Summary: The Bible teaches that the main reason we gather together as a church is to encourage one another.
This is the fifth message in the series from 1 Thessalonians entitled, “Finding Hope in a Hopeless World.” This message is entitled, “Church: Where God Puts the Lonely in a Family.”
Over the past few years I’ve been devoting a lot of attention to what makes a church spiritually healthy. God has allowed me to write a curriculum entitled “What Healthy Churches Do.” This training material has been translated into a number of foreign languages and is being used to train thousands of international pastors.
But in the process of learning about a healthy church, I’ve also discovered there are some sick churches out there. A better term might be a “dysfunctional church.” In fact, I’ve come up with my own humorous top ten list of the ways to tell if you’re attending a dysfunctional church. You know you’re in a dysfunctional church when:
10. The ushers frisk everyone before they enter.
9. The name of the church is “Wrath of God Community Church”
8. The music director leads the choir with a whip.
7. Every baptismal candidate is required to watch the movie “Titanic.”
6. The VBS theme is: “Ten Plagues of Egypt.”
5. There are parking meters in the church parking lot.
4. Deacons meetings begin with the chairman saying, “Let’s get ready to ruuuuummble!”
3. Visitors are required to put their bank account number on the guest form.
2. Requirements for teaching middle school students include martial arts training.
1. “The Theological and Ontological Significance of the Eschatological Ramifications of
the Pre-millennial view of Predestination… Part 4.”
The Apostle Paul was a missionary, but he was also the original church planter. Whenever he entered a city, he preached the good news that Jesus can save sinners. Although he faced a lot of rejection and opposition, there were always people who converted to Christ. And when he left that city, there was a new church. Even though Paul only spent three weeks in Thessalonica because he was run out of town, he considered himself to be the spiritual parent of the congregation. Notice the words he used to describe his affection for the members of the church.
1 Thessalonians 2:5-12. “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
Over the past forty years, I’ve seen an increase in what I call church-bashing. Like every pastor, I’ve heard people say something like, “I love Jesus, I just don’t like the church.” Surveys have shown some of the younger generation of Christians are disillusioned with the church. Last spring, Newsweek’s cover proclaimed, “Forget the Church—Follow Jesus.” And yet saying you love Jesus but don’t like the church is like saying you love to swim but you don’t like the water. The church is the body of Christ.
Joshua Harris wrote a book whose title I love. It’s called Stop Dating the Church and Fall in Love with the Family of God. I think one of the reasons some people reject the church is they don’t understand the true nature of the church. They think of the church as an organization, like PTA or AARP. The church isn’t an organization; it is a living organism. Or others think of the church as a club, like the Rotary Club or the Lions Club. The church isn’t a club; it’s a family. The church isn’t an institution like a university or a government; it’s a family.
One of the most beautiful portraits of God is found in Psalms 68. The Bible describes God as, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:5-6)
The church is the setting in which God puts the lonely into a family. Rick Warren wrote, “Church is not a place you go to; church is a family you belong to.” When God puts you into His forever family, there are both blessings and responsibilities. I want to discuss the benefits first, and then we’ll consider the opportunities.