Since July, on the last Sunday of each month, we have focused on what we have done and are doing related to mission work as a church. As I have mentioned before, this idea was sparked during a conversation between Roger Martin and myself, and the term originated after Roger discussed the concept at a deacon meeting a week or so later. The idea, and the term, is now known as Hub Sunday.
Most Hub Sundays we have reflected on something to do apart from gathering together. For instance, tomorrow night, several of us are going to Maryville to serve a meal to college students and several others who cannot go are helping by providing food and/or desserts that we will take with us. But rather than discussing the spokes of the hub today, I want to focus on the need for the hub itself.
I will cover this idea beginning with the Parable of the Sower in a below, but first I want to remind us that in 2019, we are focusing on the church as the Body of Christ and doing so by reviewing each of the major systems of the body. In January, the system of emphasis is the reproductive system, and last week we saw that the first recorded commandment God gave to humanity (be fruitful and multiply) is essentially the same commandment Jesus gave the disciples before He departed (make disciples), which is only a different context of being fruitful and multiplying.
And, to be fruitful and multiply it is imperative to be in fellowship with one another on a regular basis, as I will share today. With the ability that technology affords, it is entirely possible to believe that you are a faithful saint of God and never attend a church. I say believe you are faithful because it is not truly being faithful to the intent of God.
People “attend” church on Facebook or get teaching via the television, radio, or over the internet via podcasts. Some of the teaching is excellent; some is heresy. But what we cannot overlook is that the Bible is written to a group of people, not to an individual. The OT was written to the people of Israel. The New Testament was written to the Church. In both cases the audience is plural, not singular. And the reading today from Hebrews is a strong command to not cease meeting together. Why? Because, in that context, we must spur one another on – that is, without some measure of accountability, none of us will remain true to what we intend. But in the greater scheme, we are reminded that meeting together is important because “it is not good for man to be alone.” And, as the Body of Christ, no one part of the body can function properly without the other parts.
So, let us turn to the text, and see why the Parable of the Sower is important to us on this Hub Sunday.
The Word of God Impacts People
Take a moment to read Matthew 13.1-8 and 18-23.
The only constant in this parable is the Word of God. All four types of soil have seed scattered on it. All four types begin to impact the soil, but three do not last. Why? Because no root develops. Why doesn’t a root develop? Because the seed does not have time or a place to truly take root and grow.
In the first type of soil, the birds devour the seed before it can truly get planted. Jesus said in verse 19 that the seed did start to get sown into the person’s heart, but then it was snatched away. How? Well, Jesus says the birds represent the evil one. Please understand that Satan knows that God’s Word is impactful, so he comes to steal, kill, and destroy any chance of that seed truly taking root.
The next type of soil was rocky. Notice the seed did produce something. The plant looked like it was going to grow, but it did not. Instead, the soil was shallow. Per Jesus, in verse 20 and 21, the seed was received well, but when challenges came to their belief, the people fell away.
The third type of soil was infested with thorns. The seed made into the soil, but was choked off by the thorns. Jesus interpreted this as someone who “hears the word” but is more concerned with the affairs of the world. Again, the seed begins to grow, but does not have a chance to truly live.
The last type of soil is the one that yielded fruit. Why? Well, the soil was right, and that makes a difference. But I will argue that cultivating the soil is not only important before the seed is planted, but tending the soil is important after the planting. Only then, can a harvest be properly expected. How do we tend the soil? The same way we prepare it – the Word of God.
In each case, the seed represents the Word of God. Jesus says this clearly so that should not be in dispute. What is disputed is whether or not the seed in the first three soils represents people who become Christian or not. Honestly, I have been back and forth on this for years, but more recently, I have become convinced they are not. I am not dogmatic about that because a lot of debate exists on this issue and I realize the arguments against my position. But the Bible is clear that only those who persevere are truly saved. And thus, I have come to believe that only the final soil truly represents a Christian.
What we must understand is that the Word of God does impact people. And the enemy fully knows the power of that impact. Thus, Satan tries to minimize that impact (stealing away the joy, choking it out, making us more concerned about worldly matters, etc.) so we will not reproduce. Because a healthy seed not only grows itself, but that seed will then produce more seeds. That is, it will reproduce. Now the Word of God itself is not reproduced, but its effect is reproduced in others. Thus we can say that the Word of God will produce fruit.
Let’s look at this fact briefly before returning to the focusing on our hub.
The Word of God Produces Fruit
Take a moment to read John 15.1-11.
In this instance, the Word of God is not the written or spoken Word, it is the Living Word – Jesus. Jesus says that those who abide in Him WILL bear fruit. If not, you will be cut away, gathered with other non-bearing branches and burned (v6). Those who remain, those who abide, those who are truly with Jesus will bear fruit. This is not some wish that Jesus makes, it is a fact. Notice a particular word of Jesus in verse 8. We prove we follow Jesus when we abide and bear fruit. We prove we are abiding by following God’s commandments (v10). And the blessing of our abiding is having complete joy in Jesus (v 11).
So, in Jesus words, a disciple (a follower) is one who hears the Word, who receives the Word, and who abides with the Word. If you believe what Jesus spoke, these three statements cannot be disputed by what these passages have revealed. The question, then, is how does this relate to our church being a hub?
The Church is God’s Design for Produce
Let me transition to the idea of our church (any church, really) being a hub by asking a question. What is the name of the section at the grocery store where you can select fruit and vegetables? The Produce Section, right? Why is it called the Produce Section? Because the food was produced. It was planted, it was tended, it grew, it was harvested. But each step happened so what was produced could either be eaten or reproduce seeds for the next iteration of produce.
Well, we are not meant to be eaten, but the seed planted within us is to reproduce. And that reproduction begins within the context of church – not the place, but the people. However, the people need a place in order to be tended, and to grow. That is, if we are to be fruitful and multiply, if we are to reproduce, it is not something we can do on our own, we must do it within the context of the church. After all, Jesus said, “I will build my church.” As I have mentioned many times, this instance of Jesus saying church is only one of three times Jesus used the word church – so He must have meant something by it.
So, the church is meant to grow (being built). And thus, the people in the church are to reproduce. That is, we are to bear fruit. And, as we have seen in the passages earlier, bearing fruit is dependent upon the Word of God. And, where else will you get a steady stream of the Word of God? And that is why the church is, and should be, the hub!
Consider for a minute the idea of a huddle in football. Everyone comes to the huddle so they can be on the same page about what is to happen on the next play. Of course, sometimes, the players see a play developing differently (like the receiver breaks out instead of in and the pass is incomplete or intercepted), but they come back to the huddle to get the next play. It doesn’t matter how good of a player you are or how well you know the playbook, if you don’t know what to do in a certain moment, and are not participating as part of the team, you are not helping.
The church, also known as The Body of Christ, is the same. And a weekly service is like a huddle. Of course, a football team might call three or four plays in a huddle during the 2-minute drill, but the church, like a football team, needs to constantly be together, to constantly be reminded, to constantly be abiding in God’s Word, in order to know what God would have each one do – not just individually – but as a team. Thus, the football huddle is like the church as a hub. The huddle provides direction and understanding of how the team’s playbook will help overcome the opponent during a certain part of the game. The hub provides direction and understanding from God’s playbook (the Bible) will help us abide, help us grow, help us serve as well as encouraging one another (Hebrews 10.24-25) during the process at any given part of our life.
But the church in America is in decline. In the Southern Hemisphere, especially in Africa, it is growing FAST. But, if the church is the only place where most people consistently hear the Gospel, then the attendance at our churches matter. So, let me give you some thoughts and statistics that related to church attendance in America. These stats are a little dated (about a decade ago), but matters are only worse now.
The Church in America is Shrinking
1. Fewer children per family
My mom was one of 7 and my dad was one of 3 (only one to survive childhood), yet I was their only child together. The sheer math says that the number in church will go down from one generation to the next.
2. The Halo Effect
People think they are going to church, but in reality, they are not. Surveyors asked: “Did you go to church the previous week?”
In 1939, 41% of people said Yes
2002-2005, 40-44% consistently said Yes
*keep in mind, shortly after 9/11 churches saw an increase
Actual Numbers of 2002-2005
About 1/3 to ½ of that amount is true. So, 14-22%.
(Source, The American Church in Crisis, David Olson, p. 26)
Imagine it this way, if 40% of Fairfax was in church, then approximately 200-250 people would be filling the four churches in the area EVERY WEEK. Of course, some people go to other towns, but some people from other towns come here as well. If we look at Atchison County, then approximately 2200 people attend church every week.
Active Participants (3 times over 8-week period, i.e. more than once per month)
23% are active participants (p 29-30)
12% (about one-half of the total) are evangelical – typically considered as Bible-believing
7% Catholic – who must go to receive grace through the Eucharist
3. People are not making disciples.
If we were doing what Jesus said and making disciples 30, 60, 100-fold, then when we would be exploding. Of course, not all people would come here – and that is ok. I am making more disciples elsewhere than I am here. The focus is to make disciples. I do it here, but I go there as well.
Again, church attendance matters because it is the only place where most people hear the Gospel on a consistent basis. And, although I have strong feelings regarding the importance of church membership, membership does not equal commitment like attendance does. However, true commitment is not to a church; our commitment is to be the Lord. Being a part of a church is part of that commitment, and so is making disciples.
So, we need to be a hub! Because it is in the context of the hub that disciples are made. It is in the context of what Jesus is building that disciples are made. Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that disciples can only be made at a church, but I am saying that disciples can only be made by someone connected with a church. And, if we are to be disciples, and make disciples, then we are to be connected, and active in the ministry of the church.
We cannot separate Jesus from the Church! Why? Read and re-read this quote from Henri Nouwen:
“The Church is the Body of the Lord. Without Jesus, there can be no Church. And without the Church, we cannot stay united with Jesus.”
So, to not be active, and to not attend, is to not be a part of Christ!
In light of the parable I read earlier, if it is the Word of God that brings the fruit and someone is not consistently present with the Word, then how can they return 30-, 60-, or 100-fold? And, it is in the context of church that the Word is most often heard/read/studied by most people. Thus, attendance is critical for the believer.
Many will talk about numbers in a church, but it is fair to ask how a church should be measured. The ultimate answer is faithfulness, and numbers do not necessarily equate to being faithful to God. But attendance is one mark of a faithful follower, so numbers do have a place in helping to know how faithful the people are…not just those who are coming, but how many disciples they are making when they go. And, while here, the measure will partly relate to our unity of body, unity of faith, and unity of service. And that is why…
The JOURNEY letter for today is: U – UNITE.
As we wrap up the focus on reproduction, let me make one more comparison between the church and the reproductive system. I do this because I realize that people can be followers of Christ without a specific church home. But again, without being a part of the huddle, are they fully equipped, week after week, to fulfill their ministry, whatever that may be?
It is like in vitro fertilization. It is possible for reproduction to take place this way, but the egg must still be inserted into a home for life to grow as it should. Likewise, a person might be saved apart from the church, but needs a place to grow and be nurtured. And thus, Jesus said, I will build my church – the idea where that growth and nurture happen.
PRINCIPLE: The Word of God should be central in a church which produces fruit. To produce fruit, we must be part of a church engaging often with the Word of God.
QUESTION: If a person is not present with the Body of Christ, then how can s/he function within the Body of Christ?
OPPORTUNITY: Reproduction begins, and continues, with being present. We have a chance to be present, and we have the opportunity to help others be present as well.
LEARN: Make a list of any reasons why you choose not to be in a church setting on a weekly basis. Putting it on paper will help determine any real issues that should be addressed by you, or by the church.
LIVE: Make a commitment to be actively involved within the Body of Christ so that you will be more inclined to share life with the Body of Christ.
LOVE: Bearing fruit requires us to abide with Jesus. When you find it difficult to love others (including the church), focus on loving Jesus and realize the church is the current expression of Jesus to the world – whether we do things right or wrong.
LEAD: Listen to others to determine why they believe church is not for them. Help them to see the truth of this parable and today’s teaching. Without the Church, we do not have Jesus. Without Jesus, we have, and are nothing.