October 30, 2018
A Church for Us
On the Day of Pentecost, when the Christian church was birthed, the Apostle Peter told us who the gospel and the church was for. He said this: “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord will call” (Acts 2:39). As I understand it, the reason we do church, at least as far as it concerns people, is for us – to meet our needs, to heal our hurts, to minister to our pain, and to encourage our discipleship. Church is also for our children – to minister to our children’s needs, our children’s hurts, to care for our children who are in pain and to develop our children into fully committed disciples of Jesus.
But the church and the gospel are also for those who are far off – for people who don’t yet belong to the Christian community. The church and the gospel are for people who are not only far away from church, but also for people who are far away from God.
Like many churches, Vineyard Columbus is devoted to caring “for us and for our children”. Part of the way we care “for us” is through our small groups – through our co-ed groups, our women’s groups and our men’s groups. We devote an enormous amount of time and energy to developing leaders who can extend care and ministry to us, the adults in the church. We care “for us” through our Marriage and Family Ministry, through our Women’s and Men’s Ministries, through our Recovery and Support Groups, through our Young Adult Ministry, and through our Counseling Ministries, to name just a few examples.
And Vineyard Columbus invests heavily to make sure that the church and the gospel also reach “our children”. Every week, nearly 400 volunteers teach more than 1700 children and teenagers who attend our weekend services. Every weekend and through many different small groups, several hundred middle and high schoolers gather to hear God’s Word preached, to connect and find friends within the church, to learn how to worship God, to learn how to pray and to discern God’s mind regarding their lives and their futures. We invest in children and teen camps and conferences for kids and teenagers because we believe the gospel and the church is for us AND for our children.
Unfortunately, many churches stop with “us and our children”. They miss the third target of the promise of God: “And for all who are far off”. It takes an enormous paradigm shift in the American consumer mindset to create a church that is also aimed at this third target. Church is unlike any other club in the world. Every club exists for itself and for its own members. The church is one of the few institutions that exists not only for itself and its own children, but for people who may never join the club at all – for whom the church will receive no payback, perhaps even no thanks. Imagine creating an institution that doesn’t exist solely for our own members. Imagine creating an institution that raises funds not only for us and for our children, but also for those who are far away.
That’s what Jesus created when he created the church. All of us, especially those of us who have been committed followers of Jesus for many years, need to be regularly pushed outwardly towards those who are far off.
Awareness helps us to get focused outside of ourselves. In the United States right now, there are over 200 million people who don’t yet know Jesus as their Savior. There are more non-Christians in America than in all but two countries in the world – China and India. One-third of all American adults never go to church. More than two-thirds only occasionally go to church.
Now, here’s the interesting thing. The majority of people in Central Ohio and around America who don’t go to church, used to go to church. Most of the unchurched people in America would more properly be called “de-churched”. Survey after survey indicates that many people say they would have continued in church if the church they had been going to had anything relevant to offer them.
What can you do as an individual follower of Jesus to work together with God so the church and the gospel is also for those who are far off?
1. Pray! Pray for God to give you his heart for a few neighbors or co-workers or individuals you regularly encounter as you go about your life who are “far off” and begin to regularly pray for them. Pray that God would work in their lives to draw them to himself.
2. Eat! Consider having a meal or coffee with someone you are praying for. Eating together is one of the best bridge-building, relationship-building things that we can do with other people. It’s a great way to get to know a person and what their situation in life is.
3. Invite! Perhaps there’s an upcoming message at church that you think might be relevant to the person you’re praying for. Invite them to join you at church. One-quarter of all people who are “far off” say they absolutely would attend church with a friend who invited them. Perhaps there’s a program in the church that is relevant to them or to their children. Vineyard Columbus offers hundreds of programs throughout the church and the Vineyard Community Center. Their kids may want to join one of our sports leagues or they may want to attend a marriage or parenting seminar. We have International Women’s Breakfasts, grief support for people who have lost loved ones, counseling for those who are struggling with some area of life, and financial seminars for those who would benefit from financial counseling. Whatever the need, Vineyard Columbus almost always has a program to help meet that need.
Over 40% of the current attendees of Vineyard Columbus have made a commitment or recommitment to Jesus at our church! When you invite someone to connect with something Vineyard Columbus is doing, you express the belief that the gospel and the church is not just “for us and for our children” but it’s also for those who are “far off”!