On Monday April 13, 1970, John and Yoko’s marriage was being blamed for the breakup of the Beatles, a small plane crashed in Iowa, the Senators beat the Red Sox 6-5, and Apollo 13 was on its way to the moon.
At 10:07 p.m. this ho hum day received a powerful jolt. The Apollo 13 flight, two days, seven hours and fifty four minutes into an otherwise routine mission, experienced a terrible mishap. Moments later, from a distance of 203,980 miles, the now immortal words of Jack Swigert crossed the void of space and crackled over the speakers at Mission Control: “Ok, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” In disbelief, or at the possibility that they’d misheard, the controllers radioed back, “This is Houston, say again please.” Jim Lovell then spoke, confirming the worst, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
That five word message galvanized NASA into action and arrested the attention of an otherwise distracted public. This was dramatically portrayed in Ron Howard’s film Apollo 13.
The next day, both the House and the Senate passed resolutions calling on the American people to pray. At St. Peter’s Square, the pope led 50,000 people in prayer for the safe return of the astronauts. In New York City, thousands of people gathered to read the news headlines and pray in Times Square.
Those five words captured the attention of the world in many places.
I would submit to you today that there is something broken that has more life-threatening consequences then the Apollo 13 drama.
I am going to talk to you today about this church and its mission. I am going to talk to you about why we do what we do. With God’s help I hope to make some much needed adjustments that are critical to our effectiveness and for that matter our reason to exist.
The body of Christ in America is largely incapacitated and broken almost to the point of no return. The church in America is in critical condition and there should be talk about “pulling the plug” or shutting off the support system for a dead and lifeless body that has long ago ceased functioning.
In 2001, I left a very challenging and comfortable job in administration at what is now a Christian University. I did that only after interim pastoring at Newark Church of the Nazarene. After a lot of prayer and thoughts about what it would mean for my family that was very plugged in at another church, kids that were in Jr. High and High School and involved in a vibrant student ministry, and selling a house recently built, Lenore and I decided this was the place I should come to invest the best years of my life in ministry.
It has been a dynamic and unbelievable last eight years. In 2001 this was a church that had intentionally made drastic changes in an effort to become effective again after years of the status quo. There were many people that just couldn’t see the vision or get on board with the changes so they left and went elsewhere. Those changes and the exodus of people who could only define church one way cleared the way for what has happened these last few years.
We know who we are and have worked hard to define the values and mission of this church. You can get on line and read about them and in fact some of you should.
The ultimate mission and vision comes from Jesus own words found in Matthew28:
“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 NLT
For years churches almost never used this verse unless they were thinking about missions. Well, I’m fine with that because guess what? We now live on the mission field. You can’t escape it, you may choose to ignore it but that will not make it go away. It used to be so convenient to send missionaries on planes or boats around the world to deal with those awful pagans. I mean we could just dig down into our pockets and give a little money to missions. . .and we would be fulfilling the great commission. We were making disciples of all nations.
Are we making disciples as a church? Are you seeing people from this culture turning to the Lord? Are people getting saved? Are they looking our way for spiritual help?
There is an interesting phenomenon that happens when churches begin to grow like ours has. Thankfully a lot of our growth has been unchurched people but a fair amount has also been people from other churches who for a variety of reasons were looking for another church.
I need you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say. I have been one of those people. I moved my entire family to another city ten years ago just to get some options for being a part of a church that understood the mission Christ gave the church to do and one that wouldn’t be afraid of church people who threaten to get mad and leave if you change anything. There are two basic kinds of people who come from other churches. There are those who seek to understand who we are and jump on board by finding a place to serve. They are loving, kind supportive and pray for the ministry of this church. The other kind that I have noticed in the last few years has been people who come here and within a few months start trying to get us to be like the church they left or even better like the church they remember when they were kids.
God has called us as a church very specifically to respond to the needs of the unchurced.
You see most of the church people in America have made church about them. I don’t want to startle you, but this church paid a heavy price to escape that mentality and we are not going to go back to it. Let me say it again, we are not going back to making church about church people. There is a selfish, self serving attitude that prevails and we cannot and will not go back in that direction.
Video: Me Church
Now let me tell you why we will never go back and let me remind you who and what we are about.
1. A Clear Mission
“21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.” Matthew 16:21 NLT
Interestingly enough this passage of scripture follows Matthew’s account of Jesus asking the disciples the series of questions we just spent the last three weeks teaching about. Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am? Who does Jesus say that He is?
Jesus in this story wanted to communicate something to His disciples. He wanted them to understand what was going to happen to Him. How many of you understand that the disciples were not the “sharpest knives in the drawer?” They very rarely understood what Jesus was trying to say. He always needed to explain the message to them separately so they would get it.
Do you think it is possible that the church has missed the message and mission that Christ gave the church?
2. A Complete Miss
“ 22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him[k] for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” Matthew 16:22 NLT
When I read these words recently the hair stood up on my arms. “But Peter took Him aside.”
I have a feeling that we have been taking the Lord aside as the institution called the church for thousands of years. We have become very slick at making church about us. We do it like we are comfortable with. Our highest goal most of the time is to do church like we remember it as a child.
If that is the way you are looking at things you are going to die in this culture. You will sit here by the side of the road until the last funeral of the old-timers has been conducted and then someone will come and close the doors and give the keys to a realtor.
Do you know why? Because you have taken the Lord and the message so far aside that the culture can’t even find you and you can’t find them. It is not the job of the unchurched to be finding the church anyway, it is our job to do whatever it takes to reach them.
We are human and we hate change don’t we? We love the familiar, the comfortable, the predictable. We may just love it so much that the people we are responsible for sharing the message of Christ with will go to hell and some day we will stand in front of God and the horrible truth will dawn in upon us. No we didn’t drink, smoke or chew or go with girls who do, but we made church about us and we refused to do the things that would reach the times in which we live. Do you think God is going to be happy about that?
Let’s look at Jesus reaction.
3. A Convicting Message
23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan!.” Matthew 16:23a NLT
Now that is strong I’ll give you that. Peter so completely missed what God was saying that Jesus rebuked him with very strong language. We’ve kind of made this saying a cute little thing to say when someone tempts us to do something we shouldn’t. Things like taking another piece of cake or something silly. It was not funny or silly. In the most serious of tones Jesus turned on Peter and responded with these words.
What I want you to see this morning is the startling words that he followed with in this dialogue.
You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” Matthew 16:23b NLT
Every major move of God since the beginning of the church has happened because leaders were not afraid to lead into areas that were not comfortable.
Change produces stress, discomfort, and forces us to place our faith again and again in God versus traditions and habits. Churches are just like any other organization, secular or sacred, the tendency is to get organized, create structures and policies, and then to become institutional. The final result is that we become inflexible and aloof to the world around us. We have become an organization instead of a living organism.
We are going to do everything we can as a church to not allow that to happen. I promise to continually seek to see things from God’s point of view and not man’s opinion of how church should be.
I remember a man giving me a lawn mower motor to play with when I was a kid. I put it in the basement and took it apart. I tinkered around with it and tried to put it back together and of course there were lots of little parts left over. I had no idea what I was doing.
There are days when to be honest I have felt lately the desire of a few to get into the engine and tinker around with the motor. Newark Church of the Nazarene is always being tinkered with and we have continually examined our “engine” and motives as well as mission. As long as God allows me to be the lead and vision pastor of this church we will not be distracted or taken aside by people who don’t understand the vision or mission of our church. We are not like other churches. We are not like most Nazarene churches.
Hear this carefully: We know that. We are intentional about who we are. We are not looking to become like other churches. We are trying hard to follow Christ and do what He is doing and be a part of what He is blessing. This often comes with a high price because people will always be around who don’t understand. Even some of my peers in ministry don’t understand but we do it anyway because God is in it.
4. A Challenging Mess
Most Christian churches in America are completely plateaued or declining. That can be proven statistically.
The life of the church is the heart of God. The heart of God is to serve a broken world. God’s heartbeat is to seek and to save that which is lost. The serving that we are called to requires direct contact. You cannot wash the feet of a dirty world if you refuse to touch it.
In pathology, atrophy is the wasting or decreasing in size of any part of a body. When the church refuses to serve the world, she begins to waste away. She finds herself deteriorating, withering, and losing strength. Like a muscle that has been in a cast.
The real tragedy is not that churches are dying but that they have lost their reason to live. Dying is not all that bad. We must be willing to die to our conveniences, our traditions and our preferences—everything that places us above others.
The only way to be effective in America with your church and the gospel today is to totally view our wonderful nation as the mission field that it is.
5. A Christ-like Measure
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24a NLT
“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels and then He will reward each according to his works.”
You see the bottom line is, I can tell you why I believe this church has grown. God will allow any church that makes the sacrifices to reach lost or unchurched people that this church has made to actually get to influence and interact with the unchurched.
Seven Deadly Statistics: (Lost in America by Clegg and Bird)
1. The percentage of adults in the U.S. who attend church is decreasing.
2. Roughly half the churches in America did not add one new person through conversion last year.
3. No matter how you do the math, current conversion rates still point to one horrible conclusion: lost people lose. (In America it takes the combined efforts of 85 Christians working an entire year to produce one convert) That’s not running on fumes that’s running on empty!
4. More churches are closing than are opening every year.
5. Conversions to other religions and dropouts from Christianity are escalating.
6. This decline in Christianity has been going on for nearly fifty years.
7. Too many church people believe and behave identically to their unchurched counterparts.
Four monkeys were put into a room. In the center of the room was a tall pole with a bunch of bananas suspended from the top. One particularly hungry monkey eagerly scampered up the pole, intent on retrieving a banana. Just as he reached out to grasp the banana, he was hit with a torrent of cold water from an overhead shower. With a squeal, the monkey abandoned its quest and retreated down the pole. Each monkey attempted, in turn, to secure the banana. Each received an equally chilly shower, and each scampered down without the prize. After repeated drenchings, the monkeys finally gave up on the bananas.
With the primates thus conditioned, one of the original four was removed from the experiment and a new monkey added. No sooner had this new, innocent monkey started up the pole than his (or her) companions reached up and yanked the surprised creature back down the pole. The monkey got the message—don’t climb the pole. After a few such aborted attempts, but without ever having received a cold shower, the new monkey stopped trying to get the bananas. One by one, each of the original monkeys was replaced. Each new monkey learned the same lesson. Don’t climb the pole. None of the new monkeys ever made it to the top of the pole. None even got so far as a cold shower. Not one understood precisely why pole climbing was discouraged, but they all respected the well-established precedent. Even after the shower was removed, no monkey ventured up the pole.
Spiritual apathy is one of the deadliest sins of the “seven deadly sins” because it involves the lack of energy to start afresh, to launch into the deep, to be open to change.
Tom Clegg Story
It always is going to seem hard but the facts remain that lost people matter to God and the church is the primary vehicle for Him to use to touch unchurched people. If you are a part of this church, go ahead and dream of how God wants to use you, because He does.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Romans 16:17 KJV
“ One final word of counsel, friends. Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They're only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren't above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents.” Romans 16:17-18 The Message