Last week our staff (and one of our students) attended the RightNow conference in Dallas. The theme of the conference was Lead Beyond Our Walls. The whole idea was to impress upon us the vision that the church exists not for itself but for those outside of it. We exist so that others may come to know Jesus.
That’s it. That’s the whole purpose.
If, then, we are to be an effective arm of the church, we must reach beyond the walls of this building into the community around us. It’s what we’ve been talking about since day one. We exist to serve those outside of our body. For a world that is lost and dying we must be the physicians who take the healing word of God into their midst.
We’re going to look at several scriptures this morning. I know that’s not my normal method, I generally prefer to preach through a particular passage or book, but I think there are some things we need to talk about in relation to this idea that the church should go beyond our walls and there’s no one passage that can communicate this truth completely.
In the early days of the church, the numbers were growing like wild fire. It seemed all they had to do was preach the word and hundreds or thousands of people were professing Christ and being baptized. Along the way the numbers grew so quickly, certain people were being neglected. The church recognized that part of their mission was to take care of those less fortunate, but the apostles ran into the problem that there simply wasn’t enough time in the day for them to both preach the message they had been given and distribute food to the needy widows. They came up with a plan to help themselves out.
“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables…” When I first read this verse I thought to myself that the apostles were being selfish. I thought that they should help feed the widows and stop complaining. As I’ve studied this passage, though, I’ve come to realize that yes the apostles were smarter than me. There are a couple of things going on here that we need to address.
First of all, the ministry of the church is to help needy people AND to preach the gospel. It must be both. When you meet needs and don’t preach the gospel you are simply a charitable organization. You’re the Peace Corp, the Salvation Army, or United Way. All these are good organizations, but not the church. When you preach the gospel and don’t meet people’s needs, you’re a religious fanatic. You have all the truth, but no love, and nobody listens to someone with no love.
The second thing we see in this passage is one of the most important things I can articulate to you. The work of the church is for the whole church. There is no position that is greater than another. One of the preachers last weekend made the point that in this scripture the apostles said it “is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables…” In fact, it wasn’t right for them to give up preaching the word. They were performing the task God had given them to do, but there was still the ministry of mercy that had to be performed. They needed some others to help them. So they set apart seven other men who were themselves of good character, who had been faithful in the early days of the church, to help serve the widows in the congregation. If, however, it was not right for the apostles to give up preaching the word to wait tables, then it was also not right for the others to give up waiting tables to preach the word. We’ve somehow developed this perverse idea that people “in the ministry” are more holy than everyone else. They’ve got a “special calling” on their lives and are somehow more important than everyone else. The truth is simply that we all have different gifts and different jobs to do. My particular job in this endeavor is to preach. It’s about the only thing I can do. I’m trained for nothing else. My skill set is limited. (Some might say my skill set doesn’t even include preaching.)
The deacons were set apart to serve the widows. That was their task. There is no “higher calling.” There is one calling, “Follow me.” We are supposed to follow Jesus, all of us. No Christian is released from this. You see, I think some of the fault lies with the leaders of the church. We haven’t done much to kill the idea that there isn’t more than one calling. We’ve established this bogus concept that people on church staff are “in the ministry” and everyone else is just a layperson in a secular job. That’s another thing we’ve done. We’ve established this idea of secular and sacred. Some things are sacred, like a church building and certain jobs. Some types of music are ok to listen to because they sing of “Christian” things and all other music is bad. Some of the fault lies with us.
Some of the fault, however, lies with the church body at large. Erwin McManus said that multiple callings were simply layers of apathy. Before you don’t get offended by this, let me expound. Perhaps we’ve invented these multiple callings (surrendered to the ministry, called into missions, etc.) because we don’t want to do the work. Perhaps we pass ministry off to the pastor or the church staff because we can’t be bothered to do what we’re supposed to do. When Jesus saw Peter and Andrew mending their nets on the shore of the sea, he simply told them “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus said “Follow me.” There is one calling. If you are a Christian, you are a minister. There’s urgency that you develop an understanding of the importance of your own calling. You are part of God’s plan of redemption for the nations. Your part is important. In fact, by refusing to do your part, you cause the whole body to suffer.
Work is worship. One of the things we fail to realize is that worship is not just the hour and a half we spend in this building on Sunday mornings. Worship isn’t just the time we spend at youth camp or some other gathering of believers. Every moment we spend in every day can be an act of worship. Your work can be your worship. God created you the way you are. He wired you to like the things you like. He knows what stirs your soul and gets you going. The way you live is an act of worship. Even your work is worship.
In this passage Paul tells the Ephesians to obey their masters. Paul was not condoning slavery, he just accepted the fact that slavery existed in the first century and offered advice for how slaves and masters should interact. Our work is worship. Even in our jobs we can serve the Kingdom and the King. This is the first step for taking the gospel beyond our walls. You must recognize that God put you where you are so you can serve his kingdom and his purposes. Paul was simply telling the Ephesians that in every relationship, they were to honor Jesus. If you’re a slave, be a good slave. If you’re a master, be a fair master. The gospel levels the playing field. The gospel releases the supervisor from self-importance and the supervised from self pity. The gospel makes everyone equal. It’s the biggest revolution in social justice the world has ever seen. We talked about it a few weeks ago. Partiality is a sin because God views us all equally. So what happens is that I begin to realize that my place in the world may not have as much to do with me as it does with God. I am set free from the self-importance I find because God is the one who put me in place to be a good boss. I am freed from self-pity because God placed me here to be an example to my leaders and co-workers. I am an ambassador for Christ in the world. It is my job to spread the love of Jesus. One of the speakers last week made the statement that as Christians we are to be traffickers of God’s grace. Wherever we go, we traffic the grace of God, showing people what Jesus meant when he said “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor as yourself.”
How do we do this? I am either setting you free or scaring you to death right now. Most of us are terrified of being ministers because we’re afraid we won’t know what to say or how to say it. We’re scared to death that someone will ask us a question to which we won’t know the answer, or worse, we’ll be confronted by someone who is antagonistic toward the gospel and will be left stuttering over our words as we try to say “Jesus loves you.” Where do we start?
We expect that when we become Christians we’ll automatically be filled with all the right thoughts and all the right words. The truth is, we live in a fallen world and we still have to deal with all the garbage that comes along with it. One of the pastors this past week quoted author E. Stanley Jones when he said “You can’t expect to see God in the occasional if you neglect him in the continuous.” We want to see the miraculous but we don’t want to pay the price of knowing God every day.
If you want to be an effective minister where you are, I’m going to give you three things to think about, three ways to improve your witness, three ways to pursue a better ministry. The first is this: Seek God continuously. Here are several scriptures (there are many, many more) that deal with our need to develop our relationship with God:
1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.
James 5:13-18 Prayer is the appropriate response in every situation.
Matthew 6:9 When you pray, pray like this.
Acts 2:42 The new church devoted itself to the Apostles’ teaching…and prayer.
Ephesians 6:10-20 The last piece of the Armor of God we put on is prayer at all times.
Seek God continuously. In order to know the Father we have to spend time with him. Most of us only spend time in prayer over meals; we don’t spend hours on our knees petitioning the Father on someone else’s behalf. We don’t spend years praying over a particular situation. Most of us don’t even spend hours. We’re so used to getting things quickly that we’ll pray for something once and then get mad when we don’t get it. Scripture seems to implore us that prayer is a constant thing, a permanent attitude we should have. We can’t expect to see the miraculous if we don’t know what to look for.
I think God is waiting for us to be faithful in prayer. I think God is waiting for us to get serious about knowing him. I think God wants to show us what he can do in the nations if we’ll just ask for it. 2 Chronicles 7:14 tells us to humble ourselves and pray. For God to open up the heavens all we have to do is ask. James even reminded us that we don’t have because we don’t ask, or we ask with the wrong motives. Prayer seems to be the answer to knowing God.
The other part of this is spending time in the Word. If we’re going to know God, we must know what he has said. Most of us are waiting to act because we’re waiting for the “will of God.” Waiting for the will of God is a spiritual way of being lazy. 99% of what God is going to tell us to do he has already told us in his word, we just don’t know it because we don’t read it.
We must begin by reorganizing our thoughts. Jesus is our King. In a Kingdom, the subjects serve the will of the King. We’ve been polluted by democracy. We believe we have a voice and a vote in what happens in the universe because our allegiance lies in a country and its laws. Instead, when we become a Christian, our citizenship is transferred from a temporal democracy to an eternal kingdom. Our allegiance is to Jesus. Our work is no longer for ourselves, but for Jesus. Our jobs are no longer secular, but sacred. Seek God continuously. Strive to know the Father. Don’t expect to see the miraculous if you haven’t done the hard work of knowing God.
The second thing to remember in taking the gospel beyond our walls is to be vulnerable with people. I think that part of our problem is that we have this idea of who Christians are supposed to be. We think that we’re supposed to be these perfect little people who never get hurt and don’t have any problems anymore. We even put on pretty faces when we “go to church” so that no one will see that we are broken. In doing this, though, we hurt our mission to spread the love of Jesus. Instead of people being drawn to a perfect God, they are turned off by our hypocrisy. Let people see the real you. Instead of being two different people, be the same person no matter where you are. This allows people to see that it’s the grace of God that changes us, not that we are such great people.
I’m convinced that the greatest single obstacle to the advancing of the gospel is not that God had a bad plan, but that people are inauthentic. We should be honest about who we are and let people get to know a loving, grace-giving God who meets us just how we are.
This is a story about Jesus. Jesus was travelling from Judea to Galilee and decided to take a shortcut through Samaria. This was an odd decision because Jews did not go through Samaria. In fact, Jews went miles out of their way simply to avoid Samaria. In the process, he stopped at a well to rest while sending the disciples on ahead to buy some food. While resting at the well, he encountered a Samaritan woman coming to get water. This began a conversation that would lead to salvation for the entire region.
Jesus started by engaging her physical need. She had come to the well to draw water. Jesus mentioned to her that if she really understood the gift of God and who it was speaking to her, she would ask for and receive living water. (Jesus was a masterful conversationalist.) He took her from her physical need of water to her spiritual need for a savior. He confronted her desire for everlasting water by telling her to call her husband. In response to this, she answered that she didn’t have a husband. Then Jesus confronted her sin. He told her everything she had ever done. He knew her. This must have been startling for her to realize. Jesus knew her indiscretions and he was still talking to her. He had committed the ultimate taboo for a Jewish man and spoke with a Samaritan woman. She needed no further convincing.
As the disciples returned to Jesus, she left her water jar sitting by the well and went back into town telling the people to “come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” She went back into town. This was small-town Samaria. Her reputation was probably well known. What is incredible about this encounter is that she no longer cared. She had been going to the well in the middle of the day in order to not draw attention to herself. She went back into town calling out all the townspeople, not caring if they saw her. What was the difference? There was a man who told her everything about herself and he didn’t care. He didn’t care that she was a promiscuous woman. He didn’t care that she’d had 5 husbands. He didn’t care that the man she was with now wasn’t her husband. He didn’t care that she was a Samaritan woman. He didn’t care.
There’s something amazing about the grace of God. Paul says it’s scandalous. God’s grace goes far beyond our sin. When we’re vulnerable and we freely admit our brokenness to others, they are able, in turn, to recognize what the grace of God can do for them. Our vulnerability, our honesty with others is what will turn them toward the Father. Our witness, our testimony is not how much we know about Jesus, it’s not simply sharing the “Roman Road” with everyone, it’s telling our story. “Come see a man…” Jesus told me everything I had ever done. “Come see a man…”
One of the most important experiences I ever had as a child was to get to know my pastor as a real man. My dad was the music minister at our home church in Hallsville. I remember having to go over to our pastor’s house for some reason and I saw him in his driveway in a white T-shirt and holey jeans changing the oil in his ancient International Truck. It was an incredible experience for me because I saw him as a regular guy. Yes, he was my pastor and I looked up to him, but he was just a normal guy. I’ve also seen the other end of the spectrum. I served as an interim under a pastor who refused to wear shorts in public because he wanted to maintain his image in front of his congregation. He said that people wouldn’t listen to him as well if they thought of him as a regular guy. (I’m really not making this up.) Needless to say, I didn’t like that man very much and didn’t stay there very long.
Your authenticity can lead someone else to Jesus. After the Samaritans listened to the woman’s story, they went out to meet Jesus for themselves. Then they said “it is no longer because of what you said…for we have heard for ourselves.” Her act of vulnerability and authenticity brought an entire city to Jesus.
Your ministry is where you are. Let people get to know you. God placed you there for a reason, so use every opportunity to share the gospel.
Finally, the third thing to remember in your quest to take the love of Jesus outside these walls is to always be Kingdom minded. Remember that you are no longer a citizen of this world. Peter calls us aliens and sojourners. You are a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Let your mind be filled with Kingdom thoughts. As Kingdom citizens, we have the responsibility to expand the Kingdom. Our task is to take the message of Jesus’ love to the nations and make disciples, so the Kingdom can continue to expand after we’re gone. We have the opportunity to be a part of something much larger than ourselves. We are God’s plan to reconcile the nations to himself. It is our duty to do so.
Jesus said that he would build his church. He said that he would take the collective unit of the disciples and start with that group, and then build it outward and upward. Then he told them that his church would be so powerful, not even the gates of Hell would be able to withstand it. He told the disciples he would give them the “keys to the kingdom.” He gave them authority to do what he told them to do. There’s something curious about this passage. Jesus said the gates of Hell wouldn’t be able to withstand the expansion of the church. What makes this curious, at least in our current context, is that gates don’t move. They might swing back and forth, but they can’t leave the fence or wall to which they’re attached. We tend to think that Hell is charging at the church and we must huddle together to protect ourselves. I think the opposite is true. The gates of Hell are trying to prevail, but the expansion of the church will not be stopped by them. This implies that God’s people are in the world, expanding the Kingdom. In fact, that seems to be how Jesus indicated it would be his church. If the church is his church, the gates of Hell won’t be able to stop its expansion. If the gates of Hell are prevailing, then, perhaps we’re not building his church, but our church.
How do you expand the church? Serve where God has placed you. Fight injustice wherever you see it. Always be prepared to share the love of Jesus.
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. We need you. Everyone is important. You have a role to play, a position to fill. Cornerstone doesn’t exist without you. There are needs everywhere. We have several right now that you can have a part in. Cassie has already put together a team to serve in the nursery. Kristine needs some help serving in our children’s ministry area. During our time in here Kristine is usually with our elementary and intermediate school students teaching them. We need to provide her some relief so she can be in here at this time. Perhaps you have a musical gift like Levi or Jordan. We’d love to plug you into our worship team and perhaps let you lead occasionally. Maybe you feel like God has laid on your heart the need to preach. We’d love to give you the opportunity. We have two teams we’re trying to develop right now, a prayer team and a hospitality team. Our prayer team is going to meet before the service from 9:00-9:30 just to pray over this building and to pray over the people in our service. The hospitality team is going to meet at 9:30 in order to greet people and make everyone feel welcome. You have a place here. We need you to serve.
Jesus called us to follow him. As Christians there is no other calling. Where is your place of service? Where has God divinely appointed you to live, to work? James says in 4:17 if there’s something you know you’re supposed to do and you don’t do it, you’re as guilty of sin as the one who deliberately commits a sinful act.
We want to set you free to be who God has created you to be. Together we can take the message of Jesus beyond our walls and into the world around us.