(This section may be relevant mainly to people who worship at the Leawood campus.)
After today, we are one month away from the move into the new sanctuary, and that is very exciting. I’d like to spend the next three weeks preparing us for the move and what follows. I aim to remind you what the Bible teaches about the purpose of the church, to consider the kind of church we hope to be….
Let me share with you the plans for renovating the existing sanctuary into spaces designed for the purposes Acts 2 describes as key to the early church’s effectiveness. One reason we built our permanent sanctuary was so that we could free up the space we’ve been using as our sanctuary to be transformed into a place people would devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread, to fellowship and to prayers. Our aim was to get all of our adult programs under one roof with our worship services and children’s programs….
To connect people in small groups and programming, we’ve got to have space for this, adjacent to worship and our children’s programs …. If we are going to do more than worship together—if we are going to be a healthy, vital church where people are growing, finding community and fellowship, finding healing—we’ve got to finish what we’ve started. The spaces where we gather in small groups, for midweek programs, for Sunday School classes and support groups are as important as the sanctuary.
I’d like to begin with a hymn written in 1972 that appears in our hymnal called “We Are the Church.” The refrain goes, “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together.” And the first verse: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”
It’s this idea I want this sermon to convey. We’re preparing to open a new sanctuary, an important tool for ministry. I believe the space will fundamentally change our worship life together. Many who will be drawn to come to see the building and its stained glass window will, through our witness together, come to faith in Christ. It will be a powerful tool for ministry, a house for our congregation, and a symbol to the community of God’s presence in our midst. But the building is only a tool. “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together” because “the church is a people.”
I love how Paul says it in I Corinthians 3:16. To the church at Corinth that had no building, but lived in a town that had dozens of temples dedicated to pagan gods, Paul wrote: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” He said people meet God through the community. There are 20,000 of you at the Leawood campus and the building is important. I am convinced people will sense God’s presence there. But you—the love you show for each other, the way you care for and welcome each other, the way you treat each other and pray for each other and encourage one another—is an essential part of being the church.
The Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament is EKKLESIA. It was formed from two Greek words, EK and KALEO. Ek means “from out of,” and kaleo is the word behind our English word “call.” Ekklesia was a secular term for an assembly of people called out from their homes to meet together for some purpose bigger than themselves—a shared purpose.
We are not just a group who come together to “get something out of church.” That’s a consumer model of Christianity that sees the primary purpose of the church as to get a bit of encouragement and inspiration. Yes, you should get that at church. But the church is more than that. It’s not a social club, it is a community of Christ’s people seeking to become like Christ, to follow him, and together to do his work in the world. That means that part of the mission for those who are becoming deeply committed Christians when they show up for weekend worship is to look around and see how they can bless others, encourage others, minister to others. Sometimes we forget that.
I want to share a note I received from a worshiper recently. This person noted that three or four times in the last year, including just two months ago, when visiting one of our worship services he was told, “You are sitting in my seat.” He noted, “I have avoided that service in the last month. I just don’t want that ‘club’ feeling in my life.” How would you feel if you were out of town, visited a church over the weekend and someone asked you to move because you were sitting in their seat?
Hebrews says that at times by entertaining strangers we’ve entertained angels without knowing it. Jesus famous parable notes that to the lost at the last judgment he will say, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” Can you imagine the one who washed the disciples’ feet saying to someone at the table, “I’m sorry, but you are sitting in my seat”? I picture Jesus regularly giving up his seat for others ….
That leads me to Acts chapter 2. The Jewish festival of Pentecost was 50 days after Christ’s resurrection, and by this time Jesus had ascended to heaven. He’d told his followers, some 120 people, to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost they were gathered in the Upper Room when the sound of a howling wind filled the room. Suddenly there were what looked like flames of fire all around, and the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Peter and the apostles rushed into the streets. A huge crowd gathered, and Peter preached the gospel to this large crowd. Listen to what is written: “Those who welcomed [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles… And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
Notice that in one day, 3,000 people joined the church! I know people who don’t like big churches, but the first church was a big church. I’ve often told folks who tell me they don’t like big churches, “If you don’t like big churches, you’re going to hate heaven!”
The text says they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. We do that through the study of Scripture. They devoted themselves to fellowship. The Greek word for fellowship is KOINONIA, which means a sharing of life with others, community. It is a deepening relationship, a companionship, a unity of spirit, a meaningful relationship with another or a group of others.
This is the fundamental nature of church. We have koinonia with Christ; we are also meant to have it with one another. Much of the New Testament is focused on this kind of koinonia. We do not do Christianity alone, but in fellowship with others. If it were a sport it would be a team sport, not an individual sport. The New Testament calls us to:
My dream is that every one of you would attend worship every weekend when you are not sick or out of town, AND that you would be involved with a smaller group of Christians with whom you are studying the apostles’ teaching, breaking bread, praying and practicing the “one anothers” we just heard about.
The early church met at the temple courts to do many of these things we’ve described. In our remodeled “temple courts,” we’ll invite people to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers. I believe God will now, as God did in the early church, add daily to our number those who are being saved. “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.”
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