A Vision for Healthy Church Membership (Ephesians Sermon 54 of 54)
October 09, 2016 | Andrew Davis
Church Membership, Two Journeys, Stewardship
Why Are You Here?
Powerful Question… You probably want to know what I mean!
In 1 Kings, we have this incredible account of one of the great heroes of the Old Testament, Elijah. He had an incredible encounter with God in a cave. He ran for his life from Jezebel. You remember that story. And when he got to that cave, he was thoroughly discouraged. He was thoroughly worn out by all that he had been through. The Lord began that encounter with a simple question, “Elijah, why are you here?” Now, he couldn’t have answered as he would answer later: “I think in the end, I was here to have an encounter with the living God.” I would love if everyone that’s sitting here today in the hearing of my voice would be able to answer that question the same way.
What if I were to ask you, “Why are you here right now?” I think it’s good for you to reflect on that. You probably would want to know what I mean. You want to ask, “Do you mean why did I get up out of bed this morning and come here? Is that what you’re asking? Or, why do I attend this specific church and not another church? Or maybe even bigger: why do I go to church at all on a Sunday morning? Or maybe you mean something even bigger than that: what is my purpose for living? Why am I on planet Earth at all? What’s my reason for existence? Well, these questions, no matter how I might mean them, all of them are very searching, very probing.
These questions are very probing, with a wide variety of answers
There are a wide variety of answers that people give to each one. Let’s take the most rudimentary, basic way to understand that question. Why am I here in this building right now? Why did I get out of bed and come here today? That took effort. That took forethought. For some people a little more forethought than others, but it did, it took effort. You chose your clothes. You got your body ready. You could have slept in. You could have relaxed. You could have surfed the web, gone to some sites, or just looked at the sunrise after the storm. You could have done a lot of things: gone for a walk, gone for breakfast, gone to your favorite breakfast spot, had an omelet with swiss cheese and broccoli, or some breakfast meats. You could have gone to one of those coffee shops where you sit with your earbuds in your ears right next to total strangers and don’t look at them. I find that amazing, some of these shops. People like to be together and don’t like to interact. Figure it out. Which is it? Do you want to be together or not? But it’s interesting. You could have gone to Starbucks or a park or some other spot.
Some of you may feel you had no choice but to come today. You’re being raised in a Christian home. Maybe you’re a kid or teenager, and you’re in no real position to refuse, however tempted you might be to refuse to come to church. But you’re having your heart-search right now. If you weren’t made to come, would you have come? In a few years, when you go away to college, you’ll have the freedom not to go to church. As a matter of fact, the overwhelming majority of kids raised in evangelical churches decide not to go to church when they get to college. But for now, you have no choice. Except you do get to control your attitude about coming to church. You get to control how you feel about it. You get to choose whether you’re happy to be here this morning.
Now, you that are college students, you’re already at that place where you know very well you don’t have to be in church. You’re here because you want to be here. Perhaps, usually, you stay up, as most college students do, quite late in the evenings. Maybe especially on Saturday evenings. I don’t know what your patterns are. That’s how it was for me. So Sunday mornings are a real sacrifice. Some of you have made the biggest sacrifice of anyone here today. But you’re here and you’re here because you want to be. But… go a little deeper. Why are you here? What do you want to hear? What do you want to have happen in your soul? What are you hoping for? What’s your reason for being here?
Some of you are parents. You feel an obligation to set an example for your children. You’re on the other side of that equation that I talked about earlier. Maybe you feel, to some degree, you have no choice but to be here. Others of you are members of FBC. You want to set an example for your kids, but you come here out of habit, maybe, or out of friendships, connections with other people. Some of you have been members of this church for decades. You just feel this is your church. You’ve been coming here. What else would you do? This is exactly why you come. And some of you are here because you want to have an encounter with the living God. You want to come to a church that preaches God’s Word. You want to know Jesus, and you want to follow Him. You know your salvation is not done yet. You need help and you need accountability. You need people to pray for you. You need to give and receive spiritual gifts. You need all of those things, and this is the church where you perceive those things happening. Because you’ve been blessed in that way in the past, you expect that you’re going to be blessed that way again today. So you’ve come for those kinds of blessings.
Another way to look at it: Why do you go to any church at all?
Another way to look at this is: How do you evaluate any church at all? How do you evaluate involvement in church? I think about when I fly and I get to the end of a flight. We’re taxiing up to the gate, and they play some pre-recorded message in which they acknowledge that I have many different choices in air travel, and they’re very grateful (at least the recording is grateful) for me having chosen Delta or American or whatever it is. I’m glad that the recording is grateful. That’s how I hear that. That’s just kind of the way I’m wired. Maybe they’re actually glad that I’ve chosen Delta or American. They say, “We know you have options.” Churches are very aware of that too. And they say, “We know you have other options in church.” We’re not back in the Middle Ages, or back in the state-run church era where it was illegal not to go to church and you had to go to the Anglican Church or to the Catholic Church or whatever. No, we know that you have freedom to not go to church or to go. And if you choose to go, you’ve got an array of choices in terms of denominations. And even within Baptist churches, you’ve got an array of options. So how do you evaluate? How do you know what is a healthy church? How can you evaluate your own involvement?
Perhaps I mean the ULTIMATE question: Why do you exist at all?
Or perhaps, pastor, you mean the ultimate question: why do I exist? Why? Why do I exist? Why am I here on Earth at all? What is my purpose for living? Why do I do anything, not just on Sunday mornings, but any time at all? Or more Christianly, why did God make me? Why did God create me? What were His reasons for knitting me together in my mother’s womb? Did He have a purpose for my life? So, as we come to the final sermon that I’m going to preach in the Book of Ephesians, the end of our journey in Ephesians, I think it’s a good time for us to evaluate ourselves individually in terms of God’s ultimate purposes in the world, and to zero in a little bit more specifically on our relationship to this local church, or ultimately, to any local church.
Setting FBC in context with what Ephesians says is God’s purpose in the world
I want to set First Durham, FBC, as a local church in the context of what God says is His purpose in the Book of Ephesians. And I want to give you, toward the end of the sermon, a list of six commitments, or duties, or responsibilities, of church members, by which I would like you to evaluate your involvement in this local church, and then, going forward, in any local church if the Lord should lead you away.
You may ask, why are we doing this today? Why now? Well, for a variety of reasons, I think. One is that the elders recently have been reading a book on Christian community. It’s available out in the North Tower Resource Center. One of the things that the book talked about, and I touched on it a moment ago, is the consumer mentality that can come in American churches, the idea of evaluating a church by what you get, like you do with any goods and services. Am I getting what I should get from a church? There’s a consumer mentality, rather than asking, “How can I serve Christ and His people? What are the ways that I can be a blessing to the people of God?”
For us, we look at both sides of that equation. We’re very eager to be certain that the church is giving to its members what a church should give. We’re very concerned when we hear stories about people going through adversity, going through trials in their lives, and they feel that no one cares. Specifically, that no one from the church cares. No one called. No one cared. No one came. Those kinds of things. It’s so easy to be busy in life, to be busy with ministry as elders and for people to slip through the cracks. We’re aware that people actually do feel that way. It’s not theoretical. There are some people that have felt that way. We take that very seriously. We want to evaluate our church and be certain that we’re ministering well. But we also want to be certain that people have a healthy view of the local church themselves. We find that the more people are other-centered and servant-hearted, the less they feel that way about any local church. They’re not thinking about it from that perspective. Instead, they’re always asking, “How can I be a blessing? How can I serve?” They tend to be the happiest, most well-adjusted church members there are, even though they may be going through great trials themselves.
Secondly, we have known for a long time that our church is kind of a regional church. People drive long distances to get here. We’ve also found that that wears on people after a time. It becomes more and more difficult to make that drive. I don’t think, other than plate tectonics, that the distance is any more than it was five years ago. It just seems longer. I think that speaks to the kind of growing discontent we all have with the same things that go on over and over. It’s like, “I know that church, and it just feels like it’s a long way to drive for church.” So we’ve evaluated that, and a number of faithful, fruitful members of the church have given that as a reason they’ve parted on good terms. They’re not here anymore, and that’s an issue. We’ve thought about hat.
Thirdly has to do with the financial situation of our church. I hardly ever preach on finances, but this morning I’m going to. I’m going to talk about finances. Our church is something like $125,000 behind in our regular church budget. I think it’s a good time for us to talk about what the regular church budget is, what it’s purpose is, and to have the church evaluate their own involvement and the value that you all put on this, on coming here and having this be here, and your willingness to make sacrifices and invest in that. It’s a chance for us to give some teaching on that. Compounded with that, I think you’ve probably noticed an aging building, if we could put it this way, an older building. Apparently, the second-floor windows aren’t very good with horizontal rain. I guess we found that out yesterday. I mean, we actually have a couple of windows in our home that apparently aren’t very good on horizontal rain. So we had a kind of water feature inside the North Tower last night. It was coming down, just cascading down the wall. Did you notice the fans and the water stains? So there’s that. I wasn’t going to do this, but I call your attention to the ceiling. Apparently, some people cleaned up some of the specks that fell last night. I thought it might have been better for my sermon if they left them there, or even better, if some fell down right at this moment of the sermon. That would be really cool.
Now, I wasn’t going to orchestrate that. That’s so cheap and chintzy, like, pastor, come on! Did you get somebody up there to thump at a key moment and then pieces would fall down? Maybe you’ve never looked at the ceiling of the sanctuary before. Maybe you’ve never noticed it before. But now you have. Our roof leaks. It actually does. I didn’t realize this, but some really godly and wonderful people put children’s swimming pools up there about two months ago to collect rain until we have fixed the roof. They go up and empty them regularly, every three days, or something like that. I’m not thinking that’s a good long-term solution. I’m thinking that’s not the best thing to do. I think fixing the roof is better. But everything breaks down. I’ve talked to pastors and they’re like, “Oh, you’re so lucky to be in a church that’s completely paid for.” They have a huge debt in their church, and that’s a huge burden. Friends, this church is never completely paid for. It just isn’t. I think we had trouble with one of our HVAC units, and so if you were in the educational wing, it felt quite warm over there. These are just things that we’re evaluating.
Fourth, the ending of the book of Ephesians gives me a chance to see God’s plan for building the church globally, worldwide, and how every local church fits into it. I’ve really had to think a lot about that. As key leaders like Daniel Renstrom and others have left, I have realized how transitory all of this is. It’s all very transient. It’s constantly changing. And I need to not fight that, but just understand it, to evaluate the church and think about it, and learn more and more the connections, or relationship, between healthy local churches and the universal church, the heavenly church.
I’ve done a lot of thinking on that. But this is a good chance for us to evaluate and to see our involvement. To see our involvement in evangelism and missions too. Are we doing what we were put here to do in terms of the external journey? Are we reaching Durham? Are we seeing lots of baptisms? Are we seeing people from the community converted and baptized? How are we doing and how is our commitment to missions, to end-of-the-earth missions, to missionaries, to the people who are going out and trusting in us, like Marty and Chandler? A couple of weeks ago we were sending them out. Are we faithful to that?
Finally, at the beginning of the school year/home fellowship year, it’s good for us to evaluate many aspects of vital ministries of our church. We’ve noticed that people have a high level of enthusiasm about new ministries like home fellowships in September, but don’t have the same level of zeal in February, March, and April. So it’s a good chance for us to evaluate various things. That’s what we’re doing today.
Aware of the Dangers: Guilt, manipulation, and legalism
I’m aware of the dangers of a sermon like this. I’m aware of the danger of guilt and manipulation. I don’t want to do that. And legalism, I don’t want to do either of those. I don’t want to lay a legalistic standard on the church and have you feel burdened by that. Not at all. Part of the problem with preaching is there’s this old proverb in reference to preaching, which is, “to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” One thing I’ve noticed is that church members, or hearers of sermons, don’t come in pre-labeled. I am comfortable, please disturb me. Or, I am disturbed, please comfort me. You might be a complex mix of both comfortable and disturbed at the same time, and you might need a complex mix. I’m preaching one sermon to all of you. It’s really an amazing thing how this could even be helpful. Yet, week after week, pastors get up and preach one sermon to a mixed assembly of people who are all over the map in terms of where they’re at.
When you go to many hospitals, if not most hospitals these days, when they administer medications that are prescribed by the attending physicians, they scan a barcode thing on your wrist to be certain you’re you and to keep a record and be certain you get the right medication. I can’t do that. I can’t scan you and say, “Okay, you need to be disturbed; I’m now going to disturb you.” And right next to you is someone that needs to be comforted, is feeling very ruffled in life and very troubled by things, and needs to just be comforted. That’s a danger in preaching a sermon like this as well.
We have come to the final paragraph in Ephesians. One of the dangers, also, is to try to weave in these last few words of Ephesians to the intention of the sermon. I don’t know that I’m going to do that well. What I want to do is explain these last few words. There’s not a lot of theological meat here, but there’s value in it. Then I’ll transition to the things that I want to do in terms of this kind of State of the Church address. I’m going to reach back as Greg beautifully did in his prayer. What a great prayer, brother! It kind of did a lot of my work for me. But I think it’s good to look across the whole book one more time. This is going to be our last Sunday in Ephesians. See how it points toward the themes that I’d like to address. Look with me again at Ephesians 6:21-24.
“Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” Ephesians is, in some ways, Paul’s least personal letter. There’s more theological reasoning and general principles than personal messages of address. There’s not a lot of them. They appear far more in other epistles like in Philippians or Corinthians. But here, he gets very personal. We see the personal side of Paul. He begins in this section with a man named Tychicus. We don’t know very much about him. He’s mentioned five times in the New Testament, generally four out of the five times, and in one of Paul’s letters at the end, when he entrusts him with some job to do or some responsibility to go as a messenger. Paul says wonderful things about him. He calls him a dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord. In Colossians 4:70, he adds a phrase, “a fellow servant in the Lord.” We don’t know much about him, but he’s a representative of how God uses unsung, non-famous people to do amazing ministries.
Most of us are going to be like that. Most of us are not going to be upfront leader people whose names we know. Tychicus represents those kind of more anonymous servants of the Lord, brothers and sisters in Christ who do incredibly helpful and valuable ministries. Paul sends him to the church at Ephesus to give a fuller report about Paul so that they can pray for him. He said, “Pray for me.” “All right, Paul, what do you need? What’s going on in your life?” “Well, Tychicus will fill you in. He’ll tell you what’s going on with me. Also, I know this about him, he’s going to encourage your hearts.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful to be said of you, like Barnabas? He was just the son of encouragement. Wouldn’t you love to be the kind of person that sweetly blesses the people around you every time you interact? “I know that when I send Tychicus to you, your hearts are going to be encouraged by him.” That’s what Paul says.
Then he closes with this beautiful benediction: “Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” You get that sense of (I’m just about to talk about this) this universal church that we’re part of. There are brothers and sisters in different localities. We may never know them, but they’re part of the family of God. Paul in his epistles frequently greets the brothers and sisters and reaches out to them. He yearns to give them love with faith from God, so there’s this greeting that goes, “May your love increase more and more. May your faith continue to grow and develop.” That gives us a sense of our ongoing need. We need more, and that, I think, easily folds into where I want to go in this sermon. We need local churches to be avenues of grace to us because we’re not done needing grace. So Paul ends all of his epistles with, “Grace be with you,” or, “Grace to you.”
So there’s that sense of “You have received grace already. You need even more grace. May the grace of God now go with you as you exit this epistle.” It’s a beautiful sense of that, like a tunnel of grace, as you walk out into the world. Then he says this, “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with [a love incorruptible,] an undying love.” How beautiful is that! I meditated on that. That’s talking about our love for Jesus, our love for God. Isn’t it wonderful to know that, if you’re a genuine Christian, your love for Jesus will never die? It cannot be corrupted. You’re going to make it through. You’re going to reach the end of your Christian life still loving Jesus. It’s going to survive your own death and it’s going to go on into eternity. It’s an undying love. You know, at the end of Romans 8, he talks about how nothing in heaven or earth or anything can separate us from the love of God that’s in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s God’s love for us and Jesus. Well, this verse tells me that nothing will separate me from my love for Jesus, either. That’s a love relationship that started and it’s going to last forever. That’s how he ends the book.
Christ’s Purpose: the Glory of God in the Perfection of the Church
Why are we Here? For the Glory of God, specifically in the final perfection of the church
That brings me to my purpose in this sermon: to look at the big picture of the Book of Ephesians and then weave it into our local church. So what is Christ’s purpose? What is God’s purpose for all of this? I can say it’s simply this: it is the glory of God in the perfection of the church of Jesus Christ. That’s what He’s about. That’s what’s going on. That’s what every individual person should be about. That’s what every local church should be about. The glory of God in the final perfection of the church of Jesus Christ. That’s what we’re here for. Look back at the beginning of the epistle. We’re going to go through this one more time. He begins with praise and worship, and that’s where we’re going to end up. We’re going to be in heaven praising and worshipping God. He starts there. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… for he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:3-4)
We can’t think about that enough. In eternity past, He chose us for eternity future, to be holy and blameless in heaven. He elected us and He chose us. “In love, [we’re told] he predestined us [He set our horizons for us.] to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Eph 1:5) He was pleased to do it. He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ. All of this was done, we’re told three times in this early section of Ephesians, for the praise of His glory, the praise of His glorious grace. So He’s doing all of this so that He may be praised and glorified and honored, as it says in 1 Corinthians. “Let him who boasts, let him who glories, glory in the Lord so that we might praise him.” That’s what He’s doing. To that end, He took filthy, rebellious sinners like us and cleansed us by the blood of Jesus. “In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Ephesians 1:7. God redeemed us by the blood of Jesus. He saved us by the shed blood of Jesus on the cross.
If you’ve come here today as an unbeliever, you’re on the outside. This is your only hope: that you might be delivered from the wrath of God that you, and all of us, so richly deserve. God sent His son, Jesus, born of a virgin, who lived a sinless life and died an atoning death for sinners like you and me. That’s where Christians come from because we believe in that message. We were redeemed by the blood of Jesus. This is the very thing that we were predestined for. This is the thing that God orchestrated. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him, we were also chosen, having been predestined according to his will.” Not just big things, but the details have been predestined and worked out carefully. It’s not an accident that you came to faith in Christ. It was orchestrated.
But it happened through a certain mechanism, a certain way. Verse 13 says, “When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal.” This is how you were saved. This is the gospel. This is what we’re here for. We’re here to believe that gospel and to proclaim it to others. We learned, as we’ve seen already, that we were to be redeemed out of a dungeon, a spiritual dungeon. We can’t see it with our own eyes, but the more you go on, you know there are these invisible chains that are holding people down. In Satan’s dark dungeon people are enslaved and they’re enchained to their lusts and to the ways of this world. They are vessels of wrath. But God, because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, He made us alive. He raised us from the dead, spiritually, through faith in Christ.
Beyond that: We are Here to Do Good Works
It’s not by our works. It’s simply by grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “By grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it’s a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” You were created first and foremost for that: to be a sinner, saved by grace, forgiven by grace. First and foremost you were created for that. But secondly, Ephesians 2:10 says so much more. You were created also to do good works, which God prepared in advance that you should walk in them. He got all these good works ready. And I tell you, if you’re a healthy Christian, many of those good works are going to be done in the context of a healthy local church, together with brothers and sisters in Christ who know you, and you know them, and you work together. Many of those good works, not all of them, but many of them, are going to be done in the context of a healthy local church.
Image #1: A Spiritual Temple that GROWS
Paul gives us a vision for that in Ephesians 2:11-22, I think, the end of that chapter. Just go to the end, verses 19-22. He gives us a vision of how Gentiles were rescued out of that darkness and made one with Jewish believers. The barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, was removed and now, in Christ, together we are a part of this invisible spiritual building that is rising, growing. I love the dynamism of that, rising to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. Again and again, I reach 1 Peter 2, the living stones image. We are living stones in this spiritual temple and it’s rising. It’s getting bigger, every day a little bigger, every day a little more glorious. Look at the words, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” That, dear friends, is the church.
Image #2: A Living Body that IS BUILT
It’s an architectural image of the church. Then in Ephesians 4, he gives us the biological image of the church: a body with a head, different members of the body, different supporting ligaments, and different body systems. Together, as each part does its work, our spiritual gift ministries, the whole body grows up into Christ-like maturity. So we have these two images of the church.
This Growth is of Two Types
This growth of the church is of two types: a growth of the church in terms of internal holiness and conformity to Christ, and an external growth of new people, lost people brought to faith in Christ, more and more people coming to faith in Christ. That’s what the church is doing around the world.
WHY ARE YOU HERE? FOR GOD’S GLORY in the final perfection of the church of Jesus Christ
So why are you here? Well, I hope you’re here to be part of all that, part of the two journeys, the internal journey of holiness and the external journey of evangelism and missions. That is the story of the world. That’s the story of what God is doing. He is building the church of Jesus Christ. He’s getting all the glory, saving sinners like you and me. We have a role to play. We get to use our gifts to build up that body.
Local Church Membership: A Means to that End
Universal vs Local Church
Local church membership is a means to that end. It’s a means to that end. Now, when I say local church, we need to understand. The universal church is the invisible, if I could use the word, mystical, spiritual union of all genuine followers of Jesus Christ around the world and up in heaven. That’s the church universal. That’s a beautiful thing. Once you’ve come to Christ, you are immediately a member of that body. No one can sever you from Christ. That’s permanent. The local church has an address. It’s a place you can go on a Sunday morning to be with other Christians. The church at Ephesus was a local church that Paul was writing to.
In Revelation 2 and 3, we’ve got seven churches that were in Asia Minor. Those seven churches, of which Ephesus is one, they’re all local churches. Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, those are the seven churches. Others churches, such as Galatia, also Corinthians and Romans, those are all local churches. The local church is the best and clearest way you can regularly interact with the universal church. The local church is also a feeder system for the heavenly church, the heavenly Zion, the heavenly bride of Christ. That’s what it is.
FBC is a Local Church and Covenant Membership is God’s Way for Christians to Grow and Help Others to Grow
First Baptist Church, Durham, North Carolina, is a local church. Covenant membership, committed membership, in a local church is God’s primary way for individual Christians to grow and help others grow. That’s what God set up.
All Local Churches are Temporary
Now, as I’ve said, all local churches are temporary. All of them. They’re constantly evolving, constantly changing. People come and people go. People live and then they die. People move to different geographic areas. Different things happen. So there’s constant changes.
The question we have to ask is: are we being faithful as local church members to do what God intends for our covenant membership in this local church? That’s what we’re trying to evaluate. Pastors get so uptight about the size of their churches, let me tell you. I have been to pastoral conferences, and there’s a way you can talk about what’s going on in your church. It’s called the humblebrag. It’s distasteful. I’m not saying I don’t have the seeds of that in my heart. I’m just telling you, it’s not helpful to think that way. The question is, are we being faithful? Are we being faithful to the doors of opportunity that God has opened up for us here in Durham and to the ends of the earth? That’s the question we have to ask. Those seven churches in Asia Minor, all seven of them, they were all real local churches that at some point became obsolete. They were later planted centuries later by others. Take Smyrna, for example. It’s in modern-day Izmir. There was a long time when there was no local church in Smyrna, Izmir. But there is now. So that means that the local churches, they come and go. The question is, are we being faithful? In Revelation 3:8, to the church of Philadelphia, the Lord said, “Behold, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” That’s opportunity, right? Are we being faithful to walk through open doors? To the church at Smyrna, in Revelation 2:10, He says, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Healthy Membership Responsibilities Listed for Self-Evaluation
Health, Not Perfection… There’s Room for Growth
All right. So as I read these six things (we’ll go through them quickly), I want to tell you I’m looking for health here, not for perfection. Please, please don’t look for a perfect church. Don’t ever put “perfect church” together in the same sentence, other than to say there is no perfect church. That would be fine. We’re not looking for perfection. We’re looking for health. That’s a better word. There are many healthy local churches. There are no perfect churches. So the question we’re asking is, is our church healthy?
Refuting Legalism, Preaching Grace… while still teaching healthy patterns
Also, we don’t want to be legalistic. We want to have a sense of grace flowing in the life of the church. We want you to evaluate how God is using you and how you are serving as a local church member.
Not an Exhaustive List, Just Some Key Expectations
So this list of six things is not exhaustive, but I think it’s helpful. Six things: healthy church members grow toward Christ-likeness. Secondly, healthy church members pray consistently. Thirdly, healthy church members attend regularly. Fourth, healthy church members give sacrificially. Fifth, healthy church members serve the body with their spiritual gifts. And sixth, healthy church members evangelize the lost. Those are the six things. Let me talk about them quickly.
Healthy Church Members Grow Toward Christlikeness
First, healthy church members grow toward Christ-likeness. We, the elders, expect each member of the church to be “growing in grace and knowledge of Christ.” 2 Peter 3:18. We expect that you would be making progress in your sanctification, and that you would be having daily quiet times, meeting with the Lord every day.
We expect you to be feeding on God’s word, putting sin to death by the power of the Spirit, using your gifts to build, and living a healthy Christian life. Healthy church members feel themselves to be running a race with endurance. And they want to run right to the end. Like Paul, there’s a passion. In Philippians 3:12-14, (I love this) Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” That’s the race we’re running. If you’re a healthy church member, you’re going to be running your race. You’re not going to be plateauing or declining in your spirituality. You’re going to be growing.
Healthy Church Members Pray Consistently
Secondly, healthy church members pray consistently. This fits into where we’ve been recently in Ephesians 6. Look again at 6:18. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Pray for other church members. Organize your prayer life. Pray for your home fellowship members. Pray for brothers and sisters in Christ that you know well. Get to know people you don’t know well yet by praying through the church phone list. A page a day would be a good rate. You will get through the whole thing in less than a month. If there’s one person you don’t know, go ask somebody. Say, “I prayed for this person yesterday. I don’t know them. Tell me something about them.”
Get to know the body, but do it especially by prayer. Take up each other’s burdens in prayer. Be involved in the prayer ministries of the church, especially home fellowship. Don’t skimp home fellowship. Don’t skimp on prayer. Spend a good amount of time praying with and for each other. Also, there are other opportunities to pray. Every Sunday morning, many of you don’t know this, but we have a small prayer meeting at 8:30am on Sunday mornings. If you’re able to come, we’re just right here in the parlor, and we pray for the day. We pray for the preaching. We pray for the Sunday School ministry. We just pray. It’s a short time, but come at 8:30 in the morning if you can make it. That’s an opportunity to pray. And there are other corporate prayer times throughout the year.
Healthy Church Members Attend Regularly
Thirdly, healthy church members attend regularly. A key verse on this is Hebrews 10:25. “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Now, you may ask, attend what regularly? Church does a lot of things. Well, first and foremost, this meeting of the church at 10:30 Sunday mornings. We’re here every week. Every week. I just heard that Christmas is on Sunday. We’re actually going to have church on December 25th. In the spirit of the puritans, we’re going to have church on Christmas Day. All right? So please come. Every single Sunday. Every single Sunday. First and foremost, there’s that. At the second level, I would say be involved in home fellowships. We know that not everyone can be involved in home fellowships. We understand that. But there is no better structural ministry of the church by which you can know and be known. You can linger after worship with others who also linger after worship. Many don’t, but some do. You can get to know people that way. But home fellowship is the best way to get to know the same people week after week. I also would urge you to consider regularly attending Member Meetings. Member Meetings happen four times a year. They used to be called church conferences, or others called them business meetings. We have them in February, May, August, and November. One’s coming up pretty soon, in a couple of weeks, or a month. Come to that, it’s important. At a lower level, Bile for Life is a good ministry. The word of God is taught here week after week. We’ve seen attendance decline over the last four or five years. The elders are seeking to give different and better classes. I think just being committed to say, “Hey, this is a better way for me to spend the time than if I weren’t there.” It’s a good way to feed on God’s word and to meet with God’s people and to pray for each other.
What do we mean by regularly attend? I said, “attend what?” The elders shrank back from a percentage per year, okay? That would just be simple legalism, for us to say, “You need to attend at least 80% of Sunday morning worships.” That’s not where it’s at. Really, what I’d rather you do is look at Hebrews 10:25, and look at two key words. It says, “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as some are in the habit of doing” There’s two word: forsake and habit. Those are key words. A willful choice to not go to Sunday morning worship, making a habit of that is a step towards apostasy. It’s a dangerous thing to do. As a matter of fact, the first thing the elders do in shepherding souls is look at attendance in Sunday morning worship. We know that some people are caring for sick family members and can’t come. We know that there are other mitigating circumstances. We’re just interested in what the circumstances are.
Healthy Church Members Give Sacrificially
Fourth, healthy church members give financially and they give sacrificially. Jesus taught more on money than any other topic of the Christian life. Why? Well, because how you spend your money is a clear indicator of the state of your soul. To repeat, our church is right now about 10% behind in our annual budget, something like that. Maybe $120,000. I haven’t gotten the recent figures but that’s been the recent thing. Now, about this time every year, we’re always behind. We usually have great Decembers. I don’t know if it’s the tax season or what it is. But I don’t think historically our December will be enough to make up this deficit. The church is doing well. We’re very wise in how we spend. We don’t overspend, and we’re not in a bind. But for us, it really is more of a spiritual issue. It’s something we want to use to enable each of you individually to look in the mirror and to ask, “What am I doing with my money?”
Software shows the demographics, the age spread demographics of our contributions. Let me tell you, I have never known any single church member’s giving patterns in any single instance, ever, unless they told me, and I couldn’t stop them in time. So I don’t know what any of you that I look in the face now are doing. I don’t. I just know the big picture. According to our software, we have 215 regular givers. I think that’s right. We can also extract out the average gift. You can work on that. I’m not going to give you the number, but you can do that also. We have some significant givers that skew the whole number upward for others. That’s just math. When you have a couple of big-time givers, if you remove them, then the numbers all sink a little bit down. If you take the average gift by those of professional age, those in the prime of their earning careers, age 25 and up, and then you reverse it by the tithing principle (I’m talking about tithing in just a minute, but that’s 1/10th of an income), if you reverse it, then those people earn an average of $26,000 a year, if they tithe. I don’t think that’s even a living wage. So I don’t think that people are tithing. It’s just simple logic. Then you could ask, well, should people tithe? Tithing is an old English word that simply means 1/10th. It’s an Old Covenant principle.
Randy Alcorn’s book “Money, Possessions, and Eternity” said tithing is the training wheels of Christian giving. Remember training wheels? I never used training wheels. I went right on a bike. I’ll never forget my first bike ride. I was a seven-year-old kid. I rode down a hill right into a teenager’s car, a hot rod that he was waxing. I ran for my life through the woods. I managed, somehow, to survive. I don’t know how I survived that day, but I got through it. Boy, was he mad. I didn’t know how to brake. I didn’t know how to turn. I just went. That was my first bike ride. You’re saying that explains your recent bike crash pastor. No, I’ve learned something about bike riding since then. Training wheels are a temporary thing to teach you how to give. He has an implication that you should be giving more, not less. He argues this way: New Covenant blessings are always expansions of Old Covenant practices, not reductions. We’re not, as Christians say, “Oh good, now we’re in the New Covenant. We can give less than the Old Covenant people did.” That’s just not the way that the Bible tends to work.
But we’re not given an amount. We’re told this: under New Testament principles, we should give sacrificially, cheerfully, and by faith. We should give regularly and according to what we have. That could be a whole sermon. I’m not going to do that, but that’s how we should do it. We want to give generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully according to what we have. Our desire is that you would be faithful to those principles. If you are being faithful, that really is our budget. We should reduce our budget by that amount and say, “That’s what we can do.” But is it? That’s the question we have to ask. Tithes, many have thought, and I’m sympathetic to this, should go to the local church and offerings to ministry beyond the walls of the church. Tithes and offerings. That’s a phrase we hear a lot. Benevolence money, money to missions, money to other things, to parachurch ministries, those are your offerings. Tithes, then, go to enable local churches like this one to keep doing this, to keep meeting on Sundays. That’s generally what tithes go to. Also, there are offerings that go toward the building. Like I said, our building needs attention.
Back in 1995, three years before I came, the church had a giving campaign to upgrade the sanctuary, the children’s area directly below, and build the North Tower. So basically this wall and over, down and up. If you go into the educational wing, you’ll notice a difference. It feels a little different. Does it to you? I mean, it does to me. So that’s from the 1960s and earlier. I think it’s cool. The elevator over there was put in the year I was born. It’s an old elevator. You’ve been in it. I think it’s kind of cool and adventuresome to be in that elevator alone in the building. It’s like, how much courage do you have? You’re halfway between floor two and three, and it’s like no one is there. You will pray, is what you will do. All right. They had an offering of $1.8 million. It got paid off a year after I got here. So, in about four years, they paid off $1.8 million. We’re still benefitting from that today. You don’t have to see the before and after photos. Our church needs a bunch of things done that will amount to probably two thirds of that, okay? Stuff in the parking lot and stuff in that wing, stuff with the ceiling, the roof. Some of it you’ll never notice. But if it doesn’t happen, you’ll notice that it needed to be done.
We’re going to have to look at what kind of giving and what kind of commitment we have. So I’m just asking you to look at how you’re actually spending your money. Are you enslaved to credit card debt? You may have problems with credit card debt. You may not, but you may be spending your money on other things. You may be spending your money on other good things, church things, Christian things, but just not giving to the church. I just would commend to you, for the purpose of evaluation, tithing being the start. Start there and grow from there. Give first and foremost to the church budget.
Healthy Church Members Serve the Body
Fifth, healthy church members serve the body. Fundamentally, healthy church members use their spiritual gifts to build the body. I just want to ask you a simple question. What is your spiritual gift ministry? What do you do regularly that’s a gift, that’s a gift of faith, a gift of administration, a gift of teaching, a gift of evangelism, a gift of prayer or a gift of worship? What are you doing regularly, in a patterned way, to build the local church? Evaluate yourself. Are you using your gifts? There are so many different ministries that you can get involved in here. I’m not going to delineate them.
Healthy Church Members Evangelize
Finally, sixth, healthy church members evangelize the lost. We must embrace the external journey of missions and evangelism. Evangelism is something we do with people who speak our same language and are of the same culture. Missions is what we do with people who do not speak our language and are not of our same culture. We should be involved in both. Evaluate your own habit patterns. When was the last time that you invited someone to church? Evaluate your involvement in missions. When was the last time you prayed for an unreached people group? Do you have an awareness of our missionaries, our church’s missionaries? Do you have a commitment to pray for them? The elders can help you grow in all of these areas. We regularly do evangelism classes and do evangelistic outreaches. Just evaluate your involvement.
Well, those are the six areas I would like to commend to each of you to evaluate yourselves. Be praying with us and with the elders for our church to get stronger and healthier, and that we would grow in the grace and the knowledge of Christ, as the Lord has ordained. Close with me, if you would, in prayer.
Father, we thank You for the time we’ve had to look at these things. To evaluate our life. To look at the Book of Ephesians one last time. I pray, Lord, that You would strengthen First Baptist Durham. Strengthen this church. Help us. O Lord, to be faithful and to grow and to give in the areas You want us to. Help us to use our spiritual gifts to build others up. Help us to give financially, sacrificially. God, strengthen our church. Thank You for being here and helping us by the Spirit. In Your name we pray. Amen.