This past Sunday morning Norma Jean and I visited the University church in Tampa. This congregation holds a special place in our hearts. It’s the church we attended when we were dating and first married.
Josh Creel is one of the ministers that serves in a preaching capacity and does a wonderful job. His sermon title, “God’s Vision For A Relevant Church” captured my attention since my theme for the year is “20/20 Vision: Restoring Our Focus.”
Josh cited a Barna Group survey that asked, “What, if anything, helps Americans grow in their faith?”
The responses included a variety of answers including, prayer, Bible reading, family and friends. Interestingly, the “church did not even crack the top-10 list.” In fact, the survey showed that people are divided on the “importance of attending church.”
Millennials (those under 30), the survey showed, “stand out as least likely to value church attendance; only two in 10 believe it is important.” 59% of Millennials who grew up attending church have dropped out. In fact, overall church membership and attendance have decreased among all age groups in the past 20 years.
The answers to Barna’s questions discovered a variety of reasons for a lack of church involvement. The church is irrelevant to me. I’m not finding community there. I’m not learning about or experiencing God there. And doubts are not tolerated.
From the book of Ephesians, here’s a synopsis of Josh’s points showing God’s vision for the church.
(1) The Church cannot be irrelevant. (Eph. 1:3-2:10)
Why? Because God purposed, planned and predestinated the church. It was in His mind before He created the world. The church is the Body of Christ. And Jesus is its head.
Eight times in this text, Paul speaks of being “in Christ.” When we are “in Christ” we enjoy all spiritual blessings. We receive redemption. Find forgiveness of sins. Have the promise of the Holy Spirit. And become an heir of an eternal inheritance.
How can such a Divinely designed church be irrelevant?
(2) The church is where community is experienced. (Eph. 2:11-3:13)
God created us in Christ for community. We were fashioned for Divine association. We were formed for fellowship in His family. Christianity was never intended to be a solo act.
Paul speaks of Christians being together seven times. He says we’re one in Christ. And are to be united. We’re called fellow citizens and fellow-heirs. “With everyone else who belongs to the family of God” (Eph. 2:19).
Paul Tournier was right when he wrote, “There are two things one cannot do alone, be married and be a Christian.”
How can such a relationship be unimportant?
(3) God cannot be missing from the church. (Eph 3:8-21; 4:11-12, 22-24)
Paul wrote that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God might be known.” In it Christ is glorified. Gifts are discovered. Equipping occurs to prepare us for mutual edification and spiritual service. Growth occurs. And spiritual maturity is realized as we become a new person in Christ.
How can such a mission and ministry be meaningless?
(4) The church is where doubts are answered. (Eph 4:14-16)
When fears arise and doubts descend on us, like a tempest-tossed vessel on the ocean, we can find stability. Receive assurance. Reestablish our faith. And find help and hope when the truth is spoken in love.
How can such a noble endeavor be inconsequential?
(5) The church is where God is both learned and experienced. (Eph 1:1-6:24)
The entire Ephesians epistle affirms that we’ve received God’s revelation. Since the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), its teachers, preachers and pastors, preach the gospel. Enlighten unbelievers. Edify the saints. Encourage the weak. And help all who would open their hearts understand God’s Word. Experience His love. Accept His grace. Receive his mercy. And know the surety of their salvation.
How can such an experience be uneventful?
If you’ve read to this point, you may question, “I’ve been to churches that are not like you’ve described.”
But the Ephesians letter is speaking of the universal church. Not a specific local congregation. It is portraying God’s vision.
If we’re falling short of these divine imperatives, then let’s refocus. Let every church leader and local congregation recapture God’s vision. So that He can “receive the glory in the church by Christ Jesus.” And that we can become all He created us to be.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman