Why are we here? Thoughts on the purpose of the “CHURCH” and our church.

Why Are We Here?

Over the next few weeks, we are going to talk about what it looks like to be a “Church on Purpose”.

We will have 4 themes.

How do we purposely know God?

How do we purposely glorify God?

How do we purposely serve God?

How do we purposely change lives?

How did this series sprout?

A few weeks ago, I had coffee with a long-time member of JMPC.

We talked about many things.

As we talked there was one thing that this member was very concerned about.

“Jeff, what do you think about the future of the church?”

I asked for clarification.

Our church?

Or the “CHURCH”?

The answer was the “CHURCH”!

What is the future of the “CHURCH”?

I offered some ideas about that, and will investigate it further when we read “Christianity After Religion” for our October book review.

But I have had the time to ponder the question a bit more.

One thing I came to realize is that the future of JMPC and the “CHURCH” depend on how we answer one question..

“Why are we here?”

Another way to ask this question is this:

What is our purpose?

What is the purpose of JMPC?

What is the purpose of the “CHURCH”?

Once we understand our purpose, we need to ask the next question.

How do we achieve that purpose?

And finally, what will the church look like as we do that?

To answer these questions, we need to look to scripture.

Matthew 28: 16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Acts 2: 42-47

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

What was the purpose of the church?

19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

How did the early church carry out its purpose?

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

What did that church look like?

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Do you see the distinctions here?

There is a difference between the why, the how and the what.

The why?

Make disciples.

Change lives and so change the world.

The how?

Gathering in community to learn, have fellowship, eat, and pray.

The what?

A community where people love God and each other.

Over time, the how and the what change.

But the why never does.

And that is critical.

If you have read the book, “Start with Why”, by Simon Sinek, you might see that the “why” question is foundational to the success of a task.

If you have not read it, you can watch his TED Talk where he explains this idea.

He says this:

People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers had little in common, but they all started with WHY. They realized that people won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it.

He goes on.

And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist?

Sinek uses Apple as an example.

Apple does not simply say it makes good computers.

Here’s how Apple actually communicates. “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

And Apple changed the world.

What about the wright brothers?

Sinek says this:

Orville and Wilbur were driven by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it’ll change the course of the world.

And they did change the world.

When Sinek talks about Martin Luther King, Jr., he asks why so many folks followed him into the streets and almost certain arrest, injury and death.

King told them his purpose:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

That was the why.

What they were going to do was going to change the world.

And while many think that the world has not changed enough, there is little doubt that the world has changed.

That was also true of the early church.

Their purpose was to make disciples.

To change lives and change the world.

How they did it was to gather, worship, learn and share.

The early church seems to have been a kind of commune.

That seemed to work well as they gathered more and more disciples every day.

And while these early Christians had a rough time of it for a few centuries, they did what they could to change the world.

And they did.

If we apply that to JMPC we see all three.

Our purpose is to further a movement we call the Great Commission.

Make disciples and teach them about Jesus.

How have we done that?

Let’s look at some history.

John McMillan Presbyterian Church was founded in 1966.

It was planted with the combined efforts of Westminster Presbyterian Church and Bethel Presbyterian Church.

It is a little over a mile from Westminster and Bethel Pres.

Why was there a need for another Presbyterian Church so close to those others?

As realtors like to say – location, location, location.

Bethel Park was growing.

People were moving to the suburbs.

Its population was increasing fast.

Housing developments were springing up everywhere.

A lot of people new to the area looking for churches.

In the 60’s folks wanted their church to be pretty close to where they lived.

So, what better way to offer a faith community to new residents around Clifton Road than to plant a church in their midst.

How we let people know about it was by knocking on doors of those folks in the neighborhood.

That’s why we are here geographically.

But the big “why” was to make disciples in Bethel Park, baptizing them and teaching them about Jesus.

Our purpose was to be a faith community for new residents of Bethel Park.

We were to change lives and change the world, at least around Clifton Road.

And I think we have.

I know that some might look around and say, “Well, it does not necessarily look like it in 2021.”

Attendance seems to be down.

Offerings seem to be down.

But we need to be careful not to define accomplishment of our purpose with “noses and nickels”.

Our purpose remains to make disciples in Bethel Park, baptizing them and teaching them about Jesus.

Changing lives and changing the world, right here.

How we do it and what it looks like in the end is what has changed.

And we need to adapt.

It was that way in the early church.

While their purpose did not change, how they furthered the purpose did.

The communal living changed into a community that shared out of its abundance.

Collections were taken to meet the needs of others.

This was necessary because the church was becoming a multi-location entity.

Each location cared for the people in its location and then shared with other less wealthy communities.

That’s how they shared.

And in doing that, disciples were made in far off places.

Disciples the local communities of faith never even knew about.

It’s the same with us.

Just because folks don’t show up here on Sundays does not mean their lives and the world aren’t changed by our activities here.

I can confidently say that they are.

It just looks different.

But the underlying purpose remains.

Go … and make disciples …, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

That is the “why” we are here.

Our Session is doing something interesting reading.

We are reading an article about JMPC written in Presbyterian News in 1989.

We are also reading the JMPC 2013 Annual Report.

We are also reading the 2013 JMPC Mission Statement that described JMPC to potential pastors looking to become the senior pastor.

That’s the one that attracted my application.

If you want to read them, let me know and I can email them to you.

In our first discussion, some of the longer-term members talked about their fond memories of 1989.

The church was a big part of the young families’ lives.

Central, in fact.

We talked about the underlying reason folks showed up here.

While we didn’t share all things in common, we did have fellowship, worship and most importantly, we cared about and for each other.

And together, we learned to know, glorify and serve God.

In other words, we love God and love each other.

That we can still pursue in 2021.

It just won’t look like 1989.

To do that we need to be a church on purpose.

And when we do that, we will change the world.

One thought on “Why are we here? Thoughts on the purpose of the “CHURCH” and our church.”

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