They say the church is no longer needed today. That it has long served its purpose.
They say the church is just an ancient thing. That its teachings and beliefs are no longer relevant.
They say the church’s mission is no longer worth it. That no one is paying attention anymore, so the church would be better off just not trying.
Do you really believe any of that?
These are the comments often leveled by those who believe faith in God and the church are a dying proposition in a world that is allegedly “beyond faith.” Comments that lead many of us to, perhaps, wonder why we bother with the church. Why bother to be the church if supposedly no one is listening?
I believe we find ourselves, at least in our lifetime, in a difficult time to be the church. Numbers are down. Churches are closing. People are finding other avenues for connection. People, wrongly I might add, believe they can have faith in Jesus apart from the church. This might scare many of us, but this time truly excites me. I believe there is no better time to be the church than now. That is because we can finally be on offense instead of playing defense as a church.
For too long the church has played something like a prevent defense in football. What a prevent defense does is it covers the field to keep the opposing team from scoring. It is a strategy used when one team has a big lead and are simply trying to just get to the end of the game. That is sort of what we’ve been doing for too long. It may work in football, but it does not work in our relationship with God. For too long, we’ve been trying to simply get to the end of the game of life without worrying too much about the lives that need hope or the message of Christ that needs to be shared. In doing so, we’ve let the game – the mission – pass us by. If we continue to run on defense, we run the risk of losing the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
The church does not need a defensive-minded strategy of trying to just survive. We need an offensive game plan that seeks to be a witness of Jesus Christ by our words, our actions, and our deeds. The church needs to be on offense, because Jesus has called us to be about a work that is bigger than our selves. We need to be on offense, because our community needs the church to care about them. Our friends and neighbors need the message of Jesus’ saving grace and the unconditional love of a body of believers who walk with each other.
That is where you come in. If the church is going to change strategies and starting playing offense, then it needs people who are open about their faith, who share Jesus’ love with others, and who try to make a difference in the lives of others. God wants us, at Claylick, to be the kind of church that plays offense and not defense. God needs us to be the church. To that same end, Claylick needs you to be the church.
Our passage, this morning, from Ephesians 4:1-16 lets us in on this very basic aspect of church. Being a part of the church is not a spectator event where we come and receive religious commodities for the week. As we see throughout Scripture, our faith in God calls us to participate in the very truth that God is doing something our communities through the church to change hearts, to change minds, and to recreate our communities, and the whole world, in his image. God has called the church to participate in this work. Our Lord uses us do this work.
To see this, we need to understand what the church is really about. The church is not a building. It is not a location on a map. It is not a community organization. It is not an institution. It is not a collection of meetings or programming. It is not about being entertained or comfortable. The church is a living, breathing body that serves as the ongoing witness of Jesus Christ. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave us the church to continue the mission of changing hearts and lives. We continue in Jesus’ efforts as we participate in the work God is doing here. God works through the church, and through each of us, to share the hope of Christ in our communities.
Our faith in Christ, then, does not call us to be spectators, but instead calls us to participate in the mission of Jesus Christ through the life we lead. Paul says we are to live lives worthy of the calling we have received. We are to live lives worthy of our faith. Our faith in Jesus is our first calling. It is our primary identification marker that defines who we are and how we seek to live in the world. Often, though, the lives we want to live are lives that look much like the lives that the world offers. We try to fit in by being like the world in the ways we live, the way we act, the way we talk, and the way we think. We want to be relevant by being like the world, but in doing so we fail to be the church God calls us to be.
The church is not supposed to be relevant. We are to be irrelevantly relevant. What do I mean by this? The church, and its people, are not to be defined by the world, but to be defined by Christ in how we interact with the world. We are to be people who do not seek to be defined by the standards of our time, but to people who are humble, gentle, patient, and lovingly accept each other’s faults in the name of Jesus Christ. We are called to live by Jesus’ words and life, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in all that we do. That is irrelevant to a world that wants to have its cake and eat it too. But, it is relevant in that it is the message that world – and our community – needs. It needs the community of faith, the church, to be a witness of Jesus’ love, humility, grace, and peace in a world that is often not defined by those aspects of life.
God needs you, and Claylick needs you, to be people who live by Christ and who offer love, humility, gentleness, and peace in the places where we have influence and connection. All of us have the the ability to do this, even if we believe we are the least likely person who could make a difference. Christ has breathed a new life of faith into each of us. He has given us special gifts and talents that flow out of our faith in God. This is how we live out our faith. Every one of us have a calling to serve God and to share the love of Jesus Christ with others through the gifts, talents, and abilities that we have. Each of us are called to participate in making the truth of Christ and the Lord’s love a reality in the hearts of others, by allowing Jesus to use us to make a difference in the lives of others.
Faith and being in the church is not something we simply experience, but something we participate in and are committed to. There is no sideline sitting in the church. All of us have a role to play to build up the church and to allow others to experience the grace of God in their own lives. Throughout his writings, Paul describes some of the ways we are called to participate in the life of the church. The list Paul gives us here and in 1 Corinthians 12 is not an exclusive list of roles the church needs. They are just some of them. Through the gifts, passions, and abilities that we each have, Paul says, we are to use these passions to share Jesus with others.
One of the things I truly believe is that within all of us is the ability to speak truth with our actions and words and to share love with all people. We are a loving people, a generous people, and people who have a genuine concern for others. It is the very nature and gifts that God has blessed us with to be the church and to share the love of Christ in Salvisa, Lawrenceburg, Anderson County, and Mercer County. God needs you and we need you to love our community and to share the name of Jesus Christ by your words, actions, and deeds.
Admittedly, this can a daunting task and one where we do not always know where to begin. That is especially the case, in today’s times, where we are dealing with situations that are more unfamiliar to us than familiar. Where do we begin to use what God has blessed us with to make a difference in the world and in our area? I understand that. I really do.
Paul offers some guidance for us in this. He says the gifts we have are to equip each other to do the work God has called us to do. We are called to work with one another, to work together, to learn from each other and to live into the work God has called us to do here. Together, unified by our common love of Christ and our desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ in our community, we can be the church God has called us to be.
But it will take all of us to participate in the vision and mission that is before us here and within our community. For Claylick to be about the vision God has set before us – a vision we will announce next Sunday – it will take all of us working together as one. God needs you to use your passions, your desires, and your deepest hopes to join together as one to build this church to be the church and mission it can be. We need you to be about the work God has set before us.
The mission to love our community and to make disciples of Jesus Christ needs all of us working as one and not as various groups with their own passions and interests. We cannot be a church of five or six different groups with five or six different ideas of what this church, or any church, should look like. We must be one group, one body, of unique people with unique passions and gifts who work together as one to bless our community and to share the love of Jesus.
God needs you and we need you. We need your presence to be here to announce to our community that what happens in worship matters, because we engage the presence of the Living Christ in this time and are encourage by the love of a community that surrounds us. We need your talents to enable us to create new opportunities to love and serve our community in ways that share Jesus with others. We need your witness by your words and actions to let people who need to know that God loves them that God loves them unconditionally and so do we. We need your prayers, because your prayers are the engine of support and strength behind the vision God has placed upon us.
The work of the church is not for a few. It is not just for those who have the time. It is for all of us. If we want to see Claylick reach the next generation, then we must all commit ourselves to being one body, connected by our love of Christ, to use our gifts and talents to make a difference in Anderson and Mercer counties.
God needs you and Claylick needs you. The time for playing defense at Claylick United Methodist is over. It’s time to play offense. It’s time to be about the work of loving our community and sharing our many gifts so that all may know how wide, how long, how deep, and how high is the Father’s love for us.
Let us be about that great and important work.