The following is a modified version of a message I gave to a group of friends. I spoke about something that has been a soul searching inquiry on a fifteen year journey.
We’ve been going through a series of questions submitted by the church and the pastor and leadership have been teaching on them. I submitted a question myself. My question was rejected as a option for teaching on. My question was this: Do ALL dogs go to heaven? I mean, what about Pit Bulls? They are mean dogs!
When I texted this question, however, it was graciously answered in a return text:
Rob, all dogs do go to heaven, even pit bulls. They have a special place for them away from the other dogs. Cats, on the other hand, do not go to heaven. They go to the other place, and it couldn’t be sooner.\
About fifteen years ago before we became a part of this church, I had been heavily involved in the leadership of another church. I was in a pastor in training program, I was been leading a prayer ministry, and I had planned to plant a church someday. Then one Sunday morning, as I was praying before a service, I realized that I had become disillusioned with myself and what I was doing, I had been motivated by my own selfish ambition and that the ministries. At that point, God got my attention. He told me stop doing everything. He told me that he was going to show me how to view and do church.
Since then, I have been asking these questions. What does it mean to be the church? What should we look like? What does it mean to do church? Over the years, God has pointed out things as they were happening around me, saying, “That’s the church. That’s what you do.” Friends came together to help us move: “that’s the church.” I got together with a bunch of guys to help one of them cut up some fallen trees for firewood: “that what you do.” We helped give food away to families on the weekends: “that’s the church, that’s what you do.”
People can be pretty creative about using things for purposes they weren’t meant for. I always think of James Bond and his exploding pens, or Maxwell smart and his shoe phone. “Would you believe . . . “ My son has a smart phone. He can text, email, buy a book, read a book, play games, take pictures, and even watch videos! To my knowledge, he has never made nor answered a single phone call.
It’s human nature to mess with things until we lose sight of their original intent. Like using a watch for a compass. Did you know that was possible? Did you know that Frisbees came from people throwing pie tins from a company called the Frisbee Pie Company? And duct tape? Don’t get me started. We do it all time with way see and use things in our everyday lives. Like the way we view and do church.
Jesus made doing church really simple. He just went around telling people that God loves them. Then he just loved people, even the unlovable. Then he showed his disciples how to love God and how to love people. And just before he left, he told his disciples to teach other people how to love God and love other people.
He didn’t dump a bunch of rituals or extra laws on us. We did that. If anything, he threw stuff out. His disciples started complicating things even while he was still with them. Like when Jesus was transfigured on a mountain and Moses and Elijah came down to hang out with him. Peter got this bright idea. “Let’s put up some tents to mark the occasion. One for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” And God basically said, “Whoa, Peter, you’re missing it. It’s not about them, it’s about my son. Listen to him!” (Rob’s paraphrased version).
Paul ran into this, too. In his letter to the church at Corinth he wrote this:
. . . I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3 NASB)
It seems to me that the church at large has continued to be bogged down by multiple religious activities and programs that we have accepted as necessary, but may have little or nothing to do with actually being a church. But out of tradition, we continue pile them on until we have lost the simplicity and the purity of our devotion to Christ.
So what does it actually take to be a church?
My church is probably not the most conventional, but there are some basic elements we have in common with conventional churches. We have a place to meet once a week. We have a worship team, a children’s ministry, a youth ministry. We have small groups like the women’s group, the men’s group, and the Monday night. We have outreaches like a welcome brunch for newcomers, a weekly food giveaway, and annual school supply drives. We have prayer ministries; a ministry team that prays for people at the end of a service and a more in-depth Prayer team for more series needs, and we have an outstanding group of leaders to facilitate all these ministries, an awesome administrator and a very cool pastor. On top of all that, we have . . . people.
So, we have some great things going on here. But out of all that, what is absolutely essential to doing church? Can we still be a church without all the ministries, without small groups, without outreach, without a building, without leaders? What would be left? People? We can’t have church without people. We are the church. But how many people does it take to be a church? 50? 20? 10?
Jesus said, “. . . if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:18-20 NIV).
How can we be a church with only two or three people? Well, there are only three things we are told to do as a church.When one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus said, “The most important one, is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus gave us another commandment the night before he was crucified. He said, “I’ve got a new commandment I want you to live by. Love each other. You’ve experienced my love for you, now I want you to love each other the same way. When people see this, they’ll know you are my disciples.”
The last last orders Jesus gave before he went back to be with his father, was this:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20 NIV)
That’s pretty much it; love God, love people and make disciples.
In all the churches I have been involved with, all but two were either a church plant or a re-plant. Most of them with my wife, Laurie. The most common mistake I saw was what I call the “Field of Dreams” syndrome. If you build it, they will come. And, if we were lucky, people came. But the people who did come, were from other churches. Not that this was bad, except that no disciples were being made. Not until we took the church to those who wanted it. And the sad part was, even when we did introduce people to the love of Jesus, they still wouldn’t go to a conventional church. Because they either didn’t feel comfortable being themselves or they were afraid they wouldn’t be accepted. So, Laurie and I continued to do church with them outside of the traditional church.
It’s like that parable Jesus told about the king who had a banquet. He got his wedding dinner party ready and sent out invitations. But each of his invites came back with excuses. “Sorry, I just bought a business and I can’t get away.” “I need to take care of some things and I just won’t be able to make it.” “I just got married and, well, you know. Sorry.” The king was pretty upset. “Fine. They don’t get to come, then.” Then he told his servants to go to the truck stops and invite the Truck drivers, runaways and the diner waitresses. He told them to go downtown and invite the homeless, the drug dealers, the hookers. “Don’t forget the security guards in front of the bank, the Max drivers, and the street musicians. And that guy the paints himself all silver and juggles glass balls for money, don’t forget him. Or the girl who does the hula hoop tricks at the Saturday market. They’re all invited. Even the J. W.s who set up their stands with their pamphlets on the street corners. They’re invited, too.”
In the Gospels, Jesus shows us what doing church looks like when he stopped people from stoning a prostitute. This was Levitical law, by the way, they had every right to stone her for prostitution. But Jesus stepped in and shamed them all, showing them that they were no better than she was. He challenged whoever was sinless, to throw the first stone. When everyone had left and no stones were thrown. Jesus helped the prostitute up and asks, “No one condemns you?” She looked around in awe and shook her head. Then he looked her in the eye and said, “Neither do I.”
Jesus showed us, when he talked to a Samaritan woman about living water and wanted to share the
good news that God loves them. Jews don’t talk to Samaritans. They are weird and they have a weird religion. Like Mormonism. But, Jesus did.
Jesus hugged lepers and then healed them. Nobody hugs lepers. You could catch something. Jesus went to parties with sinners! And they were smoking weed! He hung out with those pierced and tattooed kids. The ones who wear all black and have these huge rings in their ear lobes. He shared a soda with a homeless guy who hadn’t showered in weeks and had food in his beard.
People followed him everywhere. The disciples just wanted to get rid of them. Bud Jesus showed us how to do church when he told his disciples that they needed feed them, and he made the food multiply from some kid’s lunch of bread and fish. And when he tried to get alone, away from the crowds, he ran into a huge crowd who wanted him to heal them. But he wasn’t irritated, instead, he showed us how church was done. He had compassion on them and healed them, all of them. Why? Because he loved them and he wanted them to know that his father loved them. When asked why, the only reason he gave for doing all this was that he just saw what his father was doing. And because he loved his father he wanted to participate by loving those people.
He loved his father, he loved people, and he made disciples.
So, when there’s only two or three of us, what do you do? Pack up and go home? Start a ministry? Or do we just, Love God. Because in your love for God, your love for Jesus, we want to obey him, right?
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” So we learn to love each other. Then we make disciples. We do this by loving people, even the unlovable–especially, the unloved–teaching them to obey everything he taught us. Which is to what? Love God, love people and make disciples. Who is going to do this? All of us are because that’s what we, the church do. That’s how we do church. Understanding this is what changes us from a passive listener to an active participant.
John put it like this:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1st John 47-12 NIV).
Maybe you’re thinking that’s not me, I can’t do that stuff. Well, maybe you’re not the one to share a soda with the homeless guy. But maybe you can mow your neighbor’s lawn because you know he’s going through Chemo for cancer. Maybe you can fix your other neighbor’s fence because you know she doesn’t have any money. You can buy groceries for the family down the street whose dad lost his job. Talk to the retired lady across the street. She’s lonely. Give a bigger tip to the woman at your favorite restaurant. Or just listen. Try to see what your heavenly father is doing.
Paul says God has stuff for us to do. He said “We are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ that we should walk in them.” All we need to do is see what our father is doing. We do this by loving God. What he wants is for people to know he loves them. We show them this by loving people. And when they experience this, we show them how to love God, love people and make disciples.
So, of all the things we do to be a church, to do church; all ministries, small groups, and outreaches, are born out of loving God, loving people, and making disciples. If they are not, then they are waste of time, a distraction, an attempt to make the church something that it not. Just remember what Paul said to the Galatians:
“The only thing that matters, is faith expressing itself through love.”