Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus,
Usually sometime during the first few months of a new year, I like to offer a “State of the Church” message. With that in mind, I’d like to share what I think the Lord has been saying to me about New Joy Fellowship in 2011.
New Joy Fellowship is a different kind of church. We are unlike many, if not most, of the other churches in our area. Depending on your point of view, this could be either good or bad. I think, however, that at present, we are almost exactly the church that the Holy Spirit wants us to be.
Particularly in this area of the world and of the country, people view church as something to do. You do the Sunday morning service. You do Sunday School. You do programs for the church. Church represents a hub of activity and work. In addition, most church activities are “programmed” – which means that they happen because they are planned and pushed by a small leadership group, or maybe the pastor. There are some positives to this approach. Usually, with this system, there is accountability to make sure things are done, and done properly. At the end of a year it is easy to quantify what the church has accomplished, by listing the programs that were run, and the number of people who participated in them.
Obviously, this does not describe New Joy Fellowship.
There are negatives associated with the typical way of doing church. Because it is activity and program centered, it is easy to feel like you have done your good religious duty by attending or helping with a church program. It becomes something you do, rather than a relationship with Jesus that leads to loving relationships with others. It is easy to replace true interaction with God, and true love-in-action for fellow believers with simply putting time and effort into activities and programs. It becomes religion, rather than relationship.
In America, we have turned church into something you do. But real church is a community you belong to. Sure, a real church should “do stuff.” But that doing should flow out of a faith relationship with God, and love for fellow believers in the community.
As I reflect upon New Joy Fellowship, that is exactly what I see that we are. We are first of all, a community of believers. As we relate to each other, and to those we interact with at work and at home, we get involved in the mission of Jesus. We don’t have any programs for this. Even so, it happens. I tend to think of this as “real church.” Those of you who come to Sunday morning worship before the first song starts may have noticed our slogan, displayed on the wall every Sunday: Real Presence (walk with God); Real People (walk with others); Real Purpose (work in the Kingdom). That is God’s call for New Joy, and to a fair degree, we are living these things out in our church community.
Belonging to a church community like this is not as exciting as it sometimes is to “do” church the way so much of our culture does. We don’t get our name in the newspapers. There is not a lot of hype either about New Joy, or in our community.
But that does not mean that we are insignificant. God is still at work, in us and through us. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 says this:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
New Joy is not powerful according to worldly standards. We are not strong or exciting. To be brutally honest, by the world’s standard of judging, we are not much at all. But praise God, those are just the kinds of people and churches that the Holy Spirit seems to delight in using. As Paul writes, the Lord loves using the little, weak, foolish and no-account things to accomplish his purposes in this world, and to shame the proud.
I had to put forth a bit of mental energy to consider how God has been using us, but when I did, I was thrilled. Last fall, I talked to our financial deacons. I wanted to make sure we were giving away 10% of what we take in as a church. They said we were close, but we weren’t giving away quite 10%. We gave that 9% or so away to missions organizations and other ministries that I know well enough to trust that it will be well used. However, the Deacons. pointed out that we also do a lot of things that aren’t “on our books” so to speak. What they meant is, we don’t have either programs or budget-line-items for much of what we actually do as a church. Instead, we walk with God and with each other, and through that the Lord motivates us for Kingdom purposes.
Lisa Fiehweg, one of our deaconesses, does a lot of her work as an attorney for children who need legal representation. Often this is because the adults in their lives have been terribly irresponsible, or even abusive. Lisa is part of our community. So it seems like at least once a year or more, we buy and gather things that these kids need. We don’t give to organization that takes care of needy children. We don’t have a program. But quite a few kids had a blessed Christmas only because Lisa is a part of our community, and we responded to the Lord’s prompting to give. A few years ago we did something similar through another Lisa, Lisa Decker.
We don’t have a “world vision program.” But Marcie has been connected to World Vision for many years. Because Marcie is part of our community over the years our little church has grown to sponsor a proportionately large number of overseas children through world vision. In the past few years we have radically changed the lives of dozens of families around the world by purchasing them cows, and helping them get fresh water.
Are you starting to see a theme here? We belong to God. We belong to each other. As we live out the truth of that together, we are working together for God’s purposes.
New Joy does not have a Middle-School evangelism program. But just a few days ago, I got a phone call from Tyler Garrels, one of our youth. He invited me to speak at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes function before his school started on Thursday. I went, and as I do from time to time, after I spoke I invited anyone who had not already done so, to give their lives and hearts to Jesus. Afterward, three people came up and told me that they did that for the very first time when I gave the invitation. Three people have a relationship with Jesus today because Tyler Garrels is part of our community, and more importantly, acted like part of our community. With a lot of time and energy and money, we might have been able to put together a middle-school evangelism event that brought the same result, but even then, I doubt it.
We all have a role to play in this community. Even the smallest, most insignificant-seeming role is vital. Tyler may not thought much of his role before. But if he wasn’t part of New Joy, and if he hadn’t invited me, those three kids probably still wouldn’t know Jesus today.
With all this mind, I think the Lord wants to say three things things to us as a church.
First, he wants to encourage us to stay in community with Him, and with one another. Hebrews 10:23-25 says this:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Some of us may be tempted to go find excitement elsewhere. We may be tempted to take a quick look at New Joy and say, “nothing much happening here.” But don’t judge the way the world does. The Lord is at work in New Joy. We need you here, because when we are all a part of the community, when we act like we belong to the Lord and to each other, then the Lord can and does work through us. It may not look like it does in other churches, but it is real, and it is happening. Stay the course. The life of faith is a marathon, not a sprint. Our Christian relationships and our church affiliation should reflect that.
Second, I do believe that the Lord wants us to be a community that is willing to grow by adding new members. There are people in Lebanon, Wilson County and Smith County who need to be a part of New Joy. I’m not talking about us becoming a mega-church. But some of our friends, neighbors and co-workers are supposed to be here. Pray for them. Invite them. Don’t give up on them.
Third, I think the Lord wants us to hear “Well done!” I think he is pleased with our attitude, and with our results. I believe with all my heart that if we had not been here these past five years, many people would be much worse off today. We are on track. Don’t lose heart. Be encouraged. Stay the course!