Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
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We are in the midst of message series called 3 Big Questions. Last week we explored the first question, “Why Do People Need Jesus?” If you weren’t with us last week, I encourage to go online and listen to last week’s message. I want you to know that I was blessed and transformed a bit as I prepared for that message. We concluded last week that people need Jesus because
<<Jesus is the answer to the deep hurt and pain that people carry. Jesus is the one who if let in, will invade the heart, transform the person, and help them transform the world. Jesus is the one who can change a heart of stone or empty heart into a joyfilled and hopefill heart. That’s why people need Jesus.>>
This week we are turning to slightly different question, but a question that has great important for us and I believe it has great importance for the world. My belief is that if we get this question wrong, we might as well go home, close doors, and sell the church. Because if we get this question wrong, there is no point in us being here. The question is, “Why do people need the church?”
Often times church people will talk about how we need more people in the church, as if the church needs people. But I think, when we ask that question we are fundamentally asking the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking, why do people need the church? One of the reasons we should be asking this question is that this is a question that millions of Americans are asking this very day. This morning, consciously or not, millions of Americans have made the choice to wake up, get dressed, get in the car, and drive to a building for a service of worship. At the same time, millions of other Americans have made the choice, consciously or not, to sleep in, watch tv, do yard work, play with the kids, go to the ball field, or go to brunch.
The reality is that church involvement was once a cornerstone of American life. But this reality has changed.
U.S. adults today are evenly divided on the importance of attending church. While half (49%) say it is “somewhat” or “very” important, the other 51% say it is “not too” or “not at all” important.
This statistic cuts through all generations. For me this isn’t the most troubling statistic. They found that: Two thirds of adults who believe church to be very important report that they participate for one of two reasons: to be closer to God or to learn about God.
But, fewer than one in 10 (6%) who have ever been to church say they learned something about God or Jesus the last time they attended. In fact, the majority of people (61%) say they did not gain any significant or new insights regarding faith when they last attended.
In a report about this from the church research firm Barna, they concluded that:
The data shows two trends, often at crosscurrents. Adults are aware of their very real spiritual needs, yet they are increasingly dissatisfied with the church’s attempt to meet those spiritual needs and are turning elsewhere.
Why do people need church? To me it sounds as if the majority of Americans and maybe even most church attenders have already answered this questions. If asked, “Why do people need church?” I think the response might be, “They don’t.”
To me, this troubling. If you are a person of faith and are regular in your church participation, I hope that this is troubling to you as well, maybe even a wakeup call that something needs to change. If you are one of the many millions of Americans who have already made up your mind about the uselessness of church, I understand. I used to be in your same position.
In fact, when I was working at a different church some of the staff were having a conversation about people that didn’t go to church. And most in the group shared the opinion that church was important. Church had been important in their lives, and they believed that it should be important in the lives of others. But I was sitting there asking a different question, “is the church even relevant to me.” I was questioning the purpose of church. It is not that I didn’t believe in Jesus, but I was really questioning the relevance and the effectiveness of what we did as a church. I was uncertain if what we did as a church really helped people and really was positive in society.
After that conversation, though, I have seen a multitude of cases where the church has really helped people and when the church really has been a source for good in society and the community. So I have been able to answer this question for myself.
When it comes down to it, I think really the answer to this question, “Why Do People Need The Church,” kind of has two answers depending on who the person is. This first answer addresses the concerns of people who consider themselves Christ followers, but the other answer seeks to address the question for the rest of the world.
If you consider yourself a follower of Jesus, what I’m going to say next applies to you. I hear people say, I love Jesus, but I don’t care for the church. Or, I can worship God just fine at home, on the river, or in the woods, or on golf course, or facebook, or snapchat, or any place besides church. Or organized religion just doesn’t do it for me. These people may even agree the church can do some good things at helping the world and transforming hearts. But they have just checked out and don’t think it’s relevant to them. After all, what do we say to the majority of people who say they did learn anything or grown in faith when they last attended church?
These are difficult issues and real problems for people.
But, if someone considers him or herself a follower of Jesus, they need to know that church is not optional for becoming a deeply committed Christian. In the words of another pastor, “no one will ever realize their full potential as a Christian apart from the Church.” Being involved in the church is the only way that someone can grow into the fullness of faith that Jesus wants for them.
We find the reasons for this all over the New Testament. In Hebrews, we see that it is a requirement of Christians to meet together. The preacher in Hebrews writes:
<<24 And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. 25 Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.>>
This requirement isn’t just to have your name on the attendance roster. Its purpose is to form you into a more Christlike person. Its purpose to help spark love and good deeds amongst you. It is to encourage you along your faith journey.
But yet, I look at our membership rolls. There are people on our membership roles that I am clueless about who they are. I’m not talking about the people who homebound and can’t attend regularly because of health. But there are people that are members of this church that never darken the doors. This concerns me. Not because of worrying about me or about how many people we have in worship or about the offering. But it concerns me because I know that church participation is essential in growing in faith and living into one’s full potential as a Christian.
On top of this, the whole ministry of Jesus and the New Testament assumes that Christians will live faithfully in community. If you look at the majority of the New Testament writings, they are not written to individuals. Instead, you find leaders writing letters to entire communities of faith, to churches. And if it wasn’t for churches, the ministry of Jesus would not have continued for two thousand years.
Even from the words of Jesus, we find that the church is important. He Jesus tells us that that when people gather in his name he becomes present in their midst. Matthew records these words of Jesus, saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” (Mat 18:20). Church is not some afterthought. Church is the way Jesus interacts with people and with the world. When we meet together in worship, in prayer, and in song, Jesus becomes present in our midst. This is his promise. This is why people who consider themselves Christ followers need the church.
But what about the rest of the world; the second part of our question? Is the church just for people who already consider themselves Christians? The answer is NO. Though the church is essential for Christians, the church does not exist for Christians. Let me say that again, the church does not exists for Christians.
Jesus didn’t create the church to create a Christian country club. Jesus didn’t create the church to allow followers of Jesus to sit down and be entertained. Jesus didn’t even create the church for us, that is, for Christians. Just as Jesus didn’t live for himself, the church, does not live for itself.
In what United Methodists say about church, we claim that “the church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world.” You notice what is not said there. It doesn’t say the church exists to make me proud, or to allow me to sings songs I like to sing, or to help me feel better about myself. The church of Jesus Christ exists for the world.
And we have already established that people need Jesus because Jesus is the answer to the deep hurt and pain of people and the world. Because people need Jesus, they also need the church. Because Jesus has chosen the church to be the instrument that heals the world. Jesus has chosen the church to be his continuing presence on earth. In fact, the church is, in a very real way, the body of Jesus present in the world.
We read about this in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 12 we read:
<<12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body … 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.>>
This talk that we are the body of Christ is not addressed to individuals. Paul is not telling individual people that each of them are the body of Christ. Instead, this is the message that is given to the church as a whole. All of the church, together, comprises the body.
And if the church is Jesus’ body, that means that Jesus has chosen the church to be his continuing presence on earth. To put it in theological terms the church is the incarnation of Jesus in our world. That means the church is tasked with the doing the same things that Jesus did. Bringing hope and healing and freedom to people. Jesus has placed the church on earth to be his continuing hands and feet to heal people, to heal families, to change the world.
I think our mission statement says it best, “The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This is key, we don’t make disciples to make ourselves feel better, we make disciples to transform the world. The church exists to continue the transformative work of Jesus in the world.
An influential pastor by the name of Bill Hybles, says this in a little bit different way. He boldly claims that the local church is the hope of the world.
You may think that that is a bold and perhaps a difficult claim. But if Jesus is the one who came to transform and heal people and the world. And the church is Jesus’ body, his continuing presence on earth, then it follows that the church really is the hope of the world.
The church makes disciples. The church helps followers of Jesus grow into their full potential. And when Christians are living in their full potential they are ready to transform the world.
I think about a friend of mine who works at a church in Russia. There is so much darkness and corruption around him. He helps to lead a ministry that helps to resettle people who have been smuggled into Russia. Once these people make it to Russia, the government denies they exist, won’t allow them access to any services or employment, including hospital care. For these people this local church is their only hope in the world. These people who have victimized and stigmatized now are given a new hope, Because of faithful followers of Jesus.
The local church is the hope of the world. God doesn’t have a Plan B to transform the world. God has enlisted the church to be the physical manifestation for Jesus’ love and hope. Why do people need the church? Because Jesus is made present on earth through the church. Why do people need the church? Because God has chosen the church to transform and heal the world. Why do people need the church? Because the local church is the hope of the world.
Friends, this may seem a little ambitious. I admit that this is a high calling. But it is also a calling that is only possible because of Jesus’ presence with us. So today, we are going to celebrate as a church Holy Communion. This is one of the ways that God uses to speak to us, and give us strength to change the world.
This table of communion belongs to Jesus and is open to all who love him, who repent of their sin and seek to live in communion with others.
Jesus has given us this meal to give us strength to be the hope of the world. Jesus has given us this meal to be present with us so that we can bring his presence in the world. Jesus has given us this meal as a demonstration of Why people need the church.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.