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 bet!

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.



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 times.

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 the world.

“What going on in the local church is the most important thing happening on planet earth.”
~ Bill Hybels

The second mantra was this:


2. There’s 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 deal with.

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 on them.
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 church.

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 help.

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 primary responsibilities.

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:


A. Evangelism

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 pre-Christian.)

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 compassion.


B. Discipleship

(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 submission.

(#1 – arms raised in praise, #2 – arms open in submission, #3 – hands in “prayer” formation pointing to God)


C. Community

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 spreading gossip.

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 it.

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.


D. Servanthood

(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.”


E. Resources

(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 it together.

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?




Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2003