I preached this sermon in the summer of 2012 to rally the congregation of to make a deeper commitment to MainStreet and invest financially in our building campaign to move into our own space at Stonegate Plaza.
A ROAD TRIP TO REMEMBER
It was spring break of 1998—my senior year of high school. Several of my best friends and I had our bags all packed and were about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
We borrowed my dad’s conversion van, decked out with a tv and playstation, and drove across the country to Fort Pierce, Florida, where we spent some nights in a condo on the beach. Then we spent a day experiencing all the wonders of Disney World together. Disney highlights include: John getting pooped on by a bird and thereby earning a free t-shirt. Graham getting food poisoning at Mozarello’s. I tried flirting with a foreign vendor girl we called Anastasia…it was awkward! And we almost died when our van nearly collided with a tour bus going 75 mph on the Florida Turnpike. We already had enough shared memories to last a lifetime, but this trip was only just beginning.
Next, we drove to Miami where we boarded the Carnival Cruise ship The Ecstasy. I’ll leave out the story of blowing a tire in Miami rush hour traffic at 70 mph and nearly crashing into the center concrete divider. (For the sake of my parents’ reputation, I should add at this point the fact that we did have Dan’s parents chaperoning this trip in case you’re picturing a van full of unsupervised teenagers crossing the country.)
We finally boarded the ship and spent the rest of the week hopping the Caribbean islands, visiting the ruins of the Mayan civilization in Tulum, Mexico, experiencing the night life in Cozumel, and trying our best to snorkel in Key West where I almost died and ended up in the infirmary of the cruise ship with deep cuts and bloodied bandages up and down my legs. (If you want more details, ask me later.)
Now if you ask any of us who shared this trip, we’d all agree it was a defining experience in our lives. Many years later we still share stories, quote funny lines, share inside jokes, and long to recreate the experience someday with a reunion cruise together.
So, what trips have you taken? What places have you explored? What adventures have you shared with your family or a group of friends? How have these trips left permanent marks on you? If we had time, we could spend hours sharing stories together—stories we would tell with great passion, excitement, shared experiences, nostalgia, emotion, joy and longing to do it again.
Now, what if these same adjectives, these same emotions, this same kind of passion, excitement and sense of adventure could characterize our shared experience as a church? What if joining a church was like joining a high paced, action packed adventure with a group of people who were set on “going someplace” together?
But if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us would never describe our past church experience in such a an exciting way. Church has been a place we go to each week. A building to enter. A set of rituals to observe or a club we belong to and to which we pay our dues. Church is often a static, motionless experience, a meaningless going through the motions out of a sense of duty.
But hopefully not at MainStreet.
A CHURCH THAT IS GOING SOMEWHERE
We hope that every Sunday you get the sense that we are a people who are determined to go certain places together. We want our Lifegroup gatherings and Sunday worship experiences to feel like a quick pit-stop to refuel our tanks and check out progress on our spiritual maps, and then we’re off again together to blaze a new trail, or scale another mountain, or cross another bridge, and reach another destination or goal in our mission in Mound. God help us to never become static. Stuck. Circling the wagons, maintaining church programs, and no longer going places together — both physically and spiritually.
Every church should be able to answer the simple question: Where is your congregation going together? What hopes and dreams, mission and vision are you moving toward together? How much progress are you making toward reaching this destination?
Sadly, if you asked many churches that question, they would give you a blank stare and have no clue. They are just doing church. Going through the motions. Circling the wagons, and getting deeper and deeper in the rut as they repeatedly spin the tires and go nowhere.
When we open up the Book of Acts, it is exactly that—high octane, adventure filled activity, or acts. Its a travelogue of sorts, detailing the early apostles’ action packed road, off road road trip across the Roman Empire. The early church was a missionary tour bus, carrying the mission-minded apostles into unknown lands, unexplored terrain, encountering all kinds of new people and places, with a very clear but open ended itinerary.
In Acts 1 Jesus kicks the tires on the apostolic bus, and hands them a road map saying, “Start out in Jerusalem, then visit the outer skirts of Judea. After that, cruise out into the unfamiliar regions of Samaria, and finally, I want you to head west all the way to the ends of the Earth!”
Next the apostolic bus needs fuel to carry it across the entire known world, and so in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit is poured into the tank of the early church movement. And off they went—the little band of apostles, following Jesus’ itinerary and fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit with a message to the ends of the earth! It was the cross country road trip the world is still talking about 2,000 years later!
Now, let’s be honest. Some of you are here this morning visiting this brand new church because maybe you have grown frustrated with other churches you have attended that may have lacked a clear sense of direction and mission. Something deep inside you longs for a faith experience with harder edges, a spirituality with teeth, an experience with God that is even more exhilarating than your last trip to the ocean or your vacation in the mountains. If Paris or Hawaii or the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls or the Egyptian Pyramids excite you more than God, I assure you that you have yet to come to know and encounter the True and Living God of the Bible!
We hope MainStreet will serve to help us all get swept up in the adventure of God, to foster regular life-changing encounters with Him in worship, through the preached Word, by serving others, and by fostering deeper Christian community.
A PIONEER’S FAITH IN A CONSUMER CULTURE
Before we move on to explore this “Church on the move” motif further, let me offer a slight detour. I have spent much of the past year reading some histories of pioneers. I have read a lot about the Swedish immigrants who came over to America in the late 1800s to put down roots and plant a new life in America. I have read of the Swedish pioneering pastors who started the Mission Friends movement in America that gave rise to the Evangelical Covenant Church we are now a part of. Story after story plunges us into the experiences of adventure, grave sacrifice, hard work and perseverance in building towns and churches from nothing.
As many of you know, this summer we celebrate the City of Mound’s centennial and I am helping plan an outdoor centennial worship celebration at Surfside Beach on July 22. I have the honor of giving the message at this historic occasion, and in preparation I have been reading up on the history of all of Mound’s churches. In each case, there was a brave group of people who set out on a shared adventure, investing much and sacrificing dearly to bring into being these communities of faith to reach people with the love of Christ. They were pioneers who by necessity were either going somewhere, chasing a dream, building something new, or they would die trying. The pioneers were often driven by a very basic survival impulse. The pioneer family facing their first winter on the frozen shore of Lake Superior needed to find a way to survive. They had to build a shelter or freeze to death. They had to chop wood to burn or freeze to death. They had to find a way to grow crops or starve to death. They had to band together and form a community or live and die in isolation on the prairie.
These same pioneers brought the pioneer mentality and determination to the way they lived out their faith. They pooled resources, sacrificed greatly and built and maintained little church houses with congregations of only 30 or so people. The pioneers and the couple generations after them were notoriously faithful to supporting their church. That’s how so many little country churches were able to build churches, and support a pastor’s salary with only a handful of members.
But, alas, we have come along way from the Pioneer faith of both the men and women in Scripture, and the men and women who immigrated to America in the 19th century. The challenge we now face is trying to live out a pioneer’s faith in a consumer culture.
What is a “consumer culture”? Instead of sacrificing and building, we now shop around for the cheapest buy at the lowest personal cost. Whether its shopping for shampoo, finding cheap airfare or a new church, many people will choose the easiest, most convenient option that will cost them the least. This is fine when it comes to groceries or back-to-school shopping bargains, but presents a huge problem when we bring this mentality to our sense of church community and commitment.
American churches are all too often filled with people who act more like costumers in relation to their church than committed members. As long as the church provides a pleasing product each Sunday with great music and entertaining sermon, we stick around. But as soon as the church down the road begins to offer a better experience, we’ll take our “business” (or tithe) elsewhere.
Plus, we are bargain shoppers by nature, and many prefer a place that will cost them least and ask little of them. The preacher whose message is most appealing gains the most listeners, and the pastor who faithfully preaches the hard, often times offensive truths such as “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” and “go sell all of your belongings and come follow me,” this pastor’s congregation is growing smaller and smaller these days.
So many of us find safety and comfort in the back of a large auditorium at a megachurch where we can remain anonymous, show up when we want without being noticed, give occasionally as we’re able, and avoid being held accountable in our faith walk.
Where is all of this going? As we set out on this new adventure together as a church, and prepare to raise money and buildout our new worship space in the Stonegate Plaza this fall, I want to challenge MainStreet to resist the tide of the culture to approach our faith as consumers looking for the cheapest, most convenient church experience that is mainly about satisfying your desires and costs you little. We are want to call forth a pioneering spirit that has characterized so many giants of the faith—both in the Bible times and in our own times.
We are a pioneer church breaking new ground in Mound. We are a people on the move, going somewhere together, and the destination is worth sacrificing to reach. We need to see this church as absolutely vital to the wellbeing of this city—just as the log cabin was vital to the survival of the pioneer family on the frozen tundra.
Now back to my senior trip in the spring of 1998.
BUDGETING FOR THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME
The only way I was able to experience that trip of a lifetime was to begin budgeting and saving for it months before we left town. For many months, even years, I worked and saved and put money in my vacation account. So when the time came, I was able to afford the trip and no miss out on the adventure.
While every metaphor eventually breaks down, I want to simply invite all of us to ask the question: Do you want to be part of an amazing, life-changing, faith-stretching adventure at MainStreet in the days ahead? Do you want to be part of a church that is on the move, going somewhere together?
Do you want to help raise up a people who overcome obstacles, break through barriers, leap over walls, cross over bridges, scale mountain peaks, cross oceans, touch the sky, ride the moon, taste eternity, see heaven kiss earth?
Do you want to impact schools, transform neighborhoods, serve the poor, bring light into darkness and relieve suffering?
Do you want to outgrow meeting spaces, build new buildings, expand ministries, bring hope to the hurting, and see schools ignited on fire for Christ?
Do you want to see little home-based LifeGroups popping up in every neighborhood in town where people share a meal, laugh together, find encouragement, raise kids together, learn to follow Jesus better, and go out and serve together?
If this sounds like an adventure you don’t want to miss out on, then are you willing to invest financially in making it possible?