The third standard in our series is “To be an active participant in Ministry.”
It is so easy today to simply attend on a sunday, or to participate every now and then. The busyness of life gives us every excuse and every reason to be someone who doesn’t really get involved or participate. Beyond busyness, there are some cultural habits and ideologies that also give us reason to avoid getting to involved.
I want to comment on two of those habits today hoping to help you see a little bit of how our society can hold us back from being a real active participant in Christian ministry.
The first reason is Consumerism.
When I spoke a couple weeks ago I briefly highlighted the epidemic that is Consumerism in the Christian church. So much of how we do or when we do ministry is informed by a consumer attitude. What I mean is that why and how we do ministry is mostly based on what the crowd demands or even worse what we demand.
It seems we often minister in the areas that we most enjoy, not necessarily where there is the greatest need. And we certainly participate in or receive ministry in the areas we need or most enjoy.It really is in many ways a buyer and seller type relationship.
You see ministry has become a product. Most churches advertise their great variety and abundance of ministry opportunities believing that we should have something that everyone enjoys.Both as a minister and as a ministry recipient.
Church programs are created based on the demands of the people who attend on sundays. This sounds a lot like the marketplace economy in our world we all buy and sell in.
Here’s a little history on consumerism.
After the second world war consumption became huge. Many new technologies created ways to mass produce products. For the first time in history supply was far greater than demand. So to deal with the lack of demand companies began to stimulate a hunger in people to consume. Advertisements became bigger than ever before, taxes on goods were lowered to encourage the public to purchase.
Fast forward to 2014 and we have a world obsessed with consumption. Shopping has actually become a skill and a profession.Consumption has created competition. We always want bigger and better.
In North America there is an expression “ keeping up with the Jones” this literally means making sure we have all the latest and greatest things so that we can keep up with everybody else. Purchasing has actually become a form of entertainment and therapy.Yankelovich, a market research firm, estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today.
We are consumers. We are programmed, many of us from birth, to purchase.The church is made up of everyday people and both the leaders and the attenders have bought into this system.
I was just in a church recently and there was a little trifold brochure and the outside title had the church’s name and the phrase “something for everyone”.It got me thinking how is this any different than a shopping centre. There are millions of dollars spent every year to fill this building with “products” to draw people in.
The great majority of Christians living in the western world decided to attend their church by going church shopping and finding the place that has everything on their want list.
Do you know what the top 3 items on the peoples lists are?
The Barna group is one of the top resource and research groups in the world for looking at how faith and culture intersect.They recently did a study and then had a small book come out called “why church matters”
They asked the question “What brings people to church?” These were the top 3 results:
Worship - 40 %
Preaching - 40 %
Location - 21%
It seems that the biggest reasons people come church are in the entertainment category & the convenience category.
So what is the point?
Why I am spending so much time highlighting consumerism? The short answer to that question is: Because we base so much of our church attendance on consumeristic factors and yet church attendance is in decline.
This leads us to the question where is the disconnect? How can we stop the church from emptying out? Stats indicate that adults are aware of their spiritual need, yet they are increasingly dissatisfied with what they consume and they’re turning elsewhere.
59% of millennial’s who grew up in the church have dropped out at some point. That is 1/6 20 somethings who grew up in the church have stopped attending at some point.
Could it be that even though the church has built and marketed itself on offering something to everyone what people are consuming is still leaving them empty and short of the dynamic life change that is result of becoming a disciple of Jesus?
I think this tells us that even though people are consumers by nature we are left empty when we simply take, what really makes our faith come alive is devoting ourselves to the cause and getting involved instead of watching from the pews.
The second reason the church is struggling is Individualism. Individualism is essentially being the lord of your own life.
If you ask someone why do you attend church the answer you will most often here is “ to be closer to God” while this answer is good it speaks to our own fulfillment.
There is a lot more to becoming a disciple than simply being in God’s presence. The call to discipleship is a radical call of losing first and gaining second.We are called to die, take up our cross, to self denial to be in community.
But when you approach christian ministry as consumeristic individual self denial, death to self, Jesus as Lord is really demanding. And beyond that much of our spiritual growth is actually designed to grow in community not as an individual. In fact Jesus said in John 13 that he would know that we are his disciples based on the way we love one another not simply on how often we attend a Sunday worship service.
Like consumerism we are programmed and even encouraged to think for ourself, put ourself first, and to do what is ultimately best for us - we are trained to be individual.This type of thinking informs how we interpret and live out the words in our bible and this will always cause us to miss the full Christian experience of becoming more like Jesus.
This is why we ask that everybody at Church of Hope participate in ministry.
This means regular Sunday attendance.
Participation in Bible study/prayer groups when offered.
Participating in ministry to the neighbourhood and to the city.
And Participating in events to build relationship with one another.
And it means all four areas not just on or two - all four.This type of commitment comes from the earliest days of christianity and how those first christ followers lived.
Acts 2 is very important chapter because it is the account of the day the Holy Spirit came. Just after that account, Luke, the author of acts records what life was like for Christians in those days.
Acts 2:42 "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."
The key word here is "devoted".
Discipleship is literally a new way of life. But when we approach it as a consumer or an individual we try simply add it as a compartment to our life rather than see it as an entire new way. When we see ministry that way we rarely devote ourselves the way Jesus asks to, instead we dabble.
Do you know what dabble means? It means that instead of jumping in to a pool of water and getting totally wet, we put in only our feet or our hands and kind of flick them around coming in and out of the water.
Jesus never ever invited us to dabble he invited us to dive in.
And to specifically participate in the same areas that the earliest Christians did. Those ways are: Teaching, Fellowship (sharing possessions), sharing meals together and to prayer.
I really believe that these four areas should be the focus of every church to this day. If anyone determines to devote themselves to these 4 aspects of discipleship you will find yourself becoming more and more like Jesus.
We fully admit that other than a sunday worship service where we teach, we haven’t provided very many opportunities to practice these areas. We did offer a brief wednesday night but for different reasons we really didn't get a ton of participation. So starting in the fall we intend to offer opportunities to these be involved. And we really hope that everybody who considers Church of Hope their church will participate in what we feel the Holy Spirt leading us into in the fall.
What we would love to see happen in September is a weekday evening gathering where each night has a different theme based around this chapter in acts.
So this first week would be a night of study and discussion.
The second week would be a night of fellowship (we do something to serve people outside of our group together)
The third week we would share a meal together a local restaurant to build relationships with each other and the neighbourhood.
The fourth week would be a night of prayer.
And should a month have a 5th week we would do one of the four again.
This give us all a really good opportunity to grow as disciples together, confronting consumerism and individualism through community.
But it’s going to take each and everyone of us, just like the earliest christians, devoting ourselves to being involved in those areas not dabbling in one or two. A couple weeks ago I stressed the importance of generous giving to keep a church alive…. participating in ministry is just as important.
We need to participate so that we can grow in Christ, as friends and as ministers to the city outside the walls of this church.Sunday worship is important but it’s not more important than a night of prayer or fellowship or eating dinner together.We need to begin to go deeper than just sunday mornings.
Here is a quote from a Pastor in New York City named Jon Tyson.
“God’s heart is that we might shift from dabbling in church to devoting ourselves to his kingdom in such a way that the world is jarred out of it’s idolatry by the intensity of our communal passion. And in a world of passive distraction, passionate devotion gains attention. It can shake the imagination of the empire again”. - Jon Tyson
In the earliest days of the church the global christians went from a few hundred at the time of Christ’s death to approximately 1000 in the Roman Empire by the year AD 40 and by AD 350 almost 30 million. That’s a incredible. 53% of the population had converted to the christian faith.
This is a remarkable feat considering this group of people did not have the resources we have today.
In fact they had much opposition.
We have buildings, bibles, money, vision statements core values, the internet or even the completed NT. Yet, they grew. Today we have everything that they didn’t have and we shrink. So how did they accomplish it? By intense devotion!
And for the western church the only way back is to guard against a faith that dabbles and desire a faith that is full of devotion.The fastest growing church today in the persecuted church. Particularly China, but in many other troubled areas as well.
These underground churches have very little money or resources yet they grow - because they are so devoted.
At Church of Hope we really don’t care if we ever get to be a big church, of course we would be thrilled if that happens but that isn’t the ultimate goal.
The greatest goal and prayer we have for Church of Hope is that it would be made up of people who are devoted to being involved.
So, as I close today I ask you to sincerely ask the Holy Spirit where he would have you participate more and when we give an opportunity this fall that you would join in. I realize that many of you are involved and committed here at Central Full Gospel but Church of Hope will not last long if we don’t see some of that commitment over here as well.
It will take Holy Spirit inspired unity but the good news is that we serve a God that desires that for us, Jeremiah 32:39, "I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them."
Acts 4:32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. Let’s pray that this would be our story as well.
Pastor Zac Eagle