Sermon preached by the Revd Phill Ball on Sunday 17 May 2015
You know, sometimes we can give a wrong impression. How often do we talk to one another and speak of ‘our church’, or tell those outside the fellowship about ‘my church’. What we’re actually meaning when we say this is ‘the church that we belong to’, but what we are literally saying is ‘the church that belongs to us’.
Now, you may think I’m being a little pedantic here and I know it certainly sounds that way, but there is a serious point to it: there’s a danger that the longer we go on talking about ‘my church’ and ‘our church’, the more likely we will begin to think of it as ‘the church that belongs to me, or us’, rather than the other way around. And when that happens there is a real likelihood that our own agenda will become the agenda of the church and that would be unhealthy.
What we need to be mindful of at all times is that, fundamentally and ultimately, the Church is God’s Church – it, and we, belong to Him. Jesus Christ died for His Church – it is His much more than it is ours. Of course, I don’t want us all to stop completely talking of ‘my church’ and ‘our church’, but it is essential we remember that, first and foremost, it’s God’s Church and that it’s His agenda we must seek to discover.
At the moment, we as a church are considering the 7 signs of a healthy church and, in previous weeks, we have suggested that a healthy church is one that is ‘energised by faith’ and that has ‘an outward-looking focus’. This morning, I’m going to add a third sign: that is, a healthy church is one that seeks to find out what God wants – with the emphasis firmly upon God.
I think there are four elements to this desire to discover God’s will. First of all, it would seem that a healthy church …
seeks to explore what God wants it to be and to do.
Notice the significance of that: what you are is as important as what you do. As individuals, we can be highly motivated Christians that try to do everything: door-to-door evangelism; children’s work; welcoming at the front door on Sunday mornings; minute-taking at meetings; leading a house group; and so on; as well as looking after home and family. The only problem is we may well be so busy doing things that we have no time to think about our being – that is, about who we are before God.
If, instead, we would start off by considering who we are – that is, how God has made us, how He has gifted us, and to what He has called us – then we might find we are doing much less, yet being much more effective.
The same applies to churches: we can build up an extremely busy and impressive roster of events, groups and activities; and yet lose touch with who we are before God. Whole fellowships – just like individuals – first need to seek God’s will for their ministry and then act in accordance with what they discover. This doesn’t mean that a church should go through a period of complete inactivity, but rather that it must ensure that opportunities to listen for the voice of God are not crowded out by periods of non-stop activity.
Jesus, as ever, provides the perfect example for us. In Luke’s Gospel, we read that Jesus went up a mountain to pray by Himself and ended up praying all night – and when I say ‘praying’, I don’t mean that He just spoke out His own prayers … I’m sure He also spent lots of time listening to His Father’s voice. When He came down the mountain, look what He did:
first, He chose 12 of His many followers to be apostles, who would continue His work after His death;
then, He healed many sick people who crowded around Him;
and, after that, He delivered arguably the most important teaching session of His entire ministry.
All this is more than mere coincidence, believe me. Jesus is very focussed precisely because He has taken time out to hear God’s voice – as a result, He is sure of who He is and certain of what He is called to.
Who appoints the apostles from (apóstolos), meaning "one who is sent away", is a messenger and ambassador of God, you and me in effect- God does.
We might also remember the Mary and Martha episode, in which busy, busy, oh-so-busy Martha complains to Jesus because Mary is just sitting and listening to Him. But Jesus doesn’t agree with Martha and suggests that Mary has found the better way. The point is that there is a time for doing - indeed there’ll plenty of time to be busy with whatever we are called to do – but that time will emerge out of a willingness first to listen to what God is saying to us.
As a fellowship, we must listen for God speaking to us; we must seek to find out what God wants us to be and what He is calling us to do – through personal and corporate prayer, through conversation and consultation, in an unhurried and unpressured manner. As Robert Warren has put it, we need “the courage to seek to discover what God is calling this church at this time to be and to do in this place.”
Second, a healthy church …
has a shared vision of where it is going
In other words, in a healthy church there will be a vision of where God is calling that church, and it will be a vision which is owned by the whole fellowship.
So, first of all: that vision must come from God, and should not be of purely human invention. The King James Version of the Bible says in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”, but the word translated ‘vision’ actually means ‘following the guidance of God’. It’s God’s guidance which is critical in this.
Now, of course, vision for a Christian fellowship may first be given through a church leader – in the Bible, we see numerous examples of God using a human agent to guide His people.
Moses (Simon) is a prime example of this: God spoke through Moses (and his more flawed sidekick Aaron)(ME) in order to communicate to the Israelites the vision of a free Israel living in the Promised Land and He equipped Moses to lead them through the wilderness.
Nehemiah is another great example: God worked through Nehemiah to share the vision of rebuilt city walls with the inhabitants of Jerusalem and, when they were suitably enthused, they went ahead and got the job done.
So, vision may come through an individual, but then the really critical factor is that this vision is affirmed and owned by God’s people. If the Israelites hadn’t seen that God was in it, they wouldn’t have followed Moses into the wilderness; and if the people of Jerusalem hadn’t recognised that God was behind the project they wouldn’t have worked so effectively to rebuild the city walls. If God isn’t in St Martins, who will follow Simon Faithfully?
The healthy church, then, has a shared vision of where it is going and is able to communicate it to others. This ability to communicate vision to others is essential, because it may well attract like-minded people from outside the fellowship to come along and participate.
The third point is that the healthy church …
acts upon what God reveals
Hearing from God is one thing - putting what He says into action is another! Just think of the story of Jonah: God commissioned Jonah to go to Nineveh to deliver a prophecy of judgement and what did Jonah do? He ran away in the opposite direction. It was only later – after being thrown overboard into the sea, swallowed by a huge fish and vomited up – that he was obedient.
Now, I don’t think there are many churches around that would behave like Jonah did, but there are probably a few that are given a vision and then are slow to take it any further.
Prayer and Vision without action, and in that order is worthless.
Healthy churches receive the vision, own it and then set themselves goals to put it into action – immediate goals and long-term goals. When we are sure that God has spoken to us, we must take it seriously and take whatever steps are necessary to put His word into action.
The final point I’ll make this morning is that the healthy church …
is prepared to make sacrifices to do God’s will
Just take the church at Smyrna that Jesus addresses in Revelation, chapter 2. He tells the Christians in Smyrna, “I know about your suffering and your poverty – but you are rich.” They were willing to pay a tough price for doing God’s will – persecution, even to the point of death.
Now, it seems unlikely that any fellowship in this country will be called upon to suffer such extreme treatment in the near future, but nonetheless healthy churches will make sacrifices.
In his book, ‘The Healthy Churches’ Handbook’, Robert Warren tells the story of the church who asked God what He wanted them to be and to do and they kept on hearing the word ‘hospitality’. At first, they thought God was inviting them to enjoy His hospitality at the communion table. Then, they felt that they were called to show greater hospitality to one another and, as a result, relationships within the church grew stronger. And, finally, they realised that God was telling them to extend hospitality to their local community and they put their energies into caring for immigrants and other disadvantaged groups. Because of this, the church was criticised by some for associating with dubious characters – but then, of course, so was Jesus!
So, then, may we always desire to find out what it is that God wants and not merely follow our own whims:
- may we be concerned to discover what God wants us to be & to do;
- may we come to a shared vision of where we’re going;
- may we always act upon what God reveals to us;
- and may we be prepared to make sacrifices to do God’s will.
As we seek to serve God in this town, in this area, I am sure that He will bless us and open up doors to us.
The big Question is what is Gods vision for yr place and life here at St Martins.
To God be the glory. Amen.
- - - - - - - - -
Does St Martin's seek to find out what God wants?
1 Weak and holding us back 2%
2 Only a few signs 4%
3 Some evidence of this 14%
4 Making progress 30%
5 Evidence of much of this 43%
6 This is a strength 7%
Seeking to find out what God wants: what needs working on….
- Sharing our vision with the church community
- Seeking God’s ways rather than our own
- Attracting locals who do not attend church
- General spiritual awareness and pockets of consideration of personal vocation and group mission, to be developed into an understanding of St Martin’s shared goals/priorities, and the long and short plan to meet these.
- Poor strategic planning and organisation
- Communication requires improvement
- Engagement with needs outside and around the church
- More communication
- To try hard and listen to God
- The church sets its goals but seems to ignore these in the day to day life – MAP is not regularly visited by those in leadership roles. Therefore, there is no sense of communication of where we are going and apart from a few instances it would seem to an outside that the church operates on a Sunday morning. Where the church is going is a question for all of us to have an input – how is this achieved in St Martin’s?
- Use prophetic gifts
- More opportunity for whole church reflection/prayer to seek what God wants and for people to share what they feel God is making them to do within church/community
- I don’t think we have a ‘big’ enough vision of who God is. We come to Him with ‘lists’ and spend very little time praising and worshipping Him for who He is.
- If we knew Him and His love more, we would know who we are and know His will for us
- We need to work on corporate prayer
- Our openness to the Holy Spirit.