Working Together

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Epiphany 6
SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 30:19-20, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”
1 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV)

ANNUAL MEETING REHASH

Well we got through another one. We had our Annual Meeting last Sunday after worship. To tell you the truth, I walked away from that meeting feeling pretty good about things. It was a little long but we also had a lot to do and we did it well. I really appreciated the fact that we spent our time on the important things. I’ve been to lots of annual meetings in the past, especially in other churches where the focus of the whole meeting was the budget and financial statement.

I’m not saying those things aren’t important because they are. And I particularly appreciate the way the Finance Committee worked hard to present their reports in ways that I think were better and more informative. The Narrative Budget was a particularly helpful new feature.

What I can tell you, because I sat in on a number of the Finance Committee’s meetings, is that they worked tirelessly to get that done and if we had to pay John Logan for all of the extra work he has done with this, that alone would break our budget. While we’re not out of our financial hole quite yet, we made significant progress in 2019 and I expect that progress will continue in 2020. So good job.

I also appreciated what Anne said at the end of the meeting, that while we are not in great financial shape, that was not the focus of our meeting. I forget the exact words because I was getting rather weepy when Anne was talking but she basically expressed her gratitude that we were able to look into the future with hope, to focus on the positive. And I think she was right. There was a very positive attitude in the room last Sunday afternoon. There some good discussion and some great questions. We need to keep all of that in mind as we move forward to know Christ and make him known.

I want to talk today about how we do that. I want to dwell on one biblical principle that we need to keep in mind as we seek to accomplish the goals that we set last week.

And by the way, for those who were not able to be there, we passed all of our ministry goals which in was interesting because some of them were a bit off the wall. But the fact that this congregation was able to consider and approve them is a testament to how far we have come in the past ten years because, ten years ago, I don’t think we would have even considered doing some of these things. It also indicated to me how much you have bought into the concept of becoming a gathering place or a hub in our community. Ministry is not just about us and what we do here within our four walls. It’s also how we reach out to our neighbours and friends with the love of Jesus and how we radiate that love to them. And as we radiate that love, we want them to know that this is a place where they can come without fear, where they can gather and feel that they belong, a place that is both truly hospitable and filled with gratitude for all the God has done for us and through us.

The only goal we didn’t pass was the bricks and mortar goal, the goal of building a storage shed for shovels and rakes and such. I had no idea that goal would go in the direction that it did. Again for those who were not able to be there, we started off with a vision of garden shed that you can buy at Home Hardware. By the time we were done, as someone said, it had become a pole barn. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. Inside of it was not just shovels and rakes. There was a riding lawn mower and a snow blower. I actually was wondering if we made it just a little bit bigger if I could store my RV in there for the winter.

The issue, however, was a real one. The Church Board only envisioned a place to store some garden equipment and propane tanks. What we had not considered was that there may be other things that need to go out there. So basically, we really to do a better job of assessing our needs before we build anything. And that really was a wise decision.

WHO DO WE FOLLOW?

So what biblical principle do I want to talk about? Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 to find out. It starts like this in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 (NIV):

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

Paul begins this passage with a little bit of chastisement. Do you remember a few weeks ago when I said that the church in Corinth is like our big sister because we can learn from her mistakes? This is another example.

What Paul is telling them is that they’d better grow up and he does it by using some great imagery. He’d like to feed them solid food – what he means is that he’d like to start teaching them the deeper things of the faith. But he can’t do that because they’re still acting like babies. So all he can do is give them milk until they are ready for something more substantial.

Then Paul identifies the reason for his concern. There is jealousy and quarreling among them. That’s really not all that unusual in the early churches. Paul mentions the problem of quarreling to some other churches as well, most notably in the book of Philippians.

This quarreling, however, is focused on a particular issue that is probably very divisive. It seems that some of the Christians in Corinth are lining up into camps depending upon who led them to Christ. That’s probably what it means when Paul writes in verse 4: “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings?”

Just a word of explanation. I expect that most of us know who Paul was. After all, he wrote thirteen of the seventeen books in the New Testament which represents about a quarter of it. That’s significant.

Apollos is referred to various times in the New Testament. But who is Apollos? He first shows up in Acts 18 where we learn that he was a devout Jew who was born in Alexandria, Egypt. At some point he accepted Jesus Christ and became a leader in the church in Ephesus. This is it says about him in Acts 18:24b-25 (NIV):

He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.

So, it seems that Apollos was very charismatic and eloquent character. He was on fire for Jesus and was not afraid to let the people know it. Somewhere along the line, he made his way from Ephesus to Corinth where he became part of the leadership in that church too. And that’s where the division in the church in Corinth began.

I don’t want you to think that this division was cause by Apollos. Paul doesn’t say that. In fact, the indications are that Apollos was not at all happy with the notion that some people said they were following him. But people were saying that they followed him. And other people said that they followed Paul.

What’s Paul’s response? He tells that they should not be following either Paul or Apollos. Rather, they should be following Jesus. Paul and Apollos are mere human beings. They don’t want to be followed. They don’t deserve to be followed because only Jesus does. Basically, Paul is telling them to get their heads screwed on straight and focus on following Jesus. Put their divisions aside because if they are ever going to be the people whom God created and called them to be, then they had better all get on the same page and put Jesus first.

CREATING THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT

So that’s the issue. Now what about the solution? Paul gets to that in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NIV) which says:

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

What the message here? The message is that Paul and Apollos are only people. They are the messengers through whom the message of Jesus was delivered to the people. They were merely doing the task that God assigned them to do. So keep that in perspective. You’ve heard the say, “Don’t shoot the messenger.’ It’s used when someone comes with bad news. The bad news is not the fault of that messenger so don’t blame him. He’s just telling you what you need to know.

Don’t shoot the messenger. But don’t worship him either when they bring good news. The messenger may have brought good news but the messenger is not the good news. He’s only the messenger. Don’t follow the messenger. Follow the good news. That’s what Paul is getting at.

If they do that then it will help to get them all on the same page as they work to fulfill the ministry that God has given them to do. I like the imagery that Paul uses to explain this. It’s the image of a farmer. It’s actually an image that Paul uses in other places in his writings as well. Here, he says that one person might plant a seed. Another person might water it. We could carry on and say that another person spreads the fertilizer and another person does the weeding. It can take all kinds of people to work a farm but do you know what none of them do? None of them can make the seed grow. Only God can do that.

How does that relate to our ministry here in Cottam? Let’s continue with the imagery of the farmer to find out. We can tell people about Jesus. By doing that, we can plant the seeds of faith. And we can offer quality worship and study venues to grow in knowledge and understanding. We can provide pastoral care and support for our neighbours in the community when they need it. But do you know what we can’t do? We can’t make them come to faith and we can’t make that faith grow. That is the work of the Holy Spirit and we can do nothing about it.

What we can do is create an environment in which the seeds of faith can grow. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that one of the most important factors to bringing people to faith is how they view the local church. What does the community think of the local church? Do people have a positive impression of it or a negative impression? Is the local church a place where people are welcome, where question and new ideas are encouraged or is it a place where there is arguments and dissension? It is a place of conflict or is it a place of gathering? Do you see where I’m going with that? We may not be able to make the seeds of faith grow but we can help create the fertile fields and the environment that will make it a whole lot easier. As it says in 1 Corinthians 3:9 (NIV): “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

WORKING TOGETHER

So how do we do that? In a nut shell, we do that by working together for the common ministry and mission of the church. That does not mean that never disagree. That does not mean that we sit around in circle and sing Kum Ba Ya all day long – not that there’s anything wrong with Kum Ba Ya but ministry is certainly more than that.

What is does mean is that we all get on the same page in ministry and work towards our goals together for the furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I think that here at Cottam United Church, we are getting better and better at that. I’ve had good week to reflect on last week’s annual meeting and, more and more, I see that sense of togetherness growing. We had some good discussion. People expressed concerns about some of our goals, how we might achieve them and what they might mean. But there was no bitterness or anger. Everything was respectful and courteous.

I was also saying to Pam the other day that we are now doing things that we would never have done ten years ago. Maybe I’m wrong but ten years ago, I don’t think we would created a prayer garden. Ten years ago, I don’t think we would have entered into our shared ministry agreement with Wheatley. Ten years ago we wouldn’t have even dreamed of hiring a second ministrystaff person. And ten years ago, I really doubt that you would have even considered building a stage. But you have agreed to all of those things. We haven’t got all of that accomplished yet but you have been open to those ideas in ways that most churches are not.

That openness demonstrates something to our community. What it says to me is that you have really bought into the idea that we need to be a gather place in Cottam, that we need to be that hub from which the love of Jesus flows out in all directions to our neighbours and friends. When we do that, we help to create the environment in which the seeds of faith will blossom and flourish and grow good fruit ten, fifty and one hundred fold.

There is so much that needs to be done and we will do it far more effectively and we will be a much better church if we do these things together. And then do you know what happens? The community takes us seriously and people start to wonder what it is about Cottam United Church that makes it different. And then we can introduce them to Jesus all the time knowing that, while we might plant and someone else might water, it is God who makes things – including faith – grow.

I was reading an article this week by Carey Nieuwhof that spoke about what the church of the future might look like. It’s only predictions, of course, and Nieuwhof acknowledges that predictions can be terribly wrong. But I think he is on to something. One of his predictions is this, “Attendance will no longer drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance.” This is how he explains it:

Currently, many churches try to get people to attend, hoping it drives engagement. In the future, that will flip. The engaged will attend, in large measure because only the engaged will remain.

If you really think about this…engagement driving attendance is exactly what has fueled the church at its best moments throughout history. It’s an exciting shift.

I agree.  I also think it’s an exciting shift. What it means for us is that if we want to grow this ministry, if we want to touch people for Christ, we need to engage them where they are. We cannot expect people to come to church so that we can give them something to do. They have all kinds of other things they can do on a Sunday morning. They don’t need to come here. Even during the week, 90% of the people who come through our doors during the day are already attached to the church.

But if we get out there and engage people where they are, they might just start to think about what those people in the red brick church are doing. If we can engage people where they are, they are more likely to be open to Jesus then if we wait until they come through our doors because there’s not a very good chance that they will ever come through our doors.

The ministry we have is the ministry we do together. We do not follow people. This is not a personality cult or a social club. It is the church of Jesus Christ, and through the power of his Holy Spirit we will continue to know Christ and make him known.

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