Reflections on the WCA Prevailing Church Conference 2003 in Montreal
Becoming a Prevailing Church
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
June 1, 2003
Main Passage: Acts 2:42-47
I had the opportunity to attend a Conference this week in Montreal. I
traveled up with a group of 40-some odd pastors from the Atlantic
District. (40 some odd gives you both a number and a description.) And
what a fantastic trip it was, although a little quick. I caught the bus
in Moncton at noon on Thursday, we traveled all day and arrived at the
hotel about midnight EST. The conference ran from 9 to 5 on Friday, we
reloaded the bus, drove through the night, and arrived back in Moncton
at 7:30 yesterday morning. So it was a fast trip. Was it worth it? You
I was at this conference and I was hearing some great stuff, and I
wanted to share some of it with you. So that's what I'm going to do.
Originally, I was going to talk about “It's The End of the World As We
Know It?” and deal with the Tribulation and some of the events of the
End Times. But I decided to put that on hold for this week. I know some
of you were looking forward to that this morning, but don't worry.
We'll combine that with the message next week.
(Prevail = to be or become effective or effectual; to be strong; to
overcome; to remain)
The conference was called “The Prevailing Church Conference” and it
focused on building churches that matter... churches that make a
difference and function as God intended. And let me tell you, the main
speaker was well qualified to lead this conference. His name was Bill
Hybels and we've talked about him before. He began a church in the
suburbs of Chicago 27/28 years ago and it has grown to over 20,000
people on a typical weekend. They've been the single most influential
church in North America over the past 10-15 years. And it all began
with a simple vision for building a Biblically functioning community of
believers like we find in the passage Jim read for us earlier in Acts
2:42-47. In fact, I decided this week that that's the passage I want to
memorize next. You may want to do the same. Acts 2:42-47.
I brought back a video, and I want to show part of it to you this
morning. This is Bill Hybels, the speaker at the conference, and the
pastor of Willow Creek Community Church just outside of Chicago. Watch.
VIDEO – PREVAILING CHURCH
Quote on video:
“Ending Apartheid is a cause for which I will gladly invest every day
of the rest of my life, and it’s a purpose for which I am fully
prepared to die.”
~ Nelson Mandela
Doesn't that sound like a church you want to be part of? Well, you're
in luck. That's the kind of church we want to be here at Sunrise... A
church that's passionate for God, passionate for each other, and
passionate for our world. A church that’s committed to the cause of
changing the world for God, no matter the cost.
There are a couple of sayings, or mantras, that Hybels talked about
regarding the church. You can use your notes to follow along and fill
in the blanks. The first one was this:
Mantras for a Prevailing Church:
1. The local
church is the hope of the world.
That’s you and that’s
me. We are a local church. We are the hope of the world. God has no
other plan for rescuing a cold, cruel world. God has no other plan for
cleansing the soul of a young boy whose life is in a downward spiral of
violence that will end in a Godless eternity in Hell. We are the hope
of the world. Elected officials aren’t going to be able to change
lives. Social programs aren’t going to be able to rescue souls. Medical
science won’t be able to cure the disease of sin that separates us from
our Creator and which ends in death. Only the power and the love of God
expressed through His people is able to accomplish these things. The
local church is the hope of the world.
During the eight years that Bill Clinton was in office, Bill Hybels
served as his spiritual advisor. Apparently Clinton didn’t always
listen, but once a month for eight years Hybels met with the most
powerful man on the planet. Sometimes it would be at the White House,
sometimes it would be at a different location. But Hybels talked about
the first time he noticed the man with the briefcase. There really is a
man carrying a briefcase containing nuclear launch codes, and he is
required to say within a certain distance from the president at all
He also talked about being at the Pentagon, and the first time he saw
the Situation Room where war is played out. And he could see how the
Generals there were able to keep track of ships and jets and troops and
how they could authorize an assault on the enemy.
But then he noted this: the power that the president holds with the
nuclear launch codes and the power that the Generals hold in their
forces is the power to destroy. But we are the hope of the world. We
have the power to build up and restore. We have the power to transform,
to reunify, to free from addictions. The local church is the hope of
“What going on in the local church is the most important thing
happening on planet earth.”
~ Bill Hybels
The second mantra was this:
nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.
When we are loving each
other, when we are servicing each other, when we are comforting each
other, when we are encouraging each other, when we mourn with each
other, when we rejoice with each other… when the local church is
working right there’s nothing like it in the world. That’s the church
of Acts 2.
There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working
right. Of course, that implies that it’s possible that the local church
isn’t always working right. Take a look at this passage from Acts
6:1-7, and you’ll see the first serious problem the early church had to
Acts 6:1-7 (NLT)
But as the believers rapidly multiplied,
there were rumblings of discontent. Those who spoke Greek complained
against those who spoke Hebrew, saying that their widows were being
discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve
called a meeting of all the believers.
“We apostles should spend our time preaching and teaching the word of
God, not administering a food program,” they said. “Now look around
among yourselves, brothers, and select seven men who are well respected
and are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will put them in charge
of this business. Then we can spend our time in prayer and preaching
and teaching the word.”
This idea pleased the whole group, and they chose the following:
Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus,
Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (a Gentile convert to
the Jewish faith, who had now become a Christian). These seven were
presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands
God's message was preached in ever-widening circles. The number of
believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish
priests were converted, too.
The church faced a crisis. In this case it was a problem of food
distribution and included racial issues. And it was a problem that,
depending on how it was handled, could tear apart this young, fragile
Plus, it was distracting the apostles from what their real job was.
What were they supposed to be doing? Take another look at verse 4:
Acts 6:4 (NLT)
“Then we can spend our time in prayer and
preaching and teaching the word.”
I’ve heard this verse for years. In fact, I’ve heard it all my life.
But when I was thinking about it this week, I asked myself how this
played out in my life. So I went back over my schedule for the past
three months and figured out that I work an average of 61.5 hours each
week. And about a third of that time is spent in the areas of prayer,
preaching and teaching. The rest is tied up in administrative duties
and phone calls and running errands and counselling and a host of other
things which vie for my attention.
You know what I realized? Yes, there are some of those things which I
need to do. I actually have some gifts in the area of administration,
so I enjoy doing some of that. But I need to be careful not to allow it
to take me away from what I am called by God to do. Phone calls and
emails are important, but can’t monopolize my time. As for counselling…
well, if I needed counselling I wouldn’t go to myself. I’m not good at
it, it’s not something I enjoy, I have no training in that area, I’m
not sure that anyone is ever really helped by my counsel anyway, so I
need to start redirecting people to people that are better equipped to
Bottom line is I need to increase the percentage of the time I devote
to prayer and preparing to preach and teach. Scripturally, those are my
I love the way the apostles handled the pressures and the demands on
their time. They entrusted those responsibilities to others in the
church who were fully capable of overseeing them. And you know what?
That’s happening here. As with any new church, it can take a while to
take shape, but it’s happening. Most of you help out after the service
when we have to tear all this stuff down and pack it away. For the past
few weeks Gail has come in early to set up the hospitality area and
provide a place for relationships to be built. Last week we moved our
LIFE Group to Chris and Betty’s home. I’m going to stop there because
some of you don’t want to be in the spotlight, and if I did continue
I’d forget some things, and that’s not good either. But we are becoming
the Church. We are becoming a Biblically functioning community of
believers. And I’m glad to be part of a church with you. And as time
goes on we will continue to develop an infrastructure that will enable
us to effectively and joyfully love and serve each other here at
Sunrise and throughout our city.
Let’s get back to the notes. We were talking about how there’s nothing
like the local church when the local church is working right. But every
church does face problems from time to time. Hopefully, we’ll be able
to spread those times out as much as possible. But when problems occur,
they usually occur within one of five potential problem areas.
Potential Problem Areas Within the Church:
When there’s a problem
in this area, it looks like this.
(Illustrate a pre-Christian staring absently into space, looking
bored/indifferent, disillusioned with life and with God. And illustrate
a believer clutching Bible to chest with back turned to the
This is the posture of a church who has turned it’s back on the people
who need what they have to offer. They’ve forgotten the example of
Jesus. Because Jesus had a reputation. And it wasn’t necessarily a
flattering one. Many people accused Jesus of being a drunk and a
glutton because of the people he spent time with. They even gave Him
the nickname, “friend of sinners.” They meant it as an insult, but
Jesus wore it like a badge of honour. But for some reason in the church
we tend to forget that. And we can even start disliking and hating
people because they don’t hold to the same morals and values we do. And
we can even start to think that we are holy and righteous and
spiritually mature because we don’t associate ourselves with “their
kind”. But this is the posture we should take…
(Believer turns with open Bible and hand on shoulder of pre-Christian.
Pre-Christian turns to look and listen.)
We have what they need, and we need to offering with love and
(Posture #1 – fists in
air in defiance; #2 – hands on hips, #3 – hands behind back)
Discipleship is growing the way Jesus intends for us to grow. It means
we need to submit ourselves to Him and put our own pride and arrogance
aside. These problem postures tell God that we don’t need Him. We can
do it our own way. We know better. We don’t trust Him. But the posture
of true discipleship is one of openness and obedience. It demonstrates
(#1 – arms raised in praise, #2 – arms open in submission, #3 – hands
in “prayer” formation pointing to God)
These are the problem
postures for community.
(#1 – looking down nose in judgment, #2 – whispering gossip, #3 –
looking off in own direction)
I hate watching someone roll their eyes at someone else. How
condescending is that? And what bothers me even more is when I become
aware of gossip rifling through a church. You know what I realized this
week? Gossip does more harm to a church than adultery. Gossip does more
harm to the church than sexual abuse. Gossip does more harm in the
church than financial fraud. Because everyone knows these other things
are wrong, but we wink at gossip. But if you’ve ever been caught in the
middle of some gossip that’s going around, you know how completely
devastating it can be and how it can destroy community. Gossip is one
of the top reasons why pre-Christians have written off the church.
There are certain things I know because I am a pastor. There are issues
that I help people with. There are circumstances that I support people
through. But I am very careful not to share those things with anyone
without permission, even with my wife. Those of you who have been in
that position know that I ask you for your permission before I even
share it as a prayer request. So when I discover rumors going around,
and I know I had nothing to do with spreading it, I know somebody is
We’ve talked about this before, and we’ll continue to bring it up
because it’s such a vital issue. Gossip is gossip, whether the gossip
is true or not. It’s spreading information around to people who have no
business knowing about it. I am not by nature a confrontational person,
but I have had to forcibly tell people that I will not listen to them
spreading information about someone else behind their back.
Refuse to spread gossip, refuse to even listen to it, refuse to condone
What kind of posture shows community?
(Arms raised as if around each other’s shoulders)
This is the posture that says we care for each other and that we’re all
in this thing together.
In John 17, Jesus prayed that we would be united as one. He intended
for us to live in community, not as a collection of independent
entities heading off in separate directions.
(Arms out in front with
hands doing the “gimme” thing.)
We’ve become a very self-centered culture, and that attitude has even
crept into the church. Many people in many churches are tuned into
radio station WIIFM… What’s In It For Me? I know of people who have
demanded their own way, and if they didn’t get it they threatened to
move on and find another church. In fact, there were some people in our
former church in Bedford who did just that. You know my response? Fine.
Good luck. I hope you find what you’re looking for. Because we don’t
need that kind of selfishness in our church. You show me one passage in
the Bible that actually teaches that you should be more concerned about
your own wants than the needs of others. You’re not going to find one.
Take a look at this passage in John 13…
John 13:1-5 (NLT)
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew
that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He
now showed the disciples the full extent of his love. It was time for
supper, and the Devil had already enticed Judas, son of Simon Iscariot,
to carry out his plan to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had
given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and
would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe,
wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then
he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he
had around him.
Jesus was God. It says right in this passage that all authority was
His. So what did he do with it? Demand to be waited on? No, He waited
on everyone else.
(Hold arm in front as if a towel was draped over it.)
This is the posture of servanthood. And it says, “I am here to serve,
not to be served.”
(Clutch fists to chest,
as if holding on to something I don’t want to release.)
When resources are the problem, it’s because people are holding tight
to what they own. And they fail to realize that everything they have is
a blessing from God in the first place. It all belongs to Him, and He
has simply entrusted it to me and to you.
What posture should we take?
(Hands offering up to God)
This says, “God, all my time, treasure and trust belongs to you. I will
not withhold even a cent that you require. You have entrusted me with
Your blessings, and I will not betray that trust.”
Okay. So those are the
five potential problem areas. I expect we’ll have to deal with each one
from time to time, because church can be messy. It’s a group of
imperfect people growing together as we strive to know and love God.
It’s about being real, and sometimes it can be real hard. But we’re in
Do me a favour. Here’s the commitment I’m going to ask you to make.
Resolve right now that, as best as you can, you will not cause these
potential problems in the church. But instead, you will be part of why
the church is the hope of the world.
You know what? My area of weakness out of these five would be
evangelism. There was a time in my life when I would have been hard
pressed to name any pre-Christians that I hung around with and to whom
I was representing Jesus. It’s an area where I have worked hard over
the past several years, and it’s a constant struggle. Over the past
year, I’ve improved drastically. In fact, yesterday I took about 10
seconds and listed 7 names of people that I am actively sharing my
faith with. I don’t like to highlight the things I’m doing, but I need
to let you know that as pastor at Sunrise I take this stuff seriously
myself and try to model it for you. And it can be a struggle.
That’s the area I need to constantly work on. What’s yours?