctuary into a seminar lecture hall, some turn grace into free license to do and act however they want.
What we do hold tightly to frequently is our traditions. We confuse holding tightly to the Word of God and correct doctrine, with holding on tightly to the order of worship, the Gaither hymns, the position of the altar, a few of the congregations I have been to have special cushions in certain pews where the same person sits week after week. One week someone asked, who moved the cushions? We make ourselves comfortable and make any outsiders totally uncomfortable.
What did Paul say?
‘For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some. I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.’
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
He was willing to adapt himself to make those around him more comfortable so that he could advance the Gospel among them. He did not sin to make sinners more comfortable, but he did speak to people and interact with people on their level. The same way Christ relinquished the rights of his deity to live as a man among humans.
There are certain things, as the church, we need to be willing to do to advance the Gospel so that we are on the path marked out for us to arrive at the destination God intends for us to.
- Pray, it should be obvious, but far too often it becomes our last resort rather than our first response.
- Hold tightly to the authority and inspiration of the scriptures by proper interpretation and application.
- Trust the Lord of the harvest to lead and guide us
- Expect God’s provision to act according to his will
- Make disciples wherever we are going, by baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything we have been commanded
- Christ did not come to condemn the people of the world; he came to save them. So, we are here to build loving relationships to encourage unbelievers to be convicted by his Holy Spirit.
- We must love one another as a demonstration that we are Jesus disciples using scripture to teach, encourage, admonish, correct, and train one another in righteousness.
- We must seek unity and reconciliation wherever possible
- Be relevant, with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, address the needs within our community and in the world
- Every believer should be discipled into maturity and begin discipling someone else. We need to have sages, mentors, accountability partners, and proteges along every stage of the walk of faith
I believe we should be doing these things as the Body of Christ, and if we are doing them, God will honor his promise.
2 Peter 3:9 says,
‘The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.’
While we wait for the Lord to fulfill his promise, we need to do the work he has set before us.