WHERE DOES THE CHURCH GO FROM ‘HERE’?

thumb-1.phpPlease find my teaching notes below for Pt. 6 of the series, “The Church- Where Does the Church Go from Here?”  (c) 2013, Terry Broadwater

So far we’ve talked primarily about “what is the church” and “who is it for?”  Now, we need to look at “where do we go from here”– from our weekly gathering, Life Groups, or other meetings.  After all, we determined that the church is a movement, not a meeting; it’s people on the move, not merely people at a meeting!

So, where do we go when we go from here??  Someone will say, “Well, I’m going over here to Maginannos if you ever get done!”  Maybe you’re going to the Mall or to the movies or to the gym or to Target or home…  Where do we, the church, GCCers, go from here?  

We Engage our Culture!  In our next teaching series, which I’m calling “The Unknown God”, I’ll be talking about this for 5-6 weeks, based on Acts 17 and how the Apostle Paul engaged the culture in Athens.  But in Pt. 6 this weekend I want to give you the “forward” to the next series!

As a “Movement” we have a “Mission” and it’s critical that we understand what this means!  Jesus’ last words detailed our mission!  He said…

“God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”  Matt. 28:18-20 The Message

In the original language there are three imperatives or “commands” in this statement: 1) Train everyone (make disciples), 2) Baptize them (fellowship), and 3) Instruct them (put into practice what you preach).

Notice “GO” is not a “command!”  Without injustice to the original text at all, we could read Jesus’ statement this way: “As you engage your culture every day…”  He’s assuming we understand that we are bringing the kingdom of God, the message of life and hope, with us into all of the every day places and people we encounter.

So obviously we need to better appreciate the PRACTICAL aspects of engaging our culture!  Another way to look at this is: How do we make Jesus attractive to unchurched and unconnected people within the context of a postmodern and post-Christian culture??

In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul finds a SPACE within the culture to engage in a conversation about “the unknown God!”  He uses this as a bridge to share Jesus.  Sure, we need to separate from sin, but not from sinners- and that is NOT a judgmental statement!!  Jesus implores us to engage and to do so we need to find the “natural” connection points…

(Acts 17:22-23) 22 So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines.  And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.”

What can we learn from Paul about “where we go from here?”

PAUL ACKNOWLEDGED THEY HAD SPIRITUAL QUESTIONS! 

(Acts 17:16-21) 16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.  18 He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”  19 Then they took him to the high council of the city.  Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. 20 “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” 21 (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.).

Just like in our culture today right here in Denver, the world of Paul’s day- especially the people of Athens, believed… in everything.  As a matter of fact they, like our American culture today, were very spiritual!

How do we know?  By the number of idols and shrines they worshipped!  People in Denver are hungry for God.  They are seeking and searching and all they find are “idols” and “shrines!”  Among the emerging generation, according to a very recent USA Today article, “religion” has been replaced by “relationship!”  It’s regrettable that there is a generation that believes the church is NOT about relationship!!

People you encounter have spiritual questions!!  We have two options when we encounter spiritual seekers: 1) Ignore their questions, which has been the classic church approach, or 2) Acknowledge their questions and have an appropriate response!

Paul understands their views, why they think the way they do, how they got to where they are on their spiritual quest.  Every person you know is on a spiritual quest and that quest is filled with questions and influences and hopes and disappointments.  Paul doesn’t rebuke them for what they currently believe or where they are at the moment spiritually!

Paul builds a bridge and introduces them to Jesus!  He tells them that Jesus is the answer to their spiritual questions and quest.  Because he knows, as we need to today, that every person’s spiritual questions and quest revolve around this: Why am I here and what can I do about it?  It’s why so many people try to fill that void with so many different things!

It “troubled” Paul (v.16) that people were so hungry spiritually but all they could find was “idols!”  It should trouble us as well!  

Paul did not adopt their religious beliefs or say they were ok, however. He calls them to repentance. What people find in their quest is not good.  “Idols” aren’t the answer!  Again, that should “trouble” us!  Jesus is better than the idols. 

Practically it’s important to note that “context” matters; and “where” we go with the “message” of Jesus is in some ways determined by the who, when, and where of people.  We must look to understand the actual questions people are asking, without criticism or condemnation and bring both grace and truth, as we talked about last weekend, into those settings.

PAUL UNDERSTOOD HOW TO CONTEXTUALIZE MINISTRY!

In other words, Paul “knew” Athens!  He also “knew” Jerusalem, and Antioch, and every cultural setting he found himself in!

(Acts 17:22-23) 22 So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines.  And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.”

As important as it is to “know” the Bible, it may be even more important to “know” the culture we are engaged in!  Do we know Denver… Do we know twenty-somethings… Do we know “where” people are?? 

To truly facilitate being a movement of people with the message of Jesus, we will always need culturally appropriate mission strategies and ministry!  Biblically faithful churches will look different in different places!  Just ask the guys who went to Uganda!

Understanding culture is mission critical!  We cannot preach against culture because it’s “where” we live!  But neither do we accept everything the culture accepts.  Paul didn’t do that and neither should we.  But what Paul was genius at is this…

Columbia Bible College and Seminary President Robertson McQuilkin suggests 3 approaches to culture:

Adopt- There are some things in every culture that are positive and we should adopt them: family, community, humanitarianism, etc.

Adapt- Other things we can adapt like clothing and music etc. We can still live differently and look similar to the world!

Reject- There are parts of every culture we must reject simply because it’s spiritually unhealthy and destructive!

Jude 3 Paul says, “I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”  “Contend” means we must engage in discussions and conversations with people when we’ve earn the right to do so, as Paul did on Mars Hill in Athens with these city leaders and philosophers, in an effort with “win” them over to Christ.  But that doesn’t mean that we condemn and judge and cast stones at people!!  Jesus “contended” for us- but what did that look like??

While we “contend” notice Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 9:22 “Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.Says become all things to all people.”

So we don’t compromise but we do contextualize.  Some people all they do is contend and it makes the rest of the Church look like a bunch of legalistic lunatics!  Others only contextualize and change their beliefs all the time so they seem more tolerant and less judgmental- all this does is devalue what Christ has actually done for us and why!

Practically we must be careful to “contend” and “contextualize” IF “where we go” is going to truly expand the kingdom of God!  It’s just learning to be sensitive, be real, be to people what you’d want them to be to you!  My email apology…

PAUL ACKNOWLEDGED THE POSITIVE AND REBUKED THE NEGATIVE!

Basically Paul affirmed some of the cool things he liked about the Athenian culture, but he also called them out on!  Remember last weekend’s teaching- “who is the church for?”  It’s all about get into the messy middle where grace and truth converge!!  Like Jesus, Paul was a master at managing the grace and truth dynamic!  Notice how he pulls this off…

(Acts 17:24-34) 24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.  27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.  30 “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”32 When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” 33 That ended Paul’s discussion with them, 34 but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Paul understood, and so must we, that we inhabit culture so we can be agents of reconciliation.  Sadly, many go too far on the grace side and never stand for the truth at all.  Others go way over to the truth side and just alienate everybody!  The key… is knowing when to affirm people and when to challenge people.  And that’s all contingent on our being engaged in the culture and the credibility we’ve earned!

KEY: We don’t own the gospel so we can’t change it.  We can change our music style or clothing, but the message is unchanging.  Paul quotes a poet.  It would be like us quoting a pop song or a Hollywood film.  Then later he says they are ignorant. He affirms them first, but says the things people don’t want to hear either.

That will always create tension and we have to be cool with that!  Here’s the thing: For the most part, the world has no problem if we believe in Jesus- the problem they have is that we think they should to!

Because Jesus says no one comes to God except through him- the Cross is a stumbling point for people! 

Many people have accepted moralism but not Jesus.  Many people really like Jesus but repentance, which God commands, gets in the way of going any further with Him.  Many people are far from God but hungry for him; yet they consistently create gods for themselves.  We live in a world that is deeply idolatrous and most will always hate the gospel!

But we must proclaim it anyway!  And it’s that tension again that Jesus wants us to dive right into- just like he did, just like Paul did!  Because when we do, we’re are right where we need to be!

WHERE DOES THE CHURCH GO FROM HERE??  We engage our culture with the message of Jesus Christ!  How??  We love!  We serve!  We get involved!  We make the natural connections!  We have the conversations!

We learn to Adopt… Adapt… and Reject…  We CONTEND and CONTEXTUALIZE!  We ENGAGE the CULTURE!!

Pray, “Jesus help me to represent you well.  Help me know how to the cultural things I should adopt, the ones that I can adapt, and those I need to reject.  Help me know everyone is on a spiritual quest with all kinds of questions.  Help me to make the connections and have the conversations as I’m sensitive to your Spirit and to where people are in their personal journey to find you- even though they don’t even know you.  Help me to KNOW where I’m going so I can have the credibility to proclaim your message!”

 

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