Summary: What’s the key to having a successful church? There are large "successful" churches that haven’t learned what Jesus’ formula was. Do you know what Jesus’ formula was?
OPEN: In a California city, a woman rushed into a store, glanced around and took a number. Then she heard the clerk call out “87,” and she looked down and saw her own number was 8.
She was understandably puzzled, because there were only 3 other people in the store. So she went to the counter and, holding up her ticket, said, “Miss, I have number 8. Can you tell me how many people are ahead of me in line?”
The saleswoman looked at her. “Honey, that number has nothing to do with your place in line… that number is from the calendar over there you just tore a page off of.”
APPLY: Now I can understand how that woman could have made a mistake. She was in a hurry. The number “looked” like one that a store might use to indicate her place in line. And so, she took the wrong number off the wall and she made an embarrassing mistake.
I. Churches can end up doing things like that too.
Sometimes churches get in a hurry. They get in a hurry to be successful. They get in a hurry to be significant. And because they get in a hurry, they can end up “taking the wrong number off the wall.”
Let me illustrate what I mean here
ILLUS: I once read the true story a preacher related about his visit to a large city church. That congregation had just received a gift of $150,000 for a new organ from a corporate millionaire. There was an organ dedication that Sunday, and the donor was recognized with speeches, people patting him on the back, and there was a plaque of appreciation
Meanwhile, in the same church, an elderly woman living on Social Security has been faithfully giving her small weekly gift in the offering plate. She has carefully managed her resources and is able to make ends meet, but it is tough. Each week she has gladly set aside her tithe for the church. She has never been honored for her giving; she has never received a plaque of appreciation.
Tell me: Which person did that congregation prefer to have as a member of their church?
Well… it was the rich man… not the widow.
Is that the kind of person Jesus PREFERS to have in His church? Well, let’s take another look at Matthew 11:2-5.
“When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’
Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.’”
Jesus reached out to the blind, the lame, the leprous, the deaf, the poor… and the dead
Now pardon me for saying so… but you can’t build a big, successful congregation with losers like that. You’ve got to have rich, impressive, successful people.
If you want to be THE church in town… well, you can’t waste your time on people like that.
(pause…) But Jesus did
AND it gets worse. Matthew 9:10-13 tells us:
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’
On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Now… that’s not to say that Jesus turned rich impressive people away.
Nicodemus was a rich and influential follower of Christ’s. John 3 tells us Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night and Jesus spending a significant amount of time teaching that man.
And then there was Joseph of Arimathea gave his grave for Jesus to be buried in. He was a rich man, and very likely a successful businessman.
Jesus helped and preached to anyone who came to Him. BUT when it came to reaching out to others, Jesus sought the weak and downtrodden.
ILLUS: In a 3rd-century debate on Christianity, a pagan named Celsus told Origen - the Christian he was debating – “When most teachers go forth to teach, they cry, ‘Come to me, you who are clean and worthy,’ and THEY are followed by the highest caliber of people available.
But your silly master cries, ‘Come to me, you who are down and beaten by life,’ and so he accumulates around him the rag, tag and bobtail of humanity.”
Celsus meant that as an insult… but he was right. That’s precisely who Jesus sought.