A New Church
I must admit this morning that I am a bit anxious about this whole thing. Have you ever prayed for something for a long time and then all of a sudden, it’s right in front of you? We’ve been praying about this new church for over two years and now it’s September 5. What do you do? Tim kept mocking me saying he was going to find me 5 minutes before the service in the closet curled up into a ball and crying…and he did.
What makes me more nervous about this whole thing is not the organization of it, though that’s a bit anxiety-inducing. It’s not all the planning we’ve been doing for 6 months now. I’m not even nervous about what’s going to happen with the future of this thing. I’m anxious about this moment right now.
You see, once you get going with something like this you can kind of get a handle on things. After you’ve been doing something for a while don’t you get used to how things work? For me, though, the thing that makes me most anxious is the first time you do something. Now, I’ve preached before, on many occasions, but I’ve never preached the first sermon for a new church.
How do you prepare for such an event? As I sat down to write this sermon I was thinking about everything it had to do. It has to:
1. Cast a vision as to what Cornerstone Fellowship is.
2. Inform people as to why a new church is needed in Kilgore, TX.
3. Set the pace for what we hope to accomplish as a new church.
4. Excite people who might be interested in joining.
This is way too many things for a first sermon to accomplish, so I sat back down and threw out everything I had and started over. I think sometimes preachers tend to overcomplicate things. I include myself here. Instead of focusing on the one or two things that are necessary, we try to get as much into a sermon as possible. We have to tell the right stories and make the right jokes at the right time to engage the audience. We’ve got to make sure we use the right anecdotes so that people will know we’re serious but not too heavy-handed. And occasionally we’ve got to throw in a story about someone we know who got hit by a bus leaving church so you’ll know that your days are numbered.
As I was talking to Amanda about this the other day it occurred to me that the times when I’ve felt the Holy Spirit moving the most during my messages were the ones in which I didn’t do much except open the Bible and simply talk about the truth. In fact, the simplest messages are the most effective. What about vision casting and information about the church? What about setting the pace for the future and exciting prospective members about what you hope to accomplish?
Let’s just throw all that out and focus on what the Bible says. Maybe that will be all the vision we need. Maybe that will set the pace for us. Maybe that will be informative and exciting. I don’t blame preachers completely for this. We as congregants tend to like to be entertained. We want funny stories. We want jokes and anecdotes. We even occasionally like the stories about the bus because at least they’re chilling.
I’m going to make a promise to you now. I’m not the most gifted orator. I’m not the most thorough Bible scholar. I’m not the smartest man in the world. (I know that last one shocked some of you.) My hope and prayer in all of this is that we will be faithful to the Word of God. I will try to be as simple as possible, presenting the Word as the truth and trying as hard as I can to limit the amount of me in the sermon. I pray that as a group we will strive to understand the truth in scripture, thinking critically about it when things possibly offend you or when you’ve never thought about scripture in that way.
The Bible is an ancient text, so we owe it to ourselves and to our Heavenly Father to study it well and not just look at it occasionally, but we also owe it to ourselves and God not to add our own biases to the text. We must seek out the truth in scripture and then apply it to our lives. We must be honest about where it convicts us and attempt to change. We must be open when it challenges us. We must be faithful to study it.
That was a long introduction.
As we were thinking about where in the Bible to start our journey as a new church, one book came up over and over. It was, for us, the logical starting point.
These first two chapters set the stage for the new church that was forming right before the apostles’ eyes.
Looking at the apostles shortly after the resurrection of Jesus, we see them asking Jesus about restoring his kingdom to Israel. It’s almost amazing to believe at this point, but the disciples still don’t seem to get what Jesus was talking about. They’re still looking for a physical kingdom of Israel. They had no clue what was about to happen to them. The Holy Spirit was about to manifest himself in a very radical way.
Jesus responds how he always responded when asked about the restoration of the kingdom or his own imminent return. He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” That’s just like Jesus, isn’t it? When asked a question about the physical and temporal, he always responds with an answer about the spiritual and eternal. But that wasn’t enough. As if to let the disciples know what they were in for, he gave them a bit of insight into what was going to happen next.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…”
You think you’ve experienced power and authority by watching me do miracles, but you’re about to see that not only was I meant to come to earth, die, and rise again, but you also were meant for a purpose. You will receive power. You won’t just observe the power and authority; it will come from the Spirit living in you. You will be the agent through which I will accomplish all the things you’ve seen me doing. You will receive power.
“…and you will be my witnesses…”
It’s interesting that this is part of Jesus’ response to the restoration of the kingdom. Jesus is not about anything temporal or physical. He is eternal and spiritual. It’s almost as if he is saying: “if you want to see the restoration of my kingdom, then you are going to be my witnesses. You are going to take my message of grace and love to the world. You are going to be the agents of change. You are going to be the restoration you long to see. You will be my witnesses.”
Then Jesus lists off the spheres of influence that his witnesses will have. There are all kinds of applications we can make with this short passage, but I think the broader point is this: there are people all over the world who need to hear the gospel and if it’s going to get there, it’s going to happen because you are taking it. This is the genius of God’s plan. Rather than have his only son spend several lifetimes trying to take the message of love around the world, he had him disciple 12 men, pour his life into them, and then set them loose on the world, with the goal of spreading the message as far as they could.
The mission continues to this day. That’s why we’re here. This is the purpose of our existence. This is why more churches need to be started, to complete the mission given by Jesus to his disciples.
There is somewhere around 11,000 people living in Kilgore that aren’t involved in any kind of church. This is why there needed to be another church in Kilgore. None of our churches can reach that many people. None of the churches in town are built to reach that large of an audience. Practically speaking, it won’t work.
We need 10 more churches in this town, not just this one. We hope to be a part of a church planting movement. We want to plant more churches. We want to reach every man, woman, and child with the gospel of Jesus. It’s going to take new strategies, new methods. We’ve got to fulfill what Paul calls the “Ministry of Reconciliation,” reconciling people to God.
Then there’s a really funny thing that happens right after this. Jesus has given his disciples this mission then he ascends into heaven, disappears right in front of them. While they’re standing looking at the sky with mouths agape, two men appear next to them wearing white robes. These two men say to the disciples “…why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who has taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
It’s like Jesus knew they were just standing there looking at the sky, so he had to send two guys to say, “Go now!”
So the disciples have their mission. Now they’re in the upper room sitting around waiting for something to happen. What happened you ask? God showed up.
Imagine if you will that you’re sitting in a room perhaps a lot like this. You’re with 11 of your closest friends and you’ve been in prayer for a while waiting for something to happen. You don’t really know what will happen nor do you understand what Jesus really meant about receiving power, much less anything about the Holy Spirit. All of a sudden you hear the sound of wind. Perhaps you might even feel a small breeze. The wind sound gets louder and louder until it’s so loud that it sounds like a freight train might just come through the window. (Which could be a reality in this place.) Remember, all of this is happening inside.
Then, in the midst of the indoor windstorm, there are divided tongues like fire that appear and rest on each one of them. So now your ears are bleeding because of the freight train sound that won’t stop and your hair is on fire. As if that weren’t enough, they are then filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak languages that they don’t know. So just to refresh, here’s the picture: freight train wind sound inside the house, tongues of flame dancing on your head, and above all that is the cacophony of everyone speaking a language he doesn’t understand. Now that’s a party!
Now this caused a bit of commotion, so people from all over gathered around and heard the mighty works of God in his native language. This caused some to speculate that the disciples were a little bit loaded.
What follows is just about the gutsiest sermon ever preached by a non-deity. Peter stands up and begins to speak to all of those gathered around. He shares with them prophecy from the prophet Joel about the Spirit being poured out on all and the signs of the end of days.
He goes on to share with the people about Jesus, who he was, why he came, and the amazing things he did. Peter makes the bold statement that Jesus was the Messiah and the even bolder statement that the Pharisees (many of whom were in the crowd) were the ones who had killed Jesus. Not really the way to make friends with your audience.
Perhaps this boldness evident in Peter was not of Peter’s doing, but the Holy Spirit’s. Remember that not very long before this Peter was denying he even knew Jesus. What was the change? Peter was still Peter. He hadn’t miraculously become some other person. The difference was the Spirit of God. Perhaps the Spirit of God really does save us.
Perhaps the Spirit really does set us free to be who God wants us to be. Perhaps the Sprit really does give us boldness to speak the truth no matter what the consequences. Perhaps the Sprit really does give us words to say when we can’t think of any. Maybe the concern is more about our willingness to be used for the purposes of Jesus.
What happened next is remarkable. After Peter’s bold and convicting sermon concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, 3000 people repented and turned to Jesus to save their sins. Was this Peter’s effective sermon delivery? Was it his clever use of alliteration or allegory? Perhaps maybe it had to do with his superior intellectual ability.
We’ve already talked about Peter’s delivery. It was bold and confrontational. While I’m sure literary and linguistic elements existed in the language of the time, I think it’s a stretch to assume Peter was a master linguist. His vocational background was that of a fisherman. He probably wasn’t the most gifted orator or user of language idiom. How about his intellectual ability? While he probably wasn’t stupid, I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t the brightest person either. Again, he was a fisherman.
Why am I giving Peter a hard time? It has nothing to do with him. I’m just making the point that Peter was a vessel. The Spirit was the one preaching. The Spirit was the one who gave utterance to Peter. The Spirit was the one so that God would get the glory, not Peter.
Taking a look at Peter’s sermon itself we see the message is very basic:
1. The promises by God made in the Old Testament have now been fulfilled with the coming of Jesus the Messiah.
2. Jesus was anointed as Messiah by God at His baptism.
3. Jesus began His ministry in Galilee after His baptism.
4. His ministry was characterized by doing good and performing mighty works by means of the power of God.
5. The Messiah was crucified according to the purpose of God.
6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to His disciples.
7. Jesus was exalted by God and given the name “Lord.”
8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God.
9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things.
10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized.
This is the gospel in all its simplicity. Ten brief statements of truth. Ten principles easily understood. This is the heart of our message. Why talk about this at a new church launch?
It’s necessary to what we are as a body and who we are as individuals. We will be witnesses. Witnesses to what? Jesus Christ and his message of truth. If we miss this, we will flounder into meaninglessness. If we grasp this truth, perhaps God will use this body to grow his kingdom and make his name known in Kilgore.
The message is simple and straightforward, even to listeners today. I may not have been in the angry mob that called for Jesus’ crucifixion. I may not have been one of the members of the Sanhedrin who accused Jesus and coerced the leaders to conduct illegal trials. I may not have been Pilate or Herod or a Roman soldier who performed the execution, but I am as guilty as they all are. In light of this truth, the only response is repentance and baptism, to be called out of a life of darkness into the marvelous light of salvation.
Through this simple message 3000 people received the truth and were baptized. It is the same for us today. If we will simply tell the truth about the message of Christ and trust the Holy Spirit to do the work for us, we will be much more successful. There was nothing special about Peter. In fact, one could argue that another apostle might have been more eloquent and perhaps easier to listen to. But the fact remains that Peter’s message was powerful and effective.
Think about that number for a moment: 3000. Did they all fill out decision cards and the apostles counted them after the service and came up with the number, 3000? Probably not. Could this have been a round number illustrating a large group of people? Most likely. Does that diminish the truth of the gospel? Not at all.
The point Luke is making here is that the gospel message Peter preached pierced the hearts of those listening and they made a decision to repent of their sins. The gospel message is true for all listeners. Again, the issue isn’t presentation style or length. The issue is about preaching the truth and only the truth.
How does this apply to us as a new church? The message of Jesus is the most important thing we could preach. We call all believers to preach this message of truth. God used Peter. Surely he can use us too. We call all of you to first come to a point where you realize you need to repent of your sins and turn to Jesus for salvation. Then we call you to participate in the process of the gospel and tell others about this new life you’ve found. It’s the path of all believers, the calling of all Christians.
How do we achieve this?
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Does this mean that all 3000 continually met together and had “church?” Probably not. However, they met together in some form and studied the apostles’ teachings. They met for the purpose of being encouraged and to study the truth that would help guide them throughout life.
Thinking about the four things listed in the scripture we see perhaps a model upon which we can base our assemblies. First of all, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They studied the truth and the scripture. They remembered what Jesus said. They talked about what that meant for their lives. They learned the truth. This is perhaps the utmost of importance when we think about starting a new church. How should it be structured?
We should be as accurate scripturally as we can be. We should search the truth we have in order to discover what we should look like. We should devote ourselves to it. We’re going to mess up plenty around here. We’re going to make mistakes and offend people. We’re going to do things we regret and then have to change them. Hopefully, however, we will constantly search the scriptures to discover what it is we should look like and then adjust accordingly. The Bible is our source of truth. It gives us the basis for our faith. We follow the scripture.
Secondly, Luke says they devoted themselves to fellowship. Community is a major part of who we are. We strive to promote healthy relationships. We want people to get involved and meet new people. We want to build unity and love within our membership. Why? We believe that everyone is broken. We all have our faults and our hang-ups. We all have things we struggle with. We all have been hurt. We also believe that we get better together. We believe strong relationships help us to heal.
That’s why alcoholics anonymous and rehab clinics work so well. It’s why group therapy and group counseling works. If we can ever see that we are not alone, it becomes easier to get better. When we learn that everyone is broken, it makes our own brokenness seem perhaps a little easier together. We are all in this together. I have to depend on you and you have to depend on me.
Scripture also says they broke bread and prayed together. They ate with each other and they petitioned the Lord together. What better way is there for God’s people to grow closer to him and closer to each other? I don’t know about you, but when I share a meal with someone I feel like I really begin to get to know him or her. When I spend time baring my soul in prayer, I allow someone to get to know me better. We exist to build each other up and support each other not only in ministry, but also in life.
This next part is one of my favorites in all of scripture.
“And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
What kind of crazy people were these? They lived together and sold their stuff and gave the money away? They met each other’s needs? I think this gives us an example to follow concerning our own fellowship. How willing are we to try to meet another’s needs? How eager are we to provide a space for others to live, at length if necessary? Are we so concerned with our own stuff and our own privacy that we would allow someone to be without? Are we so taken by the American dream that we wouldn’t give to someone who needed it because we have plans for that money? Are we so focused on maintaining our quality of life that we forget people are struggling to live at all?
Understand that I’m not trying to make you feel guilty and that this is condemning to me as well.
This comes down to why we’re starting a new church. It has been said, with some accuracy I might add, that there are plenty of churches in Kilgore. There are. There are great churches in town, of all denomination, but we want to set a precedent, here today, that we are going to strive to be different.
We have no traditions to which we must hold. We have no past. We only have today. We want to raise up a generation of Christians that want their faith to be real. We want people’s lives to be changed. We want this community to experience revival, revival that isn’t planned, but happens because God’s Spirit is being poured out. We want to see God’s kingdom come. We can’t be all things to all people; no church can. We just want to be a part of the movement. Perhaps we’ll fill your needs. Perhaps we won’t. That’s ok. We’re not here because we want to grow a large congregation although we do hope people will come. We’re not here because we’re trying to change everything about church although we are going to do things differently. We are here because we want to be obedient to God’s call on our lives. We are here because we want people to come to know Christ. We are here because we want to be a place where sick people get well. We want the broken. We want the disenfranchised. We want the hurt and angry. We want the sinners. We want the weary. Why? Because our God is a great God. He can heal the broken. He can give purpose and meaning to the disenfranchised. He can comfort the hurt and restore faith in the angry. He can forgive the sinners and give rest to the weary. We want you to know him. We want you to grow in your relationship with him. We want you to tell others. In fact, that’s our progression of faith. We want you to KNOW, to GROW, and to GO.
We hope you find a church home. We’d love for it to be here, but we’ll help you find a place where you’re comfortable. If you’re looking for traditional church, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for choirs and suits, this isn’t it. Like I said before, we’re in our infancy stage. Things are going to be messy and inconsistent. We hope we make it through that stage very quickly, but we all have to learn.
We’d love for you to come learn with us. And maybe we’ll see the world changed.