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There’s a very popular concept in America today when it comes to church. I know I’ve experienced it and I’m sure you have too. And the concept is simple. The church exists for me and my needs. And if the church is meeting my needs then I’m in. But as soon as the church stops meeting my needs I’m out and on my way to the next church, if I continue to go at all.
Some call it the consumer church mentality. I call it The First Church of Me. It’s the mindset that the church is like a retail store where I go to receive spiritual goods and services. And as long as I’m getting those goods and services I’m here, but if and when they stop I‘m gone, which, by the way, is one reason we don’t call this a church “service” which I think feeds that mentality. We call this a worship gathering.
But the consumer mentality plays well in the culture in which we live. So if you ask any group of people why they attend a particular church on any given Sunday they’re likely to say, “I’m here because I like the children’s ministry or because I like the worship music or the way the pastor teaches. I’m here because this is where I get fed. Or I like this church because it’s casual and laid back or because it’s traditional or liturgical. Or I like the free coffee they serve every Sunday. And besides they don’t even take an offering!”
There are countless reasons why people attend a certain church and there’s nothing wrong with having tastes and preferences. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a natural thing. But when church becomes all about me and meeting my needs and my wants, that is a bad thing because church was never meant to be all about us.
And when it becomes all about us we can easily become critical and dissatisfied, grumbling and complaining about something or someone with whom we disagree. And let me tell there will always be something or someone with whom we disagree, I guarantee it because we’re not all alike and that’s a good thing.
As Kurt pointed out last week, 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that the church is like a human body and our kidney, for instance, looks nothing like our little finger. Although to be honest I’ve never seen my kidney and I hope I never do. But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t look anything like my pinky, yet both are important.
We all need to remember that the church is not about me. This is the body of Christ, not the body of Bruce or Matt or anyone else. The church is all about Jesus. This is his church, his bride. This is The First Church of Jesus, not The First Church of Me.
So we’ve been in this series unpacking our Mission and Vision. Our mission is simple. Our mission is Jesus. Valley View is all about Jesus. We what to know Jesus and make Jesus known which leads right to our vision, which was Jesus’ vision, and that is to make disciples.
The word “disciple” means learner. We want to learn about Jesus and obey everything he commanded us to do and help others learn about him too. And our way of doing that is four-fold. We want to invite, grow, equip, and go.
The last two weeks we’ve focused on growing, personal growth and growth as a whole body. So today I want to talk about equipping because that’s a big part of becoming a disciple.
This idea of equipping or training is found all throughout Scripture. For those of us who are parents, equipping starts at home. Our responsibility as moms and dads is to train up our children in the way they should live. Two passages come to mind when it comes to raising kids.
Proverbs 22:6 says, Train children in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not turn from it.
Train children. Equip them for life and when they’re old they will not turn from it. Notice it doesn’t say when they’re teenagers they will not turn from it. They may turn from it when they’re teenagers or young adults or at any stage of life. That happens a lot. But in many cases, not all, they will return to the foundation that their parents have dug. At least that’s my observation. So parents take heart. Equipping starts at home.
A few weeks ago we looked at the Great Shema in Deuteronomy 6, the first passage a Hebrew child would memorize. And after the call to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength we read in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Parents and grandparents, it’s our responsibility, to equip our children spiritually at home, not just to drop them off at Valley Kids on Sunday, to talk with them, to read to them, to pray with them, to spend time with them, to tuck them in at night, and wake them up in the morning with the reminder that God loves them and we do too.
We have an incredible children’s ministry here, better than ever. And I thank God for Jill and all our dedicated Valley Kids volunteers. They do an amazing job supporting parents in equipping our kids and our teens in Element.
I thank God for the staff of Orange that puts together the incredibly creative resources, lessons, posters, and videos that we use each week. Along with the handouts and the emails that keep parents in the loop so we know what our kids are being taught and can engage with them between Sundays.
But from the start Valley Kids has always been intended to be a support, not a substitute, for the equipping our children. We only have them one hour a week. Parents have them the other 167 hours. But together we can dig the foundation for our sons and our daughters to follow Jesus, but ultimately it’s their responsibility to build on it. Equipping starts at home.
Equipping means being with Jesus.
There’s a little phrase that’s pregnant with meaning when it comes to equipping in Mark 3:13-14, Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.
Jesus chose twelve that they would be with him and that he might send them out. The order of that statement is absolutely essential to equipping. First, the disciples were with Jesus and then he sent them out. If we’re going make disciples we need to be with Jesus. If we’re going to equip our children or anyone else we must first be with Jesus ourselves. Are you with Jesus? Do you make room for Jesus in your life? Disciples spend time with Jesus.
One of my favorite teachers and equippers in seminary was Professor Howard Hendricks. We all called him, “Prof.” Born and raised in Philadelphia he taught at Dallas Seminary for over 60 years. He impacted over 10,000 graduates and wrote 23 books. He was an amazing man who’s now with the Lord.
Prof taught a course on discipleship and would always remind us that you never graduate from the school of discipleship. You always need to be learning and growing in Jesus. And when it came to equipping he often said, “You cannot impart what you do not possess.”
Church if we’re going make disciples we need to be with Jesus. All of us need to be with Jesus. How do you be with Jesus? You go to the places where Jesus shows up. Jesus shows up in Scripture. So you read about Jesus. Jesus shows up in prayer. So you talk to Jesus and listen to Jesus through his Spirit. Jesus shows up in worship. So you meet Jesus there alone or with your life group or with the whole church like this morning.
Jesus shows up at this table, the Lord’s Table, so we never forget that he loves us enough to die for us. Jesus shows up in community so we spend time with other disciples to encourage one another. Jesus shows up in the needs of the poor. So we make room in our lives and in our budgets to help those in need.
Church we need to be with Jesus and then we go out like his disciples went out to the share the good news with others. And even when we go out Jesus is still with us. For surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
This week, I had the chance to share the good news of Jesus with a man lying on a hospital bed in his living room, dying of cancer. He couldn’t even talk. It’s a very sad situation.
And so I read him John 3:16 and leaned over and said, “Just give me one minute to tell you the best news I’ve ever heard in my life. I said God loves you so much and wants you to be with him forever. He sent his son, Jesus, to die for your sins and rise again. And if you believe in Jesus you will have eternal life. Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” And he nodded. “Do you believe Jesus died for your sin and rose again?” And he nodded again. So I said, “Then you have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to.”
Jesus calls us to be with him and then he sends us out. But we can’t impart what we do not possess. Equipping means being with Jesus.
And finally, equipping is ALL our responsibility.
This really hit me on my sabbatical. Two passages jumped off the page for me and changed the way I do ministry. The first was the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 (p. 833), And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will be able to teach others also.
Paul is saying, “Equip others who can equip others who can equip others and on and on it goes.” So I’ve moved from the role of pastor/teacher to the role of pastor/trainer which means that for over two years now I’ve been doing my best to equip others to teach and to lead and to shepherd Valley View.
So, for example, Matt is now taking the lead and setting the mission and vision for Valley View. He designed this series and will be doing more of that going forward, with input from us of course because we also work together as a team. Matt’s been leading the Leadership Team, determining the agendas, and creating news ways to build into our expanding staff. It’s been wonderful and healthy and exciting! And it’s released me to do other things like more outreach and shepherding and planning mission trips.
The second passage that speaks to equipping was also written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:11-13 we read, So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
That word “equipping” literally means to set a broken bone or put a joint back in place. Right now we’re doing more equipping than ever around here. We’re paying attention to people’s passions and releasing them to equip others. Ben and Charity Robinson are passionate about growth and healing and are partnering with Elijah House to equip prayer ministers who can help people become healthy and whole in Christ.
Ginny Johnson is passionate about developing more care givers in this community and is partnering with Stephen Ministry to equip a group of us to walk with people through the inevitable hurts and crises of life.
Last summer, we partnered with Financial Peace University, to equip us to better steward our financial resources. That was the passion of Mike and Laura Boerste who’ve since moved to San Diego. If you missed it, we’re hoping to offer it again this summer. The IF Tables that Amy and Megan are developing are also ways that equipping is taking place for women.
An equipping environment has developed here at Valley View and it’s happening in a lot of different ways. I see Life Group leaders sharing responsibilities with others in their groups to lead and shepherd. I hear about Transformation Groups of two or three where equipping and ministry is taking place. We all have spiritual gifts that need to be released into this body to equip and build up one another. Have you discovered yours? If not, start serving and you will.
As we’ve said over the years, Valley View is a hospital on a mission. We’re all a bunch of broken people moving towards maturity and the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. And equipping is a big part of that. Equipping starts at home. Equipping means being with Jesus. Equipping is ALL our responsibility. How are you being equipped and who are you equipping? Every single one of us is needed.
The church was never meant to be retail store where we go to get spiritual goods and services. It was meant to be a community where we equip one another. As Neil Cole says in Church Transfusion, “A major step in the process of equipping followers of Christ is helping them come to a place where they’re willing to set aside their own will for the will of God. Everyone must move from selfishness to selflessness.”
And the greatest symbol of selflessness is the cross which this Table represents. Jesus said in Mark 10:45, The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.