Monday, January 30, 2017

January 29, 2017 Building Your Ministry

Today we conclude the series of messages based upon the theme of Building.  I hope you have found them helpful.  I kept thinking of other messages that could be added to the series but I had gone on long enough; perhaps sometime in the future I will return to the theme.  

Next week I will begin a short series of messages on prayer, and then we will have a series of messages about people changed by Jesus, focusing, primarily, upon the people he encountered as he was on his way to Jerusalem and his crucifixion and resurrection. 

This morning, as we conclude the series on Building, we come to the message of Building Your Ministry.  Our text is selected verses from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 10.  It would be helpful for you to take some time and read through the entirety of that chapter when you have a few minutes. 

Matthew 10:1, 5, 7, 8-11, 16-20, 22, 29-31, 40, 42

1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:
7 “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received; freely give.
“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—
10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.
11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.
18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.
19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,
20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

1.  You are called to be a minister.
I really enjoyed listening to Chrissy’s this morning, as she shared about her trip to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area to help in the ministry of the Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries (  I am grateful for the ministry she did on her trip, and when she was in that area earlier in her life.

It is important to understand that all people are called by God to be a minister.  I hope you noticed that I underlined the word your in the title of this message. That is a way of reminding us that ministry is not something that is reserved for only a few, but is a calling given by God to everyone.  It is not just my calling, but your calling.  It is not just my ministry, but your ministry. It is not just the ministry of the church that we talk about, or my ministry that we talk about, or the ministry of someone else that we’re talking about, but your ministry. 

In October we will recognize the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  One of the legacies of the Reformation is the priesthood of all believers.  The Reformation brought to us the idea that all people are ministers, not just those who serve in a vocational sense.  It’s not that vocational ministry isn’t important; it certainly is, but lay ministry is of incredible importance and is an idea what we too easily overlook.

My older brother, Ed, is also a minister.  He and his wife, Jodi, are co-pastors at Old Union Christian Church in Jamestown, Indiana.  My younger brother, Matt, has been studying for ministry off and on in recent years.  People often ask me if our father was a minister.  Perhaps I should say, no, he wasn’t, but our mother is.  Although my mother is not a vocational minister, she could be, because we affirm that women can be ministers.  Our father, however, wasn’t a minister.  He was a steel worker, a gunsmith, a sign painter, an engraver, did tractor work for hire, and any number of other jobs to support his family.  But near the end of his life he told me he was thinking of entering the ministry.  My father had a beautiful tenor voice and was sometimes asked to sing at other churches.  He began to offer a few words along with the songs he sang, and I think it stirred in him a sense of calling.  He didn’t live long enough to become a vocational minister in the way he thought he might, but he was a minister nonetheless, and I am in ministry in large part because of his influence.

     People understand the idea of a calling, generally, to be reserved for what we refer to as vocational ministers, such as myself.  Calling, in the minds of many, is a rather narrow term that applies to ministers, pastors, missionaries, chaplains, and, perhaps, a few others, but not to the ordinary person.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Every person has a calling upon their life from God, and because they have a calling upon their life, they have a ministry as well.

Matthew writes that Jesus called his disciples to him.  That word, called, has a very specific meaning.  It doesn’t mean to just hang out – hey guys, what do you want to do today.  The word call has a very specific meaning.  It means to set aside for a particular purpose.  It carries the idea of commissioning.  Jesus called his disciples.  The disciple were ordinary people.  The disciples were not seminary trained.  They were not ordained.  The disciples were ordinary people.

In the early years of our marriage, I would often accompany Tanya to her office gatherings.  As conversations usually go, they would turn quickly to the question of vocation, and I was often asked what do you do?  I would reply, of course, that I am a minister, to which the surprising reply would often be, and what do you do the rest of the week?  Perhaps some people do not understand the work of a minister, not realizing that we have a great deal of work to do during the week.  And, in the years since, I have wondered if I should have answered their question with a few of my own – what do you do when you aren’t working?  What is your calling?  What do you do with the rest of your life?  In what ways are you ministering to others?

I would be in some kind of ministry whether or not I was a vocational minister, because my primary calling is not to serve in ministry vocationally, but to do ministry in the name of Jesus because I am his follower.  There are days when I think back fondly on the time of my life when I was not a vocational minister, not because I don’t like being a minister, but because I really enjoyed doing ministry as a lay person.  I think it is a wonderful gift that you are able to do ministry as lay people. 

2.  Ministry is not easy.
You know what’s great about people?  People.  You know what’s tough about people?  People.  Ministry is not easy because the lives of people are not always easy, and becoming involved in their lives is not easy.

  Listen again to the words of Jesus as he commissions his disciples to go out and do ministry –

16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.
18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.
19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,
20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Does that sound like a good way to motivate volunteers?  Can you imagine a church nominating committee taking that approach?  Here’s the reality, however – life is complicated.  Life can be messy.  Life can be difficult.  We can be complicated.  We can be difficult.  Stepping into the life of another person is not always easy and it is not for the faint of heart, and yet it is something that is not only very badly needed, but expected of us as we are called to do ministry.

I love what I do as a vocational minister, but I don’t always find it easy.  I know you don’t always find it easy to do your ministries, but you continue to do them.  A sense of calling propels us forward in spite of the struggles, in spite of the difficulties, and in spite of the frustrations, because it is such a gift; such a beautiful gift.

3.  Don’t be afraid to be a minister.
So don’t be afraid, Jesus says in verse 31.  Wow.  Imagine what we could do if fear were not such a presence in our lives.

Fear was a great obstacle to me when I was grappling with my sense of call.  I was a very shy kid.  I was very introverted.  I was the kid that was in the back of a classroom just hoping to blend in with the woodwork.  I was the one in the hallway at school simply trying to get through the day without being noticed.  I was the one sometimes sitting by myself in the cafeteria.  As I began to sense a call to ministry, the idea of dealing with so many people and in such public ways was totally unimaginable to me.  And when I did begin ministry, in the early years I even worried that I was in ministry, perhaps, as a way to deal with my being shy and introverted.

And, to be honest, that sense of fear has never totally left me. I don’t get as nervous performing ministerial responsibilities as I did in the past, but I can assure you that I still get nervous.  It makes me nervous to stand before the congregation and preach and lead worship.  There are times I stand here and get really nervous about what I feel led to say.  There are times when I stand up to speak at a funeral and feel terrified about trying to sum up someone’s life in a few minutes. 

Fear is for me, and I suspect for all of us, a constant companion.  Fear never goes away, but calling can supersede fear.  Fear may be ever-present in our lives, but it doesn’t have to control our lives.  Someone once told me that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome it.  I like that expression, and I think of it often.  Jesus knew his disciples would feel fear.  He knew they were going out on a difficult and challenging mission.  He knows we are as well, and he knows we will be fearful, but tells us, just as he told the disciples, don’t be afraid.

Keep your eyes and ears open and sharp this week.  Look for those opportunities to minister that God places in your path.  You may be the person someone needs.  You are, after all, a minister!

Monday, January 23, 2017

January 22, 2017 Building Faith

Everyone has faith.  Everyone. 

Do you believe that?  Can you have faith in that statement?

Religious faith certainly defines the lives of many people, as it does for us, but for others it is, perhaps faith in another person, for some it might be money, for others a job, for others it might be science or technology or medicine, and for others, an institution such as government.  No one, however, is without faith in something.  Everyone has faith.

As we continue our theme of Building this week we come to the message Building Faith, and we are talking about our faith in God and how we can build that faith; how we can make that faith more authentic in our lives, and how we can live by that faith.

Our Scripture text for the morning is one of several that I like to turn to every so often.  I use some passages on more than one occasion because they are especially powerful and they are wells of inspiration and knowledge that are extra deep and we ought to draw from them often.  The passage for today is from Genesis 12:1-4, which contains the famous story of God’s call to Abram (we generally refer to him as Abraham, but his original name is Abram.  Abram means father, and Abraham means father of a multitude, signifying the role that Abram takes as the father of the Hebrew people).  When we talk about faith, Abram is the great Biblical archetype (an archetype being the first of a kind, and Abram is certainly the first of a kind when it comes to faith) who becomes to us an example.

In Romans chapter 4, Paul refers to Abraham as an example of faith, as one who against all hope, Abraham in hope believed (Romans 4:18).  I like the way Paul phrases that sentence, because faith can at times seem to be counterintuitive.  It doesn’t always make sense, and, at times, it seems to be asking us to do things that are at odds with our self-interest.  This was certainly the case with Abraham, as God asks him to leave your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you (Genesis 12:1).  Why would Abraham give up the security he enjoyed and the company of his family for an unknown destination and an unknown future?  On one hand, it doesn’t make any sense, but on the other hand, it makes all the sense in the world, because that is the nature of faith.  Faith presents to us, at times, a contradiction, because faith so often asks us to do what seems unreasonable, unwise, and uncertain.  But doing such things is a requirement of faith, because faith seldom works to its fullest capacity when we remain in comfort, security, and certainty.

Follow along as I read the text for this morning.

Genesis 12:1-4 –

1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.

Of the many things Abraham did that serve as examples of faith, there are three in particular that I want to focus on this morning.

1.  Abraham Went.
What I find very interesting about Abraham’s call is that, as far as we know, he was just some guy living his life.  He could have been anyone.  We don’t know that there was anything particularly special about him, but he became not just special, but extraordinary, which tells us something important about God – God specializes in make the ordinary extraordinary, and that is especially true of people.  But Abraham would not have become extraordinary and he would not have been remembered by history if he had not gotten up and went, if he had not answered God’s call on his life.
In some ways, to use an analogy, worship is a classroom – a very important classroom – where we are inspired and encouraged and challenged.  It’s very easy to say, in here, a lot of things such as I love people.  All people.  But at some point, we have to leave the classroom and step out into reality and face those people, who are not always easy to love, and demonstrate the love we claim.  It doesn’t take very long, after walking out that front door, before our claims in here are put to the test.  At some point, we must move from the theoretical to the practical; from the laboratory to reality.

Faith, then, is not insular!  It does not move us into a safe bubble but out of the bubbles in which we like to live.  So, where might God be leading you to go?  What extraordinary things might he have in store for you?

2.  Abraham Advocated.
Now, I have to say that while Abraham did some extraordinary things, he was far from perfect.  He did some extraordinary things; but he also did some extraordinarily dumb things as well.  When he got things wrong, he really got them wrong, and some of Abraham’s mistakes reverberate across the millennia and continue to affect us today.  His decision to have a child, Ishmael, with Sarah’s servant Hagar, for instance, is part of the backdrop to the conflict in the Middle East.  Even though Abraham’s ill-fated decision took place millennia ago, the ramifications of it are still with us.

But when Abraham got them right, he really got them right.  And when he got things right it was because they were tied to his faith and trust in God.  One of the things Abraham got right was when he became a champion for others.  In chapter 18 of Genesis we find one of the most fascinating stories about Abraham.  In that story he pleads with God to spare Sodom.  If God were to find 50 people would he spare the city?  Yes, he would, for 50.  And the negotiating continues – 45, 40, 30, 20, and 10.
(16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way.
17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?
18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.
19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous
21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.
23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?
25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”  “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”
29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”  He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”
30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”  He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”  He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”
32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”  He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.)

The lesson Abraham learns is that God’s work is to act redemptively on behalf of people.  Abraham needed to learn the necessity of taking up for people, and working for them and for their good, the lesson of advocating for people, and the lesson of allowing faith to move us into the lives of other people to work on their behalf.

Faith is personal, but it is not solitary.  Faith has a communal aspect. Faith, without that communal aspect, James reminds us, is not fully alive. 
(James 2:14-18 –
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.
16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.)
James says, in essence, that talk is not just cheap; talk is generally not worth much if it is not attached to something.  People want to see words demonstrated by action.  If we say for instance, that we love people, but we do nothing about their circumstances and do nothing to demonstrate that love, we have done little more than utter cheap and worthless words.
Jesus, in Matthew 25, also tells us about the importance of advocating on the behalf of others –
(Matthew 25:31-44 –
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.
32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Faith is action, not just words. Martin Luther King, Jr. often spoke of what he called the beloved community.  I love the image of that phrase.  The church, the people of God, are called to become that beloved community, the community that will advocate on behalf of those who have no advocate, the place that will stand up for those who have no one to stand for them, and the place that will speak on behalf of those who have no voice.  To do this brings a much-needed authenticity to faith.

3.  Abraham Trusted.
One of my biggest issues with skeptics is the claim they often make that faith is “blind;” that is, it is without questions and doubts, but if you do have any questions and doubts they will claim you don’t really have faith.  Here is an important point, however – faith is not without questions and it is not without doubts.  Abraham had doubts and questions.  Sometimes, in our modern era, we put too much emphasis on answers, and the need for answers.  We are uncomfortable with questions and with mystery.  Perhaps that is one of the results of living in a technological and scientific age – we fall for the false premise that every answer not only has an answer, but must have an answer.  Having doubts and questions is not wrong.  Too many people – wherever they fall on the belief/unbelief spectrum – will say that doubt and questions are a sign that your faith is failing. I would say that having doubts and questions is the sign not of a struggling faith but of a healthy faith.

To use another analogy, people often say they will get married when they can afford it.  How much money do you have to have before you can afford to get married?  Many people, in fact, look so fondly on their early years of marriage – when they had nothing – as their favorite time in marriage!  Some people also say they will wait to have children until they can afford them.  Do you know when that day comes?  Never!  In the same way, you don’t need every question answered before you can have faith.  You don’t have to say, when I get all my questions answered I’ll have faith.

Now, allow me to add another point, and it is that faith is not the same as belief.  Faith and belief are two different things.  Belief is agreement of and ascent to a list of doctrines and dogmas.  That is not the same as faith. I read an interesting article in the New York Times recently that illustrated this point.  The article was written by Nicholas Kristoff and titled, Am I A Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller?  (Timothy Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.  You can read the article at –  I wrote a response to Mr. Kristoff, though I’m sure I won’t hear back from him).

The difference between faith and belief can be explained in this way – belief agrees that love exists and is important to practice.  Belief says I believe in love.  I believe that it is patient, and kind, and all those other descriptive adjectives that are given in I Corinthians 13.  Faith, however, is living out that love according to the way it is described in I Corinthians 13.  Belief says I believe in trusting God and I believe that God asks us to forgive.  Faith is actually doing those things.

Belief is relatively easy; faith, on the other hand, is tough.  And perhaps that is why some corners of the church prefer to insist on belief much more than faith, because it is easier to sign off on a creed or statement of belief than it is to actually practice faith.  Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not in any way denigrating belief; I think there are some things that are very important to believe, but faith puts the hands and feet to our beliefs.

Let’s be like Abraham.  Let’s allow God to make our ordinary into extraordinary.  Let’s go, as Abraham did, where God leads us.  Let’s advocate on behalf of the people who need an advocate.  And let us, in all things, trust God as we live out our faith!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January 15, 2017 Building the Church

Back in my seminary days a professor asked our class this question – how do you build a church?  We knew, of course, that he wasn’t asking how to construct a church building.  We assumed he was asking how to build a church in terms of membership, attendance, budget, activities, programs, and ministries.  We gave all types of answers, within those particular parameters, thinking we were giving good and accurate answers, but it was very obvious our professor believed we hadn’t really answered the question accurately.  I remember that discussion very well, and I also remember that he never told us what he believed was the one, great, defining answer for how we are to build the church.  Instead, he simply told us this – you better figure it out.  Well, that wasn’t really helpful, or was it?  In fact, it greatly worried me, because I thought, what if I don’t figure it out?  What will happen? 

What does it mean to build the church?  I’ve spent a lot of time considering that question over the years, and I’ve worked hard to try to help build the churches where I have served.  But the answer to that question is not as simple as it might seem.  In one sense, the answer is as numerous as the people to whom we pose that question.  But is every answer given a valid answer to the question of what it means to build the church?  In a word, no.  When we talk of building the church, we are not talking about the physical construction of a church building or even the work we do to build the membership or attendance of a particular congregation.  When we speak of building the church, we are speaking of accomplishing the one larger, overarching, primary purpose of which Jesus spoke when he said those words to Peter, on this rock I will build my church.

So let me ask you, how do you build the church?  Does a particular answer come to mind when I ask that question?  Have we figured out that question?  Anyone want to call out an answer?  What does it mean to build the church?

Since this series of messages is based upon the theme of building, and because it is based upon a verse of Scripture in which Jesus speaks of building his church, it is time to consider the topic of Building the Church. Let’s turn to the passage that serves as the foundation to this series of messages and see what we find.

Matthew 16:13-18 –

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

I have two points to make this morning, the first of which is –

1. We Must Ask the Right Question When We Talk About the Church.
This is where, I believe, a lot of books and conferences about churches miss the mark.  They speak of building a particular facet of the church, such as attendance, or the budget, without necessarily speaking to the purpose of Jesus when he spoke of the church.  They begin with a list of questions – how can you get more people to attend your church?  How can you increase your giving?  How can you recruit volunteers more effectively?  And on and on the questions go, all of which are the wrong questions if you want to arrive at the most important answer about how to build the church.  Now, it’s not that those questions and the activities to which they speak are totally wrong; we certainly want to increase attendance and grow a budget, and we want to have effective ministries, but it can be deceptively easy to miss the primary purpose and calling of the church while focusing on those other activities, and these questions do not lead us to that primary purpose and calling.

We also need to acknowledge that another question we ask when it comes to the church is the wrong question.  We often ask of others, or of ourselves, what are you – or what am I – looking for in a church? 

Some people might choose by architectural style.  I’ve taken people through our building and heard them say your church has such a great building.  I hosted a meeting once and a person in attendance looked around this room, noted the lack of pews, noted the basketball goals, and said, I couldn’t worship in a building like this.  I’m certain that when it comes to what matters most, Jesus is not looking for a particular architectural style.  Some people are drawn in by the music.  Some churches have top-notch bands, great choirs, powerful instrumentalists, and those blessings draw people to the church. I’m certain that when it comes to what matters most, Jesus is not looking for either a particular musical style or perhaps not even looking for music in a church.  I’m certain he’s not looking for particular programs.  I am certain that he’s looking for a particular kind of people.  I am absolutely certain of that.

Buildings, programs, and ministries are tools to the larger purpose.  What we have to be careful to avoid is the ease at which the tools can become the primary purpose.  The tools are a means to the end, but the tools cannot become the end.  If they do, the church becomes little more than a good works organization and it is so much more.

What are you looking for in a church is the wrong question because the correct question is, what is Jesus looking for in his church?  When we ask others what they are looking for in a church or ask ourselves what we desire in a church we are making our image and our desire for the church primary, and that is not in keeping with the purpose of the church.  

2.  What Is Jesus Looking for In His Church?
Jesus, Matthew tells us, takes his disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi.  And he first asks them who do people say that I am?  And the disciples give their answers, some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.  Then Jesus gets much more personal and pointed, as he asks, but what about you?  Who do you say I am?  And Peter gives his great answer, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, to which Jesus responds, blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by 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 overcome it.  Peter, probably without realizing, gave Jesus the answer he was looking for, and Jesus affirms this by saying on this rock I will build my church.  What is in that answer that provides the foundation for building the church?  Peter recognized you build the church by connecting people to Jesus.  That is what Jesus is looking for in the church – connecting people to him.

Sounds really simple, doesn’t it?  And yet, for all its simplicity, we can miss it.  We are called to build the church, and by the church I mean this church; every church; the kingdom of God; we do it by connecting people to Jesus.  Not to a building, not to a ministry, not to other people, not to a program, but to Jesus.

I grew up in a part of the country that did not possess a strong church culture.  There simply wasn’t a strong culture of going to church.  The far majority of my friends never went to church.  Never.  Most of the churches were not that large.  When I moved to the south I was surprised at the number of churches, how many big churches there were, and how much activity took place at and through the churches.  It was a new experience to see people going to church on Sunday night and Wednesday night and all the other activities that took place the rest of the week.  My home church didn’t have a lot going on, in terms of activities.  We didn’t have a music director or a youth director.  We didn’t have much of a children’s program or youth program.  Nothing much has changed there in all the years since I’ve moved away from there.  The sanctuary looks exactly the same, except for the carpet.  You walk the same creaky steps to get to the sanctuary, which is on the second floor, because it’s only a block from the river and gets flooded every so many years.  I can still tell you where the steps creak, because we learned to avoid those spots when we came in church late because we went to Wilson’s Grocery between Sunday School and the worship service.  The fellowship hall looks exactly the same.  The Sunday School rooms are exactly the same.  On the occasion that I am able to walk into that church it’s a bit like stepping into a time machine, because it looks the same.  I love that church and always will, because what that church did was connect me to Jesus, and I am profoundly grateful for that gift.  There were wonderful people there who helped to teach me and to nurture my spiritual life, but they pointed beyond themselves to the greater purpose of connecting me to God.

And that lesson helped me to understand the need to help connect others to Jesus.  I was not very successful in convincing my unchurched friends to attend my church, but what I did learn was that they were willing to go to church camp with me.  One of my friends went with me and not only enjoyed it very much, late in the week he told me he wanted to be baptized.  We were walking to the barn – where the guys slept – one afternoon at the beginning of free time when he told me the week meant a lot to him and he decided he wanted to be baptized.  I told him we should speak to one of the counselors and he told me, no, I want you to baptize me.  I struggled with what to say, as I was surprised at his request.  I hadn’t been to college or seminary; I was still in high school and had yet to understand a call to ministry.  But he was insistent that I should baptize him, and asked that we walk down to the creek that ran along the edge of the camp to find a place deep enough to baptize him.  We climbed down the bank, splashed through the creek a short distance until we found a pool deep enough, and there, with just the two of us present (and God, of course) I baptized him, without any real idea if I was doing it correctly or not.  I am grateful for that moment, and I am grateful that my friend became connected with Jesus, because that is what I am called to do – connect others to Jesus.  We are all, in fact, called to connect others to Jesus.

Everyone is born with the need for that connection, whether or not they acknowledge it.  Everyone is spiritual.  Everyone.  Even the most ardent atheist is born spiritual, even though they will most likely deny it.  Our task is to help awaken people to that spirituality that is already within them, however deeply buried it may be.

If we replace the need to be connected with Jesus with the latest and greatest programming and activities, we haven’t truly built the church.  If we attract people with a great facility, but we don’t connect people to Jesus, we haven’t really built the church.  If we have music that outdoes every other church, but we don’t connect people to Jesus, we haven’t really built the church.  If we have a lot of great, flashy programming, but we don’t connect people to Jesus, we haven’t really built the church.  If we have a parking lot full not only on Sunday but also throughout the week, but we don’t connect people to Jesus, we haven’t really built the church.  

So let’s connect people to Jesus, and build the church!