"We Are Family" part 4:
How Do You See the Church?
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 25, 2007
Main Passage: Ephesians
Over the past five years
or so, the media here in Canada has made a big deal about the fact that
it seems fewer and fewer Canadians are attending church on any given
Sunday. There are signs that’s turning around, and in fact some studies
show church attendance is now on the upswing, but recent history has it
in a downward trajectory.
During this same period of time, statistics show that Canadians seem to
be becoming more spiritual… that is, they pray more and they meditate
and they do things that are considered spiritual… they just don’t go to
church as much. You ever wonder why that is? Well you are in luck
because this morning we have the top ten excuses people use for why
they don’t go to church. You ready? Here we go…
The Top Ten
Excuses for Not Going to Church…
10. I relate to Jazz and
Rock more then Handel and Bach
9. I’d rather sleep in my own bed than in a pew
8. I already served time as a child
7. Organ music makes me crave hot dogs
6. I can only remember three commandments
5. I feel guilty enough already
4. When I want to be told what’s wrong with me, I call my mother
3. Last time I knelt I had a hard time getting up again
2. I can’t afford the admission fee
1. People that happy just give me the creeps
Well, that was fun. But
what would happen if we were to actually go out and ask people on the
street why they don’t go to church? Well, I suspect we’d get several
different answers. Some of the classics would be… it’s not relevant…
they only want my money… it’s boring… I have other things to do on a
Sunday morning… You’ll get lots of different answers.
But I want to take a slightly different perspective this morning.
Instead of looking at the excuses, I’d like us to look at the mindset
behind the excuses. Because when it comes right down to it, all of the
excuses people may give you spring from a view they already have about
the Church. So let’s take a look at three ways you can view the Church…
There are other views, too, but we’re just going to look at three…
Three Ways to Look at Church:
1. Some See
Church as an Obligation
There are people out
there who see church as an “ought to” or a “got to.” “You ought to go
to church” or “you’ve got to go to church.” It’s an obligation.
It used to be a cultural obligation. People went to church because
everybody went to church. Didn’t necessarily mean they believed in God
or had any kind of a relationship with Him: they just went to church
because that’s what was expected of them.
In fact, you could ask anybody what their church was and they’d have an
answer. You know, “I’m a Wesleyan” or “I’m a Baptist” or “I’m a
Presbyterian” or “I’m a Pentecostal.” They may have had no idea what
that actually meant, but that’s what they were. And they knew it. They
were obligated to know it.
Here in PEI, the obligation was to know “I’m a Catholic” or “I’m a
Protestant.” And that’s where the line was drawing. Again, it may have
had nothing to do with actual faith and living in relationship with
Jesus. Church was an obligation and people were obligated to know what
their church was.
How stupid is that?
In fact, today… here on PEI… I find that people are still obligated to
know what their church is. The difference now is that they may never
actually attend. It may have been years since the last time they set
foot inside a church, but if you ask them, they know what their church
is. They’re obligated to know. It’s a cultural obligation.
And then there are some who see church as a family obligation. There
are lots of people who have no interest in attending church at all…
until they have a family. But then they have kids, and they think the
church is a good place for the kids to be raised and to learn values.
So they’re obligated to bring the kids to church.
And then there are those who are obligated to go to church just to keep
everybody happy. A parent or a spouse wants you to go to church, so you
go to church. In fact, if you don’t go to church, perhaps you don’t
qualify for Sunday dinner. So that’s a no brainer. You’re obligated to
go if you want to eat.
Now, I’m not much of a fan of Church as an obligation. I don’t think
that’s the most positive or the most accurate way to look at the Church.
But I suppose there are worse things. I mean, people may attend out of
obligation, but at least they’re in a place where they can be exposed
to the good news about who Jesus is and what He’s done for them. They
may go out of obligation, but once there they can encounter the
life-transforming power of God and they discover real faith and real
hope and real purpose in life.
But obligation can also lead to resistance… and resentment. People
don’t like doing things because they “ought to” or they’ve “got to.”
And so if people attend church out of obligation, one of two things are
likely going to happen…
One… they’re going to continue to comply and attend church, but as soon
as they step inside the doors they’re going to shut off. They’re going
to disconnect themselves from what’s happening around them. They’re
going to build up a wall inside and resist any of the benefits that may
come from this… obligation.
Or two… they’re just going to put their foot down and refuse to go
anymore. They’ve done the church thing and they’ve done enough.
Psychotherapist Wayne Dyer made the comment that…
“Relationships based on obligation lack dignity… If you are living out
of a sense of obligation you are a slave.”
~ Wayne Dyer
That doesn’t sound like much fun now, does it? It’s certainly not the
best way to view the Church. But that’s how some people do.
2. Others See
Church as an Event
Kind of like going to
the movies or going to the circus. It’s an event, not an everyday
happening or even an every-week happening.
You might only go for special occasions… like baby dedications or
baptisms or weddings or funerals. Like the guy who told a preacher,
“Preacher the first time I went to church they sprinkled water on me
and the second time I went they threw rice at me.” The preacher thought
for a moment and then replied, “Yeah, and I suppose the next time you
come we’ll throw dirt on you.”
But believe it or not, there are people who have never been to a church
except for weddings and funerals. Church just isn’t part of their
lives. It’s just an event.
It’s actually a little bizarre. There are people who never, ever attend
church… but when they get married they want it to happen in a church.
And when they have their first child they want it baptized or dedicated
in a church. And when someone dies they go looking for a preacher to
handle the funeral. What’s up with that? I think they are just
superstitious. They think that maybe they’ll have a better marriage, a
healthier child, and preferred reservations at the Pearly Gates if they
include the church in those events. Basically, they see the church like
a lucky rabbit’s foot, which obviously wasn’t that lucky for the rabbit.
And then there are the C & E-ers… those who only go to church
on Christmas and Easter. After all, it’s the thing to do, right?
Easter’s coming up in just a couple of weeks. And so over the two weeks
there are going to be lots of people dusting off their suits. And
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without going to a Christmas Eve
service, would it? I mean, check out the newspaper just before
Christmas when they list all of the Christmas Eve services. It’s
amazing how many extra services some churches have to have to
accommodate the influx of people on that night.
And then are still others who attend church on a regular basis, but
it’s still just an event for them. Like Hockey Night in Canada. For
some people, every Saturday night is an event for them. You know,
everything has to be just right… they put on their lucky shirt, they
cook up some wings, they pour a big foamy glass of their favourite
non-alcoholic beverage, and they settle in their favourite chair for an
evening of yelling at the T.V. That’s an event for them. It’s something
they do every week.
For some people, Church is like that. It’s an event.
And maybe that’s what it was like for Calvin Coolidge. When he was
President of the U.S. he attended church alone one Sunday while his
wife was sick. And when he got home his wife quizzed him and asked, “So
what did the pastor preach on?” The President thought for a moment and
replied “Sin.” “And what did he say about sin?” probed his wife. The
President thought again and replied, “he was against it.” I wonder if
he was really paying attention or if he went just for the event of
being at church?
But this isn’t a new thing. Going back a long ways, people have treated
church as an event. 400 years ago, Thomas Fuller made this comment…
“Many come to bring their clothes to church rather than themselves.”
~ Thomas Fuller
It’s an event for them to dress up and make an appearance and show off.
So some people see Church as an obligation. Others see it as an event.
But either way… if people see Church as an obligation or as an event…
then they aren’t to blame. The church is. For way too many years the
church has marketed itself that way.
Some churches have tried guilting people into attending. You know… “If
you don’t attend church you are going to hell.” But the truth is,
simply attending church has absolutely no impact on your eternity.
Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore then going to a
garage makes you a car. Or going to a Hockey Game makes you Bobby Orr.
So, guilting people into attending doesn’t really do any good. And so,
other Churches don’t bother with the guilt routine; Instead, they
simply rely on the fact that people have always come to church. It’s
the thing to do on a Sunday. So they offer Church as an event. But that
just doesn’t cut it either. Church isn’t the only show in town anymore.
There are lots of things that you could be doing at this very moment.
You could be at the Flea Market. You could have the kids at a hockey
game. You could be swimming. In weather like this you could be golfing.
As of May, you could be shopping on Sunday mornings. The Church used to
have a corner on the market on Sunday mornings, but not anymore.
So what’s the answer? What new and wonderful thing do we need to become
in order to attract a new generation of believers? Well, actually, we
don’t have to become something new. Instead, we need to become
something old. Instead of looking at church as a religious thing that
people are expected to participate in, we need to see it as a
relationship thing where people are loved and accepted…. where we can
thrive in a relationship with God and a relationship with others.
You see the Bible never saw Church as an obligation. Nor did it see
Church as an event. As a matter of fact for the first 300 years the
church existed, it was the socially and religiously unacceptable thing
to do. People were obligated not to be part of the church. And the
events people attended were often events where they watched Christians
die. That was considered sport in those days.
So when the New Testament looked at the church, it wasn’t about
obligations or events. Instead, time and time again, it came back to
seeing the church as… what? … as a “Family.”
3. The Bible
Sees Church as a Family
That’s what Jesus
designed the Church to be. Going all the way back to the first days of
Acts 2:42a (CEV)
...they were like family to each other.
Wow, what a powerful statement. They were like family. A couple other
Romans 12:10 (GW)
Be devoted to each other like a loving
1 Peter 2:17b (Msg)
Love your spiritual family!
Now, maybe you’re not particularly close to your biological family… or
maybe your family has been a source of pain for you. So perhaps that
distorts your image of what “family” is. Perhaps the concept of the
Church being a family doesn’t sound all that appealing to you. But you
need to understand, when the Bible describes the Church as a family
it’s not talking about a dysfunctional family; it’s talking about a
healthy family. It’s not talking about a disconnected association, it’s
talking about a bonded relationship. It’s not talking about an
arbitrary bloodline, it’s talking about a spiritual bloodline… bonded
by a shared Christian heritage, a shared mission in the world, a shared
focus of worship, and a shared hope for the future. We are a family.
Ephesians 1:5 (NLT)
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.
Now doesn’t that sound like something you want to be part of? Doesn’t
the whole idea of belonging to a family do something for you?
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family:
Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
~ Jane Howard
So how do we move from obligation or “event church” to “Family”?
Well, I think the answer goes back to a comment that Jesus made to his
disciples in the Gospel of John. Jesus was telling his disciples how
others would know that they were Christ followers. Now, He didn’t say
it would happen because of what they called themselves, or where they
attended church, or how they voted, or how they wore their hair, or
what type of music they listened to, or because they wore a little
cross around their neck, or because it said so on their T-shirt.
Instead, Jesus said…
John 13:35 (NLT)
“Your love for one another will prove to the
world that you are my disciples.”
You know, the very best people I know are in the Church.
The most loving
The most giving
The most compassionate
The most humble
The most serving
The most joyful
The most focused
The most thankful
The most thoughtful
The most wise
The most honourable
The best people I know are in the Church. Some of them are in this room
Oh, some people would argue that the church is where you find the most
judgemental and the most hypocritical people. And that’s true—there is
some of that in the Church. But that doesn’t change the fact that the
best people I know are also in the Church.
Plus, we all know that those who are judgemental and bitter and hurtful
are people who are themselves hurting, and they need to be in the
Church because they need to experience the love and the forgiveness and
the healing that the very best people have to offer.
“Isn’t it wonderful that there’s a place you can go where they welcome
you—not because of what you are but in most instances in spite of what
~ Tony Campolo
Our love for one another will prove to the world that we are followers
of Jesus. So what does this love look like?
Well, in the book of 1 Corinthians Paul wrote to the believers in the
city of Corinth telling them how they were to behave toward one another
in the church. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about
spiritual gifts and how we are to serve each other using the gifts God
has given us. And we looked at 1 Corinthians 12 where it gave some
examples of how we are to use our gifts within the Church. And then
Paul talks more about that in chapter fourteen.
But sandwiched in the middle is a passage that is very familiar to most
of you because it’s often read at weddings. But in reality, it wasn’t
written about marriage relationships, although it wouldn’t hurt to
treat your spouse this way. No, it was written to tell believers how
they were supposed to love one another. It was written to provide a
framework for how we use our gifts in serving each other within our
spiritual family. Listen to what Paul wrote…
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT)
If I could speak all the languages of earth
and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or
a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood
all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had
such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would
be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed
my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would
have gained nothing.
So all those gifts we’ve talked about for the past couple of weeks—you
could use them all you want, but no matter what you did—if it didn’t
spring from a heart of love—it’d be worthless. So what is love? What
does it look like? Well, Paul went on…
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)
Love is patient and kind. Love is not
jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does
not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures
through every circumstance.
That’s what the Church is meant to be—a loving Family. Take another
look at those… are you patient? Are you kind? Or do you get jealous or
boastful or proud or rude? Are you domineering, demanding your own way?
Do you have a short fuse? Do you hold grudges? You know, do you believe
in people? Do you look for the best in people? Do you encourage people?
That’s what love looks like?
Can you imagine a Church like that? I can. Because I see what God is
doing here at Sunrise. He’s making us into this kind of Family. And
more and more, I see Him doing this in His Church around the world.
You know, there’s a verse in the Old Testament where David wrote…
Psalm 122:1 (NLT)
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go
to the house of the Lord.”
And if the house of the Lord then was anything like the family of God
now, I can understand that. Because I look forward to spending every
Sunday morning with you.
of this message adapted from material by Denn Guptill]