Belonging to Church?! 5 Key Ingredients for 21st Century Church

Posted on 25 Oct 2018, Pastor: Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Belonging to Church?!

5 Key Ingredients for 21st Century Church

II. “Nurturing Relationships” – Mark 10:35-45

October 21, 2018

 

In our passage for today, Jesus was walking ahead of his disciples on the road up to Jerusalem.

Those who were following were afraid of what was going to happen to Jesus and to them in Jerusalem,

so Jesus took them aside and began to speak the truth in love.

When James and John tried to secure their place among the group,

the disciples began to argue amongst each other, so again,

Jesus called them together to speak truth in love.

There is much to discuss in this particular text, but for today,

I am going to focus on the relational aspect of the community of Jesus and his disciples.

Nurturing relationships is a key ingredient for 21st century church,

just as it was among the disciples before the church was ever born.

 

Mark 10:32-45

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

 

Charles Schultz, the cartoonist best known for the “Peanuts” comic strip,

commented on the people who really make a difference in our lives. 

He asked, “Can you name the last five Heisman Trophy winners? 

How are you doing?  Can you name the last three of them? 

How about the last five winners of the Miss America contest? 

Can you name a half dozen Academy Award winners? 

How about the last decade’s worth of World Series winners? 

These names come and go and make the headlines for a short period of time.” 

But, he said, the people who really count are those who cared, those who served. 

Consider, Schultz said, the few teachers who aided your journey through life. 

Name a couple of friends who’ve helped you through a difficult time. 

Name a few people who’ve taught you something worthwhile. 

Think of somebody who makes you feel appreciated. 

Think of a few people you enjoy spending time with. 

These, says Charles Schultz, are the people who really matter in our lives.  

And Schultz says, you can be one of those people, too. 

Serve your neighbor and you will be the one who makes a difference.

(from Stephen Covey’s “Everyday Greatness, Inspiration for a Meaningful Life”)

 

Someone who taught me something worthwhile, who made me feel appreciated,

who I enjoyed spending time with, and who is a true servant of others, is Robert Hay.

Robert was the youth minister of my home church in Marietta while I was in seminary.

Like Nick Carson is to Allysen this year,

I was the youth ministry assistant to Robert during my last year at Columbia Seminary.

Robert Hay and I, along with a few other advisors, took a busload of high school youth

to Panama City beach for Spring Break in the early 1990’s.

We stayed in a Christian conference facility, right on the beach, with a number of other youth groups

and, for the most part, we had a wonderful week.

The part that was not so wonderful was the night we took the youth group out in the church bus

to ride go-carts and afterwards, we were going to get ice cream.

Somewhere along the crowded street between the go carts and the ice cream parlor,

a couple of the guys in the back of the bus threw something out of the window at some passersby

along with a few choice words hurled in their direction.

As you can imagine, the passersby did not take kindly to being verbally assaulted and dodging

whatever it was that came flying out of the church bus window,

and so they began, in a very animated way, to hurl insults back toward the bus.

As you might imagine, Robert and I and the other advisors did not take kindly to this situation.

We had reminded the youth that each time they travelled on the church bus

that they were ambassadors, not only for the church,

whose name was displayed broadly on the side of the bus, but also for Jesus.

By virtue of them riding on a bus to a youth event with the church name on the side,

anyone whom they met along the way would judge not only them,

but the church and its Savior, by how they spoke and acted.

Fortunately, Robert Hay was a master at youth group dynamics.

What Robert did when we got back to the conference center that night from the unfortunate bus ride

was to sit down the entire group of youth – I think it was about 30 or so youth.

We sat them down on hard bleachers in a small gym, and the perpetrators were invited

to sit down front on chairs with Robert facing all the others.

The other youth were mad. The perpetrators had embarrassed them.

Their deeds had caused the whole group to have to come home early and miss getting ice cream.

All the youth sitting in the bleachers were tired and a bit sunburned,

and they just wanted to go back to their rooms to relax.

But Robert sat all of us down together and began to speak the truth in love.

He did not simply pull the few aside who had misbehaved; he gathered the whole group,

just as Jesus had done with his disciples, and he spoke the truth in love.

 

Robert began by talking about how much he cared about each one of them.

He spoke of how much this youth group had meant to him, to so many youth, and to the whole church.

He spoke of lives that had been transformed by grace through youth retreats like this one at the beach.

Then, he asked the youth in the bleachers how they felt about what had happened that night,

and some shared that they were disappointed,   others said they were embarrassed by the actions of

their friends, and several commented that they still were not happy about not getting ice cream.

Then Robert invited those who had so misrepresented the group on the bus to respond.

To their credit, they recognized what they had done.

They apologized to Robert and to the whole group for their actions.

One of them spoke tearfully of what the youth group had meant to him

and how he did not want to mess that up.

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul writes:

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Robert taught the youth and their advisors something powerful that night at the beach.

He taught us that we belong to one another.

None of us is an island. Everything we do affects everyone around us.

We are bound together. Especially when gathered in the context of faith,

we are bound together as one in the body of Christ, and what happens to one of us impacts all of us.

And the misdeeds of one of us can harm the unity of the body,

not to mention the effectiveness of the Christian witness to the world.

Instead of allowing the misdeeds of a few to splinter the group and threaten the unity of the whole body,

Robert turned the event into a teachable moment which made the group even stronger.

 

One of the Five Key Ingredients for the 21st century church is to nurture relationships,

to be intentional about building meaningful relationships within the church and with the community.

When Jesus began his ministry, he did not build a corporate style institution.

He did not create an organization chart or build a building to house his ministry.

He gathered people around him. He told them good news, and he invited them to follow him.

He spent three years living among them, walking dusty roads with them,

worshiping in their synagogues, fishing in their boats, cooking with them on the lakeshore,

and often sleeping outdoors among the olive trees.

 

If you want to nurture your relationship with God and enjoy significant relationships

with people of faith, then you will need to expend some significant time and effort.

If you are curious about what significant relationships in the context of faith can mean to your life,

ask a few members of the Crusaders class what those friendships have meant to them over 50 years.

Take a few minutes to talk with a member of the Friendship class about what their 30 year friendships

have meant to them, especially as they have gone through the ups and downs of life.

Ask any of the participants in the Faith in Real Life what meeting weekly for an hour and a half

with other curious seekers has meant to their relationship with God and with the others.

 

I have always believed that the best friendships are those that have multiple layers.

That is, meaningful relationships are those that form when there is a multiplicity of interactions.

Deep friendships are built over time when individuals share a variety of experiences

in a variety of contexts.

I am certainly biased, but I believe that friendships that include the context of faith tend to go deeper.

Conversations tend to touch on more meaningful or personal topics.

 

Yesterday, the father of one of my good friends from high school died after some weeks in hospice.

Dr. Bob Stephens was Tommy’s dad, and a second father to me.  

The Stephens lived just down the street, about a half mile or so.

Tommy and I spent time together in youth group at church. We played sports together.

We went camping together with the Boy Scouts, spending entire weekends together hiking in the woods

and cooking outdoors in all kinds of weather, and sleeping in close quarters.

There were five of us who were often called by one name by the youth leaders at church – tommytoddpeterrussalfie.   (Yep, that last name was Alfie…He goes by Al now.)

 

There were seasons during middle school when we would see each other every Sunday

at Sunday School and church, then at youth group that night, then on Monday night at Scout meetings,

then on Tuesdays and Thursday nights at soccer practice,

and we would hang out together on Wednesday nights at church suppers after choir rehearsal.

The youth leaders would occasionally have meetings to discuss how best to “direct our energies”.

As you can imagine, we were fast friends.  Our friendships were multi-layered.

And we matured in our friendships in the context of faith.

Sometime in the coming week or so, I imagine, I’ll be going to Dr. Stephens funeral,

and I will be very surprised if any of the five of us –tommytoddpeterrussalfie –

are not present at the service.

 

Friendships with those of the same age can be very special,

especially when those friendships continue for decades.

Melanie and I enjoyed getting together last night with a group of friends

whose kids all went to high school together.

We share a common stage of life and shared experiences with our children.

But age should be no barrier to friendship.

Some of the most meaningful or sweetest friendships span the generations.

Cheryl Sullivan has nurtured relationships with younger generations for years,

particularly her confirmation partners.  One of her confirmation friends is now 39 years old,

marking a friendship of over 25 years.

Hannah Wichman, who is well into her 20’s, and Margaret McLaren, well into her 80’s,

 got to know each other when they were confirmation partners, and they remain friends to this day.

 When I was in my 30’s, some of my dearest friends and confidants were 20 years older than me.

 Several were elders on the session members; one of them was my jogging partner of over 7 years.

Steve was 18 years my senior.

One of my dear friends in faith in this church is well over 30 years older than me;

our friendship was forged on DPC mission trips to Honduras and Nicaragua.

    

We are created to be in relationships, with God and one another.

From our very first days after we are born until the day we die,

we are not meant to be alone. We need other human beings to be whole and well.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Life abundant means life in God’s kingdom where wholeness and wellness reign,

where one experiences some measure of shalom, peace, with God and others.

Nathan Frambach, a good Lutheran, in his book Emerging Ministry:  Being Church Today, writes,

“The human reality is that people do have a deep desire and need for a place where one truly belongs—

 a safe place where one can experience genuine care and acceptance.”

This need for a place of genuine care and acceptance, a place where one truly belongs,

has not changed since the first century, when Jesus nurtured a place of belonging for his disciples,

and for many who walked the dusty roads with them.

This church can be a place of genuine acceptance, a place where one truly belongs,

but this does not just happen. Belonging takes some measure of intentionality and time and effort.

Nurturing relationships requires some measure of commitment.

 

As Charles Schultz said, the people who really matter in this life are those who serve others,

who give of themselves, give of their time and energy to be present in significant relationships. 

As Schultz says, you can be one of those people, too. 

Serve your neighbor and you will be the one who makes a difference.

Help someone through a difficult time. 

Make the effort teach something worthwhile to others. 

Ensure the people around you feel appreciated. 

 

I came not to be served, Jesus said, but to serve. 

I came to give my life as a ransom for many, to set prisoners free and proclaim release to captives,

to set the world free from fearfulness and selfishness. 

I am not overly concerned about who gets to sit at the place of honor at the banquet,

or about who is number one in the polls, or who gained the most yards or who scored the most points

or who made the best grade in the class.

Rather, I have come that all may have life, and have it abundantly.

May it be so among this congregation as we nurture deep relationships one with another.  Amen.

 

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia