This is a subject that I would like to tackle tonight at our church. At Good News, we are an active church, not sitting behind the four walls waiting for the people to come to us. We take the church to the people. There are many different ways that we do this. Some use English (like I do) while others use sports. There is also ministry via computers. There are many opportunities for our members to get involved. What happens when the members get so busy with the ministry that they start missing church services? When confronted, the pat answer is, “Jesus teaches us to go and make disciples and that is what I am doing”. Is this a good answer? On first appearance, yes, it seems like a good one. I would like to take a quick tour through a couple of passages, from the first church, to see if this is a good answer or if there should be a balance between outreach and serving in the local church. Before getting started, I would like to share a few quotes that people use when excusing themselves from coming to church or serving in the local church.
“I love Jesus, I just cannot stand the church.”
That is like saying, “Jesus, I love you but I cannot stand your wife.” How would you feel if someone claimed to be your friend and told you something like that? Another one is . . .
“I have a relationship with God and it is enough. I do not need the church”
Again, God, I love you but I cannot stand Your people. Is something like that possible? How would you feel if someone said, “I like you but cannot stand your children.”? Those are not good excuses.
For those who serve outside the church, say in a para-church organization and are not serving in the local church, I found the following quote . . .
“Christian labors, disconnected from the church, are like sowing and reaping without having any barn in which to store the fruits of the harvest; they are useful but incomplete.” CHS
I. The Great Commission
In the Gospel of Matthew, once Jesus finished His ministry here on earth, after He made disciples, went to the cross, died, and was resurrected, He gives His final command to His disciples. Notice that the word “church” is never mentioned. We will address this in Acts 2 when we look at how this command was carried out.
Then Jesus came near and said to them, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28)
The disciples spent 3 years learning how to be disciples and make disciples. The last thing that Jesus tells them is to go out and make more disciples by teaching people the Word of God. Some may say that we are to make disciples and we do not need churches to do that. If we stopped reading the Bible here, we might believe this. But, the good part about the Bible is that It interprets Itself so that we do not have to “interpret things the way that we want”. The application of this command is seen in Acts. So, on one hand, yes, we are to minister outside of the four walls of the church building but what do we do with the people who accept the Gospel? Let’s see what the apostles did.
II. The birth of the church
Take a moment to read Acts 2. There are a few things that I would like to point out about the birth of the church.
- The story begins with the disciples together, praying and waiting for God to move (possibly getting prepared for that movement).
- Once God moves, they begin to preach the Gospel to the people around them.
- Once people repent, immediately they join the body of disciples and begin to study God’s Word, praying, and engaging in ministry, in the church and outside the church.
- When new people repent, they join the body of believers/disciples.
This is the church. The people are together preparing to go out. The people go out and bring new people in to be trained, serve, and also go out. This process is repeated all throughout the book of Acts and is the model that we are to follow today.
III. Paul’s explanation of Jesus’ Commission and the church
And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,
The apostles are like today’s missionaries who go out to uncharted territory to preach the Gospel and plant churches. They work hand in hand with prophets, pastors, and teachers. The apostles are reaching new people with the Gospel, being helped by the evangelists. The evangelists are also closely tied to the local church because they keep the church outward focused while the prophets, pastors, and teachers train those who come in so that they can serve in the local church and also work with the apostles and evangelists, serving the people around them (outside the church). This is how the body of Christ grows. People come in, are trained, and then go back out to reach new people.
IV. Fellowship within the church is God’s plan
Hebrews 10 helps explain this idea. In this chapter, we find the quote that most people use when defending church attendance.
not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25)
I would like to point out the context of this passage. The first 18 verses deal with the fact that the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ, has been offered and we now have open access to a personal relationship with God. In order to maintain that relationship, we need to be encouraged by each other and God’s plan is for us to fellowship with each other in church. The second half of this chapter deals with sinning deliberately. I believe that the two are connected. When you are not in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ then you will revert back to your old patterns (sins). If you are not being trained and equipped at church, going through the process of discipleship then you will fall back into sin and will not want to serve the people around you or share the good news of the Gospel with them.
In conclusion, we cannot let ministry keep us from being in fellowship within the local church. If we do this then we go against God’s will. We will end up falling into sin and living a miserable lifestyle. I pray that you are in fellowship and if you are not then you need to be. I pray that you are working outside the walls of the church but at the same time, bringing your disciples to the local church so that they can be trained, equipped, and then sent out with you to impact the world for the kingdom of God.