Scripture: Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Introduction: The landscape of faith in our society…
In 2000 the census reported there were 281,220,000 Americans…in 2002 the Barna Group’s research indicated that 4 out of 5 Americans on the street indicated they were “Christian”.According to this number there are at least 225 million Christians in America! Of course the question is, what does one mean by “Christian”.
- According to Barna, most of these “Christians”
- Believe in a universal deity or God.
- Believe that Jesus was a historical figure who was a great moral teacher and a miracle worker.
- Of these 225 million Christians, only 91 million identify themselves as being born-again.
Now, there are estimated to be 324,000 Protestant and 20,000 Catholic congregations in the U.S., but despite this large number of churches, Barna’s researchers estimated in mid-2000 that there are roughly 95-100 million Americans who are unchurched. By unchurched, they mean:
- these folks have not attended a church service for the previous 6 months (prior to the survey) except for weddings or funerals.
- This number represents approximately 35% of the U.S. population. In fact were the unchurched a nation to themselves, they would be the 11th most populous nation on the planet.
Several things complicate our understanding of these numbers. We all know intuitively that 65% of American citizens are not committed church members, so…
- Those who are marginal attendees that go to church occasionally but really aren’t committed to a fellowship
- Barna calls these folks “under-churched” and in 2008 estimated them to be about 15% of the American adult population.
- No doubt, many individuals who attend occasionally, along with those who attend often, are not truly committed to the Lord. We must know there are a sundry of unaccounted for uncommitted believers who…
- Live their lives independent of regular accountable Christian fellowship.
- Who serve as their own theologian in residence.
- Craft a belief system out of their own instincts and sundry loose scriptural principles.
- Probably see themselves as sufficiently good.
Then there are those who are engaged in alternative modes of worship and fellowship such as:
- Cyber churches.
- Regularly listening to TV and radio ministries and don’t belong to a membership.
- Participating in workplace fellowships where the participants consider that time as their primary form of spiritual fellowship and feeding on the word.
On top of all this, in a January 2009 survey, half of all Americans indicated they no longer believe that Christianity is the default faith for Americans. Assuming Christianity is misplaced, familiarity with the God of the Bible and a true biblical understanding of Jesus Christ is no longer common and should not be expected. There is a profound and broad ignorance of the Bible’s witness and the Christian faith in these times.
How do we reach these people?
What we face is not the first time the church was confronted with a potpourri of beliefs and widespread confusion around what was true; this was the case from the very beginning and we should look to the pattern the Lord gave us to reach this world
You know, the situation in the new testament church was not ideal. Consider:
- The Christian community was small and marginal.
- Their authoritative leader was leaving.
- Their numbers had dwindled significantly.
- The band of disciples appeared to be a church in decline from their heyday of large crowds…even note in Matthew 28:17 that “some doubted”.
- They would soon face opposition and persecution and death for the sake of the mission given to them
But, they had two very essential things, both of which we will briefly dissect and bring into our own situation:
- They had power
- They had purpose
v. 18: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to [Jesus]. This authority has been given to Jesus based on what he achieved.
- Philippians 2:8-10
- Paul connects Jesus’ glorification and exaltation by God to his humble obedience to death on the cross…
- This is reminiscent of the praise scene of the Lamb in Revelation 5 where the basis of their praise for him is that the lamb had been slain…
- We should know that Jesus' exaltation, doctrinally, is not based on his deity. Very rarely, if ever, does that Bible try to make a distinction between the Lord's divine and human natures. Instead Jesus Christ is simply God and Man, and his glory is in all that he is. Christ's humanity is a glorious humanity - his obedience is both divine and human (divine in his willingness to submit to the father, and human in his carrying it out). The power of Jesus' obedience was in his complete and utter dependence on the Holy Spirit in all that he did.
- John 17:2
- This authority is intended to be used to save his people! Lots of theology here, but the main thing is the effect of Christ's authority is redemptive for us. That authority is expressed in the giving of eternal life.
A natural question for the disciples
- "Well Jesus, that’s good that you have that authority. Are we going to walk in that authority?"
- Not even all of them believed.
- Even those who have believed, did so unimpressively.
- Jesus’ response is in Acts 1:8
- We have been given power to speak to this world in all of its confusion about what is true. We have the Spirit of God that we might witness truly and compellingly in this community and culture.
- Have confidence!
- If we try to solve this ourselves, we cannot and will not be effective witnesses for Christ. But
- If we are filled with his Spirit
- If we rely on his Spirit
- If we internalize the mind of the Spirit as expressed in his word
- If we live by the Spirit
- We will be effective witnesses for Christ
Therefore their purpose flows out of Christ’s given authority and the greater purpose of God to reach those who are lost for eternal life. Power is provided for this reason.
But let’s be clear of one principle required for achieving this; we must GO! Christ was not trying build an institution, he was trying to reach people; so he went where they were: Jerusalem, Galilee, Samaria. He told his disciples they would go even further; to the ends of the earth. This tells us that the gospel message must spread, it must expand in its reach.
Look at where we are; what percentage of people is likely to see us here? I NEVER happened down Hulsey road until we considered purchasing the property, thus our ministry model has got to be one of reaching out!
- Not just trying to get people here to hear the gospel, which we want to do, but also to take the gospel out there!
- Can we have mobile Sunday Schools that bring the gospel to the community, e.g. to Timberlane? Can we do evangelistic crusades in surrounding communities? Back to Colonial Coach Estates? A crusade on the campus of the Children’s Home? At TNC Rec Center? Joining with other churches in their community?
Let’s be clear of something else as well, our purpose is not to entertain or just have successful events in terms of attendance. Our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ
Disciple making consists of two major elements:
- New life, new way!
- Teach them to obey
- The goal of teaching is to achieve obedient application
- Obedient living requires sound and authoritative teaching
- Note that what we're to do in response to Christ's Lordship is actually required; it is commanded!
- Scope: everything taught
How do reach those un-churched and marginal believers we mentioned earlier?
Paul gives us insight into this in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Paul's preoccupation: win people to Christ / save them. He wants its success. He also wants to share in that success
- Note: the breadth of his goal
- Jews, having the Law
- Gentiles, those not having the Law
- The Strong / the weak
- Look at 22b as the full expression of this principle
- I have become all things (setting myself aside)
- In reaching all men…using all possible means (whatever it takes)
- So he might save some
- Note his adaptability
How does this apply to our efforts? Do we feel this burden so strongly that we are eager to adapt to the needs of those we're trying to reach so they will hear the gospel? Should traditions be preserved because we like them or because they are effective in reaching some?
- Service styles
- Dress standards
- Music (this is why I have said I like the use of all genres in praise and worship, so we can reach as many as possible)
- Other things for sure
Only God's standard of holiness and the need to develop certain necessary traits and characteristics. We're going to need to meet people where they are and order to escort them to where they need to be.
- Bible study on "Industry, Thrift, and Charity" is an example of that - it is also intended to strengthen all of us in an essential and practical area.
- We plan to minister very broadly demographically.
- We plan to pursue our commission along multiple channels, and we plan to do that very intentionally.
- We don't want to look askance at the use of technology. As our website increases we broaden our ministry. Because some people are there, and though an internet church experience is no substitute for the vital relationships of a local church, we want to "use all possible means [so that we] might save some."
- This can give our ministry a national and even a global effect, not for carnal ambition, but for the God-given ambition to proclaim Christ as broadly as possible.
- This requires intentionality and planning along all intended lines.
Note the universals in this passage
- Go to all nations…
- Reject the tendency of some African American churches focusing only on the black community and African nations for missions; we are going to reach more broadly culturally and ethnically
- Teach them to obey everything
We are going to take up this commission and we are going to spend the next several Sundays identifying the foundational principles for how we reach the unreached. Specifically we must show the world a vision of God:
- His character
- His purposes
- His plans
- His Son!
We must show the world authentic Christian community and fellowship:
- This rests on who we are inside!
- Our homes and families and relationships
- What I heard just last night from one of the Outreach Sunday attendees
We must allow the Bible to speak broadly, deeply, relevantly…the word of God should be brought to life fully and clearly!
We must present and proclaim a purpose that people can be part of that is really nothing other than God's purpose for them…
- Follow Christ
- Take up the Kingdom Agenda
More in Perfect in Christ
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