1/25/2004 Annual Meeting Remarks on the Vision of “A Church Without Walls”

At Central’s Annual Congregational Meeting on 1/25/2004, Elder Doug Turner spoke about the “Church Without Walls” vision. Here is a copy of that talk. See also, CPC: Our Distinctives – Our Vision – A Church Without Walls

Now, I’d like to look towards the future in another way, to have us take a look at the vision for the future as it stands now, and Doug Turner is going to help us understand that.

I can’t believe that I get to talk with you all for ten minutes this morning. I guess speakers always say this is a privilege for me to be able to do this, but this really is a privilege to be able to talk with you about what my assignment is this morning. To share with you a little bit about how God has been addressing the hearts of leadership here and I guess not necessarily all of leadership, but certain leaderships, staff and session, Pastor John and certain ministry leaders that have been involved in this process and God has really, really been speaking a clear message to us over this past year. And I get the privilege to be able to tell you a little bit about what that is and share some of that excitement with you and it really is exciting for me to be able to do this. I thank you for being able to stand before you.

God has given us clear direction and visions. We know what He has been speaking to us and where we are going to be going in the coming years, but before I talk about that let me just share a couple of quotes and a couple pieces of scripture that kind of form a framework for what I am going to be speaking about today. First of all, there is the opening line of Purpose Driven Life. Many of you know this by heart and would love to hear this like I do. That “it’s not about me. It’s not about us. What we are here for is about God.” He further says in the book, he says “You were made by God and for God and until you understand that life will never make sense, but when you do understand that, it will make sense.”

From the Book of Colossians, “it all starts with God for everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible; everything got started in Him and finds it purpose in Him.” The words of our Lord, He said, “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples, baptizing them in the name of Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” In the words of Paul in his letter to the Galatians and what a great summary this is, “The entire law is summed up in a single command and you all know it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

What great quotes and statements there that we are all familiar with and God brings to us. Let me also share an image. I want you to picture an image in your mind as I am talking up here. Some of you will know this. It comes from Henry Blackaby’s book, “Experiencing God.” It’s one of those things that is just plastered in the back of my brain, and I want you to think about it for a minute too. Picture if you would, across the top of a page in one of the pages of his book, this big, bold, broad arrow moving from this side over here to this side over here. Big, fat, bold arrow and that arrow is labeled “God at Work,” in big, bold letters. Okay? And then down towards the bottom of the page a couple of stick figures, people, me and you. All right, got that? And then leading down from that big arrow, down to me and you is this slender sweeping arrow that’s labeled, “God wants to draw us up into what He is doing.” What a great image. What a great picture of how God chooses to use us to accomplish what He wants. It does such a great job of explaining our relationship with God. God is set and determined and zealous to accomplish what He wants to in the world. That arrow is moving, whether we are drawn up into it or not, it’s moving, but He wants to draw us up into his work and what He is doing. Don’t’ forget that.

The image then, when we are looking at the next year of our life as a church, that image begs a question to me, okay God, what do you have for us? What do you want to draw us up into? What’s the work that you want to accomplish, that you want to use this body of 700 or 800 people at Central for? What’s that about? Give us an image or a picture of what you have in mind? And what’s been amazing to me is this past year and especially this past four or five months, almost seeming like popcorn pops in the machine at a movie theater, people that haven’t even spoken together about what God is doing, sharing the same stories. Pastor John came here in the last bunch of months, right? He came here and before he came to Central, he had a vision and a picture of what Central was to be in the coming years. God worked through a number of leaders, staff people and session people to give that same image, completely separate from the process that John was going through and as I have talked to people in the congregation in the past couple of months, just in conversation, I have heard the same story and the same picture from those people. That’s amazing to me and is an act of the Spirit giving us a clear image of what he wants to do.

This image, or this picture is really I guess for some people, it may not be concrete or hard enough and it doesn’t have the list of we are going to do this and this and this. For some people it is going to hit them right where they are, that’s how they love to relate to the Lord and how they love to relate to what he is doing. And that is what the picture is of. It’s a picture of how God wants us to relate to each other, as fellow believers who are in the process of faith, how he wants us to relate to the world that we live in and how he wants us to relate to the people in the communities that we live in, our physical communities, the communities that surround each of us. For me that would be people that I work with, people in my neighborhood, the guy that lives behind me and is over the fence that I don’t see very often. Those are the people in my community that God wants to connect me with and that’s what this picture is all about.

So what’s that picture look like? Well, let me read a couple of examples to you to try to create that image in your mind. That God would continue to build a love in our hearts for all those that He has created and especially to those who don’t yet know God’s love. We take that for granted many of us, but there is tens of thousands of people that we are in touch with everyday, this group of people of 800 people who just don’t have a clue of how much God loves them. So, the first thing is that God will build a love in our hearts for those people. Second, is that we would live lives that demonstrate the reality that God is in control. Things just don’t happen by accident. Where we live, and where we work, and where we go to school, where we play, we are strategically placed there for God to accomplish what He wants to accomplish. Remember that big, bold arrow? God is at work in those places and He wants to draw us up into what He is doing. That we would be a people or a community of faith that can’t be pinned down to a single piece of property or a group of buildings, but that our relationships, each of our relationships with Christ would cut through everything that we do and shape everything we do; our homes, our communities, our schools and our workplaces.

Imagine if you would for a minute, if we are doing that and a seeker’s first experience with God wasn’t from walking into church on a Sunday morning. That’s not bad at all, but imagine if this first experience in coming to know God was through a small group relationship, was a result of talking with you every Monday when you are both taking out your trash cans. “How you doing Frank? And da, da, da…” And a relationship develops, and God is able to enter into that relationship because of your love and caring for that person. Or imagine if a person’s first relationship with this Holy and Loving God is a result of you and a couple of others having a ministry of caring for sick people in your neighborhood and putting a ministry together to care and love for those people and God uses that ministry to connect with those people who don’t know him yet.

Imagine that we, the regular attenders of Central, some members and some not, but the regular attenders of Central have so much positive impact on the community around this property, Rogers Forge, Wiltondale, Stoneleigh, Yorkleigh, we have so much positive impact on these communities that nonbelievers who live in those communities scratch their heads and say, “Wow, I’m going to go to that church. They are just doing some neat things. They do things that really connect with what I need to get through life. I want to find out who they are.” Imagine that kind of impact, and imagine that those of us connected with Central were so cared for and were so caring for each other that we were encouraged and taught and nurtured and built up to be excellent ministers to others, people inside the church and people outside the church. Imagine that. For some of you, you are saying “Yeah, well, that’s kind of what it is like.” For sure, some of you have that kind of life and have that kind of impact. Others of us don’t or we have bits and pieces of it, but imagine the whole church looking like that. Wouldn’t that be cool? Wouldn’t that be just the coolest thing? To me it would be unbelievable.

What would you call it? A miracle!! Yeah, it probably would be a miracle. What would you call it? Well, I was thinking of a couple of names. I would think of it as “The Church as God Intended it to Be.” When you read through these first few chapters of Acts, that’s a description of what that early church was like, the church as God intended it to be. Maybe you would call it a “Church Without Boundaries.” People not bounded by just doing church here on the property or in church things, but without bounds; out where they work and where they live, they are just living this life of Christ as they go through their everyday lives. But, we call it A Church Without Walls. The phrase that you saw up there earlier. There it is. A Church Without Walls. That’s the phrase that we believe is a God-given phrase to describe who we believe God wants us to be. A church without walls, a people who are just compelled and driven to share this love that God has for them and they have for God, with others. A Church Without Walls.

So that’s what God is calling us to do. And like I said, some people are going to say, “Oh that’s it?” And they want to know the list, but this is an act of the heart more than it is an act of program or developing strategies. I’m sure some of that stuff is going to come as we figure out how to become this church without walls. But God is calling us to this and he is calling us to be a church where the people are engaged in other people’s lives because they love them. You know we forget sometimes as Christians, we get involved in doing church things, I do and I forget that this is all about the fact that God loves the people that he has created. He loves them. His heart pours out for them and He wants to reconnect with them again.

I am thinking again about programs. Nothing wrong at all with programs. But this focus on becoming a church without walls is not going to happen as a result of implementing some kind of a program. As good as programs can be, it’s going to come out of God working in our hearts to love the people that we are placed around and recognize that it’s not an accident, that it was Gods purpose to put us there, to share his love for them.

Now, I have been a Christian for over 30 years. I’m 46-years-old and I went to Gregory Baptist Church, down in Govans when I was a kid. And I remember to this day you know, back then I was Baptist, walking forward was the vehicle that you used to join the church and acknowledge Christ coming into your heart. And I did that at about 11 or 12 years old, but I just understood the thing about God wanting to use me to love people. I just understood that this year. I have been a good guy and all that sort of stuff my whole life but I never really connected that God wanted to love my co-workers through me and He wanted me to love them. He wanted me to love them.

I was at a conference a couple of months ago with my good friend, Robert Baker, some of you may know him, and in between different conference events we were outside talking and walking and we had been working with some others here at Central about plans and strategies for doing different things within the church. And so we are walking around the lake and I could picture in both of our minds this image of this kind of outline, you know bars going this way and words written and more bars and more bars and we had this whole thing mapped out, as to how to get from here to here. And in the midst of that I just stopped and I was hit with what God was telling me right there. He said, “Doug your strategies and plans are fine, there is nothing wrong with them, but I work in people’s hearts. I change people by connecting with their hearts through love. That’s how I do my thing. That’s how I do my thing. And I want you to recognize that and I want you to love the people that I put you in contact with. That’s what being A Church without Walls is about.” When you see that phrase in the coming year, that’s what it’s about. Loving the people that God has placed you with, and loving them with the love that God has given to you.

So what do we do then for those of you that need to make a list of what to do? What do we do with that? A couple of things I will suggest to you.

Respond to the Spirit when He taps you on the shoulder and asks you to do something. Respond to the Spirit when He stands at your chair, if it’s right now or some other time, respond to Him. Say OK, I’ll even take a risk if this isn’t the Spirit speaking; I’m going to take a risk and do it anyway. But respond to Him when He tells you to go to talk to somebody, to go out of your way to comfort somebody, to talk to a co-worker, to solve a problem or whatever.

Second thing. Pray that God will work in your own heart to build a deeper and deeper love for other people. A passion for people who don’t know him yet. I’d ask you to pray for a heart that recognizes, really recognizes God’s deep and abiding love for you. God draws us to Himself because He loves us when we recognize that.

And lastly, I wait expectantly for what God is going to do, because He is doing something now. He is blowing through this church, and through this area. He is blowing through this country. The things that God is doing in churches across this country, across this world, right now are unbelievable. What an exciting, great, fun time to live. That’s a church without walls.