Input sound file: Audio 10 07 2018.mp3
every year our church conference comes up, and every year I’m asked to provide a report to our denomination of this church’s goals and vision and what we intend to do. And you have in the past said, “Dave, you figure that out for us,” and I’m still figuring it out, but I will be sharing with you what I think our goals should be in the sermons, starting today, for the next couple of weeks. Church 101, what is church basically about? Our denomination, the United Methodist Church, has a group called Discipleship Ministries. It is our nation-wide denominational expert group on how churches can revitalize themselves, how they can grow. And they are emphasizing that what we need to do is to stop trying to fix the church and instead of that turn our attention to see all the people. Now to say it in a slightly different way, what they want us to do is to turn our attention to people. And that fits very well with the scriptures. So I wanted to show this video to you. The link so you can see it on Facebook if you would like, it’s very subtle, will be on the church Facebook page later today if you’d like to see it again, but it’s entitled “Let Me Show You.”
Let me show you. Well, there’s a couple comments that I need to make to sort of bring this up to date. The first one is they talked about demographics. The woman comes down onto pastors and people in the community. What they mean by that is the neighborhood around the church. The people in the neighborhood around the church are not anything like the people who come here. That is true in many places. Quite often the neighborhood around the church has changed. It’s people who are poorer, it’s people of different ethnic backgrounds, of different color, and different language, but the last– I’ve looked around here, I kind of think the people around us, and in most small towns, it’s pretty much still the same. There is no barrier for us to reach out to the people around us because they’re people just like us. The second thing is what I call three degrees of separation. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of six degrees of separation. That’s the reality that according to mathematics with six introductions someone you know knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone that can get you a personal introduction to anyone in the world. Now if you check Wikipedia they say that calculations for the United States, it’s actually around three. What that means is around here, if there’s someone you don’t know, someone you know knows them. But I’ll bet as we get up out around Jones Road and [inaudible] road, frankly, you know everybody around here. It’s not that the people around us are strangers. The third reality is this video gives us the temptation– if we took the church out of the church building and we had it in a coffee house, then, all of a sudden, all of our problems would magically disappear. Well, I’d like to tell you, I’m a big fan of coffee cake but if you take what we do here and put it in another building, we’ll slowly find ourselves doing the same things there that we do here. People who think institutionally think, “Oh, we need a different building. We need a different style of worship. We need things in the church to change.” That’s what they were talking about. We’re trying to fix the church. The organ’s too loud. We need new microphones. One thing after another. It’s [inaudible] for the problem. But it’s very likely that the real problem is that we stopped paying attention to people. Why is that important? Well, let me give you some scholarly information. About 100 years ago, missionary executive Donald McGavran, who was in charge of missionaries in India for his denomination, he asked himself, “What makes the difference to where people are getting converted and people aren’t?” Because most of his missionaries were not successful at converting anyone, but there were a few places where it just seemed to take off. And he studied what made a difference. And what he found was that birds of a feather flock together. What he found was that the Gospel would spread from one person to another if those people were very similar. And they called this the homogenous principle.
Now, to understand why that’s a mistake, you need to understand that India is one of the most prejudiced countries on the face of the earth. They have a caste system to where you don’t even talk to someone who’s not at your social level. You have no relationship with someone who’s not at your social level. Therefore, the misunderstanding is this; if you only communicate with people just like you, the Gospel can only spread from you to someone just like you. And here’s why. What changes people’s lives is conversations. It’s not that you’re alike. It’s that the two of us talk to each other. Sociologist Rodney Stark – by the way not a Christian; this is science – studied conversion in the Moonie cult. And he came up with some understandings of why people convert that have been tested again and again in every culture around the world and in every religious group around the world. True conversion happens because people have a relationship. In other words, God’s Holy Spirit is working on someone’s life to help them want faith, but when they listen to the Spirit they look around and go to the church where their friends go. What Stark found is that lots of people were interested in the Moonie cult, but they didn’t stick unless they had close relationships with people in the church. Evangelism, therefore, Rodney Stark said, is not about doctrine or what we believe or even preaching. It’s about forming friendships with people. We used to say that what people were looking for is a friendly church. As loneliness increases all around, people aren’t looking for a friendly church anymore. They’re just flat-out looking for friends. And if you make friends with people, God can use that friendship to help turn that person’s life around. God uses the relationships we have with other people diffusion of innovations. This is science that started out in rural sociology. Guess how many years it took for Iowa farmers in the Great Depression to adopt hybrid seed core? The very first day it was introduced to the market, it was so obviously better. You know how long it took before every farmer was using it? 13 years. 13 years.
You know why? 16% of people are interested in change. 16% of churchgoers want to change everything. We need that high def screen to come down and hide the cross because we have to change everything or no one will want to come to church. Well, what the diffusion of innovation says is that the 16% of people who are interested in change, well there’s a problem with them. They’re interested in change so much, they’ll switch churches in a couple of years. 84% of people are not interested in change.
What that means is that 84% of people who don’t go to church, don’t need the church to change, because the problem’s not the church. 84% of people will adopt an innovation. Something that will improve their life. I’m suggesting that loving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord will do exactly that. It will change your life for the better. 84% of people only adopt an innovation through conversations with trusted peers.
In other words, if you know someone you trust, and they become a Christian, you will be influenced by their faith if you have contact with them. If you have a relationship with them. If you have a conversation with them. Because conversations change lives. Not only that, when you walk down the sidewalk with someone, having a conversation, this promise in Matthew 18:20 becomes true also: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Whenever you have a conversation with someone about Jesus Christ, whether that person attends church or whether they don’t, Jesus Christ said that he walks along with you.
He will tell you what you need to say. We worry about that, but I’ll be frank. Most of the time, if you want to help people change their lives, you’re much wiser to listen than to talk. Or at least, while I’m talking, that’s what they interrupt me to tell me – that it would be better to listen. But it’s true. But Jesus will help you to be a better listener. Jesus will help you to speak wisely when you speak. Because if Jesus is there, Jesus will help that other person to come to a deeper faith.
This is what the church needs in this century. And here’s the whole thing summarized – John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” That’s the command. Love one another. Even as I have loved you, in other words, not as you would define loving, but as Jesus demonstrated. Even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. If you read through the gospels, what do you see? Person after person after person, what Jesus did is he had a conversation with them that changed their life. He never chaired a committee meeting. He never led a service of worship in the temple. He never proposed a [motion?] to the [inaudible]. But he had one conversation after another after another after another. God can use your conversations. Even conversations that are so simple, they just begin with the phrase, “How are you?” And then you listen.
In fact, Jesus goes on to make a promise, Verse 35: “By this, all men, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another. Church experts over the past couple decades have told us that what we need to do is buy billboards. Church experts have told us that what we need to do is have commercials on television. Church experts have told us that the most important thing about a church is the sign out in front of the church. But what Jesus said is that if people know that loving people go to this church, everyone will know where that church is. Everyone will know where that church is. So the new goal needs to be for us to learn how to love one another. And if we already love one another, how do we crank up that love so that God can use it to change people’s lives? Let me show you something different, the movie says.
Matthew 9:9 is Jesus passed on through Mary. Saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And the tax collector, that Jewish man who was despised by the religious people, the tax collector rose up and followed him. And then that evening, Jesus is sitting at a table at the tax collector’s house, having conversations with many tax collectors and sinners who came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. One conversation after another after another. This is how people’s lives change.
Now, what did the religious people say about this? Well, in this case, it’s Pharisees. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Now if you want to put it in the language of the movie we just saw, “Why is the pastor at this coffee house instead of at the finance committee because hey, they’re going to vote on the new chandelier.” Because obviously, you know, the reason people aren’t coming to church is we have an old chandelier. You should take a look at it some time, chandelier over at the [Kenmutty?] Church. Same one since 1906. Same one. And it would be really easy to blame declining church attendance on the chandelier. It’d be really easy to blame it on the fact that we need a big screen that comes down, and we should stop complaining if it covers the cross. It would be real easy for us to blame it on the microphones. Or you know, hey, if we just used pita bread for communion, hundreds would all of a sudden come to church. It would be real easy to blame on that. Why? Because it would excuse us from doing the one thing that makes us great sinners. And that’s letting God use our conversations. Fixing the church is a way to avoid the commandment, to love one another. Why does your teacher waste his time with people who aren’t already going to church? The greatest problem in most churches, is we’re ready to love people after they come here. The problem is if you wait to love them until after they get here, you won’t be loving very many people. Jesus said you need to love them our there. You can go to a ballgame and ask 100 people, “How are you?” And if a person says, “Not so good.” You can listen to where they hurt, then you can offer to pray for them. And God will work through the simple fact that you care.
Verse 12, when Jesus heard it, he said, “Those who are well, those who are spiritually healthy, have no need of a physician.” Let’s take just a minute to snicker at the idea that the Pharisees, who were hypocrites and phonies are spiritually healthy. Let’s snicker for just a second. Those who are spiritually healthy, have no need of a physician but those who are sick, really do need help.
Verse 13, this is a command. “Go and learn.” The Pharisees need to go and learn what this means. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Now, what does sacrifice mean here? Well, it could mean the perfect worship involving sacrifice. There worship it. So much of the attempt to fix churches is trying to make worship perfect and certainly, that’s bass player, he needs some help. But it could also be, “I desire mercy and not people who are trying to do too much in the church.” One of the easiest ministries that you can have is just having a loving conversation with everyone God brings close enough to you for you to have that conversation, and just to be open to it. Because the commandment is for us to love our neighbor. We need to stop trying to fix the church and get everything correct. Why? Nobody really wants to go to a factory. We want to be with people. We need to refocus on loving our neighbor, which is the actual command that Jesus Christ gave us.
Here’s the vision statement. It’s printed in your bulletin each week, “We are a functional family of God.” Now, that’s another place where we can chuckle because guess what? None of us are perfect. Sometimes, some churches are very dysfunctional. But nonetheless, this is the aim. We want to function like a healthy family of people who love God, a functional family of God. And two things happen when we are functional. Jesus becomes Lord, and here’s the second thing. People, people like you and me, [inaudible]. I should be a better person this year than I was last year. And if I keep growing, I should be a better person next year than I am today. But the reason I grow and become a better person is because of the people around me and their influence upon me. That’s the way it works in psychology, in counseling, in therapy, but it’s also the way it works in church. We affect each other for good or for ill. And benefit comes from the people we’re with. Church is loving God and our neighbors as ourselves.
This past week, before he became ill, Dwayne Ambrose put something on Facebook and this was it. I just love that. It says, “An Amish man was once asked by a tourist if he was a Christian. And here’s the answer. His reply was, ‘You’ll have to ask my neighbor.'” Friends, the commandment is for us to love our neighbors and the more we love our neighbors and the way we love them is through conversation and sometimes other little things that are kind and helpful, the more we’ll see that they’ll be around us, including right here in the service of worship.
Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, it’s easy for us to see something that we think should be different. It’s easy for us to see something that we think should be better. Our minds want to run away from the command and focus on fixing the church. Help us, Lord, instead, to listen to you. And to understand that when we begin work work with people, you will fix your church. When we’re obedient about loving our neighbors, you will mend what’s broken in human beings. And Lord, you’ll mend what’s broken within us. And so Lord help us to have those conversations that change lives and that help you to mend broken people. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen. And we’re going to have communion before we [inaudible]. Lord Jesus, on
The photo …
This post is based on the sermon “___” from the sermon series “___”
*date*, at Kinmundy United Methodist Church.
Slides and audio for this message can be downloaded from http://www.disciplewalk.com/K_Sermons_June_2018.html
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.