This past Sunday we kicked off a brand-new teaching series. For the next four weeks we are talking about who exactly we are as a church. Who did God design First Baptist Oakboro to be for the present season? He made us to be a people with whom anyone can connect to grow in Christ and reach out for His kingdom. What does that mean? Let’s dig into the first part, connecting, today. Don’t miss the rest!
When Come and See Becomes Go and Tell
Have you ever been to Allen Fieldhouse? Maybe you don’t even know what Allen Fieldhouse is. That’s okay. Not everyone is enlightened at the same time. Those of us who have walked that path already must teach those who have yet to discover it. I’m kidding…sort of. Allen Fieldhouse, named after famous coach Forest “Phog” Allen, is where the Kansas Jayhawks play basketball, and have been since 1955. No less an authority than Wikipedia calls it “one of college basketball’s most historically significant and prestigious buildings.” The actual playing surface in the fieldhouse is the James Naismith Court, who was, of course, the inventor of the sport and the first Kansas men’s basketball coach. His original rules of basketball are actually on display in the fieldhouse. When it comes to college basketball – and with apologies to fans of…anybody else – there simply isn’t a better place to play. If we lived close enough, and I was trying to convince you to be a Kansas fan (granting that if we lived close enough you’d probably already be a fan), I’d tell you to come and see a game there and then you’d know. If you are interested in connecting with the Kansas basketball nation (there’s not a Kansas football nation as most people like to cheer for a team that finishes above .500 more than about once a generation), that “come and see” invitation will make all the difference. I make that invitation because I’ve gone and I’ve seen and I know that if you go there too, you’ll experience what I did.
This morning, we are starting a brand-new series together called A Fresh Look. For the next four weeks we are going to be talking about who God has made us to be as a church. Now, as far as the basic idea of that identity goes, I hope it is something that at least sounds familiar to you. God has designed First Baptist Oakboro to be a people with whom anyone can connect to grow in Christ and reach out for His kingdom. If that does sound even a little familiar, that’s because you’ve been paying attention when I first walk up to this podium each week. Every single Sunday morning those words are among the first sentence or two I say to you. And I’ll just tell you straight out: My goal is for that phrase to so deeply permeate your hearts and minds with it that anytime you hear the title “First Baptist Oakboro,” you immediately think “is a people with whom anyone can connect to grow in Christ and reach out for His kingdom.” That is who God has designed us to be for the present season and I want for all of us to be abundantly clear on that fact.
And I want that not simply so you have an idea to call to mind when thinking about the church. I want that because if you are a part of this church – if you are even just thinking about becoming a part of this church – I want you to know what you’re in for. I don’t ever want for someone to walk in here, get interested in what’s happening here, and then later discover we’re someone other than they thought we were. First Baptist is not the church of the bait and switch. God has designed us as a church with a specific identity for a specific reason, just as He has designed you with a specific identity for a specific reason. And just like you are able to accomplish far more when you work within the boundaries God has built into your programming, we as a church will be able to accomplish far more together when we are working within the boundaries God has built into our programming.
But for me to simply repeat that idea to you every week, while important, isn’t enough. An idea without an understanding is just a slogan. And we don’t need a slogan as a church. We need an identity. With all of this in mind, for the next four weeks we are going to take our identity, break it down, and see if we can gain a deeper, richer, fuller understanding of who God has designed us to be, and how He is using that to advance His kingdom. We’ll do this by doing a Scripture-rooted, deep dive into each of our three primary pieces of ethos: connecting, growing, and reaching. Then, in the final week of the series, we’ll do some looking and dreaming forward as we together wrap our hearts and minds around where God is taking us.
That all brings us to this morning. This morning, like I said, I want to think together about what it means that God has made us to be a people with whom anyone can connect. Now, some of you might notice that the language on that part of our identity has changed a bit over the years since I first set this idea before you. When we first started embracing this God-given identity, I told you that First Baptist is a place where anyone can connect. Now I regularly remind you that we are a people with whom anyone can connect. Why the change; especially considering the second version fills the mouth a bit more than the first? Well, the basic idea is the same either way, but the second version communicates a bit more accurately what the church is. For too long – like, centuries too long – people have thought about the church in terms that don’t ring consistent with the picture we are presented in the Scriptures. Personally, I blame Medieval German translators who first saddled us with the idea linguistically, but it was always going to develop this way because of how we think.
The word translated “church” in the New Testament is the Greek word “ekklesia.” A woodenly literal translation of that word does not get us anywhere close to what comes to mind when most of us hear the word “church” today. We think of a building where people meet. An ekklesia was an assembly of people called out for some purpose. The location of their meeting was entirely irrelevant to their identity. With this in mind, I could not in good conscience keep setting before you the idea that First Baptist Oakboro is a place. Yes, we happen to own some prime physical real estate in the middle of downtown Oakboro as a group and thus constitute a place in that sense, but First Baptist Oakboro is first and foremost a group of people who meet regularly together for the purposes of worship, service, prayer, fellowship, and making disciples of all nations. We may not be less than a place, but we are much, much more than that. Thus, we are a people with whom anyone can connect.
And that sounds great…but what does it mean? Let’s think about it. What does it mean to connect with another person? Initially, it means you have established with them some point of mutual commonality that leaves you both inclined to at least see each other again. It’s a first date that goes well enough you’re willing to accept a second. Well, as a church, God has designed us with a really attractive, connectable personality. I don’t say that boastfully either. That’s simply who we are. Not every church has that. Some churches really are only interested in people who look, act, think, seem, and sound like they do. We, on the other hand will take anybody, which sounds like a bit of a backhanded compliment, unless you happen to be an anybody, and then it’s a really good thing to find.
Being a people with whom someone can connect, though, has to go beyond that initial impression. When you have connected with another person, what you are seeking – indeed, what you believe you have found – is someone who is willing to accept you as are, without any pretense. You find not just one, but several places where you are of like mind on issues that matter. And even on those places where you aren’t, you’re willing to bear with each other’s differences because those differences combined make both of you better. You find yourself drawn to this other person to the point that your very souls resonate with one another. That’s what connection feels like. You’ve experienced that with another person before. It could be with a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a friend, but you know what that’s like. When I tell you that God designed us as a church to be a people with whom anyone can connect, what I am saying is that we are an entire group of people whose collective personality – when it is rooted properly in the character of Christ – allows that connectedness to happen with anyone who walks in the door. Now, does that mean we get that perfectly right all the time? No, it doesn’t. But it is who God has made us to be and He is growing us intentionally in that direction. We’ve got to make sure we are going with Him.
But, you know, thinking about this place of connectedness, this being a part of a community, there are a couple of ways people react to having such a thing. The first reaction is for us to treat it like a treasure to be guarded. You can tell when a community has collectively adopted this mindset because they don’t grow much. Oh, they may be wonderful, and they’re thrilled for you to visit, but they don’t really want you to stay because you might mess up the perfect balance they’ve managed to achieve and which they prize so highly. They don’t communicate this directly, but rather find subtle ways to make joining – or even staying very long – more of a challenge than it feels like it should be. Many a dying church has taken this approach and the members of that community loved each other dearly all the way to the moment the for sale sign was planted in their front yard. In the first century, this was how the Jewish people often thought about their community. God loved them and they loved each other. If you wanted to be a part of them, you could, but it was going to require a whole lot from you; and even then, you were still going to get treated like you were an outsider. And then Jesus came along and said, “No, actually what God is doing is for everybody,” and they didn’t like that very much.
The other way to react to a community like God has created us to be is to turn it out. Instead of treating it like a treasure to be guarded, we treat it like a blessing to be shared. We relish what we have, and because we love it so much, we go out and find anyone who may not have something similar and invite them to come and see what we have here.
This finally brings us to the Scriptures which is where I’ve been taking us all along. The phrase “come and see” appears a few times across the Scriptures, but there are two instances in particular I want you to see this morning, because they each have something rather important to do with God’s creating us to be a people with whom anyone can connect. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you this morning, find your way to John 1, and settle in there right near the end of the chapter.
John’s Gospel starts differently than the other three. He offers a theologically rich prologue and then launches straight into the ministry of John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River in Judea. The next day, Jesus got ready to head back to Galilee where His own ministry would be based. Before departing, Jesus found a young man named Philip. Now, we don’t know anything about how or why Jesus found Philip. John simply tells us that He does. When He finds Philip, Jesus says to him, “Follow me,” which Philip does. There’s a lot of cultural background here we could explore that would help make Philip’s apparent willingness to drop everything and follow Jesus make a lot more sense, but I don’t want to get into all of that right now. Instead, look at what Philip does next. He’s just received this incredible invitation to connect with Jesus and what is the first thing he does?
Look at v. 44: “Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law (and so did the prophets): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’” Now, again, there is a ton of theological weight and importance packed into that statement from Philip to Nathanael. Also, again, we don’t know why Philip found Nathanael. Perhaps he was from the same town and was a close friend of Philip’s. Maybe they were related. We don’t know. But the point here is that when Philip found this incredible person with whom he was going to be able to connect deeply, the first thing he did was to tell someone else about it.
But there’s something else here we dare not miss. Philip doesn’t just tell Nathanael about it. This is a good thing, too, because Nathanael’s reaction is skeptical at best. Look at v. 46: “‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Nathanael asked him.” If you’ve ever had anybody doubt your character because of where you’re from, Jesus understands. More to the point, Nathanael didn’t believe Philip. He just didn’t buy it. The Messiah was not going to come from some little podunk, backwater, hick town in the middle of nowhere. Now, Philip could have responded to this in a lot of different ways, some of them more constructive; some of them less so. But what does he actually say? Three words: Come and see. Philip took this incredible gift and he shared it. He invited someone else to come and see what he had found; to come and experience what he had experienced. And the kingdom grew.
Now, turn the page in your Bible. A few months later, after Jesus had come back to Judea and was ministering there, it became time for Him to head back to Galilee again. This time, instead of going around the long way to avoid the region of Samaria lying between Judea and Galilee as all good Jews did, He took a route straight through it. Along the way He had His famous encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well near the town of Sychar. It’s an incredible story in John 4 that you should go home and read in its entirety. Jesus ultimately reveals to her His identity as Messiah. She was actually the first person to whom He had ever said as much. After talking for a while, the woman headed back to her village. But she wasn’t going back to stay. She had connected with Jesus. She was going back to invite everyone she could get to listen to her to come and see what she had found. Look at John 4:28: “Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ They left the town and made their way to him.”
Come and see. It’s a powerful invitation. It’s an invitation on the lips of a people who have experienced something truly transformational and they can’t wait to share it with the people around them. It’s an invitation to come and connect with a community that has transformed you and has all the potential in the world of transforming them too. My friends, this is the kind of community God has designed us to be. But here’s the thing: If we are indeed a community such as this, people need to know about it. They need to experience it. But they won’t unless and until you invite them; unless and until you are willing to say, “Come and see.”
But there are a couple of things to know about this if we are going to get it right. First, this come and see thing really does matter. The days when people would just roll up to a church they’ve never been to before just to see what’s happening inside are gone. Long gone. This is true for believers. It’s a thousand times more true for unbelievers. If someone isn’t already following Jesus, they’re not going to go to a church on their own. That doesn’t mean they won’t go to a church at all, though. In fact, most of them will go to a church. So, why don’t they? Because no one has invited them.
A fair bit of survey data suggests that as many as 80% of people who are not currently in a relationship with Jesus would be willing to go to a church if they were invited. Furthermore, you know this is true. If you’ve been connected with this church for less than, say, 30 years, and you are much under the age of 60, I would be willing to bet a whole lot that the reason you are connected with this church is because someone invited you here. You came and saw and experienced something powerful and wonderful. You connected. Deeply. If that worked for you, if you are experiencing the gift that has brought to your life, then it’s time for you to extend that gift to someone else. It’s time for you to go out and say: Come and see.
That leads us to the second thing you need to know if you are going to get this right. In order to invite someone who is currently either unchurched or unbelieving or both to come and see what Jesus is doing in this church, that requires that you have some interactions with people who are currently either unchurched or unbelieving or both. You can’t invite someone you don’t know. I mean, sure, you could go out on the street and start inviting every stranger you meet, but that’s not going to be so effective. The most effective invitations to anything come from someone you know and trust. That goes double for the invitation to church.
I hope the implications of this are clear. If you don’t know anybody who needs a church with whom to connect to experience the life-transforming power of Jesus, then it’s time to broaden your social circle. Go out and meet some new folks who don’t go to church. They just may be your neighbors. Given the way Oakboro is growing right now, they’re probably your new neighbors. Invite them to come and see the incredible community we have here at First Baptist Oakboro. But don’t stop there. Make sure you know when they are coming and go out of your way to meet them here. If they’re coming just to worship (which most folks are going to do on their first visit to a church after they’ve checked the church out online pretty thoroughly), then make sure you are out of Sunday school early that day so you can meet them at their car to walk in with them and sit with them (even if you don’t wind up sitting in your normal spot). Introduce them to the people around you. Show them where things are. Offer a quiet explanation if something seems odd to them. Take them to lunch after the service. Invite them back the next week. Be our ambassador to their life so their process of connecting here is as easy as it could possibly be. The growth of, not merely the church, but the kingdom of God, depends on your knowing and investing in people who aren’t in it so that you can invite them to connect with it.
And this leads me to one last thing we absolutely cannot forget. When you invite them to come and see this incredible community with whom anyone can connect, you are not merely inviting them to church. It’s so much more than that. You are inviting them to Jesus. That’s what Philip and the Samaritan woman did. They invited Nathanael and a whole village not just to be a part of a community; they invited them to Jesus. Don’t just invite someone to church; invite them to Jesus.
Friends, this idea lies at the very heart of our being a people with whom anyone can connect. We want them to connect with us, obviously, but that is absolutely not the end of it. It can’t be. If they just connect with us, they may now be a part of a great community, but they’ll be missing out on the thing that has the power to totally transform their life and the life of their family for generations: Jesus. When we talk about being a people with whom anyone can connect it is because of Jesus’ being present in our midst through the Holy Spirit. If we didn’t have Jesus here, we wouldn’t be a people with whom anyone can connect. Without Jesus, we are naturally tribal. We create divisions. We’re us versus them on as many issues as we can possibly imagine. But in Christ, Paul said, all of those divisions break down and we can all be a part of one body – His – joined together in a common, grand purpose; perfectly unified in spite of our wonderful and important diversity. Don’t just invite someone to church; invite them to Jesus. Invite them to connect with the kingdom that is greater and higher than any kingdom of this world. Invite them to a life of meaning and purpose, of joy and gladness, of hope and peace and love, and utterly unlike anything they will find anywhere else in this world. Invite them to life that does not end, and where one day every tear will be wiped away because the old order of things will have passed away and the new will have arrived. Don’t just invite someone to church; invite them to Jesus. Let your come and see become a go and tell that makes God’s family that much bigger and richer. We are a people with whom anyone can connect. Let’s be fully ourselves together.