State of the Church – 2018

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Jeff Struecker

January 7, 2018

The way that I primarily lead around here is by teaching on Sundays and on Wednesday nights through vision for our church and also, I help lead the church by developing the culture of our church. The first Sunday of every year, we do what we refer to as the State of the Church sermon. This is telling you where our church has been, where we currently are, and more importantly, where we’re headed over the next year. This is a regular tradition that we do at Calvary Baptist Church.

Now, in order for me to help you understand where we’re going to go with the State of the Church sermon, I’m going to do something. Parents and Grandparents, I’m about to say a dirty word. So, I want you to put your ears over the hands of your children. Here’s the dirty word for today’s sermon: It’s the word change.

Basically, nobody on the planet likes change. It’s scary. If we were to be honest, people resist change for several reasons. One of them is because their life is comfortable, and they are afraid, If I change, maybe my life won’t be so comfortable in the future, and we like our comfort. So, one of the reasons we’re resistant to change is comfort. If we were honest, though, some people take comfort to the extreme, and one of the reasons they don’t want to change is because they become complacent. Their comfort is now more important to them than anything else, and they’re not going to allow anything else to cause them to change, because comfort has become a god to them.

But, most of us are probably in this boat: The reason why we don’t like to change, is because we don’t know what the future looks like, and change is scary. I like to call this, concern. Maybe for you, it’s not comfort; maybe it’s not even complacency. It’s “I’m just driving down a road, Jeff, and I don’t want to take a turn on a road I’ve never been on, because I don’t know where I’m going to end up, and I’m not sure I’m going to like where I end up.” So, this fear of the future is causing a lot of people not to want to change.

Christians are not supposed to be like this. You see, people who genuinely know Jesus Christ have an advantage over everybody else when it comes to change. Yes, it’s still scary, and I still don’t know what the future holds, but I do know, as a Christian, the one who holds my future in the palm of his hand. And, because I know he’s got me in the palm of his hand, I don’t have to worry about where this change is going to take me. I want you to write something down. Let me tell you how you and I are supposed to view change.

Here’s the truth: Jesus takes the chance out of change.

If you and I believe that Jesus is the sovereign King of the universe who controls everything, then sure, it’s scary to change along with what he has for me, but he’s got me. He’s helping me. He’s going to be with me when I change, and therefore, it’s not really that scary anymore. -to follow Jesus as he changes me, as he changes stuff around me. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can take the chance out of change.

Now, what we’re going to do today, is try to re-align two things at Calvary. We’re going to try to re-align strategy and culture. The strategy is what we’re trying to do. The culture is who we are, and we’re trying to make sure that who we are matches up with what we’re trying to do. Or that who we are matches up with how we’re trying to do what we’re trying to do.

I’m going to use the word culture a lot today, and if you’re not really sure what that word means when I use it, especially in a church, here’s the deal: Culture basically is the sum total of what the church thinks and how it acts. It’s what the people believe and how they behave. These things are culture. If you’re not sure what the church culture is, stand on the outside, and look at these four things, and you’ll know what makes this church tick; you’ll know what their culture is. It’s stuff like what’s encouraged at the church and also what’s discouraged. It’s stuff like what’s accepted in this group of people and what’s not. When you see those things, you really get a chance to see the culture of any group of people. This is also true of a church.

So today, I’m going to show you some areas that must change for me and areas that must change for you if what’s happening around us is going to change. -the change that has to happen inside of us if what is happening around us is going to change.

I.  Change you

Here’s the first thing that I would like for you to write down as we follow along. The first change (in order of importance and in terms of priority) is the change that needs to happen inside you or the change that needs to happen inside me.

You probably don’t recognize this guy’s name, but Jim Rohn was a very successful businessman; he turned a lot of businesses around. People started asking him questions about how he did this, and he eventually became a motivational speaker and told them, “Hey, the things that turn businesses around will also turn your life around.” And one of the things that Jim Rohn used to be famous for saying was, “You’re life doesn’t get better by chance. You don’t stumble into it by accident. Your life gets better by change, and if you want a better life, you have to be willing to change. If you don’t change, you can’t really expect a better life.”

Did you know that this is a Bible principle? In fact, it’s found in Romans chapter 12. Here’s what the Bible teaches in Romans chapter 12, verse 1:

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Look at that word transform for just a second. Let me tell you something about the human body. Let me tell you something about your body. The human body was built by God to change. A body that does not change is in deep trouble. For example, right now, during the 60 minutes of this service, do you know that your body will produce around 2 billion white blood cells? -2 billion new white blood cells just sitting down, doing nothing. Did you know that in these 60 minutes (this ought to scare some of you guys), you will lose somewhere around 2500 hairs off of your head? And many of you are thinking, “I don’t have 2500 left to give!”

Every hour, you will lose around 2500 hairs from your body.

You have about 9000 taste buds on your tongue. Every 10-14 days, they completely die, and all 9000 of them appear all over again, brand new, completely regenerated. Your lungs (it doesn’t matter how old you are) are at most, a year old, and some cells in your lungs replace themselves every single month. And all of us have every cell in every bone in our bodies that completely changes and totally regenerates every 10 years. Your skeleton is at most 10 years old. For some of you who feel like yours is 170 years old, every 10 years, every cell in every bone of your skeletal system completely changes. The human body was built to change. The only body that does not change is dead.

And this is true of the church too. So, the word that Paul is using, the word that the guy who wrote this Bible book is using is the word transform. But, it’s a pretty important word. The word means that you are completely, radically different. Look back over who you once were and who you are today, and those two should not look the same. You should have changed so much that there is a radical difference in your life.

The closest example for this word (if you grew up in church, you probably know the story) is the word transfigure. There was a moment where Jesus took his disciples up onto a hilltop, and he took his earthly body, and he transfigured it in front of them. He showed his disciples his perfect, pure, holy, body. For just an instant, they got a chance to see Jesus in all of his glory. He was transformed.

The same root word is what the Bible is using here in Romans chapter 12. You and I are supposed to go from the people who were once in sin, to becoming like Jesus. -perfect and pure in every way. So, the change that I’m asking you to think about for just a second today is, are you more like Jesus today than you were a year ago at this time? Have you changed a lot over the last year? If so, that’s a good thing. If you claim the name of Christ and haven’t changed a lot over the last year or perhaps are worse today than you were a year ago, there’s a problem, and that problem needs to be addressed.

The Bible calls this our living worship, our living sacrifice. The Bible doesn’t ask us to do human sacrifices in church. In fact, we don’t even do animal sacrifices anymore. Jesus fixed that once and for all when he became the sacrifice on the cross, but now, the Bible says you and I are supposed to become a sacrifice. -a sacrifice the changes every single week. Don’t just hear the Bible and let it go in one ear and out the other and walk out the door unchanged or unaffected. Do something with what you’ve heard from the Bible. Allow it to impact you and to change you when you go out of this room.

And by the way, can I remind you God does not need your permission to change you? He can do it without your permission. For example, let’s say you’re working way too much, and you don’t have a good healthy work/rest ratio in your life. God can get your attention and cause you to take a rest by just simply giving you a massive heart attack. He can do that if he wants to, and there’s nothing you and I can do to stop it. Or you can listen to the Holy Spirit and let him poke you on the shoulders and say, “Hey, you really need to change this of this area of your life. I suggest you go ahead and voluntarily go through the change. Don’t make me have to change you.”

II. Change our church

So, the first change that we’re to look at today is: You and I need to change, and because the church is not a building (not bricks and mortar), it’s the people who are in this room. In fact, when you leave this building, this building ceases the be a church. It’s only a church while you’re in this room. Because the church is made up of people, the church needs to change as people change. When God is changing people, God is at the same time changing his church.

I think it’s pretty accurate to say I personally obsess about the culture of this church. It’s something that I think about almost every minute of the day, and I look at almost everything and ask questions about our culture. It’s something that I care so much about, that as I was working on my PhD, I researched this, and I wrote my PhD dissertation on this topic. The title is Change the Culture; Change the Church. I surveyed 1,500 churches in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. I asked them questions about change, and I asked them questions about their church like: What makes your church tick? and Why does your church do what they do? How willing is your church to change? And How much has changed in your church over the last year?

I realized a lot of church people just really don’t like change; they are really resistant to change. It’s true all over the place. It’s true probably all over the world. It is definitely true all over Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. I’ve got the research to prove it.

In the Bible, God was doing massive, cataclysmic change with his church after the death and resurrection of Jesus. And most of the total Pagans (the people who did not know Jesus, who did not care a thing about religion), most of them were ready to receive or ready to accept the changes that God was making. But it was the religious leaders who were most resistant to change.

In fact, there’s a great story in the book of Acts about the apostles (Jesus’s followers). After his death his resurrection, after Jesus had gone back into Heaven, he sends all of his followers out to change the world, and they start telling people about Jesus. It is making a huge impact in the city of Jerusalem, and the religious leaders, all of them come together and say, “Y’all, we’ve got a problem, and we’ve got to stop these people.” When all of the religious leaders come together in ancient Jerusalem, it’s called the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin in Acts chapter 5 decides, “We’re going to stop this change before it gets out of hand.” Here’s what the Bible says in Acts chapter five, starting in verse 33. (By the way, I’m reading from the Christian Standard Bible today.)

Acts 5:33-42 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re about to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his followers were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. He also perished, and all his followers were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of human origin, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” They were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

This is bulletproof logic that he’s using right now. “Look, if God is not behind this, we don’t have anything to worry about. But, if God isn’t behind this, we may end up on the wrong side of this arm wrestling contest between us and God.” Listen to what he says next, “But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be able to be found fighting against God.” This is church people who are saying, “I hate the change that I’m seeing. I’m going to do something to stop this change. And Gamaliel, this wise rabbi, says “Hey y’all, wait just a second. We believe that God is sovereign, right? We believe that God is in control of everything, right? If these guys are doing something outside of the sovereign will of God, we have nothing to worry about. But, if these guys are actually doing something in the will of God, we may actually be fighting against God.” That’s not a good position to be in.

There were two massive changes happening in Israel. Israel was changing how they worshipped (you don’t have to go to Jerusalem anymore, don’t have to go to the Temple, don’t have to go through a priest and ask him to make sacrifices for you), and Israel was changing whom they worshipped. God had sent the complete revelation of himself. God left Heaven and came to Earth in the form of Jesus, and now the people were worshiping God by worshiping Jesus, and apparently, the people in Jerusalem who were struggling with this the most were church people. They were saying, “We don’t like these changes. We’re going to do something to stop these changes.”

Then Gamaliel stands up with his bulletproof logic and says, “Be careful. If these folks are not from God, we have nothing to worry about. If they are from God and we are not on the same side as them, we are in trouble.” What Gamaliel is saying, every church person needs to keep in mind. Here’s the truth: You’re voice as members of Calvary Baptist Church is important, not more important than my voice. But nobody’s voice in this church is more important than King Jesus, and at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters for our church is, what does Jesus want us to do in 2018? Whatever that is, we are going to courageously follow that thing as a church. And if he doesn’t want us to do this anymore in 2018, we are to stop doing this, because the only voice that matters is King Jesus. It’s his church. -not yours and not mine.

I want to tell you, last year was a really painful year for me, because last year I had this hope for the people who work and minister on our campus that God radically changed, and it was very traumatic for me. When Ricky Smith decided that God was calling him to be a full-time missionary for the state of Georgia, I was crushed personally. Then last week, God did something unusual, I would say almost disturbing, but at the same time, incredibly encouraging to me.

Last weekend, Ricky invited me to come to Macon, Georgia and to observe the MOVE Conference. If you’re not familiar with this. It’s about 5-6 thousand teenagers from all over the Southeast, mostly from the state of Georgia. They go to the Macon Coliseum and spend Friday and most of the day Saturday there. On Friday night, God did something I’ve never seen in my life before. At the end of the service on Friday night in this MOVE Conference, the pastor issued an invitation, and our best guess is about 700 students got up and came forward and surrendered their life to Jesus Christ.

Let me put these numbers into perspective. I have worked the floor of three Billy Graham crusades, and I’ve never seen percentages like this anywhere in my life. It was overwhelming what God did on Friday night in Macon, Georgia. I sat back, and I thought, God, if it wasn’t for you calling that man, Ricky Smith, to do this ministry, I’m convinced I wouldn’t see what I’m seeing tonight.

Here’s the truth: Saturday morning, I just sat next to a volunteer student pastor, a guy in his late 60’s by the name of Darryl. He’s from a really small church in small-town Georgia. It’s Calvary Baptist Church in small-town Georgia that averages about 70 people on Sunday mornings, and in Darryl’s words, all of them are older. Darrryl took 14 students with him to the MOVE Conference. Many of those students were new to church, and many of those students surrendered their soul to Jesus Christ.

You can do the math on this. A volunteer who’s in his late 60s is reaching a huge amount of his audience, and Darryl, when I was sitting next to him on Saturday morning said these words to me: “Something has to change if our church is going to reach the next generation.” I was thinking to myself, a church service on a Sunday morning is not a conference for students; it’s not a rap concert like the MOVE Conference, but it is supposed to change people’s eternity. And what I witnessed in Macon, Georgia reminded me that a church that’s not willing to change will never impact the next generation. As the culture around the church changes, the culture in the church must change.

III Change our city

When a church changes, that church can become the catalyst that will change the city. How many of you know that last year, 2017 (when I say the word city, by the way, I’m referring to the entire Chattahoochee Valley, not just Columbus, Georgia. I’m referring to Muscogee and Harris County over here on this side of the river. I’m referring to Lee and Russell County on the other side of the river), but how many of you are aware that 2017 had the highest number of murders in the history of Columbus? By the Georgia Bureau of Investigation standards, as long as we’ve been counting these numbers, last year was the highest number of homicides in the history of Columbus, Georgia. How many of you are aware that in 2018, there have already been two murders?

If you’re sitting back thinking to yourself, God, I want my city to change, I’m convinced God wants to change this city too, and he wants to change it through his church, through his church people. You see, more police, tougher laws, that’s not going to stop homicide. Men and women changed at the soul-level alone will prevent a homicide. More police and tougher laws can police the homicides after their over, but change at the soul-level is the only thing that will make an impact for eternity, and when it happens to enough people, it will change a city.

So, here’s the story: Last week, we were looking at an example of a city that was radically changed from the book of Jonah. That was Jonah chapter 3. The 4th chapter of Jonah, after God does this miraculous work in the city of Nineveh, the prophet of God, Jonah, gets really angry, and he’s angry with God for what he just did. So, Jonah goes and sits on a mountaintop, and he pouts. In Jonah chapter 4, God has to deal with Jonah now about what’s going on in Jonah’s heart, not only what’s going on in Nineveh. Here’s what the Bible says in Jonah chapter 4, starting in verse 10:

Jonah 4:10-11 So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. 11 But may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?”

In other words, “Jonah I sent you to Nineveh. Jonah, you were supposed to do my work that I sent you do in Nineveh, and then you got angry about it. You went to sit on the side of a mountain. You got comfortable because I raised this plant up to protect you, and when the plant died, you got angry. Jonah, you care more about your comfort than you do this city.” And last week I said Nineveh, at the time that this was written, was probably the largest city in the world, definitely the most wicked city in the world, and maybe the most violent city in the world.

God is saying, “Jonah, you care more about this plant, though you didn’t plant it and you didn’t grow it, than you do 120,000 people who are spiritually clueless? Look, they don’t understand their right from their left. They don’t understand right from wrong.” And God’s already dealt with the people of Jonah in chapter 3. Now, God’s dealing with the one person in the story who is unwilling to change in chapter 4. Now God’s dealing with Jonah. He’s saying, “Jonah, you don’t care about 120,000 people who are going to die and spend eternity in a Christ-less Hell? You hate these people so much, that you don’t want to go to Heaven with them? Jonah, how twisted has your heart become? Look, I care about people. That’s why I sent you, Jonah, to the city of Nineveh. -because I care about people, and I sent you, my messenger, to impact that city because Jonah, they’re not going to get up and come to you. So, I sent you to them.”

When the people of the church start the change personally, then the church starts the change, and when the church starts to change, a church can (I am convinced; it has in the past and will in the future) change a community.

I’ll give you a true story. A long time ago in this city, there was a small church (well, it depends on your measure of small, but it averaged about 125 people on a Sunday morning). That church, basically almost entirely older (the average age was late 60’s),125 people on a Sunday morning, decided, “We want to change our community.”

So those people set out to make an impact on their friends and their neighbors. In one year, that small church of 125 reached and baptized 106 people. You think that’s awesome? The next year, the church continued what they were doing, and the following year, that church reached and baptized 100 people. The year after that, that church was on fire to make a difference in their city, and they reached and baptized 54 people that third year.

Think about it. 125 people on average in the course of 3 years baptized 260 people, more than double the number in their congregation in three years. -because the church cared and decided, “I’m going to do something about my friends or my coworkers or the folks that I go to school with.”

That church was Calvary Baptist Church in 1974, ’75 and ’76.

They baptized 106 people and in ’74. They baptized 100 in ’75, and they baptized 54 people in 1976. This little church made a huge difference in the Chattahoochee Valley, and the church got outside the doors and went to their neighbors, and God blessed what they were doing and many lives were changed.

On an average Sunday around here, we have somewhere between 500 and 600 people in 2 services in this church, and I’m going to put a number in front of you that I’m going to ask you, the church, to pray for. Would you ask God that in 2018, we will baptize 110 people this year? I realize that number can freak you out, but when you think about it, God is certainly able to do this with us. In fact, that equals just a little bit more than two people a week around here, and if we just simply will start having a burden for our friends and neighbors, if you’ll start inviting them to come to church with you, I am convinced God will bless your efforts, and at some point, a person who does not know Christ personally will come to know Jesus Christ.

Perhaps he will do it in 2018, and he will do it here at Calvary Baptist Church. If you will do this, I’ll make a promise to the church. When they come in the doors, I’ll explain to them who Jesus is, what he’s done for them, and how they can surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. Then we’ll just trust the Holy Spirit with what happens next. We won’t take credit for any of this. We will give God all of the credit for what he does in our midst. Look, a church that’s serious about reaching their friends and neighbors can do this. Calvary has already proven we can do this. We proved that more than 40 years ago.

Next Steps:

• Today I asked Jesus to change my soul for the first time.
– I’ve become too comfortable in my faith.
+    I will be an agent of change this year.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What changed in your life last year?
  2. What needs to change in your life this year?
  3. When you surrendered to Jesus, how did your life change?
  4. Have you ever found yourself on the wrong side of the will of God?  If so, what was life like when you were not following God’s will?
  5. What are the things that you believe should never change in a church?  (Explain your answer using Scripture.)
  6. What do you believe is the #1 thing that needs to change in the Chattahoochee Valley this year? Why is that #1 for you?
  7. Pray for God to make you an agent of change this year.

Further reading

Acts 8:1-4

May 5, 2019Pastor Jeff Struecker Sermon Notes I. The Gospel has always been under attack Acts 8:1Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a...

Acts 7

April 14, 2019Pastor Jeff Struecker Sermon Notes I. God calls a people Acts 7:1-8 “Are these things true?” the high priest asked. 2...