A Sermon by Warren Boettcher
Sovereign Grace Church Middletown, DE
August 1, 2010
Lightly edited transcript
Well, if you’d open your Bibles please to Ephesians chapter 3. We’re going to skip around a little bit this morning, in an unusual fashion. Typically here one of the things I know Chris does, and we believe in Sovereign Grace Ministries, is expository preaching, so we want to look at a text and really exposit that text. What’s God saying through those verses? Today, we’re going to move through a variety of texts in Ephesians, so it’s a little bit different.
What we’re going to be talking about this morning is the local church, the doctrine of the local church, what theologians call ecclesiology. It’s an important doctrine. If you’re a new here you might be wondering about the values we have. What are the distinctives? What’s Sovereign Grace Ministries, this church really about?” Well first, and foremost we’re about the Gospel Jesus Christ – that Christ came to die for our sins. That’s what defines us; it’s the Gospel.
We also have convictions about God’s Word. We believe in the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word; that the Bible is his words preserved for us, and that this Word is all we need in life.
And then we are about relationships. We want to build relationally. So that’s why we have Care Groups – that’s why you’ve scheduled a retreat. It’s to build relationships together. So those are key values.
One of the other things that is a distinctive here, is that we believe that God wants to reach the world through local churches. So we place a very high value on the local church, not just because it’s a value of Sovereign Grace Ministries, but because it’s a value of Scripture.
Why do we talk about the local church? Why do we talk about commitment to the church? Because Scripture talks about it. Scripture emphasizes the importance and the value of the local church. So, that’s the message this morning. Why the local church?
Why Go To Church?
If you were to Google “Why go to church?” you’ll find some interesting answers. I didn’t do an intensive Google this, because I’m not good on the Internet at all or on computers. (I still hope computers are a fad and will go away someday). But I did Google, “Why go to church—here’s how people answered:
“If you go to church, you will live 3.1 years longer than if you don’t.” So, that’s one reason. Another one was higher grades. There was a study done in North Dakota in Iowa that people who go to church get high grades in school than people who don’t go to church. And this one was very interesting, “People who go to church breathe better.” Maybe the singing helps? I don’t know, but we breathe better, which is important to life.
Now, obviously no one’s here today because you’re thinking that you want to live 3.1 years longer. But here’s what can happen to us – we can go to church out of habit, because we do it, and we do it a lot. So it’s just become something we do.
Remember Attendance Pins?
Growing up in my family, we were very committed to our church, so we never missed church. I mean, I was in church every week. When we went on vacation, we went to church. Now back then, they used to give out membership pins. Maybe a few are in my age group remember that, but you don’t do this anymore. So you get this little pin your first year, for perfect attendance. Well, you were allowed like one absence per year. The next year you get these leafs around your pin for another year of perfect attendance. And then you get this little bar and then another bar and it was really cool.
Well, back in my day, that was like a medal, that was like a military guy wearing medals of honor and you would want as many pins as you could get. So when we went on vacation I would get a little form filled out by the pastor there, he’d sign it that I’ve gone to church and I’d get my next pin. And I was up to like 13 years.
When you walked, you knew you were getting up there, because they moved, the pins moved. And if you walked and turned fast, you could decapitate someone, you know these metals pins would go shooting around. That was just ultimate “cool”.
So why did I go to church? It was to get the pins, it was habit. We sat in the same pew, which was in the balcony, by habit. That way we could leave without having to say “hello” to the pastor on the way out. We’d slip out of the side door, into the car parked by the side entrance to get home to turn on the football game, to eat lunch. We had it down. So, church became somewhat of a habit.
Even when I started my career, which as a teacher in a Christian school, I didn’t really have an understanding of the local church at all. It was just what Christians did, you went to church. But you know, if you asked me, “Is church important?” I think I would have said “Well yeah.” “Why?” “I don’t know, it’s good to go.”
But I didn’t have meaningful relationships in church; I didn’t look for the church’s input into my life. And I didn’t think about my life building the church. That changed in 1985, when I went Covenant Fellowship Church, where your pastor’s father was preaching. All of a sudden I heard something completely different, than I had never heard before. I heard a clarity of the Gospel, a clarity of applying the Gospel, and the reasons behind commitment to the local church—there were good reasons. And that became life changing for me, just life changing to be involved. And I’m very grateful for the impact Chris’s dad had on my life through that. So we don’t want to go to church just out of habit; we want to go because there are some very good reasons to go.
Think about Acts. Acts is about the Gospel expanding. How did it expand? By local churches being planted.
Paul: Missionary, or Church Planter?
Remember Paul’s missionary journeys? Look at the back of your Bibles, if there’s maps, you’ll see Paul’s 1st missionary journey, 2nd missionary journey, 3rd missionary journey. Paul is thought of as “a missionary”.
You know what I think would be more accurate? Paul was a church-planter. Paul was not just an evangelist who would go to town, hold a crusade, preach the Gospel, and leave. Paul said, “I’ll go to a town, preach the Gospel, build a local church, set in elders, care for that local church, write letters back to that local church.” So, really, what you see in the back of your Bibles are maps of Paul’s church planting ventures. Think about the effect of that within a generation…the Gospel penetrated the entire Mediterranean world through church planting.
So it’s through the local church that the Gospel penetrates an area, not just the proclamation of the Gospel without a context for the function of the Gospel. For Paul those two things had to be together. You must proclaim the Gospel, but you then must create a context for the Gospel to be lived out and demonstrated. Those two things must happen together…and if you don’t do them together, you’ve not really completed the task.
The New Testament Shows the Importance of the Local Church
Think about it. Acts is about local churches. The epistles are written to local churches. We’re in Ephesians, it’s written to the church at Ephesus, a church that Paul dearly loved. Paul writes a lot in the epistles about local churches and relationships within local churches, right? And because there were problems in the churches, Paul writes to help their relationships. Paul writes about leadership in local churches, because he sees that leadership is crucial for local churches to thrive, and leadership needs to be governed. So therefore you must have qualifications for leaders. How are leaders to act? What are they to be in local churches?
John, the apostle John, writes in Revelation to seven local churches, to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. So there’s just this assumption in the New Testament, oh yeah, you’re in a local church. There’s only one church of Christ, globally, historically, there’s one body. But that’s always been expressed locally, from the very beginning, up through today.
So, the question we’re going to be looking at today is:
“Why be committed to the local church?”
I’d like to give you three reasons.
I. The Local Church Is Essential to the Purpose of God
The local church is central, and I would say essential, to the purpose of God.
“Of this Gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, (Now here is the verse) so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Eph 3:7
Paul says, “I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace,” Paul recognized, in the very beginning, this is pure grace. “I hated the church, I hated Christ, my goal was to stamp out Christianity and then God graciously took a sinner like me and saved me.” So Paul’s got no self-congratulations here. He’s not talking down at people. I love how he refers to himself as “the least of all the saints”. “I’m the least.”
This is not a man who lords authority, he’s the least of all the saints, he’s a man who’s amazed by the grace of God. And Paul becomes increasingly amazed by the grace of God the longer he lives. The Gospel never gets normal for Paul; it gets more and more great, more and more “wow” to Paul, even as he understands it more and more.
Through the church
Paul said “Oh the mystery.” You know, people did not understand the wisdom of God in seen in Old Testament times. But from the beginning, it was God’s plan that through the church that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known. Remember Jesus’ words in Mathew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” I will build my church. In 1st Timothy 3, Paul talks about the church as being a pillar and buttress of truth in the world.
So folks, here’s first point, your commitment to the local church is a crucial way the Gospel expands. It’s crucial. I just gave you an update about our new church building, how we are now seeing people getting saved on a regular basis….un-churched people and people who may have been believers but have wandered from God are coming alive in God. Okay, how has that happened?
The Fruit of Commitment in Our Church
Well, there’s a context for the gospel to be lived and shown. How does that context function? Well, there were people who were committed to build something. There were people who started to give in January of 1993. We met in a small house. Church was held upstairs, and downstairs in the basement was children’s ministry. We began to save money because people were committed to something and then through the years we saved more, in hopes of someday being able to have a facility of our own.
Then remarkably, miraculously, land became available for us. It was land that never goes on the market, land that all our professionals looked at and said “How did you guy’s get this? This is land the Marriott would want. I mean, you’re in that kind of location, and how—how did you get it? This is prime property in an area where there is no prime property land left! It never went to market?”
“Nope, we found the farmers and they were old time committed Methodists, and this was the farm that was owned from the Revolutionary War, and they were selling off the last 12 acres, and we just sort of met and they said they’d love to sell it to a church.”
Well, this happened because people have been committed, not with an immediate vision in front of them, but for years just giving, giving, giving. So by the time the land became available, we had $900,000 in the bank that we were able to say “Okay we know we can purchase the land.”
But now you’re talking whole new dollars and cents, as we’re looking at a project with land and soft-costs of ten million dollars. And I was like, “Oh, no way”. But the people over the last three years gave four million dollars to that. So what do we see today as a result? The Gospel is being expanding somewhere, because people were committed to the local church.
The Gospel is expanding because we have care-groups coming out and washing cars and that’s always a real trip. You’re washing cars and people want to donate and you’re saying, “No this is really free, we want to bless you–we just really want to bless you”. I met a guy from a Catholic background and he said, “You’re making me feel guilty.” And I said “Not trying, just receive this as a blessing from God as evidence of his love for you, his care for you.” One guy went and bought pizzas and brought them to the crew, because he just couldn’t handle the free. It’s people that are committed. So your commitment is crucial to the Gospel’s expansion.
The Basic Unit through which God is Working to Redeem the World
Listen to this quote, I love it, it’s by Billy Graham.
“I am convinced that the cluster of believers of which you are a part, those brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you join to pray and study, give and witness, is the basic unit through which God is working to redeem the world.” Billy Graham
You know why I love that? Wouldn’t you expect him to say that God is going to redeem the world through crusades? “I’ve preached to a billion people, how’s God going to reach the world? It’s through televangelists. Give to Billy Graham Crusades, Billy Graham Ministries, so I can go and preach the Gospel around the world and the world will be impacted with the Gospel. You know what he’s saying? How’s the world going to be impacted with the Gospel? Through your local church. Through churches. You know what? He’s right.
My Mother in-law got saved through Billy Graham Ministries so I’m not in any way dismissing crusades, but the statistics show, whether it’s Billy Graham or Harvest Crusades with Greg Laurie, two years after they’ve come in, Church attendance is the same that it was prior to the crusade. Which doesn’t say “fruit”.
Now that’s why they’re trying to get local churches involved in evangelistic crusades. They see the crusade alone is a tool. I think that they’re humble. “We’re not doing anything special—it’s a tool. We’re trying to give the tool to local churches and the only way this will really be effective is if local churches get involved and get people coming and get relationships connected. So the crusade is just something to invite someone to.
Ultimately, they connect them to God and the Gospel and then the church. And apart from that, it sort of falls short, and actually it can do damage because people can have false assurance. People who’ve never followed God think “but I remember, I went up 28 years ago and made decision. Now, the last 28 years I’ve not followed Christ at all, but I made a decision 28 years ago.“ That would be false assurance.
Can you be a good Christian without the Church?
So, it’s through church that the Gospel expands, that’s what scriptures teach. Listen to this quote by Charles Spurgeon who is my favorite preacher of all time other than Biblical preachers. He said this:
“Now, I know there are some who say, ‘Well, I hope I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to any church, because…because I can be a good Christian without it.’ Now, are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? Well, suppose everybody else did the same thing, suppose all Christians in the world said, ‘I shall not join the Church.’ Why there would be no visible Church. There is a brick. What is the brick make for? To help to build a house with. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick; until it is built into the wall.” Charles Spurgeon (19th Century Preacher)
Charles what do you mean? He’s saying that as a Christian you’re a brick, you’re meant to be built into something and by the way, it’s where the Master places you. The brick doesn’t say “I want to be in front of the building.” “I want to be on the top.” “I don’t want to have all these other bricks on top of me, it’s heavy.” Go where you’re put, you’re a brick. That’s what we are folks, we’re bricks, built into a spiritual house to bring glory to God. The brick doesn’t get noticed, the building does, right? We don’t get noticed, God does. That’s the end.
He’s So Beautiful
People come into our church house, “Oh it’s so beautiful.” I’m hoping a month later they will be saying, “Oh, he’s so beautiful.” If it stays with “It’s so beautiful.” it’s bleh. It should end with “He’s so beautiful—he’s so amazing.” One of the things we love about the church, and we said this to our church family, is that we’re not going to experience God more because of a building, God’s not dependent on the building, the Gospel’s not contingent on a building.
We experienced God in Cooper Elementary School, in a facility that much rougher than this one you’re in. Block walls, acoustics were horrible, metal chairs and no air conditioning all summer long. I mean, we were sweating, when I’d be preaching on a day like that, I mean, just dripping. And we’re trying to blow fans, trying, trying, to cool people down. We experienced God there. People would go up and say “Ah, yes.” We had one lady, we did an interview with her in the building, she was in tears recounting how much she experienced God in our first facility–How much. So we don’t want it to end with the facility, we want it to end with God.
So folks, your commitment to the local church is a crucial way for the Gospel to expand. Now, please hear this, and Chris will be the first to say this, he doesn’t believe that this is the only viable or good church in Middletown, Delaware. So our goal isn’t that you join this church, but that you plug into some good church, it doesn’t have to be this church. So if you’re a guest here, this doesn’t have to be your home, this is not a recruitment message to be here. And though without apology, I would say please consider this place, this is not recruitment for this church.
All Christians should be part of a local church and that’s what I tell our folks regularly. Look, if it’s not here, then it’s where? We’re not the church for everybody, because churches have personalities and we have quirky personalities—because I’m quirky. You know, we’re just a little weird once and a while. You’re like “Okay, that’s a weird family.” “That’s right!” You know, we’re not perfect. There are other churches that are doing things more effectively than we are. There are other churches you might be a better fit in, but are you part?
We Don’t Go to Church to Get Moral Kids
Some people say, “Go to church quickly when you have kids, because you don’t want them to commit crimes and go to jail and your life will be a hassle. Take them to church.” We just had a woman who got saved, that’s why she came. “You know, I should probably take my kids to church so they’re not like raising Cain”. And the next thing you know, she’s like “I’m not saved. I was going to church for them, and all of a sudden I realized this is for me.” That’s right!
Teaching at a Christian school, sometimes people would say, “I want to send my kids to a Christian school so I can keep them out of trouble.” That’s not a good enough reason, because you know what? There’s trouble in them and if you’re kid wants to find it, he will. So, don’t assume you’re going to keep them out of trouble. I’m an advocate of Christian education, but think about your reasons behind that choice and your convictions behind that.
We don’t go to church in hopes that it will keep our kids a little more moral, a little more obedient. You know, “They’ll be good kids. So at the end you can say, “ I got married and I got to see the grandchildren and they never went to jail.” Folks, that’s not good enough. That’s not a compelling vision. Moral children are not a compelling vision.
But having children who love Christ? That’s compelling. Having children who are captivated by the grace of God? That’s compelling.
So first, the local church is central to the purpose of God. Secondly we commit to the local church because…
II. The Local Church Is Crucial for the Life of the Believer
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, (Listen to these words, folks. Seems like commitment) joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Eph 4:15
I think we have misinterpreted this idea of “speaking the truth in love.” Sometimes people say “Yeah, you’ve got to speak the truth in love. I’m going to honestly tell you what I think about you, and I love you.” So we speak the truth and tack love on. “Because I want to tell you, truthfully, what I think of you….”
Speaking the Truth In Love Is Speaking the Gospel
But this text is not about personal honesty necessarily; there are other scriptures which speak to personal honesty. This is about speaking the truth. What’s the truth? The Gospel. Do you know how to speak the Gospel, apply the Gospel to people’s lives? That’s speaking the truth in love. It’s THE truth. How do I speak about the truth? The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
How does that apply in your conflict? There some people here and you’re tired of relational things, financial things. How does the truth of the Gospel speak to your situation? Maybe you just got bad health news…
My son, my oldest son, Jeff, has Crones Disease. Just a month ago he had his second surgery. How does the Gospel apply? How do I speak the truth in love, to that? The burden of financial pressures for some here today, is huge. How does the Gospel speak to that? A relational heartache is crushing you; a loved one is not saved. Someone has not reconciled with you. How’s does the truth of the Gospel speak into your life in that situation?
The Gospel speaks to all of life. So it speaks to your discouragement, it speaks to your financial pressure, it speaks to your health issues, it speaks.” I want to speak the truth in love. And when we do that, what happens? We’re built up. We’re built up. We’re growing up. We’re growing up in every way, into Him, who is the head, into Christ.
Speaking the Gospel to Each Other is Essential to Christian Maturity
CJ Mahaney, who leads Sovereign Grace Ministries says it like this.
“Spiritual growth and maturity simply will not happen apart from relationships in the local church. In relationships we learn to apply Scripture…develop an accurate assessment of ourselves…and experience a God-ordained channel of supply spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally.” C.J. Mahaney (President, Sovereign Grace Ministries)
It’s in relationship, we develop these things. I’ve never had an actuate assessment of myself apart from the help of others. Have you ever had been in a conflict and had an accurate appraisal of your contribution to the conflict? Probably not.
I’m always going to think charitably of myself. I mean, every conflict I have with Kim, I think the best of myself and usually the worst of my wife. And scripture would tell us we need to think the other way around. You should think the worst of yourself and being most suspicious of yourself, and actually I’m supposed to make charitable judgments about her. Think how different our conflicts would be if we did that! They wouldn’t be turf-wars, emotional turf-wars, they would be humble and we would be trying to out-do one another in humility, right?
My yearbook in high school said, “Can talk his way out of anything.” And I thought, “That’s good! Thank you.” I read that and said “That, that is a great thing to be written about you in your year book.” Now I can say, “Ah! I’m horrified. In other words, you could have written ‘Arrogant Manipulator Who Lies Well.’” “Talk my way out of anything” sounds much different and better than that, but that’s what I was, “Arrogant Manipulator who lies well and Knows How to Play the Gray Areas” So I should be a lawyer? I just like to argue, than I realized lawyers actually had to know stuff and I thought “Well, I’m not interested in that. I just want to argue.”
But we need one another. Spiritual growth, maturity, doesn’t does not happen apart from relationships in the local church. This scripture says so. We must speak the truth in love if we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Fill one another up, encourage one another, exhort one another. Charles Colson, in a forward to Josh Harris’ book, Stop Dating the Church, he said it like this.
“Evangelical Christians have a good and appropriate emphasis on personal salvation. But that emphasis has not been balanced by the inherently corporate nature of the Christian life. Christians belong in churches—the only places where we can thrive and grow spiritually.” - Charles Colson (President, Prison Fellowship)
The One Anothers In Scripture, Trust
Think about all the “one anothers” in Scriptures. We are commanded to encourage, rebuke, correct, admonish, bear with, serve, love, and honor one another. See all those “one anothers”? Well, how do they function if we’re not with one another? How do we love when Jesus says “they’ll know, they’ll know that you’re Christians by your love for one another?” How do I work out love if I don’t have commitment?
Think about marriage. Love in marriage has commitment. Love’s got commitment to it, sacrifice to it. It’s lived out practically. So all these “one anothers happen in the context of the local church.
Galatians 6:2 says this.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Well, how do you bear one another’s burdens if you don’t know one another? For me to bear my burden with you, it usually takes a little bit of time for us to get to know one another, because to bear a burden with you means I trust you. Forgiveness is given immediately as a gift anytime we forgive, trust is usually something that is earned over time. You build trust. That’s what you’re doing, you’re building something and you’re building trust with one another. So, we want to bear one another’s burdens which is by the way is a command in scripture, it’s not a suggestion, we are to bear one another’s burdens which means we are to be together, to care for one another.
The Multitude of Counselors
In Proverbs, it says: “Wisdom is found in the multitude of counselors”
Boy that is so true in my life. I want counselors. This doesn’t mean I always follow what they say, but I want people challenging my thinking, sharpening my thinking. I want many counselors; there’s wisdom in the counsel of many. I want many counselors, I need them.
That’s how I’ve tried to build my family. It starts with counsel from Dad to son. Now as my kids get older, I’m starting to expand their circle—so it’s not just Dad anymore. I’m connecting them to pastoral care. I’m connecting them to some friendship care. I want them to have lives marked by humility.
Men, I think by nature, are very slow learners in this area of relationships, fellowship, and honesty. Women are just way ahead. I want to teach my sons to be humble now, because a humble man can learn. A proud man doesn’t learn. A humble man learns. But how does humility function? It functions in relationships, where someone’s challenging, where someone’s talking, where someone’s confessing. So humility needs a relational context.
You know, for me to say ”I’m humble” up front… you don’t know if I’m humble or not, right? I mean, I can sit here and preach this but it doesn’t mean I’m humble. It might mean I’m humble if you talked to people who know me and they say “Oh yeah, he’s quick to confess sins. He asks for counselors.” The people you want to ask are my children. “Is your dad humble?” because they know me better than anyone, my children and my wife. That’s who you’d really want to ask, the team around me—the pastoral team that I serve with, “Is he humble?”
So, you see that humility needs a context. And that context is the local church. So the church is crucial to the life of the believer, so that we know how to apply the Gospel, all the “one anothers” and get all the wisdom we can.
Thirdly, we commit to the local church because…
III. The Local Church Is The Object of Christ’s Affections
So the church is crucial to the purpose of god, the church is crucial in the life of the believer, and lastly the church is the object of Christ’s affections. Ephesians 5, third text in Ephesians. Ephesians 5:25 says this.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (So here’s Paul sort of talking about marriage for a moment, then he goes right back into the Gospel. It’s just a neat way he does that. So – Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…. that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
The church is the object of Christ’s affections. He’s the bridegroom, the church is the bride. He’s longing for the bride. He loves the church; it’s the object of his affections. When Paul is persecuting the church, Jesus so identifies with the churches, has such affection for the church. He says to Paul, “Paul, Paul (or Saul, Saul) why are you persecuting me?” That’s how closely Christ identifies with His church.
He loves the church; he has affections for the church. He wants to present the church without spot or wrinkle and in great splendor. Think about what that meant for Christ. It meant sacrificial, steadfast, passionate, love. He gave himself up; his love had commitment to it; His love had sacrifice to it. His love had cost to it. Was it reluctant? No, no, it’s passionate.
You know, if you’re a believer in Christ, one thing is true every day. Every day you’re not going to be treated as your sins deserve. Every day you wake up, that’s true. That’s true by the way, whether you had a bad week or not. You could’ve had one of the worst weeks in your Christian life. “I was angry at my wife, I was angry at everybody at week, I gave into temptations”. Now here’s the reality, because I’m in Christ, I will not be treated as my sins deserve. I will not. There is no condemnation for those in Christ.
And because I’m in Christ, I have the affection of God. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t discipline—it doesn’t mean he’s not speaking to us. But he speaks with affection. We’re iving under the grace of God.
Think about when you discipline your children—there are times when you’re children disobey, right? You come in with discipline and when you’re doing that in the right way, you’re doing that because you love them. And actually, it’s a proof of your love, that’s really what it is.
To let a child go their own way, it’s proof that you hate—you don’t care, you’re not interested in rescuing. So, you know, your kid’s about to run off a cliff in their choices in life right now. And you think… if I get in their way, they’ll be angry so I won’t. You’d rather be popular with your kid than truthful?
No. At that point, you should be tackling everything. I will throw my life, my whole body, in front of you, because if you’re going to leap to hell, it’s going to be over my dead body.
Parenting & Idolatry
People ask me parenting questions. My oldest child is 27— We have 3 married children, 2 grandchildren– a 3rd on the way, and my third son’s now in a courtship. He’s been longing for her for years and now that’s now coming into fruition. And we also have a 12 year old.
So people ask me questions about parenting. You know when my kids came to me about buying a car or something, I said, “It’s your money. I’ll give you some counsel, but do whatever you want to do.” Because I think, you know, at the end of this day it’s money and it’s rust…metal and rust. It doesn’t mean much.
But when some issue touched their soul, you saw dad’s attention change drastically. This becomes a soul question, this I’ll be involved in. So, that’s where I would stand up and take notice. My oldest son bought a Sebring—and it was just a pit of a car, but it was a convertible, so it looked cool. I looked at him and said “Buddy, you’re going to pour money into this thing. This is not the car you want to buy.” But he wanted to buy it. “It’s not my money; it’s yours, go ahead.” And he would come back now and say “I should have never had bought that.
Those decisions didn’t effect me as much, but anything that I thought would start to have my child love a thing, sports, someone else more than God, I got involved—I’m throwing my body in front of this one, because I think it’s your soul and that’s how we would talk about it.
That’s how parents should be thinking as they evaluate priorities and choices. What’s the danger? Do I understand the danger? If your children love something… by the time they love it, you’re late in the game…you want to catch it before they love it.
My son Andy was very good at sports—he was really very, very good–Very good at baseball, played on championship teams, and very good in football. So good, in fact that I had coaches from the local Catholic and a local public high school, talk to me. The Catholics were saying “We’ll get him in and we’ll start to pay his tuition.” And the public high school said “Look, if you’ll just lie about why you’re home schooling him, we can get him to play.” I don’t think I’m going to do this, I don’t think I can lie. But they wanted him, he was a running back, and I kept watching him with baseball, he was having success, and football, having success, and I’m watching his heart, saying “If you start to love sports more than God, I’ll pull the plug in a minute.
So I’m watching, how’s he reacting when there’s practice on Sunday? And I said “Well, Andy, we don’t miss church for games, we don’t miss church for practice.” How’s he reacting? He said “That’s fine, dad.” In fact he would be mad, “I can’t believe they’re doing this, I don’t want to miss church.” He’s loving God and Church more than sports. So I’m watching that play out. You know what? He’s fine. For me, that would have been a problem, because I had an idolatry of sports.
I played sports and I idolized sports. Everything I thought about was sports…that’s all I thought about. I thought about how to become a Division 1 player and how I was then going to start a Bible study because I was going to be a good Division 1 player and I tacked God on the back of my dream for greatness. And then someone would say, “Yeah, division 1, good luck.” But sports was an idolatry for me. It’s what I lived for.
So I’m watching this in my son and thinking, “He’s good, he’s getting accolades. People are talking to him about potentials.” And I want to say, I have no problem with sports, I love competition—I love for him to do well. What’s he loving most? What’s he loving most? And then there’s games, I say “Buddy, you know what, you’re going to have to tell your coach you’re not going to make the game.” I think we had, maybe in 10 years, 2 Sundays he missed in 10 years for championship games. I’ll make an exception, I’m not living with some legalistic rule here, but I’m watching your heart and what your affections are towards.
Jesus Christ Superstar (the Musical)
And then Andy started to do drama and I thought “Oh, okay.” Drama, it was a play, and I’m thinking “Oh, wow, Boettchers can’t sing.” You know, he goes up for a summer drama camp, and we’re thinking, he’s going to be dressed in black and be a stage hand— because he’s a Boettcher, and we can’t sing at all, and it was a musical. He got the lead.
Watching him get the lead, we were like, I mean, we’re bringing in people from the church and we’re all watching Andy, and all our friends from church are looking over and like “Is he your kid? Is he your kid? Are you sure he’s your kid?” Yeah, this kid’s singing and dancing on the stage and doing well, and getting claps and applause, and I’m watching something and all of a sudden I’m watching him and he’s not relating to us very well at the end. He’s not thanking people from church who have come and he’s starting to relate to people in that play because performance is very heavy. When you perform together and applause happens and you’ve worked very hard, there’s bonding that starts to take place. And I thought “Wow, I always thought it would be sports.” Another thing that’s going to vie for his soul is going to be music and drama.
Now, because he was a humble, and this a tribute to him, he was a humble man—a humble boy, and he listened to dad. So one time when there’s a play and it’s Jesus Christ Super Star and the director of the play, who’s got a state wide reputation in New Jersey, they said “Andy, if you come, I’ll recast and give you the lead.” So he comes to me and says “Dad, the director just said he’d recast the play and give me the lead.” And I said, why don’t you research the play and get back to me with your thoughts.
And so he went and researched Jesus Christ Superstar. And he got back to me with his thoughts and said, “Dad, I can’t do that play. It’s so sacrilegious. I can’t do that play.” I said “Good choice.” Then he said “Dad, what would you have done if I had said ‘I want to.’” I said, “I wouldn’t have let you.” The fact that I sent you to discover doesn’t mean I gave up my authority. I would have said no with an apology and I would have explained to you why I said “No.”. And that’s what would have had happened. I’m not going to endanger your soul, and I don’t care if you’re mad at me—because I love you. I want you to follow God.
Do You Have God’s Heart for the Church?
Christ, the church, is the object of Christ’s affection, his sacrificial, steadfast, passionate love, He has that love for us. People ask this question, “Do you have God’s heart for the lost?” People ask this question, “Do you have God’s heart for the poor?” They’re great questions. “Here’s the question we’re focusing on today, “Do you have God’s heart for the Church?” It’s as important as those questions.
“Do you have God’s heart for the lost?” GREAT question. Do I care about the lost? Do I really care? If I really believe in hell and I really believe in heaven and I really believe soul’s are at stake, do I have God’s heart for the lost? I’ve had to say a different times, “No, I need to grow there.” Luckily I have my older son, who has that, and I learn from him regularly because he has it all the time—and my daughters do as well. They’re an inspiration to me.
“Do you have God’s heart for the poor?” GREAT question. Here’s our question, do you have God’s heart the church? Do you GOD’S heart for the church? Now, let’s think about it practically, because if you do that will impact your priorities, your choices, and commitments, just like marriage does.
You Build Your Schedule Around What You Love
You don’t say “I love you, and I want to marry you—but I’d like to keep dating over here.” The moment you say “I love you and I’m committed to you” your priorities change. How do you think when you love someone? You start to build your life around that person, right? When I started to fall in love with my wife and wanted to marry her, I didn’t plan my whole schedule and say “Oh yeah, now where do I fit Kim in?” Kim wasn’t the fit in, Kim was the build around. I built around her. I’m working around her. Things I’m doing are around this priority. It’s not like she’s out there and this is the priority and then lets see how she fits in. No, no, she’s the priority. How do I fit life around that priority? It’s the same in the church.
You see, we can add the church to our schedule or we can work our schedule around the church. Right? There’s different ways to do it. This is how we do it in our family. Now, I’m fortunate because I get the church calendar before anyone else. I look at the church calendar and say “Here are the crucial events.” And then I start planning my family vacations, date nights, anniversary get-aways, stuff with my boys, hiking trips, I plan it around that. It’s just how I did it.
What We Did Right
People ask me about parenting, “Ah, you’re kids are all walking with the Lord, all very involved in the church, great marriages—What did you do?” Folks, I am NOT a great dad. I am an average gather, and I mean that. If you hung in my house for 2 weeks, you’d go “Ah, yeah, you’re right. I’m not impressed.” That’s where you would be. And, here’s the reality, I’m not a brilliant leader. In our church, we don’t have this church building because I’m a brilliant church leader. I’m not. It’s not my gift. Here’s what I think the one thing I did do right, as a family we said we would build our lives around the church.
So my with my kids…. there’s a church camping trip, we’re going on it, there’s a celebration, we’re going to that, here’s youth camp, we’re going to that, major events, church picnic, we’re going to that. Ways to serve, we’re doing that. So my sons set up chairs. It was just Boettcher tradition, we’re setting up chairs, that’s what I do, that’s what you do. We moved to a new church we have flat floors where chairs are being set up—I’m thinking “I’m back to my ministry!” It’s the one thing I know I do well, I have good lines—sight lines from the back. I can do chairs. And I want to tune in my boys to do chairs. We’re going to build our lives that way.
And that doesn’t mean we never miss a meeting, it doesn’t mean that. Okay, obviously, I hope that’s stating the obvious. It doesn’t mean we don’t’ miss anything. My son just had a work schedule—Andy, who is my 19 year old, almost 20, in May and June, he missed everything because his work was 80 hours a week. And I thought, “Andy, it’s a season in life.” And I’ll tell you what, he hated every minute of it. He said, “Dad, I’m missing so much. I’m missing care-group, I’m missing this, I was supposed to set up for this meeting and I can’t set up, I had to delegate setup to someone else.” I saw the right conflicts in his heart.
And I was first saying “Well, Andy, you know. You’re a college kid, you’ve got no money, you need to make some money.” Money’s not my idol, but it’s a season of life. He missed things. It’s okay to miss things.
You Can’t Download the Experience
I’ve been thinking about the retreat you guys are doing up in Willow Valley. Memories are going to be made. You can’t get a tape, or a CD, or an mp3, or whatever they have now. You can’t download that experience. You’ll be there or you won’t.
Please don’t take this wrong if you can’t be there, okay major guilt—I don’t know, but you should ask the question, “Does the church fit my life or does my life fit the purposes of the church?” I have no regrets about prioritizing the church in my family life. I am serious. I have no regrets about that. That seems to have born great fruit.
Parenting: Humility and Church Commitment
When I think about the fruit of parenting I think about two things, humility as a parent that you are a good confesser of your sin and asker of forgiveness from your children, because you probably regularly need to do so. Humility, Church Commitment, I think those two things were things that God used in my family. So I have no regrets.
You might say, “Well you’re a pastor.” My kids would tell you, if they were here right now, they would tell you these words…. they would say “Dad always said, pastor or plumber, doesn’t matter. This is how we’re living.” This has nothing to do with my job. This has everything to do with my convictions and nothing to do with my job –because I won’t hold this job forever. It has everything to do with my convictions.
The Fruit of Life Long Commitment to the Church
You know, Chris’s Dad first as a pastor– then not as a pastor– has stayed committed to the local church. Families that I’ve seen that have done this as their children grow older and older; there is sweet fruit to partake. And you’re amazed because you realize, it’s just not you—it really is God’s grace.
Oh God, thank you for how you hem me in. Thank you for these boundaries that you’ve created for me. Thank you that I walked in these boundaries. Thank you that you brought me to a church that preached commitment at a crucial time in my life so that I understood the importance of the local church, I saw people who lived values in this way and I’ve gotten to do that and my family’s been behind me in it.
And now we’re walking this way, side by side for the Gospel and it’s a JOY. It’s a joy to see my daughter be a wife and mother and love the Lord, share the Gospel. It’s a joy to see my son have a passion for the Gospel at work, have a passion for the Gospel in the church. It’s just a joy to see these things play out. And I think, “Oh, God. I didn’t know this was all going to be the fruit. You’re so good.”
So commitment to the local church should flesh out for every one of us and if it doesn’t interfere with any other choices, you should ask yourself questions. Because I think it’s supposed to make a claim that effects how we live.
When we planted the church, a guy name Mark Bailey didn’t take a vacation on a Sunday morning for the first two years. He made his vacations Monday through Saturday because Sunday he did our sound and setup and he was the only guy who could. He doesn’t do that anymore, and I look at him and I—I tear up when I think about him. I have told him, “You know, we wouldn’t be here today had you not lived that.” And you know what he’s doing right now? He’s not in leadership anymore in those ways. His sons come every Sunday morning and serve. His sons are following Christ. He’s creating great men in God’s eyes. Lets Pray.