I love you. I love this congregation. I feel a deep sense of joy and privilege to be a part of you and to have the opportunity to work with you.

I believe this congregation has a future. I don't think that we realize our potential. "How much potential do you think we have?" I believe we have enormous growth and service potential. "Do we have the potential of becoming a 1000 member congregation?" We surely do. "Do we have the potential to become a 1500 member congregation?" We certainly do. "Can we have even 2000 members?" It's possible.

"Do you think that can happen if we do what we have done in the past?" No. "Do you think that can happen if we do what we are doing right now?" No.

"Why?" More than a decade ago Churches of Christ began to study church growth. We began to study why some congregations grow and why some die. In fact, we have a Center for Church Growth in Houston, Texas. This center makes in depth, nation wide analyses of congregations that are growing, that are not growing, and that are dying. It does not predict. It analyses and evaluates.

Based on those studies, no congregation doing what we are doing experiences appreciable growth. If we only continue to do what we are doing, and we double in size and work, we will do something no other Church of Christ in this nation has done.

This morning I want to share my heart with you. If we are to use the potential that God has given us, I want to think about some things that need to happen.

  1. First, we need to form a deeper sense of congregational identity.
    1. I am deeply impressed with the many excellent things happening in this congregation.
      1. We are blessed with many self-motivated, committed, serving members.
      2. I doubt that any of us realize how many good things are happening.
      3. When I talk about our sense of congregational identity, I certainly am not suggesting that nothing is happening.
        1. In no way am I criticizing us.
        2. But I want you to consider some cause and effect situations.
    2. Allow me to give our newer members a very brief history lesson.
      1. This congregation is seventeen years old.
      2. The Windsor Drive and the College Terrace congregations merged.
      3. The College Terrace building was on this property.
      4. That building was razed and this building was built.
      5. During construction, the new congregation met in the Windsor Drive facilities; those facilities were sold after we moved into this building.
      6. Both congregations had many, many good people in them.
        1. But both congregations had different congregational personalities, different focuses, and different objectives.
        2. There was absolutely nothing wrong or undesirable about that.
      7. Merging the congregations is much like marrying a fine thirty-five-year-old man to a fine thirty-five-year-old woman who are quite different.
        1. They married after a brief courtship.
        2. They knew they wanted to be married, and that's all that mattered.
        3. They did not consider the significance of their differences before they married.
    3. Some members who predate the merging feel like "we lost our congregation."
      1. They appreciate West-Ark, but they loved the congregation they lost.
      2. They feel no sense of history with West-Ark, and they still have not formed a deep bond in this congregation.
    4. I realize that I have been here only 15 months.
      1. But it seems to me that the merger, combined with some struggles we experienced in the past few years, generated a special need.
      2. We have a significant need for a deep sense of congregational identity.
      3. Not having a broad based sense of identity hurts us.
      4. It is too easy to come watch instead of being a part.

  2. Second, we need realistic confidence in our potential for local development.
    1. My study of Jesus Christ, of the good news about Christ, and of Christianity in the New Testament leads me to this conclusion: Jesus Christ is relevant to every problem and every need in human existence.
      1. In specific ways, we agree on that.
      2. We agree that Jesus Christ is relevant:
        1. To marriage, home, and parenting.
        2. To sickness, terminal illness, and death.
      3. This same Jesus is relevant to everything else that occurs in our existence.
        1. To the problems created by troubled marriages, divorce, abusive spouses, abusive parents, and children or parents who cause heartbreak.
        2. To the problems created by the trauma of rape recovery, abortion recovery, unfaithfulness in marriage, and all forms of sexual sin.
        3. To alcohol problems, drug problems, and any other problem that often is misery looking for a way to escape.
        4. To depression, loneliness, and grief.
      4. We are surrounded by hurting people who live in despair.
      5. They need answers; they are hungry for answers; and the foundation of those answers is found in Christ.
        1. But "don't do that," "don't think about that," "forget that" are not the answers.
        2. That was not, never has been, and is not Jesus' message.
        3. Struggling, searching people do not need another guilt trip--they are on a guilt trip.
        4. They need help; they need the Great Physician; they need to learn how the Great Physician can help them.
    2. We desperately need some effective support groups in this congregation; groups that can understand together, study together, and pray together.
      1. For example, we need a grief recovery group.
      2. We need a divorce recovery group.
      3. We need crises and trauma support groups.
      4. We need a single parent support group.
      5. We need Christ-centered, Bible studying, praying groups that help people understand what is happening in their lives and help them learn how to let Christ work in them and with them.
    3. We desperately need more care groups in this congregation.
      1. Every time a person is baptized, every time a person places membership, they need to become part of a small care group.
        1. Jim and Deborah Wilson and Bill and Martha Walker are coordinating an excellent work with our newcomers, and I deeply appreciate what they are doing.
        2. In addition to this work, newcomers need to be part of a care group.
      2. Every member of this congregation needs to be part of a care group.
      3. We have some wonderful care groups in the congregation, we just do not have nearly enough.
        1. A recent death and a recent marriage illustrate their value.
        2. Joyce and I are always impressed with these groups.

  3. Third, we need a staff large enough to coordinate and facilitate our work.
    1. The purpose of a staff is to coordinate and facilitate the work, not to do the work.
    2. How large a staff do we need?
      1. We need enough staff to coordinate the work and to address the spiritual opportunities within the congregation.
        1. We need enough staff to coordinate our community outreach.
        2. We need enough staff to best utilize your time and abilities.
      2. Brad Pistole's health gave many of us a real scare last Sunday morning.
        1. When I talked to Bob Fisher last Sunday morning, he remarked, "Brad is burning the candle at both ends."
        2. I should have asked Bob, "Is that the voice of experience speaking?"
        3. I have often been concerned for Brad and Yvonne.
        4. He is over committed to the point that it puts him and his marriage at risk.
        5. Yvonne is a very understanding wife, but Brad's work must not abuse her.
      3. We need staff members who know how to meet the needs, know how to address the needs, know how to see the opportunities, and who know how to make the most of your time and abilities.
    3. Why do you think the elders are preparing us to select additional elders?
      1. The extensive needs of this congregation frequently overwhelm them.
      2. Our need for shepherding is enormous.
      3. They need help.

  4. Today, as this congregation begins the process of making a number of important decisions, I want to ask each of you to do two things.
    1. First, I ask each of you to earnestly pray for yourself and for the congregation as we make these decisions.
      1. Our greatest concerns must be about accomplishing Jesus' purposes.
      2. Pray for the wisdom to do that, for we surely need it.
    2. Second, I ask you to focus on the realities of "now."
      1. It is easy to think about what should be--but what should be is not what is.
      2. It is easy to think about the way we wish things were--but the way we wish things were is not the way things are.
      3. It is easy to react or to rebel--but reactions and rebellions do not constructively deal with reality.
      4. As you take part in our decisions, think about the realities of right now, and let the realities of right now influence you.

Jesus was frequently criticized by religiously proper people who did religiously correct things in technically correct ways. They criticized Jesus because he spent time with and taught dishonest people and people known for their wickedness. This was Jesus' response: "It is not those who are healthy that need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, 'I desire compassion and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:12,13).

May I share a true occurrence? I started a group that worked with people who wanted to recover from serious problems. One lady in her late twenties came, but could not enter the doors of the church building. She had been hurt so deeply by churches that she could not force herself to enter a church building. With lots of encouragement, she finally came in. But she was so nervous she could hardly stay.

When she went home, her roommate (who was an agnostic) saw that it really helped her to be a part of this group. The roommate promised to come with her the next week to make it easier for her to attend.

The agnostic roommate also had a horrible experience in a church. When she was a child, a Sunday school teacher told her daughter, "This is the kind of people I told you not to associate with."

On the first visit the agnostic friend could not believe what she saw and heard. On the third visit she came because she wanted to come. Both women became regular participants in the class. In less than a year, the agnostic became a believer and was baptized. In about two years, the other lady was baptized. Why? They found a congregation that helped troubled people instead of hurting them.

Do we dare be a congregation with the heart of Jesus?

Jesus cared so much for those who were troubled, He had time to spend with anyone who was hurting. He can minister to your need if you will repent and allow Him to serve you. Are you willing to surrender totally to Him through baptism?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 22 March 1998

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