Sermon: When a Good Church Becomes a Great Church
This is a lesson I delivered to the Pentecostals of Crosby on Sunday morning, 10/16/16. It is addressed specifically to that congregation, meaning that some of the comments assume a certain common vocabulary and culture and may require some explanation (if you have questions, please comment below!). I wanted to share it more widely, however, because it is biblical exegesis in action and because I don’t think the specific interpretative context renders this lesson irrelevant for the general public. In reality, biblical exegesis always has an interpretative context – this one is just more obvious than most.
(1) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy, my brother, (2) to the holy and faithful brethren in Christ that are in Colosse, grace to you and peace from God our father.
(3) We always give thanks to God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you, (4) hearing of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints (5) because of the hope laid up for you in the heavens, about which you heard beforehand in the word of truth of the gospel (6) which has been present in you bearing fruit and increasing – just as it is in all the world – from the day you heard it and comprehended the grace of God in truth; (7) just as you learned from Epaphras our beloved fellow slave, who is a faithful minister of Christ for you all, (8) and the one telling us of your love in the Spirit.
(9) Because of this also we, from the day we heard it, have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you might be full of the comprehension of his will in all spiritual wisdom and discernment, (10) so as to walk worthily of the Lord with every effort to be pleasing to him in every good work bearing fruit and increasing in the comprehension of God, (11) being empowered with all power according to the might of his glory for endurance and patience in every situation, with joy (12) giving thanks to the Father, the one equipping you for your part in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
I feel that our congregation has Spiritual momentum. And I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. Perhaps you all have sensed it as well. Over the last who-knows-how-long God has been shaping our little congregation in all sorts of imperceptible ways in a manner that only God can do. I know that God loves this congregation just as it is. We don’t have to be a big megachurch for God to adore us and to be pleased with us. Over the last several months, my prayers before service have been largely ones of invitation: Holy Spirit, come dwell among us and within us. Fill us and empower us. Heavenly Father, visit us today and enjoy yourself. Be pleased with our meager gift of worship. Let our praise be a refreshment to you. Let this house be a place of rest and joy for your heart. Really, I just want us to make him happy. And I believe that is exactly how God feels about us. I think he has been greatly pleased with our worship, by which I mean everything we do: singing praising, praying for one another, teaching and learning, and fellowshipping. I think this little congregation has a special place in God’s heart, and when he visits us on Sunday morning he gets a special joy from being among us. So I don’t think we have to do a thing to be pleasing to God or to be more acceptable to God. He is pleased, and he accepts us.
And that is precisely why, I think, he looks upon us as a congregation that he can work with. Not because we’re perfect, because we’re not. Not because we are wealthy or influential, because we’re not. In many ways, we are a coalition of misfits, people who don’t really belong anywhere. Many of us have experienced rejection from those within the establishment, both within the Church and in society. So we don’t have a whole lot to offer to God in the way of worldly power. But none of that matters to God. He doesn’t need our worldly power or our wealth. He is the king of the universe! He owns the cattle on a thousand hills! What could we possibly offer him in terms of worldly power? The reason God looks upon us as a congregation that he can work with is because we are pleasing to him, because we love each other and we don’t restrict our love simply to ourselves. In whatever way God chooses to minister to the lost and hurting of our community through us, clearly it has nothing to do with any worldly virtue we possess. It would have everything to do with God’s good pleasure. And I think it is God’s good pleasure to reach out to the lost and hurting of this community through us.
Again, I don’t think I’m alone in sensing a shift coming in God’s purpose for this congregation. In a moment like this it is natural for us to fall back on our conventional concepts of what this kind of moment is supposed to look like or consist of. For example, we will pray for revival. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s worth asking what is it that we’re looking for when we pray for revival? Is it biblical? I think a lot of times when we pray for revival we have in mind Acts chapter 2. And what we end up doing is trying to kind of manufacture what we imagine Acts chapter 2 would look like. A number of contemporary revival movements really have consisted more of human enthusiasm than of God’s sovereign work of bringing about lasting Kingdom change in the hearts and lives of the lost and hurting. And the growth experienced by a church going through the stereotypical “revival” experience often consists more of people from other Christian congregations who are looking for the next big thing rather than the unchurched finding Jesus for the very first time or returning to Jesus after straying. Ultimately, this kind of growth is unsustainable and even harmful. I would argue that we should neither expect nor want stereotypical revival, because I don’t think that’s what God has in mind.
So what should we pray for and expect? What does the Bible have to say about this? We can break this question down into the following two questions:
- What does it look like in the Bible when a church is firing on all cylinders?
- What does it look like for such a church to go to the next level?
There are lots of places in the Bible where we could look for answers to these questions, but this week I was led to meditate on the first twelve verses of Colossians, which is probably not the part of Colossians that you have heard the most sermons from.