“Becoming A Purpose Driven Church” – September 24, 2017

Rev. Bruce Lamb

Pentecost 16A – John 15:1-8

September 24, 2017

Embracing Change Sermon Series

“Becoming A Purpose Driven Church”

Mother Teresa was once asked what’s the biggest problem with the world today? She replied that we draw the circle of our family too small, we need to draw it larger everyday. We do that by constantly working to draw the circle wider and wide inviting people in to the circle of God’s love. Our purpose of the church is to transform lives for Jesus – to make disciples. We are fulfilling our purpose here on Sunday mornings, during the week with Bible Study and other worship opportunities and out in the community.

This is our purpose of the church, but what does it mean to be a purpose driven church?

In his book, The Purpose Driven Church author and pastor Rick Warren explains that healthy churches are driven by eternal purposes that Christ created his church to fulfill. Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Church has written a book called “The Purpose Driven Church.” The Saddleback Church is one of the largest churches in America with over 20,000 members. Has anyone read The Purpose Driven Life by Warren?

Warren says, too often we ask the wrong question when it comes to our churches. We ask, “Why isn’t my church growing?” However, the right question is, “What is keeping my church from growing?” All living things grow if they are healthy. If the church is healthy growth is automatic. The Bible says the church is a living organism. It’s an organism, not an organization. Therefore, it’s alive and it’s natural for churches to grow.

Here I have a poinsettia plant that was given to me by one of our members in July 2016. It was small, but growing. It’s a healthy plant that has continued to grow. Over the last year it has gotten really big. When there are branches that are bad and need pruning the dead branches are cut off and it makes way for new growth. If this plant did not grow when I watered it and properly cared for them then something would be terribly wrong – it would be in a state of disease, it would not be a healthy plant.

However, when I prune a branch from the vine as we read in our scripture that branch once it’s pruned does not continue to grow. It bears no fruit because it’s not connected to the vine. Verse 5 and 6 from John chapter 15 says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Warren says the question we need to be asking is what are the barriers preventing the growth of our church?

As our scripture lesson says today we are called to abide in Christ. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. Are we solidly connected to vine, Jesus?

So, what causes a church to grow?

My plant grows when it’s healthy. The same is true for the church.

Growth is caused by health.

Warren says when a church is healthy it automatically grows. The issue is the health of the church.

What brings health? Balance.

Balance brings health. In our bodies there are nine different systems. We have a circulatory system, a respiratory system, central nervous system, a skeletal system, digestive system. When these nine systems are in balance that is called health. Any time that any of these systems in our body get out of balance that is called disease.

The key that doctors do is bring the body back into balance and when it’s healthy it grows. There are systems in the body of Christ – there is a worship system, an evangelism system, a fellowship system, a discipleship system, a ministry system. When these are in balance they produce health and when they get out of balance churches do not grow. The problem is that people think there is one right answer to growing the church, but there is not one right answer – you need worship, you need small groups, you need evangelism, you need discipleship, but you need them all and you need them in balance because balance produces health. We as the branches, must stay connected to the vine – Jesus.

Balance produces health.

What is the definition of “drive?” To drive means, “to guide, control or direct or impart a forward motion.”[1] When you drive a car you drive, control or direct it down the street. When you drive a golf ball hopefully you guide, control or direct it down the fairway. Warren says every church is driven by something.

Tradition – Some churches are driven by tradition. How you know if a church is tradition driven? Their favorite phrase is, “We’ve always done it that way or we’ve never done it that way.” Are we open to new ideas?

Finance – Some churches are driven by finance. Their favorite phrase is, “how much will it cost?” But in the church the bottom line is not the bottom line, the bottom line is changed lives.

Say–“changed lives.”

We become a purpose driven church by letting God set the agenda for the church.

God sets the agenda for the church.

Matthew 16:18 says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” Notice the word build. The church is something that must be built. Who’s church is it? Jesus’. Who does the building? Jesus.

The Bible says God also works through people. Proverbs says, many are the plans of a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

If we want to build something that lasts we must build on purpose.

Strong churches are built on purpose and purpose driven churches:

  • Define the purpose.
  • Communicate the purpose
  • Apply the purpose

First, defining our church’s purpose. What is the vision of the church and why are we doing what we are doing? Growing churches have a clear definition of their vision.

Their was a man that went out and surveyed 10,000 people about what the purpose of the church is and the majority of the answers he came back with said the purpose of the church is to take care of me, my family, and the other members. 89% of the respondents said that. The other 11% said the purpose of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission to bring the world to Christ – to make disciples. Only 11% got it right.

The foundation for healthy balanced growth is a clearly defined purpose. God wants us united in thought and purpose. Proverbs 29:18 says where there is no vision the people perish.

Programs don’t motivate, purposes do.

Programs come and go. They are a dime a dozen, but it’s the eternal purposes of God that motivate people over the long haul. We have to rediscover why the church exists. A purpose driven church makes decision making easy. Every time you have a decision to make you ask, will this program fulfill the purpose of the church? If it does you do it. If it doesn’t it’s out the door. You don’t do it. Any goal that fulfills those purposes is automatically approved.

We can be efficient without being effective. Effectiveness is doing the right thing and that’s what makes the difference. We have to focus our time and energy on what our purpose is and stay within our purpose.

Next…#2- A clear purpose attracts cooperation.

People want to join a church that knows where its going. It’s easier to get on board when people know the destination. Have you ever made a wrong turn while driving on a road trip? One time while driving I thought I was going to Harlem and I ended up going to Queens. Check to make sure you’re on the right road. Know where you are going because bailing out later is very painful. People will join the church if they know where the church is going.

In our membership class I tell people upfront exactly where we are heading and if they want to get on board they get on board. It also keeps people from joining your church with false assumptions.

So friends, is our purpose clear?

Disney Land’s purpose – provide people happiness.

Nike’s – just do it.

The church’s – make disciples.

People remember slogans – you remember these – say it with me…

  • Give me liberty or give me …..
  • Remember the….
  • Kennedy said ask not what your country can do for you, but…(ask what you can do for your country.)

When you hear the name Martin Luther King, we all remember the phrase, “I have a dream.”

In the Bible there are many purpose statements as well:

  • Moses – let my people go.
  • Joshua – possess the land
  • Nehemiah – rebuild the wall
  • David – unite the kingdom
  • Solomon – build the temple

These are very memorable ideas that people can grasp on to.

If people can’t remember it, they can’t do it.

We are called to be strong branches on the vine saying, God I am nothing without you. I wonder how many possibilities we miss when we too as Christians are off the vine?

As Disciples of Christ we need to be clear with the world that our purpose is to transform lives for Jesus and we do that by loving God above all things and loving others. Love is our purpose – creating a safe space where all belong and are loved.

We are all God’s family – a purpose driven church.

Let your light shine.



[1] Merriam Webster online dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/drive