Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Bible Teacher Haddie

Place of Grace Fellowship, you are awesome. You know that I want more people to experience the loving Christian community we have here.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like we struggle to find a place in the face of major societal trends and among churches with way more resources than we have. Around every corner of the city is a well-funded mega church attracting people like a giant magnet–even our neighbors whom we could minister to really well. It causes me to question my values. I believe that God intended the church to be local. I believe that the pastor is to study Scripture and hear from God for a local group of people. It’s easy to believe that the big churches have the best programs, and we can only come in second place or worse. However, we have unique attributes that are difficult for big churches to offer.

Mega churches do offer many program options. If those options are better than ours, is society right for funding those churches? Are people better off attending those churches instead of ours? These questions are at the core of why followers of Christ should consider Place of Grace Fellowship.

I do not believe the mega church programs are better. Why? Mega churches run their programs with paid staff. They are wonderful, dedicated people; however, those are ministries that members of the church could make their own ministry. Our food pantry is run by volunteers, and an all-paid staff can’t deliver what we deliver. We are a thick community and not a thin community. We know each other, we minister side by side, we know the kids and care about their lives, we pray for each other, and you can talk to me. We are in it together.

Why would people choose us instead of a mega church? People who care about spiritual growth and spiritual maturity belong at a church like Place of Grace Fellowship. Big isn’t always better—it can have serious drawbacks. Reverend Tim Keller, the founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, broke his large church into three separate churches because big is not necessarily better. I believe that Place of Grace Fellowship is a place where people can mature in Christ. That can be more difficult to do at a mega church. Rev. Keller found that the relationships in his big church didn’t go deep enough. When we as Christians go through life together and practice our faith together, we help each other mature spiritually. I also believe that if you have questions or need care and counsel, we are more available to help you than a mega church. People here know you and will listen to you and love you. I am also a resource for pastoral care, and you can actually talk to me.

Our Scripture today talks about spiritual maturity in the Christian community.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3

About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, 2 instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And we will do this, if God permits.

In our Hebrews passage, the author is concerned with people regressing in their understanding of their relationship to Christ. He worries his congregation has stalled out in the faith. He compares them to an infant that still needs milk and cannot yet eat solid food. The author is concerned that some in the church are “unskilled in the word of righteousness.” He will identify those who can eat solid food as being those trained in the practice of distinguishing good from evil. He finishes by encouraging the church to move past the basics. He urges them to continue toward maturity in the faith.

He identifies the “ foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, 2 instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” This is basic teaching and not the subject matter for those with a mature faith. In today’s church, these are advanced topics that very few can discuss. People we have work to do. This is deep study that works well in the local church.

The author of Hebrews will go on to talk about those who fall away and stop following Christ. The closeness of not growing to maturity and falling away from faith cannot be ignored. They are linked. If one fails to continue towards maturity, they are more likely to lose their salvation and abandon Christ.

I know people who lost their faith. For many, their biblical foundation was not strong enough to endure the tragedies of life. Others fell away because society gave them logical explanations challenging the existence of God or the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. They did not have a safe, serious place to question and seek answers. They did not have the support of deep relationships in the faith and a world view built on Scripture that they could hold onto and live by.

Mega churches offer special programs to prevent people regressing in their maturity. Mega churches pour tons of resources into creating paths toward spiritual maturity. They do that because they know they have a problem. Here at Place of Grace Fellowship, we have teaching based on Scripture. We have a loving fellowship of believers in Christ. We have plenty of opportunities to grow in your faith and mature. Even so, I worry about creating enough ministry opportunities to provide avenues of maturity. I also worry that life will get in the way of our mature followers of Christ volunteering to be a part of the ministries we offer.

Let’s consider together, how do we create a church where people naturally mature in their faith? How do we help people build a big faith like many of you possess? I believe, if we embrace our gifts and strengths and we work together, we can become a church that transforms people into mature Christians.

When my wife Jan grew up, she had a Bible teacher named Hattie. Jan attended a Wesleyan church in a small town in Michigan. Sunday school was held in the musty basement of the old church with stone walls painted white and rooms with squeaky wooden doors and antique knobs. The kids all knew each other, and it was a small group. Around the table, Hattie had the kids read the Bible, memorize verses and learn the Bible stories and teachings of Jesus. Those kids learned their faith from Hattie. For Jan’s part, she loved the Bible quizzes. There was a smart boy in the group that she liked to beat. When Jan’s group left the basement, they came upstairs to a community of faithful adults who knew the kids and encouraged them. The children were part of the community. Jan did not fall away from the faith because she was taught by Hattie. Hattie had a big faith, and it helped Jan form a solid foundation.

I grew up in a small Catholic church. From 1st through 8th grade, I attended a Catholic school. We had religious study every morning to start the day. I was an altar boy and frequently served in mass, both on Saturday and Sunday and during weekly masses. I still have the scares on my hands from nuns with rulers because I was a horrible writer of cursive. I do not remember any of the priests even though I was part of many masses. What I do remember are the Knights of Columbus.

They held pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners and an annual altar boy canoe trip down the AuSable River. Growing up, I never read Scripture or studied the Bible like Jan did, but I read the Sunday and weekly mass readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament and Gospel writings. For both Jan and I, adults who taught and participated in our lives were very meaningful to our spiritual development.

In today’s world of massive youth groups, attractive youth programs with amazing facilities, fantastic youth pastors and “programmatic” instruction, you would think that we would see amazing growth in young Christian adults, yet the statistics show a decline. We have a young generation leaving the faith and lost in the world.

Was Hattie’s Bible study onto something? Was the old school approach of the Catholic school and Knights of Columbus also onto something? I think they were. That’s why I value the volunteers in our church for our Student Discovery Bible Study.

Please understand that I am not criticizing the efforts of the large youth programs. Those who run them work very hard to help young people build their faith in Christ Jesus as their Savior. They are committed servants of Christ. However, we also have strengths that the large churches lack, and the large churches programs have weaknesses that we do not have to manage.

Our student group has solid learning design built in. It encourages participation, and the student’s ideas and questions are respected and treated seriously. We read Scripture, facilitate communication, ask questions for the students to respond to and ask them to carry their learning into their life. We also take prayer requests and pray for their concerns, from classes to sports to people they care about. We want the students to be part of our bigger faith community. When our students leave their studies, they come into a connected community with creative opportunities for practice and growth.

Steve Jobs famously took pictures of starving children in the Biafra wars in Nigeria to his Sunday school teachers. He asked the teacher why God would allow the suffering of children. The Sunday school teacher could not answer his questions, and he stopped following God. If God could allow that to happen, he wanted no part of God. Steve Jobs had a model of Christianity that could not stand up to the real world. His teachers did not have a faith strong enough to demonstrate how faith overcomes real challenges in life. His teacher did not have enough knowledge to steer Steve in the right direction. There was not an opportunity to discuss the pictures in a learning environment that valued questions. In the end, immature faith and small faith leads to lost followers.

Our Hebrews author wants his church to have a big faith and to continue to mature in Christ. He knows that to survive this life and achieve eternity, you need a big faith, solid teaching and a community that forms your faith. Here at Place of Grace, you demonstrate the power of a life of faith. You offer students and adults a community where they can form a big faith.

Now, what about adults? To grow to maturity, adults need three fundamental opportunities in their life.

First, people need solid biblical teaching with practical application for living a better and more faithful life. That is on me. We live in the real world as followers of Christ. The message on Sunday should help us meet the challenges and struggles we face. As some of you know, I have four friends dealing with cancer. My faith needs to help me cope with that challenge, and I need to be able to encourage them and strengthen their faith. This year, I am going to strive to be more practical with my sermons and equip you on your journey toward spiritual maturity. I welcome feedback and direction from all of you.

Second, people need time with God the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit in prayer, reading Scripture and silence. To mature, we need to nurture our relationship with Christ. Our time with God is the foundation of our growth in the faith. It gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity to mature us.

Finally, people need to practice their faith. Maturity requires us to reach out to those around us; both those in our church and outside of our church. Maturity comes from active ministry. Place of Grace Fellowship offers ministry opportunities. Talk to me about opportunities. Maybe share some ideas that you have. The Christian faith is an active faith. We are called to serve others and make disciples. That only comes through an active faith that willingly participates in the church and in our community.

The student program is a ministry, and we have several volunteers that have made that their ministry.

The foodbank is a ministry, and last week, we had the largest gathering of volunteers we’ve ever had for the food pantry.

Bible study is a ministry. Kristel has volunteered to teach a devotional study on Sunday mornings. Please come and grow in your relationship with Jesus.

The number of ministry opportunities at our church continues to grow. The ministries here belong to you and not to staff. If I am your pastor, I will not replace volunteers with staff. Staff exists to train, coach, and encourage you in ministry.

Our church values transformation. We move Christ followers from basic beliefs into a deep relationship with Christ. We help people become mature Christians with big faith no matter where someone begins their journey. We are committed to our own continual growth guided by the Holy Spirit. As our Scripture in Hebrews says, Therefore let us go on toward perfection.

Today, I encourage you to take steps to grow in your faith on your path to maturity. Activate your faith. Pray about what that might mean for you. Maturity requires an active faith. An active faith seeks out practical biblical lessons that build faith and provide a resourceful biblical worldview. An active faith draws close to Christ with devotional time. An active faith seeks ministry opportunities. An active faith lives in community. May Christ bless you with growth and maturity in your faith. Amen.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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