I. Television coverage magnifies the already intense emotions of athletic competition. We’ve seen silver metalists weep because they “lost” and bronze metalists rejoice at performing far above their expectations. We’ve seen big egos fuss about their teammates, and we’ve seen the humility of those who were passed over enthusiastically supporting teammates who were chosen to compete. While not on television around the world, I sense the magnification of emotions as our time together is fast approaching its conclusion. The sadness of letting go of valued relationships mixed with the excitement of new relationships and opportunities is intense for Candy and me as it is for you. Michael Phelps says he’s retiring from competition, and even if he tries another comeback, as well as he has done, he clearly can no longer perform as he did four years ago. Hard as it is to imagine, Gabby Douglas is likely to be past her prime as a female gymnast in four years when she will be twenty years old. Letting go of something that has defined your life for a long time is painful. Yet, for Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, new, exciting and unimagined vistas and opportunities are going to be opening ahead of them, even before they return from London. Candy and I have been delighted to have our first interim pastor experience with you. In just two weeks we’ll be into the new experience of an out-of-town interim pastorate. Who knows what God has for us? In a month, David Bondurant will be with you as your new pastor. I believe God is opening an exciting new era of growth for 1st Christian Church, Duncanville. I have been praying that God will magnify your emotions of joyful anticipation in this month. Who knows what adventures God has for you?
A. I’m convinced God is opening a new era of body building for 1st Christian Church, Duncanville. Ephesians 4 teaches body building, not athletic body building but building a church as the Body of Christ. Growing churches invest in body building, just as world class athletes invest in motivation, training, coaching and diet.
B. We typically think of church growth as bringing in lots of people and rapidly become large. We can be mesmerized by huge crowds and discount the spiritual value of smaller congregations. We can also wrongly write off fast growing congregations as shallow and superficial. By focusing on the motivation for bringing new people into the church, we keep a healthy perspective. Just having a bigger organization is beside the point. Wanting to keep the institution going and pay the bills is pretty weak motivation. Growing a church is not about maintenance but about mission, not membership but redemption. The motivation for adding people to the church is for Jesus to meet them and transform them. The incentive to grow the church is not about us but about them, the people who need to meet Jesus.
C. The aspiration for church growth goes beyond getting more people to know Jesus but is also about all of us growing to become like Jesus. I thrill when I recognize the character of Jesus shining through someone else in the congregation especially if it’s in an area where I am weak or needy. Together we are the Body of Christ. I am certainly not the Body of Christ all by myself!
D. We do all have our individual growth journeys. A healthy congregation, will have people at every stage on the path. Some folk will have just met Jesus and be taking spiritual baby steps. They may have huge obstacles to overcome from years of living without Jesus. Others may seem to be spiritual cripples, limping along with scars and wounds inflicted by others, even churches. Some will be fully prime spiritual athletes, studying, teaching, leading, serving with enthusiasm. Some will have walked many years with Jesus and have a mellow wisdom to share with those who are emerging as leaders.
II. Growing churches invest in body building. Athletes do not achieve the physical conditioning needed for a high level of performance quickly or with sporadic efforts. It takes years of consistent training, practice and coaching. For the Church, too, body building is about momentum. Eugene Peterson calls it “a long obedience in the same direction.”
A. Ephesians 4 puts the unity of the church at the core of building the Body of Christ. In the Greco-Roman world of the first century, people could choose from a myriad of pagan cults. Pick your favorite god or goddess. Choose your most enjoyable rituals. None of them make any claims for exclusive allegiance. Like McDonalds, Burger King or Wendy’s, you were free to pick you preference that day. So for Ephesians to proclaim “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all” was radical. The church brought together people from many races, classes, nationalities, vocations, and backgrounds. With all of this diversity they were united in Jesus. Our Disciples of Christ forbearers knew this. Barton Stone said that Christian unity was the polar star of the church, and Alexander Campbell wrote that the “the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.” This is as much about relationships within one congregation as about relationships between congregations and Christian traditions.
B. Maturity is the other major theme of body building in Ephesians 4. This maturity is the “measure of the full stature of Christ.” Jesus is the personification of the goal of our body building, both as a congregation and as individuals. The listing of what it takes to maintain unity summarizes what this maturity is like. “Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, speaking the truth in love.” These are not rules or even virtues. They are manifestations of the character of Christ himself. I have found them here!
C. Unity and maturity are intrinsically connected. Maturity must develop in community. It cannot develop in isolation. In fact, autonomous individualism is a sure symptom of immaturity. In 2011 the Barna Research Group found that only 21% of those polled believed that spiritual maturity required a vital connection to a faith community. Lesley Sebek Miller, July 31, 2012 Hermanutics,a Christianity Today blog Here is a huge challenge for growing churches. Even those who claim faith in Jesus don’t recognize that the community is essential for spiritual life and growth.
D. One of the 4th century desert fathers was having trouble managing his anger. When another monk annoyed him he would lose his temper. So he decided to become a hermit and live in total isolation so he wouldn’t have anyone with whom to be angry. One day he spilled his water jug, lost his temper and kicked it against the wall where it broke. Then he returned to the community, concluding that his anger was internal and he needed his brothers to help him gain mastery over it.
III. Growing Churches invest in body building. Ephesians spells out a plan for ministry designed for building the Body of Christ. The spiritual gifts listed in Romans and 1 Corinthians are spiritual abilities given to individuals for the full functioning of the Church. In Ephesians 4, however, the gifts are people, leaders with special callings to equip the Church for the work of the ministry of building up the Body of Christ.
A. I’m not going to get into definitions of the offices of apostle, prophet and evangelist. Since Pastor David will be with you in a month, I want to focus on pastor-teacher. Yes, this is a single office: a shepherd who teaches. This brings together the roles of caring and leading, of feeding and guiding. But what I really want you to notice is that Pastor David’s job is not to do the work of the ministry but to equip you to do the work of the ministry. If you’ve been thinking the lay leaders have been working hard since Pastor Mike retired and now they will be able to relax a bit when Pastor David comes, you’ve got it all backwards. When Pastor David comes all of you will have to step up your game to take on more of the work of the ministry. That’s how to build the body of Christ!
B. An important part of the body building in the future of 1st Christian Church, Duncanville is going to become intentionally involved with people in the community and invite them into the church. I know that Pastor David has already made some action and reading assignments to the leaders. He will help you learn and plan for new ways to bring people to the church, but you will be the ones who do the inviting. He doesn’t know anyone in town yet, so each of you knows many more people who could be invited than he does. Your invitations will have much greater attractive power than his. People can write off an invitation from a pastor because “it’s his job.” But they can’t dismiss a caring friend so easily. Pastor David is only one, but there are over a hundred of you. Just think about it. If each one of you brought one new person into the church in the next year, the church could double in size! Pastor David can’t do that himself, but he can equip you to do this work of ministry.
IV. Growing churches invest in body building. In one of the TV commercials running during the Olympics, a discus thrower says, “I haven’t ordered dessert in over five years.” Diet is an essential part of body building for athletes and for the church.
A. After Jesus had fed the 5,000 he went up on the mountain to pray while the disciples took a boat to Capernaum. When they are caught in a storm, Jesus walks on the sea to them. The next day some of the people whom Jesus had fed come looking for him. When they can’t find him they also take boats to Capernaum and are surprised to find him there. In John 6:28-35 they engage Jesus in conversation. He warns them not to work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
B. Jesus himself is the food to grow on, the nourishment that builds the Church as his Body. Ephesians 4:13 says that coming to the knowledge of the Son of God is essential for both unity and maturity. This kind of knowledge is not just information. It is an experienced and absorbed understanding. If we think of Jesus as the bread of life, it is the nutrients being digested and distributed to nourish every cell in the body.
C. We gain such knowledge of Jesus by studying the Bible, especially the Gospels, and become so thoroughly familiar that the Holy Spirit prompts us to think the way Jesus thinks. This knowledge is also relational, so our prayers become intimate conversations with God in the name of Jesus, and when we gather with the church, especially for worship, we resonate with the presence of Christ alive in each other by the Holy Spirit.
D. In a deep mystery we experience the nourishment of Jesus as the Bread of Life every Sunday at the Lord’s Table. When we try to explain what God is doing in the Lord’s Supper, we get caught up in disputes that nourish neither unity nor maturity. Yes, exploring the mystery is enriching, but you do not need to be able to explain it to experience the reality that Jesus himself is feeding you and building his Body, the Church, including you!