The Church is a Community united in Jesus, yet diverse in Gifts
Intro: Well morning South Sydney Anglican Church. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are beginning a sermon series – thinking about OUR VISION as a church. What are we trying to achieve? What are we doing together for Jesus and are we committed to doing it well?
Prayer: Well in Proverbs 29:18 – King Solomon writes; “Without vision the people perish…” (Rpt). If a group of people (whether it be a church or a business) don’t know what they are doing – they tend to wander aimlessly OR they achieve very little. So over the coming weeks – I will be speaking about our church vision which is to be; “A community overflowing with faith, hope and love in Jesus.”
So over the next few weeks I’m going to deconstruct our Vision Statement so that you understand why each word has been carefully chosen. And today we’re thinking about Community. Some years ago I realised that as a church we need to intentionally work on being a community more than many other churches. The fact is – we are one of the 1) most eclectic, 2) multicultural, 3) multigenerational, 4) multi socio-economic churches – I have ever seen. We are also slightly eccentric. I blame most of the eccentricity on the senior pastor. He’s just weird.
But if we fail to recognize our diversity – we are going to really struggle to WORK TOGETHER AS A TEAM. SIMILARITIES between people usually create natural bonds and affinities. We understand each other. We have things in common. Points in common then create trust and build relationships. WHEREAS DIFFERENCE (if not appreciated or understood) often leads to distrust, fear or even prejudice. So as an eclectic church we need to work hard at community and relationships if we are ever going to work together effectively as a team.
In the 1980’s – Rick Warren in Saddleback Church, California – developed a business model for church. Rick argued rather persuasively that the pastor’s responsibility was to mobilize the church family towards growth – which usually meant more bums on seats and more money in the offertory. So bums in seats and offertory became the Key Performance Indicators (the KPI’s) for measuring how well a church was doing.
At the same time church growth experts started to realise that if you tailored your church to focus on specific demographics the church usually grew faster. This was called the homogenous unit principle. THEY NOTICED – like attracts like. People feel more comfortable living and working alongside people who are more or less the same as themselves. So instead of having diverse, multicultural, all ages church – pastors started putting all the Latino’s together in one church, all the families together in another church and all the young hipsters in another church and it worked. Homogenous churches usually grew faster than eclectic, eccentric, diverse churches.
Church growth experts also encouraged pastors to make their churches more SEEKER SENSITIVE. This meant church started to focus on being attractive to non-Christian seekers, rather than mature committed Christians. So, pastors started to change the way they preached – so they didn’t offend non-Christians with hard biblical truths. They also turned church more and more into a polished show that you attended each week, rather than a community to which you belonged. THE RESULT was that Christians started to become consumers, rather than servants. People went to church to be served, rather than to serve.
Of course, not everything in the church growth movement was BAD. But the Bible teaches that the church is actually meant to be more like a family, than a business. And like most families that means that sometimes church is also messy and requires hard work…
Point 1: The Church is a Community of People who call Jesus Lord
Show: 1 Cor.12:1-3 (READ)
Explain: Well this passage in 1 Corinthians is about both 1) spiritual gifts AND 2) church community. But the question the Apostle Paul is really answering is “who really belongs in the church?” Do you have to be a nice middle-class person, with only middle-class sins to belong to a church? Or perhaps, as the Corinthains thought – do you need to have a certain spiritual gift (like tongues) to really be a proper member in the church family?
Well Paul makes it clear that the one requirement for church membership is a profession of faith in Jesus as Lord. You’ll see – Paul says in verse 3 – no one says “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Paul is saying that we should accept into our church family – anyone who makes a clear profession of faith in Jesus as Lord. Now I think Paul knows that a non-Christian could perhaps utter the words “JESUS IS LORD” and not really mean it. Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares tells us that there will always be some pretend Christians in the church – who are only giving lip service to Jesus.
But generally speaking – the only way anyone can truly utter Jesus is Lord (and really mean it in their heart) is if the Holy Spirit has regenerated them. THE CLEAREST SIGN that someone is a genuine Spirit-filled Christian is still their profession of faith. As we discussed in staff meeting this week – PRAYING IN TONGUES is not the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit because different Christians have different spiritual gifts. PRAYING IN TONGUES is also not some sure guarantee that a person has received the Holy Spirit because tongues can be learnt. I’ve spoken to many Christians from Pentecostal backgrounds who have told me that they’re not really sure they have the gift of tongues. When they became Christian’s they just copied the tongues sounds other people were making because they wanted to fit it.
Now please know I’m not having a go at the gift of tongues. I think praying in tongues is a real spiritual gift that some Christians have and in 1 Corinthians 14 the Apostle Paul talks about praying in tongues more than anyone else. But sadly, (in some churches) tongues has been turned into a sign of who is and who isn’t a real Christian (and 1 Corinthians 12 is very clear that is wrong thinking). oly Spirit H
Paul is saying that everyone who gives a clear profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord should be accepted as a full member in the church. What we share in common is that we all acknowledge “Jesus is Lord” Acknowledging Jesus is Lord means acknowledging Jesus has authority over us and we submit to his words in the Bible. So, it doesn’t matter 1) what denominational background you have or 2) what spiritual gifts you have OR even 3) whether you are rich or poor. The thing that matters in our church is do you acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of your life?
(GOSPEL) In our church we are looking for real faith in Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection to new life. There is a penalty for sin and that is death and damnation. When we disobey Gods words we deserve to die and go to hell. But when Jesus died on the cross he was taking the punishment for everyone who believes in him. If you believe A) Jesus died for your sins and B) you thank Jesus for taking the punishment for you – God will forgive you. He will take you to heaven. But in gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice – God asks you to repent of your sin and start obeying Jesus Christ as Lord. And in Christian baptism this is what people promise. They acknowledge Jesus has washed away their sins and they promise (as best they can) to follow and obey Jesus as Lord. This means obeying what Jesus says in the Bible.
Apply: So as a church – we accept anyone who makes a clear and genuine profession of faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord (as full members of our church family). We’ve made a decision not to play the homogenous unit-principle game anymore.
Some years ago (in 2014) – we did play the homogenous unit principle game because young Christians in our church didn’t really understand or trust some of the people living in housing commission. I’d also say some of the people living in housing commission saw certain prejudices in these young Christians and didn’t trust that their faith was necessarily real either. So, we rounded up all the younger Christians in our church – did a homogenous church plant in Zetland (specifically targeting young adults) and we made the Redfern church primarily target the housing commission people and the short story is – it was a dismal failure.
Now there are a whole lot of REASONS why our church plant didn’t work. But God showed me a few things in that process. One of the things I noticed was that while homogenous churches are usually better at numerical growth because like attracts like, they are often far weaker in terms of spiritual growth. When a homogenous church attracts other people more or less the same as themselves – they remain blind to their own blind spots – because everyone more or less thinks the same way already. When everyone around you has the same CULTURAL blind spots, or the same socio-economic blind spots – you never recognize your weaknesses because no one challenges them. Everyone just pats each other on the back and says “aren’t we great mature Christians.”
But when you have a church made up of Christians from 1) different cultural backgrounds, 2) different denominational backgrounds and even 3) different socio-economic backgrounds – our differences force us to go back to the Bible – again and again to see what Jesus really says. Put a group of committed Anglicans together and they rarely see their blind spots. Put a group of devout Pentecostals together and there will always be certain idiosyncrasies. Put a whole group of middle-class Christians together and they will rarely see that some of their attitudes towards money and material possessions may be sinful.
Point 2: The Church is a Community of People who are Different
Show: 1Cor.12:4-7 (READ)
Explain: Well in Christian community there is meant to be unity and diversity. What unites us is that Jesus Christ is Lord. We need to agree that Jesus is Gods Son in the flesh and that Jesus rules over the church through his words in the Bible. But at the same time – there should be great diversity in the church because Jesus is the Saviour of all people, all cultures and all people groups – both rich and poor. So this diversity should also be reflected in a healthy Christian church. THE WALLS that normally divide us in the world should begin to come down in the Christian church.
So after talking about our unity in Jesus’ lordship – Paul goes on to talk about our diversity. He talks about us having 1) different spiritual gifts, 2) different ways of serving and 3) different types of working. But Paul doesn’t identify our differences as a WEAKNESS, he identifies our differences as a STRENGTH. Difference is actually good because we A) LEARN from each other and B) our various strengths COMPLEMENT each other as we submit to Jesus’ lordship together.
Now in 1 Corinthians 12 – Paul goes on to talk about spiritual gifts. God has given us all different spiritual gifts to use in the church for the common good. Some people have knowledge and others wisdom. Some have gifts of healing and others gifts of praying. Now this list of spiritual gifts is NOT EXHAUSTIVE. Other parts of the Bible talk about the gift of hospitality; the gift of serving and even gifts of administration. Paul is saying whatever your gifts and abilities are – use them (verse 7) for the common good of the church.
This means every Christian is meant to serve in their church in some way. Church should NOT be like going to Eastgardens or Broadway shopping centre where you just consume, consume, consume. Church should be a place where you are served by others and you begin to serve others. This is because we follow a servant King.
Now I know that for many of us our lives are busy and we don’t want more responsibilities. So some EASY WAYS to start is to help with bible reading or morning tea on Sundays or become a volunteer with Friday Food or Jesus Cares – and help when you can. But we also need people to 1) lead public prayers in church; 2) help with Sunday school and youth, 3) run the sound-desk; 4) help with worship; 5) serve on Church Council and 6) help with practical things like lawn mowing. Mary Ann promises she won’t roster you on every week and we are FLEXIBLE if you ever need to change anything. WE GET IT – we’re church family. Stuff happens. But the more people that agree to help in church the lighter the load gets for everyone. So, please think about your gifts and how you might be able to help this year. Then drop me an email or see Mary Ann after church today.
But this brings us all back TO VISION. What are we doing? Paul tells us (in verse 7) to use our different gifts and abilities for the COMMON GOOD. Now what’s that? Well 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14 are all joined together in the WHAT, the HOW and the WHY of church. And in 1 Corinthians 14 – Paul tells us the common good of the church is to be built up. Let me show you (Slide 6; 1Cor.14:12; 26).
Apply: This is our goal. Now the word BUILD or BUILD UP primarily has to do with spiritual growth. As Christians we should be building one another up in our knowledge of the Bible and our likeness of Jesus. But building up the church also includes evangelism. THE CHURCH should be growing spiritually AND the church should be growing numerically. So, if you are a Christian (and you’ve decided this church is your church family) – how can you help us build up this particular church. YES, it will involve some sacrifice. YES, it may take a step of faith – out of your comfort zone. But this is true Christianity. Its about service, not consumption. And please remember, the Bible says you are actually more blessed in giving and serving, than you are in receiving and being served (Acts 20:35).
Point 3: The Church is a Community that Values every Member
Show: 1Cor.12:12-14, 21 (READ)
Explain: Well as we’ve seen the church is a COMMUNITY, where every member has different gifts and different life experiences that we are meant to use to build up the church. And Paul now uses the image of a human body to say that each part in the body is equal and has an important function. Some of us are like HANDS, some of us like FEET, some of us are like EYES or EARS (and some of us are bums). Now I don’t mean that disrespectfully. But imagine how clogged up you’d be if you didn’t have a bum. Paul’s point is that every part of the human body is equally important, but some less presentable parts need special treatment. Look at verses 22-23 (Slide 9-10; 1Cor.12:22-23). Paul’s point is that the people in the church who seem WEAKER, LESS PRESENTABLE or have LESS HONOUR are often the parts that are most IMPORTANT in the church. This again, is ANOTHER VERSION of the first will be last and the last will be first in Gods Kingdom. Every member in our church has an important role to play and those parts that we think are least important may actually be the most important. The less presentable parts deserve special honour. But is this our attitude?
I think this is a very important word for our SPECIFIC CHURCH. We do not want to become a HOMOGENOUS UNIT PRINCIPLE church where every member lives in housing commission. We need working professionals in our church to help with certain human resources and with offertory. We also have a heart to see all people, including working professionals come to know Jesus and be saved. But given our location in Redfern we want to do Christian ministry in such a way that we never preclude people living rough or living in housing commission.
Apply: Now please understand this gives our church a certain FLAVOUR that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Sometimes we get people who really are bums coming into our church. We get people struggling with ice or alcohol. And sometimes we get women who have been working girls and men who have been criminals.
And instead of treating such people as SECOND CLASS CITIZENS – we treat them with special modesty and special honour. Please understand many people who live in housing commission have been through significant trauma, physical disabilities, mental health issues, abuse and broken, dysfunctional homes. Yes, this often leads people to make foolish decisions with drugs, alcohol and criminality. They are responsible for those choices. But nonetheless, WHAT THEY NEED from our church is special compassion and special grace, not judgment and scorn. WHAT THEY NEED – is to know Jesus as their Saviour and understand that no matter how big a hole they find themselves in – there is hope with Jesus as Lord. We believe Jesus is POWERFUL TO SAVE and sometimes we get to see him work miracles; like ice addicts getting clean; people on the edge of suicide finding hope AND people choosing celibacy instead of sexual immorality. But as with all people recovering from significant trauma – it is often three steps forward and two steps back. At times this can be discouraging.
At times it can also be difficult for me to know how to pastor. In middle class churches all sorts of sins are taking place behind closed doors. Middle class people are very good at hiding their sins. Whereas, many people in housing commission have given up hiding and they just air their dirty laundry in public. So we sometimes get to see the dirty laundry in a more obvious way. There are also – all sorts of sins that we kind of accept and show grace towards in middle class churches – like pride, greed, selfishness, gluttony, prayerlessness, lying etc etc. But for some reason middle class churches frown on things like smoking, or coarse language, having a bet on the horses or getting drunk. Please be aware of your own prejudices. Why do you show grace to some sins and condemn others. Now I’m not wanting to be indifferent to sin because it is wrong. But I am admitting that sometimes this is hard for me to pastor – especially when I am aware of mental health issues in the background. We all need God’s grace sometimes, including your pastor, because I’m not always going to get this right. It’s hard to know what to confront and when to show grace…
But overall I’ve come to love our church and I think our eclectic church is growing me as a Christian in all sorts of practical ways. We’re all sinners. None of us have our poop together. So let’s stop pretending. The obvious difficulties in housing commission also help keep my eschatology balanced. Sometimes life does sux. But the good news is – Jesus is coming back. What’s more, many of the people in housing commission inspire me with their faith. They often have to live not knowing how they will pay their electricity bill or medical expenses. But they trust Jesus will provide. I also find many of them taking incredible steps of faith to beat addiction, deal with their mental health issues and love their neighbors – some of whom are very difficult.
My point is – that while our church is eclectic and a bit eccentric I think there are moments where our church is absolutely beautiful. Nothing but the gospel is bringing together people in our church who would normally have nothing to do with each other. And there are real lessons of FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE that the housing commission can learn from the professionals and that the professionals can learn from those in housing commission. But that requires relationship. And working together effectively to build up a very eclectic church requires a lot of grace – especially towards those who are least like ourselves. (I’ll talk about that more – next week). But this is who we are and OUR VISION is to be a community overflowing with faith, hope and love in Jesus.
So my question today is are you on board? Are you happy to be in such a church? And are you willing to serve (in some way this year) so that our church may be BUILT UP and BUILT OUT for God’s glory.