BE THE CHURCH!
by Scott R. Bayles
A mega-church in Vista, California made headlines when they canceled all of their worship services over the weekend. Rather then meeting together in an air-conditioned sanctuary, North Coast Church closed its doors for what they called a “Weekend of Service,” providing churchgoers the opportunity to actually show the love of Jesus in their community.
Of the 7,000 believers who attend North Coast Church, over 5,500 of them showed up Sunday morning to live out their commitment as they tackled 139 community service projects at 70 different sites all throughout North San Diego County.
The senior pastor of the church, said, “Our weekly service projects and our Weekend of Service is simply one more way to help our members understand that church is what we are, not just something we go to… What we tell people is—this week, we’re going to be the church instead of just going to church.”
Now, there is a congregation that understands what church is all about.
There are simply far too many Christians out there who have this mistaken belief that church is just something that you go to for sixty minutes on Sunday morning (assuming the preacher doesn’t go over-time). The truth is—you don’t go to church; you are the church! The church isn’t a place; it’s people! Jesus said…
“You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)
“You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)
“You are…a city set on a hill.” (Matthew 5:14)
You are the church! It’s up to us (you and me) to be the mouth, the hands, and the feet of Jesus—to be the church! Of course, getting involved in the community and doing service projects—like the folks at North Coast Church—is only part of what it means to be the church. Being the church also means being like Jesus, being a part of God’s family and giving of ourselves and our means.
I don’t believe there is anybody in all of Scripture that exemplifies what it means to be the church more clearly or concisely than an often-over-looked woman named Phoebe. While there are no examples in the Bible of the perfect Christian—because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23)—there is this one woman, mentioned briefly in Romans 16:1-2, that I believe gives us some insight into what God wants from us and what it means to be the church. Let’s read these two short verses together:
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.” (Romans 16:1-2 NIV)
We know very little about this godly woman who carried Paul’s letter to the Romans. We just have the brief mention of her name and service. She was named after the Moon-Goddess of the Greeks. The goddess Artemis, known commonly as Phoebe, was supposedly identified with the light of the moon. But the Phoebe whom Paul so highly commended shone as a light for Jesus, the “Light of the World”! In a fifty-three-word parade of praise, Paul gives a beautiful cameo to this saintly servant of Jesus. But what can we learn from someone mentioned only so briefly? We can learn a lot—especially about what it means to “be the church.” Paul, in these two verses, uses three powerful words to describe Phoebe. The first description he bestows on her is “sister.”
Paul began by saying, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe.” First and foremost, being the church means being a part of God’s family. We may not all be sisters, but we are all spiritual siblings. The Bible says, “Jesus, who makes people holy, and those who are made holy are from the same family. So he is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:11 NCV). Take a moment to let the amazing truth sink in. You are part of God’s family. When you place your faith in Jesus, God becomes your Father, you become his child, other believers become your brothers and sisters, and the church becomes your spiritual family. The red-letter words of Jesus are unmistakable: “Pointing with his hand at his disciples, he said, ‘Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does what my Father in heaven wants is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:49-50 GWT).
I’ve said it so many times before—church is about family. It’s about having brothers and sisters who love you, who can come along next to you and see you through life’s trying times. Being included in God’s family is the highest honor and the greatest privilege you will ever receive. Whenever you feel unimportant, unloved, or insecure, remember to whom you belong.
That’s what family is, isn’t it—a place to belong? Even in the perfect paradise of Eden, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are not meant to live lone-ranger lives; rather, we are created for communion and community. One of the classic hymns and a favorite in many churches still is Lanny Wolfe’s “God’s Family”:
We’re part of the family that’s been born again;
Part of the family whose love knows no end;
For Jesus has saved us, and makes us His own,
Now we’re part of the family that’s on it’s way home.
And sometimes we laugh together, sometimes we cry;
Sometimes we share together, heart-aches and sighs;
Sometimes we dream together of how it will be
When we all get to Heaven, God’s family.
That’s what God’s family is all about—laughing together, crying together, and dreaming together. In fact, the Bible says that Christians are put together, joined together, built together, members together, heirs together, fitted together, held together, and will be caught up together. There’s a lot of togetherness in God’s family! Being the church means experiencing life together. And what do we do together? Well, there’s another Bible phrase that answers that question—one another:
“Love one another” (John 13:34).
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10).
“Honor one another” (Romans 12:10).
“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).
“Let us not judge one another” (Romans 14:13).
“Accept one another” (Romans 15:7).
“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16).
“Teach one another” (Romans 15:14).
“Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).
“Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).
“Offer hospitality to one another” (2 Peter 4:9).
“Love one another” (1 John 3:23, 4:7, 4:11 and so many more).
It takes both God’s power and our effort to produce a loving Christian community. Being the church meaning being a family and living out these “one another” verses on a daily basis. Let’s make that our goal as God’s family.
Additionally, Paul goes on to describe Phoebe in yet another way. Paul calls Phoebe a saint.
Paul told the Roman Christians to “receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints.” In other words, roll out the red carpet, bring on the confetti, throw your arms wide open and wrap them around her when she gets there! Why? A saint is coming to town. Despite popular opinion, you don’t have to perform any miracles or be canonized in order to become a saint. Every one of us are saints from the time we are born again. At that moment God sanctifies us; he makes us holy. A saint is any person who has been sanctified by God. In fact, Paul addressed this letter “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7).
If you are in God’s family, then you are a saint. Of course, that doesn’t mean you will always act like a saint. Sainthood, or being sanctified, is an ongoing lifelong process. Put very simply, sanctification is the process of becoming like Christ. The Bible says, “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more” (2 Corinthians 3:18 TLB). Both being the church and being a saint mean becoming like Jesus. God’s ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character development. You were created to become like Christ. But the thing is—you cannot reproduce the character of Jesus on your own strength. New Year’s resolutions, willpower, and best intentions are not enough. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to make the changes God wants to make in our lives.
Do you sometimes wonder why you aren’t more like Jesus? Let me answer that with another question. Have you ever noticed how couples who’ve been married for a long time start to look alike? After so many years or decades of togetherness, they start to have the same mannerisms, the same inflection in their voice, even the same facial expressions. The more time you spend with someone the more you become like that person. So, how much time do you spend with Jesus? How much time to you spend praying and talking with God about life’s failures and successes? How often do you open your Bible and just listen to what he has to say? More than anything else, I think the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make you more like the Son of God.
But we have to open to it, we have to want it, and cooperate with the Holy Spirit. How does that happen in real life? Through spending time in prayer, through reading our Bibles, through personal and public worship, but also through the choices and decisions we make. I know it sounds cliché, but ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”
What if, for one day, Jesus lived your life for you?
What if, for twenty-four hours, Jesus wakes up in your bed, walks in your shoes, lives in your house, and assumes your schedule? Your boss becomes his boss, your kids become his kids, and your headaches become his headaches. Your health doesn’t change. Your circumstances don’t change. Your schedule isn’t altered. Your problems aren’t solved. Only one thing changes.
What if, for one day and night, Jesus lives your life with his heart? Your heart gets the day off and your life is led by the heart of Christ. What would you be like? Would people notice a difference? Your family—would they see something new? Your co-workers—would they sense a change? And how about you? What alterations would this heart transplant have on your stress levels? Your mood swings? Your temper? Would you sleep better? Would you see sunsets differently?
Adjust the lens of your imagination until you have a clear picture of Jesus leading your life, then snap the shutter and frame the picture. What you see is what God wants. The Bible says, “In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 NCV). The heart of Christ-likeness is having a heart like Christ. God’s plan for you is nothing short of a new heart. Long before Jesus walked the streets of Galilee, God promised, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT).
God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus. He wants you to have a heart like his. That’s what it means to be the church. But we’re not quite done. Paul had one last adjective for Phoebe. He calls her a servant.
Once again, Paul says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church.” The word used here for “servant” is the Greek word diakonos, which is usually translated “deacon” or “minister.” The point, however, is not that she held a special position or title, but that she served her local church in a variety of ways. In the next verse, Paul says, “Help her in every way you can, for she has helped many in their needs, including me” (vs. 2 TLB). Being the church means helping out; it means being a servant.
North Coast Church is a wonderful example of a service orientated church, but they aren’t the only ones. Could churches everywhere will be canceling their regularly scheduled meetings, in order to “be the church,” to participate in local community service projects all across the country? But you don’t have to engage in a major community project in order to be a servant. You don’t even have to leave the building. There are ample opportunities for you to be a “servant of the church” right here in your church.
A list could literally go on and on. But listen, the point is—being the church requires us to help out in what ever way we’re needed. I know that most of you haven’t been a part of our church family for very long, others may feel like they aren’t qualified to teach a class, or your afraid to speak in public, or your life is already so busy, but it all goes back to that same question: “What would Jesus do?” Or rather, “What would Jesus have me do?” Choose to do what God wants you to do and then trust his Spirit to give you the power, love, courage or wisdom you need to do it.
Robert J. Morgan once told the story of a preacher who was approached by a man who wanted to join the church. “But,” the man said, “I have a very busy schedule. I can’t be called on for any service, like committee work, teaching, or other such things. I just won’t be available for special projects or to help with setting up chairs or things like that. I just want to sit through Sunday worship and then go on about my business.”
The minister thought for a moment, and then replied, “I believe you’re at the wrong church. The church you’re looking for is three blocks down the street, on the right.” The man followed the preacher’s directions and soon came to an abandoned, boarded up closed down church building. It was a dead church—gone out of business.
That’s what happens to churches that don’t have servants. Being the church means being a servant. Phoebe was a servant of the church, she had a servant heart. We would all do well to live by her example.
Church isn’t something that opens or closes with a prayer. Church isn’t just something you attend; it’s something you are. Church isn’t a place; it’s people. What does it mean to “be the church”? Well, if Phoebe give us anything to go by, it means being a sister—a vital part of God’s household, fashioned for God’s family, a saint—created to become like Christ and learning to have a heart like his, and a servant—made for ministry and willing to help out. So whatever you do, wherever you go, whether it’s Sunday, Saturday or any day in-between—remember to be the church.
This is going to be a broad invitation. If you want to be a part of our church family or if you aren’t sure whether or not you are a part of it yet and you you’d like to know, then this invitation is for you. If you need some help developing a Christ-like heart, then this invitation is for you. Or if you are willing to be a servant rather than a spectator—meaning if you want to volunteer to help out in any capacity (giving communion talks, leading songs at a song service, you want to learn how to prepare a sermon, you want to help with the children’s program, fixing pipes, cleaning floors, laying tile, or any other kind service what-so-ever)—I want to invite you to take a step of faith.