So far in this series on how to achieve true spiritual success, we have looked at reading the Word of God, and prayer. The third step involves a step that is to some is strangely controversial… fellowship.
YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE… UNLESS YOU CHOOSE TO!
There’s a famous song by Gerry and the Pacemakers, the theme of Liverpool football club, “You’ll never walk alone.” It revolves around the basic human need we all have of fellowship, camaraderie, friends we can talk to and connect with. Yet the question of Church fellowship is oddly controversial in this day and age, because almost every week I am meeting mature, godly wonderful Christians who explain to me why they love God but hate church, and prefer to walk alone!
A husband and wife were taking early one Sunday morning. The husband confessed that he hates Church and refuses to go. The wife demanded three good reasons…
He told her. “First, the congregation is cold. Second, no one likes me. And third, I just don’t want to go.”
“Well, honey”, she replied, “I have three good reasons why you should go,” his wife replied. “First, the congregation is warm. Second, there are a few people there who like you. And third, you are the pastor. So get dressed.”
Psalm 122:1 (ESV Strong's)
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Glad someone was glad. I get it. I’ve had many times, years even, when I wasn’t glad to go to church. We’ve all been bored by church or hurt by Christians, and many by pastors, somewhere in the past. I understand, because I too have been viciously attacked by so called men of God. I too have found Church laboured, painful, boring and not worth investing time into.
Rev Denny Brake once joked, “I don't know why some people change churches - what difference does it make which one you stay home from?”
But the third step to becoming spiritually successful is to be actively linked in to the right church. As we examine this today, please don’t think I am threatening you in any way. Ignite is full of people who have been hurt elsewhere, and this is specifically what I have prayed for. When I took the helm here, I prayed that God would use this church to draw hurting believers together, to have them become part of a church family that loves and supports them and to fan into fame and release the gifts they have to fulfil their lives!
WHY BOTHER WITH CHURCH?
Statistics now tell us that going to church once a month is considered a regular attender. They also suggest that on our Coast more than half of professed believers do not attend a church regularly. They love God but hate Church.
But here is the jump. Statistics, and my experience, tell us that those who attend regularly and get involved in Church grow in spiritual maturity and become more spiritually successful, while those who neglect Church stagnate and fail to grow in Christ the way they should. I believe we are better together. Church is not my idea, it’s God’s idea, and we as leaders ought to seek establish the churches He wants. The Bible says,
Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV Strong's)
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
You can be a Christian without going to church. You can be married and not live together, but it is not the normal thing. Most married people live together, and most Christians should go to church. This passage clearly commands that we must not neglect meeting together. Studies show that if you miss Church for more than a month, the odds are almost 2 to 1 that you won’t go for the next year.
Yes, you can spend time in the Word at home, and yes you can pray by yourself. But there is something amazing, something special, something spiritual that happens when we get together. The Lord bestows a special blessing for unity, but how can we even have unity if one party is absent?
I’m this message I want to outline reasons why you should make every effort to come to church. Obviously, I’m preaching to the converted, because you are here already. If you have been hurt or turned off church elsewhere, please understand I am not shaming or accusing you, I understand, and I am offering the hand of fellowship and the pledge that I will do all in my power as a pastor to love, nurture and bless you.
So what does being part of a church family offer you, and why should we bother to meet together at all?
1. WE CAN WORSHIP TOGETHER
Worship is not the support act to the main event at church. It is a core reason why the church exists.
Something very special happens when we worship together in unity. Sure, you can put on a CD and sing at home or in the car, but when we gather together in unity there is a sense of awe and blessing. When we worship corporately there is a great sense of belonging, even if you don’t agree with everything that goes on in your church, you can still worship in unity.
Psalms 22:3 (ESV Strong's)
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
When we worship together in unity, there the Lord is enthroned. The Hebrew word for enthroned means several things, including inhabit, tarrying and marrying. When we praise the Lord together it is kind of like God marries in with us.
And let me also say, there is no set way in which we worship. Some raise their hands, some don’t. Some sing loudly, some don’t. Some praise God best with set songs, others like worship free form. Ignite is here to accommodate all styles of worship, and I am not going to force you to worship a certain way. When we worship together, the key ingredient I believe is unity. Unity means that we don’t criticise the way others worship, and we don’t force them to change to our way. Can you love the Lord and love each other more than you love getting your own way in worship?
1 Timothy 2:8 (ESV Strong's)
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling;
We need to worship together without anger or quarrels. And I know we all worship differently, but we can still worship together, because unity is more important that you doing your thing your way!
That being said, I’m hoping we all grow together in our understanding and expression of worship. Who among us knows everything about worshipping God? Isn’t one of the great joys of church being able to live and journey and discover the truths of God together?
2. WE CAN LEARN FROM THE BIBLE TOGETHER
There is a trend today for churches to move away from Biblical teaching. Ignite will not be that sort of church, because the Word of God is central to everything we do. That’s why so many of us have pledged to read the Bible daily.
And when you come to church, I am promising to centre all our teaching on God’s Word. If it’s not in the Bible, it’s not happening at Ignite, and it’s that simple! I’m going to preach the Word, and I’m going to live the Word. Here’s what God commands me…
2 Timothy 4:2-3 (ESV Strong's)
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
If you want church teaching to tickle your ears, not challenge you in any way and make you feel ok, find another church! I am sworn to proclaim the truth of God’s Word no matter the consequences. And I preach from what the Lord is showing me, not random stuff I am making up or some other guy’s message I read on the internet. In season, out of season, any season I will preach the Word of the Lord, like it or not!
And at the end of the day, you don’t want my opinion do you? You want God’s, right?
Some believe they can skip church and download a few good messages from YouTube or watch God TV. I have observed that people doing that tend to find preachers that, to quote the verse, “suit their passions.” Listening to recorded messages is fine, I encourage it, but as your pastor I have made a pledge to God to love you support you and stir your gifts into flame, ignite them if you will!
I know you can definitely find better preachers, better teachers and better sermons than mine out there online, but what you won’t find is someone who loves you and is called to pastor you like I am.
News flash… TD Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Brian’s Houston, Chuck Swindoll, as good as those preachers are, they don’t know you from Adam. They are not committed to your walk with Christ, your spiritual success, the release of your gifts… they don’t even know who you are! You cannot substitute recordings of famous preachers for a pastor who genuinely cares about you.
As your pastor, though my teaching and preaching might be limited next to those great leaders, I’m different because I am totally committed to seeing your life with Christ grow. If you want an advocate, if you want a pastor who cares about your life, I’m your guy! I take the calling of a shepherd very seriously. This terrifies me so much that some time ago I started regularly praying this prayer…
1 Kings 3:9 (ESV Strong's)
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”
I can’t be a proper leader for Ignite Christian Church, I don’t have the skills and ability. But God does, and I humbly rely on Him and His wisdom to direct this church. If I start preaching my own wisdom, if I cannot support what I’m teaching from the Bible, show me, because I need to preach God’s Word as much as you need to listen to God’s Word! Together we grow and learn through the years.
3. WE CAN FELLOWSHIP TOGETHER
Fellowship is a great strength we have here at Ignite. After church, everyone stays for ages, and when we have a need, scores of people support it in prayer and other ways.
Acts 2:42 (ESV Strong's)
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
The early Church understood fellowship, as they sold belongings and cared for each other, and they moved from house to house. They hung out, in other words, they fellowshipped.
Fellowship is not talking about football results or TV celebrities, it is talking about Jesus. It is praying for each other. It’s caring for each other. It is Dig In and connect groups and men’s and women’s groups. It’s growing closer as friends, learning to trust each other, stirring one another towards greatness in Christ. You can’t get this by yourself skipping church, and believers who are dislocated from church are missing out on this key ingredient of growth.
I have dislocated my shoulders many times and had operations to secure them in their sockets. When dislocated there is incredible pain and the arm is basically useless, but it’s still attached to my body. That’s what we are like without fellowship. We are still Christians, still part of the body, but in pain and not really useful to the body. The cry of my heart is to put dislocated Christians back in the socket, back in the place in the body where they belong. And as many of you have experienced, even when you get back there is a period of pain as you heal. I want ignite to be a place of healing and knitting in.
4. WE CAN ENCOURAGE TOGETHER
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV Strong's)
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Believers should encourage one another, and that’s why I insist on unity at Ignite. If you have an issue with something, or with someone, talk to a leader, seek advice, seek help, but don’t make your way around spreading gossip and discord. We need to be careful to guard our mouths and only speak words of encouragement and love to build others up!
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV Strong's)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Church should be a place where we encourage one another, and no issue, unless it directly contradicts God’s Word, no issue is bigger than the love, unity and encouragement we should have one for another. Please church, don’t love your own opinion more than you love each other! Don’t get so focussed on an issue or what you believe is true that you hurt others, or attack others.
5. WE CAN EVANGELISE TOGETHER
If we want to see people come to know Jesus, nothing beats an on fire, ignited church!
Acts 2:46-47 (ESV Strong's)
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
When the early church functioned properly, they had the Word, fellowship, worship and people were added daily. We need to reach out to our community and see people coming to Jesus!
Together we are better in sharing the gospel. That’s why Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs, not in their own. And when we share our faith, let’s do so kindly, gently and respectfully…
1 Peter 3:15 (ESV Strong's)
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
Coming up we are going to start reaching out to our community, first by prayer walking the streets and then by sharing the good news that Jesus loves them!
Romans 10:14-15 (ESV Strong's)
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
It’s time to take our beautiful feet and start walking the dirty, dusty streets of our community!
6. WE CAN SERVE TOGETHER
If you are dislocated from church, you cut off almost all the avenues of Christian service. You might still share the gospel to odd people you meet, but how do you follow up those who make commitments? You can’t do it all on your own, and neither were you designed to do it all on your own.
1 Peter 4:10 (ESV Strong's)
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:
Here at Ignite, I don’t do everything. I cannot do everything, I’m busy enough and I still work in my job! So my plan, which is really God’s plan, is that I stir up gifts that are within others, and let them serve doing what they love and are gifted at. If you are here, and have a gift in your heart, do 101 and 201 (next week), and let me open the door for you to serve the Lord here.
Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV Strong's)
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
My calling as a pastor is not to build a big building. It’s not to manage a big corporation, it’s not to become a famous preacher. My calling is to shepherd, it is to stir up within you the gifts of service you have, and then to open the door for them to be used. My job is to train and equip you to become everything you ought to be in Christ, then allow you to operate in your gifting!
One of the greatest reasons Christians have to go to church is so they can serve the Lord better. You can get trained, equiped and inspired, and then through the Church find a way of expressing that gift. There is a particular satisfaction that comes from serving the Lord in your gifting, and Church is the ideal place to do this.
UNITED WE STAND
So the first step towards becoming spiritually successful is to read God’s Word every day, the second is to pray without ceasing, and the third is to not just attend church, but to become a part of the church body. And I would love you to be a part of Ignite Christian Church. I would love the joy and the honour of watching your life become fruitful for Jesus. And I guarantee you, this place is good soil, yielding 30, 60 and 100 fold!
Yet Ignite church is under attack. Yes unchurched people might attack us. Yes the government tries to paralyse us with paperwork and legislation. Sometimes even other Christians might attack and criticise us. But by far the greatest threat we have to this body of believers comes from within!
Disunity kills churches that should be full of life. Beware of anything that disrupts unity, even if you feel you are right and the others are wrong!
Colossians 3:13-14 (ESV Strong's)
bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Look, I understand that we are human, and we have opinions about people, things and the way we do things. But let me be frank, unless something is out and out sin as described in the Bible, I cannot tolerate threats to the beautiful unity we have here at Ignite. I’ve seen churches spilt over the colour of carpets or the placement of a cross or an altar. I was even at a Baptist church once that nearly split over an excess water bill, because there were too many baptisms!
I don’t expect you to agree with everything, or everyone. But you must commit to disagreeing agreeably, not gossiping to others about whatever your problem is and stirring up trouble. Jesus said a house divided will not stand, because He understood the destructive power of disunity.
When we elevate our personal preferences or petty disagreements above unity and our love for each other, let me be bold here, I believe it is sin, and the devil uses this to destroy God’s work in a church. So before you get on your high hobby horse and cause strife, ask yourself if Jesus would be talking this way. Remember, this is the same Jesus who prayed…
John 17:21-22 (ESV Strong's)
that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
Would Paul talk this way, the Paul that said,
1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV Strong's)
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.