Sunday, November 13, 2011
Pastor Joe Wittwer

Followers, Seekers and Owners

# 3: Owners or Renters?


    Here’s a question for you: do you have to go to church to be a Christian?  Yes?  No?

    Here’s another question: do you have to go home to be married?  Yes?  No?

    You don’t have to go home to be married, but you may not stay married very long.  Your relationship will suffer.  In the same way, you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, but you may not be a Christian very long.  Your relationship with God will suffer.  Christianity is a team sport.  Today, we’re going to talk about being members or owners here at Life Center: why it’s important and how to do it.



Introduction: (Offering is later in the message)

    This is the third and final week in our vision series entitled, “Followers, Seekers and Owners.”  We’ve talked about the difference between being a fan of Jesus and a follower of Jesus—we want to be followers.  We’ve talked about the difference between being saints huddled safely in the church and seekers who are out looking for lost people—we want to be seekers.  And today we talk about the difference between owners and renters—we want to be owners.  

    So why the owner-renter metaphor?  I am regularly asked, “How do you become a member at Life Center?”  I’m going to answer that question, but first let me give you a little history.  

    We have wrestled with the idea of membership for a long time, and have come to the conclusion that church membership is more functional than formal.  In other words, it’s not signing a form that makes you a member; it’s doing the stuff—the stuff that members do.

ILL: How many of you have ever been members of something that you didn’t participate in?  I was a member of a CD club and never bought a single CD—I think it was Columbia Music or BMG.  That was back in the days when they advertised, “Join now and we’ll send you 10 free CD’s, with no obligation to buy ever!”  So I did—I joined.  And I didn’t—I never bought a single CD.  I got 10 free CD’s and never bought one.  They hated me—but I was a member! My name was on the roll.

There are millions of church members who rarely go to church, never serve, and never give.  Their names are on a church roll somewhere, but that’s as close as they get to church.  They are members in name only.  They are members, but they’re not owners.  

    So years ago, we decided not to do a formal membership where you sign up.  We decided to make it more organic.  Instead of signing up, we want you to show up.  Members are people who do the stuff—and I’ll tell you what the stuff is in a few minutes.  Members are invested and involved.  We think members are owners instead of renters.


1. Owners or renters?

    First, I want to make sure you know that when it comes to your home, it is fine to be either an owner or a renter.  I don’t want anyone to leave here thinking that I’m bashing people who rent.  I rented for years.  Laina and I have rented.  My youngest son is renting a home.  I have friends who believe that renting is the smart financial choice in this economy.  If you are renting your home or apartment, I’m fine with that. Are we all ok?  No one is going to be offended and think that I dissed you because you’re renting an apartment or a house? I’m just using the owner-renter metaphor to make a point.

    First, what does the Bible say about church membership?  The Bible talks about church membership by using two metaphors to describe the church: a body and a family.  You are members of a body and a family.

    The church is the body of Christ, and each of you are members of it.  Jesus ascended to heaven and left us here to do His work, empowered by His Spirit.  We are His physical presence on earth; we are His hands and feet and mouth.  The church is Christ’s body; that means that each one of us is a part (or member) of the body.  

Romans 12:4–5 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Each of us is a member or part of the body of Christ: you may be an ear or an eye, a hand or a foot, a kidney or a spleen, a muscle or a bone, a skin cell or a blood cell.  Each part has a different function; it does something unique, and makes its own contribution to the whole.  And the body as a whole does its work when each member does its part.

Ephesians 4:16 From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

You have something to contribute to the church that no one else can.  God has uniquely gifted you to serve others.  When the Bible talks about spiritual gifts, it is in this context.  Spiritual gifts aren’t private playthings; they are tools, equipment given to us to serve others.  We together are the body of Christ, and individually are members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you (all) are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Y’all are the body of Christ: the “you” is plural—y’all.  (I get tweaked when someone says, “I am the church.”  No you’re not.  Church is plural, not singular.  We are the church.  You are part of it, I am part of it.  But the church is y’all, not you.)  So, y’all are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.  You have a part to play, a contribution to make.  We need you—just like my whole body needs my stomach!  We are not whole without you.  We cannot do God’s work without you!

    The church is the body of Christ, and you are a member of that body.  What does membership mean?  It’s organic; it’s functional.  You do the stuff you were made to do.  And you live in relationship with the other members.  It’s not like you can sign up to be a member of a body and not be connected or participating!  Imagine if my stomach said, “To be a member of Joe’s body, all I need to do is sign a form; I don’t actually have to show up or do anything.”  I’d starve in a hurry!  Every other member of my body has a vested interest in the stomach doing its thing!  This is what Paul meant in Romans 12:5 when he said that each member belongs to all the others.  Every member of my body is counting on my stomach; and my stomach counts on them.  This is what it means to be a member of the body, a member of the church.  It’s organic, it’s functional.

    The church is also compared to a family.  Over and over, we are called brothers and sisters, and God is our Father.  We are the family of God, the family of believers.

Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

1 Thessalonians 4:10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more,

1 Peter 2:17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

This is all through the New Testament: we are a family.  What does it mean to be a member of a family?  It is organic, it is relational.  You belong.  You are loved and you love in return.  When the family gathers, you’re there (if possible).

ILL: Saturday was my grandson Zealand’s 5th birthday, and the family gathered to celebrate. We had a blast!  Laina and I got him a drum set—his parents love us!  This grandparent gig is awesome!  I never bought my boys a drum set…but I’m happy to buy my grandson one!

When the family gathers, you’re there, if possible.  It’s what family does.  We love each other.  This is what it means to be a member of the family.

    So membership is not formal, it’s functional—doing the stuff.  It’s relational—loving the people.  This is how the Bible treats church membership.  

    With that in mind, I want to use the metaphor of owners and renters to think about membership.  If you want to be a member at Life Center, you need to become an owner.  What is unique about owners?

    Owners are invested.  They are all in.  When you own a house, you’ve made a substantial down payment and signed a contract for 15-30 years.  You have skin in the game.  You have made an investment—you have bought in.  And because of that, you care more.  The more you have invested, the more you care.

ILL: If I ride in rental car with Bill Kafflen, I can eat whatever I want and he doesn’t care.  But if I ride in Bill’s car, I have to leave my breakfast at home.  Bill won’t let me eat in his car.  He knows I spill.

What’s the difference?  Bill doesn’t have anything invested in the rental car and doesn’t care if I spill—eat away!  But he is invested in his car and he cares how it looks—so I go hungry on my way to work.

Owners are invested.

    Owners are responsible.  They fix things.  If there is a problem at your house, you fix it, or you pay to have someone fix it.  It is your problem because it is your house.  You own it; you are responsible for it.  

ILL: When Laina and I rented, if the sink clogged or the heat went out, what did we do?  Call the landlord.  It’s his property; he is responsible to fix it.  

    Now that we own our home, if the sink clogs or the heat goes out, what do we do?  I become Mr. Fixit!  Except for plumbing.  Then Laina begs me to call a plumber so that I don’t end up swearing and losing my salvation!  But whether I do it or call someone to do it, the point is that I’m responsible.  I’m the owner.

People say to me, “there is a problem at your church, and you ought to do something about it.”  I know I’m talking with a renter, because an owner says, “there is a problem at our church; what can I do about it?”  Owners are responsible.    

    Owners are more permanent.  They are planning to stay awhile.  Renting can be month to month; owners think in terms of years.  Owners put down roots.  Buying a home doesn’t mean you’ll stay there forever, but it means you’re planning to stay for awhile.

ILL: When Laina and I moved to Spokane in 1978, we rented at first.  We wanted to get acquainted with the city and see where we wanted to be.  We didn’t buy first thing; we rented first so that we could be mobile.  

    We looked at homes and made offers on homes all over the city.  But once we bought, we put down roots.  33 years later, we’re still in the same area.  

Owners are more permanent.

    What if you were an owner at Life Center?  What if this was your church?  What if this belonged to you?  

    That’s what we’re shooting for: that you become an owner at Life Center and say, “This is my church.  I belong here.  I’m an owner.”

  • So if there is a problem in our church, whose problem is it?  Ours.

  • If there is a need in our church, whose need is it?  Ours.

  • If there is an opportunity in our church, whose opportunity is it?  Ours.

  • If there is a ministry in our church, whose ministry is it?  Ours.

  • We have a mission in our church; whose mission is it?  Ours.

We’re in this together.  This is our church.  We are owners.


2. How to be an owner at Life Center.

    How can you buy in?  How can you get invested and become an owner?  We have identified five things that owners at Life Center do, and they are five things that will help you grow closer to Christ. Here’s the stuff we do:

  • Meet together in church and a Life Group.

  • Seek God in daily prayer, Bible reading, journaling.

  • Serve others in our church and community.

  • Give to God’s work in our church and to the poor.

  • Share your faith with your friends.

Let me just break this down a little.  


  • Meet together in church and a Life Group.  

No one follows Jesus alone.  Christianity is a team sport; we play it together.  You can’t follow Jesus without being in community with His followers.  We follow together—no one follows Jesus alone.  So we meet together in church to worship and be taught God’s Word.  And we meet together in Life Groups for friendship, spiritual growth and service.  You need both.  The first Christians met in the temple as a big group (thousands) and in homes as small groups.  The church has always met in big and small groups; there are advantages to both; you need both.  If you want to be an owner and grow in Christ, be here for worship on Sundays, and be in a Life Group.  

    We are ramping up our investment in Life Groups, particularly in Life Group leaders.  I see our Life Group leaders as my co-pastors; they are helping me pastor and lead our church in their groups.  So we are going to invest in them more training and more relationship.  One of the ways we’re doing that is a quarterly rally for LG leaders.  The first one is next Sunday, Nov. 20.  We’ll be serving lunch, and Jeff Allen and I will be talking with you about our vision for Life Groups, and equipping you to be better leaders.  This is for everyone who leads or teaches a group—so whether you facilitate a Life Group, volunteer with a small group in AdventureLand, lead a discussion group at Oasis, plan the rides for the motorcycle group, lead a men’s mentoring group, or volunteer with Roots—this is for you!  Registration information is in the program.  

    Meet together in church and a Life Group. Meet, seek…


  • Seek God in daily prayer, Bible reading, journaling.

How do we develop a personal relationship with God?  One of the most common ways is what we call PBJ: prayer, Bible and journal.  Read your Bible each day, ask God for one thing, write it down, pray it back to Him, and go live it.  Spending some time in the Bible each day gives God a chance to speak to you, and you can speak to God.  We have a Bible reading plan on our website, and on these bookmarks.  If you follow this plan, you will read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in a year.  It’s about 4 chapters a day.  If that is too much, we have a 5-minute plan; if that’s too much, read one chapter a day—but read the Bible every day.

ILL: At our Life Group on Monday night, someone asked how many of us were doing the Bible reading plan.  Laina and I raised our hands.  At first I thought, “What?  I’m in a group with a bunch of slackers!”  Then most of them explained that they read the Bible every day, but are using different plans.  I was so happy—I wasn’t going to have to snuff anyone!  

The Big Deal isn’t our plan—it’s that you read the Bible each day.  Give God a chance to speak to you.  And take some time to talk with Him. We have journals available with the reading plan and with instructions on how to do PBJ.  Also, some of my journal entries are posted on our website, and my Facebook page…if you’re my friend!

God’s word: Learn it, love it, live it.  Seek God in daily prayer, Bible and journaling.

Meet, seek, serve…


  • Serve others in our church and community.

A big part of spiritual growth is serving; it is to your spirit what exercise is to your body.  If all you do is soak it up in church and your Life Group, and soak it up in your PBJ time, you’ll end up a spiritual fatso.  You’ve got to put what you learn into action serving others. God has gifted you, and those gifts are to be used serving others.  Our goal is that each of us would be serving here, near and far: here in our church, near in our community, far in the world.

    Volunteering to serve here at church is one way to make an investment and become an owner here.  You’ll feel a lot more ownership when you give something back.  One opportunity is in your program: the AdventureLand sign up card.  Watch the program for other opportunities to serve, and go to our website—you’ll find lots of opportunities listed there as well.  Get off the bench and get in the game and help out!

    And it’s not just here at church, but we serve in the community as well.  Most people’s main ministry isn’t in church, but in the community.  Many of you are doing this; if not, go to our website and you’ll find a big page full of opportunities.  Serve others here, near and far.

    Meet, seek, serve, give…


  • Give to God’s work in our church and to the poor.

Is giving really essential for spiritual growth?  Absolutely.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.”  If we are going to become more like God, we will become sacrificially generous.  Stinginess will stunt your growth; generosity will accelerate it.  

    And giving is another way to invest in the church and become an owner.  When I give sacrificially to God through the local church, I have skin in the game.  I’m invested.  I care about what happens because my hard-earned money is funding the ministry.  We believe that the starting point of generosity is giving a tithe and an offering.  A tithe is the first tenth of your income.  This is radical!  But I guarantee that when you start tithing, you’ll feel invested; you’ll be an owner at Life Center.  

    And giving to the poor is something Jesus emphasized and his followers practiced.  Paul said he was “eager to help the poor” (Galatians 2:10).  It’s why we make such a big deal about sponsoring kids, and our local and global partnerships in Love 360.  You can read more about those on our website, and find ways to give and get involved.

    Meet, seek, serve, give, share…


  • Share your faith with your friends.

Your faith isn’t complete until you share it with others.  You have been blessed to be a blessing.  Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.”  God has given you forgiveness, grace, joy and new life—not to hoard but to share.  When you share your faith with others, it dramatically accelerates your own growth.  

Anyone who has taught knows this.  The best way to learn something is to teach it.  Sharing your faith will accelerate it.

    And since Find Tell Bring is part of our core mission, when you do it, you are buying in, you are an owner at Life Center.  Find someone you love.  Tell them what you know.  Bring them with you to church.  I guarantee you’ll feel like an owner here.  “This is my church.”


    Meet, seek, serve, give, share.

    Here’s my question: what is your next step?  Which of these are you not doing, and you know you need to do it to accelerate your growth?  What do you need to do to be an owner at Life Center?  What do you need to do to be all in?  Look that list over and mark your next step.

    Now let me pray for you.  Pray.

    I saved the offering for later today in case this was your next step.


Offering here

    While we receive the offering, there is one last thing.


3. Is Life Center too big?  Try this:

    What is the most common complaint about our church?  It’s too big.  Whose problem is it?  Ours!  

Is Life Center too big?  How many people in our community does God love?  All of them.  How many need Jesus?  All of them.  On any given Sunday, about 10% of our county is in church.  Does God want more people or less people in our church?  More. God wants everyone to be saved.  God wants more people in every church, and more churches.  God wants every church to be bigger, even this one, because “God so loved the world.”  

    So, is Life Center too big?  No.  Can it feel too big?  Of course.  So let’s change that—you can change that.  Here are some things you can do to make our big church feel small.

    Get in a Life Group.  This is the best way.  When you are in a Life Group, you know people and they know you; you aren’t just a face in a crowd; you belong.  You’re connected.  

    Join a class. Or a group.  There is Roots for junior high students; Mosaic for senior high students, and Alive for college age.  And this past week, there were 625 students in those groups!  There are groups for women and men.  There is Adventures in Motherhood for young moms.  There are classes on different subjects, and groups based on interests from riding motorcycles to losing weight.  It’s another way to make friends and get connected.

    Serve somewhere.  When you volunteer to help, you will always do it with other people, whether it’s in Adventureland, or as a greeter or usher, or the coffee bar.  When you serve, you do it together; it’s another way to make friends and get connected.

    Sit up front.  Several people have told me that the church feels much smaller when they sit up front rather than in the back.  You’re not looking over a sea of heads, or even at the screens.  You can see me spitting as I talk.

    Sit in the same spot.  Most of you do this anyway; we’re creatures of habit.  But when you come to the same service and sit in the same spot, you’ll start recognizing and getting to know the people around you.

    Mingle.  When you come in, rather than just sitting down and waiting for things to start, why don’t you mingle?  Introduce yourself to some people around you and get to know them.  We’re thinking about creating a new volunteer role called “section hosts”; these folks would help people in their section mingle and get to know each other.  Let us know if you want to be one!

Linger.  Hang out.  Rather than rushing the exits and fighting traffic in the parking lot, hang out and visit with people.  Linger.  It’s what friends do.  And you’ll never make friends unless you slow down and take some time.  Linger.  

    We have a gift for you as you leave.  If you are an owner at Life Center, you’ll find one of these cool magnets. Take one and let it remind you that we want to be Followers, Seekers, and Owners”.