August has been crazy! I have been out of town for a good portion of the month. For the first couple of weeks of August, I was with a team from our church serving alongside believers in Russia. During my time in Russia, our oldest son, Luke, started kindergarten. I hated to miss his first few days of school, but I was thankful to be in Russia among friends we have made over the years.
A little over a week after returning from Russia, we quickly put together a team to go to Ponchatoula, Louisiana to help with disaster relief following the significant flooding in Southeast Louisiana. For me, it was heart-wrenching. The area that was flooded was the area I used to live in. I love that area, and it was difficult for me seeing my former community hurting. However, I was so proud of our church for responding so quickly to the needs in Louisiana.
As we begin the month of September, I’m finally having some time to reflect on a super-busy August. In the midst of all the business, God reminded me of three very important lessons that are crucial for the mission of the local church. Let me share those lessons with you.
The church is bigger than one local congregation.
It’s really easy to get tunnel-vision when it comes to the local church. As a pastor, most of my thoughts are about the church that I pastor. If I’m honest, I don’t think much about other churches in our community. I think about my church. If I’m really honest, I don’t pray much for other churches in our community either. I pray for my church. When it comes to the church, I have tunnel-vision. All I see is Big Stevens Creek, but the church is much larger than Big Stevens Creek. If I don’t see the church as the universal body of Christ, I can miss out on what God is doing in my community and all over the world. This is why I love going to Russia! For a couple of weeks, we have the opportunity to work alongside believers on the other side of the world. These men and women we serve with love Jesus just like we do, and they are just as passionate about the Great Commission as we are. And, just as the church in Russia is an encouragement to us, we are an encouragement to them. I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say to me something like, “We’re so glad you came because it motivates us to reach out to our community.”
When we see the church as bigger than one local congregation, we are able to see more clearly God’s work in the world. And, when we see the church as bigger than one local congregation, we are able to enjoy partnering with other churches in our own community and across the world for the sake of the Gospel. Let me challenge you to pray for other churches in our community, and as a church, let’s continue to look for ways to partner with Gospel-centered churches so that we can make Christ known together.
The church functions best when we get outside the walls.
I love gathering at our church campus for worship, Bible study, and fellowship. Many major milestones in my spiritual journey have happened inside the walls of a church facility. That’s probably true for you as well. However, the church is not called to huddle up in a building and isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. We have a real mission, and the church cannot achieve the mission of God unless the church leaves the building. In August, it was a blessing to see the church at Big Stevens Creek in action. Whether it was our students ministering in a local apartment complex, our trip to Russia, or our trip to Louisiana, we were an Acts 1:8 church this past month as we touched our Jerusalem (North Augusta), our Samaria (Louisiana), and the ends of the earth (Russia).
What I love about ministering alongside of brothers and sisters outside of the church walls is the opportunity to get to know some of our church members better than I might be able to otherwise. There’s something about serving for the sake of the Gospel alongside of someone that deepens your bond in Christ with that person. Those shared experiences of serving Christ together outside the walls of Big Stevens Creek build a great foundation of friendship and accountability. The way God has designed it is as we are accomplishing His mission as a church we are also growing in Christ together as we forge deep Gospel-centered relationships. I can’t help but believe that the church functions best when we get outside of the walls. Let me encourage you to consider joining your brothers and sisters in Christ in some type of ministry outside the walls of our church campus. Whether it’s prayer-walking a neighborhood, taking meals to shut-ins, or being involved in a short-term international mission trip, you will grow in Christ-centered fellowship with other believers as you together focus on the mission of God.
The church has more potential to bring about change than any other organization.
When in Louisiana, I was glad to see so many rushing to the aid of those who were hurting. Many relief organizations are still on the ground helping people to put their lives back together. However, while relief organizations may feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, only the church has the message that can really change lives. In no way am I discrediting the fine work many relief organizations are doing right now in Louisiana, but what if Christians were known as the first responders in times of disaster? I vividly remember how Southern Baptists were on the front lines of relief work after Hurricane Katrina. Now, years after Hurricane Katrina, our Southern Baptist Convention has a well-developed disaster relief system for which I am thankful. In fact, during our trip to Louisiana we talked about how our church can develop our own disaster relief team to respond to crises like the flooding in Louisiana. You see, if we can get to the front lines to help those are hurting, not only will we be able to meet their physical needs, but the door will be opened for us to meet their most pressing need: a relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you see? The church has so much potential to bring about real and lasting change in this world if we will simply leave our church facilities and engage our world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s be honest. Times have changed drastically in the last quarter century. The lost and dying are not coming to our church in droves. Instead, we must go to the lost and dying in droves. We must fight the temptation to isolate ourselves from the world, and we must go to those who are hurting with the Good News of a God who loves them through Jesus Christ. Will you pray for our church? Will you pray that God will stir within us a renewed desire to live for His mission instead? Will you pray that God would deliver us from self-seeking, self-centered hearts that have a tendency to turn a blind-eye to the world? Would you pray that we would have the wisdom to know how to best engage unbelievers around us?
August was a great month for Big Stevens Creek! Thank you for all of your prayers and support as we touched our community, our nation, and our world! Way to go Big Stevens Creek! Let’s stay focused on what God has before us!
I’m thankful to be a part of a church that desires to be a Great Commission church!