I want to give you about 5 minutes to read the verses on the handout.
What should a church be about? I’ve been racking my brain for an analogy for church and two came to mind. One is a Tootsie Roll lollipop in reverse.
You know a tootie roll lollipop – hard candy exterior and a gooey tootsie core. Many churches are like Tootsie roll lollipops – solid exterior – rigid program and highly structured but when you get to know them and see what’s driving the whole thing, the core is kind of gooey, it’s a bit hard to pin down because there is not much substance at the center. I think the church should be the complete opposite – solid core and gooey and malleable on the outside.
Or church should be like the planet Jupiter. Hard, rocky core surrounded by swirling gases. Churches need a core that’s solid. Everything around it can be fluid. Programs can start and stop. Ministries can come and go. Methodologies can change depending on who you are trying to reach or build up. But the core of every church should remain rock solid.
The Bible is clear when it comes to core values of a church, but it is pretty silent when it comes to practical methodologies. You got Pentecostal churches like Corinth. You got legalistic churches like the one in Galatia. You got Peter leading a church that reached out to Jews and you got Paul parting ways and focusing on Gentiles, but they both agree, let’s not forget to minister to the poor. There are some suggestions in the NT when it comes to church polity and how churches should organize its governing body, but there is no absolute mandate that every church has to follow a particular leadership structure. There is no mention in the Bible about how to execute a mission strategy or what the optimal size of a church is. All we have are principles and then in some sense, the execution is up to us and it can vary greatly from one church to the next, depending on the gifting of the pastor or the gift mix of the congregation and the unique burdens that God places on individual hearts of people.
There is no blueprint for church, no manual to follow. Just some general commands to follow Jesus daily, to take up our crosses daily, to deny ourselves daily, to be in step with the Holy Spirit or to submit to the authority of Scripture or to be the church and let the Lord add daily those who are being saved.
What worked in the previous generation may not work today. For example, the generation of college students today are very different from the generation when I was a college student. Berkeley and Caltech are light years apart. They are like completely different planets in separate galaxies far, far away. So we need to be flexible and fluid in our methodologies. We can try, re-assess in a year and then keep what works and throw away the rest.
But the core must remain intact. So what is the core of this church? What are the core values? What do we value at LBC? Or what is the vision of this church? Where are we going? What must we hold onto even as surface level things swirl around and change? These are all ways of saying the same thing.
We started off the year with a high-level vision for not just 2012, but what I am convinced needs to be the overarching vision for the Christian life for all time, past, present and future.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
3 Legs of a Tripod
The 3 legs of a tripod are 1) love God, 2) love neighbor and 3) make disciples. Those things need to be kept at the forefront of every believer’s mind.
Has anyone been to the top of the Rockerfeller Center in NYC? It’s breathtaking. You are 70 stories up and you can see the entire cityscape. To me, that’s kind of like the 3 legs of the tripod–it’s a high level view.
When you are that high up and you got your camera, you can take some snapshots of important landmarks – the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Central Park. That’s what I want to do today. Focus on a few landmarks.
The problem with the high level view is that you can do these things as an individual. I can love God on my own, I can love neighbor whenever I feel like it, alone, and I can make disciples by myself. No outside help is necessary. What’s missing is the church. The church needs to be kept in view. Actually, if you really try to live out the 3 legs of the tripod with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, you will soon realize your need for the church, that in fact, the church was the means to love God and love neighbor and make disciples. That church was God’s chosen vehicle to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. That’s why you can’t separate our individual status as children of God from our corporate status as members of His church. Those are 2 sides of the same coin.
Now that we have the high level principles, the view from 70 stories up–love God, love neighbor, make disciples–let’s look at the church and get some ground level emphases for LBC.
On your handout, turn your attention to Acts 2:42-47.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
After the death of Christ and the resurrection, the first Easter, there was Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down in power, then Peter preached his first sermon and 3,000 were saved. That was the birth of the church.
And what did this church devote themselves to? 4 things.
1) teaching, 2) fellowship, 3) breaking of bread, which is a reference to the Lord’s Supper where we remember the centrality of the gospel, and 4) prayer.
I am changing the order to match our next 3 sessions. Today, I am going to talk about fellowship so we’ll skip that for now. I want to briefly run through the others.
Primary Emphases at LBC
1) Fellowship – I will cover this in a moment.
2) Word of God – The Word of God is the authority through which we test everything against.
It’s the map for the journey. If we are not sure about something, where do we turn? The Word of God. The answers to life, personal faith, church, it’s all there. It’s like Prego sauce. It looks like plain tomato sauce, but on the label it says, mushrooms, bell peppers and onions, but you can’t see them. But it’s in there. You need answers. Look to the Bible – it’s in there.
What is the goal of the teaching ministry? Two goals. One is self-feeding. The second is discipleship. Church is not a seminary where you come to a professor (i.e. pastor) who unlocks the mysteries of Scripture and you accumulate facts and then only after 20 years you are ready to read the Bible for yourself. The Bible is food. If you only eat once a week, you’ll be starving. Your growth will be stunted. One goal of the teaching ministry is to teach you how to feed yourself daily.
The second goal is to take you where you are as a disciple of Christ to a disciple maker. The Word of God is tied to discipleship. In the Great Commission, Jesus commands all the disciples to teach others to obey everything Christ commanded. Church is a place where you are equipped to make disciples of others. Teaching is not reserved only for the preachers. When you pray with your children, that’s teaching. When your non-Christian friend or coworker asks you about your faith and you answer, that’s teaching. All of us are called to disciple or to teach others to obey EVERYTHING Christ commanded. How can you disciple someone unless you know the person? Discipleship assumes relationship and proximity. If you are doing life together with the person you are discipling and you develop an intimate relationship where you can meet often, you will find plenty of teaching opportunities.
3) Gospel and 4) Prayer
Why did I group these 2 emphases into 1 session? Because losing sight of 1 or both of these will lead to an unraveling of your spiritual life as well as the church.
How is a church different from a company? At a company, you can have a strong, charismatic leader, a CEO, who has studied the market and articulates the right mission statement to take the company to the next level of growth. And as long as he assembles the right leadership team who can execute on the mission statement, success is within reach.
The church is not a company. What would happen if we lost sight of the gospel and we stopped praying as a church? We can work really hard and see great results. Or we can work really hard and nothing happens. Depending on the results of our efforts, we would either become proud if things went well or we would despair if nothing happened. Both are examples where we again are putting ourselves at the center. Remembering the gospel grounds us in the truth that we couldn’t save ourselves. Salvation had nothing to do with how hard we worked. And likewise, prayer reminds us that church is a spiritual enterprise and reflects our utter dependence on Jesus Christ as the head.