A great commitment . . .

15 Sep

What makes a great church? Is a church great because it has padded pews, or even better, theater seating? Does adding an espresso maker in the foyer make a church great? Is a church great because it has a fun children’s ministry or the hottest youth ministry in town? Is a church great because it has plenty of parking? Is a church great because it scores high on the six b’s of church growth—buildings, bucks, bodies, baptisms, books, and broadcasts?

Doug McVeigh's logoYears ago, I came across a phrase used by Rick Warren which I have adopted as my definition of a great church. “A great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission makes a great church.” Each week in September and October, our church will focus on one phrase in that definition to discover how we can raise the level of greatness in our fellowship.

In Matthew 16:21-28, Jesus explains to his disciples the type of commitment he requires from anyone who wants to follow him. The passage serves as a hinge between Jesus’ public ministry (Matthew 4-16) and his private ministry (Matthew 16-28). Prior to this section, Jesus focused on teaching the crowds. Now he will pour his life into his disciples.

In verses 21-23, Jesus tells his disciples he must do four things—go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be killed, and be raised on the third day. Peter decides that is totally unacceptable. He takes Jesus aside and tries to dissuade him from this talk of suffering and death. Jesus confronts Peter and points out that this type of thinking comes straight from the enemy himself.

Years ago, I was teaching a Walk Thru the Bible Old Testament live event. A pastor from another church was present and was considering hosting a New Testament event at his church. He had some concerns about the seminar, however. “How do you present the book of Romans.” I explained that we use the phrase, “Paid in full,” to summarize the message of Romans. He did not like that. He said that his church believes Christ gave us an example to follow. But the idea of Christ dying on the cross was offensive to them.

There are times we try to sanitize the gospel. We prefer comfort to the cross. We want risk free faith, commitment free service, sacrifice free giving, and pain free devotion. We want the benefits of discipleship without any of the costs. Like Peter, we need to learn that the desire for a comfortable lifestyle and the avoidance of suffering is a hindrance to kingdom work.

In verses 24-28, Jesus raises the bar on commitment. Rather than viewing ourselves as the center of the universe, we are to deny ourselves. We are to take up our cross daily. Some think that a difficult roommate, a demanding boss, or a physical ailment is their “cross to bear.” In the first century, taking up your cross meant a one-way journey to death. It was a full commitment to die to self. Once we deny ourselves and die to self, we can fully follow Jesus. True discipleship involves following Christ and doing his will, wherever he leads and whatever the cost. Glory and rewards are only attained after a life of self-denying service.

These verses present the tale of two lifestyles:

Deny yourself

Live for yourself

Take up your cross

Ignore the cross

Follow Christ

Follow the world

Lose your life for Jesus’ sake

Save your life for your sake

Forsake the world

Gain the world

Keep your soul

Lose your soul

Share Jesus’ reward and glory

Lose Jesus’ reward and glory

A. W. Tozer once wrote, “In every Christian’s heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross; if he refuses the cross he remains on the throne. We must do something about the cross, and one of two things only we can do—flee it or die upon it.”

Christ wants each one of us to get out of our easy chair and invest our lives in his kingdom work. Perhaps that means to stop attending church and become a member; stop observing and start serving; stop talking only to friends and welcome newcomers; stop attending an adult Sunday School and start teaching a class.

Perhaps you could skip one latte a week and use the funds to support an orphan. Maybe you could do a brown bag lunch one day a week instead of eating out and use the funds to send a child a camp. Perhaps you could sacrifice watching a football game and help a neighbor or give up your favorite TV show to mentor a newlywed couple.

Instead of buying more possessions you could give more to God. Instead of having a family dinner, maybe you could serve dinner at a rescue mission. Perhaps you could take your family on a short-term ministry trip instead of going to an amusement park for vacation.

Christ wants us to give up our personal preferences and defer to others’ needs. He wants us to let go of our planned, controlled life and allow him to interrupt our carefully laid plans. He wants us to trade our safe, cautious, predictable, comfortable lifestyle and instead join him on the risky adventure of faith.

A great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission makes a great church.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 15, 2013. It is part of a series on “What makes a great church?” Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


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