Picture in your mind that you are on a dream vacation. You’ve planned and saved for this vacation your whole life. You are going on a private cruise with just you, your family and the staff. You are headed to an island where you will be treated as kings and queens. So, you’ve been on the boat for a couple of days and it’s been awesome. Then the captain asks you to come up to the bridge and shows you around. He even lets you to steer the ship. Once you’re steering the captain and the entire staff leave. Now you are on this luxury yacht with nothing but water around you trying to find the remote island that you are going to stay at on vacation. If you’re not careful this picture is what you will end up looking like. (The picture is of a boat completely under water.)
This is a lesson for all of us. If we don’t know exactly where we are going there is no way we will end up where we are aiming at. I think all of us in this room know that. I hope you also understand that if you’re not sure exactly where you are at or where you are going you won’t end up getting there. So, what I’m going to do today will become an annual tradition here. This will be known as the State of the Church address. Every year the President of the United States gives an annual State of the Union address. I’m not the President and I don’t want to be the President. What I want you to hear from me tonight is exactly where we are as a church right now and where we will be headed in 2015. I’m going to be very specific and clear in the sermon so that we all know where we are and what 2015 will look like. I am going to use the sermon outline to create an acrostic.
Before we begin I want you to hear this from me. These goals aren’t just from me. I asked all our pastors in early December to tell me exactly what they would like to accomplish in 2015. At the end of the sermon I will tell you their thoughts. I was very impressed how God was leading all the pastors of our church.
1. We want our Groups to grow deeper.
If you were here last week, you heard Pastor Alan Smith talk about Romans 12:1-2 and what a transformed life looks like. I want you to look at one verse that comes right after those which describes what real deep love or real deep growth looks like.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.
Paul, who wrote this verse, used to be Saul who was a Pharisee and a hater of the church. He persecuted the church and tried to prevent Christianity from spreading after the death of Jesus Christ. He was notorious for making others suffer for their faith. Paul was walking down the road trying to find some more Christians that he could persecute and Jesus met him there. Saul the persecutor was radically transformed when he met King Jesus. He became the apostle Paul who wrote this passage.
Paul immediately after coming to faith starts to preach and teach that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to salvation. Of course the church is skeptical about Paul. They probably thought that Paul was acting like one of them to get inside the church so he could find the leaders and kill them. Paul really struggled during the first part of his ministry and becoming a follower of Christ. What finally won the church over is Paul’s love. Saul the persecutor became Paul the persecuted. He was willing to suffer for what he believed in like he was willing to make those suffer before he came to faith in Jesus.
As a church, we want to be the church for skeptics and those who don’t want to attend church in our city. Ultimately what wins over the skeptics is the way that we love each other and the way that we love them. The first goal for us as a church in 2015 is that we grow deeper in our small groups. We do this really well inside the walls of the church. One of my hopes and prayers for this year is that we would start to do community/small groups outside of the building.
For me it is like a funnel. There are lots of people here on Sunday mornings that don’t go to groups at all in the church. We assume that many of them are just checking out Christianity or the church. I understand if they get freaked out about the idea of going to a small group on a Sunday morning or Wednesday night. Then we have a good population of our church that is plugged into a small group right now. There is still something missing. What I think is missing is us meeting together outside the walls of this church. The church doesn’t stop being a church when you leave these walls. Actually you are the church all day long every day.
So, what I hope to see in 2015 is that many more people go through the funnel. First that they would find a small group that gets them plugged in. They find a group of people that know them and show them that they love them. But they don’t stop there! They continue through the funnel and start to live lives that influence others outside of the church. I want you to live your life with each other outside the doors of the church as much as inside.
There is a danger that comes with this goal. The danger is that we get really, really good at doing generational ministry. This means the youth always hang around the youth; senior adults are only around other seniors, etc. We are really good at that but I want people to be able to be around multigenerational groups. I want some of the older folks to hang out with the younger ones and vice versa. That happens best when we meet together outside of the doors of the church.
2. We want to look more Racially diverse.
2 May your ways be known throughout the earth, your saving power among people everywhere. 3 May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you. 4 Let the whole world sing for joy, because you govern the nations with justice and guide the people of the whole world.
Since I retired from the Army in 2011 there has been something very valuable missing in my life. I had this brotherhood in the Army. I was closer to the men that I served with in the Army then my own family in most cases. I love them and they loved me. It didn’t matter what part of the country they came from or the color of their skin, we love each other, we lived together, and we fought together and died alongside one another. We had a really tight connection with each other. Since I left the Army I’ve been looking for that in the Chattahoochee Valley. I’m going to be totally honest, I haven’t found it at any church in our city. There are some churches that are more racially diverse then others but in my opinion the church that honors Christ and looks like Christ’s bride in this city demographically looks like this city looks. Which means our church should be proportionate to the city and we are not (nor any church in our city). We are going to work hard to reach out to other people of race in our city during 2015 or we are going to die trying because this is worth dying for.
In 1966 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon on May 29th at Cornerstone Baptist Church. Unless you were there personally, this sermon was unpublished until last year. He was invited to preach at Cornerstone by Pastor Sandy Ray. Dr. Ray and Martin Luther King Jr. grew up together and knew each other really well. Cornerstone Baptist Church is in Brooklyn, New York. In 1966 they were working on a family life building that they were going to use as a ministry to the people of Brooklyn. This was a big occasion that they invited Dr. King to because this was the grand opening sermon for the church. Cornerstone Baptist Church still exists and the current pastor published this sermon last year.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached this sermon in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King’s sermon was titled “Guidelines for a Constructive Church.” There were five points to this sermon. One of the points in the sermon was titled the acceptable year of the Lord. The current pastor at Cornerstone Rev. Lawrence Aker III said that 2015 is just as in need of Dr. King’s words as 1966 was. Here are a few of the comments that Dr. King made about the acceptable year of the Lord and ask yourself if this is what 2015 looks like for the Chattahoochee Valley.
He said the acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will learn to live together as brothers. The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will keep their theology abreast with their technology. The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will keep the ends for which they live abreast with the means by which they live. The acceptable year of the Lord is that year when men will keep their morality abreast with their mentality. In 1966 the church had a long way to go. The church has done well in the area of race but we still have a long way to go.
One of the questions that I want you to ask yourself to answer this year is, are there groups of people in our city that our church is not reaching out to? Are there groups of people that our church is being effective in reaching out to that don’t look like us? When I ask that question I have three demographics that come to mind. First is inner city Columbus and inner city Phenix City. I’m talking about people who live in a very different way then you and I do and life is different for them. This year we are going to reach out to the inner city. There is a growing Hispanic population in our city and many don’t speak any English or very little. If we are going to reach out to them we are going to have to become multilingual so the Gospel becomes more available to them. Finally, you have this growing Indian population in our city. People from India are now living in the Chattahoochee Valley, many of whom are Hindus. I am going to ask you to pray that God would give you the ability as a church to reach out to one of these three groups. I hope by the end of 2015 we look more racially diverse then at the beginning of the year.
3. We want our Outreach to be more effective.
We sent a lot of people around the city and around the world in 2014. In order for outreach to become more effective in 2015 we are going to have to be very specific in who we are trying to reach.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. 3 Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. 4 Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should. 5 Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
In verse five the phrase “make the most” can be translated “get serious about it” or “be specific about it”. Paul is saying get serious about every opportunity that Jesus puts your way.
One of things that I want to ask you to pray for me in 2015 that God would give me more opportunities to speak about Christ and his mysterious plan then he did in 2014. Would you also pray verse 4 for me? Would you pray that I would proclaim this message as clearly as I should when God gives me the opportunity to speak. Will you also pray the same thing for yourself? Will you pray that God opens an opportunity and you make the most of it?
We just preached during the Christmas Emmanuel sermon series that God came to be with his people. Let me quiz you on why Jesus came under the form of a man. Why did God send Jesus to be with his people? Jesus came to rescue people from their sins. Since Jesus is no longer on earth God still wants people to be rescued from their sins but now this is the church’s responsibility to continue the mission that Jesus started on Christmas thousands of years ago. We live in a city that is sick with sin and many of the people in the city have no interest in Christ. We have a long way to go here.
No church would say this but many function with the thought that people know where they are at and if they want to come the doors are open. We will not be a church that sits by idly while the city plunges head first into sin. We are going to go to them and we are going to get very specific in how to reach them in 2015. We live in a unique city that is really a global city. As we do more and more to reach the Chattahoochee Valley we will also be making a global impact.
There are three specific parts of the city that I would like to see Calvary Baptist Church have a bigger impact on. First is in big business. I’m not just talking about AFLAC, TSYS, and Synovus though they are certainly included. Those businesses that have a lot of employees and a big bottom line and as a result they dump a lot of money into our economy. Here’s what I would like to see happen. I want to see those companies grow and get bigger because by getting bigger they employ more people. They will also give pay raises, which will raise the standard of living in the Chattahoochee Valley. I want to see business get bigger because it is good for the city. I want to see us as a church reach out to the leaders of those businesses and show them that God could use their position in the business as a mission field and to minister to the people in their companies. As their companies get bigger they have a broader audience to minister to. Ultimately what I want to see is that business leaders have something more to live for then stock dividends and bottom lines. I want to see them live for Jesus. As they live for Jesus in a public way hopefully the people who work for them start to live for Jesus too.
Another area I would like to see us reach out to is Fort Benning. Were any of you here in 1996 when the Olympics came through Georgia? Columbus, Georgia hosted the softball events for the Olympics. Dawn and I were living here at that time. We helped to reach out to the countries that were coming to the Chattahoochee Valley during the 1996 Olympics. Basically, all the churches in Columbus were excited that the world was coming to us. Do you know that Fort Benning and specifically one part of the post has more foreign countries coming here now then during the 1996 Olympics? Since most of them don’t have the opportunity to live on Fort Benning, they live next to you. We are talking about officers primarily from over a hundred countries who are coming to the United States will spend six, nine or twelve months here in Columbus, Georgia before returning back to their countries. The only exposure that they will have to America is the limited time that they spend in the Chattahoochee Valley. God is giving us an opportunity to change the world by reaching this city. There are military leaders from countries that are completely closed to the Gospel that are coming to the Chattahoochee Valley and they may be your next-door neighbors. God may give you the opportunity to share Jesus with them when it is illegal to speak about Jesus in their country. Every year is like another Olympic year in the Chattahoochee Valley because of Fort Benning.
Finally, I want to see us get serious about reaching out to Columbus State University (CSU). Let me describe what CSU looks like. That school is growing and so is it’s influence. When you drive to Atlanta you will see the billboards for CSU along the interstate. As I’ve been on the campus I’ve talked with lots of students who don’t live in Columbus that chose to come from around the country to go to school here. Most of the students at CSU don’t know Jesus and don’t care about church. The handful of students that were raised in good, Christian homes will go wild the first time they are out from under mom and dad. CSU is a completely unreached people in our city. When they are in class in colleges and universities all over the country, they are taught to believe that there is no God and you can live any way you want to live. That’s why it is easy to go wild at college. What you leave college believing about heaven and hell, about God and Jesus is typically what you are going to believe for the rest of your life. We have this brief opportunity to try to reach into this dark world and make an impact at CSU.
I want to ask you to pray with us that we would become really effective in 2015 in reaching these three target areas. By the way, effectiveness doesn’t mean more people going. It means making disciples as a result of us going.
4. We want our Worship of Jesus to be more passionate.
3 With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation! 4 In that wonderful day you will sing: “Thank the Lord! Praise his name! Tell the nations what he has done. Let them know how mighty he is! 5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things. Make known his praise around the world. 6 Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy! For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.”
The acrostic that I spelled out today was GROW. When you look at the word “worship” in the Old and New Testaments most often that word refers to bowing down in reverence. The second most often use of this word in the Old and New Testaments is to serve someone or something else. We teach around here that we want you to serve and be served because serving itself is an act of worship. We teach that we want you to work on one day and worship on another. We want you to serve Jesus at the same time that you sing to him. We say that every member should be a minister and that every minister should have a ministry. If you’re not sure where your place of service is let us help you find a meaningful place of service.
Did you notice something that was missing in this sermon? When I said grow notice that I never said anything about growing bigger in 2015. I believe that if we preach the Gospel there are families that are hurting in our city and marriages that are struggling. I believe men and women are wrestling with sin and lives are lived at a frantic pace. We believe that only Jesus has the real and lasting answer to all of those problems. Of course I want more people in our city to hear about Jesus but I’m not aiming for our church to grow bigger. I am aiming for us to grow better in 2015 and to better put the worship and love of King Jesus on display for a world that desperately needs to see it.
Almost a month ago I asked all of the pastors to give me very specific goals that they wanted to accomplish in 2015 and what they thought it would take to get there. This is fascinating! Every one of them sent me responses before I prepared this sermon so what you are hearing is not just what I want but the way that God has led all of our pastors to look at 2015. If I were to summarize the goals of each of the pastors it was the same thing. They wanted to get better at their ministry in 2015. Only one pastor gave me a specific goal about getting bigger but even that goal was in the context of getting better.
It became totally obvious to me that Jesus is leading this church during 2015 to grow deeper in our groups, for us to look more racially diverse at the end of the year, for our outreach to become very effective, and for our worship of Jesus to become passionate. Will you pray for us? Will you partner with us to help us grow better in 2015? Would you keep us on track? Will you keep reminding each other that we have a specific goal? A goal that we are trying to reach and we believe it is a God honoring goal and that lives will be affected by Jesus because of it. That’s my prayer for us during 2015.
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- Does God want his church to grow? Is there ever a point when Jesus’ church becomes too big? Back up your answers using Scripture.
- What would you say is the greatest need in our city? Why do you believe this is the greatest need? What can we do this year as a church about it?
- What barriers do you think keep Jesus’ church from being racially diverse? What barriers prevent different generational groups from getting close to each other in the church?
- Can you think of groups of people in our city that need to hear about Jesus? Who?
- When people in our city see members of Calvary Baptist Church do you think they see passionate followers of Jesus? What can you do to live out a faith in front of others that makes them want to follow Jesus also?
- Make a commitment to pray for each that we would GROW as a group of believers in 2015.