Summary: This is a sermon preached to a church in danger of becoming discouraged over a lack of recent growth.
Welcome once again to WestShore Community Church. It’s been twenty-seven months since we began weekly services, and during that time we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve shared times of rejoicing and celebration – Linda and Scott’s wedding, for instance, and the birth of their daughter Hope. The birth of Patrick B_. Little David coming into the S_ family. We seen several people profess faith in Christ – Gary S_, who braved the hot waters of the galvanized steel watering trough to be baptized. Vicki M_, who was baptized twice – once accidentally, at Seneca Lake camp, and then later on purpose. And Amy L_ and Sarah B_, who chose the more traditional venue of the baptistry at Park Heights Baptist Church. We’re also thankful for the recent faith of Bev and Sean C_. Perhaps they’ll be the first people ever to be baptized here in the Rec Center pool.
We’ve also shared sorrows. Work-related stress. Illnesses. Miscarriages. Struggles with alcohol. Struggles with marriage relationships, struggles with parents and children. We’ve walked with one another through some intensely personal and excruciatingly painful experiences; supporting one another, encouraging one another, listening to one another, praying for one another.
In the past 2½ years, we’ve shared a lot of good times working and playing together. Cooking Bratwurst on the fourth of July, riding in the parade in the back of the Big Red Truck. Raking people’s leaves for free, just to show that God loves them. Playing kickball at Seneca Lake. Eating hand-cranked ice cream and playing volleyball. Enjoying potlucks on the S_’s deck. And week after week, we’ve assembled together on Sunday mornings to unpack the trailer, set up folding chairs, connect sound equipment, arrange the doughnuts, welcome visitors; and then sing, and talk, and listen, and pray, and give, and teach, and serve one another in the name of Christ.
Along with all that, we’ve experienced the emotional ups and downs of people coming and going; people joining our fellowship, staying for a while, and then moving on. Some visit only once. But others journey with us for a weeks, or months, or even years, and then depart. That’s hard, especially when it involves people we’ve grown close to, because our hearts are knit together. Yes, we understand that loss and separation are an inescapable fact of life until Christ returns; but still, if you allow yourself to care about people, it always hurts when they go.
There’s more, but you get the idea. And all of that – the joys and sorrows, the highs and lows, the celebrations and struggles – all of that is part of being a church, a living fellowship of believers. Sharing those things is what it means to be part of a body, a family, a community. And the purpose of it all is draw us into a deeper fellowship with the Lord; to transform us and make us like Christ, so that we might receive his grace and mercy, and might give him glory, until the day of his return.
My point in reviewing all this is that our life together is what makes this a church; a completely real, fully authentic, church of Jesus Christ. Are we small? Yes, at least for now. Are we financially self-supporting? No. From the perspective of our denomination, we’re classified as a "mission," because we haven’t formally declared our independence. But what makes us a church isn’t our size, or the source of our funding, or our denominational status. God isn’t greatly concerned with those things. What makes a church is the Spirit of God moving among a people, changing them, uniting them to Christ and to one another. And for the last three years, this is exactly what He has been doing here among us. No, we don’t own a building. We don’t have a 50-member orchestra or a 200-member choir. But we do have the Spirit of God. We have Christ as our head and as the source of our life. We are just as much a church of Jesus Christ as any congregation, anywhere on the face of the planet, because God is here. And, far from being done with us, I believe he’s just getting started. Why? Because there are still hundreds, and thousands, and tens of thousands of unchurched people right outside our doors, people who need Christ, people whom we are uniquely well-suited to reach.
But more than that, we have a promise. In Matthew, Jesus declares that he will build his church; that the work of establishing and caring for churches is his work. Not only that, but victory is assured; the power of the Spirit, working through the church, will overcome the power of sin and death.
"… I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." -- Matthew 16:18