Welcome to a brand-new series in a brand-new year, and I’m just going to say it’s a very important series built around a very important question.  What is the point of church?  This is a conversation that Ken, and I have been excited to talk about for a couple of reasons.  First, this conversation is really the next step or just simply a continuation of what we were talking with you about this fall.  If you remember all the way back to last year, we were talking about you as a person and the purpose and meaning of our lives.  We were pushing in on life’s big questions and answering those questions that we all have in the deepest parts of who we are.  We were learning our value, our purpose, and just how much we matter as we dove into the five great purposes of our lives.  Do you remember that?  Huge questions that we all have in the deepest parts of our hearts that we need to have answers to, because when we have answers to these questions our lives have depth, energy, strength, focus, we find that full life that Jesus told us He came to provide for us, that very life that we all want, so it was a huge fall conversation on a very personal level and really this first conversation of 2023 will just continue that process, because when you find your purpose and meaning in life on an individual level, the next steps are tying into a church where you can grow (and we will get into how all of this happens) and learn and serve and enter relationship with others while deepening your own walk with God as we engage something we call the church.  So, this series is really, next steps or a continuation of the ‘Do I Matter’ series.  The second thing that really excites us about this first conversation of 2023 is we are answering another question that is on many hearts and minds these days.  So, it couldn’t be more relevant to where culture and people are today.  The question is this, what’s the point of church?  Seriously, why engage the church at all?  Why get out of bed, deal with all the people and messiness of churchlife?  Why give your time, energy, and resources to the local church, I mean what’s the point?  I mean, how many people do you know that tell you things like they believe in God but just want no parts of organized religion of any kind?  Doesn’t it feel like the local church is dying, I mean more and more studies and statistics are coming out proving that the local church isn’t winning, frankly churches are closing and getting smaller every day.  Is the church just an old, out of date concept and now that our culture is losing any interest in God, aren’t churches just doing whatever they can to market and keep me here?  Is there anything in the local church for me at all?  Well, the answer to that is there is a lot here for you individually and for our culture today in the local church, and we can’t wait for us to dive into it with you.  The third big reason Ken and I are excited is because of where we find the answers to all of these questions on the church, and we find them in God’s word and quite frankly as we dive into what The Bible says to you about church, I think it will be pretty surprising and may even shock you a bit.

So, before I turn this over to Ken, I wanted to talk to you a bit about this idea of church.  And I want to start by asking you what your view or image of the church is.  So, think about that for a moment, what is the first thing you think about when I ask this question.  What is church to you?  How do you view it?  What comes to your mind?  You know for me, having spent most of my 46 years in and around church as a preacher’s kid, then a volunteer, then full time pastor I will tell you I have thoughts and things that come to my mind, and I wonder what comes to yours.  I think all our experiences, some good and some not so good, can really shape how we view church…so I wonder if you see it as a positive or a negative thing?  Do you see it as part of who you are?  Is it something you look forward to being part of consistently?  Is it a refreshing part of your life, or is it more of a thing you feel like you have to do, an obligation, maybe the thing that interrupts other things you would rather be doing?  If that is the case the church and any event or engagement into serving you have with it are probably pretty difficult things for you to do.  So what is it like to serve the church?  Does it feel more like work than something you are grateful to be doing?  This is important as we start this series.  I want you to think about this and personalize this with me for a few moments.  How do you view church?

You know, the thing that has really been on my heart and mind a lot lately, frankly it weighs heavy on me all the time is this.  Why is church life so painful and messy?  Why is it that a group of people who have been saved by Jesus coming together can hurt each other so badly and be so hard and difficult to find unity and health.  Why would a group of people who are rallying around the greatest gift we could have in salvation through Jesus Christ, with the greatest mission ever which is helping others experience Jesus so we can all have a different eternal destiny struggle to do things, struggle to get along with each other, and frankly struggle to stay on the very mission Scripture clearly calls the church to be on?  This is something that weighs very heavily on me as I have walked through church life for all of these years, and I will just tell you one of the main reasons this happens.  Yes, there is spiritual warfare, and yes imperfect people coming together will always be challenging, and yes, some people just don’t know what God’s Word truly calls the church to be, but the number one reason church life can be so messy and painful, is the fact that we humans aren’t viewing the church as God tells us we should.  We see the church as a resource for us to take from, or a place that should make friendships for me, or maybe some weird religious obligation, but what we don’t ever do is see it and treat it as the Bible says we should…and the Bibles tells us we should see it and treat it as family.  This verse came up when we were talking about the fact that God created us to love others (something we call Fellowship) this fall and I knew then we needed to come back to it in this series.  I want you to see this.  We were created by God to be part of God’s family.  That family is the church.  The church is what we would view or should see as our spiritual family.

1 Timothy 3:14 I hope to visit you soon. However, I’m writing this to you 15 in case I’m delayed. I want you to know how people who are members of God’s family must live. God’s family is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. GWT

Is this how you view your church experience, as your spiritual family?  Do you treat it as family?  What would change in how you treat the church if it truly was your family?  Just a reminder, we become part of our Spiritual Family through Jesus.

Ephesians 1:4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.  NLT

So, through Jesus we are now part of God’s family, but is that how we view the church?  As a family?  What would change in your life if you did view it as family?  Why would I say this is the number one reason that the church struggles?  Well, if we people of the church viewed church life and community as family, we would treat it very differently in many ways and I want to discuss just a few of them with you today.

First in a family there SHOULD be love and generosity and support.  Here’s what I know about family, it should be a life of loving, giving, and supporting each other with no strings attached!  As parents we love and support and give whatever we can to help our children grow up and succeed.  As parents get older kids take care of and love and support and give whatever they can to their parents.  Do you see it?  In a healthy family it centers around love, we serve one another, we want each other to succeed, and we are generous with each other doing whatever we can to help each other out!  Now let me ask you, do we treat the church this way?  If we don’t view the church as family, we treat it very differently.  We compete for spots and don’t really want to see others succeed.  We see it as a resource to take from, we want positions, control, and if we don’t get it we will move on to another church or make sure people feel our disappointments.  When someone in the family has hopes and dreams and goals, what does a family do?  They do there best to help the family member succeed…they really around them, and work together to make sure those dreams and goals are achieved and what’s interesting is the church has a mission, and it’s clear but we aren’t always open or willing to help the church get there, it’s annoying, or marketing, or just isn’t something we are interested in doing…and it’s because we aren’t seeing it as family.  Selfishness and greed and control have no room in a loving, generous family and when it is there it causes a lot of pain and hurts and damage.  Check out what Solomon says here…

Proverbs 15:27 Greed brings grief to the whole family, but those who hate bribes will live. NLT

You know one of the most fascinating things for me around church life over the years is how hard it can be for people to do tasks or things around the church.  What is fascinating to me is when you simply look at the task for what it is, they typically aren’t hard to do, and frankly are often things people do outside of the church with no trouble at all, yet something happens when we do them inside the church.  We have spent a lot of years setting up and tearing down at MRC as an example, and really it’s not super hard especially after we found wheels, and technology has only made it easier, but for some reason when it comes to church it’s super difficult and exhausting to do…and I want you to see why and I think Solomon is nailing it…it’s selfishness that makes things hard…I will show you an example of this in family instead of church.  So, one of the things you hear parents really struggling with is taking their kids to their youth sporting events.  It’s so hard on some parents, isn’t it?  They complain, they fight it, and they are so exhausted from it…but let’s think it through.  Is the task all that difficult?  I mean they are sitting in a park somewhere in a lawn chair, drinking iced tea or coffee, giving a thumbs up as their beautiful child runs by!  So why is something so easy, so difficult and exhausting to do? Why does sitting there in that lawn chair feel more challenging than climbing Mt Everest?  Well, it’s because mom and dad would rather be doing something else!  They want to do what they want rather than enjoying something their child desires and it makes it so hard and tiring and exhausting for them.  Do you see it?  It’s selfishness, and it’s the same at church.  Greed causes church communities to struggle, and it is why simple tasks at church are so hard and exhausting, it’s because we have our plans, our own agendas, and all this other stuff gets in the way of our own wants and desires, and around church it causes a lot of problems frankly it’s greed that is destroying community.  And it is why something as simple as showing up to church consistently or serving becomes so hard or even why you may do things around church but only with strings attached…it’s greed and it is the biggest disrupter to the local church and destroys what should be our Spiritual Family.

Proverbs 15:27 A greedy and grasping person destroys community; those who refuse to exploit live and let live. MSG

If you come to church and view it as family, you treat it differently, don’t you?  You don’t come into it looking to take from it, or control it, the tasks and goals of the family are important to you because you want to see it succeed…you love, you give to it, you bring your strength to it, you want to see it grow and reach its goals because family matters.

Lastly in a family there SHOULD be patience, and a willingness to stick with it through tough times and even if it doesn’t always go the way you want.  I think this is important, I want you to think about your family.  Those people are who they are, and you only get one family am I right?  That means that when your dad or mom upsets you or your siblings disappoint you, you can be hurt or upset but they are still your family.  In a family we stick with things even when it’s messy…but in the North American church we don’t do that.  We go to one church for a while, and instead of viewing it as family, and stepping in with love, generosity, and strength we expect things from it and if we don’t get those things from it, or if things get tough on us, we just move on to another church.  Wouldn’t it be different if we saw the church as God’s word tells us to see it, as family?

Proverbs 17:17 Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble. MSG

When it comes to family we stick together and work through things don’t we?  Well, this is important when it comes to church life as well because it will never be perfect and because we don’t view it as family we just end up going to a church for a while where it will inevitably disappoint us or someone will let us down and we just move on to the next church…think about how wild that would be if we treated family that way.  I mean at Christmas time, we don’t go to our family feast, sit down and not care for the music or the atmosphere, or the taste of the ham and just get up and walk a few houses down and move into another family!  This isn’t like free agency in sports, family sticks together, because they are family…and this is how the church should be viewed as well.  Even in difficult and divisive times, we stick together as family.  God’s word told us so, and I believe church would look very different if we viewed it this way.

1 Timothy 3:14 I hope to visit you soon. However, I’m writing this to you 15 in case I’m delayed. I want you to know how people who are members of God’s family must live. God’s family is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. GWT

So as Ken comes up now to really start diving into this talk, I want you thinking about this.  How do you view the church?  Is it a resource for you?  Is it a weird religious obligation?  Is it something in the way of all the wonderful things you would rather be doing?  God’s Word says we should view it as “Family” and when we do view the church this way, I think we treat it, each other, and every aspect of it very differently.

When we view the church as our Spiritual Family everything changes.