Let’s read how God views church.
God raised him [Jesus] from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. MSG Ephesians 1:21-23
Try to wrap your mind around that. God places Jesus on a throne in deep heaven. Jesus rules everything in this universe. And at the center of Jesus’ rule, is the Church. That makes church the most important thing on earth. It makes what Jesus is up to relevant. And I want you to notice something. The world we live in, the place we think is so relevant, it’s not. It’s not relevant at all. In fact, it is peripheral to the Church. What the world is up to, is secondary, an afterthought to what God is up to.
Think about that for a second. Is that how you view the church? Do you view church as God’s body on earth? Do you view church as your spiritual family? Do you view church as the most important place on earth? One last question. Do you view what God is up to through the church as relevant and everything that is happening in our culture is just a distraction?
If Christians in North America viewed our local churches like God viewed our local churches, our churches would be amazing. We would be all in. Last week Sam said it well. The struggle we have in church is that people don’t view church like God does. Sadly, many report, ‘I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian’ or ‘I hate organized religion’ or ‘I am so spiritually mature, I don’t need church’. None of these things are found in scripture.
To make matters worse, people who have led in churches, you know the stories of abuse, have delivered the deepest wounds. It’s evil, it’s wrong, and it’s not at all why God created the church.
Most recent statistics reveal that people don’t view church the way God views church.
Fact 1: 2022 church attendance has dropped at least 28%. For many churches, it’s 50%.
Fact 2: Generation Z, 31% report no religious affiliation, an increase from 22% ten years ago.
Fact 3: 80% of attenders tithe about 2% of their income.
Fact 4: 38% of pastors are considering stepping away from full-time ministry.
Fact 5: Estimates say as many as 15,000 churches will face this tough decision to close or merge with other churches. Those in more rural areas have been hit especially hard.
In 1972, 90% of people in America claimed to be Christian. In 2020, 64% of people in America claimed to be Christian. If the trend continues, they claim that it is possible that by 2070, between 35% to 54% of people will claim to be Christian. That means, in our generation, we could see a country move from Godly to godless.
What happened? Scripture explains that the church IS God’s body, but surveys reveal the church doesn’t look like it’s healthy or winning. Here is what happened. Through the years, we didn’t make the choices to join God in what He was doing. That means people through the years have been around church while at the same time not making the choices that would join God in the local church.
This way of living isn’t new, it’s not a surprise. We see this in the Children of Israel thousands of years ago. Think about how they responded to God. They just experienced God in the most real and tangible way. They witnessed God’s plagues against Egypt. They witnessed God opening up a river for them to walk through on dry ground. They witnessed God destroying the most powerful army on earth. Three months later after experiencing God, Moses walks up Mount Sini to meet with God. Moses is on the mountain for 40 days and because Israel didn’t hear from Moses, they made an idol, a golden calf, and started worshiping it for leading them out of Egypt. Stunning. You read that and think who would ever make choices like that?
Fast forward to Solomon. The Children of Israel watched as God led them into the promised land. God gave them victory after victory over rival nations who were bigger and stronger. After God gave them success, prosperity, peace, blessings, did they keep God’s law and passionately pursue God? Nope. As they lived in prosperity, they began to ignore God. They started worshiping idols. Stunning. You read that and think who would ever make choices like that?
Who would ever do that? Who would experience God saving them and quickly treat God like an afterthought? The answer might surprise you. You would. I would. Let me ask you, do you believe Jesus left heaven and entered earth? Do you believe God was on a cross for six hours to defeat the curse of death over you? Do you believe God has saved you from sin? Do you believe you are going to heaven? Experiencing God and knowing that God saved you is amazing. So, how do you treat God? Do you go after God with an unapologetic passion? Do you make the choices God lays out in scripture to join the church?
For many Christians, they have experienced God, but they treat God like an afterthought. After all that God has done for them, they don’t make the choices that would join God in the local church. And so today, instead of viewing church as God’s body, the most important place on this earth, our spiritual family, it has become an interruption to the things we want to do. We see what is happening in the world and believe it’s so relevant. It’s what we talk about, think about, focus on, fight about, post about. We see the church and think, what the church is doing isn’t relevant at all. Isn’t that amazing? Christians saved by God view the Church, God’s body on this earth as not relevant. God’s desire to save people spiritually and bring them into heaven, when compared to our culture, isn’t relevant. How does that even happen?
When we started MRC, I was very young, passionate, and naïve. I thought, when Christians hear about MRC and our passionate, relentless, and unapologetic vision to reach people in our community, they would lose their minds with excitement to join. I thought, when people far from God would come to MRC and experience God’s grace, it would so transform them, they would easily join us to help others find God’s grace. I thought people, because they experienced God, would automatically make the right choices. Choices to love God, love others, grow, serve, and give. To me, it was an obvious no brainer.
I have been amazed to discover people’s response. Over the 21 plus years, we discovered people respond to God like the Children of Israel did thousands of years ago. When Christians visited, they shared that they loved our vision, but they shared their disappointment because we didn’t look like what other churches looked like. When other Christians visited, some stayed and tried to get us to look like the church they just left. When people from the community came and experienced God’s grace, they were so excited to feel God but quickly fell back into old patterns of living. This left me dazed and confused. Remember I said, I was young, passionate, and naïve.
I must add, people wanted to see the church grow so they began to give ideas on what the church could do to make things happen. And we did them. Our church resume of activity will show you a list of activities and programs that would make your head spin. From working on cars to giving cars away, from supporting New Hope Ministries to leading a South Central, Pa event called Youth Impact Project that helped thousands of people, we did it all. However, in all of it, I noticed something. People continued to struggle to see church as God’s body, the greatest place on this earth. They struggled to make the choices to join God in what He was doing. They were okay with activity while at the same time not making the choices to join God in what He is doing in the local church.
Let’s walk through the choices we make to join God in what He is doing.
Choice 1.) Love God.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” NIV Matthew 22: 36-40
To love God, it requires us to make a radical decision. We must end your addiction to being busy. We must end our addiction to doing nothing and waiting for someone else to do something. When we are constantly busy or constantly checking out, it makes us so distracted, we don’t have time to love God. We must have the resolve that says: “I cannot continue to live the same way and expect different results. I want to be with God – regardless of the cost.” And everything in life will pull us away from that decision. To love God is what it means to be a Christian. Pray. Read scripture. Make decisions to clean up our lives.
Choice 2.) Love Others.
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV Matthew 22: 36-40
Loving others is how we measure our spiritual health. Our maturity isn’t based on what we know, who we know, what we have accomplished, none of it. Is your heart becoming softer or harder toward others? Are you able to love and accept people who you don’t agree with? I didn’t say you approve of their sin, I said, you are able to love and accept them. Spiritual maturity is seen in how we love others.
Choice 3.) Love Growth.
Quote. “The greatest tragedy isn’t our sin, it’s the life we never live.”
Isn’t that true? Our sin is awful but if we ask, God removes our sin. That problem is solved. The bigger issue is how we live? Do we live with God courage, God authority, God clarity? Like Peter stepping out of the boat, do something that grows your dependence on God. Risk. Lead. Serve. Read. Something. Avoid the life that makes excuses and pursues comfort, checking out, and doing the least possible.
Choice 4.) Love serving.
25 “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” NIV Matthew 20:26-28
Jesus explaining the difference between the world we live in vs. God’s kingdom. The world we live in seeks greatness so they can push others around. In our world people seek power, position, fame to use for their own advantage. Jesus said, in God’s kingdom it’s the opposite. To be great means, you serve, and you serve consistently. You take your life and help others get ahead.
There are many things you can only learn through serving. Here are a few. Humility. Empathy. Kindness. You can’t learn those things through reading a book or walking through a discipleship class.
Choice 5.) Love giving.
“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” NLT Malachi 3:10
God told the Children of Israel, give 10% as an act of worship back into the Temple. In doing so, I will bless you. It’s not taking 10% and dividing it up between good causes. It’s not serving to replace giving. It’s pure worship back to God saying, “I put my trust in You.”
When Jesus walked on earth, He spoke about money more than any other subject because He knew that number one thing that will steal our faith, would be our concern for more and more money. Jesus said,
If you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? NLT Luke 16:11
Giving is the one area that will really rub us the wrong way. There is a battle inside us about who we will ultimately trust. That’s why Jesus views money as a test. Remember the parable of the talents? Each servant was rewarded based on how they managed the master’s money. Money is a test that reveals our spiritual heart condition. What do I trust? Money or God? Isn’t giving the one area we are most uncomfortable with? Isn’t it the one area we think, “I’m okay struggling to love God but money, no – I’m not giving, maybe later.” Our constant battle with giving is revealing something about us.
Let’s stop and ask a few questions. How do you view church? Is church God’s body and is it the most important place on earth? Or is church an interruption to what you want to do? Do you see that church is God’s only strategy to redeem our community? Do you see that how you respond to church is how you are responding to what God is up to through church?
Let’s talk about your choices. Jesus said, the greatest thing you can ever accomplish is walk into a real relationship with Him. Do you have that relationship? If you don’t I want to warn you, it’s the foundation to what it means to be a Christian. How are you at loving others? If spiritual maturity is measured in how you love others, how mature are you? If it’s true that our greatest tragedy isn’t our sin, it’s the life we never live, how are you living? If Jesus said, serve like I served you, what do you do with that? Do you think, I need to show up, be consistent, and serve? How about the number one subject that tries to steal your faith – money. What do you think about giving? Does having the goal to give 10% back to God through the church inspire you or does it offend you? And if it offends you, why?
I challenge you to think through how God views church. The Church IS God’s body, and your choices directly impact how strong God’s body is in your local Church. Think about it, if everyone in church made the choices you make; what would your Church look like?