Small Churches G.t.G.t.God too! Acts 18:7-17

Ah it’s that time of year again.  Time for us to reflect on what God has done through the ministries of Grace.  A time of thanksgiving and a time for prayerful planning for the coming year.  What is it that God would have us do in 2015?

Slide1

One of the blessings of being a small church is that everyone has a role to play.  Unlike the mega church where only a small percentage are actually involved in ministry within the church, a small church welcomes you to join in and be a part of what Christ is doing and pretty well doesn’t take no for an answer.  Experience is optional…on the job training is unavoidable. 

Trusting in the Lord…absolute necessity!   But everyone is needed to fulfill what it is that God has wired them to do if the small church is going to remain a viable contributor to the greater community.

I confess, sometimes I’ve looked at our small church with eyes that see only that we cannot do what larger churches can…mostly because we don’t have the resources.  Pragmatically this is true but who said we are required to do what they do? 

The problem with this sort of thinking is that it is absolutely unbiblical and that’s only the start.  We can do as much as God would have us do so long as our focus remains on Him.  So it is unbiblical to say that because we are small in number we cannot do as God would have us do. 

Unless of course you want to talk about the twelve spies who Moses sent to check out the Promised Land.  The key word there is Promised Land.  Seems they also suffered from being overwhelmed by the task at times.  They saw the immense size of the people and ten of the spies concluded the job was too big for them!

Numbers chapter 13 records the details of their exploratory trip ending with these historic words.

Slide2

 “We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). {And everyone knows how big those guys are!  They stood over 7 feet tall some say as large as 9 feet.  So to say their problem was Giant! Is only stating the truth.  And those spies came and reported what they felt, }  We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33).  

Scared by the size of the task and the opposition they may face they came back and told everyone who would listen that Israel was too small to do what God was calling them to do. 

And I confess that I too have looked at our vision and purpose through those same sort of eyes at times and felt overwhelmed. 

Determined to fix this problem I looked at the things that big churches can do and thought we should do the same things.  Kids clubs, Alpha, multiple small groups, outreach campaigns, soup kitchens, conferences, movie nights, anything the big guys did I thought we should try to do…clearly on a smaller scale. 

I was even encouraged by speakers at our MB Conferences that if we just did those things that the big churches do soon we would grow to be just like they are.  I call that a sort of ‘fake it to you make it’ approach to growth!  I’m absolutely sure they thought they were helping.  So don’t think I’m accusing them of anything but maybe coming across with the attitude that small church is somehow wrong or broken. 

Jesus Christ said, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome her” (Mt. 16:18). 

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There is something incredibly important about that statement.  First, it’s His church.  Just like it was God’s Promised Land that those spies checked out.  God gave it to them.   Second, “Jesus promised to build it!”  And it sure seems that He has built an awful lot of small churches to me.  All over the world!

Grace is His church!  Jesus will build His church in the heart of Penticton with or without us.

In fact the Bible clearly says, “unless the Lord builds the house the labourers build in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

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The truth is sometimes “numerical growth strategies” are done for vanity reasons.  And as we’ve seen in this city from several “quick growing churches” …what rose fast comes down even faster at times bringing much hurt and mistrust rather than glory to God.  

In my time alone in Penticton I’ve seen well more than 700 potential saints scattered when fast growing churches imploded.  Many of those people have never darken the doors of a church since. And if we thought it was hard before to help people to come to know and follow Jesus, you just try with some of those remnants of Abundant Life… It’s heart breaking to say in the least. 

But as I’ve mentioned several times before,  having large numbers in church on Sunday is not an indication of growth potential nor even a healthy church.   And it is simply not the norm for Christ’s church.   Over 85% of Christ’s church is distributed as small churches throughout the world.   Churches from 3-350 people!  If you can believe the stats out there, over one Billion people chose to worship in small churches!  The majority of those churches are under 100 people strong, some say as high as 80% of them.  And it’s been that way from the very beginning of Christendom.

Apparently what I was trying so hard at times to fix is something that wasn’t and isn’t broken.  Small Church is here to stay now and until the end of the age!  PTL!

{By the way the only thing I have against the big church is when they insist that small church is something to be fixed.   Otherwise it’s great being a part of a healthy big Church!   I’ve been there too!   The large scale professional style worship was awe inspiring! The many small groups that formed it were mostly wonderful.  Made you almost feel like you were a part of a small church… }

Slide5

Perhaps it is time to realize and accept that Grace is as Christ planned and built it to be.  A small church in the heart of Penticton reaching out to our community and throughout the whole world in Jesus name and to give the glory to God.  We are growing in love with Jesus and for one another… Fulfilling the vision of being

“… a place where, the abandoned, the neglected, and the marginalized find “He who sticks closer than a brother” and know the love of God is truly welcoming them into God’s Kingdom”

Continuing  to do what our purpose states:

“We exist to help people know and follow Jesus Christ.”

Now that’s real church growth!

And look at what God was able to accomplish through this small healthy church in the heart of Penticton during 2014! 

 

{The video shows that working together, using the resources we have, has built unity and strong community at Grace.  And we’ve seen God use this to plant several churches, with thousands claiming to know and follow Christ  through Grace sponsored missions in Kenya.  As well as  hundreds who have downloaded the 4 spiritual laws and Getting to Know Jesus from our website.   And still thousands more who have used other resources from our Websites during 2014, presumably to grow and know and follow Jesus.

In Penticton  we’ve been able to feed the poor, counsel and mourn with those in need,  mentor youth, and even bless students heading for college.  Some of our seniors even help produce food (millions of meals), and quilts that bring the warmth of Christ.   While others of Grace are living out their faith volunteering throughout the community.

Through our live services, Sunday mornings,  our shut ins and those who can’t make it to church, join us and  “feel like they are a part” (online viewer).  Hundreds of others view part or all of our youtube and other online podcasts each week.

All this to the glory of God and His Kingdom and none for our own numerical growth or personal glory.   We simply put it out there to Give the Glory to God and hope to help people to know and follow Jesus. }

Slide7

All the Glory goes to Him because frankly we are like grasshoppers when it comes to what only He can do!  We are but a small part of His incredibly large whole, called “The Church”!  And that is true regardless of whether you are a part of a mega church or where two or three are gathered in His name!  

So what is the main thing that Christ would want to instill for us as we look at the year ahead?  I may be wrong…you know I have been on more than one occasion but I think the main thing is still the main thing.  GtGtGod  Give the Glory to God in all that we do and keep trusting Him to direct our paths.   

This is what Christ told the church at Ephesus as preserved in the book of Revelations: “Do not forsake your first love” (cf. 2:4).  His name is Jesus.  “And keep doing what you did when you first loved Jesus (cf. 2:4).  If you do, you will keep growing even if there are less butts in chairs on Sunday mornings. 

Jesus said, “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn. 12:32).   For thus saith the Lord!  “I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18).  

And He invites those who call themselves a part of Grace in the heart of Penticton, to be co-labourers with Him as the chief builder.  Just as He has done throughout the world and down through the ages as we’ll see in our Bible lesson this morning. 

God who is the head of this church is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we are able to conceive and wants to do exactly that with us if only we would join with Him in what lays ahead.  Jesus bids us come, but grants us leave should we not choose to follow Him at this time or in this way.

 It has always been that way.  Last week we saw from our study in Acts that God took Paul down some lonely and even depressing roads at times.  When Paul saw the door close on sharing Christ in Athens, is was a difficult time for him.  So as he left that city, and went to Corinth where Paul resorted to the trade he had learned in order to make ends meet. 

He didn’t come on strong there like he had in Thessalonica and other places as we’ve seen in Acts.  According to the commentators Paul was weary of the road he was on.  The physical beatings from Philippi may have had a part in this but the outright rejection he faced in Athens seemed to have slowed down this super Apostle a bit.

He was slowed down…but not out!  Paul worked with his hands night and day shifts and still he spoke in the synagogue whenever he could. He reasoned with fellow Jews trying to persuade them that Jesus was the Christ that they were looking for as found in the Scriptures.  But even in that synagogue Paul ran into opposition that eventually caused him to take his leave.   So let’s pick up the narrative where we left off in verse Acts 18:7-17 (New International Version).

 “Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God.  Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.  One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 

So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.  While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.  “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”  Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you.  But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law–settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.”  So he had them ejected from the court.  Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.” Acts 18:7-17 (NIV).

Slide9

The Jews in that synagogue wanted to squash that little sect of a faith called “the Way” …Christianity as we know it today.  And they became like a big foot hovering over Paul with abusive behavior. 

But our God is so faithful, AMEN?  No sooner does Paul leave the synagogue full of unbelievers and he’s right back teaching people to know and follow Jesus big time.   What encouragement that must have been for this weary disciple of Christ.  And get this it was right next door!  Right next door to the synagogue!

Sometimes we can be very close to where God is at work and not even know it.  We can be doing the right things and saying the right words, which I can assure you Paul was doing in the synagogue, but even with much effort there was no growth.  The people were not ready to hear and respond to Christ through the gospel.  In fact they were getting belligerent about it. 

Slide10

So Paul said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6 (NIV).   It sounds like he was furious with them but really it was just a statement of fact as I explained last lesson.

So out one door and into the next for Paul.  And literally it was next door to the synagogue. 

Slide11

This was the home of Titius a worshipper of God.  (Remember that title just means that he had not been circumcised.  Other than that he was following the ways of the Jews.  We know this because “Crispus, the synagogue ruler” could be found at his house.  And a synagogue ruler would likely not have been in the house of a gentile fellowshipping unless that man was a God fearer.  So Titius was a God fearer much like Lydia.   And this God fearer decided that Paul’s message deserved a place to be told. So the first church of Corinth was birthed in his living room right next door to the synagogue.  It was a small church but not without some influence because of those good people who entered therein. 

People like “Crispus, the synagogue ruler and his entire household” who when they heard Christ’s message from Paul “believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (7).   

Christ had once again built His church.  That little house church began to grow. People got saved, were baptized and grew to know and follow Jesus. 

You would think that would embolden or at least encourage the weary apostle wouldn’t you?   Yet those beatings and the rejection that came with them had left a mark.  I think that’s why Paul later teaches about the fiery darts of the enemy and the necessity of a shield of faith firmly in place (cf. Eph. 6:16). In our own strength we can only put up with so much before we shrink back. 

Slide12

Jesus knew this was happening in Paul so: “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”(9-10).   It was very good news indeed!  So encouraging for Paul.  And not just the part of “no one is going to attack and harm you”.  Though I am sure that must have been a relief.    But the real encouragement for Paul must have been the fact that his Master cared enough to notice and chose to show Paul in a very tangible way just how much he cared. 

And then there were those words that every evangelist loves to hear.  “I have many people in this city” (10). 

Slide13

Who has?   Who is it talking in verse 10?   Is it not the same person who said “I will build my church”?   Yes it was Jesus.  And Jesus had a job for Paul to do.  He was to “keep on speaking, do not be silent” that’s what Christ said. 

When we get weary, and trust me every Christian faces those times to some degree.  When we get weary our natural tendency is to take the path of least resistance.  Say nothing…do nothing.  

I’m sure you have been there too!  You’ve shared the gospel… been rejected… and after a while you just stop sharing the good news.  But Jesus wants us to lean on Him in those times and not withdraw or keep silent. 

Just as He told Paul, “I am with you”(10)  Jesus has told all of us the He is with us “even until the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).    And as far as I can tell we haven’t reached the end yet.  So we too can rest upon His promise. 

Slide14

Does that mean that it will be smooth sailing until the sunsets? 

No just one look at what happens as Paul settles into teaching the Corinthians to follow everything that Christ commands ought to dispel that myth.

Slide15

Luke tells us that Paul stayed an unusually long time for his normal pattern of missionary work.   He stayed for one and half years, teaching and preaching the good news from God’s Holy Word.  And then his boat hit some real stormy waters once again. 

The storm arose right next door!  I suspect they were getting pretty agitated as they saw more and more people coming and going through Titius’s doors.  And so the Jews unitedly attacked Paul and dragged him out to the bema seat.   That would be the designated chair that the proconsul sat upon in order to hear and decide matters of justice. 

Luke also gives us another one of those history hooks here so we know that this actually could be traced back in time.  He says, While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court” (Acts 18:12 (NIV).   The history books tell us that Gallio became proconsul on July 1, 51ad.  And he didn’t have that position long so we know it was between 51-52ad that these events took place.

So the Jews thinking that the Proconsul would side with a vocal group like theirs brought Paul before the court.

 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” Acts 18:13

 But before Paul could open his mouth in defense the case was summarily dismissed.  

Slide16

Gallio decided that it was a matter of two different factions within the Jewish faith and therefore not a matter he needed to rule on.  And that actually set precedence. 

 Whereas in Athens the court said they would not accept what Paul had to say as something that was relevant to a known religion Gallio now basically legitimized Paul’s message and his followers under Roman law. 

This was a huge victory for the Christian sect of Judaism and an unbearable defeat for the Jews of the Corinthian Synagogue.   And as promised by Jesus, Paul was not harmed in the process.  Though someone else sure was!

See it down at the bottom of the screen?  Verse 17

Slide16

Sometimes God uses a two by four to bring people to Himself.  Just look at Sosthenes the synagogue ruler.  He started a riot that dragged Paul to court expecting him to be ousted from Corinth, but after receiving a good beating, he too surrendered his life to Jesus.  How cool is that?  Not the beating!  The fact that Christ reconciled Sosthenes to Himself.  Sosthenes went from an enemy to friend and co-labourer with Paul.

Slide17

The book of Corinthians finds him with Paul in Ephesus as he was writing that letter.  There we read, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,” 1 Corinthians 1:1 (NIV) He went from hatred of Paul to brother and probably Paul’s amanuensis.  Talk about true repentance, eh?

And the small church they started continued to grow, and that church went out from there and planted other small churches both in Corinth and beyond as they out grew their space.  And those too grew in the love of God…for a while that is.  The letters we call the book of Corinthians detail some of the ways they went sideways for a bit and clearly needed more correction from the Apostles teaching.   People everywhere need help to know and follow Jesus, it doesn’t come naturally.  

Growth is not simply about the number of butts in seats at church. In fact I would say that Christ is more interested in our personal inner growth than butts in seats.  Our character, our love for one another, our perseverance under trial, generosity and the fruit of the Spirit these are real measurements of church growth.  

So this year we will continue to pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send forth labourers to build His church.  And in childlike expectancy we can wait to see how this will effect Grace in the Heart of Penticton. 

As we wait God says, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you…” (9-10) “Even ‘til the end of the age!” (Mt. 28:20).

 

Blessings!

Pastor Blake

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