Welcome back to the third session in our Heart for the House series.
In this series we have been talking about the Church and God’s heart for the Church – the very intimate relationship that God has with the body of Christ. We learnt that the role of the Church is for us to be connected together with one another in community to be that witness of God’s love; to be the hands and feet of Christ in outworking God’s love. We looked at how each local congregations of Christ-followers or what we call “church” (small C) are all connected as members of the one global Church (big C) – each with a unique and vital role to the mission of God to the world, for this time that we live in.
We reflected on the journey we had been on as a community of faith – and how we have been growing throughout our journey to understand our call and our place as FCC as part of the body of Christ. Last week we looked at how this has translated in our understanding of our mission – and some of the distinctiveness in the audience and approach to our ministry here at FCC that makes us distinct from other local assemblies or bodies.
We shared about two key attributes that makes FCC distinctive. Firstly, how it means to be “inclusive” – our focus for those on the margins to be welcomed home. This began with welcoming gay Christians home, and more recently, being more intentional in welcoming women home, welcoming the Chinese speaking home, and welcoming home straight Christians who no longer hold to a theologically conservative view of gospel and salvation.
We also shared secondly how it means to be “progressive” – and looked at how the early church in the Bible was challenged themselves to be progressive. Being progressive doesn’t mean we have the same convictions, but it is an attitude to being open-minded and committed to learning and growing together; reflexively asking ourselves if the current worldview that we hold to is limiting what God wants to do in and through the life of our church. In a similar way that the we saw the early church too wrestle with theological understanding, progressing from keeping the law to living from a position of grace, and progressing from a gospel for the Jews to include non-Jews.
If you have missed either of those two sessions, I would encourage you to go to the website where we will be making the recordings available.
As much as this is a teaching series, these four weeks also form our updated curriculum for church membership. At the end of July, we will be renewing our membership commitments and welcoming new members to FCC. So instead of running separate membership classes, we brought it into our sermon series.
If the focus of the first week was understanding membership as a spiritual covenant, and the second week was understanding membership as an alignment to vision and values of this community in the role we play connected to the wider Church, this week we will be focusing on the civic life of the church – how we each participate as members in the life and role of the church, how this congregation is organized and how decisions are made.
It is first critical to note that there is no one “correct” model for organizing church life. In fact, I think sometimes we get too enamored by church models – we flirt with the Great Commission to go into the world to preach the good news and make disciples but end up marrying a model.
But it is important to have this discussion – because in order to operate as a community “in” the world, we need to register this church according to the laws of Singapore within the types of entities available and express in our practice of how and what we understand theologically the different roles we play within this body, into the framework of the law of Singapore.
So today we are going to cover 2 things – how do we understand the role of the church and call of each member, and how we organize our civic life so that we can express the way we come together in the language of the law of the land. As a “church” we are called not to be of the world, but to be “in” the world.
FOLLOWING THE EARLY CHURCH
The early church started forming when Jesus commissions the first disciples in the book of Acts to go into the world to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations. This Gospel (which is “good news”) that God is love, the kingdom of God is near to us, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. And therefore go and make disciples (Christ-followers) – who follow the will of God to love God and love people for the redemption, renewal and restoration of the world.
This means that those who are committed to follow Jesus were called out to live differently – they were given the Holy Spirit to be the carriers of God’s presence to be the hands and feet of God into the world. We call that the mission of the Church.
The New Testament from the book of Acts onwards reveals a lot of how those who believed in Jesus’ message lived it out, in community with one another as local churches, connected to the call of the global Church – the body of Christ.
The first passage of scripture I want to share today is to build a picture of the first church in discharging Jesus’ commission – Acts 2:42-47
Acts 2:42-47 – The Fellowship of Believers
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
“Apostles” here referred to the original twelve disciples. They were messenger of the gospel – teaching people who God is, who they are in God, and how to respond in a new way to live by loving God and loving people.
We see that they were in “fellowship” – they were learning to relate in community together – to do life together. They broke bread together, or celebrated communion – reminder of God’s covenant of love. They came together to pray together – building their faith and relationship with God.
And those around them were amazed because of the wonders and miracles that were being done. When we live differently, we become that witness of the wonder. We can think about miracles simply as unexpected outcomes. I like this thought that a miracle is simply preparation meeting opportunity.
They were together – “a community” and had everything in common – they had “one commonwealth”. Selling their possessions and goods, they used the resources to meet the needs around them. They did life together, meeting one another regularly, sharing meals, giving thanks to God, praising God, and were well regarded by everyone and as a result, more and more people were drawn to being part of that community.
What an incredible picture of the start of the early church.
As the early church began to grow and develop, Paul taught that God was raising up different gifts in different people to work together to lead the church as one body. Our second passage of scripture we are going to look at is a letter Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus –
Eph 4:11-13 (Amplified)
11 And [His gifts to the church were varied and] He Himself appointed some as apostles [special messengers, representatives, visionaries, pioneers of new churches [1 Cor 9:2] and ministries [1 Cor 4:15], builders who lay foundations in the church and spiritual architects [1 Cor 3:10]], some as prophets [who speak a new message from God to the people (those who have a strong sense of the Spirit’s leading to what is right and wrong and declare God’s will to individuals and churches (in line with scripture), directing God’s people [Acts 13:1-3], predicting things to come [Acts 21:10-11] and providing correction when things go off course [Acts 15:22-23])], some as evangelists [who spread the good news of salvation, (the warriors who encourage people to faith, who advance the gospel, who equip the church with a spirit of outreach)], and some as pastors (the shepherds who nurture, comfort, build up and care for the individual needs of people [1 Peter 5:1-4]) and teachers (those who minister in the Word and impart skills and knowledge in the ways of God) [to shepherd and guide and instruct], 12 [and He did this] (for the purpose) to fully equip and perfect the saints (God’s people) for works of service, to build up the body of Christ [the church]; 13 until we all reach oneness in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, [growing spiritually] to become a mature believer, reaching to the measure of the fullness of Christ [manifesting His spiritual completeness and exercising our spiritual gifts in unity].
We are all created uniquely with different gifts, different strengths, different personalities, different experiences, so we are all different parts of the body with different giftings. I love the thought that our career is what we are paid to do, but our calling is what we were made to do.
And God raises different leaders with different gifts and call leaders to serve by equipping and releasing the gifts of the members of the church so that collectively, we will all grow and mature with a greater understanding of God, and more authentically reflect who God is into the world. The purpose of leadership in the church is to build others up so that people can do what they are called to so that we can see the kingdom of God advance.
I hope you are getting this but we cannot be the Church is we don’t collectively come together with a willingness to pour out and serve others with our different gifts, talents, abilities, time, resources as one body.
And this needs to be built into how we organize ourselves as an assembly, as members and leaders of this body, to equip and resource the ministries in the life of this church to the people we are called to serve.
OUR CIVIC LIFE
I started off by sharing with you that I don’t believe that there is just one model for organizing church life. So the model we are using today reflects our journey in our current stage of church life, as an entity within the laws of Singapore.
Because there is no such thing as a church as a corporate body, so we have registered FCC as a non-profit company similar to some other churches in Singapore. We are a registered charity in Singapore which allows us to receive tithes and offerings and fund-raise for the work we do, and we give an account each year to the way we use finances and our activities to ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority) and MCCY (Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth).
Internally, when we came together to make the decision to purchase our own property three years ago, we also formed a committee to help us work through how we will organize the life of the church so that it would reflect the mission of the church and our values, our stage of development as a church and provide a level of transparency and accountability internally to our congregation.
So the way we organize ourselves today will look different from other churches. In some churches, a senior pastor oversees the vision, mission and ministry of the church, but for us, we have instead decided at the moment to organize ourselves as a congregational church in the way that we understand FREE (first realize everyone is equal) and Community (when we come together with our different strengths we make better decisions than if one individual made all the decisions).
This means that those who commit to membership to the church collectively make the ultimate decision on how the church is organized, the priorities of the church and how finances are spent. This is done through formal general meetings that members are invited to like our AGM in November where we discuss and vote on the annual budget.
Our members also elect a Board of Directors to represent them in a volunteer capacity for a two-year term. The Board of Directors then represent the members of the church externally from a legal capacity, and is responsible for working with our Pastors and ministry leads to plan, execute, manage and monitor the operations and activities of the church. In the early church, this would be the equivalent of the diakanos or the deacons.
Our members also determine the pastoral team that support our community – we currently have two executive pastors on staff – Rev. Miak and Ps. Pauline. They also form a separate leadership team called the Council together with other individuals who are appointed by the Board of Directors to provide theological direction and planning of our services, and how the church lives out its mission. In the early church, this role would be played by the presbuteros or elders of the church.
We can see this pattern of the deacons working with the elders in the early church beginning in Acts 6 where the disciples got together and seven were appointed to manage the logistical distribution of food so that the others could focus on prayer and ministry of the word.
If you are a member of the church, or considering to formalize your membership, I would encourage you to read through and understand the church bye-laws that provide details and formalize what I have just shared. We have connected our values of “First Realize Everyone is Equal”, to what we have learnt that the early church, as a body of Christ operating as an entity in the world. And as a member of this church in this world that we live in, we are making a civic commitment that comes with legal responsibilities.
I want you to know that if you are already a member of another congregation, FCC does not require you to officially transfer your membership if you become a member of this church. We permit dual membership but would recommend that you check with your other congregation if it works for them.
Also if you are not yet ready to be a member of this church, I want you to know that this does not change how you are connected to this church or the global Church. You will be able to participate in all activities, contribute to the life of the church, and attend our meetings. What you will not be able to do is to make decisions for this community in these meetings, and you cannot be appointed to our diakanos – our Board of Directors.
It is has been such a tremendous privilege to be a part of the work that God is doing in and through this community. This series has given me the opportunity to take a step back, pull the camera lens out and look at our journey as a faith community and we find ourselves a part of the continuing of God’s story.
We stand here today in this moment of church life and we may not recognize that we are in the middle of a miracle.
A miracle is simply opportunity meeting preparation. The opportunity began as gay Christians began to gather as SafeHaven and there was one member who was asked to leave his church and didn’t have a place to worship – that’s the opportunity.
Today we stand here today in wonder – the only LGBT affirming Christian congregation in Singapore – a forest of healthy, flourishing trees because of people like you and me who were prepared to sow the seeds in their hands – their seeds of their spiritual gifts, skills, creativity, talents, time, finances, their lives, into this soil and into the lives of the people around us to see this harvest and see this church’s impact in Singapore and the world.
For us to continue living out this miracle, for us to continue to flourish, I pray that you will consider your commitment to this community through as we go through this series together. We will be coming together at the end of July to renew our commitments to God and this community.
If you are not yet a member of this congregation, I pray that you will make this place and this people your church, your community, and your home. And know that you are connected to the purposes of God through the life of this church as you sow the seeds of our gifts, talents, abilities, time, finances, knowing that:
2 Cor 9:8
“God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”
In 3 weeks time, we will be participating in a service where we will come together as a community to make this commitment to one another in our annual membership service. As part of the time together, we will be making a commitment to one another through a membership covenant and a making a pledge to give regularly to resource the work in this church.
We know that each person is at different stages of their journey and in different work situations, but we don’t believe it is about equal amounts, but equal sacrifice reflecting the same spirit of generosity that the early church was known for. That’s the only way we have kept this miracle going the past 13 years and can keep this miracle going. When we don’t sow our seed, when we don’t allow ourselves to be vessels that can be used to contain the oil, the miracle will stop.
Our current annual budget for 2016 that we as the Board of the church proposed discerning our priorities and call for this year and brought together to the members at the AGM last year where we discussed and voted to move forward with is $382,000, FLAT year on year from 2015, and a decrease of 36% from 2014 where we raised $600,000 which included the one-off downpayment for One Commonwealth.
Assuming no changes to in our Sunday Service offering, we need a minimum of $266,000 in tithes to meet our budget for both our general operating fund and to meet our mortgage repayments for this home.
Our general fund goes to meet the salaries of our pastoral team, operating our Sunday services, maintain this church facilities used not just for Sunday services but also for the cell groups, support groups, counselling services that meet here throughout the week, maintaining our website where thousands of people attend church every week through the videos and resources, resourcing our community engagement, justice ministries and teaching programmes like Wholeheartedly, Living Water, and the development of the life of core ministries and support for our leaders.
We want to continue to be that church that “expects great things from God; and attempts great things for God” by building a culture of generosity that reflects the same spirit of the early church in their response to the Great Commission, living out the Great Commandment to love.
This is what it means to follow Jesus, to live counter-culturally to the world, in and through the way we live differently. We are going to be in this together – we are not going to sit back and just receive while we expect a small group of people to meet the giving.
Whether you are a formal member of the church, I want to invite each one of us to go back and consider over the next few week the amount that we want to commit to give financially on a regular basis in the year ahead out of the first fruits of what God blesses us with. If you are not in a job today, you can still organize a giving campaign.
This is an invitation as a witness of the church. This is not a legal obligation, this is an opportunity to connect our heart to God’s heart for the house. We are not prescribing an amount, but we ask all of us just like the early church to discern how much you are led to give towards the need and we believe that as we sow together, we will be able to resource and grow the impact that we will have as a church and have all sufficiency for all things.
2 Cor 9:6-13
6 But I will say this to encourage your generosity: the one who plants little harvests little, and the one who plants plenty harvests plenty. 7 Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled “yes” because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say “no,” but this isn’t the way God wants it. For we know that “God loves a cheerful giver.” 8 God is ready to overwhelm you with more blessings than you could ever imagine so that you’ll always be taken care of in every way and you’ll have more than enough to share. 9 Remember what is written about the One who trusts in the Lord:
He scattered abroad; He gave freely to the poor;
His righteousness endures throughout the ages.
10 The same One who has put seed into the hands of the sower and brought bread to fill our stomachs will provide and multiply the resources you invest and produce an abundant harvest from your righteous actions. 11 You will be made rich in everything so that your generosity will spill over in every direction. Through us your generosity is at work inspiring praise and thanksgiving to God. 12 For this mission will do more than bring food and water to fellow believers in need—it will overflow in a cascade of praises and thanksgivings for our God. 13 When this mission reaches Jerusalem and meets with the approval of God’s people there, they will give glory to God because your confession of the gospel of the Anointed One led to obedient action and your generous sharing with them and with all exhibited your sincere concern.
Paul here is encouraging the churches in Asia Minor around their giving. He is raising money from the churches in Asia Minor for famine relief in Jerusalem. The generosity of the early church was her witness – it is one of the marks of Christians to be radically generous. And that is how the good news comes to life with power.
Impact of radical generosity in the early church was that people were physically fed and thus,
people were led to praise God (v13) for the generosity of the church.
The Gospel empowers us and calls us to participate in giving of not just our gifts, talents, abilities, but also our time and our finances. God’s presence and power can move in us and through us to change lives and social structures.