What Keeps the Church Afloat
A challenge to FBC in preparation for our future
Did you ever float in a small inflatable boat? I took one down the Merced River in Yosemite Valley and it was awesome to float, surrounded by 3,000-foot granite cliffs, waterfalls, wildlife and beauty. But the next time I did it, it was not so good–why? I had a leak and I sank like the Titanic. The key to boating is to keep the boat dry on the inside and the water on the outside. Sometimes the struggle is because of the boat–and sometimes the struggle is because of unstable seas, rough rapids or a dangerous body of water. But the worst possible boating event is when there are problems with both the boat and the seas.
This is exactly what your family, our church and each Christian is facing today. You and I are sailing in very dangerous waters. Right now, the Lord is punishing the people of our nation by letting them increase into greater sin. Romans 1 teaches us God’s wrath lets people go–first declining into lusts, then given over to homosexuality—and finally what you see now, into a depraved mind. Friends, with the White House flying the flag of the LGBTQ . . . with our legal systems, school systems, and news media pushing against every biblical conviction we treasure, our world is pressing every genuine Christian in this room to not believe in only two genders–homosexuality is a moral perversion hateful to God, criminals are responsible for their actions, that police are servants of God in society, and selfishness and pride are sin. We now sail in dangerous waters today.
But if the rough seas of the world were not bad enough, the boats we desperately need to survive these deadly waters are leaky and sinking. The local church is the boat that floats on the dangerous waters of this world and today, churches are falling apart, leaking, drifting from truth, losing their purpose, marring their witness, totally ignoring their Captain, and sinking under the storm. How can we stay afloat, follow our Captain and make a difference in today’s stormy sea? How can the local church not shipwreck, leak, swamp, sink or lose her way?
Today, after our Old Testament summer series and before we begin the Sermon on the Mount, I want to fire up your convictions about the local church and fortify our church. You need to know why you attend, worship, serve, give and fellowship with this body. You need to know what it takes to stay afloat and how to follow our Captain in stormy seas. You need to pursue what’s required of each one of you to keep the church healthy and moving. You need to grow in your affection for the groom by together loving Him as His bride. You need to be able to help others know what a healthy church is. What will keep the church, our church, afloat and healthy? We only have time for six today.
#1 Commit to follow your spiritual FATHERS
Turn to Hebrews 13:17. Churches are weak when they’re led by only one man. And churches are leaky when their leaders are merely wealthy businessmen, doctors, lawyers, and CEO’s first, instead of men who actually live out five crucial truths. Leaders are to . . .
a) Be set apart by the Holy Spirit and affirmed by the church family–Acts 20:28
b) Be qualified in character, as men you can trust according to–Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3
c) Function as shepherds with a massive love for people–1 Peter 5:1 to 5
d) Be men who uphold and instruct the doctrine and direction of the Church–Titus 1:9
e) Those who seek Christ’s will first as the head of the Church over their own desires–Colossians 2:19
Churches will take on water when they don’t have leadership who pursue those five requirements. God designed it to be men who lead their homes, men who lead the church, and men who preach the Word in services. Both elders and husbands function as the head of their family and the head of the church family under the headship of Christ. Elders don’t control the church like employers, make decisions like a board of directors–they don’t write you tickets like a sheriff, they shepherd the church family like a father.
Each church is unique and each elder is unique, but they are to function as one, seeking the one will of Christ, who is the leader and the head of the Church. Some elders will be uniquely gifted as preachers and equippers. Others are gifted teachers, some with gifts of compassion and faith, others with unique discernment, strong discipleship, or gifted in wisdom. Yet as a plurality, because of their desire for Christ to lead, their uniqueness instead of dividing them actually allows the elders to better understand Christ’s will for the church family.
Local churches start to sink when they take an approach that elders can believe different theological positions on major issues. Local churches scuttle when elders are just yes men to the senior pastor. Local churches leak when the fathers of the flock do not shepherd the body or function as examples to follow. Local churches break apart when elders make their preferences into principles.
The first concern Paul had when establishing a local church was qualified, functioning, called elders who want Christ’s will above their own (Titus 1:5). Yet it is a fearful thing to become an elder. Read Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Ouch–elders will give an account to God for their church family.
So here is a shocker–at FBC, we want every man to be an elder. Maybe you are not called to be one here, but you can grow in character, develop shepherding, grow deep in the Word, and seek Christ’s will over your own in everything. FBC desires a church where men will function as elders without being called an elder. And what is unique here is, the elders listen to the mature men in our midst. We need you and what you say matters. Seriously, where would FBC be without its godly, world-impacting men and women? It’s how the Lord keeps us afloat.
Some of you may be sent, others of you may leave the region because of work, and the Lord will use you as elders, staff members or leaders in other church families. So our passion for you is to buy up every opportunity you have here in ministry, in training, in discipleship, in shepherding, in teaching, in your giftedness in our lay-run church, in order for you to be used of God here or elsewhere, for His glory and your joy. Stable churches need qualified, shepherding, teaching, Christ-following elders–and with them, mature ministers who will keep this church afloat during stormy times.
#2 Pursue serving one another into a loving COMMUNITY
Local churches begin to sink when the truth of sacrificing yourself, discipleship, having hard conversations, and the sacrifice of faithful weekly ministry becomes something only for the committed, and not the common Christian. Make certain you get this–every authentic, true, real, born again Christian is being sanctified. Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” If you are not growing, seen over time, you are not a Christian.
This is simple, friends–sanctification is the process where the Holy Spirit is making you more like Christ. That is the one thing God wants to do in your life–make you more like Christ. It is why He chose to save you in eternity past. Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” That is the number one goal of the apostle Paul for all believers. Galatians 4:19, “My children, with whom I am again in labor-until Christ is formed in you.”
So when you become like Christ, what are you like? What was Christ like? We know Christ was a servant. What did Christ come to do? Be a servant. Who did Christ state was the greatest among you? The servant–Christians serve each other. You don’t love others with feelings, you don’t merely love others with words, you love others with sacrificial action. Could the Apostle John be more pointed than in 1 John 3:18? “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” You love with deeds.
Do you understand what a sacrifice is? Sacrifices are deeds which cost you. You give up time at home. Your budget feels the pinch, your time is more packed, you have less hang out time with friends, not as much vacation–it costs you. David had the right heart when buying the property for the future Temple. The seller offered the property to the king for free–how did David respond? “Such a deal–thanks!” No–2 Samuel 24:24, “However, the king said to Araunah, ‘No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor.”
Why don’t we offer the Lord our leftovers, our extra, or that which is not a personal sacrifice? Second Corinthians 5:15 says, “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” Christ suffered and sacrificed for us so we might live for Him. On a regular basis, what does your Christianity cost you in terms of time, money, preparation, study, prayer, sacrifice and relationships?
God is so committed to each of you serving each other, He even gifted you in order to serve, and pre-prepared ways for you to serve so you might glorify God in a unique way in His Church. First Peter 4:10, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Spiritual gifts are God-given abilities for service within and for the body of Christ. You only learn what your unique combination of giftedness is by serving and talking honestly to those you serve. And even though it costs you, with occasional weariness and difficulty, the end result will be purpose and joy in your heart that is overwhelming. Does your Christianity regularly cost you? I am not speaking about on-line giving, but cost you–cost your time, your heart, your concern, your abilities?
And yes, love your lost neighbors, sacrifice for your secular friends at work, and your buds at school. Yes, be a witness to them by your deeds of sacrifice. But remember Paul’s exhortation to you about who the priority is–Galatians 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Especially serve those in your church family. Our love for one another, shown in service and sacrifice to each other, must be strong–it must be seen by all who visit our church. This is what Jesus prayed in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love is the glue that holds this boat together. The core of this church is amazingly loving–so much so that I am asking the Lord to allow me to die or be raptured here with this congregation. Yet even as I say thank you, Paul steps in and says in I Thessalonians 4:9 and 10, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more,” Some of you have been abused in the church, and others taught poorly.
For years, some of you were affirmed by church leadership as you merely attended church occasionally. And I hope, right now, the Spirit of God is prodding you to repent and begin to serve and to sacrifice. Listen friends, the church is not a cruise ship, where 20% serve the 80% who paid their way on board in order to be pampered for a few days. We took my son Matthew and his wife Danielle on a cruise to Alaska with some inheritance money. We had a steward named Rex. Rex did everything for us. He made our bed, he fluffed our pillows, he cleaned our bathroom–he slaved for us. Then we came home and said for six months, “Where is Rex? We need Rex. Rex will do it.” That is not the Church, friend–the Church is not a cruise ship.
The church is a battle ship and your captain is Christ. We are at war–we are sailing in rough seas and each one of you has a job to do. Our skipper will guide us to victory, but it requires every single sailor to do their job. If you’re saved, that’s you, senior. And that’s you, Junior Higher, that’s you, mom of four. That’s you, busy dad–we will not stay afloat unless every single one of us love each other enough to serve and sacrifice for each other in this community.
#3 Experience the joy of sacrificial GIVING
When I think of giving, I think of three things.
First You can’t outgive God
The more you give, the more you are blessed in return, literally–this is not health-wealth gospel, but biblical truth. God will meet your needs abundantly and give back to givers abundant blessing and joys. Proverbs 3:9 and 10, “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; 10So your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.”
I have a long-term friend who I have tried to outgive–I’ve never succeeded. Just when I think I have ‘the giver edge’ between us, every time, he comes up with some way to bless me more in return. Ous Lord Jesus is just like that–you cannot outgive Jesus Christ. But there are Christians who will never discover that blessing, because they won’t give by faith and trust God to take care of them. Proverbs 11:24, “There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.”
I will never forget a young relative who, after a year of faithful giving, said to her husband–“Look at what God did this year. We faithfully gave over 10% this year, and our budget became stable. We paid off our debts and we were blessed with these specific things we could never have done or enjoyed.”
Second Giving accomplishes great things for the Lord’s glory
Speaking on giving allows me to share some of our dreams for our church family. We never dream about more money as a church, but we do dream about more ministry as a church–ways to share the Gospel, ways to equip Christians, and sometimes those Gospel-driven ministries cost money.
We continue to train men and women, both in the Training Center and in Seminary. Some of those men will move on to be in supported ministry. We continue to send missionaries, like Terrell, Jesse and others. Right now we support those two full-time, in order to train and send them–not because we want more full-time staff. And we joyfully anticipate supporting them as they go to the field. And there will be more who want to go.
We believe churches should birth churches–church planting. Like having a baby, it is a massive joy and have you noticed–an expensive one. But we would love to see 10 FBC’s in the southern California region, some in the US and some overseas. We have men right now who want to finish their training in order to plant churches and I am hoping someday we can hire them to get them ready to plant. We invest in our student camps, because we continue to see the Lord use them to reach lost students. We also want to see outreach camps take place on our campus in the future, along with VBS, sports camps, tech camp, children’s sing camp–other ways we can reach the lost.
We desire to use our campus to assist our police departments, potentially teachers, or doctors, or specialty groups to have greater outreach to them. There are a few of you who have a strong desire to reach a certain group in our region and in time–we might possibly be able to let you run with that. We have talked about a ministry to the physically challenged, again waiting for a permanent building, but that hope is on the horizon. We want to continue to support our missionaries at a high level, having a few we support relationally, personally and financially in a big way. Our property will eventually have missionary housing on campus, but sadly I think that is phase 53, unless you give that huge gift we’re praying for.
It is not intended to save money, but our philosophy of having a lay-run church does help us financially, as the number of our paid staff is, no exaggeration, half of what other churches our size have. There are times it is overwhelming for our paid team, and for me, but we believe it is the healthiest approach. We’ve discussed schooling options for our parents and children–but sincerely, we have to get the worship building, children’s wing and zoning approved in order to even consider some of the more dramatic options of helping with education. When we get on property, we will be praying and seeking to raise what we will need in order to build the worship center in less than two years so we don’t have to go through the process of reapplying for new building permits.
Paul’s focus is that giving is a blessing to the giver. Philippians 4:16 and 17, “For even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.” Our giving is like the fuel that allows our ship to reach new people in new places.
Third Giving is a reflection of your heart
You can’t get around it. Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So many of you faithfully give online and that is fantastic–but the Lord would say, don’t merely give online and neglect your joy. Annually check what you give, adjust what you give every year, believe God to assist you to give joyously and sacrificially. Many of you need to begin to give faithfully online. Every biblical financial teacher I know says, “Even when you’re in debt, start giving faithfully.”
I know of one person whose spouse struggles with giving, so they gave cash in the Sunday boxes from their cash spending money every week. Giving is a reflection of your heart, 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Churches begin to founder when the lack of financial fuel runs low.
#4 Develop CONVICTIONS over God’s Word
The Bible is our map. The Bible is the stars by which we navigate. Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The Word brings about faith, gives spiritual life, causes us to mature, sanctifies us, convicts us, liberates us, refreshes us, renews us and revives us. We must stick to the Word, no matter how counterculture it is. Some of you came from churches where the Word was being compromised in a big way.
Second Timothy 4:2 to 4, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” But at FBC, we want to be like Nehemiah 8:8, “They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.” Like Nehemiah, we only want to hear God’s Word as God intended it. Every verse in the Bible has only one correct meaning–we want to determine the author’s intended message of every verse. From there we determine our doctrine and those doctrinal beliefs determine our behavior.
Our doctrinal statement is very specific, and we believe it reflects the teaching of the Scripture. So at FBC, we press you to develop solid convictions about what the Word teacher, no matter what comes, no matter what the cost—no compromise. We believe the Bible teaches that there are no sign gifts, no man-centered psychology, no Covenantal spiritualizing of the text, no deviation from substitutionary atonement. No women elders or no women pastor teacher preachers–two distinct roles, men lovingly lead their homes and this church. That men minister primarily to men and women minister primarily to women. No embracing of immorality, no legitimizing homosexuality or other perversions.
We believe the world is getting worse, not better. We don’t embrace what experts say, science says, preachers say, bloggers say and pod-casters say when they teach, write or speak contrary to the Bible. We will not compromise–no bowing down, no skipping the difficult issues. Churches run aground and sink when they ignore or distort the Word of God. It’s happening now. Recently at Rancho Church, Scott Treadway preached a sermon where he clearly denied the substitutionary atonement of Christ–meaning Christ dies for your sin as your substitute. JP and I didn’t’ have to, but we went and met with him, and he affirmed that is exactly what he believes. Though there are a few others on staff at Rancho who believe in substitutionary atonement, this is a devastating drift from the truth of God’s Word for all who attend there, and would be considered heresy by the apostles and the reformers.
Our elders, myself, and the next generation of leaders of FBC will not move from the truth, my friends. You can trust that we will not compromise. But you must develop convictions over the truth in order to not run aground in the world’s way of thinking. Remember, beliefs are what you hold, but convictions are what hold you firm.
#5 Embrace all the PRACTICES of a Bible-obeying church
There are practices which make our ship run smoothly in stormy waters–what are some?
Gathering together weekly and meeting house to house–that’s the Early Church and that’s FBC. Together on Sunday and mid-week CGs in homes. How consistent will you be this year to both Sunday and mid-week? Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Discipleship–intentional relationships in the church for the purpose of the Gospel and growth in Christ
Prayer–dependent communication with your heavenly Father to align yourself with His will
Church discipline–the loving process of pursuing those in defiant sin
Membership–the commitment to live one heart and one mind with a church body
Communion–to regularly remember the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf
Evangelism–sharing the message of Christ’s death for sin and resurrection from the dead on our behalf, and backing it up with a life that demonstrates Christ
Baptism–for adult believers, to identify with their immersion in Christ and immersion into His Church. Babies were never baptized in the Early Church because baptism is an expression of belief, where you’re willing to forsake family and friends to follow Christ. Each of these and more keep us moving in the right direction.
#6 Growing in our awareness of our SINFULNESS and our desperate need for Christ daily
Are you sinners? I am a sinner and I am sometimes surprised by my tainted motives, selfish desires, proud thoughts and rebellious practices–are you? Our neighborhood sent out a snarky note about keeping our garbage cans separated by a foot so the garbage truck can pick them up easier—and I always do, okay? But what did I want to do? I wanted to roll them out and separate each can by 20 to 30 feet in response to their snarkiness. I am an evil rebel. (I didn’t do it.) Oh wretched man that I am. Truly, I am the chief of sinners in every way–I need Jesus Christ in every way, every day–in salvation, in sanctification, and to bring me home to Heaven in glorification. And so do you.
What will mess you up? What will sink us as a church and you as a Christian?
A Not believing that cultural Christianity is actually HATEFUL to Christ
It is massively okay in most churches for you to occasionally attend, give a little, serve a little, interconnect a little, and be a nice, safe, average, Christian. But it is not okay with the Lord. Jesus says in Revelation 3:15 and 16, “’I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.’”
Be warned, marginal believing is mostly make believing. The Lord goes on to tell these church attenders they’re wretched and blind, needing the white clothes of righteousness. They need to be saved. Do you? True Christians are committed to Christ–are you? What will sink us as a church?
B Thinking only of yourself or your family and making the church community an EXTRA or optional
Relationships can often be messy, hurtful and difficult–yet they are exactly what Christ designed for you to mature. Not being a part of the community, not being a part of the mission of the Church, not being a part of relationships for Gospel and growth is not God’s will. You’re not here to merely to raise a family, you are here to be an integral part of a community–one that grows together, one anothers each other, is a witness to the lost by how we love each other, invests men to men, women to women, evetin couple to couple in discipleship. All of that is not extra–it is expected. What will mess you up?
C Retreating from culture out of fear or fighting to right the culture, instead of being broken over your sin and EVANGELIZING the culture
Our culture is anti-Christian, anti-Church, and anti-Christ. California is scary, but don’t move to Texas–the rest of the nation is not far behind. New laws legislating your verbal response to moral issues will result in your persecution. There is no political party that will stop God’s Romans 1 judgment and this decline. So what’s the answer? Paul is saying in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
Those who put ALL their hope in moving away or political change are ashamed of the Gospel. The darker culture gets, the brighter the Gospel shines. The Church is God’s plan, and the Gospel alone has the power to change lives. Finally, what will sink our church in the difficult waters of today?
D Not having confidence in God’s empowerment as you’re dependently OBEDIENT
If we trust Christ, depend upon the Holy Spirit, and live obedient to His Word, the Lord will empower us to do the incredible–will you choose to believe it? Ephesians 3:20 and 21, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21to Him be the glory [where?] in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Let’s pray.