In the book, unChristian, I discovered that Christianity has an image problem. We just heard random people on the street talk about their impressions of the church. They’re talking about us. We are boring, hypocritical, deceptive, interested more in conversion than the person themselves, too political, anti-choice and anti-women, anti-homosexual… like we’re known more for what we are against than what we stand for. The question of the day is, “What would anyone in our society want to be connected to the church, much less become fully engaged?” I hope I am able to come up with an answer over the next 15 minutes.
Last week the message was on the importance of being fully engaged with God, so this week I’m going to talk about the local church being the key to our engagement with God!
The key verse: 2 Chronicles 16:9 – The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
There is power in a fully committed life, but what does it actually look like?
- Careful student of Scripture
- Zealous and active in their stand for God
- Appetite for worship and prayer
- Consistent in worship attendance
- Practices Scripture memorization
- Not afraid to pray in public
- Active in the local church
- Fasts and tithes regularly
- Has desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
- Has firm grasp of basic foundational theological truth
For a long time I thought this is what would honor God and help me become more like Jesus, to become fully engaged with God and my church. But look again; these 10 behavior traits don’t look much like the disciples. I dare say they are not of Jesus’ disciples at all, but of his chief opponents, the Pharisees. Perhaps you’ll take a look at this post on What Does a Disciple Look Like?
I’m convinced that real-life discipleship (becoming more like Jesus in character and attitude) is what happens between the gathering times at church. What are people like at home, at school, in the lunchroom, in the office, on dates, at parties, in the locker room, in the boardroom, on the computer, or at the after-school job? What are they like when no one is looking? Do they demonstrate unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, concern for others, kindness, servanthood?
I also believe that real-life discipleship is also marked more by footprints than by monuments. For me, discipleship focuses on long-term commitments rather than a one-time decision to “accept Christ” or to become a Christian. It involves forward motion, a journey, a marathon. People may look at imperfection and failures of so-called Christians, but remember that the word disciple means learner, not expert.
At the beginning I want to remind you that we need to develop what I call firsthand faith. This is not faith inherited from parents, or Sunday school teachers or the pastor, but we take ownership of our own faith. Once faith becomes firsthand, it transforms into a conviction that will not be swayed by competing worldviews or other religions. Is there little wonder why teenagers often leave the faith when they leave home, or graduate God after they graduate high school?
Perhaps the church must stop trying to cram our bags with only the right beliefs and make us carry it because they said so. Rather, we should use questions and strategies that help people unpack the baggage they’ve been carrying. Re-examine the faith they have and discover why it’s in there.
So, how do you know that you are living out your own faith? I found a Gallup poll from October 2004 which described church members and non-members and their spiritual commitments, do they “strongly agree” to these nine factors.
- I spend time in worship or prayer every day.
- My faith is involved in every aspect of my life.
- Because of my faith, I have forgiven people who have hurt me deeply.
- Because of my faith, I have meaning and purpose in my life.
- My faith has called me to develop my given strengths.
- I will take unpopular stands to defend my faith.
- My faith gives me an inner peace.
- I speak words of kindness to those in need of encouragement.
- I am a person who is spiritually committed.
On the chart, notice that 39% spend time in worship or prayer on a daily basis, and 62% treat others with kindness or encouragement. Gallup also discovered that 90% of Americans believe in God or a higher power, yet as we see here, so few of them spend much time communicating with this God or higher power.
Overall, the results are that 22% of church members and only 3% of non-members are described as fully committed. The bottom line is that there is a disconnect between faith and practice in America.
So, what does it take to become fully engaged, sold out follower of Jesus in my church? I hope that this list will be something you use to evaluate yourself… “do I have this action, am I doing it, am I not doing it?
1. I take responsibility daily for my spiritual growth.
Key phrases: Take Responsibility, let’s say it together. Once more.
Think about a brand new baby, we have to do everything: feed, change, clean. Babies need someone to help them grow, but there comes a point when they have to be responsible for their own growth. Bethany’s hungry, when she was little I had to do everything, but now she can walk to the refrigerator and get something all by herself.
Can you imagine your child when he or she was in a high chair? It’s fine when they’re two, but now that they are 35 it’s a little weird. A lot of Christians are like this… feed me, feed me! It’s like they still want to be in the high chair, but it has turned into an “I” chair, because they really think it’s all about me, and what I can get. So, that’s the first step of becoming fully engaged with my church.
James 4:8 – Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
How do you start? Draw close to God, instead of living this divided life. Listen, you are as close to God right now as you want to be. God is not playing hide and seek.
2. I practice contentment in all areas of my life.
I am basically asking if you are satisfied with your life. Surveys show us that Americans are a pretty dissatisfied group. We are always discontent; climbing the corporate ladder, finding the right spouse, driving the better car, buying the next iPhone or gadget.
So, on a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with your marriage, relationships, job, career, where you live? Notice that discontentment comes when we can’t enjoy the NOW because we are too stuck in the past or too focused on the future. I have struggled with this, coming from Chatham and the small town life to the busyness of Virginia Beach. I could walk to the church, to Hargrave Military Academy where I taught, to my favorite Mexican restaurant right on main street.
Others look in the other direction, into the future, so they are not content in the present. They are not fully engaged in the church because they know they are stationed here for a short time and know they will move, so why get more involved? Besides, it hurts when we make friends only to leave in a short time, so why risk the pain?
Philippians 4:12 – I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.
Do not let the past or the future rob you of the joy and contentment your have today!
3. I serve others and not just attend church.
Here is where it gets practical; from taking responsibility and contentment to something very practical. Service is a very real path to engagement in my church. Serving others is also the Jesus path to greatness.
John 12:26 – Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.
So, how are you serving Jesus? You start by volunteering to meet needs… preschool help, Operation Inasmuch, setting up for classes, teaching a class, making phone calls, folding letters, chaperoning a youth event.
There are plenty of people in this congregation that always step up to the plate when there is a need, and others that always seem to let others step up. They say people in our society desire anonymity when it comes to church, but that is not what church is about, it is about community, faith, and love.
What must we do if we desire greatness? Here is what Jesus said…
Matthew 23:11 – The greatest among you must be a servant.
4. I invite people to come to my church.
Inviting people does not always mean they will come. But are you generally excited about what God is doing here? Do you see lives changed? Needs met? Purpose realized? Coming to understand a spiritual truth when you finally get it, it just clicks?
Do we really believe that people are lost without hope if they reject the good news of Christ? Sometimes we just get comfortable with our small group and are not interested in growing. We always say that we want to grow, but what steps do we take to actually grow, what sacrifices do we make to help growth to happen?
Do you pray for lost people you know? Do you stretch yourself and get out of your comfort zone? When was the last time you took a step a faith and actually “got out of the boat” because Jesus was out of the boat walking on the water?
Colossians 4:2-6 – Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should. Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
How are you doing with the checklist? Responsibility, Contentment, Service, Inviting people? The last item is a very practical step.
5. I bring my tithe to God each week.
The Bible tells us that what you do with your money is the one initial and greatest signs of your engagement with God! Let me illustrate.
When Stephen was young, we would occasionally eat out at fast food places. It happened that I finished my fries, none left, and saw Stephen had quite a few on his tray, so I reached over and took a few. To my surprise he objected, “Those are mine.”
- Did he not know that I’m the one who bought him the fries in the first place? Perhaps next time I would not buy any fries at all, then where would he be?
- Does he know realize that I can go up to the counter and buy more fries than he could possibly eat?
- Does he underestimate my strength? I could just take all of his fries away from him. So, what’s up with, “Those are mine?”
In the church, it’s like God saying to us, “If you want me to bless your life, just share your fries.” And we just cross our arms and say – no. God just wants 10% and for us to realize that we wouldn’t have anything if it were not for Him.
Malachi 3:10 – Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!
- Bring – Bring (as Paul says, on the first day of the week – 1 Corinthians 16:2) what you have purposed in your heart, don’t rob God of what He requires.
- All the tithe – Ten percent, not a potion of what is left over at the end of the month.
- Into the storehouse – This represents the church, so don’t split it up between several worthy causes. Support other causes with your offerings, not your tithe.
- Put Me to the test – See what happens as we honor God in this area; a blessing so great we won’t know what to do with it.
Ultimately, this is not a money issues, it is a heart issue. Jesus said that where your treasure is, there will be your heart also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
So, these are the fruits of an engaged life. Taking responsibility, experiencing contentment, serving God and others through the church, inviting people into the fellowship, and bringing the tithe to God each week. How are you in all these areas? What is the fruit of your life? Do you have all five? Which one can you work on this week?
Matthew 7:16-17 – You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.
I trust you will step out in faith today and bear the fruit that God desires and deserves.