A Missional Church

Third in the Series “A Church Without Walls”
Delivered May 30, 2004 by Rev. Keith Wright.

See also CPC Distinctives – Our Vision – A Church Without Walls.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 28:18-20

Movie Clip, from Apollo 13

“Okay people listen up. I want you all to forget the flight plan. From this moment on we are improvising a new mission. How do we get our people home? They are here. You turn around and straight back.
No sir. We get them on a free return trajectory. It’s the option with the fewest question marks for safety.
I agree with Jerry and let the moons gravity slingshot them around.
Now the LEM will not support three guys for that amount of time. I mean we have go to do a direct abort. We do an about face. We bring the guys right home, right now.
We get them back soon, absolutely.
We don’t even know if the Odyssey’s engines even work and if there has been serious damage to this spacecraft.
They blow up and they die.
Let’s hold it down people. The only engine we’ve got with enough power for direct abort is the SPS on the service module. What the level has told us it could have been damaged in an explosion, so let’s consider that engine dead. We light that thing up and we could blow up the whole works. It’s just too risky. We are not going to take that chance. About the only thing the command module is good for is re-entry. So that leaves us with the LEM, which means free return trajectory. Once we get the guys around the moon, we will fire up the LEM engine, make a long burn, pick up some speed, and get them home as quick as we can.
Gene, I am wondering what the Grumman guys think about this.
We can’t make any guarantees. We designed the LEM to land on the moon, not fire the engine out there for course trajectory.
Well unfortunately, we are not landing on the moon, are we? I don’t care what anything was designed to do. I care about what it can do. So let’s get to work. Let’s lay it out. Okay?
Captain, ?? says it will be ready in time.
After this burn we have got to build some time in the flight plan for them to get some sleep.
Run it by the FAO.
I have run it by the FAO. Do we know how long we are going to fire that PCV burn?
He specifically wanted a quote from a flat trajectory.
Who wanted a quote?
The president. The president? Nixon.
We are not losing the crew.
Gene, I got to give them odds. 5:1 against. 3:1?
I don’t think they are that good.
We are not losing those men.”
We are not losing those men. We are not losing anyone. We are not going to allow a single man, woman or child to miss out on the joy of being with Jesus Christ for all eternity. That’s the mission that we have. It is going to require every bit of innovation that we have, a great deal of sacrifice and all of our energy to fulfill, but nothing is more worth it than connecting to God’s purposes and mission in our world.

Let’s pray together. Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you that you have given us a mission and we would pray now that you would help us to join you in the task that you have called us to do, that we might be missional people, a part of a missional church, building the kingdom of God in our world during our generation. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well good morning. My name is Keith Wright and I am helping Central out over the next several months in the areas of equipping ministry, working with the small group team and the equipping team and the adult education team to help this church further its desire to be a church without walls, and to be more effective in equipping everybody to know their ministry and embrace that ministry and engage in that ministry.

This morning I had the opportunity to share with you a scripture that is very familiar with this congregation. It is Jesus’ great commission found in Matthew 28. Now, this was not my original assignment. When John asked me to preach this morning, he asked me to preach on Acts 1:8, which was the exact same verse I preached ten months ago when I preached here from this very spot and I told John that I just can’t do it because the people are smart at Central and they are going to think that I only know one verse out of the entire scripture, so I wanted to come up with something else. So we shifted the focus to Matthew 28 and Kurt Russell down here was giving me a little grief. He said, “That means you have to write a whole new sermon.” You couldn’t go back in the file for the old one.” Which is true, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to share a little bit from this great passage of scripture.

I also have to confess to you this morning that I feel a little bit funny preaching on the great commission here at Central Presbyterian Church because I know of this church’s heritage and mission. This is one of the foremost mission congregations within our denomination, and you have been active in engaging the great commission for decades. And I also know that there have probably been a long string of preachers and teachers that have stood in this very spot, that have talked to you about Matthew 28, and have challenged you and taught you from this passage. And so, I worry a little that I might not be able to be up to the task that others have so eloquently been able to do from this spot. But I think it is a very appropriate passage to look at this morning because your leadership, knowing the heritage of this church, has reached back to that heritage and they have shaped a vision statement for this church’s future. And their mission statement revolves around this whole theme of a church without walls.

And this morning I have the opportunity to join with John in articulating one of the key components of that vision, which is to be a missional church. To be about mission and ministry wherever we might go in life in order that we might be Christ’s ambassadors and reach people on behalf of Jesus Christ. I think it is also appropriate to reflect on this passage this morning because it is Pentecost Sunday. And Pentecost is the day that we as a church celebrate the Holy Spirit’s presence in our midst and we appropriate the Holy Spirits power in our lives so that we might be able to accomplish God’s purposes in this world. The great commission talks about the Holy Spirit and I hope to teach on this passage a little more this morning, that we might all know the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives a little more this morning. And finally, this is Memorial Day weekend. It’s a time that we celebrate the sacrifices that our veterans have made so that we all can enjoy the freedoms that we so enjoy in this country that we are blessed with. And in order to accomplish the great commission, it will take sacrifice on all of our parts, just as our veterans have sacrificed for freedom, we look back upon our heritage as Christians and we know that brothers and sisters in the faith have taken the great commission seriously and they have dedicated their lives to fulfilling that commission and we are a result of that legacy and that commitment to people taking Jesus’ word seriously. And so with those thoughts in mind, I would invite you to turn to Matthew 28 and we are going to look at a very familiar passage of scripture this morning. Hear the words of Jesus Christ.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Sonand of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I like this passage. It’s action oriented. And I tend to think of myself as an action oriented person. Look at all the verbs that are right here in this short passage of scripture. Go! Make disciples! Baptize! Teach! Obey! It’s all about putting our faith on the line and being active in our faith. And I don’t know how God has wired you. Maybe you are an action-oriented person as well or perhaps you might be more introspective and that’s okay, because that’s the way that God made you. But for every single one of us, we need to find ways that we can connect our lives to this mandate that Jesus Christ gave to us, because when we connect our lives to this mandate, we will be fulfilling our purpose in this world, as human beings, as followers of Christ and collectively as the church we will be fulfilling our purpose. What we were made to do and made to be. And so it’s essential that we find ways to connect to this passage. And I believe that Jesus is saying to all of us through this passage, He is saying – “Get out there and get busy for my sake!” “Meet people’s needs!” “Proclaim the good news of the gospel!” “Build the kingdom of God!” “Build a strong and vital and healthy church because that’s what you are to be about!” And He is asking us to step forward with him in order to achieve that purpose. Now Jesus isn’t telling us to be busy just for the sake of being busy. He is saying that we are to follow his plans, to possess his priorities and to focus in on a few key activities as we are going about fulfilling his mission in the world. And so I want to take a few moments and just reflect upon this mission that Jesus gave to us in order that we might be up to the task of fulfilling it.

The first thing that Jesus does is he gives us a pretty big goal. In fact, the great commission is huge. It’s one of the biggest goals that have ever been laid out. World evangelization. And its calling us to think creatively and use our entrepreneurial spirit and depend on God in prayer and to join with one another in partnership and to lay aside our prejudices and to invest everything that we’ve got in order to achieve this grand vision that Jesus has laid out for us. And Jesus in a lot of ways is like a lot of strong influential leaders over the years, because one of the essential tasks of a leader is to articulate a compelling vision for the future. To paint a picture of how the world can be better if people will align their lives with the accomplishment of the vision.

Management guru, Tom Peters, calls these BHAG’s. Big, hairy, audacious, goals. And when we look through history the leaders that accomplished anything of significance in our world articulated a BHAG. Whether it was finding a new trade route to the Orient or putting a man on the moon and bringing him back again, whether it was eradicating a disease or overthrowing the institution of slavery, whether it was to win a war or to build a temple for God. All great accomplishments throughout history began with a leader articulating a great dream. You know big dreams are important, because only big dreams will inspire us. Only big dreams will allow us to lay aside our prejudices in order to see things in a new and different way. Only big dreams will engender a spirit of sacrifice within us. And ultimately only big dreams will give us the sense of fulfillment that we all desire for our lives. And so Jesus gives us a big, hairy, audacious goal. Reach the whole world in my name.

(Big Visions can Produce Anxiety) Now one thing that Jesus also knew is that he knew we were human and that we would probably respond to this mandate in a very human way. You see whenever a human articulates a BHAG; he or she better duck because the arrows will start flying. The naysayers will withhold their support. Those with a stake in the status quo fearing that they will lose power will resist with everything that they’ve got. The bean counters will say there is not enough money to accomplish that goal. The always needy will say, “Well what about me,” and try to redirect the attention of the institution back upon themselves. Whenever a large goal is articulated, everybody tries to figure out where they fit, vis a vis that goal. And often times, people will do everything they can do to quash that dream and to not see it come to fruition.

And so Jesus said, you don’t have to do this goal on your own, but I am going to give you an incredible resource in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is going to come and He’s going to be with you always and He’s going to equip you and empower you and enable your ministry in the world, so that you might be able to make a difference and you might be able to achieve what I have laid out for you here.

And Jesus knew that there were transactions that needed to take place on the spiritual level, that only the Holy Spirit could solve. Here’s something about the Holy Spirit. Whenever the Holy Spirit comes into our midst, the Holy Spirit will displace some of our natural human emotions and natural human tendencies. So the Holy Spirit cannot coexist with fear and will always replace fear with a sense of peace. The Holy Spirit cannot coexist in a place where there is this unity and so the Holy Spirit when He shows up will always bring unity to a group of people. The Holy Spirit cannot function where there are prejudices and where people hold on to their traditions too tightly, but when the Holy Spirit comes, new and innovative things begin to happen and new life takes place. Wherever there is a spirit that resources are limited, the Holy Spirit will come in and announce that He is the source of limitless resources. You see, whenever the Holy Spirit comes and we appropriate that resource in our lives, these other dynamics will go out the window.

And so, I can always tell and you can always tell as well when the Holy Spirit is present in a church or in a community of faith because you can just look around and you can sense what kind of spirit is present. Is there a spirit of defensiveness and selfishness, a spirit of limited resources, a spirit where people are jockeying for position or trying to preserve their own territory? Or are the fruits of the spirit present? Love and joy and peace and kindness, a can do attitude, an acknowledgment that we have all of the resources from the God of the Universe available to us. Is there a spirit of unity? Is there a spirit that welcomes all people in to the midst of the fellowship? I believe that Central is a church that exhibits many of the fruits of the latter. But we could always be doing better. We could always be seeing the Holy Spirit more alive and more active in our midst that we might be able to experience those good fruits and to taste and to know that they are good.

My third point this morning that I would like to make from this passage is that when we tap into the resources available to us, through the Holy Spirit, we allow ourselves to experience the very best that God has for us. You see, there is nothing better in this world than knowing that God has just shown up in your life or in your midst. It’s unmistakable. There is nothing else like it. And when you have experienced the living Lord in your midst, nothing else will satisfy. And so we want to do everything that we can as followers of Christ to see the Holy Spirit alive and active in our lives. Because when we do that, we will find ultimate satisfaction and joy. The thing is that, tapping in on the Holy Spirit’s power is a scary proposition, because the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit using terms like fire and wind and enough of us have seen those two elements come together and see the conflagration that takes place and we know that fires can burn out of control and so sometimes we feel like we will play it safe and try to manage our own lives and only call upon that resource when we really need the Lord. And in effect when we do that, we are essentially practicing atheists, because we are denying the power that God wants to appropriate into our lives on a regular basis. But part of the joy of being followers of Christ is that we can tap in to that Holy Spirit’s presence and power on a regular daily basis. And Jesus is saying that this is what we would need to do in order to accomplish this task. That He would be with us always through his Spirit even to the end of the age, even to the day in which we live.

You know I really want to commend the leadership of Central Church for setting such a bold vision for the future of this church. To be a church without walls and especially to be a missional church, because that is what being the church is all about. Being out there and being Christ’s witnesses in our world. You know, in fact I believe that only the churches that are taking Christ’s mandates seriously to be missional are the ones that are going to ultimately survive and thrive in the decades to come. In fact, futurist and follower of Christ, William Easum has written a lot about what the church will look like in the coming decades. And in his book “Dancing with Dinosaurs” he has this to say about the society in which we live. He says,

“North America is caught in the crack between what was and what is emerging. This crack began opening in 1960 and will close sometime around the year 2014. Trusted values held for centuries are falling into this crack, never to be seen again. Ideas and methodologies that once worked no longer achieve desired results. This crack in our history is so enormous that it is causing a metamorphosis in every area of life. (The times in which we live) are often called ‘the hinge of history’ or the ‘transforming boundary between one age and another, between a scheme of things that has disintegrated and another that is taking shape.'”

And he goes on to say that all things “Christian” perceived by our culture as irrelevant, inconsequential or ineffective will fall into that crack of history and when the two sides of the chasm close once again and there is once again a dominate culture in North America…

He asks a lot of questions. What will that culture look like? Will Biblical Christianity have any voice or any influence in that culture? Will we have the opportunities as followers of Christ to see the transforming work of Jesus Christ take place all around us? And only by being missional and engaging our culture, will we be able to survive and thrive in the coming decades. But I am an optimist. And I am a person that has a great hope in the church, because I know that there are many churches and many believers around this world that are trying to find new ways to communicate the age old truth of the gospel message. They are trying to discover ways to engage people and cultures in such a way that they can be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit and I see people all around that are trying to embrace and love people and include them in the community of faith. Sadly, churches are already beginning to fall into that crack that William Easum described.

This past week I attended the meeting of the National Capital Presbytery in Washington, D.C. This is the Presbytery which I am a minister member. And one of the things that we did at the Presbytery meeting is we voted on a resolution to close a church within the Presbytery. This was a church that for 150 years it had a vital and ongoing ministry in Prince George’s county. And about three decades ago, as the neighborhood began to change around that church, the church found itself in decline. They found themselves graying and ultimately they found themselves without a voice and without influence within that particular community. About two years ago I had the opportunity to preach in that congregation as a supply pastor and I remember walking into the church that Sunday and seeing the 8 or 10 people that had gathered for worship on that Sunday morning, none of whom lived in that neighborhood any longer, all of them senior citizens and wondering why? Why are we going through the motions of having a worship service this morning? And it seems that as a couple of years have passed, that they reached the same conclusion as well.

At the same time the Presbytery recognized that God was literally bringing people from the four corners of the earth to this particular neighborhood and they said we need to be proactive about this and plant a multi-ethnic, international community of faith in this neighborhood. And so, they planted a church that initially met at a school and then rented the facilities from the church that closed for an hour on Sunday morning and over the last three years that church has grown from a couple of dozen to several hundred members. And they needed those facilities 24/7 in order to accomplish their ministry. And so, we voted on a resolution at Presbytery, where all the assets of the first congregation were transferred to this new emerging group that was carrying on ministry in this same building. All the property, all the office equipment, all the Sunday School supplies, two revenue producing ministries that were taking place on the church campus, all of this was passed over to the new congregation with the exception of one thing. In the three-page resolution to transfer all the property, there was one page that had a deal with the transfer of an ornate and antique communion set that had been a part of the first congregation. And they were really worried what would happen to this communion set if they just handed it over to this new group of people. And so, it was transferred to the Presbytery where it could be kept safe and maybe brought out for Presbytery meetings from time to time.

And I found that curious and I began to reflect on that little tidbit and I began to ask myself some questions. Did the first congregation care more about things than they did about people? Did they care more about their traditions than they did about being innovative in the community in which God had placed them? Did they want to cling so tightly to their prejudices that they missed the fact that God was bringing the whole world to their doorsteps so they could fulfill the great commission right there? They refused to be missional and they died.

Fortunately, God’s Spirit led a new congregation to this neighborhood to fulfill God’s purposes.

Now that should not be our motivation just to survive as the church of Jesus Christ. We want to thrive. We want to make sure that we don’t leave anybody behind. We want to make sure that we reach all for the sake of Jesus Christ. And so, we need to step out and wherever God has placed us to be his agents of reconciliation and of salvation, to all who cross our path on a regular basis. At the same Presbytery meeting the moderator of our general assembly made her report on this past year of traveling around looking at churches around our country, observing the types of ministry that was taking place around this country and around the world through our mission partnerships and she reflected that over 11,000 of the congregations are small congregations, but then she had these observations and I want to quote directly. She said,

“A surprising number of churches are healthy and vital because they celebrate intimacy, caring, and high levels of participation. The churches that are thriving are missional. They are focused on something other than themselves, rather than a survival mode inside their walls. A third surprise has been the growing leadership patterns that I see, particularly the health and growth of Commissioned Lay Pastors across this country who serve the church in a healthy and vital way.”

And then she issued a challenge.

“Every congregation needs to have a growth plan and growth doesn’t necessarily mean numbers. A growth plan asks how we can grow in vitality, in evangelical joy in our faith in Jesus Christ, in our passion for mission in the world and in the depth of our community. So, that’s our number one challenge.”

And so brothers and sisters in Christ here at Central Presbyterian Church, I issue you the same challenge that was issued at that Presbytery meeting on Tuesday. Central’s leadership has set a bold course towards transitioning this church to being more of a missional church and we must join in the leadership of that mandate:

By reaching everyone, everywhere, by every means possible with the saving message of faith in Jesus Christ.
We must pray boldly and allow the Holy Spirit to enable our collective ministries.
We must examine our prejudices and traditions and we must jettison any of those that render us ineffective in our ministry for Jesus Christ.
We must engage our culture, not run from it, so that we might be able to change the world.
We must deeply love Jesus and love one another.
And we need to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy all of the benefits that we have experienced because we have a faith in Jesus Christ and we have a church family to call home.
Let’s pray together. Lord, thank you for giving us such a big goal to pursue with our lives. Lord, it will require everything of us and this morning we want to say that we are up to the task. We want to boldly step out in faith and be guided by your spirit and as your spirit leads, we will follow. That your kingdom may be built, that people will spend all eternity with you because of our efforts and so society will have the influence of the Christian message and of Jesus Christ. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.