Christian On Purpose

Sermon Notes – 06.23.2019
 
[Matthew 28:18-20]
 
          Why are you here? There’s a good reason to be here. A couple of them, actually – but I think most of us have forgotten why we are here. Why are you here? Because we’re supposed to. To be a good person. To get God to like me. To give my kids good morals. I like the music. I like making new friends. It’s a place to give back to the community with volunteering. They let me bring coffee into the sanctuary. Why are we here?
 
A friend of mine from seminary once told this story of a wedding she was a part of. Like many weddings with nieces and nephews, they had a little girl to be the flower girl. During the rehearsal the little girl was thrilled to be running down the aisle throwing flowers in every direction. However, the bride wanted the procession to be a little slower – and so they practiced with the little girl. Right foot forward. Feet together. Left foot forward. Feet together. And repeat. The day of the wedding came and the little girl was determined to get her feet right. She walked down the aisle with a look of determination as she stepped, right foot forward, feet together, left foot forward, feet together. She nailed it. She walked in perfect formation all the way down the aisle. She got to the end of the aisle gave a big smile to the groom, and then realized that she hadn’t thrown a single flower from her basket.
 

          Sometimes we forget why we do what we do. The reasons are there, we have just forgotten. And when we forget, we lose purpose. Purpose is our motivation – it gives us the drive to keep going when it might be inconvenient or challenging. Today we have a unique structure in front of us. We have one short scripture that we are working with – from Matthew chapter 28. And in those few sentences we are going to find the purpose and the process of what we do in this building every Sunday. Today I want us to rediscover the why and then the how of church.

 
 
The Five Purposes of Church
 
Matthew tells us, [read v.18-20]. And so to start, I want to look at the five purposes of the church. Why we do what we do. Now, credit where credit is due – this part is based heavily Pastor Rick Warren’s book “Purpose Driven Church.” The book came out almost 30 years ago, and many churches really loved it because it was brilliant and it helped to revitalize what they were doing. These purposes not only show us what we need to do in the future, but provides us with a reason for doing them in the first place!
 
The first purpose is fellowship. The first reason we are here is to connect. Connect with each other and connect with God. Our purpose starts with the family of God. The church exists to provide fellowship for believers. Christianity is not a solo event. As Pastor Rick writes, “Baptism is not only a symbol of salvation, it is a symbol of fellowship.” I love the baptism vows, not just because it means someone is joining the family of God – but because half the questions are aimed at you guys! I say this every time we have a baptism, it’s not just about one person trying to be perfect from that moment on. It’s about a community coming together to support that person and help them grow in their faith.    
     Our Scripture lesson for today reads, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing!” bringing people into the family of God. [Read Romans 8:14-17] With fellowship, with membership, we become a part of something greater than ourselves. We become a part of this family. Now, here’s my favorite part about fellowship – this family isn’t perfect! No family is perfect! If you’ve never been locked in a car for a family road trip, let me clue you in – your brothers and sisters sometimes will drive you up the wall! They will irritate you! And the same goes for the family of God. But there’s nothing in the world that can make a brother, not your brother. And the same goes for the family of God. The first purpose of the church is fellowship.
 

Now, the second purpose of the church is Worship. It’s fellowship, up and down. The first purpose of the church is fellowship – side to side, with one another. Worship is fellowship with God. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied, in Matthew 22, [Read Matthew 22:37] Here’s the thing about Worship. It takes all that we have. All the purposes are important, but really this is the ultimate reason we are here. Pastor Rick writes, “Sometimes we get so busy working for God, we don’t have time to express our love for him through worship.” The Scripture tells us that we must love the Lord with ALL of our heart, but I think some of us prefer to love the Lord with some of our heart, maybe even most of our heart – but rarely ALL of our heart.

      
    First we fellowship with each other, then we fellowship with God. IN our church we refer to that as getting to know Christ. And once you get to know Christ,  the next step is Spiritual Maturity. The third purpose of the church is Spiritual Maturity. [Read 1 Corinthians 13:11] When it comes to being a Christian, when it comes to being a part of the Church, we all start as Children. Before we are Christian’s our soul is helpless, vulnerable. When we become a Christian, we begin to learn how to protect our souls. As we grow closer to Christ we learn how to engage this world we live in. I wish I could say that the world out there isn’t full of chaos and hatred and evil – but it is. Now, here’s the problem with spiritual maturity – it is not the same as being a Christian for a long time. Becoming Spiritually Mature takes time, study and fellowship. Spiritual Maturity, Pastor Rick writes, “is the process of helping people become more like Christ in their thoughts, feelings, and actions.” It doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s one of the main reasons we are here.
    
      Matthew 28 tells us, [read v.19-20a] After we baptize them, after we welcome people into our family – we have to teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded. This church exists to educate God’s people. To teach you how to be more like Christ. John Wesley called it the “Means of Grace” – which was a list of activities designed to show you God’s grace in your life. One of the best ways we can educate the people of God in this place is to read your bibles. Let me be clear – I want the people of Flushing UMC to read their bibles. The bible is a strange book. It can be really hard to understand. If only there was a group of people designed to help us in our faith journey…wait a minute, that’s purpose number one! We are here to work through this journey together! Read your bibles! Bring us your questions! Let’s work together to become more like Christ.
     
     The fourth purpose of the church is to serve others. We call it ministry. The fourth purpose of the church is ministry. Every single Christian in this church has a ministry. You have something you are doing, or are supposed to be doing to build the kingdom of God. The bible teaches us that serving other people is good for our soul! The church exists to serve others. The church is called to minister to all kinds of practical needs – emotional, relational, and physical needs. Volunteering inside the church is never about what the church needs. It’s about your growth. Whatever you do in this church, whether it’s handing out bulletins, or cleaning up of coffee hour, whether it’s volunteering with the kids or serving in the choir – your ministry is a vital link in the chain that connects broken people to the love of Jesus. Let me say that again, because I cannot overstate how important you are – your ministry is a VITAL link in the chain that connects broken people to the love of Jesus.  
     
     The fifth and final purpose of the church is service to those OUTSIDE the body of Christ. The last purpose was ministry, service inside the church – but this purpose is about ministry outside the church. We call it evangelism. This is the purpose most churches, including this one, struggle with and often fail. I mean, is there anything more uncomfortable than talking to someone outside the church about God? There is a reason this is the final purpose in the progression of purposes. We start with fellowship with each other, fellowship with God, then move into maturity, and then we move into service in a comfortable environment – but the final step is service in an uncomfortable environment. Please don’t stop with service inside the body of Christ. It’s like watching a baseball team strike out with a man on third. We need to share the word of God with those who haven’t heard the word of God! Pastor Rick writes, “As long as there is one person in the world who does not know Christ, the church has a mandate to keep growing.”
    
      A lot of people avoid evangelism because they think it is the same as missions. Mission trips to far away places where people still haven’t heard of God. We think that we have to go all the way around the world in order to do evangelism. And yet – at the same time, one of the chief complaints about the younger generations is that they have no morals, they are falling away from God and from the church faster than they ever have. The church in America is shrinking! Did you know that the center for Christian growth in the world is Africa? The churches in Africa, including the Methodist Churches are exploding in size! And there’s a new trend that comes with this growth – churches in Africa are now getting in the habit of sending missionaries to America! We have become the land where people don’t know about God. Now, you might think that’s really sad – but this makes evangelism much easier for us – we don’t have to go far!

 

And there we have it. The five purposes of the church. Fellowship. Worship. Spiritual Maturity. Ministry and Evangelism. This is why we do church. This is our purpose. Now, I have one quick note before we move into the how. Unfortunately we Christians like to pick our favorite purposes and just stick to those. We like to find what works for us, and leave the rest to other people. In case I’m not being clear enough, or specific enough. We like to pick two purposes and leave the rest. We get comfortable with our Worship and our Service to the Body of Christ. Maybe we’ll throw in Fellowship, as long as they go to the same service we do. But the purposes of the church, much like the bible are not a bag of trail mix – you can’t just pick your favorite pieces out! You need all five purposes in order to live a fulfilling life in the body of Christ. It’s like the little flower girl from the wedding. She was so focused on her feet that she forgot to throw the flowers. We can’t be so focused on one or two things that we forget the others! Look at the list of purposes. Ask yourself, which ones am I doing – and which ones am I forgetting? Where can I grow and get more out of this thing we do called church?
 
 

Ministry Process At Flushing UMC           So those are the purposes of the church – the why of what we do. And that’s very nice, to know that – but then I realized it doesn’t matter if you know why, if you do not also know how. When Rick Warren’s book came out, tens of thousands of churches read it and then wrote up a cute little vision statement, or “purpose” statement as some of them called it and then they slapped it on the bulletin and moved on – and nothing changed! The churches largely stayed the same! After a few months, most churches couldn’t even remember what their purpose statement said. Then I read another book – called Simple Church. It’s written by Thom Rainer, with a buddy and basically they studied the differences between churches in America that were being effective and doing good work in the world, and the churches that largely seemed to be spinning their wheels. What they found is that listing purposes, knowing WHY, is simply not enough. You also need to know HOW. We need to know how to do this thing we call church. What is the process, what are the steps that we use to move people from “total stranger to God, someone who doesn’t know anything about God” to “dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ committed to transforming the world with God’s love.” How do you get from “A” to “B”?

    
      And so simple church recommends what we call the Ministry Process. Here at Flushing UMC, it’s a three step process – using the metaphor of fire. Now, little sidenote – I used that metaphor in my previous church and so I thought new church, I should come up with a new metaphor. You might remember before Christmas, I tried to explain our process using the metaphor of building a house. But in January our wonderful staff sat me down and said, we want the fire metaphor. The other one’s not connecting, and so here we are. Three steps to HOW we do church here at Flushing UMC.
  
        The first step is “Feed the Spark.” You see there are moments in life when there is a spark. A little tug on our hearts, that is the still quiet voice of God calling us home. Sometimes it comes with major life change, you have a baby, or you lose someone close to you, or you major life transition or you move to a new place. Sometimes you just wake up one day and think, “I think I gotta figure out this whole God thing.” Feed the Spark is the beginning of the journey. It’s the first chance people get to connect to God – we say that’s where people get to KNOW Christ. Basically, step one is Sunday morning. It is fellowship and worship. That’s two of the purposes put together. There are other ways, but Sunday morning is still statisticallty the most common and most powerful opportunity to start a fire in someone’s heart.
   
       The second step is “Fuel The Flame.” Now I dunno how many of you are campers, but if you’ve ever had to build your own fire you understand when you have a spark, and the spark catches – you don’t just come in and dump a log on that spark. You’ll stamp it out! You add little twigs. You add kindling to get that spark to grow. But in order to get that fire to grow, you add little pieces bit by bit. This is the purpose of Spiritual Maturity, this is where we follow Christ. First we get to know Christ in worship, and then we follow Him. We start adding habits of holiness, means of grace. On top of worship, we start off with regular church attendance, but then we add things like reading your bible everyday, talking to God in prayer, learning and growing. The fire in your heart will grow.  
    
      The third and final step is “Feel the Warmth.” After you have been following Jesus for a while, after you have grown in spiritual maturity the fire in your heart will grow so big people around you will notice. The warmth of God’s love, that you have been adding fuel too will radiate out from your heart into the world around you. You know Christ in worship, you follow Christ in prayer and bible study and if you do that for a while – you start to realize Jesus said we gotta take care of other people. Jesus was constantly pushing his people to share love with the world. The third step, feel the warmth, is where we volunteer. Where we do ministry and evangelize. We work inside the church and outside the church to share Christ with the world.
    
      Feed the Spark. Fuel the Flame. Feel the Warmth. Worship. Christian Education. (growth). And mission (volunteering inside and outside the church). And when your fire is big enough, you’ll send out sparks that catch in other people’s lives and you get to do it all over again as a mentor, guiding a brother or sister. One last little side note – not everyone is going to walk through the process in a clean, orderly fashion. Some will start at the end and work backwards, some will start in the middle go to step three and then back to step one. But most likely people we move from one to two to three growing closer to God every step of the way. Now we know the purposes and the process. Now we know the why and the how. This is how the church transforms from a museum of perfect people, into a hospital for the broken. This is how a church comes back to life when things have gotten stale. This is how we become effective and efficient at creating disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

 

The end of Matthew 28, our main scripture lesson for today, captures all five purposes in Jesus’ last words on earth. He turned to his disciples and he said, [read it]. And then at the very end, Jesus adds this line. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And so I’ll leave you with this – may you feed the sparks when you find them. When the spark catches may you fuel that flame. And finally when the fire has grown big enough may you feel the warmth and transform the worship. Be a Christian on Purpose, starting today. Amen.

Leave a Reply