How many of you like coming to church? I don’t ask that in jest…just because you are here doesn’t mean you like being here. We’re very accustomed to that idea of coming; that idea of coming to church. We enjoy the fellowship we get here. We enjoy the singing. We enjoy the Bible study. We enjoy the community. We enjoy the family. We enjoy gathering with God’s people. We enjoy the food we get at pot luck meals. In fact, I would venture a guess that the majority of our Christian experience has to do with coming to church. I wonder how many – or should I say how few – of us would agree that we regularly have an experience of God or Christianity outside of these walls. We are accustomed to assuming that anything related to our faith happens at church. Here, in this place, or in a similar structure used for similar purposes.
Today, if anyone here has that attitude, I want to change it. For those of us shaking our heads at the thought of that kind of attitude towards our faith, I want to encourage you to continue to think differently. I want us as Monte Vista Baptist Church to be a church that does not find God primarily AT church, but a community of believers that finds God and also reveals God to those around us AS the church. Not so much worship by doing the rituals of church, but adoration by being the church. I want our Sunday mornings not to be atypical from the rest of our week at home, work, and play, but rather for what we do when we are gathered together here to infuse and inspire the rest of our time when we have departed this place.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking through my ministry summary statement from the copy of my résumé that landed in the hands of the pastoral search committee late last year. That statement said that I understand my role of ministry to be that of helping the church to evangelize the lost, disciple the evangelized, equip the discipled, and send the equipped. We have looked closely at the first three of those statements. Our first work as the church must always be the work of evangelizing the lost, for that is where people meet our Savior and Lord. But the work cannot end there. Jesus did not say to go out and make converts. He said to go out and make disciples. Disciples do more than just change their thinking or pray a prayer. Disciples seek to live like and emulate their master in his teaching, his manner, and his life. What is his becomes ours. And so disciples should be actively studying and improving their knowledge of God and constantly endeavoring to change their lives to be a closer match to our Lord.
Jesus promised His disciples that when He left, He would send a helper who would aid and support and comfort us in our journey of faithful following. That helper, the Holy Spirit, first descended on the disciples at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit endows each and every member of the body of Christ with a particular gifting – whether it is one gift or a set of gifts. This gifting uniquely qualifies each and every one of us for a specific task within the body of believers known as the church – both in its local and its universal expressions. No one else can do the job for which I have been provided gifts. Neither can I do the job for which you have been specifically gifted. We talked last week about this gifting and equipping that comes to all of us. We are arranged into a fully functioning body that cannot function as it was designed and intended without everyone doing his or her part.
We are specifically equipped so that we can function together as a whole, complete, coordinated body so that the body can accomplish the plans, designs, and expectations of our maker, creator, redeemer, and sustainer. And what is that work? It is that which we began with: “Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” How can we possibly be in Renan or Lynchburg or Washington, DC, or Kosovo or Kathmandu if we are sitting still here, in our padded pews, wondering when the sermon will end so that we can get on with our Sunday of rest and relaxation with family and good food? How can we possibly reach the lost and the needy if we are intent or remaining ever in our comfort zone?
Our first challenge is to evangelize the lost, then to disciple those who have been evangelized, then to equip those who have been discipled with the tools that they will need to carry out their God-given gifting for the body of Christ. The last thing is to send out those who have been equipped so that they can therefore evangelize the lost. The sending out of those who have been evangelized, discipled, and equipped is the means by which we do the work of Christ in proclaiming the good news throughout the world so that all may have a chance to hear and know that God loves them, redeems them, restores them, and grants them hope beyond the trials and tribulations of this world.
But we cannot do that while sitting here, within these walls, just waiting for the world to come to us. The command is not, “Wait, and they will come to hear.” The command is “Go and tell.” So we gather here to be discipled and equipped, but then we leave this place. The church is gathered in worship and in fellowship and in prayer and in communion, but then the encouragement and teaching of the gathered church is scattered into the world, and that is where the real work happens. That is where the real ministry happens. That is where real needs are met. That is where God’s love is most clearly shown. Not while we sit inside these walls and sing songs about Him and a few to Him. It is not the gathering that God is most interested in, though He is interested in that. It is in what we do when the church is scattered – when we are sent out to do His work of loving the lost and dying world that God Himself left heaven to reclaim.
Gathered and scattered. The church needs both times. Let’s consider the life of the well-known man named Saul, who came from a town in southeast Asia Minor called Tarsus. Saul’s story is atypical from what most of Christianity can expect. We do not all encounter Christ in a blinding epiphany on a road to Damascus. We are not all gifted to reach all of the Gentiles with the news of the Gospel. And yet Saul also typifies this movement through the circle of evangelizing, discipling, equipping, and sending that we should all move through.
We first meet Paul at a crossroads for the early Christian movement. In Acts 6 the church realizes that the apostles simply cannot do everything in the church. As a result, they appoint seven servants, or to transliterate the Greek, deacons, to focus on the ministry to the sick and the widows. One of these seven is a bold witness for Christ named Stephen. Stephen is soon arrested and brought before a religious court for his insistence on proclaiming Christ. A gifted orator and apologist, Acts 7 records Stephen’s speech. However, at the end of the speech, Stephen says something that is particularly heinous to his Jewish accusers, and they become enraged at him and stone him. Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr. Luke records at the end of this episode that those who stoned Stephen left their coats at the feet of a man during the stoning. That man’s name was Saul.
Saul quickly became a well-known persecutor of the church. He was not satisfied with rooting out the Christians from Jerusalem that remained after Stephen’s stoning, but he sought permission from the religious leaders of Judaism to take his work of persecution onward and into Damascus, where evidently a significant number of believers had fled. It was en route to Damascus that Saul is evangelized by none other than Christ himself, in the well-known account of his blinding encounter with the risen Lord.
The blinded Saul is led by the hand on into Damascus where another servant of God, Ananias, hesitatingly meets up with this persecutor of the church after being commanded to do so by God. Ananias reminded Saul that it was Jesus who met him on the road to Damascus, and Ananias told him that the same Jesus had sent Ananias to him in order to grant him his sight and fill him with the Holy Spirit. Scales fall off Saul’s eyes, and he virtually immediately becomes one of the great preachers in the early church.
The chronology of these events is not to the level of historical accuracy that modern standards have taught us to expect. Even so, the best estimates guess that Saul’s conversion took place 3-5 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. Enough time had to elapse for the events of the first eight chapters of Acts to unfold. So Saul’s trip to Damascus occurred around the year AD 35. In Galatians 1, Paul reveals that he did not immediately go up to Jerusalem, but rather went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. It was only three years after his conversion that he went to Jerusalem, where he only stayed for fifteen days. While there, he met with Peter and with James, the Lord’s brother. After that he returned to the region of Syria and Cilicia, where he was born and raised (Tarsus was the capital of this Roman province).
Paul did not return to Jerusalem until the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15, by which time Paul was already an established preacher and missionary. According to Galatians 2, this was another fourteen years. So what was Paul, previously known as Saul, doing during these intervening years of history between his conversion and his bold standing before the Jerusalem council in defense of the admission of Gentiles to the Church without requiring them first to become Jewish? Well, he was doing what we all should be doing: he was being discipled, being equipped, and being sent.
Thanks to his being a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” an ardent student of the Law and teachings of the Pharisees that he learned under Gamaliel, Paul was already well acquainted with the Old Testament. He may well have known it better than any of the other apostles. Once his eyes and mind were illumined to the Truth of Christ by his conversion, he would have no troubles making the connections between Old Testament passages and the necessity of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. With the Holy Spirit as His guide, granted to Paul during Ananias’s visit to him in Damascus, Paul was able to understand and accurately interpret and apply the truths of Scripture, both for his own life, and for other Christians in Damascus, Arabia, and Syria and Cilicia. Paul was being discipled while at the same time discipling others. This is the same work that we should be doing ourselves. Being discipled and discipling.
Barnabas, from the church at Antioch, came to Paul’s defense on occasion when he introduced himself not as Saul the church persecutor, but Paul the redeemed apostle of Jesus Christ. Barnabas, at work in the city of Antioch, sent for Paul to join him, and from there, they continued to proclaim the message of the Gospel, just as we have all been commanded to do.
I imagine Paul continuing to grow in knowledge and in faith, becoming ever more the great teacher, proclaimer, preacher, and writer that would endow thirteen of his letters with places in the scripture of the New Testament. It was during these fourteen to seventeen years that Paul developed and grew and learned and honed the skills, tools, and knowledge that would serve him over the course of three missionary journeys to places like Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, and a final journey to Rome to proclaim the Gospel before Caesar himself.
While Barnabas and Saul were spending a year of service together in Antioch teaching a great many people, according to Acts 11, a prophet proclaimed that a great famine would be coming to strike the known world. So the people of Antioch determined to send aid to their brothren in Judea. For the purpose of delivering this aid, the church at Antioch chose and sent Barnabas and Saul to hand deliver it. The church at Antioch practiced the discipline of sending from among their midst. They had discipled and equipped Barnabus and Paul, and now they sent them forth into Jerusalem on their behalf. From this point on, Antioch was the place where Saul would always return and give report of the ministry that he had done wherever the Spirit of God took him. Antioch became Paul’s sending church. Antioch was home base for Paul for the rest of his ministry.
Antioch is a model of what we need to be as a church. Antioch gathered. They spent time together. During those gathered times, they learned from teachers. They prayed together. They worshipped together. They listened to needs from Christians in other places and met the needs they could meet. They heard of the work that was being done elsewhere and contributed to it. They heard of places that had not yet heard and they sent teams there.
Monte Vista must become a church that functions as the church not just when it is gathered for worship, prayer, and fellowship, but as much as or even more so when it is scattered unto all the places where we go throughout the week. We must become accustomed to the idea that our work does not begin when we enter the doorway into this building, rather it begins when we exit these doors and go out into our mission field of where we live, work, and play.
We must come to terms with the fact that we are all missionaries. That any one of us can speak with authority on our area of responsibility and engagement with the world for a missions night. Even a parent should be seen as a missionary to the next generation, some of whom will live into the twenty-second century should Christ’s return wait that long. I would love to see our missions night become a place of thriving curiosity as we do all of the work of training, discipling, and listening to the missionaries we already are. Bible study and fellowship are both as much a part of missions development as participating in the ministry and work of a team devoted to a group or people that we have not been aware of before.
Our mission as a church begins with evangelizing the lost. And to evangelize the lost, we have to have people to send out to those who are lost. The lost are more likely not to cross the threshold of our door than they are to ever cross it. We must go to them. We must be a church that sends out those who we have already developed and trained as those evangelized people who have been discipled and equipped, ready for the task of being sent. The primary work and purpose of Monte Vista Baptist Church is not accomplished at 1737 Grit Road. Here, we only celebrate all of the achievements that have been accomplished by our body elsewhere.
If you are a member of the body of Christ, then you are a missionary. If you are a member of Monte Vista Baptist Church, then you are one of our missionaries that today we are sending out into the world as you and only you know and encounter it. You know and see people that I will never know or see. You are acquainted with stories and backgrounds that will never be revealed to me this side of glory. It is you who are best equipped to share the wonder of God’s love with the people that He places in your path.
We are, or should I say, I want to see us become a church that evangelizes the lost, disciples the evangelized, equips the discipled, and then sends out the equipped in order to evangelize the lost.
Together, each doing our part, we can do the work of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the whole world, starting right here in Grit. This morning, we commission each other to this holy task of serving God not just as the church gathered, but also, and even primarily, as the church scattered and sent.
 Acts 14:27