Unity: The Antitoxin for Church Horror Stories

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human and it’s a pleasure to worship with you. I’d like to say a special good morning to those students who are graduating today from high school this year – will you stand to be recognized if you are here?

Gretna’s graduation is this afternoon. My wife Jody and I have a son, Tim, who is graduating from high school today. And so to the parents who dedicated their children today, I’d like to say that the time period between your celebration and our celebration is remarkably short. So do lots of things together as a family, enjoy each season that you have with them.

I’d also like to welcome anyone who might be here today and it’s your first time at Journey Church, or maybe it’s your first time in any church for a long long time, if ever. I’d like you to know that if that’s you we are really glad – because the truth is that we started this church in order to assist people just like you to reconnect with their faith.

We think that there are many people who have given up on the church, but haven’t given up a belief that there might be a God out there worth knowing. And so we often say that faith is a journey, and so wherever you happen to be coming from today, we are glad you are here with us. And feel free to stick around as long as you’d like.

One quick word – if you have started to come to Journey and are thinking about sticking around here, we’d love to invite you to come and check out the Next Steps class that meets next hour. (Or first and third week)

And it’s actually very laid back small group – usually 5-8 people total – and it gives us a chance to talk about our story as well as hear yours. And the goal is that you leave knowing some ways to get connected at Journey, when you are ready to take that step.

This morning I want to begin our talk today with a horror story. Church Horror stories! The graphics department has been up all night working on that. Church horror stories are those stories of churches that seem to be healthy and doing well and then something happens that tears the church into factions. Church Horror stories usually end with a church splitting up.

Some of you know exactly what I mean, right? Some of you have lived through church horror stories, I could just give you the mic, but I thought I’d just share with you some that are hot off the presses…

There was a church in Tennessee that split up over a fight about the length of the worship pastor’s beard. Apparently he had this duck dynasty beard going on or something and a bunch of people really hated it and so they split off, started a new church and hired a worship pastor with an appropriate length beard.

Got me thinking about Neil’s beard length… I never really examined it’s length and whether or not it was appropriate length. Let’s take a peek – here’s Neil leading worship – let’s zoom in. Perfect! It appears to me that Neil has the appropriate beard length.

Here’s another church split horror story – this time out of Buloxi, Mississippi – a church recently had a terrible falling out over the worship pastor -this time it was about the worship pastor didn’t wear shoes – and a bunch of people left.

Well – let’s go back to the video tape… Closer – Closer –

I guess the bottom line is that Worship Pastors are real problems for churches.

Now I’m having fun with this, but the truth is that church splits are no laughing matter. For those of you who have lived through one, it’s especially difficult.

Now this morning we are going to talk about guarding our church from dangerous dissent. We are going to talk about how to avoid becoming a Church Horror story. And it’s NOT because there are troubles brewing.

We are seven years old as a church, and we have had a relatively smooth journey. And so this message is NOT reactionary to anything. The reason we are talking about this today is because it’s what Paul talked about in the book of Philippians chapter 2.

And we are working our way through this fantastic book in the New Testament called Philippians – named after the people who received the letter from the Apostle Paul. We spent four weeks in Chapter 1 and now we are going to read the first two verses of chapter 2 today.

And the deal is that the church in Philippi was remarkably healthy. Of all the churches that received Paul’s letter, the church in Philippi was without question the strongest, healthiest, and most vibrant.

And so if Paul took time to teach his healthy strong vibrant church to be on guard against division, then it only makes sense for us to do the same.

And before we move forward, may I just say a quick word of thanks to the Father for the position we are in as a church?

So now we come to this passage in Philippians 2. And we will take a running start at it by backing up into Philippians 1:27 that says…

27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.

And I like how the paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, paraphrases the last part of of verse 27. Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition.

And then Paul is going to talk about two areas where this conduct becoming a citizen of heaven plays itself out. The first area is how to respond to outside pressure from enemies who want to destroy them.

28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies.

It was promised by Jesus and has certainly come to pass that followers of Jesus will need to be prepared to face opposition, even persecution. As it is in many places in the world today, deciding to follow Jesus in the first century carried with it the possibility of bodily harm, even death.

And the challenge for us is to become the kind of people who love others in the world, even people who seek our harm.

How do we become the kind of people who love our enemy, as Jesus himself did? And Paul’s answer to that is found in the middle of these verses: Stand united, singular in the vision of getting the good news of the availability of the Kingdom of God into the ears and hearts and lives of as many people as possible.

Get the message out about the stunning availability of the Kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom of heaven – the place where Jesus rules and wisely governs the lives of all who enter – is wildly available to all who will turn and stumble their way into it through faith in Jesus Christ.

Anyone. Even you, right now, can, by making the decision to trust Jesus enough to allow him to wisely govern your life – trust him to be your good shepherd – and you will begin living in the Kingdom of Heaven today.

Surrender your own kingdom, trust Him, and begin to live the life you always wanted to live. Free from worry, anxiety, anger, it’s all wildly available to you, upon request.

Sometimes though, making that call will lead you into opposition – and even there we can trust that God is leading us and will never ever leave our side. So what exactly is there to fear?

Now Paul is going to talk about – not external pressures, but internal pressures. If external pressures try to crush us. But, Paul points out in his letter to the church in Corinth, that 8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.

There is no external force in all the universe powerful enough to crush a unified church.

But the real danger to the church is not that it would be crushed by external forces. The real danger is internal combustion of a divided church. A house divided against itself – that house cannot stand. Abraham Lincoln was not the first person to utter those words. He was quoting Jesus in Mark 3:25.

Now I will say that if you are here this morning and you are skeptical about the existence of God you might be asking a fair question – if God is real, and people are changed through faith, then why do church blow up? Obviously, one might argue, this Jesus thing isn’t working.

I’d simply suggest that this church is filled with many people who were once ruling their own tiny little kingdom, and even after we surrender our kingdom to be incorporated in Jesus – we still struggle with a desire to want to rule ourselves. And many times churches split because of too many ego’s who want to rule the kingdom of their church. Whether it be pastors, elders, worship leaders – people want to have their way. And they bring this tendency with them into the kingdom. And hopefully they will grow and mature in their faith enough to be able to trust God’s leading, and many times people don’t apply much effort to growing in their faith…

Paul understands this, of course, which is why he turns his attention next to instructing the Philippians to guard themselves against dangers that lurk within. The dangers that lead to church horror stories.

And so Paul writes: 2 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 

Paul is not asking questions here, he’s making statements. Guys, maybe your wife has done that to you before? You’re wearing that shirt today? That’s not a question, is it. And neither are these… let me read it in the message one more time –

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor:

That’s an accurate thought for thought translation. Back to the NLT for the second verse….

2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

So how is Journey Church going to prepare ourselves to be able to avoid becoming a church horror story? How do we stay united from the inside out?

I think it’s all spelled out for us here, and to me it makes most sense if we simply work our way from the bottom up.

How do we stay united from the inside out?

1. Have one mind and purpose as a church.

Do you know the purpose of Journey Church? Actually, it’s important to understand that the purpose of our church is the same purpose as all the other churches in town. The purpose – the mission of our church – was handed to us by Jesus himself in Matthew 28:18 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Make disciples of all nations. Help people become followers of Jesus. tell as many people as possible about the invitation that has been extended to them to live their lives in a different kingdom than this dog eat dog kingdom of darkness we were born into by default.

This is the same purpose as Gretna Community Church, Steadfast Church in the Elementary School, Acts 2 church, the Baptist Church, Etc. Help people become apprentices of Jesus.

And do that everywhere. In all nations. This is why we at Journey care about Haiti and Mali. We asked God to give us our place in the world where we can uniquely minister. And we are so thankful for the privilege of being able to minister to people, most of whom we will never meet in person on this side of eternity.

The mission of the church has been commissioned to us by Jesus. Which is why all of us pastors can get together in a room and pray for one another and encourage one another – and there’s a great spirit in the room. We all are genuinely rooting for one another. Why wouldn’t we? We are all working to accomplish a united mission.

Now our vision is different. All of our churches look different. And that’s because our vision for how to accomplish that mission is slightly different.

The vision of Journey Church is to be a church for people who don’t like church. To be a church for the cynic, the skeptic, those who have stalled out in the spiritual journey.

Right now there are people in our community, in your neighborhood, maybe in your family, that the last thing they are thinking about it is their relationship with God. We want to create a church so that when the fire sparks in their heart they know where to go.

Not that long ago I was in my office and I got a phone call – and there was a woman on the phone who said that she hadn’t been to church in about 40 years. She was an older woman, and who in her 60’s had decided that she was ready to begin her faith journey.

And she told a friend who told her – you should go to Journey Church. They started the church for people like you. And so I told her – listen, it might not be what you experienced 45 years ago – the music is loud and even if Journey isn’t your cup of tea I will help you find a church that you will love.

She said, What if I love it? You aren’t going to make me leave, are you? Well she loved it and she grew like crazy and stayed here until she recently moved to Arizona. Love her.

I was talking to a family during the coffee and bagels time and she said this is the first church she ever came to. And she said she found us online and decided that this is a good starter church! YES!!!! Starter Church!!!! Love that.

That’s our vision.

So when we make decisions about this church, the question we must always ask ourselves is – does this help us get the word out to those people? Does this help us accomplish our vision of reaching people who right now, the last thing on their mind is that in a year they might be sitting here, next to you, worshipping a loving God.

Will you please make every effort to be of one mind and purpose as a church? One mission we share, one vision that is our calling.

How do we stay united from the inside out?
2. Work Together.

If we are going to be this kind of church it will require that we not only vision together, but we all do our part to make it come together. So we work together.

It takes many volunteers to make a church healthy. In any family, the goal is that all the members of the family are working together to see that things are done. No parent wants to have to live with kids who will only work if threatened or paid.

Now Journey doesn’t have members. But if you consider Journey to be your home church, I think you should be seeking out an area whereby you contribute to the health of the church by serving.

and there’s plenty of opportunities. Children’s ministry. Hospitality ministry. Set up on Saturday. Tear down on Sunday. Sound. Screens. Worship team. Information table. Safety team. All of these are areas that need volunteers every Sunday.

I am so thankful for the many who are serving. Many of you have adopted the attitude of serve one, worship one. Meaning you serve one hour, and you worship one hour. And I will simply ask that you consider adopting that same attitude. And it doesn’t have to be every week – maybe once a month or twice a month. Many hands really do make light work.

And let me also remind you how important the work is.

Because on any given Sunday – it might be the first Sunday someone walks into church in their lifetime. Or in a very long time. And all of these ministries need to be clicking in order for us to help that person experience God at some level they might never have had before.

Which is why I ask that – not only will you find your area to contribute to the health of the church, but that you serve there joyfully and with excellence. Because – it’s worth it. Yes it is. It is worth all the hard work.

And I appreciate that so many of you have done that, and so many more are even now trying to find their place to serve.

How do we stay united from the inside out?
3. Love one another.

What does it look like to love one another? We will give one another the benefit of the doubt. We will treat each other with charity. We will seek the good of those around us.

We don’t gossip about others, or slander others. We do not always have to have our way. We can talk respectfully to one another even when we disagree with each other.

Can I tell you something that might not surprise you? Jim and I differ on many different things. On any given issue it may be that we have completely different takes on how to approach things.

This has been the way for 8 years working together. And here’s why it’s not an issue. We understand that both of us are working to accomplish the same goal – to reach out and assist people to know Jesus and grow in their faith.

We differ from time to time on how best to accomplish it. We disagree about tactics or strategy sometimes. But we always love one another. And we pull, together. And eventually we pull together.

A healthy church is able to charitably disagree about the important things, reach a decision one way or the other, and move forward in love. This is what unites a church.

If we want to avoid the church horror story – and stay united from the inside out, then we are going to “loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

And now let’s go backward to verse one, because I think it’s here where we find the motor – the energy behind accomplishing all these things.

Verse 2 is possible because of verse one.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?

Because we have a good memory. We remember what it feels like to belong to Jesus. The joy of belonging. And you know, for most people – most people will not come around to believing unless they feel they are in a place where they belong.

So thanks for helping people feel your love. Feel your acceptance. People who feel they belong are much more likely to allow their beliefs to be challenged.

We know the joy of belonging to the Kingdom of Heaven.

We revel in His Love. The unconditional, indestructible, unfathomable, love of God.
Can anything separate us from the love of Jesus? Paul asks in his letter to the Romans. Nothing, he answers. Not death, not life, not hardship, not angels, not demons, not fears, not worries.

How do we stay united from the inside out?
1. By having one mind and purpose as a church.
2. By working together.
3. By loving one another.

But these things happen as a result of changed and transformed lives. They flow from hearts transformed – tender – compassionate.

Ultimately, we stay together by having a good memory of exactly what Jesus has done for us – and this brings us now to communion.