September, 7, 2014

Come and See

Every year at about this time we take two or three weeks to talk about who we are as a church and where we are going with this.  We do this for a few reasons.  First, there may be folks who have connected with the church since we talked about this last year and they need to know what they’ve gotten themselves into.  I mean, they may have started to get a rough idea, but wait until they hear the whole story!  (They’ll love it, of course.)  Second, we have moved forward a bit toward the kingdom in the past year and in order to keep moving in the right direction, we need to be reminded of who we are so we don’t start heading off toward something we’re not.  Third and in the same vein, mission drift is something that affects every organization.  To quote a line from the Christian rock band, Relient K, “We all struggle with forward motion/’cause forward motion is harder than it sounds/well every time I gain some ground/I gotta turn myself around again.”

Most organizations start with a clear vision and direction.  They wouldn’t exist otherwise.  Every church starts with a purpose.  It may be elaborate or it may be very simple, but there is a purpose.  Over time, though, human inertia begins to set in and unless we actively look to keep moving forward, we will eventually settle into a routine.  And do you know what you call a routine that doesn’t change for a long time?  A rut.  Here’s the problem: God is always on the move.  He’s always moving forward with His kingdom plans and unless we keep moving with Him, we’ll get left behind.  So then, to avoid getting left behind by God, becoming by default a place where people play at church rather than really changing hearts and minds with the power of the Gospel, we remind ourselves of the mission God has given us, what we’ve been doing to accomplish it, and where it is going to next take us.  So then, who are we as a church and where are we going?

I’m glad you asked.  There’s actually a story behind that.  A few years ago we started a conversation about what God was doing at Central.  Under the leadership of the deacons we started to evaluate what was going on around here.  We thought through some things that were really working, some things that we weren’t sure whether or not they were working, and some things that maybe weren’t working so well.  The longer we spent on this process a couple of different things began to become clear.  The first thing was this: we were very much in danger of becoming another one of those churches that does churchy stuff because…well…that’s what churches are supposed to do.  You have programs and services and throw some dollars and bodies around the community to help here and there because it’s what you feel like you should be doing as a church.  Now, are there some lives changed by all of this?  Sure, a few.  But what usually ends up happening to churches like this is that the life of the body begins to center around a handful of families who are committed to seeing their kids “raised in the church” because that’s how they were brought up, and as long as their kids get baptized and show up every now and then, that’s good enough.  Now, do folks in these kinds of churches love the Lord?  Of course they do!  They wouldn’t be at church unless they did.  Do they love the lost (at least in theory)?  Absolutely!  The church is all about saving the lost, right?  I mean there aren’t too many churches like the one I heard about recently from a friend of mine in which on a Sunday morning at the conclusion of the service a couple stood up and publically announced they were leaving the church because the pastor was entirely too concerned about loving lost people.  In any event, churches like this tend to exist to serve the few families who are currently involved in the ministry but that’s about it.  These churches mean the world to these families and a few others, but when the kids either start moving out of the community or else stop coming, they don’t last long.

The second thing we realized is this: God created this place with a specific intention in mind and by looking around and paying attention to the things we do best, we could start to get a sense of the frame of this design.  So, we began looking and paying attention.  Do you know what we found?  We started with the obvious.  Central is a family church.  I mean that in a couple of important ways.  The first is literal.  I’ve been here for six years and I am still discovering just how thoroughly related everybody is.  As a result, there is a real sense of familiarity when you walk in the door.  Everybody knows everybody and cares about them in ways that go beyond what you find in a lot of churches.  This trend points to the second meaning: there is a real sense that when you connect here you are a part of the family whether you are or not.  Many churches have to work really hard to create something like that and yet here it just comes naturally.  That’s a gift from God given for a purpose.

As we kept looking around we noticed a couple of other things.  There are a lot of opportunities for learning around here.  We spend a lot of time talking about what it looks like to be a follower of Christ and how we can do that with confidence and grace.  A third thing that stood out was the fact that there is a fair amount of serving going on around here relative to the size of our body.  There were other things that stood out in the process, but these three were primary.  And as we spent some time thinking about the sense of belonging that comes so naturally to us and the learning and serving happening all the time, an idea began to crystalize.  The first form of it read like this: we are committed to creating a place where spiritual seekers can find a place to belong, learn the Christian faith, and serve unconditionally.  That was kind of a mouthful and gradually a slimmer, trimmer version emerged.  This one ought to sound awfully familiar: Central Baptist Church is committed to creating a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ.  This is simply who we are as a church.  This is who God has designed us to be at the present time.  We are a place where anyone can come and know beyond a shadow of doubt that they matter, both to us and to the kingdom of God.  Furthermore, we believe in the importance of empowering people.  This is actually part of believing they matter.  If we didn’t think people mattered, we wouldn’t bother pouring into them in the first place.  Finally, the thing we are empowering people for is to engage their world for Christ, to make an impact on their world for the kingdom of God.  If we empower them to anything else we are missing the mark as far as being a faithful church goes.

Since those ideas came together, we have made a concerted effort to wrap all our other ministries and programs around them.  This mission statement has become the rubric by which we analyze whether or not something is worth doing.  The question has become: does this communicate in some way that people matter and empower them to engage their world for Christ?  If it does, we do it.  If it doesn’t, we try and stay away from it.  With this mission at our backs we have done things like make a number of physical improvements to the buildings and grounds, we have rebranded Wednesday night activities from no name to The Kitchen Table, we have twice hosted the Easter Village, what was a largely in-house Halloween event has become a major community stop with as many as 300 people coming through the building in a single evening, and we have started a greeting ministry at Midway Elementary to take our mission out into our community.  All that has happened because of our mission.

Now, let’s make something clear before going much further: Central was a great church before all of this happened.  There’s no question or argument on that fact.  But, like a lot of other great churches, Central wasn’t really going anywhere.  Church was happening in part for its own sake.  What crystalizing this mission statement has done is give us direction.  We know where we are going now.  We are creating a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ.  And, in the years since we’ve clarified who we are and where we’re going, we’ve made a lot of progress.  But this morning, I want to do some dreaming with you for a few minutes.  We have gotten the train out of the station and have started lumbering down the tracks.  But what might this look like when it really gets rocking and rolling?  What will the atmosphere around here be when the flywheel is turning and nothing is slowing it down?  How will it feel to walk in the building knowing that we are entering a place where something powerful is happening?

I’ll tell you what it’ll be like.  We will be a place where people can’t help but invite others to come and see what’s going on here.  As a matter of fact, this idea of creating a come-and-see atmosphere has been at the heart of Jesus’ movement since the beginning.  Working to create one here would merely be a continuation of what Jesus Himself started 2,000 years ago.

If you have a copy of the Scriptures nearby, turn or thumb your way to John 1 and you can see what this looked like with me.  You see, before Jesus began His ministry, His cousin John had a vibrant and growing ministry.  John’s ministry was all about preparing the way for Jesus’ ministry such that when Jesus finally entered the scene, John began to slowly fade to the background.  But, in the early days, just after John baptized Jesus, there was a period of crossover during which time John did everything he could to get people to follow Jesus.  In fact, a couple of his followers bolted for Jesus the day after the baptism happened.  Look at this with me starting in John 1:35.

“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’  The two disciples heard him say this and they followed Jesus.  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’  And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’  He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’”

So these disciples of John (one of whom is Andrew who would become part of Jesus’ group of 12 disciples), begin to follow Jesus…literally.  The reason I sometimes call Christians “Jesus followers” is because the original group literally followed Jesus around.  In any event, they take off after Jesus and eventually He stops and asks what they are doing?  And wouldn’t you?  If you had a couple of guys following you, you’d stop and ask why too.  These two guys respond by asking where Jesus is staying.  You see, they recognize that there’s something going on with this guy that worth their investigating.  Jesus’ response is to tell them to come and see.  He doesn’t try to explain it because at this point He really couldn’t.  He doesn’t give them a rundown of His movement.  He simply says, “Come and see.”  When they do, they discover that He is the Messiah.  He’s the one they’ve been waiting for all their lives to come and set things right once again for the people of Israel.  From the beginning, then, Jesus’ movement has been a come and see affair.  Come and see has always been an invitation to follow Jesus.

Indeed, the next day this invitation was extended and the number of Jesus’ followers grew.  Come back to the text with me at v. 43: “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter [and, I should add, given the way towns back then often worked, that probably meant they were some flavor of cousins].  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.  Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’”

Let me pause here for a moment to make sure you understand what’s happening.  What’s the deal with Nathanael’s response to Philip?  I mean, it’s pretty critical.  Well, isn’t this just exactly what might happen when we invite someone to church?  It may be that they respond graciously, but it may be—and come on, you know we’re all a little afraid of this—that they respond critically.  “You go to church?  Why?  Why would you want to bother with all those hypocrites?  What’s going on there that’s so special it can’t be found somewhere else where they don’t preach at you and take all your money to pay their over-priced preachers?”  How would you respond to something like that?  I mean, Nathanael’s response here was in that same vein.  Philip invited him to come meet Jesus and he responded with ugly skepticism.  Philip’s response?  Look again at v. 46: Come and see.

He didn’t try offer reasons or logic to Nathanael at this point.  In another set of circumstances that may have been appropriate.  But at this point where Philip is simply inviting him to come check out what he has found and experienced, the best response was to invite Nathanael to come and see for himself.  Come and see.  It’s a call to follow Jesus.  Come and see is a call to follow Jesus.  The Jesus movement has always advanced on a call to come and see.  Sometimes it was a quite literal call as was the case here.  Often it was a metaphorical call like what the apostles made to people in Acts when they were proclaiming the news that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  They called people to come and witness the results of the resurrection and in the process encounter the risen Christ for themselves.

This come and see culture is exactly where we are going at Central.  It’s what we are striving to create.  It is the direction in which our mission compels us to go.  When people find and connect with a place they know they matter, the natural reaction is to want to share that with others, to encourage them to come and see what’s going on and experience it for themselves.  Think about this with me for a minute, Church, and especially those folks who’ve been here a long time.  In fact, I want you to close your eyes for a minute and just let your mind wrap itself around some thoughts here: When was the last time you were genuinely excited to be here?  When was the last time you left and thought, “I can’t wait until I come back”?  When was the last time you went to bed with a real sense of anticipation on Saturday night or spent all day Wednesday twiddling your thumbs because you couldn’t wait for the little hand to work its way around to the five?  When was the last time you walked out those doors and thought, “I’ve got to tell ________ about this, they won’t want to miss it”?  When was the last time you were excited about church?  In a come and see culture, this kind of stuff happens all the time.  People connect and lives are changed.  Come and see is a call to follow Jesus.  All it takes on our part to get it started are three little words: Come.  And.  See.

To wrap things up this morning, then, I want to do two things with you.  I want to challenge you and I want to cast a vision for you.  Here’s the challenge: Take an intentional step to make this come and see culture a practical reality.  And here’s something very concrete you can do this to make this happen.  Invite somebody you know to come and see what’s going on at Central.  A few years ago the President of Lifeway, Thom Rainer, led a research project in which he and some other folks sat down with 308 people who were unchurched and non-Christian.  They wanted to get their thoughts on a number of issues related to the church.  As the research began to unfold they discovered a number of things that were really surprising.  One of these was this: Most of the unchurched folks felt guilty about not going to church.  Well, if they feel guilty for not going…why don’t they go?  The answer?  They feel intimidated by the church.  They don’t think they’ll fit in.  They don’t know all the protocols—I mean, it’s a scary thing to think that you might accidentally wind up as the only one standing or sitting when everybody else is doing the opposite.  It’s nerve-wracking to have everybody around you singing the same song and you not only don’t know the tune or the words, but you can’t even find it in the book everybody else is using.  It’s very much isolating to know that you might be the only person in the room who believes differently than the rest of the group.  Well then, is there anything that could get them to come in spite of these fears?  Yes, there is.  In spite of their fears, 96% of the unchurched said they would be at least somewhat likely to come to a church if they were invited.  Got that?  Nine out of ten unchurched people would come to church if they were invited.  Want to guess why they don’t come?  Do I have to say it?  Nobody invites them!  If we are going to create a come and see culture it is going to start by you inviting the folks you know who don’t already go to church somewhere—and if you don’t know anybody who doesn’t go to church, you need to fix that—to come and see what’s going on at Central.  It might be the spark that ignites a life change.  Come and see is a call to follow Jesus.

And, we’re going to help you out in this effort by giving you some things to which to invite them.  You can invite them to come with you on a Sunday morning.  That’s the easiest time and place to make it happen—just make sure that you meet them here (ride with them if you have to) and sit with them (even if that’s not in your seat).  You can also invite them to come to the Kitchen Table.  Now, that’s a little more chaotic an environment to walk into unprepared—especially when the little ones finish eating and start running around—but if you come with them, they’ll be okay.  Have you ever walked into somebody else’s family reunion but rather than being a close-minded family they tended to embrace whoever came in with a hug and a smile and an invitation to join the group?  That’s kind of what walking into the Kitchen Table is like.  It’s a bit chaotic, but it’s a family chaos that invites other folks to join in the fun.  There are also a number of special events coming up in the next few weeks.  Next Sunday we are showing God’s Not Dead in this room.  We’ll do the same thing the following Wednesday.  The DHS Homecoming Game is just over a month away and we’ll host again our annual post-game bonfire.  We still need folks to help with the event, but it’s a great thing to invite folks to come to after the game to hang out for a while and experience our community.  Halloween is just two weeks after that and we’ll once again do our Just Treats event that’s a no brainer for families to attend.  So we’ll help you out by making sure there’s stuff to invite people to come and see; you just make sure you are inviting people to come and see.  Their lives may literally depend on it.  Come and see is a call to follow Jesus.

Now for the vision: Have you ever seen a couple who had been married for a long time, and loved each other, but who weren’t in love with each other anymore.  The commitment they had to one another was certainly admirable, but you could tell there was just something missing.  In the same vein, have you ever seen a couple who had been married for a long time and loved each other, but who were still very much in love with each other.  That’s something special.  Their excitement for each other is contagious.  Now, it’s cute to see newlywed couples who have this to be sure, but you expect that.  But to see couples who have been sharing life and all the challenges that go with it for 40, 50, 60, even 70 years and who are still acting a bit like newlyweds…that’s just different.  It gives you hope that good does in fact lie ahead of you.  It gives you hope that the brokenness of this world can’t break everything.  It raises up a sense of life in you that invigorates your own.  If you are in this room and have been connected here for much more than a few months, I know you love this church.  For some of you that love may be a bit fresher than for others, but we all love this church.  But imagine what it would be like to fall in love with the church again.  Imagine the excitement you’d have every time you thought about her.  Imagine the commitment you’d have to see her become fully what God designed her to become, doing everything in your power to make it a reality.  Imagine the passion you’d have when telling other people about her.  It would be contagious.  While of course you would say it, you almost wouldn’t have to call people to come and see because your whole self would scream it to them.   That’s where we’re going.  And my invitation to you is to not simply come and see it happen, but to be a part of it; to take the come and see culture with you when you go, spreading the word to everybody you can until you come back next time we meet.  Come and see is a call to follow Jesus.  Be back next week at this time and we’ll talk about what it’s going to take to make it happen.  See you then.

 

 

AFTER THE PRAYER: Now, I usually make some kind of an invitation at this point in the service, but it’s usually pretty generic.  This morning I want to make a very specific invitation to you.  I want to make a two-fold invitation in fact.  First, I know there are some folks in the room who have been hanging out with us for a while.  You’ve connected, have been coming, and have become a part of the family…but you haven’t yet taken the step of making it official.  This morning I want you to do one of two things: I want you to write down on your bulletin when you are going to come and talk to me this next week about how to do that, or, I want you to get up in just a minute and walk up here to go ahead and get it done.  I know it’s going to take a lot of courage, but you can do it.  I’ll be standing right here waiting for you.  I won’t even sing so you don’t have to worry about interrupting me.  Second, if you are one of our longtimers who love this church but who have maybe not been in love with it for a while, I’m going to invite you come just stand with me down here as a way to declare to the rest of room that you are going to fall in love with your church again, that you are on board with where we’re going and want to make sure that you are an active part of seeing it happen.  I know that’s a scary thing for you to think about doing just like it is for the other folks, but I want you to know that this morning, it’s okay.  Nobody’s going to judge you.  We’re all going to celebrate your embrace of what God’s doing here.  We’re going to sing all the verses of the song this morning to give both groups plenty of time to respond.  So think and pray for a minute, then make your move.  I’ll be standing right here waiting for you to join me.  Let’s stand and sing together while you get moving.