September 3, 2023, Praying for the Vision and Mission of the Church, Pentecost 14

If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP:
Lord, I believe: Help my unbelief. Help me to see my world as You see it.
Lord, I obey; Help my disobedience. Focus me; guide me. Prune me.
Lord, I follow;  Help me to stay on the path. Thank you for the path, for guidance, for providence and protection.
I humbly ask for wisdom and for knowledge in every human situation. 
Lord, help me to flourish as a part of the vine, as a means of grace, as a person through whom your Holy Spirit flows. Amen.

HYMN

701 When We All Get To Heaven
Alan Jackson – When We All Get To Heaven (Live)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mei1MYF_fm8

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − Dear Lord, This morning as I contemplate a new day, I ask you to help me. I want to be aware of and filled with your Spirit—leading me in the decisions I take, the conversations I have, and the work I do. I want to be more like you, Jesus, as I relate to the people I meet today—friends or strangers. Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 393 Spirit Of The Living God, Fall Fresh On Me
Spirit of the Living God | Jeremy Riddle – Worship Moment
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23KZWK6Pa6M

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Praying for the Vision and Mission of the Church
Text: Matthew 9:35-40, 28:18-20, John 13:34-3
Series: You Have Not Because You Ask Not

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Wesley Sermon Audio

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SERMON NOTES

Matthew 9:35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Vision Statement: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.

Mission Statement: “Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional.” (¶126, Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church)

The world has 2 needs and 2 kinds of people: People who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple-makers. (T4T)

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HYMN 569 We’ve A Story To Tell to The Neighbors (Nations)
We’ve A Story To Tell To The Nations by Matthew Owens
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmmOZ4ROJp0

BENEDICTION The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

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.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

We’ve been talking for several weeks now about prayers and how our prayers can be more powerful and how God can answer our prayers and change the world in which we live. And I’ve asked you to pray specifically and I’ve asked you to pray courageously and I’ve asked you to pray persistently and I’ve asked you to forgive people as you pray. Today I want to ask you to pray for the vision and mission of the church so that our church can be the kind of church that God wants and the kind of church that this world needs. But the theme of this entire series is really very simple. You have not … because you do not ask. You have not because you ask not.

Now, this particular Sunday, I’m not sure why, but that particular section of pews didn’t have very many people in it. And some of you have expressed a concern to me about the fact that there’s a lot of room in our church for more people to be here. And you express it as a worry – that the church is more empty than full.

But I honestly want to ask you this. How many times this week did you ask God for more people to come to church? How many times this week did you ask God for 100 more people to come to church, or 50 people to come to church, or 20 people, or 12 people? Because again, we want the church to be full, but it never occurs to us that we should pray for people to come to church.

I was in Caseyville for nine years. Lovely town, eight miles east from the St. Louis Arch. You can see the arch from the parking lot. And our choir had one soprano. And she said one night in choir practice, “Folks, I’m in my ’80s. When I sing, my voice quavers. I’m going to have to quit the choir.” And there we were with a choir with no sopranos and eight altos. And they said to me, pastor, “What are we going to do?” And I said, “Friends, you need to pray for more sopranos.” We started to pray for sopranos and within three weeks we had three new sopranos singing in the choir.

Friends, if you think there need to be more people sitting in the seats, you and I need to ask God for them because God is very capable to answer our prayers for more people. Luke chapter 11:10, as we said a couple of weeks ago, “Everyone who asks, receives. And he who seeks finds. And to him who knocks, it will be open.” If there’s something we want, we need to pray for it and ask specifically and boldly and persistently.

There’s a branch of psychiatry called reality therapy that uses four questions to help people in counseling work through incredibly difficult problems. And the first question might take you by surprise. The first question is this, What do you want? Because one of the realities of mental illness, one of the realities of anxiety and depression is it causes people to be in a lot of confusion. And what they found is that once a person who is distracted and confused, who is worried and anxious and depressed and fearful, if they can figure it out so that they can say, “This is what I want…” – Ironically, it’s almost as if the whole world begins to rearrange itself so that what they want begins to happen.

Friends with regard to your church, What do you want? Because certainly, when people understand whatever it is that they want – we would want to express that in prayer because God can make a great difference. If you want more people to come to our church, ask God for them! Ask God for more people … because we have not because we haven’t asked.

Now, the problem with church growth is that there are a whole lot of experts who want to tell you how to fill up those pews. And I want to argue with them; in fact, when I went to seminary to get my doctorate, it was on this subject, so I can argue with people like that for 12 straight hours! And I promise you, I will not do that today.

But here’s the advice the experts want to tell you. What you need to do, if you want to fill up the church, they say, is make the church like Disney World. It needs to be full of excitement and entertainment. It needs to be like showbiz. We need a band. We need drummers. In fact, one drummer is not enough. We need two drummers. The church down the street has one drummer, but our church has two drummers. Because bigger and louder is better, from this perspective.

And so you have in churches something similar to what you see in stores. You see your big box stores, and you see your big box churches. One of those churches is Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago. Lovely place. Full of beautiful people. 20,000 people attend in three services on a weekend. 6000 people on a Wednesday night service, another 6000 on Thursday night. And I attended there once when I was on vacation because I was curious. The sanctuary looks like a big theater, like the Fox Theatre in St Louis.

And you know what their fellowship hall looks like? First of all, it’s a room about four times as large as our sanctuary. And in one corner of it, they have a bookstore. And all along the sidewalls, it’s like a food court in a mall. The little garage door goes up and you can get pizza at this little store, and you can get Italian at this little store, and Mexican at this little store. It looks just like a mall. Maybe that works in suburban Chicago. I am not so sure it’ll work in suburban Kinmundy! But the experts want you to imitate this.

And, of course, I think there are things we can learn from the big box church show biz model. But something that people don’t realize is when you look at that crowd going into Disney World, guess what, they’re going into Disney World in families. And my argument is that most of the people out there in the world have a very deep need for family because we live in a world that is full of anxiety and trouble and people feel lonely, people feel abandoned, people feel desperate, people feel that there’s no one they can turn to. Bill Eason, one of the great experts on evangelism and filling churches, did a workshop I attended in 1992, where he said to the group of pastors interested in evangelism, he said, “What’s the greatest crisis faced by young families with children today? What’s the greatest crisis?” And of course, this room full of men did not know. And he said, “Now, think about these young mothers. What’s the greatest crisis?” And this room full of men could not figure it out. But what the greatest crisis was he told us for young mothers in San Antonio, is that their mothers lived on the other side of the country, and there was no one to teach young mothers how to toilet train their children. Now, think about that for a moment. Think about your own young married life.

Of course, young mothers are able to call their mothers on the phone, but sometimes you need help that just isn’t a phone call. There is a desperate shortage of grandparents in the lives of families scattered across the USA today. And I understand that because you have to go to Austin to get close to my grandchildren, and my other sons and their families live in New York City and Vermont. Now, they grew up in Illinois. I have no idea why you would grow up in Illinois and move from Chicago to Vermont, but I can tell you whatever you need a grandpa for, whatever you need a grandma for, it’s a long way to Vermont.

But see, here’s the thing I figured. There’s all kinds of old people in Vermont, and most of them might go to churches. And there’s all kinds of grandmas and grandpas that go to this church, but there’s all kinds of kids that don’t have a grandma or a grandpa within a few miles. I think it’s family that people really need and consequently, I think that what people really need is a church that’s like a family.

So if you look at that bottom line there, this is the vision that I have of the best that a church can be. It’s printed in your bulletin every single week because to me, the perfect church would be for us to be a functional family of God. Now, pay attention to that word functional. A dysfunctional family, that’s not always so good. And there are dysfunctional churches that are not very nice to each other. But if we can be a functional family of God, we are something that people really want and need in this world. A functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord, and people grow. In other words, I’m better today than I was last year. I am tempted sometimes to take that word and change it to where people grow up.

Rodney Stark, sociologist, brilliant sociologist, studied religion, studied conversion. He is not actually a practicing Christian himself, but he studied conversion, and he identified, all the way back in 1965, true conversion: conversion that lasts. True conversion is the result of the convert having a close relationship with someone who is a genuine, caring, practicing person of that group. And so for us, what that means is the potential of who could become a part of a church is a result of how many relationships we have with people, where we are a genuine, caring, practicing Christian. Because they’ll want that sense of family. They’ll desire that feeling of being loved by God. If you don’t have that close relationship, Stark said, they get excited and then they drop out. And you kind of have a shallow religipous experience where people come in the front door and a few weeks or months later, they go out the back door, and they say to themselves, “Well, I tried that religion stuff. I guess it just doesn’t work.”

In order for it to last, a person needs to have a relationship that, I want to suggest, is almost like a family with people who are caring and genuine people who practice their faith. Well, what does it mean to practice our faith? Well, let’s go right here.

Matthew 22:35, one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him. In other words, it wasn’t as sincere question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” And I would suggest to you, for a person who is genuinely a practicing Christian, this is the goal. But how often have you prayed, “Lord, help me to love you with all of my heart, all of my soul, and all of my mind?” You see, we forget to pray for these very simple things. Jesus goes on to say, “This is the great and first commandment.” This is the highest priority. Take care of your relationship with God.

And then Jesus says, almost like an afterthought: And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. And then he makes the most astonishing statement, verse 40, On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. In other words, if you have a container that is made up of these two commandments, it holds the entire Bible – because if you do this, you’ll fulfill everything God wants. And what that means is this; to be a genuine practicing Christian, you need to pay attention to loving yourself and loving the people around you.

Now, Jesus says that summarizes the whole Old Testament. In John Chapter 13, he has another command: A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, but a special kind of love: Even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. We need to love people, not our way, but the way Jesus loved them.

And when Jesus loved people, you know what happened? They became disciples. And they decided to follow him. And they decided to trust him and rely on him. And we need to love people, our neighbors, in such a way that they will also want to follow Jesus. By this, all people, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love, for one another. But how often do we pray, “Lord, help me to love that person, that person, the way you would? And Lord, what would you do? Lord, what would you say to them?” Next time you lose your temper, you can pray: “Lord, what would you say in this situation?” You see, those prayers can guide us to be that Christian that helps a person want to have Jesus in their life.

In our list of prayer requests, every Sunday, this one is listed because it’s something Jesus asked us to pray for: Then he, Jesus, said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful…” What does that mean? It means that people are ready to come to Christ. People are ready to believe. People are ready to come to church. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus says, “But the laborers are few. Pray, therefore, the lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

You see, the reason they’re are not as many people as there could be in a church, is because we’re waiting for them to come to us instead of going out there and loving them out there. And that leads to the mission statement, the print on the screen is a little small, but it’s printed in your bulletin every single week. It’s a quote from the Book of Discipline, which is the rules by which United Methodist churches are supposed to operate. You know what it says? Every layperson… Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Every layperson is called to be missional. To be missional is to be a part of what God is trying to do. Because do you know something? When all of us work together we can get a lot done. But how often do we pray, “Lord, help me to understand what it means to carry out the Great Commission. Lord, help me to understand what it means to be a laborer in your harvest”? It’s not a prayer that occurs to most of us. And I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t always occur to me because this has been something I feel so deeply I’m beginning to realize it’s almost like I take it for granted, but I need to put it into words and pray it as a prayer.

We have not … because we ask not.

Now, here’s the Great Commission. This is not just for the pastors. It’s not just for the church as an institution, it’s not for us to form a committee to do this. Every person is asked to go. And when you’re out there, make disciples of all nations. Well, now, how do we do that?

Well, remember, if you are a caring, genuine, honest, loving, practicing Christian, God will use that. And by the way, you have influence with people who don’t come to church. You want to continue to use that influence … because look at verse 20, “Teaching them to observe every command of Jesus.” People out there – we talked about this in a sermon a couple of weeks ago – sometimes the only gospel they read is the gospel of a person because they don’t actually read the gospels in the Bible. They learn about Jesus from watching your behavior and my behavior.

Consequently, remember how in the beginning of the service we prayed this prayer, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”? In order for us to believe and understand what is possible for God to do, we pray, “Lord, help me to see my world as you see it.”

Let me share some statistics with you that might surprise you. The picture you’re looking at on the screen is a picture outside of the house I lived in, the parsonage in Caseyville, Illinois. I was there for nine years before I moved here to Kinmundy. You’re looking at the road that goes three blocks to the church. And here’s what I have to tell you – Caseyville is not that far from East Saint Louis. And in traditional big city ways, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know most of the people who live in those houses. I don’t know their names. But God does. But it would be on my mind every time I would drive out of my driveway toward church … to think that the Lord Jesus Christ loves the people who live in those houses. And the Lord Jesus Christ wants to help them and forgive them. And the Lord Jesus Christ wants them to find a church family who will take care of them. And if it’s not the one I’m a part of, I hope they find one somewhere.

Now, here’s an interesting little bit of statistical stuff. Back in 1965, as a part of census studies, people kept time diaries. Just like the Nielsen families who write down what they’re watching on TV at different times during the day, these people wrote down what they were doing at different times during the day and turned those notebooks into the Census Bureau. And a couple of sociologists by the name of Presser and Stinson studied what people did on Sunday morning. You know what they found out? The average person in the United States, 40% of them say “I was in church on Sunday.” But do you know what they found out back in 1965? Only 24% of them were in church on Sunday.

Think about that. You’re standing in line at Walmart. You’re in the stands at a little league baseball game. In 1965, only one out of four people you’re looking at were in church on Sunday morning.

Our bishop in 2009 quoted these numbers at a national evangelism event. And he said that the number has now dropped to 18%. Only one out of 5 people you see was in church last Sunday morning. Friends, it’s probably dropped further than that now. Pastor Dave, does that mean that things are horrible? Not exactly. It means that every place has great potential because what Presser and Stinson found because the people doing these time diaries were a statistically valid representative sample of people across the United States.

Therefore, these statistics are supposed to apply all the way across the United States from big cities to little towns like ours.

So what that means, Kinmundy population according to Wikipedia in the 2020 Census was 733. You know what that means? If the statistics are valid over 601 people are not in church right now.

Well, Pastor Dave, I think when you look at the Catholic church and the Christian church and our church, there’s probably more than 132 people in church this morning. Well, yeah, that’s true. But over half of you here this morning live in the country or commute here from Salem or Farina. See what I mean? People drive in, but just counting people who live in Kinmundy, a few blocks from this church building, there is a potential of over 600 people coming to our church next week. “Oh, Pastor, if that happens we’re going to run out of cookies for the fellowship after worship!” Well, friends, if the statistics are valid, there’s definitely a possibility that 12 new people might come next week. Because the harvest is plentiful.

Now, head on out into the country to Wesley Church. Wesley is in Foster Township. There are two churches in Foster Township. 379 people live in Foster Township. There are 2 churches and 193 housing units. What that means out near Wesley, there are 158 houses where people don’t leave Sunday morning to go to church anywhere. The potential is there. And if you and I begin to pray, we are praying a prayer that God wants to answer because God wants those 601 people to find Jesus Christ. God wants 158 households to be a part of a church that cares, and you and I can pray for that.

There’s a place where Jesus says that if there are 99 people or sheep on a hillside that “need no repentance” – as if there are 99 people anywhere who don’t need repentance! – and only one that’s lost, Jesus will go find that one. But what we need to understand, friends, is that lost honestly means not with the other sheep. And statistically, there’s a lot of potential that surrounds us, because there are a LOT of people who aren’t with the rest of the sheep.

So let me tell you a story. Let me end with a story. Once upon a time in Scotland, in a small village, there was a very cranky older man – now, I know it’s hard to believe in a church that there’d be a cranky older man – who just felt there was too much talk in church and so he stopped going. And the pastor was told, “This guy hates it when people talk to him.” And the pastor said, “Well, I’m going to do something about that.”

So he went to this man’s house and knocked on the door, and he knew there’d be a war to see who would talk first. So the man came to the door, nodded his head to the pastor, inviting him in without saying a word. The pastor came in, they sat down in front of the fire, and each one waited for the other one to say something. After 15 minutes, the pastor took the poker and pulled a coal out of the fire and pulled it out to the edge of the fireplace, sitting on the stone. And they sat there in silence, both men, and watched that coal, separated from the others, begin to go out … until finally, it had gone out. And after another ten minutes the cranky old man turned to the pastor and said, “Pastor, that’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard. I’ll be in church next Sunday.” The pastor nodded, and didn’t say a word as he left.

Because you see, friends, we can’t stay on fire unless we come and help each other stay on fire. We need each other. And the 600 “lost” people around us, they need the fire, too, because it’s a cold and a difficult world. Let’s pray for them to find our Lord and Savior.

Lord Jesus. I don’t know who the 601 are. In fact, a lot of them will tell me they belong to another church, but they just don’t go. But Lord, they need you, and you asked us to go. So Lord, help me to go to the people around me. Help me to be a practicing Christian, not just in the church here, but to be a practicing Christian out there where you can use that to make a difference in people’s lives. And Lord, help us to help other people find you and come together because, Lord, they need to be a part of a functional, caring family of God. And we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources

Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )
 

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