Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
For the past few weeks we have been exploring a message series called 3 Big Questions. These messages are designed to help us think about the basics of life in Jesus and the basic purpose of the church. If you haven’t been with us for the past couple of weeks, let me just recap a bit of where we have come.
During the first week we asked the big question, “Why Do People Need Jesus?” There are a lot of reasons that Jesus is important, but it kind of boils down to the idea that people need Jesus because Jesus is the answer to the deep hurt and pain that people carry. And can transform someone into a more joyfilled and hopefilled person.
Then last week we asked the big question, “Why Do People Need The Church?” For some this a much more difficult question, because they may think that they need Jesus but they don’t need the church. In fact, 51% of Americans think that church is not important. But we concluded that people need church, because Jesus is made present when believers gather together. That church is not optional for followers of Jesus. And people need the church because, in the words of another, the local church is the hope of the world.
This week we are transitioning to a slightly different question, but a question that is still very big and very important. If people need Jesus because he is the answer to their hurts and pains and the world needs the church because the local church is the hope of the world; this week we are asking, why do people need this church? Why do people need Decatur/Concord United Methodist Church?
After all we live in what is often referred to as the bible belt. According to one survey, Tennessee ranks as the 7th most religious state in the US. And just down the street, Chattanooga is ranked as the most Bible friendly city in the nation, for the second year in a row, by the way. So we can’t say that there are not churches in our region. The question remains: Why Do People Need This Church?
I think part of what makes this church unique is that we are United Methodists. Now it used to be the case that a denomination be it: United Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Church of God, what have you, could go into a community and start a church and open its doors. And if the community was growing that specific denominational church could rely on the Methodists or Presbyterians or Baptists of the community to unite around this new church and start attending the church. That because the church had a sign that read such and such United Methodists all the United Methodists in the area start to attend, become deeply involved, and make the church successful.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to you that this doesn’t happen any longer. I’ve never been part of a new church start, but a colleague of mine in Ooltewah was a pastor sent to the area to start a church. This was going to be a sister church to another church in Knoxville, so they had some resources and help. But they didn’t just assume that since they had been sent to the community that people would start coming. The first things they did publically was to host big community celebrations in public places like the park. They would have prizes and food and just put on a nice time. They began to hold worship services, but not every week. Each time they met it was at a different place. Eventually they got set up at a local elementary school and are continuing to reach the community for Jesus Christ. That may seem like a simple success story, but I saw the hard work that went into establishing this church. It was much more than the old “build it and they will come.”
So, The United Methodist Church cannot just go into a community, buy a building, and open its doors and expect people to come. But I believe strongly that The United Methodist Church has a distinct message that really can resonate with people today, especially people that do not attend church.
The UMC is my home. I was baptized into the church as a child, confirmed into membership as a youth, and ordained as a pastor. The UMC chose me, but also I chose The UMC as the place to live out God’s calling on my life. You see, I chose The UMC, in part, because The United Methodist Church has a message of grace and action that I believe is uniquely suited this time and this place.
Many churches focus solely on “salvation.” Their main goal in life is get people saved. They are motivated strongly with the belief that without a certain prayer and without a certain relationship with Jesus all people are destined to be eternally tormented in hell. Often times, what is missing in this is that while they are focusing on saving people from eternal hell, it can be easy to the miss the hell people are living in on earth, right now.
I want you to know that salvation through Jesus Christ is deeply ingrained in United Methodist belief and practice. But we believe that salvation alone is not what God has called us to. You see, the mission statement of The UMC is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” At every level of our practice and belief, United Methodists believe that because of salvation in Jesus Christ we have the power to make the world a better place.
We believe deeply the words of James in the bible: 18 Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action.” And then goes on to say: 6 As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead. (James 2:18, 26).
We are a part of a tradition that values life change and world change.
John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement had three general rules for the early Methodists. We still hold on to these rules and see them as a guide in living. John Wesley would say that if a person had experienced salvation through Jesus that she should live a life by these three rules. The first is to do no harm—this includes a renunciation of slavery, of drunkenness, of lying, of buying too much stuff, of taking out loans you don’t intend to repay. The second rule is to do good at every opportunity of every possible sort as far as possible. And the third is to attend upon all the ordinances of God, which basically means to stay in love with God through spiritual practices.
These rules are at the heart of what it means to be United Methodist, and they focus so much on the life that we live today. With this deep spiritual conviction of doing good United Methodists have always been concerned with making the world a better place. Of helping people out of the hells they find themselves in on this earth. Of helping people find recovery, through Jesus, from sickness, addiction, and depression. The United Methodist Church is about putting faith in action.
And I believe this is what makes us uniquely suited for ministry in the 21st century. A couple of weeks ago we talked about millennials, those people that are roughly in their 20s and 30s. We reflected on the fact that “over 80% of millennials reported that it is important to be engaged in work that gives back to the community.” This age group is one fasting growing demographics in our county. Over the next 10 years, all age groups in Meigs County are projected to decline as a percent of the population, except for 2. Retirees will grow, thanks to the baby boomers, by about 3.5% percent. You might not know this, but this younger group is also going to grow. In the next ten years, those that are between the ages of 25 to 34 will grow by about 2.5%.
These young people believe deep in their core that it’s important to be engaged with work that gives back to the community. This is a value that is ingrained in The United Methodist Church. And if we live into who God wants us to be, we have potential to reach these young people and capture their desire to make a difference. And if we do this, we will change the world.
The answer to why people need this church is partly answered by what makes us unique as United Methodists. The answer to why people need this church is partly answered because we are a part of a tradition that values life change and world change. But this isn’t all the answer, because though we are a part of The United Methodist Church we are not The United Methodist Church. We also have local practices and local customs that make us unique in ministry in our local community. We can’t only rely on our United Methodist DNA, we must also answer this question for ourselves as it relates to this church.
Are we living as a church that creates life change and world change? We have to answer for ourselves why do people need this church.
Adam Hamilton is the pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in the US, and he often gets the chance to help teach other pastors. Adam writes that he often asks other pastors a simple question: “Assume for a moment I live in your neighborhood. Now tell me why should I attend the church that you serve?”
If you meet your neighbor at the grocery store, do you have an answer to this question? What would you tell her? Maybe a new family moves to the community, and you get to meet them and think about inviting them to church. What would your answer be if they asked you, “Why should I attend your church?” It’s not good enough to say that you “love your church,” because most people that participate in church generally like the church they attend. What would your answer be?
Another question that I think is also important is perhaps kind of a morbid question. But it is a question that really makes us think and evaluate what we are doing and what we believe about ourselves as a local church.
If this church closed its doors tomorrow, would the neighborhood or community care? Of course you would care and I would care, because this church means a lot to us. But would the community at large care? Would people in our community be negatively impacted if this church ceased to exist? Think about that for a moment. If the doors of the church closed today and did not open again, would anyone in our neighborhood care? I realize that is a hard question. It may not even be a question that you have an answer for right away. But it is an important question to have an answer for if we are going to be able to answer the question, “Why Do People Need Decatur/Concord Church?” People will always need the church, but why do people need this church?
I’ve been spending a lot of time researching our community lately. I’m really trying to learn who is in this community and what their deep hurts and needs are. And let me tell you this, there are people in our community that are lost, and lonely, and dying. People in our community need us to have an answer to the question Why people need this church. And if we can’t figure it out, we might as well close the doors and join with another church who has it figured out.
Are we going to be that beacon of hope in a hurting world? The church is not complete as long as there is one who lost or hurting or alone. We have a message of hope, we have a message of life change and world change. Are we going to live it?
This sermon really isn’t over. In sense, I feel as if we are ending like a two part television program. Instead of Amen at the end of the message we are really concluding with … to be continued. As United Methodists we have a message of life change and world change that our community desperately needs. But this isn’t enough to answer the question, “Why Do People Need This Church?”
You have stories and ideas that can help shed light on this question; that help us answer this question in more full way. So this message is … to be continued. It is not “to be continued” until next week, it is “to be continued” until tonight. Because tonight this church is going to gather to share a meal (that’s something we are good at), and discuss what makes us unique as a church. This is that “What’s Next? Dinner” I’ve been talking about for several weeks. If you have already registered for this event, thank you I can’t wait to see you tonight.
However, if you have not registered already, I want you to be there. I need you to be there. As your pastor, I tend not to make many big asks. But I am asking you to join us tonight. Because it is going to take us all to answer this question, “Why do People Need Decatur United Methodist Church.” Our community is depending on us getting the answer to this question correct.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.