Monthly Archives: January 2008

Weekly Devotional for January 24, 2008

Have you ever seen a theologically correct church sign? Many churches have marquees that display changeable message quips. Some of the messages get double-takes, or produce wry smiles. An often posted message says, “Get right, or get left!” One church sign stated, ” God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.” Another reminded passing readers, ” Church Is A Hospital For Sinners…Not A Museum For Saints.” Other messages are more provocative, such as, ” ETERNITY: Smoking, or non-smoking?” One marquee advertised, “Soul food served every Sunday.” Some signs convey mnemonic messages: ” A. S. A. P … Always Say A Prayer.” A church sign located near a busy street was smashed into by a car wreck. The next day, the sign read, “Sign damaged: Come inside for message.”

While that kind of sign might provide a helpful or humorous thought for the day, they are not as theological as the sign I have in mind. While I was serving on staff of First Baptist Church, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, the church found itself needing to erect a new church sign. Most likely, the new sign was deemed necessary because the Methodist church across the street built an impressive new one. Many First Baptist Church members assumed that the new sign – certainly not a marquee – would simply display the church name. The pastor, Dr. Nathan Porter – one of my wise mentors in ministry – had the idea that the sign should make a theologically correct statement. His notion carried the day. The brick sign with metal letters proclaimed, “Worship, Ministry, and Training center of the First Baptist Church.” Well said! The building identified by the sign was not the church, the people were the church. The building was identified as a facility in which the functions of the church took place.

The reminder that the building is not the church is worth continuous display. Of course, the three activities mentioned can be carried out by any individual. Each person should have times of worship of God. Prompted by wonders of creation and nature, holding a newborn baby in one’s arms, reading and gaining new insight from the Bible, a person can and should express worship and praise to God. Ministry also ought to be part of every person’s daily life. Each person has many one-on-one opportunities to use the gifts God has given to meet the needs of others, to spread God’s grace, even if no one else around is a follower of Jesus. Training for the practice of ministry can be done alone by reading a book, studying a Sunday School lesson, practicing music for worship, or by spending time in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Any of these can be pursued alone, and can be done anywhere, at any time. The big building with the sign out front is not required for worship, ministry, training, or other actions of following Jesus.

Some additional information on the sign emphasized its theological correctness. Times for the church to gather for the listed purposes, along with an inviting, “Welcome!” completed the message. The church – the people, not the building – fulfills its purpose best when people committed to Christ assemble inside the building, keenly focused on the purposes for them to be there.

Glimpses of God’s intention for the church to come together for worship, ministry, and training dot the pages of the Bible. The writer addressing a Hebrew congregation of Christians exhorted, ” Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. {25} You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other.” (Hebrews 10:24-25a NCV) God intends for believers to help each other and to stimulate one another to grow and to become the very best followers of Jesus they can be, individually and together. Paul reminds us that every Christian needs others, and also has something to give to others. He says, ” There are different ways that God works through people but the same God. God works in all of us in everything we do. {7} Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, for the common good. {8} The Spirit gives one person the ability to speak with wisdom, and the same Spirit gives another the ability to speak with knowledge. {9} The same Spirit gives faith to one person. And, to another, that one Spirit gives gifts of healing. {10} The Spirit gives to another person the power to do miracles, to another the ability to prophesy. And he gives to another the ability to know the difference between good and evil spirits. The Spirit gives one person the ability to speak in different kinds of languages and to another the ability to interpret those languages. {11} One Spirit, the same Spirit, does all these things, and the Spirit decides what to give each person.” (1 Corinthians 12:6-11 NCV) Paul returns to this thought after a few paragraphs: ” Brothers and sisters…, when you meet together, one person has a song, and another has a teaching. Another has a new truth from God. Another speaks in a different language, and another person interprets that language. The purpose of all these things should be to help the church grow strong.” (1 Corinthians 14:26 NCV) In another letter, Paul clarifies the metaphor of the building denoted by a church sign: ” You are … citizens together with God’s people and members of God’s family. {20} You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. {21} In him all the parts of the building fit together and grow into a holy temple in the Lord. {22} Through him you, also, are being built in the Spirit together with others into a place where God lives.” (Ephesians 2:19b-22 GWT) Just as the Spirit of God is active in us, the living church building, to accomplish God’s tasks and purposes, we come together in the bricks-and-mortar church building to worship, minister, and train for doing God’s work.

Whether it meets in a Gothic cathedral, a contemporary structure, or a storefront location, the church is always a gathering of people engaged in worship, ministry, and training. The gathered community brings God’s gifts to share with one another and with the world. No one present can do alone all that God intends to demonstrate his love and grace. Everyone present needs something that is likely to be found in another member of the church in order to realize the full promise God has for each believer. Every follower of Jesus needs to gather with other believers at the designated place for worship, ministry, and training.

What do you think when you read a church sign? Do you have images of routine meetings and merely habitual practices? Do you sense a need for something more in your relationship with God? The people gathered as the church are likely to have something to share that will help you to grow closer to God and to be more effective in living for Christ. You, too, have something that God has given you to share that is needed by others. Where do you do your best worship, ministry, and training as a follower of Jesus?

J. Edward Culpepper, Ph.D.