Responsibility. It is something that we are taught from an early age. Responsibility usually was cultivated through the carrying out of chores. These were things you and I did around the house that were opportunities to care for the home. What were yours? Whether it was making your bed, cleaning your room, feeding the dog or taking out the trash. These tasks, however menial, were valuable because they showed us that we had a part in the upkeep of the home. I know one mother who refused to do the laundry of her teenage sons, so that they would know how to do it when they left for college. The point is that chores advocated for personal responsibility.
Does being a church member carry with it certain responsibilities? How must we operate in the world? What are our errands and tasks? For that, we turn to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12. There is more burden on the church now than ever before to get back to its original design and purpose. No doubt, Christianity has had the most influence in our country since our founding. Nevertheless, we can no longer assume that most people attend church or that most people are Christian in this country. I’m not so sure that this was ever the case.
You know, the United States is now a more diverse country than ever before. Not only are people coming to our country from all over the world, but people are all over the map, spiritually. Some have been trained in the fine arts of Bible Study and prayer. Others don’t know how to pray and don’t own a Bible. And there are many people, in many places, in between. Many sociologists characterize our country as following Europe’s example in becoming “Post Christian,” which means that Christianity is no longer the dominant religion or influence. As our country becomes more diverse, we can no longer assume that everyone is coming from the same spiritual base. Take for instance, the following statistics from David Olson’s The American Church in Crises.
• In New England, less than ten percent of the population is in church on any given Sunday. Only two percent of the population of Massachusetts is in church any given Sunday.
• Except for the state of Hawaii, Christianity has not seen a net expansion in any state in the union in over 25 years.
• Over 4,000 local congregations permanently close their doors every year in the U.S. alone.
• Over 3,000 new church plants must be launched each year just to keep up with the changing demographics and population growth in the United States.
It is our role as church members to see ourselves as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. And with being an ambassador comes a desire to understand how we might serve others. Our sensitivities to the spiritual needs of each person will go a long way towards knowing how to minster to them. I like the saying that I found at a church a few years ago. “We have a few pastors, but everyone is a minister.” In reality, every Christian is called by God to a ministry.
If you read Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4, you’ll quickly find that each member has a function and that Christianity is a participant religion. There’s no such thing as an inactive member. And that that God equips those who He calls, in a variety of ways. Not all have the same function. When God calls you to follow Jesus, He does not call you to sit in a pew and receive the benefits of Christianity for rest of your life. Rather, He calls you to serve, like a pitcher: to be filled and to be poured out. Many people have that wrong. So many, that the church in America is struggling.
Recently, we’ve been studying different aspects of church membership. They are divided into the following categories: Functioning, Unifying, Serving, Praying, Leading, and Thanking. We’re going to learn more of what it means to treat our fellow Christians as we study Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member. I hope you will join us on today in the Fellowship Hall for seven weeks of spiritual growth; a great way to start off the New Year! In any organization, we can come to it seeking to have our needs met, our desires fed and miss the real meaning. What would God teach you in this New Year? Get the book: I Am a Church Member. We’ve placed one in your mailbox; There are a few at the Welcome Center, or you may call our church office. Even if you do not have one, come to the Fellowship Hall directly after this service and experience what this is about. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Our work is cut out for us.
It is an oxymoron to be an “inactive” church member. But we have many. How many? Check out these statistics:
• The criterion for being an inactive member is any member who attends fewer than 6 worship services per year.
• On Central’s membership role we have 697 inactive members. You might say, “Well Pastor David, what about those that are on our membership role, but live in Alaska or California? You cannot expect them to attend, do you? Yes, we have those.
• But reality is that we have many church members that live fairly close and never come. Approximately 360 members are within 20 minutes. Can you imagine if just 300 showed up on a regular basis? That would double the size of our church! That would also double the size of our resources for ministry!
What can we do to correct this? How can we reverse it? How can we change this culture? Rainer lists four action points necessary for churches to survive in the future:
Confession: 1 John 1:9 tells us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” What sins do we as a church need to confess? Have we been inwardly focused? Do we have a heart for our community? Rainer states: “Most churches move toward death because they refuse to acknowledge their condition. Use Pete’s prayer?
Prayer: James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” How must we seek God’s direction for our future as a church? We must pray for God to give us wisdom to be the church that He wants us to be. Notice emphasis on Him, not us. Prayer is preparing our hearts to hear from God.
Willingness to Change: Acts 3:19: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord….” How do we need to change as individuals and as a church? Rainer states: “The church has to change decades of cumulative problem behaviors in a very short time.” What are the things that we need to do differently? It is easy to say that “we’re great!” “We’re alright!” “Look at what we’ve done!” But the real question is: “Are we the church that God wants us to be?” More specifically, are you the disciple that God wants you to be!?
Action and Outward Focus: Someone once said that the church is the only organization in the world that does not exist for itself. What are we doing to fulfill the prophecy concerning Jesus in Micah 5:4: “…then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace.” Rainer tells us: “When a church begins to act positively with this radical change, it has essentially become a new church. It is not the church of old that refused to change and move forward.”
We are trying to change a culture in our church, of which our survival depends. Last week was a snapshot. Carol and Daryl Van Dyken came last Sunday to talk about the ministry of Trans World Radio. Daryl was an engineer by trade. At some point, they got tired of seeing themselves of just receiving, and wanted to give. They both felt the call of God to minister full time to the people of the world. They have taken it upon themselves to have a role in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
Since 1988, their calling has taken them to Bonaire, to Sri Lanka, to South Africa and now in the Americas. It’s all about function. They sought to be used by God. Many in the church today are as Rainer puts it: “…membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices.” But as you read 1 Corinthians 12, membership is about functioning. “… Everyone has a role or function. That is why some are hands, feet ears or eyes.”
John Ortberg tells the story in his book The Me I Want To Be. “A freshly minted lieutenant wanted to impress the first private to enter his new office, and he pretended to be on the phone with a general so that the private would know he was somebody. ‘Yes, sir, General, you can count on me,’ he said as he banged the receiver down. Then he asked the private what he wanted. ‘I’m just here to connect your phone, sir.’ May we focus more on our functionality and less on our appearance. Amen?