Here is an abbreviated version of the sermon I preached last Sunday. I don’t know if I can call it a sermon in the classic sense. At New City Church, we sermonize less and dialogue more. Some might think I’d be crazy to jettison the “We will take this city!” type of sermon for something a little more
enthusiastic realistic. That’s just how we roll. We like real. We’re not McChurch.
We just came off our first year as a church plant. Though we still haven’t officially launched, we began receiving partial funding from the South Carolina Baptist Convention in January of 2013. For NCC, 2013 was a learning year, an exciting year, and a draining year. Being that we’re not a traditional Baptist church plant (i.e., church that split off from another one or more churches), 2013 was a learn-as-we-go year. We still have little clue what we’re doing, but at least now we have some clue.
Studies show that the second year of a church plant is the hardest. It gets even harder. It’s when the newness wears off and we realize this is work. It’s when we come to the realization that we are not the next Mars Hill, and I’m not John Piper. The city hasn’t embraced us, the lost aren’t being saved in droves, and things cost money.
If we expect to continue on in 2013, here are five things that we cannot allow to kill us as a church plant.
Apathy is defined as “a lack of feeling, interest, or concern; a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation and/or passion. An apathetic individual has an absence of interest in or concern about emotional, social, spiritual, philosophical and/or physical life and the world.” (source: Wikipedia)
Apathy expresses itself in a “let someone else worry about it” attitude. This doesn’t just apply to church activities, programs, etc, but we can also possess apathy towards evangelism, mercy, prayer, unity, and a host of other normal Christian attitudes and disciplines.
The Head of our church, Jesus, says that apathetic churches and Christians makes him gag. Do we want to be a church that causes Jesus to throw up?
Revelation 3:16 – “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.”
Romans 12:11 – “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”
We often think of idolatry as bowing down and worshiping a statue or some other inanimate object. Few people in America do that in 2014 (though I’m sure some still do). Idolatry is literally anything that you revere or love more than God. It’s anything you show preference for, respect to, and get more joy from than Jesus. That pretty much nails us all to some degree! In our culture, we’re taught to idolize celebs, sports figures, politicians, and in Christian culture: preachers and authors – even churches – that we elevate to god-like status.
2014 will be the end of us if we allow anything or anyone other than Jesus to be our primary object of affection. Our eyes and hearts must be captivated by him.
Related passages: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).
Gossip has killed many a church plant. Gossip has killed many an established church. Gossip is often very subtle in Christian circles. It’s the cherished sin of the church. We like to couch it in terms such as “prayer requests,” “venting to a brother/sister,” “sharing my heart,” and “just telling it like it is.” Gossip can be the spreading of an outright lie, but most often gossip is, as someone described it, “Truth spread the wrong way.” Bob may well be having an affair with Betty, but we have no business publicizing it. Jim may have very well wronged Jill, but we have no business whispering it in the ear of John. “Whispering in the ear,” by the way, is more often than not done through social media. Beware.
The Bible warns us about gossip numerous times:
“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips…” (Romans 1:29).
That God equates gossip with murder tells us the seriousness and gravity of it. Next time we’re tempted to listen to, agree with, or spread anything resembling gossip, let’s stop and pray for immediate forgiveness. Gossip is serious. It’s like a barrel of molasses: easy to fall into, hard to get out of. Be careful not just of what we say, but how we say it, and with whom we share it.
Gossip is the murder of someone else’s character and reputation. It will kill this church, if we participate in it, in 2014.
Hard-hardheartedness is the absence of love and compassion for one another. It’s a lack of sacrifice for one another. It’s bitterness towards those within your church, and Christians in general. It’s a lack of tenderness for the brethren. Because our hearts are hardened, we cannot properly love and care for our fellow sojourners. What kind of church would we be if we did not love and care for each other?
A dead one.
Of all the killers on this list, hard-hardheartedness can oftentimes be the easiest to fall into. Someone hurts us, wrongs us, offends us, we become callous toward them. Then the callousness spreads. Ultimately we become callous towards Jesus!
Jesus desires that we have soft hearts for one another: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:1-3, 32).
Isolation is like being in a boat on the edge of the seashore: you’re in shallow water, enjoying the sun, watching the people frolic along the beach, but you begin to drift. Before you realize it, you’re too far offshore to get back! As a church plant in an already religiously-saturated city, it’s key that we do not isolate ourselves. To date, that many churches haven’t partnered with us or welcomed us, but we must continually be reaching out. We cannot become isolated. It will kill us!
Isolation is when you shut yourself off from community and intimacy, both physically and spiritually. It’s right where Satan wants you (1 Peter 5:8). Isolation can happen to individuals as well as churches. Isolated is where the enemy wants us as a church and as Christians. It’s what he wants of other churches and Christians towards us. We cannot allow this. We cannot make assumptions. We cannot withdraw. We can’t give the middle finger to anyone. We have to keep extending the right hand of fellowship. I am thankful for our sponsor church, and the few who’ve helped establish and pray for us, but we want to keep reaching out.
We cannot become isolated. It will kill us!
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14).
How can we survive 2014? Simply avoid the five things on this list. However, it’s not that easy. Experience tells me we’ll slip here or there. We must keep our eyes and hearts on Jesus. We must continue resting and trusting in his grace and sufficiency. We cannot grow weary in doing good. We have to continue seeking God in all things, keeping in our minds and hearts that we’re on this mission for his glory, not our own.
After that… next year!