The Followers Mandate
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20 Read the whole chapter.
I wanted to start with a story of something that happened to me shortly after I came to Huntertown, I invited one of my predecessors to come and preach, and invited Herb Bewalda, that some of you may know and remember Herb, and Herb came and he started to preach, and he started off his sermon by telling a story about when he first came the church, and he invited one of his predecessors to come back and preach, and that guy was Bob Jackson, and he served, I think in the 1960s there at Huntertown and Bob got up and he started his sermon like this, he said, Now I know why Pastor Herb invited me to preach today, so that I could stand up here in front of you and you would immediately start to think, Wow, he's not nearly as tall as I remember.
Followed closely by, Wow. He's not nearly as good looking as I remember, and then some time during the sermon, you would think, Wow. He's not nearly as good a preacher as I remember.Now, I don't have any illusion that Pastor Tom had any ulterior motives when he asked me here, I don't need to be taken down a notch in your memory, so those of you were here back then, but the end result might still be the same, you'll still be thinking those three things. That's okay. Today I'm preaching, it's kind of turned into a two-part thing, I'm here with you for two Sundays. This is my last Sunday. I think Pastor Tom will be back two weeks from today. He's finishing his renewal leave, and thank you folks for supporting him and encouraging him not to do that, he'll be back... Refreshed and ready to go in two weeks. This is kind of a two-parter. Last Sunday, I preached on John 5:39. That's a passage where Jesus is dealing with good, respectable religious people, and He said to them, You have your head stuck in the Scriptures, thinking that's where you'll find life. I talk about all the different places we could get our heads stuck, and Jesus said to these folks, you're missing the forest for the trees, those scriptures are all about me, and I guess that's...
The believer's mandate is to keep Jesus at the center. Today, it's about the followers mandate as a collective church, what is at the center of our mandate and our mission. Now, being United Methodists, we are given a mission statement that is actually quite comprehensive... Mission statement of any United Methodist church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. To make disciples of Jesus Christ. And my two sermons are basically lifting out that first phrase, what does it mean to make disciples of Jesus Christ? And last week, as I said, it is about the centrality of Jesus in everything we do, and today it's about what is a church to be about, and the scripture is pretty clear on this as well, Jesus met with His disciples that said some doubt and some worshipped Him, and He gave him a mandate. Go and make disciples, teaching them all that I've taught you. Baptize them. And I'm with you always. And one of the things I did is when I went on the cabinet, became a district superintendent, was I visited about... Well, the district was about 135 churches, but I was directly responsible for about 75 of them, and I would go to the churches and sometimes they'd be asked to sit in on meetings or help them with an issue or something...
One of the things I always tried to filter is what seems to be the guiding principle of this church, that everything else bends to, this is something that you wouldn't violate, what is our strongest value that they hold, or what is their mission? And different churches would kind of emphasize different things, a number of churches I went into, you could tell the guiding light for them was fellowship, they like to be together and they drew strength from each other, these are the kind of churches when you go and they'd have this little moment and some of the worship services meet and greet, go and greet your neighbors and give a warm word to each other and greet each other, and take 10 to 15 minutes out of a worship service for these folks just to go around and just have a blast, just to have a blast together and the volume would go up and excite, and they are so into spending time with each other for some it's fellowship, that is right at the middle, for some it's comforting the afflicted to giving help to those who hurt these are the kind of churches that might put a lot of resources into hiring somebody for pastoral care, congregational care, and that's important for them. For other churches, it might be to support missions or to do good works for the poor, their food bank is one of their guiding lights, whatever we do, we can't compromise on the centrality of that, you'd come into their churches and they'd have all kinds of gifts here for... To help other people, some would be involved in missions, when they're guiding things as we're gonna support Africa University, or we've partnered with the church in Zambia, or a number of churches banded together and they're making fresh water, clean water available to churches and Burkina Faso in Africa. So some are involved in mission, and that's the most important thing, sadly, some churches, you can tell their guiding principle is they want to take care of their building, they want to maintain the shrine almost a museum of... They're building for some... It's to survive. What consumes their attention and what they want to accomplish is just to have their church survive, maybe they've gone through a rough patch, maybe they've lost some members, and they just wanna make it... So it's not a real good outreach thing to go to somebody who doesn't have a church and say, Hey, our ship is sinking, would you come help save our church? It's kind of backwards because really were the business about saving others, not our church, but for some, it's just survival for some, not very often, but sometimes it's to grow, to reach out and make new disciples, and I think I confess last week that that was something I really strove to do...
I put a lot of energy into learning and strategizing and focusing on... Especially making new disciples. This is kind of a two-parter, the centrality of Jesus and now the centrality of our mission together, which is to make new disciples. Now, Methodists don't excel at that naturally. In fact, I heard one person say, once you know, there's a couple of scripture verses that most methods take really to heart, and that is early in the Gospels, especially in Matthew, Mark and Luke, when Jesus would do a good work and somebody's life, he would say, Now go and don't tell anybody yet it... So say, Well, we've taken that scripture to heart, that one we can do, forgetting the later in the gospels, he always turned that around and he said, Now, go and tell them what God has done for you. Go and tell somebody else that Jesus of Nazareth has pass your way. Go and make disciples of all. People teach them, baptize them. I have to admit there's probably at least... Two things holding us back from doing that. One is our motivation. Methodists don't tend to make a big deal out of hell, and so some groups would say, You know, your friends, your family, your neighbors are in danger of eternal torment, unless they come to Jesus and they'd have that drive motivation to tell other people to save them from the wrath to come.
And we methods emphasize grace so much and mercy so much that it's almost like one of my favorite images as God is in the prodigal son, and Jesus tells a story of the Father who sits on the porch and he watches down the road waiting for the prodigal to come home, and when the son, he sees him off the distance, the father leaps off the porch and he runs out to meeting, God meets us more than half way, and so we may not have the motivation to go out and tell people about Jesus and what He means for us, others are afraid to do any kind of witness talk or talk about Jesus with friends and family and our colleagues that... Because we don't wanna appear like those fanatics and the obnoxious, the ones that are obnoxious about it, now to stand up in front of somebody else and go to them and say, I want you to be more like me. I found that you need to clean up your act. Become more like me. And I'm not saying we need to go back to the hell fire and that we should approach sharing our faith with others out of a sense of superiority or what have you...
I'd rather use this metaphor, I read this somebody, I just always loved this thing, we are to be... Like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. So it's not out of a sense of, we've arrived and you need to come my direction, it's I'm a beggar. Let me tell you where I found bread. And to show that through our actions and interactions with each other, like I said last week, it's not just saving folks from wherever they have their head stuff, it's about the centrality of Jesus and that people need Jesus for full and complete life now. So I'm gonna suggest two different ways maybe to approach this, how are we to be about this followers mandate to go and make disciples? I'm gonna give you two kind of non-threatening ways to do that, the first is what we call kind of invitational evangelism, and that is where we invite somebody to church on Sunday, and then I can stand back and hope the church does its part in helping them into an encounter with Jesus. And I remember back in the Huntertown days when I was serving there, I would frequently say something like this, Now we encourage you to be invitational in your interactions with others.And you might say something like this, you know, just when the topic comes around and say, Hey, something interesting happened in church last Sunday, and then I tell them, And if you need to make something up. If nothing that great. Have to make something up. And say, something good is gonna happen this weekend, would you wanna come with me? And then our job as a church was one, not to chase them away or repel them, and to maybe help them walk into a relationship and encounter with Jesus. So invitational, and I've read that that doesn't work so well anymore. Invitational stuff is less and less appealing to the folks out there, the folks that are outside a relationship with Jesus.
But I think it's still an option. If nothing else, can you encounter somebody else and say something interesting happened, and I think something good is gonna happen this Sunday. Would you want to come sometime? It's a pretty non-threatening way, invitational, but the other is a little more challenging and actually a little more effective, and that is to just express... I'm a beggar. Let me tell you how I found bread. And I kind of patterned this for you last week, when I told the story of how... Back in 1969, I decided to become a Jesus follower.
And you might rehearse that story, why is Jesus important to you? What difference has it made in your life... Rehearse that little story and look for an opportunity just to share it with somebody when you've gone through something like they've gone through... Here's how God has helped me in that. To be confessional, to share just a little bit of your own journey, you don't have to get deep into theology, you don't have to get deep into mystery of how Jesus works in the believer's life. Just say, Here's how he's worked in my life. I would wish that for you, one beggar, telling another beggar where to find bread.
I noticed your logo, and in your bulletin at the end of the worship service, you'll see at the bottom your logo there, and I can remember when I first came here being struck with Aldersgate and your, I guess I would call it a slogan or something, I asked Pastor Thomas, he used it much anymore. And he said, You know, not a lot. When I first came here, I struck that her slow gender for the church was the church with the warm heart. And for those of you who don't know the story, the very name Aldersgate came from an experience with John Wesley, Aldersgate is a little nondescript Street in London, and John Wesley tells a story of how one night he went to have a Bible study there, but he went reluctantly and under compulsion, he didn't wanna go out in the evening for this gathering that was in this house, but reluctantly and under compulsion, he went, and he said while he was there, he heard somebody else reading from Martin Luther's introduction to the Book of Romans, which is all about grace. And he said, All of a sudden, he felt his heart was strangely warmed, and he felt that he did trust in Christ and in Christ alone, not in his own efforts to become a Christian, to become God’s, to belong to God, he said his heart was strangely warm and so you're slowing the church with the warm heart, harkens back to that Aldersgate experience. And when we've had that warm hardened experience, that can be something that you can share with others to bring them along.
So remember, it's not about saving your church, I think I confess a little bit last week, it's not really even about growing your church for the sake of growing your church, it is about offering others a piece of bread, someone in need... Who needs Jesus just to offer a little doorway to them, and the other stuff kind of falls into place, then the fellowship, the caring for the community, making your church stronger and healthier, those are by products. They're not the main thing. The main thing is people need Jesus, and we can be that conduit to reaching somebody for Jesus. I want to end with a story, or one of the other things we did as a district superintendent was we would go into churches whose life span had really ended and they were getting ready to close, a lot of these were small churches out in the country where they used to be surrounded by families, and now the community is more...Instead of eight farming families, you might have one huge farming family out there, and so the demographics have shifted, they become in grown in the church is getting ready to die, and as a district superintendent and maybe previous pastors would come in and help with the celebration.
So I did that once to a church in the Fort Wayne area that was in a transitioning neighborhood, had declined for years, and they were getting ready, really we went in to kinda help them celebrate because a Hispanic congregation was going to be the benefit of their ministry and they were giving the building, they were giving some assets to this Hispanic congregation, so I went there to help them celebrate this death and new life, and I remember afterwards, a guy came up to me and he was a long, long, long, long time member of this congregation, and he came up to me, and I could tell he was kind of in grief over his church, not being a church anymore, and he came up to me and he said, Mr. DS, you know, nothing's good is gonna come after somebody says that, you need to help churches realize what they need to do so they don't die. And I have to admit, this is another confession, the church as I served grew, some of them grew quite a bit, they were very healthy, and I wasn't really up to taking a lesson from this guy on how to maintain a healthy church when I was helping his die, that's my confession.
But I talked better than my thought bubble, which does not always happen, but I talked better than my thought level, I said to him, I said, Well, what is the thing I need to tell pastors about keeping it? He says they need to keep the customer satisfied. Okay, who's the customer? He said, The people in the pews. And so I asked him a couple of questions, I said, Are you... You were in business, I take up from using kind of a business metaphor, like that he said, Yeah, I forget. It was some kind of insurance or is in sales or something like that. And I said, Well, I'll tell you what, let me just twist your metaphor a little bit, say that the customer is not the person in the pew instead, think of it like this, the pastor is the sales manager, the people in the pews are the sales force. And the customer is the person beyond these four walls, who doesn't know Jesus, I said that might be the way to keep a church healthy and vital and reaching out... I don't remember how the conversation ended, I don't think he was convinced he wasn't in the mood, probably to receive it because he was in some grief, had to acknowledge that...
I found out a pastor's job really can't be centered on keeping every person in the church happy, that's just an unrealistic expectation. Instead, it's to equip folks to say, Hey, I was a beggar in need of bread. Let me share with you where I found it. And just to be that in graceful invite. And we're gonna have bread in a little while to take again the Lord's Supper and to be strengthened for his purposes. For Aldersgate to be the church that God wants you to be. A bunch of beggars, Telling other beggars where to find bread. I wish that for you. I pray that for you. You'd be that open conduit, somebody else, Jesus gathered His disciples together, he was just getting ready to leave, called the ascension. And he said, Go, make disciples, baptize. And teach them everything that I've taught you. Through our actions and our words, we'd be able to fulfill that followers mandate. Let's pray. God, we do thank you that you've come into our lives, but there have been times we've opened the door when we've heard your knock, and we've been the recipients of somebody else teaching us, being an example for us, and we ask that you shape and mold and form us so that we can be the church of a warm heart that you want us to be, We pray this in the name of Jesus for His sake. And lift him up before you.