Today is going to be a little different than normal. It’s our last week of the “Why Church?” series, and so our goal is to look at “Why Send?” today, and give you a glimpse into what we hope to be a major emphasis for our church, starting especially in the next year or two. But, with that today will also serve as like a state-of-church-address. We usually do something like this over the new year, but I just thought today would work out well with it being the last week of this series. I’m also leaving a little more time than usual for the Texting Q&A near the end. This particular Q&A is wide open for asking questions about Raintree’s future. Now, I’m not promising I’ll answer all of them today, but I will try and answer them this week, by responding to those texts.
So, jumping into what has been going on at Raintree for the past few years. What has God done in the last few years? Because I want to bring this up before we get into our goals, or what we’re praying toward, by God’s grace, for the next few years. Right off the bat, three years ago, a major focus for us as a church was:
- Meaningful Church Membership.
And so, we put together Raintree 101, and officially made that kind-of the first step toward covenant membership with Raintree. Some of you were in that inaugural Raintree 101 class in December of 2015- the Spies, even a few long-time members like the Goughs. They were our guinea pigs. We’ve tweaked Raintree 101 a lot, especially in those first few months, but we feel, strongly, that this class has helped new people in particular, understand what it means to be part of the church, and why we have a formal covenant that simply summarizes what it is to be part of biblical community.
And honestly, 101 has helped to ensure that those who want to covenant with Raintree, have heard a clear gospel presentation. In this day and age, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in a local church before, we cannot assume people who want to join a church are truly believers in Jesus, or even that they’ve heard a clear gospel message. So, we do that in 101, and, now, something we’ve added to our membership process is that each person shares with an elder, at least briefly, their testimony of coming to know Jesus. I got to hear Hanna Lagud’s testimony this last Wednesday night, a great story of God’s grace. So, we hear from their own mouths, how they came to faith in Christ. To me, that should be a bare minimum for church membership, because by accepting someone into the church membership, we’re affirming them as Christians. And in this day and age where so many think that they’re Christians simply because they’re generally moral people, clarity is more important than ever. The 2ndbig thing God helped us with:
- Healthy Financial Habits
Financially, Raintree wasn’t in the greatest spot three years ago. This is generally true of any church in transition. It’s just something that happens. But, we made some hard choices, changing several things, and it was a difficult time. Some of the congregation were so relieved we were trying to get on track financially, others just disagreed with the choices of the elders. But, with those hard decisions, and with other improvements on financial habits, we are in a better place financially today.
We have a long way to go financially. Most of you are aware that our building debt is 41% of our entire church budget, which is crippling in some ways, but we are hitting budget consistently now, and that building debt was more like 51% three years ago. So, we’re heading in the right direction, and we have about 7 years left on payments, which feels like we’re at least not too far away from being finished with it.
Generally speaking, financially, we are better off than we were three years ago, in some ways we are far better off. By God’s grace, we have generally healthy habits when it comes to our finances. The third big thing that we’ve been able to focus on, by God’s grace:
- Children’s and Small Group Ministries
In the past, we had a good number of people who had been serving in the same areas of ministry for many years, some of whom because they felt called to do that, others because there was no one else who would do it. So we established the serve cycle, freeing people up from thinking they’re signing their lives away by signing up to serve. Now, there is an end-date for any volunteer position you sign up for. Honestly, that’s also helped some of you even try new things, areas of ministry you weren’t sure about.
We also began our Sunday morning Bible Study for children. We had Children’s Church already, but we started a Bible Study hour on Sundays for kids, during the adult Bible Study hour. We also added our women’s and men’s groups that meet on Sundays, as well as several other small groups that have started over the last few years. We started trying to emphasize the importance of small groups, especially in the beginning of each semester. Generally speaking, our small group ministry has grown, our children’s ministries have grown, and our serve cycle, generally speaking, has worked well for us.
Obviously, we’re always looking for more volunteers, especially because the number of children in our church is consistently growing. But, honestly, if you look at the percentage of covenant members serving in some capacity within the church, we’re at close to 60%, which is phenomenal. That may not sound like a lot, but that’s a well above average percentage for volunteers. So, generally speaking these areas are going well, although, of course, there are improvements we want to make, and areas to shore up, especially in training small group leaders and volunteers, which I’ll talk about some in a bit. In all of these areas, we have a long way to go, but God has been gracious in developing these areas also. The 4thbig focus I want to mention:
- Church Constitution
This may sound like a boring one. Ryan, church constitution does not sound like an exciting thing, or even like a big deal. But, for those of you who’ve been part of church leadership, especially, you know the importance of a church constitution. We had a church constitution before, and I remember really being glad that it wasn’t 50 pages. It was 5 pages, I thought it was accessible, and yet in making those hard financial decisions in 2016, it became obvious that our Constitution really needed to be far more clear as to our agreed-upon ways of doing things.
So, why a Constitution? And why, if you ever are looking at churches to potentially join, you need to ask for their constitution and bylaws, whatever they call it. Here’s why: The congregation can know that these are the ways in which the church will function, no matter changes in elders or pastors or leadership. This is how the church will function, unless the whole church votes to amend it. You can be assured that I not only won’t, but can’t go off the deep-end, and remove all the elders, and just proclaim myself to be the sole leader of Raintree, and you have to do what I say. Or, a pastor or elder can’t decide on their own that the church will now start teaching that the Bible is reliable, but it has errors in it. I personally know of four churches in the last three years who, without even knowing it, have hired pastors who do not affirm inerrancy. Especially when it comes to sound doctrine, there can’t be a subtle compromising of Scripture, certainly not on a formal level, because of our constitution. It is more important than maybe you think. So, by God’s grace, over the course of a year, this constitution was formulated and adopted by congregational vote this last January. And the last one I wanted to bring up, it’s really two:
- Community Outreach & EQUIP Campaign
One of our goals for this year in particular was to get out into our community more. So, we’ve taken small, but good, steps toward this. Providing a pancake breakfast for teachers at Ray-Pec East Middle School, being directly involved in helping in the Raintree subdivision, especially: their Easter Egg Hunt, July 4thCarnival, and now their Trunk or Treat on the 28th. BTW: please sign up to volunteer in the entryway. Sunday evening, the 28th, two volunteer time slots you can choose: 4-6pm, and 6-8:30pm. More and more, we’re hoping to be involved in our immediate community especially.
And the EQUIP Campaign was a big focus this year. In the end, we raised $60,000 for different physical needs around the church. So, all five of these things are important and have been good. We have not arrived in any of them, at all. But those are some of the things, by God’s grace, we’ve been attempting to address in the last three years.
Now, these are all the more measurable things. We haven’t even brought up spiritual growth that I think God has fostered in us as a church. Frankly, I know I’ve grown spiritually, a lot. We could probably share many stories of the ways that God has grown and developed us as his children. And this is through the food that God provides that we get to feast on each week together, but also just through relationships with each other, our small groups, our fellowship, our praying for one another. We need to pray for improvement in these areas, always. Those are the things we must always be fostering and hoping to grow in as a church.
So, here’s the question that inevitably comes to mind: besides simply being faithful in all the ways we’ve addressed in this series so far—Preaching, Praying, Equipping, Singing, Discipling, Fellowshipping—all of these are so important, is there a big one missing that we’d like to really address as a church in the coming years? Yes: Sending. We want to become, by God’s grace, a sending church.
Turn to Romans 10. We’re going to read verses 13-15. We’re only looking at this briefly, and I hope I’m not jipping you on spiritual food, by not giving as much exposition as usual, but I do want us to read these few verses, and see how we want to become a sending church in the coming years. Romans 10, and I want us to start with just verse 13:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Praise God, yes? It is a magnificent thing that anyone and everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved! This gospel we have to offer is open to anyone and everyone! Truly! In every way! This is awesome! But, we also want to be clear as to what it means to call on the name of the Lord.
If you read all of chapter 10, you can see that these two affirmations: “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus is risen!” Those two proclamations sum up how faith was expressed, especially early on. Those were the markers for knowing who, truly, were followers of Jesus.. “He is Lord, Master, King!” And “He is risen! He not only died; He rose!”
So, faith in Jesus as Lord and as died and risen for us, that is what saves us. Placing our hope and trust in him and what he’s done for us. That’s the context of Romans 10, when we get to verse 13. “Calling on the name of the Lord” is a quote from Joel 2:32. And in context, when Joel says “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord,” he means an exclusive worship of God, the only God able to save!
The picture here of calling out to the Lord is a calling out in desperation! “I am a sinner, undeserving of God’s love, and yet I trust in Jesus, through whom God loves me and makes me his son despite my sin!” It is awesome news that anyone who calls out to God like that will be saved! There is no exception! But that’s what makes verses 14 and 15 that much more gripping. Read those with me:
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Now, technically, verse 16, the next verse, is the point of the paragraph. Paul writes, in verse 16: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel.” His real point in the paragraph as a whole is that Israel, in particular, has not believed. They haven’t responded to the good news of the gospel in obedience—in other words, by believing in Jesus. That’s the point of the paragraph. But what I want us to focus in on is this progression in verses 14 and 15.
He’s making a logical argument here. There are four steps to his argument: Verse 13 is his statement: salvation is given to anyone who calls on the name of Jesus. But (here’s the progression of his argument, in your notes), 4 parts:
- No one can call on the name of Jesus without believing.
- No one can believe if they never hear the gospel.
- No one can hear the gospel if no one is preaching.
- And no one can preach unless they are sent.
Turn it around and you this: Send, preach, hear, believe, call on Jesus. What does it all start with?! Being sent! If people aren’t being sent, other people will not call on Jesus! There’s no way to get around it!
Now, one of the interesting things here is this last part of verse 15, in which Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:7- “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.” He quotes this verse probably to show that the preaching and sharing of the gospel that we do as Christians today, ultimately is a fulfillment of the foreshadowing that happens throughout the Old Testament. They preached deliverance from exile in Babylon. They preached deliverance from slavery in Egypt; so on and so forth. Ultimately, the great deliverance all of that points to, is this deliverance that Christ has, once and for all, accomplished.
Here’s what this all boils down to: We have the greatest news in the history of the world, and we cannot keep it inside of this building. We must take it outside this building. Outside of our homes. Certainly to our homes and in our homes, but also out there! You and I are all sent by God in some way! You and I, every one of us, is called to share this Great News. What’s the news: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” This is glorious! Everyone! This isn’t just for you and me!
This must be one of the main focuses we have as a church, both as individuals—how do we foster this among one another, each in our own spheres of influence. But also altogether. How are we equipping, training, developing, and sendingpeople out? I want to give you a few of our goals for the coming years in sending people out. By God’s grace, and prayerfully, by his leading, how will we become a sending church?
How We Can Become a Sending Church
- We will train each other to share the Gospel.
We will emphasize the gospel, and emphasize our need to take it to the lost. That’s why I love hearing gospel testimonies. We get to hear the gospel over and over over. We sing the gospel over and over and over. And, hopefully, we’re preaching and teaching the gospel over and over and over. Naturally, if you’re filled with the gospel, it will spill out.
- We will support missions all over the world.
We have multiple missionaries we support directly, who you will be hearing from starting next Sunday. Please look at this schedule we’ve given you, and consider attending as many of those events as you possibly can, to hear what God is doing, and to know how to pray and to find out what else we can do. We also support the Cooperative Program, which directly funds nearly 6,000 missionaries all over the world. In this way, truly, we are part of sending full-time missionaries all over the world. But this is something, by God’s grace, we will continue to do more and more.
- We will develop a Leadership Pipeline.
This is something new, that really only the elders have talked about. This is something that will help our church greatly: not only trying to recognize potential leaders and those with particular gifts for the church, but to have something to help developleaders. That’s our goal with this. The heart of this Leadership Pipeline will be a Leadership Lab. We’re working on all the details, but this would likely look like Saturday mornings once a month for 6 months, but a full, like 4-hour Lab on Leadership.
This will be for anyone who’d like to be part of it, but especially for anyone wanting to lead out in the future in some capacity in our church, whether it be small group leaders, team leader, deacon, elder, church planting team, anything. We’d focus in on several things: 4 areas we’d hope to cover:
- Our Church DNA: more behind the scenes- why do we do what we do.
- Theological Distinctives: These are listed on our website and in our constitution, but what do they really mean? Why are these our distinctives when it comes to doctrine?
- Church Leadership: leading a small group, or team, or mission trip, or any ministry, and what it looks like to be a deacon or elder.
- General Leadership: conflict resolution, problem-solving, decision-making, team-building, communication, etc.
We’re working on this, and hope to have more soon. But this is a great way to go beyond merely our current leadership process, which is just trying to recognize people with leadership abilities or giftings, and instead actually be part of developing some of you into leadership roles. I hope for some, or even many of you, that that’s an exciting thought to be part of it. Because I really hope a good number of you will join us in this Leadership Lab. And that, especially, leads us to answer number 4. What does it mean to become a sending church? Number 4:
- We will plant and revitalize churches.
We’ve said this consistently for the last three years, in every Raintree 101 class, and we are really praying toward this now for the next few years. The local church is God’s strategy for expanding his kingdom all over the world. We want to be part of helping God’s kingdom spread outside of Raintree Community Church. We feel the most effective way to truly reach people with the Gospel and see them discipled is by helping other local churches that are struggling, and by sending people out from our church to plant other churches. We will be talking more about this in the next year, what this will look like, and praying for clear guidance from the Holy Spirit.
And I want you to be praying in all these ways, how God might send YOU. For certain, God has sent you to your co-workers and neighbors and friends and family. Maybe also, you will lead out within our church. And then, maybe even God will send you outside of this church to another church. Selfishly, we’d love to keep you. But for God’s glory and the spread of the Gospel, we need to send some of you.
Be praying toward these things with us. All of these things. That’s really what today is about. Be praying for greater health for our church. Be praying that God would clearly guide us with how and where he wants to send us. Because I have a feeling he will not be reluctant in answering that prayer.
This is a commonly used illustration, but I think it’s gripping nonetheless. Scene 1: Imagine there is an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, full of people who are sick, and who will die soon. The problem is that none of them really know it. And imagine that God has placed you with the cure right in the middle of that island. You have two options: You can tell as many people as you possibly can about the cure. You can’t force them to take it, but you can share with them that it’s there and it’s available to anyone. Or, you can enjoy your own personal health and life; don’t concern yourself with the health and the lives of others. Oh, certainly you’ll be nice to everyone, but you don’t want to worry about giving them the cure. If they really want it, they’ll figure it out on their own. If they’re curious why you’re so healthy, they can ask.
Scene 2: Imagine there are thousands of these islands in this ocean. All of them sick, dying, and most do not even know it. You have the cure on your island. Option 1: you equip, train, and send people out to take the cure to these other islands. Option 2: “Oh. We’ve built such a nice community, and we are so close with each other, which is so good. I just don’t want to lose any of the family God has given me. If those islands really want the cure, they’ll figure it out on their own. If they’re ever curious why we’re so healthy, they can ask.”
Listen: no one can believe without hearing the gospel. No one can hear if no one’s sharing it. And no one can share if no one is ever sent. Please join us in praying that we become a sending church. Because we have the cure, and it is available to all!