"God's Building Program: Ministering the Word of Grace"
May 22, 2005 Acts 19:8-12; 20:17-20,32-35
How can you spot a healthy, growing church on the move? Here's one that's getting quite carried away - literally! [photo] ChristianWeek reports, "Sightings of a modern day Noah's ark were confirmed as the new building of Christ the Redeemer Anglican arriv[ed] via waterway on a flotilla of boats.The congregation [at Pender Harbour, BC] had been evicted by their diocese from their church building in 2005 for supporting a traditional definition of marriage." Their previous church building sat 90; this hall, arriving on a barge, seats 140. The congregation is part of the Anglican Coalition in Canada, overseen by Bishop Thomas Johnston of Rwanda. In his second visit this year, another Rwandan bishop said, "I am profoundly impressed with the life, health, and forward thinking of the Anglican Coalition in Canada."
Well, there's a new one for you - a church in an 'ark'! And it's encouraging that a congregation is moving to a larger facility - while endeavouring to honour God's teaching. Today we're concluding our own congregation's look at Ray Bowman & Eddy Hall's book about whether it's time to build. Along with these author's observations, the experience of Paul with the early church located at Ephesus provides some more universal clues to what makes for healthy church growth - if not bigger buildings arriving on barges!
First, over the 3 years Paul ministered there, the church developed a sense of APOSTOLIC APPOINTMENT. Apostles are those who are 'sent' on a particular mission. We can see what's closest to Paul's heart, what his number 1 priority is in life, by looking at what follows the words 'if only' in 20:24: "...I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." (Ac 20:24) There was a real sense of having been given a job to do, a task to complete - with accountability to the Lord. The task concerns the Good News: News is something meant to be shared, to be told to others, not kept to those who already know. There's an urgency to 'get the word out'. And it's the gospel (or Good News) of God's GRACE: His undeserved riches and forgiveness poured out for us unworthy sinners through Jesus. It's not about legalism, a long list of do's and don'ts. God's truth is essential for everyday life, and supporting traditional marriage is important - but an emphasis on truth must be balanced by grace, for both grace and truth came through Jesus (Jn 1:14,17).
As Christians, we are sent on a mission along with the apostles: Jesus told us to GO and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19f). Paul may have had an acute sense of being an apostle, by special appointment. In Acts 26(16f) Jesus is described as having told him, "I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.I am sending you to them" The words are even more direct in ch.22(21): "Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles."
The day of 'Christendom' in Canada is over: the day in which churches expected people to come to them because it was 'the thing to do'. Instead of a 'come to us' attitude, we need to 'go to them'. Whereas the traditional or static church may just sit there and hope people will come to it, today we need to become apostolic again, going out into the marketplace with the message and take Jesus' grace to people where they're at. Gary's summary of "The Principle of Use" ends with this emphasis: "Are there ways to get ministry out of a church building and into the community? 'Go' ministry strategies are the way to reach a lost generation. Take the gospel to them." We have an Apostolic Appointment.
We're interested in getting a physical space 'of our own' sometime soon, but Scripture consistently emphasizes God's interested in building people, not church buildings. 19:9 reminds us Christianity is a Way, not a Wall. When this age is history and the elements have dissolved, revealing a New Heaven and Earth, church buildings will be long forgotten - what will matter then will be people's souls. Believers are God's building, His temple, what He's constructing and conforming to His Son's likeness. 20:32 says, ""Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." It's God's message, His Word, that really builds and can give us a lasting inheritance after this world's gone. So the church's focus must remain presenting God's edifying word in an interesting way to which people can relate. Although serving people's needs is vital, we're not just another 'service club'; church-goers must be able to explain WHY they do what they do as they minister to social needs.
Listen for the words Luke uses to describe the content of our message: 19:8, Paul 'spoke boldly' and argued 'persuasively about the kingdom of God'. He didn't utter vague cliches but taught meaningfully about Christian truth, which he laid out so systematically in the book of Romans. We should be familiar with basic Christian doctrine. In 20:20 he states, "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you..." There is key information to transmit, retentively. In a video/media age we need to stay 'beefed up' in constructive content. Then we can help hurting or alienated people understand how applying God's truth and developing a relationship with Jesus makes a lasting difference.
God's Word, meaningfully presented, evokes a response. More than just leave people with more information, we can encourage them to do something with it - that will affect their eternity! Paul's quite forthright in 20:21, "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus." Plain and simple; will you or won't you? He framed it in such a way people HAD to decide. Some resisted. 19:9, "But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way..." Later, though, as vv17-on reveal, when news got around about the evil spirit's violent 'run-in' with would-be exorcists, "When this became known...they were all seized with fear...Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds.A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly..." People were rallied to real repentance. When you're explaining to someone about Jesus, give them an opportunity to respond - not an altar call, but maybe just ask them if they'd like you to pray with them.
Paul's Good News was welcomed by some, but rebuffed by others. Jews at the synagogue didn't like Paul's persuasive apologetics, showing how Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophesies from the Old Testament. 19:9 says they became obstinate and 'publicly maligned the Way' - read, became verbally abusive. Paul met the opposition with a creative response (didn't just 'barge' ahead like the folks in BC): our text records, "So Paul left them.He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus." Now there's a novel idea - sharing space with a public educational facility! The early church adapted; much of the time they just met in people's homes. 20:20, Paul says he taught them "publicly and from house to house". Large public meetings and small group formats.
Was the church stumped by having to change its tactics? Not at all, it remained strategically situated. Ephesus was the most important city in western Asia Minor (now Turkey): it had a harbor to the Aegean and was at the intersection of major trade routes. It was the leading commercial city and capital of provincial Asia - kind of like Toronto for us. Note v10, "so...all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord." They were very strategically situated, so the news could spread.
A congregation like ours has limited resources so that forces us to pray, and also think creatively, adaptively, strategically. Is our location accessible to the people we're trying to serve? Would a storefront 'ministry centre' through the week be a helpful option? Bowman & Hall note that construction costs force growing congregations to seriously consider 'multi-use' facilities - sanctuary on Sundays, gymnasium or meeting space the rest of the time. Ray Bowman recalls, "As a consultant, I faced a choice: either leave the worship space lying unused 90% of the time and tell the churches to stop growing, or find a way for these churches to use that space the other 6 and a half days a week."
He mentions other creative tips, such as swinging the facility around the entry can be seen from the road, thus the church looks 'open for business'; make sure visitor parking is visible; have a spacious welcoming foyer, especially so people have room to greet each other between multiple services. Healthy growing churches learn to adapt!
5) Horizontal Humility
Paul had a servant attitude in dealing with people; he says elsewhere they didn't 'lord it over' people's faith, but worked with them (2Cor 1:24). Not high and mighty, towering over, but alongside on the same plane. Here in 20:19 he recalls, "I served the Lord with great humility and with tears..."
While it's important to be a church that goes out to people, when they do come to a facility, Bowman is of the opinion "You can have a building that helps you say, 'We're here to serve.Come on in.'" Some traditional church features and designs erect barriers to hospitality. For example, don't put the 'fellowship hall' in the most remote part of the building! Have it centrally located. He says, "Use sizes that make people feel comfortable, not overpowered, dominated, or awed. [Avoid] strong vertical elements, such as steeples [and] towers...in favour of horizontal lines and openings." Thus even our architecture can say something about horizontal humility.
While church leaders may groan at the thought of having multiple worship services, that's a way to serve people better as well as cut down on construction costs. Bowman once asked a Catholic priest, "How do you decide how many services to have and when to have them?" He answered, "We have as many as are needed to serve the people, whenever they need them. For example, for people who have to work on Sunday, we have a Saturday mass." Bowman inquired, "How many have to attend before you'll schedule a service?" The answer: "That's not important. We're here to serve."
Remember in 20:32 how the word of grace builds people up and gives them a lasting inheritance? Such eternal security allows us to cling less tightly to the riches of this world. Paul can state forthrightly in the very next verse, "I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing." He was freed from materialism and greed.
When the believers who'd dabbled in sorcery were convicted about that sin they burned the scrolls publicly; Luke notes, "When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to 50,000 drachmas..." A drachma was a day's wage, so the New Living Translation describes it as "several million dollars." (19:19) Wow! Wouldn't that have made a nice 'building fund'! But it rightly went up in smoke so as not to perpetuate the evil. Still, this indicates how these early church-goers were immune to material temptation. Instead, they shared freely with those in need.
A healthy church learns to look beyond mere PROPERTY to meeting the needs of PEOPLE. Don't start with floor plans (fun as such dreaming might be) but with finding out what the ministries might be, what's your church members' 'gift set', assessing what your community needs are. So today we hope to do a little brainstorming survey at our potluck.
There are many stories about churches that have stumbled and even fought over pesky material issues that came up in a construction project - colour of the paint, colour of the carpet, pews versus chairs, etc. I even heard of one pastor who wanted to simply have the piano on the other side of the sanctuary, but he knew the deacons wouldn't go for such a big change. So each Sunday he moved the piano just an inch or two. After some years, his mission was accomplished!
Bowman and Hall go to some length to point out the advantages of chairs over pews, keyboard over pipe organ, the benefits of movable platforms and easily accessible storage. If our congregation has a 'material immunity' like Paul and the Ephesians, we won't get stuck on such matters but be able to see the big picture of how needs are better served by various choices.
Apostolic appointment; Constructive content; Rally to repentance; Adaptive attitude; Horizontal humility; Material Immunity...the final sign of a growing church we see here is Sacrificial Supply. 20:34f, Paul says to the Ephesian elders, "You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Through personal sacrifice and effort, following Jesus' unselfish kind example, Paul produced a surplus that helped maintain not only himself but his co-workers, with some left over for charity.
The dominant attitude in a static church is to meet the members' own needs. In a growing church, it's to serve others in the love of Christ, draw them to Jesus, multiply and equip and release disciples to deploy their special gifts in turn. Bowman has found consistently that people in growing churches donate 8-10% of their income. Some of that is for property needs, but much goes to ministries. It is perverse for a capital campaign or construction debt to suck dry funding for ministry to the needy. Last week our look at saving vs.mortgage showed us the dramatic benefits of not having to borrow funds and add over 45% in interest to the cost. Let's start systematically saving up for a building, while also ramping up our outreach on the human side. That will mean personal sacrifice in order for needs to be supplied.
At the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, one of the speakers was telling about a congregation that was pouring a foundation for a new sanctuary. The pastor was concerned people might start to see it as a building 'just for them'. When it was to be poured, he gave each person a rock and asked them to write the name of an unsaved friend or family member on the rock; then they would all throw the rocks into the foundation, symbolizing that the church isn't just for the saved. We're here to take the word of grace out to others.
When these healthy hallmarks are in place, blockages to grace are removed and God can bring about EXTRAORDINARY EFFECT. Sometimes plumb miraculous. 19:11f records, "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." Don't forget this is 'Doctor Luke' documenting this! Even non-believers (for example the seven sons of Sceva) acknowledged Jesus and Paul by reputation. Even the evil spirit acknowledges them! (19:13,15) A whole community, a whole province is affected as more and more people experience Jesus' forgiveness, mercy, love, and grace. 19:20, "In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power." I like the effect described just before that: "the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour." As it should be. He was being appreciated for the great God He is.
In closing, Bowman & Hall encourage us to imagine what it would be like if it were the year 2040 and churches had begun to apply the principles of Focus, Use, and Provision. "Now imagine that these churches have taken all the money saved by not building unnecessary buildings and by not paying interest and have invested that amount in ministering to the needs of people in their own neighbourhoods or nearby communities. What would these churches be like now?
"Imagine a church in a small farm community where restless youth look for something to do on Saturday night, where people often grow lonely as they grow older, where limited economic opportunities leave hardworking families helpless during economic downturns, where the everybody-knows-everybody-else's-business atmosphere compounds the pain of being fired, of chemical dependency, of divorce. Once such a church has redirected its focus from building to meeting the needs of people, how will the church have changed? How will the changed church have changed the community?
"Think of a church in an affluent suburban neighbourhood. After they drew the line on building, they redirected their time, energy, and money into reaching out to the needs of those who lived there. All kinds of support groups sprang up: AA, AlAnon, Divorce Recovery, Cancer Recovery. Members developed ministries to help restore hurting marriages and help parents reestablish relationships with alienated children. The church began to provide finances and volunteers for a variety of ministries in a nearby low-income neighborhood. Throughout the community the church became known as a group of people who have their fingers firmly on the pulse of the community's needs and who reach out creatively and compassionately to meet those needs.
...imagine that by the year 2040 half the churches...look like this...They no longer consider bigger or more impressive buildings to be signs of success. All that matters is to minister to people's needs by the power of Christ.
"If that were true of just half the churches of your community, how would your community be changed? Can you imagine it? What new or expanded services would be available to the elderly? To the unemployed? To abused children and those who abuse them? How would life be different for single teenage moms in your community?... What new opportunities would be available to those who seek drug rehabilitation? For students who need extra tutoring?...For those needing job training or financial counseling?
"If all these tangible expressions of caring had sprung up in your community, some from your church, most from others, what differences might you see in the juvenile delinquency rate? In the crime rate? In the unemployment rate? In the divorce rate?
"...Now, multiply that image by thousands. What if the transformation you have just envisioned for your own community were duplicated in every community in your...province? What if half of all the churches in every town in the United States and Canada caught this vision and determined never again to let buildings become their focus, not even temporarily? How would our society be changed?"
[The authors conclude] "It's difficult to imagine anything approaching this without envisioning one of the greatest revivals of all time. By the millions our neighbours would be struck with the truth that Christianity is not some special interest group seeking to promote its own success but a radically caring community of people who have tapped into a power that can meet their deepest needs and change their lives." Now, that would be extraordinary! Amen, may it come to pass! And may the name of our Lord Jesus be held in high honour. Let's pray.