By Request: “A Good Church”

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I recently spoke at the 165th anniversary celebration for Beckwith Baptist, a church in the Ottawa area.  I got a lot of comments and requests for the text, so I thought I’d post it here this week.  It’s based on Acts 2:42-47.

A Good Church

If you ask the question, “What is a church?” a lot of people will give you some pretty sterile answers that usually involve describing the building.

 

What is a church?”  Well, a church is a big building with a cross on it, full of pews and a stage for someone to stand on and talk for a while.  Some have stained glass, or statues, or even beautiful organs.  A really good church will have beautiful architecture, a lovely garden, beautiful woodwork and stonework, and have a powerful effect on you when you see it.  Christians do this too sometimes when they walk into a large, impressive church building.  They think “Wow, this must be a really good church!”

Hopefully you know that a church is not made up of brick and mortar, wood and nails, but a good Church, the kind of church the Bible describes, that we all want to be a part of, the one that Jesus died for, is made up of people.  “Church” in the bible is the Greek word EKKLESIA and it basically means “a group of people who have left their homes to come to a public place”.  It has come to mean “gathering of believers in Jesus”, but originally it was just a “gathering”.

When we say “church” here, we’re talking about the “Christian Church” or what we like to call  “The Body of Christ” which we get from verses like Romans 12:5.  A gathering of people who come for the purpose of being Christians, proclaiming Christ, and doing Christian things.

When a church is as established as Beckwith Baptist we sometimes forget that the church isn’t the building.  We begin to associate Beckwith Baptist with the walls that surround us, the place that sits on the corner of 7th line and Tennyson Road.  People ask us where we go to church? We say Beckwith Baptist.  I wish we would learn to say, “Where does your church gather?” or “Where do you go to be a part of the church?  It is so much more biblically accurate to say, “I am a part of a church, and our building is at 277 Tennyson Rd.”

I hope, no matter where you have come from today, whether this is where you meet, or somewhere else, that you are part of a strong group of believers that love Jesus and love you.  That is my prayer.

When this church was first planted, that was the dream.  They wanted to gather together people who would love Jesus, love one another, and spread that love to the community around them.  No matter what church you are a part of, that’s the goal.  And people need that so badly.  All people need to be a part of a good church.

Let’s try something.  It might be a little difficult, but for a moment, clear from your mind all of your preconceptions about church.  Imagine that you’ve never been part of a church.  You’ve never set your foot in the doors of any church building in the world, and you’ve never heard anything about them.  You don’t know what they look like, what goes on in there, or anything about what it means to be a Christian.  Somehow you’ve grown up in a place and a family where the word “church” never came up, and you weren’t around any believers.  So you have no preconceived notions of what a “Christian Church” is.

And then, one day,  as a plane flies overhead it hits some turbulence and a bible falls out of the luggage area and lands right in front of you.  All the pages start to blow away all over the place, but what lands in front of you is the page that contains Acts chapter 2.  Fortunately it’s in your native language and you start reading.

You’ve just read Peter’s first sermon preached at Pentecost and have been introduced to the person of Jesus Christ.  He is the Crucified Lord, the Chosen Messiah come to make possible the forgiveness of sins.  You’ve read that after that sermon was preached a multitude of people turned their lives over to Jesus, repented of their sins, were baptized in His name, and began to meet together regularly.

You continue on to read about the change that this message brings to the life of these people.  You know that these same people were the ones who crucified Jesus, who rejected Him, and where His enemies.  They were once people who were destined to be destroyed, but were now people who were called “saved”… saved by Jesus!  And this gospel message so changed their hearts that they began to meet together all the time.  They wanted to talk about, celebrate, and learn more about who Jesus is, and the amazing things that Jesus had done for them.  And so you begin running around gathering as many pages as you can, and you sort them together until you have most of the New Testament.  You read it, and believe it, and give your life to Jesus.  You are now one of the “saved!”

 

And then around the corner, in that same moment, your boss comes to you and says that you are going to be immediately transferred to another branch office.  You’re still reeling from what you’ve been reading and he says, “I’m sending you to Ottawa,Canada’s capital city.  Actually, you’ll be just outside of it in Carleton Place. You’re going to be working there for a while so we’ve bought you a house on the South-West Side, in a neighbourhood called Beckwith.  You leave tomorrow.”You pack your things, move them to your new home, and on your first day you notice a brick building on the corner of the road you now live on.  At first you think it might be a store, or a school, but as you round the corner you see a sign, and the sign says “Beckwith Baptist Church”.  You have no idea what a Baptist is, but you’re heart begins to race as you pull your makeshift bible out of your pocket and it dawns on you that this building houses a group of Christians.  They’ve bought a building and they meet together!

The excitement is almost palpable.  You run up to the door, trying to get in, but the door is locked.  Temporarily saddened, you turn to see that the gathering is on Sunday morning at 10:30am.  You can’t wait!  The week is a blur!  All you can think about is being there so you can see all that you’ve been reading about in the scriptures come to life.  This group of people who know Jesus, love Jesus, teach about Jesus, pray to Jesus, hear from Jesus, sing about Jesus, and who have the very Holy Spirit of God living within them.  This group of people who doesn’t conduct itself the way the world does, but call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ.

And as you stand out on the lawn you thank God for this place, and pull out your favourite page.  The first one that landed at your feet.   And you read Acts 2:42-47,

“[42] And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43] And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. [44] And all who believed were together and had all things in common. [45] And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

You can’t wait to meet this group, this church, this body of believers and be one of those who have been added to their number.

This was the vision of those who planted this church.  This is what they desired it to become.  I would also imagine that this is the deepest desire of the heart of every person who comes through these doors.  They want to be a part of a group like that – a good church.  It’s what we look for our whole lives.  Amen?

Acts 2 is one of the primary verses in scripture that drives me to do what I do and say what I say.  I love these verses.  Not because it is a prescription of “what to do”, but because it is a description of what happenswhen we allow God to take over our lives and let the Holy Spirit reign in our hearts.

Sometimes people read these verses as a prescription.  If we do these things, then we’ll be a church.  If we check all these boxes: “Apostles teaching”, “Break bread”, “Pray”, “Generously Share”, “Meet together”… check… then God will add to our number and we’ll be a group of good Christians and a good church.  But this verse isn’t prescriptive, it’s descriptive.

It’s not telling us what to do… it’s showing us what happens when God gets a hold of a group of people.  This is the clearest picture the bible gives us of what God desires from a Christian church.  What’s on His heart, on His mind, and what it look like when He’s fully in charge.

Some churches and church leaders believe that if they institute enough rules and ministries they can achieve this.   They say “if we do these things we will be a good church”.  People have tried that for literally centuries.

  • “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t play cards or go to movies, or play loud music, and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Have a really nice building, with shiny floors and a big cross, and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Get involved in politics and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Be multi-ethnic and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Have really good children’s programs and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Get a dynamic preacher, a popular music leader and some nice visuals and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Support global missions and send out lots of missionaries and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Support local missions and volunteer at lots of places in town and you’ll be a good church.”
  • “Be open to everyone, get rid of any negative words like ‘sin’ or ‘evil’ or ‘discipline’ and remove the biblical qualifications for leadership… let anyone preach, teach, or lead and you’ll be a good, popular church”

Books and books and books have been written with tricks on how to increase attendance, giving, outreach, evangelism, commitment, prayer… and everything else.  And many people put them into practice and they get that area going pretty good.  More people come, more people read their bible, more people serve… but being God’s church doesn’t mean we get one or two areas of ministry right, it means we get our hearts right with God, open our ears to His voice, and walk wherever He wants to lead us.

If you’ve been around the North American church for a while then you’ve heard of Bill Hybels and Willow Creek church.  It has been the trendsetter for many churches over the past 30 years.  They basically invented the “seeker-sensitive”, “consumer-drive” movement and have generated a huge amount of the ministries, content, songs and directions for churches all over the world.  Over 22,000 people will be attending Willow Creek Church today.  Most pastors and churches would give their left arm to have even half of that attendance.

Well, a couple years ago they came out with a book called “Reveal” where they made a confession that rocked the Christian world.  I want to read you part of an article where Bill Hybels talks about what they learned:

“Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life.  Hybels confesses:

‘We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.’

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage. (Source)

This HUGE church is learning this lesson, and so are many others:  God doesn’t need help to be living, active, creative, dynamic, powerful and relevant in our lives.  It’s not about how amazing the building and facilities are.  It’s about incarnating the gospel, and growing closer to God through a relationship with Jesus.  That will always be true!  The Gospel is not bound to any time, people or culture.  The choices God has given us for how we organize how we do church is multifaceted!  Therefore, as time moves on, people and culture changes, and so does the way we communicate our message, but the gospel, the message of Jesus Christ, and the fundamentals of the faith will absolutely stay the same.

Now, even though the foundations of our faith will remain rock solid, no church can simply keep doing what it’s been doing and hope it works forever.  The people who planted Beckwith Baptist in the very beginning knew that.  They were starting something new!  They wanted a place that would meet their community’s needs and would spoke in a way that would honour God and where His message could be understood.  Something different than was already present.

This is true now more than ever because things are changing so quickly.  We need to know where the bedrock of our faith lies, and be able to meet people’s most basic spiritual needs, but the way we do it is going to constantly change.

Culture today is totally different than it was when I was a teenager – and that was only about 15 years ago!  I used to consider myself pretty informed about what’s going on around me, but now I just can’t keep up!  I’ve been surpassed in technology, music styles, clothing, magazines, and even language.  I find myself having to look up a lot of slang terms on Google just so I can understand what people are saying.  And in similar fashion, the ministries we have, the music we play, and way we communicate needs to change as well.

The Church may look different, sound different, and be conducted differently from place to place, and from generation to generation, but the fundamental, bedrock motivation for the ministry – the gospel of Jesus Christ, the core message of a “good church” — will NEVER CHANGE.  Beckwith has proven that fact over and over in its history.  And this church, this group of people, can and will experience the same thing the Acts 2 church experienced, if we allow God the freedom to do as He pleases with us.

Beckwith Baptist, even today, is working through some deep issues.  We are praying and studying and seeking God, ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be the church of Jesus Christin our own cultural context, in this place, at this time?  How can we effectively share the love of Jesus with, and minister to, as many people as possible by providing for their most basic spiritual needs?  What will that look like as we look into the future of this church?”  We are too small to provide every need of every type of person, but we cancreate ministries that will supply what all people desire most, and what God desires most for them.

We all want to be a part of a good church.  A church that inspires us to worship God throughout our week, in every part of our life.  A church that strongly tied together in the bonds of fellowship, caring for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging and holding each other accountable.  A disciple making church where we are all challenged to grow closer to God through our relationship with Jesus Christ, and live out that faith in practical ways.  And part of a church that is reaching out into our local community and beyond, changing lives by the power of God and seeing more and more people saved by His grace.

That’s the journey that Beckwith has been on for a while now, and one that they continue to pursue.  The next year is going to be amazing, and I look forward to seeing everyone here come together and work on this as a family.  My hope is that everyone can get excited to see what God has done, and will be doing as each of us work together towards clarifying the direction, improving the ministries, strengthening ourselves spiritually, and more effectively reaching out to our community.

I’m excited about this process, and about what God can continue to do with this church.  We’ve seen Him work already in many ways over the years, and many have been blessed by the ministries and people here.  The people of this church have gone through a lot together, and I believe, are on the cusp of something very exciting and life-changing.

I ask for your prayers.  Pray for God’s blessing on this family of believers.  On those who have chosen to leave over the past while, and the new people who have come.

Pray for the leadership who is taking on this challenge of renewing and listening for God’s heart for Beckwith Baptist.  Pray that God sends workers to be with them so that they won’t be overburdened.  Pray for the community around us, that God might send the healing rains to soften the soil of their souls, so that when we cast out His word it would find fertile ground.

And above all pray for God’s blessing and protection.  That He would bless us with open ears, wise actions, a fearlessness to do what is right, the courage to act, and the conviction to flee from sin.  Pray that each of us would have a soft heart for the needs of others, and a long-suffering patience for those who are going to make this difficult.  Pray that the attacks of Satan would be repelled by the faith of the people here, and that God would grow us in ways that we can’t even conceive of right now.