Church on Purpose Back to all sermons

Date: September 12, 2014

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Tags: discipleship, purpose, maturity, evangelism, growth, mission

Synopsis: In this message, entitle “Church on Purpose”, Pastor Cam leads the church in a review of the church’s mission statement. What are we doing well? What are we not doing so well? How does God want you to be involved?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Why have you come this morning? Why are we here? Why do we do this thing called “church”? Is it just a family tradition? Do we do it just because we are “supposed to”? Do we do it because it makes us feel good? Do we do it for the same reason we eat our vegetables, because we know it’s “good for us”? Do we do it for the same reason people join clubs – to meet and make friends and hang out together?

Seriously, why are we here? Why does ECC exist? (And when I say ECC, I don’t just mean our weekend gatherings, but everything we do as a church throughout the week.) All the time, all the effort, all the expense; what is it all for?

Sometimes in life we find ourselves doing things simply out of habit and tradition, without really thinking through why we do them or what it is we are really trying to accomplish. To avoid that tendency, I thought it would be good to spend some time this morning reviewing our purpose here at ECC.

I have entitled my sermon “Church on Purpose.” Here at ECC, we do have a very specific purpose statement, which I would like us to review together this morning.

I have several reasons for doing so. First of all, many of you are new to Abu Dhabi and to ECC. You may still be deciding whether ECC is the right fit for you and whether you want to join us and how you may want to be involved. Knowing our purpose and mission should help you in that assessment.
But I am also doing this for those who are returning. Maybe you are in the process of deciding how God wants you to be involved in this coming year. This message may help you evaluate your participation and possibly lead you to renewed or new commitment to the church.

The third reason for preaching this message is more personal. August marked the anniversary of our arrival in Abu Dhabi in 1990. That was 24 years ago. I also celebrated a birthday this past week. I turned 64 years old. That means that in one year’s time, I will be 65. After much thought, deliberation and prayer, Esther Ruth and I have decided that the time is approaching for us to retire. Last Sunday night, I informed the Church Board that it is our plan to conclude our ministry here at ECC and to retire, effective in mid-November, 2015, just over 14 months from now.

This is not a decision that we have reached quickly or impulsively, or even recently. It is not related in any way to any present circumstance or crisis in the church. It is part of a prayerful and orderly life plan, seeking what is best, both for us in our present stage in life and for the church and its leadership needs moving forward. We are making this announcement now to allow time for an orderly process of succession and transition for the church.

Several years ago as I was contemplating the reality that this moment was coming, sooner or later, I wrote this prayer in my journal and began to pray it on an almost daily basis:

Heavenly Father, when the time comes, please guide ECC through a harmonious transition and bring to your church the man of your anointing to guide her to new levels of Kingdom impact.

I am now inviting you to join me in praying that prayer in the months ahead.

All of which brings me back to the message today. In light of such a transition and such a significant change in leadership, I believe it is important for the church as a whole to be reminded of our purpose. Why are we here? What is our mission? Because that must remain in the forefront or our minds, so that we do not lose focus or momentum. We have work to do. There will be distractions during this year. That is inevitable. But we must not allow that to derail us from our primary task. As Jesus said to his parents when they found him in the temple: “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

So what is that “business”? Here is the church mission or purpose statement:

The purpose of the Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi is to glorify God in word and deed and to serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit with the goal of bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ and bringing believers to maturity in Christ.

What I want to do in this message is to look at this statement, phrase by phrase, and see what lies behind each part of the statement.

We begin with the declaration that our purpose is to glorify God.

This is a fundamental purpose for all of life. The Westminster Catechism asks the question: What is the chief end of man? The answer to that question is: The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
This is also the chief end of the church. Let’s consider Ephesians 1:11-14

11 In him (Christ) we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Everything God is doing and will do in the church is for the praise of his glory. The church is God’s great act of creative genius, a testimony and tribute to his grace, and he is forming it for his glory.

The church is not about us. The church is not for us. The church is about God. The church is for God. The Bible tells us that the church is his temple, his dwelling place on earth. What kind of reflection are we on the God who has chosen to dwell in us?

How do we glorify him? Our mission statement goes on to say “in word and deed…”

This phrase actually takes us in two directions. First let’s look at what we do when we gather together as “the church”. We glorify God with our words. We do this when we sing hymns and praise songs to God. “To God be the glory!” we sing. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” We sing and say “Hallelujah!” which is an old Hebrew word that simply means “Praise the Lord!” When we open our mouths to pray we can glorify God with our words. When we give testimony to what God has done in our lives, we are glorifying God. We do it also with our deeds of love and service for one another.

But we are not called to glorify God only when we are gathered together. You see, that is one of the clear teachings of the New Testament. You and I as followers of Jesus Christ are the church. And we are the church when we are gathered together and when we are scattered throughout the week. That means that even when we are scattered, we are called to glorify God.

Paul brings it down to the very close and personal in 1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

That’s pretty inclusive, isn’t it? Every decision we make throughout the week ought to be guided by the same question that guides us when we are gathered with other believers. Will this action, this word, this decision bring glory to God?

Let’s keep moving: …and to serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit

There are two parts to this phrase. Our role on earth is to serve God. The church is God’s chosen agency on earth to work out his saving purposes. The church is God’s “plan A” for accomplishing his will and he has no “plan B”. We are to be his hands and his feet, his voice on earth.

But such a task is much too large for us. We cannot do it in our own strength. But the good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus left us his Holy Spirit who indwells every true child of God. It is his purpose to guide us in understanding God’s truth. But it is also his purpose to empower us for ministry and service. The Holy Spirit does this be giving gifts and empowering us in the use of those gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:11 says it this way: All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

There is scope here for a whole seminar or series of messages. But for the purpose of this message, it is enough just to emphasize that we recognize that the work that God desires to do in and through the church is not the work of one or even the work of a few. It is to be the works of service done by every member, laboring according to his or her gifts. And it requires more than human effort alone. The empowering work of the Holy Spirit is an essential prerequisite if we are to accomplish anything of eternal value.

I have pastored here at ECC for 24 years. I have been preaching for 40 years. I have been a student of preaching and preachers. I bring everything I learned in seminary and that I have acquired in 40 years of practice. But I know that human skill and experience is not enough. I make it a point to never come to the pulpit without praying: “I can’t do this, Lord, but you can. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, and empower me for ministry.” We in the church are engaged in a divine work that requires divine enabling. Otherwise we become only one more human organization.

So that is why we do what we do and how we are to do it. But what exactly is it that we are to do? What is our task? This is what we spell out in the second half of our purpose statement.

with the goal of bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ and bringing believers to maturity in Christ.

We purposely use the singular here in describing this as one goal. But it is one goal that has two parts or two movements in it. This is the purpose of the church as it is summarized in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20:

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 behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The driving verb in this passage is a single word in Greek, translated into English in the phrase, “make disciples.” A disciple is a follower of Jesus. If you trace word usage in the Book of Acts, you will find that there are two words that predominate to describe Jesus followers in the early days of the church. One is this word, “disciple”. The other word is “believers”, people who have faith in Jesus.

Let me give just two examples. Acts 14:21-23 says this:

21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

We see this kind of usage again in Acts 11:26 where we find this very revealing statement: And in Antioch the disciples were first call Christians.

So the task of making disciples is the task of bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ, recruiting more and new followers of Christ wherever we go.

But of course the task is not complete when a person declares himself to have faith in Christ. These new followers of Jesus, these new disciples should be baptized; an initiation rite to designate them publicly in the presence of witnesses as Christ’s followers. But even then the task is not complete. We have the responsibility of “teaching them to observe” the commands of Christ, thus bringing them to maturity in Christ. This is what was going on as Paul returned to the towns where he had “made many disciples” in order to “strengthen the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith.”

This is the second part of our task and purpose as a church. Paul expresses this in these words in Colossians 1:28-29:

28 Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Sometimes it helps us grasp something if we can see a picture or a diagram. Over the years I have been working on, developing and tweaking a graphic depiction of this process. I have used different forms of it in teaching in the past, so many of you will recognize it. This is the latest version:

SermonJPGChart

Everyone in the service today, and, in fact, everyone we meet throughout any given week, can be placed somewhere on this diagram.

The most significant transition and event on the diagram is represented by the bar that runs horizontally across the middle. I have identified it with several different terms: conversion, new birth, salvation, justification. This bar represent the transition from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, from an eternity of separation from God to an eternity spent in God’s presence.

John 3:16 says it this way: 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

Ephesians 2:8-9 says this: "8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

We cross this line by faith; believing in Jesus as the Son of God who gave his life as a ransom for us and as a sacrifice for our sins. This is the Gospel. This is our message that we are called to proclaim and to invite people to believe in Christ and to pass from death to life.
Everyone who crosses this line becomes, by Biblical usage and definition, a disciple; a follower of Jesus. So when Jesus commands us to “make disciples” he is telling us, in essence, to “get people across that line!”
But, as essential as getting people across the line is, it is not all there is to the task and purpose of the church. The fact is that there is much work to be done, both below and above the line. Let’s look below the line first. Not everyone who is “not yet” a disciple is in the same place relative to the Gospel. That is what is represented by the numbers: -5 to -1. They represent relative distance from being ready or willing to follow Christ. Our task, when we meet people, is to discern where they are on the chart and then to try to move them “up” the scale.

As we do so, however, it is helpful to recognize that their distance from Christ may be a reflection of two different issues. One is their knowledge of the Gospel. They may be totally ignorant or uninformed, or they may have some knowledge mixed with some misunderstanding, or they may, in fact, have a quite accurate knowledge of the Gospel message already.

But there is another issue at stake and that is their attitude toward the Gospel. They may have a very closed or hostile attitude toward Christianity and Christ. Or their attitude may be more neutral or apathetic. And then there are people who are quite open and positive toward the Gospel. These two factors are not always in alignment. I have met people who were quite ignorant of the Gospel, but who evidenced a very positive and open attitude. I think back to some of the first Chinese people we met when they came to work in Abu Dhabi in the 90’s. They were almost totally ignorant of the Gospel. They’d never seen a Bible, never been in a church. But they were very open to learn, to listen, to ask questions. We saw a number of them come to faith. Such people need information.

But the opposite can also be true. We may encounter people who know the Gospel very well. Maybe they grew up in the church and heard hundreds of Gospel messages growing up. But they had some kind of negative experience that turned them sour and bitter toward Christ and the Gospel. Such people do not need more information. They need positive experiences with Christians. They need to feel and experience the love of Christ to turn their hostility into openness.

I am going into this kind of detail to highlight the fact that “making disciples” is not as simple as giving someone a tract and feeling we have done our task. We need to be sensitive to the individual and to the nuances of their relationship to the Gospel if we are to be effective in reaching them.
I also share this for our encouragement. One of the greatest delights in life is to have the experience of being present when someone “crosses the line” and puts his or her faith in Christ. But sometimes that is not our role. We may be only one link in a chain. Sometimes our role may be simply moving someone from a -5 to a -4 or a -3. To add some piece to their knowledge, to correct some misunderstanding; or to simply be a positive example of a Christian in order to have a positive effect in their attitude toward Christ. Move them on up!
Then the wonderful day happens when they place their faith in Jesus Christ. They become a “disciple” of Jesus. What then? Then the second movement or part of our goal becomes our focus. How do we move them towards maturity in Christ? How can we help them grow from a +1 (a baby Christian) to a +2 or a +3. Now obviously the numbers are totally arbitrary. We cannot quantify spiritual maturity by assigning numbers. I have only used them to portray the concept of movement, growth, and progress.

Here is another way I have refined the diagram to portray different dimensions of spiritual maturity. These are summarized in the two “great commandments’ Jesus gave us: “Love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Let’s look at “loving God” first. A new believer needs to learn how to love God and grow in his/her relationship with God. He needs to be taught to practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, meditation and confession. He needs to learn more about the character and attributes of God so that he can love him more and worship him more fully and to trust him more completely. He needs to learn to walk in fellowship with God. He needs to be taught kingdom values, sound doctrine, and the kind of inner character qualities that mark a mature believer. This is part of the essential work of the church.

But as the church of Jesus Christ, we are not called to live in monasteries behind cloistered walls. It’s not just about knowing how to have devotions and memorize Scripture and sing Christian praise songs, as important as such things are. We are called to engage the world by loving our neighbors as ourselves. And “neighbor” is an all-inclusive word describing everyone we come in contact with. I have tried to cluster these, so we don’t get the impression that this a kind of hierarchy. We are to love our “neighbors” in every sphere of influence; in the unique relationships we have within our families, between husbands and wives and parents and children and brothers and sisters. We have unique love responsibilities within the church as spiritual brothers and sisters. All the “one another” commands of Scripture come into focus here. We also have responsibilities to our communities, at work and in our neighborhood. This extends out to our society and our nation, as we saw in last week’s sermon; praying for world leaders and for all men. It even extends to our responsibilities to the earth and the environment as responsible citizens of the world, to rule it well and utilize its resources responsibly so that it is preserved for “future neighbors” and generations.

What I am trying to say is that the Bible contains teaching on all these spheres. And when Jesus told his followers to “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you” he meant “all.” Mature disciples of Christ should not only make good church members. We should be better husbands, better wives, better parents and sons and daughters; better employees, better bosses, better neighbors.
And of course we should become better evangelists, because one of the commands that we should teach every disciple of Christ to obey is the command to make more disciples of Christ. And so this mission becomes self-replicating and self-sustaining, and the cycle continues to repeat itself.

So that is our mission as a church: meet people where they are and “move them on up.” And within that large task we have been given gifts and abilities; sweet spots where we are especially effective. Some love working at the low end of the scale, with people at a -5 or -4. Some love teaching classes in deep theology. Some are great with children, or youth. Others work better with adults. Some love to teach and others to serve and organize. But we are all called to serve “in the power of the Holy Spirit with the goal of bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ and bringing believers to maturity in Christ.”

We hope you will join us in fulfilling our mission. Find your sweet spot and get involved! Whether you are here for 6 months, a year, five years, ten years or 25 years. Let’s all work together to make ECC a Church on Purpose!

Discussion Questions:

The ECC mission statement reads as follows: The purpose of ECC is to glorify God is word and deed and to serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit with the goal of bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ and bringing believers to maturity in Christ.

Discuss the statement phrase by phrase. What is your understanding of the phrase and what are it’s practical outworkings in your life and in the life of the church as a whole:

  1. …to glorify God
  2. …in word and deed
  3. …to serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit
  4. …with the goal of bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ
  5. …and bringing believers to maturity in Christ.
  6. How does the diagram Pastor Cam used help you understand the task of the church?
  7. In your opinion, what are we doing well as a church? What are we not doing as well?
  8. What can you (in the context of your group) do to better fulfill the mission of the church?