If we are honest, not everything about the church looks as nice. Again, we need to celebrate what God has done. I am thankful for last Sunday, but let’s face it, our focus was on what looks good, not on the remaining areas that need improvement. And beyond general maintenance, we have one particular area that is in need.
Our downstairs children’s area recently had some flooding and the carpet has been ripped up. That is an area where we do not want to bring focus. But if we are to be good stewards of this building with which we have been entrusted, we cannot just turn off the lights and shut the doors of certain rooms, we need to look everywhere for areas which need improvement. And wherever we find those areas, we need to evaluate the situation, make plans to improve, execute those plans, and then evaluate the results.
We also need to remember that the church is not a building. When Jesus said, He would build His church, He was not talking about brick and mortar. The materials Jesus has used for these last 2000 years is the hearts and minds and hands of His people. God’s people are the Church. We are a part of that church, and just like we want people to see the best parts of this building, we want others to see the best parts of our lives – individually and as a church collectively as well. The truth is that we all have parts of our lives that we are ok with people seeing and parts of our lives that we would rather keep hidden from others. The same is true of our houses, our church, and our lives.
So...over the next couple of months, we are going to get personal – in a corporate kind of way. We cannot clean up the church (and by church I mean people) without cleaning up ourselves individually, but as we address these issues, we will be looking at them primarily from a corporate perspective – that is, how can we do better as a church. But for us to make significant improvements as a church, we will have to make incremental improvements as individuals. Therefore, the plan is to expose some deficiencies of the modern-day Church (including this church) by comparing what the Bible says about God’s design for His people, and specifically Jesus design for His Church. Specifically, we will be reviewing the first several chapters from the book of Acts to see how the early church functioned and determine how we can best approach the biblical model while living in the 21st Century. Please be aware, the early church was not perfect (e.g. Paul sent letters to churches because they were dealing with problems), but if we cannot learn how the church should function from the written Word of God, then we have no business in allowing the living Word of God to include us in the Church He is building.
To begin our study, let us consider how the six basic questions – who, what, when, where, why, and how – relate to the Church in general.
- Who? The Church consists of God’s people.
- What? The Church is exists to make disciples – going, teaching, and baptizing others who will then do the same.
- When? The Church began at Jesus word, and persists because Jesus said it would.
- Where? The Church exists anywhere God’s children are gathered.
- Why? The Church was created as a tool to do the work of ministry and expand God’s kingdom.
- How? This is the question we must ask and attempt to answer for ourselves over the next several weeks!
Our goal in answering the How question is not to find the perfect answer (because one rarely exists); rather our goal is to use the Bible to explore options on answering the How question as best we can as Fairfax Baptist Church. To do that, we may have to look in some hard to reach places and see things that we might otherwise not see. I honestly have not looked ahead on this, so I am interested to see what God will expose to us as we shed His light on this church. For today, let us consider three areas which must be true for us to be properly aligned with God.
1. To be aligned with God, we must use His building design, not ours.
In Matthew 16, Jesus said, “I will build my church.” As I mentioned a moment ago, that means a focus on people, not blueprints that include bricks, doorways, and rooms, let alone carpet and pews.
Consider the passage from Genesis 11.1-9. The story is often simply referred to as The Tower of Babel. We focus on the tower and the eventual dispersion of the people after they begin to speak different languages. The problem was that their purpose in building this mighty tower into the heavens was that they were seeking to make a name for themselves, not for God. But we cannot overlook one important verse. Take a moment to read verse 6. God said the people were united – just as we should be. And because the people were united, God said that they could succeed – nothing will be impossible for them – that is, they will be able to accomplish anything!
Imagine this, the people had a unified vision and thus they were destined to succeed. The only problem was that the vision they had was not the vision that God had. Imagine if their vision had been aligned with God’s vision. Imagine if their work had been aligned with God’s work. Imagine if their lives had been aligned with God’s desires for their lives.
To keep this in perspective, we must ask are we, that is, those who say we are God’s people (i.e. the Church), aligned with what God wants to do? I will not limit God to one particular vision idea, but if we look at our vision statement, it is certainly aligned with God. It must be because our vision statement is not something made up by man, it is straight from the Bible. Our vision statement is firmly based upon Matthew 5.13-16 which speaks of our need to be salt and light and to do our good works to that others might see our good works and give glory to the Father who is in heaven. So, our vision statement as a church is shiny and new and worth showing off to others. But, if we look in the cracks and in the hard to reach places what will we find? Are we aligned with God in our attempts to fulfill that directive from Jesus or are we too busy trying to promote our own agenda (i.e. seeking to make a name for ourselves rather than allowing God to get the glory)? Again, we will seek to better answer that question for this church in the coming weeks, but hopefully that question gives each one of us a reason to pause and answer the question for ourselves.
2. To be aligned with God, we must focus on His work, not ours.
Again, in Matthew 16, Jesus said, “I will build my church.” Earlier, in Matthew 4, Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” But after Jesus died, and even briefly after He had returned from the dead, His closest followers were back doing their own business. For instance, we find in John 21 that several disciples followed Peter back out to sea to fish. At daybreak, Jesus was on the shore, but despite having already appeared to them (notice the “again” in verse 1), they do not expect Jesus – and do not even consider the possibility it is Jesus when they see Him OR hear Him (v. 4, v. 7)! Now, before I go on, this passage does not mean that we cannot, or should not, be engaged in work apart from the church. But it does mean that we should consider all of our work as a part of our ministry to God.
The key for us here is that Jesus said He would build His Church, but His people went about their business without considering it was them who would help to build it. But Jesus pulled Peter aside and said, “Feed my sheep” which also meant, “It is time to quit fishing for food from the water and start giving others the food that I have given you.” And that is exactly what they began to do beginning in Acts 2 after receiving the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised in Acts 1.
In Acts 1, Jesus was leaving, but having promised to build His church, He gave the command for the apostles to do the work so it could be built (i.e. Matthew 28, Acts 1.8). But with that command came a promise that Holy Spirit would empower the work. In Acts 2, we see the Holy Spirit empowering the apostles, and the work beginning to take shape. The essence of that work will be better defined next week , but a large part of the work the Church is to help people with their spiritual formation, and that is what we find throughout the book of Acts and the letters which were written to the various people and churches in the New Testament.
3. To be aligned with God, we must be His Church, not ours.
Again, Matthew 16 says Jesus will build HIS church. Thus, point number three should be obvious, but it is much harder to make it true. A few months ago, a particular blog article captured the idea by sharing three common types of church models – all of which are deadly. Ultimately, the problem with each of these types is that the church quit being the church and started acting like a church. Scripture is clear that we must be before we can truly do. When we try to do things with the wrong motive, we often convince ourselves we are better than we are. For instance, if we try to be a Christian, we might think we are one, but if we do not believe, we can act all we want all the way to hell. Let me briefly share the three ideas the author conveyed about these deadly church models.(1)
- Business Model: Budget and Bylaws are the most important items. The Bible is important, but wherever the Bible interferes with money, finances win.
- Truth – Being good stewards and having strong church documents is important, but these are not solid foundations on which to build a church.
- Political Model: Identification is with a political party, not Jesus. If the other party is in power, sermons and lessons talk about persecution. If the favored party is in power, “God is in control.”
- Truth – Moral and social Issues must be confronted, but not because they are political issues, but because they are biblical issues.
- Family Reunion Model: Focus is on trying to get back to the “good old days.” The good old days ended when Adam was booted from the Garden.
- Truth – Jesus said He would build His Church. If He has not returned, He is still building which means what it was or is still has room for improvement and growth if aligned with Him.
Again, all of these models are unhealthy. The only model that counts is a model based upon the Bible. Jesus will identify with a healthy church because a healthy church identifies with Jesus. Therefore, to align with God, we must focus on being the Church He wants us to be, not just acting like another type of model that pretends to be a church.
I am thankful that Fairfax Baptist Church is a church built on a biblical foundation. But just because we are built on the Bible, does not mean we are perfect. This understanding means we need to seek ways to improve who we are and what we do for the reasons why Jesus gave us whenever and wherever He wants us to. As for the How, we are given many options. The Bible gives us a lot of the what and the why, but is mostly silent on the how. So, as we seek to align ourselves to God’s design, God’s work, and His purpose for His Church, let us explore how we can best do it given the gifts, abilities, and skills He has given to each of us individually and all of us collectively.
The goal in this series is to expose whatever needs to be exposed in this church to ensure we are aligned with God. A church can be moving in the right direction, following Jesus, and then with one major issue or a series of small ones that are not dealt with in a timely manner, we can begin to go adrift. Consider a car. We can get our wheels aligned, but after driving through Fairfax for awhile, the alignment begins to shift just a little. It isn’t too bad so we live with it. But eventually it puts more wear on the tires and we either have to get new tires, get the car realigned, or both.
We may not be mechanics who know how to realign the car, but we do have a manual that can help guide us to find any areas where we, as Fairfax Baptist Church, may need to be adjusted. To fix a car, a mechanic needs to do more than look at the outside of the nicely washed car; s/he must get a little dirty or greasy. Church, over these next two months, we may find ourselves in some unpleasant thoughts as we get a little dirty and greasy allowing God to expose any shortcomings we have. But if we want to honor God, if we are truly followers of Jesus, then we will allow Him to work in us individually and collectively to become what He desires for us to be.
JOURNEY: The JOURNEY letter for this week is: J – JESUS.
PRINCIPLE: Jesus promised to build His Church. We must choose to work or against Him.
QUESTION: What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church?
- LEARN: Study more about the Church during this series. I have flagged two studies in Right Now Media to help you dig further into God’s plan for the church. We are also going to study this concept on the next 5 Sunday nights in place of our usual E.Q.U.I.P.
- LIVE: Commit to serve God through God’s Church. Answer the question: What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church?
- LOVE: Love God, love others, and love one another. See Mark 12.30-31 and John 13.34-35). These are not options, they are what Jesus expects from His Church.
- LEAD: Assist in developing new documentation for this church. Updates will be made to team descriptions and goals, to ministries and positions of service, as well as the policies and procedures that will guide FfxBC into the future.
(1) Three Deadly Church Models – LifeWay Pastors blog on April 2, 2018, now at Facts and Trends, https://factsandtrends.net/2018/04/02/three-deadly-church-models/