February 23, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
I See…
#2—What I See for our church…


Respond to video.

This is “I See…”; it’s a vision series.  A vision is a picture of a preferred future.  A compelling vision is a picture of a preferred future that moves you to action. For three weeks, I’m putting on my prophet’s mantle—I’m being a seer—and I’m telling you what I see for you, for us (our church), and for our community and world.  And I hope you’ll find it compelling and take  your next step in Jesus!

We started last Sunday by talking about what I see for you.  This may be the most important message of the series. Often, churches have a corporate vision and ask everyone to sign on—and they should—and that’s what we’ll talk about today.  But God has a vision not only for our church as a whole, but for you personally. And a big part of our church’s vision is to help you reach your vision.  What does God want to do in you?  What does God want to do with you?  We want to work with God and with you to see it happen!  If you missed last week’s message, I hope you’ll listen—you can get it online or at the info center.  And I hope you will take your next step in Jesus.

Today, I’m talking about what I see for our church.  Whose church is it?  It is our church. Occasionally someone here will say to me, “At your church…”.  You don’t want to do that!  I will remind you that it’s not my church; it’s our church. This is our church—it is yours as much as it is mine. I see you being owners, not just attenders. Part of what you own is our vision for Life Center.  What do I see God wanting to do with us?  Here’s:

The Big Idea: Jesus died to make us awesome! (Ephesians 5:25-27) I see us making disciples, planting churches, experiencing Jesus and loving each other, getting younger and serving our community.

Let’s unpack it.

1. I see us making disciples.

I said last week that this is the mission of every church, because it’s the mission Jesus gave to His followers.

Matthew 28:18–20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The main verb is “make disciples”; it’s imperative.  It’s a command.  The other verbs—go, teach and baptize are all participles that modify the main verb. So the command is “make disciples” and we do it everywhere we go by teaching and baptizing.  So this is our mission.  We say it this way:

Our mission: we help people find and follow Jesus.

We make disciples.  We help people find and follow Jesus. I put this first in our vision because no matter what else we do and how good it may be, if we don’t do this, we have failed to do our mission—the one thing Jesus told us to do. So I see us having a laser focus: we make disciples.  We help people find and follow Jesus.  And that permeates everything we do.  If what we’re doing doesn’t help people find and follow Jesus, then lets do something that does!  If there’s a better way to do it, let’s do that!  Methods aren’t sacred; the mission is. 

ILL: A couple months ago, someone asked our staff, “Are we scratching and clawing for every soul?”  It was a piercing question for me.  Do we really believe that each person matters to God?  They do—they matter so much that Christ died for them! Jesus gave everything for them. The question is: Do they matter that much to us?

We just finished the book of Acts in our Bible reading plan.  In it, Paul was described as someone who “risked his life for Jesus.” Paul repeatedly laid it all on the line for one reason: to make disciples.  He was arrested, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned (with rocks) and left for dead. Why?  He believed that each person matters to God.  He was scratching and clawing for every soul. 

I see us ramping up our efforts to help people find and follow Jesus.  I see us scratching and clawing for every soul—because we love them and know they matter to God.  How do we do it?

We help people find Jesus by find, tell, bring.  I explained last week that we found this simple plan in the Bible.  In John 1, the first thing Andrew did when he met Jesus was to find his brother Peter, tell him that he had found the Messiah, and bring him to meet Jesus.  Later, when Philip meets Jesus, he finds his friend Nathanael and tells him that he found the Messiah.  “Who is he?”  “Jesus of Nazareth.”  “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?”  “Come and see,” Philip said.  And he brought him to Jesus. In John 4, after meeting Jesus, the woman at the well went back to her village.  She finds her neighbors, tells them, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did.”  And she brings them to meet Jesus.  In each story, they find someone they love—a brother, a friend, a neighbor.  They tell them what they know about Jesus.  And they bring them to meet Jesus.  Find, tell, bring. 

Find someone you love.  Tell them what you know. Bring them to church.

It all starts with love.  Who do you love who is still far from God?  Who in your circle of influence or network of relationships still needs Jesus?

ILL: On Thursday, we read Acts 27 in our Bible reading plan—it’s the story of Paul’s shipwreck when he’s being taken as a prisoner to Rome. They are lost at sea in a storm for 2 weeks; it seems certain they are all going to die.  Then God speaks to Paul and says, “Don’t be afraid, Paul!  You must stand before Caesar!  (In other words, you are not going to die at sea, because you’ve got a divine appointment with the Emperor.)  God has also graciously given you everyone sailing with you.”

I love that last sentence.  God says that he is going to save Paul’s life, and He is going to save everyone who is sailing with him.  There were 275 other people on that boat.  All of them lived.

So who is in your boat?  Who is sailing with you?  Who do you know and love who still needs Jesus?

Would you take out this card? It’s called a Love List. We are going to write down the names of people we love who need Jesus.  Then I want you to put this in your Bible (or some other place where you’ll see it every day) and pray for these people.  Who is in your boat?  Write them down.  Then we’ll pray.

Pray—and symphonize.

Most people come to Christ through the influence of a trusted friend or family member. I see us being more intentional about finding, telling and bringing those we love.  I see us scratching and clawing for every soul.

We help people find Jesus by find, tell, bring.

We help people follow Jesus by meet, seek, serve, give, share.  Finding Jesus is the first step.  The decision to follow is only the beginning; then you learn to follow Jesus.  You grow up spiritually.

Colossians 1:28 Jesus is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.

Here’s the goal: to present everyone fully mature in Christ.  How do we do that? We use these five steps to help people follow Jesus.

  • Meet in church and Life Groups.
  • Seek God in daily prayer, Bible reading and journaling.
  • Serve others in our church and community.
  • Give to God and the poor.
  • Share your faith with your friends.

In my experience, when someone is taking these steps, they grow spiritually.  Many of us are doing one or two or three; it’s rare to find someone doing all five.  And we can grow in each step—each one can be taken deeper.  Which is why we ask each other: “What is your next step in Jesus?”   Would you jot down what you think is your next step in Jesus?  If you don’t know, please hang around and talk with someone today about it.

I see us making more and better disciples.  I see my friends and your friends coming to Jesus and experiencing God’s transforming power and a new life in Christ!  I see us becoming more intentional helping people find Jesus and more intentional helping people follow Jesus.  I see us asking each other that question: “What is your next step in Jesus?” and then helping each other do it.  I see us reaching more people for Jesus so that we have to add another service to hold the people who want to come.

I see us making disciples. 

2. I see us planting churches.

This is the natural result of making disciples. In the book of Acts, the apostle Paul went across the Roman Empire making disciples in each city. Those disciples grouped together in churches.  The word “church” translates the Greek word ekklesia, which was the word used for a meeting, an assembly of people.  That’s what the church is: people meeting because of Jesus. So Paul made disciples and they met together for mutual encouragement and growth.  Churches were born from doing the mission—making disciples—and then they carried on the mission where they were.

It’s the same today.  God’s mission is that we make disciples and plant churches that make more disciples and plant more churches. 

We are a church-planting church.  We regularly send out people we love to start a new church. We now have 12 daughter and granddaughter churches meeting in and around Spokane.  Three of those are brand-new in the last 6 months: The Heights Church in Airway Heights (meeting the Dealers Auto Auction); Immanuel meeting in our building on Nora; and Life Center Coeur D’Alene (meeting at Woodland Middle School) launched two weeks ago. And we are getting ready to launch our first international church plant: Life Center Kaliningrad, Russia. Alex and Larisa Skachkov are preparing to go this summer and make disciples in Kaliningrad. 

We’re also partnering with a young leader who wants to plant a church in Spokane for second-generation Slavic people.  A couple months ago the leaders of Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church came here for coffee, and we discussed how we could partner together to help this new church get started.  How cool is that? We’re also having conversations about a Hispanic church plant. Estamos en el fuego! Muy buena! We’re a church planting church.

I get asked, “Why plant new churches?  Aren’t there enough churches?  Why not help the struggling churches succeed?”  I’ll answer these one at a time.

Why plant new churches?  For a bunch of reasons. 

  • First, new churches are most effective at making disciples.  As churches mature, they tend to lose their focus on mission. New churches either make disciples or they die quickly—so they make disciples. 
  • Second, it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.  So we plant new and different churches.  Some of our church plants look very much like us; others look very different.  That’s good—they will reach people we won’t.  It takes all kinds.  Say that to your neighbor.
  • Third, churches die. In fact, we are closing more churches in America every year than we’re opening.  If we don’t start new churches, before long, there will be none. It’s like population growth: negative population growth means that in a few generations, we’ll all be gone!
  • Fourth, we need to remember that every church was a church plant once.  Aren’t you glad someone planted this church? We need to do the same so that 50 years from now, someone will rise up and call you blessed for planting their church.

But aren’t there enough churches?  No. 82% of our county doesn’t go to church anywhere.  That’s roughly 350,000 people.  Are there enough churches for those people?  Not even close. We need new churches to reach them.

Why not help the struggling churches get stronger?  Well, it’s not either/or; it’s both/and.  We need to do both: start new churches and help existing ones. I often tell other pastors around town, “If you want to help people find and follow Jesus, we’re for you! We’ll do whatever we can to help.” So it’s not either/or; it’s both church planting and helping existing churches.  Having said that, let me ask you a question: if you are a young couple wanting to grow your family, is it easier to have babies or keep great-grandma alive? 

So I see us planting more churches, hear, near and far.  I see some of you hearing the call from God to lead a church plant, or be part of one. 

ILL: A year ago, I announced that our friend, Joe Slawter was planting a church in Austin, Texas.  Immediately after the service, Kasey Christie told me that God spoke to him in that moment and told him they were moving to Austin to help.  They did!  I miss the Christies—if I had my way, they’d still be here.  But God had His way, and they’re off on a church planting adventure in Austin, Texas.

Last Sunday night, Shelbi George told me, “Well, Joe, it’s my last Sunday.” I said, “What?”  She told me that she’s going to help Sean and Tan at Life Center CDA.  If I had my way, Shelbi would still be here; but God had His way and she’s off on a church planting adventure in CDA.

It’s what we do.  We’re a church planting church. We’re praying for more leaders to catch the vision of planting new churches that will make disciples and plant churches, here, near, and far. 

I see us planting more churches.

3. I see us experiencing Jesus and loving each other.

I said that church is people meeting together because of Jesus.  So this—meeting together—is central. “Church” means “meeting” so you can’t be a church without meeting together.  So what do I see for this—for our times together? Lots!  But I can summarize it in these two things: I see us experiencing Jesus and loving each other.

I see us experiencing Jesus.  I think one of primary purposes of our meeting together is to encounter Jesus and build our relationship with Him.  Jesus said:

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Whenever we meet, Jesus is here. And I hope you meet Him, feel Him, see Him, experience Him, and go away changed.  Maybe you encounter Jesus in the worship. 

ILL: In my mentoring group, we were sharing our stories.  Dan said he first met Jesus at Life Center. I thought he was going to say that he met Jesus because of my fabulous preaching.  Nope.  He met Jesus during the singing. 

Maybe you encounter Jesus during the worship—or maybe during the prayer time, you feel His presence.  Or during the greeting, through the love of another person.  Or maybe even during the talk.  It’s different for each of us, and its different week to week, but I hope you will come expecting to meet with Jesus.  Come expecting Jesus to touch you, heal you, fill you, forgive you, speak to you and change you.

ILL: After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside that night and prayed, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today–but I wish you had been there!”

He is here—and we want you to experience His presence.  We want Jesus to meet us and do His work in our lives.  So come expecting to meet Jesus. 

I see us experiencing Jesus. 

And I see us loving one another.  Church has a vertical dimension and a horizontal dimension.  It’s about meeting with Jesus, and meeting with each other other.  It’s about loving God and loving people. 

John 13:34–35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

Love one another!  This is why I keep talking about lingering. If you slip in at the last moment, meet with Jesus, and slip out quickly at the end, you just got half of church. You got the vertical half—you met with Jesus.  But you missed the horizontal half—meeting with people.  And often it’s in the interactions with people that Jesus meets us and touches us.  Many people have told me that God spoke to them at church not through me, but through the person sitting next to them, or someone in the commons. 

1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, that’s the next best thing. When we love each other, people see God in our love, in the way we treat each other.  So slow down, take a few moments to love someone. Ask some questions.

  • How are you doing?
  • How can I pray for you?
  • What’s your next step in Jesus?

Doing it here is practice for doing it all week long where you live and work and go to school. If you can’t do it here…

I see us loving one another. 

This is why I keep encouraging you to get into a Life Group. Christianity is a team sport. We do it best together.   No one can do it alone. When Jesus called his disciples to follow, they automatically joined Jesus’ small group.  No one said, “Well, Jesus, I like you. But Peter—he’s so impulsive. And Thomas…well, I doubt anyone likes him.”  No one said, “It’s just you and me Jesus.”  When they said yes to Jesus, they joined His small group.  You couldn’t have Jesus without them.  Get into a Life Group.  You’ll learn how to love Jesus and each other—and that’s what this is about.

I told you last week that in the third century, Tertullian reported that pagans said of Christians, “Look how they love one another, and how they are ready to die for one another.” 

I see us experiencing Jesus and loving each other.

4. I see us getting younger.

Churches have life cycles.  They are born, they grow, they get old and they die.  Churches gray out.  The membership slowly gets older and grayer.  This cycle happens to every church, unless… they take deliberate steps to get younger, to reach the next generations. 

Of course, this means change, and churches are notorious for resisting change.

ILL: The church I came from in Eugene, Faith Center, had a sign hanging over the door as you left.  “The seven last words of the church: we’ve never done it that way before.”

When a church gets stuck in its ways, you can start writing its obituary.  It’s only a matter of time.  We have to embrace change, or we die. 

When some of our senior saints here complain to me about the music or something else that isn’t their preference, I ask them, “Do you want a church just for you, or do you want a church that your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will want to come to?” 

I’m one of those senior saints.  I’m 62. My days are numbered. I won’t be pastor here forever, and when I pass the baton, I want to pass on a church that is getting younger, not older.  I want to pass on a church that my grandkids will love.

Some of you senior saints may be wondering, “Is there a place for me in a church that’s getting younger?”  The answer is a huge YES!  All these younger folks need your wisdom and experience.  You are the mentors to the next generation.  Getting younger doesn’t mean that we ignore our older owners—you matter as much as anyone!  It means that we need you more than ever to invest in the next generation!  It’s what I’m spending a good deal of my time doing these days, and I love it! We have amazing young people here who are hungry to learn and follow Jesus.  I love investing in them.

I see us getting younger.  I see us pouring more time and energy into Adventureland, and our student ministries, and young singles and young families.  I see us giving young leaders more opportunities to develop and grow. And that’s about to happen in a big way.

This summer, I am going to take a sabbatical. May will be Laina and my 36th anniversary here as pastor.  I’ve never taken an extended break; so I’m going to be out of the saddle for four months—May through August—and I’m going to get rested, refocused, and recharged!  The two things that most do that for me are adventure and learning, so I’m planning some adventures and some learning opportunities.  By the way, I’m not in crisis—I’m just tired.  The past eight months, I’ve been sick more than usual—including four months of vertigo.  My accountability partners think it’s deep fatigue—lots of years of working 6-7 days a week—and they encouraged me to take this break. So I am. 

In my absence, six of our pastors are going to speak on Sundays.  Four of those pastors are in their 20’s. Three of them have never spoken on a Sunday before.  Will they be good? You bet!  I wouldn’t put them up here if I didn’t think they could do it.  They’ll be great and if you come expecting to hear from Jesus, you will!  I promise.

Here’s what I need you to do. Be here—don’t check out for the summer just because I’m gone. It’s our church—it’s your church—and Jesus will be here. So be here this summer. And remember that these pastors are young and be gracious to them.  Be encouraging.  Be their cheerleaders.  They will be investing in you each Sunday; invest in them with your encouragement.  

This week, a pastor friend told me that the church would shrink in my absence. I don’t believe that, and I’ll tell you why.  This church isn’t about me; it’s about Jesus.  It’s built on Him, not me.  And it’s never been a one-man show; it’s a team effort, and we have a great team of staff and key volunteers and owners like you.  I’m just one part of that team.  The rest of the team will be in place and we’ll be moving forward all summer on our vision.  I know of a church that when the pastor left, they simply closed their doors and ceased to exist.  That was a church built on one personality.  That’s wrong. We are not that kind of church. We are built on Jesus first, and we have a strong team—and you are part of that team. 

So I fully expect that when I return, our church will be healthier and stronger than when I left.  And I think it will be younger. 

I see us getting younger. 

5. I see us serving our community.

This is a tease for next Sunday!  Next week we’ll finish this series by talking about what I see for our community and world—specifically, how we engage them for good.  Next week!