Why Church? Summer Series:

Why Get Involved in a Congregation?

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur presbyterian Church

July 9, 2023

 

Philippians 1:3-11,2:1-5

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God…

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

 *****

I love this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.   You can hear gratitude in his words, gratitude for the grace of God that they have shared, and gratitude for the genuine relationships he has shared with them.

Paul writes here about important work, the sharing in the gospel, that at times was joyous, other times dangerous, but always, it seems, inspiring. Paul and the congregation at Philippi had been on a journey together, a pilgrimage. They had learned and grown together; they had been transformed.

We address today what has become a more common question than in prior generations.  Why get involved in a congregation?

With all of the other activities we could be doing on a Sunday morning, with all of the other worthy things we could do with our time and our resources, Why Church?

The short answer to this question is that the world is in need of a Savior. You and I are in need of a Savior, and we believe that Jesus saves, and, yes, as we have experienced, so often the work of salvation happens within the ministries of the Church.

The longer answer to this question is addressed by Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi, an ancient letter that is surprisingly contemporary in its application. In a world that is increasingly isolated and lonely, Paul writes about how this Philippian congregation holds him and one another in their hearts;   they enjoy genuine caring relationships.

When my mother died in May, you held me in your hearts. You cared for me and my family. And my home congregation in Marietta cared for my father and the rest of my family, and that was so meaningful and so appreciated. That’s what congregations do.

In a world marked by divisiveness and confusion and uncertainty, Paul is confident in the church. He is confident that the love already experienced will overflow,  more and more, with knowledge and full insight, so that the congregation may discern together what is best, and may even produce together a harvest of righteousness, to the glory and praise of God.

That’s what congregations do, at their best.

In a world where people can be so cold, so selfish, so disconnected, Paul writes: In the congregation, you have experienced encouragement in Jesus Christ, you have known consolation from the love you share,  you have enjoyed fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and affection and compassion has been abundant among you. 

In a sometimes cold and disconnected world, that’s what congregations do. In a world where people draw lines in the sand, pick sides, argue and compete over everything, Paul encourages this Christian congregation to:  mind the one thing, have the same love, be united in spirit, be concerned for the one thing.

This “one thing” was not their own selfish interests, not the interests of their own family or tribe or nation or team. This “one thing” was the sharing in the gospel, the sharing of the good news of God’s love for the whole world, the offering to others of the transforming grace they had discovered in Jesus Christ.

Paul knew that if these Philippians would mind that “one thing”, then they would live together unselfishly, humbly, each looking not to their own interests, but to the interests of others.

This, my friends, is what congregations aim to do.

Why get involved in a congregation?

Because a Christian congregation holds up this ideal of being marked by the mind and attitude of Jesus Christ, the ideal of doing nothing for personal advantage or vainglory but in humility regarding others as better than yourselves, the ideal of not looking to one’s own interests but the interests of others.

Who else does that? What other group or institution or activity is marked by this kind of love and joy and sacrifice?

This is an ideal, of course, never perfectly fulfilled in any congregation.

The Church is a human institution, afterall.

The Church is imperfect. This congregation is imperfect.

The Church is not a “sanctuary for saints” so much as a “hospital for sinners”.

We are the Church because, first and foremost, we recognize ourselves and others as sinners in the sight of God. Yet, being involved in a congregation means that we know we have been forgiven, and we know that we have access to the forgiveness of God each new day. In a world so quick to judge, so reticent to forgive, so unrealistic in its expectations, a congregation readily extends grace to its members and to others.

This too is what a congregation does.

The Church has been called the body of Christ, the hands and feet and mouth of Jesus Christ in the world today. 

Why get involved in a congregation?

Because in a congregation we become an integral part of Christ’s body, and we become involved in what Christ is doing in the world. We become caught up in a mission far greater and more important than our own little missions.

We not only experience our own salvation; we get to take part in God’s saving work in the lives of those around us.

Decades ago, my friend Rev. Dr. Leon Carroll was a youth leader in this congregation. He worked with Davison Philips while he was in seminary. Inspired by the many grounded Christians he had come to know here and in other places, Lee Carroll wrote about the “Habits and Virtues of Generative Teaching Congregations.”

Generative Congregations are those that are productive and fruitful, those that contribute to the needs of coming generations.

Decatur Presbyterian Church is a generative congregation. We are a generative congregation because we are Future Oriented,  because people like Catherine Carter know and appreciate our congregation’s history, but are not bound or enslaved by it.

Catherine looks to the future, to what God may be calling us to do next. We are a generative congregation because we are Theologically Grounded, because people like Vernon Gramling are guided by theological discernment in leading Bible studies and dealing with difficult questions  and addressing significant change in the world.

We are a generative congregation because we are Missionally Focused, because people like Joe Mehlhop help us focus our energy on the mission of the church, and not on the survival of the institution. 

We are a generative congregation because we are Worship-Centered, because people like Matt McMahan affirm that the worship of God is central to our purpose and identity. Matt is not only a highly skilled organist; he is a spiritually grounded leader of worship. He plays and directs not for his own glory, but to the glory of God.

We are a generative congregation because we are Publicly Engaged, because people like Scott Overcarsh and Linda Huffine remind us to promote the welfare of our broader community. Scott and Linda understand, like the prophet Jeremiah long ago, that when a congregation “seeks the well-being of the city where it finds itself, and prays to the Lord on the city’s behalf, then in its well-being that congregation will find its own well-being.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

We are a generative congregation because we are Highly Participatory and we Share Leadership, because people like Steve and Sara Jo Craw embrace the values of lay leadership. They embody the Priesthood of all believers. As our bulletin states – Every member is a minister. Every person who gets involved in this congregation is expected to come here not to be entertained nor to be catered to, necessarily, but to become a minister, to become a priest, to discover a ministry that suits their passions and gifts, and that makes a difference in this world.

We are a  generative congregation because we are Personally Hospitable, because of people like Dudley Larus and LInda Lebron. Dudley readily welcomes visitors and seeks to assimilate new members. Linda Lebron recently shared the idea of hosting a weekly Sunday lunch gathering at a local restaurant for anyone interested, a gathering of members and visitors each week to share a meal after worship.  What a great idea!, probably long overdue.

We are a generative congregation because we utilize our Assets for the Mission of God, because elders like Joe Delisle and Hikie Allen recognize that any assets of this congregation, including facilities and funds and properties and staff members, all are resources to be utilized towards what God is calling us to do. Joe and Hikie challenges us to discern how we might best utilize our assets going forward.

We are a generative congregation because we are Spiritually Nurturing, because leaders like Dave Williams and Jan Bedol highly value our role in helping people grow in their Christian faith and values.

 In the Cornerstone class curriculum, thanks to Dave and Dina, and in our other groups, we have the opportunity to grow in faith, to deepen our values, to broaden our understanding, to nurture our wisdom. 

However much the Church has changed over the centuries,  however much the Church will change in the years to come,  there will be several aspects that forever define a congregation.

There are four Greek words, passed down to us from the first century, that describe what a congregation does. and what a congregation does, essentially, is what a congregation is.

 The four Greek words are: kerygma, didache, diaconia, koinonia.

Kerygma is the proclamation of the gospel, often associated with worship and preaching.

Didache is the teaching and nurturing of the Christian faith.

Diaconia is Christian service.

Koinonia is the Christian fellowship enjoyed in the life of a congregation.

Worship, teaching, serving, fellowship – these are the activities of a congregation. These are still the means by which Jesus brings salvation to a hurting and lonely and confused world.

Why get involved in a congregation?

The short answer is that the world needs a Savior. You and I need a Savior.

And Jesus saves. And Jesus’ saving work is so often accomplished in the life of a congregation.

The longer answer, addressed by Paul, is that life can be hard,  and so many people are lost or misdirected.  Far too many are majoring in the minors, putting the em-pha-sis on the wrong syl-lable.   The people of the world are hurting, poverty is rampant, warfare is raging, homelessness is increasing, mental illness is debilitating, overdoses and suicides are at epidemic levels.

And congregations, of all stripes, are here to serve as genuine communities of care, communities which help people deal with the everyday challenges of living. Getting involved in a congregation can help relieve stress,  and can assist individuals in dealing with the overwhelming pressures of life.

Getting involved in a congregation can help all of us  “make some sense of the craziness out there”, as one of our elders said recently. 

Why Church? Why get involved in a congregation?

Because Jesus saves. And the Church, fallible as it is, is nevertheless the very body of Christ. Amen.

 

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia