by Ron Gladden
If you’re a speaker, you know how I felt. Everyone pigged out on high-carb entrees topped off with an immoral mass of desert, then slumped glassy-eyed and foggy-brained into soft chairs. My assignment? To rouse them back to consciousness and to inspire them with the power and priority of the local church.
So I started with a provocative statement.
“Some of the most selfish places on earth are local churches,” I asserted (with a smile on my face, of course).
The audience came to life. When I asked if anyone agreed, a sea of hands shot into space. Consensus was as lopsided as a North Korean election.
To be honest, I expected verbal grenades loaded with reputation-piercing shrapnel – at least from a few – but they all seemed to agree. So I proceeded with my outline.
- One: If you have committed your life to Jesus, you have assurance. Because of what he has done, you are redeemed today and headed for heaven. You definitely haven’t earned it, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And all the people said?
- Two was introduced with a question. If you are already saved, why would we do church for you? Think about it. Sure you need church. All of us do. The Bible says “Don’t forsake assembling together, as some are in the habit of doing.” We need to worship God – together. We need to recalibrate spiritually. To receive instruction, correction, and hope. To deepen friendships and to encourage one another.
But the primary purpose of the church is to unselfishly serve the disadvantaged and to make the gospel attractive to people who have never received Christ. The world is a tough place. People are all-too-often misunderstood, criticized, and harmed; the church must stand, in contrast to pretty much every other location on earth, as the place where people are protected, valued, encouraged, and unconditionally loved.
The AMENs were heartening. Heads nodded like a litter of puppies watching a yo-yo, so I glanced at my watch and poured it on…
Here is the deal: The most unselfish place on earth should be the local church. Let me make sure you heard me: The most unselfish place on earth should absolutely be the local church. Those who have made the decision to follow Jesus and have experienced God’s grace are compelled to make a second decision, namely, to live unselfishly as Jesus did, to determine that since we have been redeemed, we will partner with God in caring deeply about the people He loves.
When one person is kind and generous, that’s good. Hearts are warmed and people are blessed. But when a whole group of people embrace the DNA of unselfish generosity, the impact is exponential. That is God’s dream. That is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t stand a chance.” The inhabitants of hell don’t worry about selfish churches. They don’t lose sleep over churches that argue over trivia or look down their noses at people with tattoos and addictions and bad reputations. Imps of darkness smile broadly when Christians insist the church use music they prefer with no sensitivity toward those who don’t understand the code words and demand sermons that “feed” them first and foremost.
But when the overwhelming majority of people in a local church stands tall and says, “We get it; we will do our best to live unselfishly; we will take seriously the call to live like Jesus; we will make his priority ours,” God turns the church into a movement that prevails against darkness and eventually brings hope to an entire city.
Philosopher James Allen writes, “Selfishness must be discovered and understood before it can be removed. It is powerless to remove itself, neither will it pass away of itself. Darkness ceases only when light is introduced. So ignorance can only be dispersed by knowledge, selfishness by love.”
At Epikos Church, where I serve part time as directional leader, we are pathological about being unselfish. I’m not sure pathological is the finest word choice (one definition from dictionary.com is “grossly atypical of normal expected input”), but here is what we do to make sure we are and remain unselfish. We repeat this phrase frequently: It’s all about the next person. It’s all about the next family.
Honestly, it isn’t. We care profoundly for the people who have already committed to Christ. We budget to meet their needs; we organize so they can serve; we have an entire support system in place to make sure no one stands alone or falls through the cracks. But like a scratched old-time record, we keep repeating that phrase so that we never, ever lose our white-hot focus on living unselfishly: It’s all about the next person. Every welcome, song, and sermon is planned with the next person in mind. Even the offering call and video clip are evaluated through the lens of the next person who walks through the door wondering if this church might be different.
God is blessing. We started with six people in a living room, we’ve been worshipping weekly for 3.5 years, and over 200 people attend. We ran the numbers at a recent gathering and found that eighty-four percent of those who attend have never been in an Adventist church. Eighty-four percent! Conversion growth is happening almost constantly because we decided when a half-dozen of us were sitting in the living room visioning the church, which Epikos would always be about the next person who needs friends, hope, a place to make a difference, and Jesus.
Back to the room with soft chairs and stomachs packed with Special K loaf and lemon meringue pie. I had downloaded enough information for one afternoon so I ended with Three. It was an appeal. And I’ll make it to you.
How about it? What if you linked up with a bunch of kingdom maniacs and created an unselfish church? What would that take? Who could you ask to join you? When would you start the discussion? And would it be worth it?