In the past few weeks I have had the incredible opportunity to visit two newly planted churches – Church of The Hills in Nashville, TN and The Cathedral in Flint, MI. Along with other members of itown church, we set out to encourage and support these two new congregations as they get their feet firmly planted within their communities to reach as many people as possible for Jesus Christ…doing anything short of sin to reach people for Christ! We fell in love with the hearts and sacrifice of these amazing people as they fulfill the call God has placed in them to be a local outpost in their communities loving God and loving those around them! We’ve made some life-long friends as well, all while cheering one-another on from afar serving our local communities and introducing people to Jesus!
Supporting the local church is an awesome responsibility for us all because in every community the local church truly is the hope for that community as well as the hope of the entire world! With so many individual churches in our communities, The Global Church (everyone who follows Jesus) must support one-another and understand that church is not (and should never be) a competition. The Church is a living entity of individual gatherings of people who need to be working together to reach the world for Christ; putting aside differing styles and rituals that are simply preferences, not doctrine!
Unfortunately the picture above kinda hits a sore spot, doesn’t it? Far too many local gatherings have chosen to not read (or at least understand) the memo from Paul where he calls us to band together as The Church body to reach as many people as possible for the sake of Jesus Christ! Instead, many local churches have placed themselves in the headship of The Church as the only means in the community to have a relationships with Jesus – yet Jesus said we, as His followers, are ALL in this together as The Church with many different members of the body who must work together for the good of every person who is far from God in our communities…and Jesus is the only head of The Church!
Romans 12:3-8 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
I recall a story Andy Stanley, Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, shared regarding a gay-pride parade set to pass in front of their rather large church building on a given Sunday morning. Andy and his staff tried to think it through to try to have as many congregants and volunteers as possible already in the building before the parade was set to pass. They discussed how to keep the congregation inside the building a little longer than usual as to not “expose” the members to what they deemed a moral concern, possible protest or at the least an ugly exchange. They were more focused on hiding their “righteous” eyes than reaching a community of people who need Jesus as much as we do.
As the morning began brewing, Andy was feeling a bit convicted and torn – from what I recall in his story, he and some others went outside to see how things were shaping up. His conviction was set in stone when he saw the small church congregation across the street lining the road and handing out glasses of water to all the participants in the gay-pride parade – smiles on their faces as they opened their hearts to those walking along! Conversations were happening and a bridge to an unreached group of people was being built right across the street! Wow! This congregation understood what it means to serve the community, offer grace to all, and love our neighbors with the love of Christ! The lesson Andy learned that morning has shaped the ministry of North Point to this day as they seek to extend grace and love to the very people most congregations won’t engage – people far from God! How different might this story have been if the churches were on the same page instead of working it from their own angle? Odd isn’t it…what is the purpose of the local church if not to love God and love others? Those far from God are exactly who Jesus said He came to save, and when we follow Him, we should be no different:
Luke 5:32 – I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.
Now, something amazing happens when you break that down…Jesus came to save sinners who are lost without a Savior. Every person on this planet has at least one thing in common – we are all sinners! The difference between being lost and found is a simple act of faith – believing in Jesus Christ! How pious we become when we somehow think we are better than someone else because we are in relationship with Jesus! The fact that we are in relationship with Jesus ought to embolden us to engage the community around us and share the good news of Jesus’ amazing love and grace! How do we do this? We build relationships with people who God has placed in our path (co-workers, fellow students, gas station attendant, Taco Bell employee, Starbuck’s server, etc.). As we genuinely love those around us, opportunities will arise where we can share our testimony, our story, of how Jesus has changed our lives. It is through relationship that God created man; it is through relationship that God sent His Son Jesus to save this world; it is through relationship that Jesus died for you and me; it is through relationship where Jesus came into your life and changed you; and it will be through relationship where each lost soul on earth will have an opportunity to begin a faith relationship with Jesus to change their eternal path.
Jesus has one plan for the salvation of this world – The Church (ALL followers of Jesus). Jesus poured into 12 men…upon His resurrection and ascension to heaven He set them loose with one goal in mind – get into relationship with people in your path, share the good news of Jesus’ incredible gift of grace, and help others on the path do the same! Here is Jesus’ commission to His disciples, and in turn His commission for us as The Church:
Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Go – our commission to get into people’s lives and build relationships…you can’t build a relationship unless you are willing to go.
Baptize – as relationships are built we share our story of how Jesus changed our lives. This is where people have an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus’ gift of grace and respond to that Good News by accepting that gift and beginning a relationship with Jesus. When the topic of baptism is brought up we must also understand that water baptism is simply a public profession of one’s new relationship with Jesus – one next step in our faith journey proclaiming we belong to Jesus! Though it is important to make that public proclamation, water baptism in and of itself is not a requirement of salvation.
Teach – we walk alongside those new in relationship with Jesus, helping them understand grace and showing them how to go into the world and begin making disciples through relationships.
“Go, Baptize and Teach” is the method Jesus commissioned us to make disciples who will learn to make disciples – this is how the world can be changed by a group of 12 men who passed it on to us!
Local churches and fellow believers; it’s far past time for The Church to come together and love one-another as we love those far from God. When those far from God see how ridiculous individual church congregations treat one-another, they see the hypocrisy and want nothing to do with us! When people see how critical “religious” people are in their comments or posts on social media as well in their arguments in the public square, why would we expect them to want join our mission let alone follow the One we say we follow? God doesn’t want us to argue with people who think differently than we do. No-one has been argued into the Kingdom! Jesus wants us to love people who don’t know Him and get into relationship with people far from Him! Only then will we have an opportunity to share the things that truly matter in this life! People will want to know the One we follow when we actually reflect the One we follow! So go out and show His love and grace to those around you – just as Jesus has extended His love and grace to you! And cheer on the local congregations of people in your community who are reaching people for Jesus…the heavens explode with a party every time one sinner accepts salvation through Jesus. Let’s join in that cheering and reach everyone together!