May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight oh LORD, our Rock and our Redeemer. (Paraphrase of Psalm 19:14)
To kick off the New Year at Living Shepherd we’re starting a new series called “Ask Me Why…?” Maybe you’d like to know why we’re doing this series called “Ask Me Why…?” The past few years we’ve started off the New Year with a single “Why Church” Sunday. If you were here for those Sunday’s I hope you found them to be helpful reminders as to why church is a part of our lives, but I think they may have missed the mark a bit.
For starters, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to summarize all the reasons why church is a part of our lives in one Sunday. There’s just so much to talk about, something will inevitably get left out. One Sunday just isn’t enough. But there’s another thing I didn’t particularly like about the way we did “Why Church” Sunday the last two years. If you weren’t around on the first Sunday of the New Year, then a worship service that was intended to benefit the entire congregation only benefitted a few.
This year, we’ll try to remedy those things with a 6 week series. We’ll look at why we study the Bible—why we worship—why we serve others—why we reach out—why we give our time, talents and even our money to a church, and this week, we’re laying a foundation by asking “Why does this church exist?” And as you may have already noticed, at the end of this service folder you’ll find some materials intended to help you dig a little deeper during the week. For those who aren’t able to be with us today, or any Sunday during this series, we’ll deliver a copy of this service folder and a print copy of the sermon so all the members and friends of Living Shepherd can kick off the New Year on the same note.
So back to today’s question—“Why does Living Shepherd exist?” I suppose someone might rightfully answer, “Well pastor you just answered that question when you listed off all the themes we’re going to focus on over the next few weeks. This church exists to help us study the Bible, worship, serve, reach out and give.” And I would agree with you 100 percent. The question we want to wrestle with this morning is “Why do we do these things together?” Why do human beings “congregate” at churches—at congregations—in the first place?
Churches are an interesting study, because they don’t follow a lot of the rules and models set by the business world. For example, if you’re looking to start a business in this community—or any community for that matter—one of the first things you’re likely to do is a feasibility study. If you’re looking to start your own construction company in Laramie, you’ll first want to better understand how many construction companies are already here. You’ll want to know what kind of work they do or don’t do. And you’ll want to determine where your construction company would fit in—if it will fit in at all. Until you do some research, you really don’t have any way of knowing whether or not your potential business venture is a wise one.
Churches often do something similar to a feasibility study before a new church is started. Before Living Shepherd was granted subsidy to support its own pastor, our mission counselor pastor Mark Birkholz and our district mission board did some research in Laramie. Long story short they wanted to better understand this community before deciding whether or not to further support the efforts that were already under way thanks to our brothers and sisters at Good Shepherd in Cheyenne.
Did you know how many Christian churches there are in Laramie before I sent out that sermon preview e-mail a few days ago? Did you know there are over 30 Christian churches in Laramie right now? If you were thinking of starting a construction company in a town this size and heard there were already 30 construction companies, do you think you’d consider moving forward? I doubt it! You see, churches are different. As long as there are people who don’t have a church home—people who are unchurched—there is good reason to start a church.
Here’s some interesting statistics for you collected by Dr. Thom Rainer in his book The Unchurched Next Door. When interviewing people who consider themselves unchurched—that is previously without ties to any Christian church (brick and mortar or otherwise)—82% are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited. 82%! And yet, only 2 percent of active church members invite an unchurched person to church and 98% of church members extend zero invitations in a calendar year. More interesting still, there’s another study which recently found among churches 5 years old or younger, 2/3 of the membership were either unchurched or not Christian before joining. But for whatever reason, when churches 10 years old or older were polled, 80 percent of their new members in a given year were via transfer from another church. That means that for some reason, older churches tend to grow as a result of previously “churched” people joining their church. Younger churches tend to reach the unchurched population more often.
We could try to figure out why all that’s true and that would probably take hours, but here’s one little theory. Older churches have a difficult time changing. Newer churches don’t. And to be clear, I’m not talking about changing what is taught and preached. It’s more difficult to change how things are done in an older church than it is in a younger church. For example, our church body has a congregation in Michigan that offered weekly services in German until about 5 years ago. In fact they had become quite famous for it! Now to be fair, there was still a German speaking group of people who regularly attended that congregation, but you know what? They all they spoke English too. From what I hear this congregation still offers German services every once and a while but is no longer offering them weekly. They weren’t reaching new people with the German service and are still able to serve those who attended the German service at their English service.
I know this is a bit of a rare example, but for those of you who have been around churches for a while, you know what I’m talking about. Churches that have established ways of “doing things” often don’t reach the unchurched because they’re not building new relationships. Younger churches generally don’t have that problem simply because they DON’T have established ways of “doing things” which could potentially keep them from building new relationships.
You see, it’s as simple as relationships. If someone were to “Ask Me Why” Living Shepherd exists, my answer may not always be exactly the same, but my answer would always center on the concept of relationships! You all know what our mission statement here is right? It’s painted over the door so you can see it on your way out. “To know Him and Make Him Known.” We come here to get to know our God better! That’s a relationship! And we do that together. There’s another relationship! As we come here to get to know our God better together, we’re then spurred on to work together in the second half of our mission—we make him known! Guess what!? There’s opportunity for what? More relationships!
And you know, when you think about it, that makes a ton of sense. The Bible as a whole is ALL about relationships. The OT concept of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant – Relationships. The 10 commandments – The first 3? Relationship with God. The second 7? Relationships with human beings. Jesus’ summary of the law in Matthew 22? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Relationships with God again! Relationships with people again!
Ready for some more cool stuff? A man named Brian Hathaway estimates that 44% of the letters found in the New Testament deal with how we should get along with one another! This contrasts with about 4% on spiritual gifts. I was a bit skeptical until I found the list you have printed for you in your devotional study at the end of your service folder on page 22 (If you're reading on LivingShepherd.com scroll down. You'll find the list toward the bottom). Take a peek real quick. These all center on the Greek word ἀλλήλων (allelon) that’s translated “one another.” (It shows up 59 times in the Epistles!) Look at how many different encouragements there are for dealing with “one another!”
Living Shepherd’s existence is all about relationships—our relationship with God—our relationships with each other—our relationships with all those unchurched people living around us. I think we’ve been doing pretty well with the relationship with God part as we worship and study God’s Word together. I think we’ve even been doing pretty well with our relationships with all those unchurched people living around us as we continue to reach out at multiple times throughout the year. What I as your shepherd think we need to take a deep look at are those relationships with each other. And it starts with me.
If someone misses worship on a Sunday when we review our purpose as a church, and their pastor makes no effort to get that information to them, how in the world is he helping those sheep who missed? He’s not. This is not some kind of New Year’s resolution for your pastor. This is me recognizing an area of my ministry where I’ve missed the mark. You know what “missed the mark” is a definition for in Catechism class? Sin. I’ve sinned as your pastor. I’m not perfect. But then I get to turn to that New Covenant promise from Jeremiah where my God assures me that he “will forgive my wickedness and will remember my sins no more.” It’s that good news that motivates me to try new things—to make an effort to serve you better. To send you home with a devotional study to dig deeper this week. To make sure EVERY member and friend of Living Shepherd gets a copy of both the sermon and the service folder so if they miss today, next week or week 5 of this series they DON’T miss out! This won’t be perfect, but it is one way I can say thank you to my God for his New Covenant promises to me. How about you? Where have you missed the mark with your relationships here at Living Shepherd? Find those areas where you’ve missed the mark. Acknowledge them before your God. Turn to his New Covenant promise of forgiveness. Know that your relationship with God has been made “right!” Now, work on those relationships! Not because the calendar has turned, but out of thanks to your forgiving God.
Church is all about relationships. May God bless our relationships with him, with each other and with those around us in 2016.
Ask Me Why… Church?
What follows is intended to expand on today’s worship service. Every member and friend of Living Shepherd will receive a copy of today’s sermon and service folder, even if they were unable to attend worship today. The hope is that we can start 2016 on the same note, together, even if we're not all "together" in worship each Sunday.
Take the time to work through the next few pages during the week. Maybe you’ll find a time to go through it with friends from Living Shepherd. Maybe you’ll do it with family. Maybe you’ll walk through it on your own. But do take a few moments during the week to spend some time digging deeper into God’s Word!
One more thing—this study and this week’s sermon will be posted together on the Bytes of Bread portion of our website by Monday evening. A similar study will also be provided in the service folder for the duration of this series. I’m very open to suggestions for changes/adaptations as this is new for me too! I do hope you find this helpful and would love your feedback to make it even more so. Blessings on your study this week!
P.S.—Many of the questions use “I.” As the writer and preacher of the sermon “I” didn’t know how else to do it :)
Soemthing to get us started
I’ve heard it said that when people think of “church membership” they subconsciously think of a country club membership. I pay my “dues” and then receive certain benefits. The Bible paints a slightly different picture. Instead of describing members of a club, we are members of one body—the body of Christ (see the second half of 1 Corinthians 12) In what ways are these views of church membership different? (It might be helpful to make an “IS/IS NOT” list for each view and then compare the two)
Digging Deeper Into God’s Word
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
You heard Jesus expand on the “Love your neighbor as yourself” command in our Gospel lesson from John 13 this morning when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Two questions in light of these two passages. (Try to think of specific examples that you could actually carry out!!)
1. In what ways can you love your neighbor as yourself?
2. In what ways can you love one another as Jesus has loved you?
If there was one main point that I hoped to get across in this week’s sermon it would be the Bible’s emphasis on relationships. That hopefully came across in two parts. One, our relationship with God that has been made “right” through Jesus act of atonement (At-One-Ment). Two, our relationships with each other that improve in light of Jesus’ act of atonement. Check out the summary of passages below. As you do, ask yourself the following question. “In what ways could I carry this out as I serve in my role as a “member,” not just of Living Shepherd, but of the body of Christ?” (It might take a while, but what a cool thing to ask yourself this question after each passage!)
love one another (John 13:35 - this command comes 16 times)
be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10)
live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
be likeminded towards one another (Romans 15:5)
accept one another (Romans 15:7)
admonish one another (Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16)
care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25)
serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2)
forgive one another (Ephesians 4:2, 32; Colossians 3:13)
be patient with one another (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13)
be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19)
submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5)
bear with one another (Colossians 3:13)
teach one another (Colossians 3:16)
comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13)
stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24)
show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
employ the gifts that God has given us for the benefit of one another (1 Peter 4:10)
pray for one another (James 5:16)
confess our faults to one another (James 5:16)
We are to do these things because we belong to one another (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25).
All these commands do not take into account the things we are told not to do to one another!
Applying this to Living Shepherd
When we think of the church as an organization rather than as a community filled with relationships our values can become distorted. We can easily give lip service to biblical values, while in practice other values predominate. See if you can come up with two hypothetical situations in which this would prove true.
Pastor Z. quoted some statistics researcher Dr. Thom Rainer collected in his book entitled The Unchurched Next Door. Did you find any of these statistics surprising? If so, which ones?
Think about the work we’re currently doing at Living Shepherd. In what ways are we currently reaching out to the “unchurched?”
As a community of Christians, what might we be able to do/try here at Living Shepherd to reach even more of our community’s “unchurched?”