Surf's Up: State of the Church 2024
Where have we been and where are we going? Join Pastor Marty Baker as he discusses the direction of the church in 2024 and invites us all to, "Ride the wave."
Doing my share of bogie-boarding in San Diego at Imperial Beach as a teen, I’ve watched real surfers up close and personal. What is a surfers goal? Swim out to the big swells, patiently wait for a good wave to form, jump on that wave and ride it as far and as fast as you can. Nobody wants to get up on their board at the beginning of a gnarly way, only to fall off in a few seconds. Everyone wants to stay on the board and juice the wave for everything they can get out of it.
In many ways, surfing is a great metaphor as we consider our annual State of the Church. How so? We have ridden a massive wave of spiritual and numerical growth for fifteen straight years. The wave, of course, is not of our making. It is a wave the sovereign Lord has sent our way. What is our goal as spiritual suffers? To do all we can to ride this wonderful wave as far and as fast as we can.
How we should go about doing this is what this morning is about. As we dig into several pivotal questions, we will not only learn about our status as spiritual surfers, we will learn how to get the most out of this monster wall of water during 2024.
Who Will You Lead To Christ?
The New Testament Church, based in Jerusalem, surfed well because they continually grew not because of church transfers (as nice as this is), but because of kingdom transfers. To them, the resurrection of Jesus rightly changed everything, as it should. Many of these early surfing saints were either eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, or they knew folks who were (I 1 Cor. 15:1-5). Once that resurrection reality became theirs by faith in the evidence, these transformed saints couldn’t help but constantly talk . . . not about politics (as bad as they were under Roman domination) . . . (but) about the need for sinners to turn from the wide path unto eternal destruction to the narrow path of faith leading to forgiveness and eternal life (Matt. 7:13-14).
Peter set the tone of how the church should surf the wave God puts before you in his first sermon in Jerusalem post-resurrection. Looking on the masses gathered for Pentecost, he made this bold, penetrating statement:
22 "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- 23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 "And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power (Acts 2).
What did he just do? He presented these sinners with the facts: Jesus validated His divinity and messiahship by performing miracles, godless people rejected Him and killed Him, but the Father raised Him to life again. This, fellow surfers, is the foundation of the gospel, the good news of the person and work of Jesus, the Christ.
After demonstrating in verses 25 through 36 that the Old Testament prophesied the resurrection of the Messiah, Peter masterfully lowered the boom:
36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-- this Jesus whom you crucified." 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38 And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).
He seized the moment to ride the wave further by personally challenging these people to repent and be saved by Jesus. Three thousand people traded kingdoms that day because Peter didn’t flinch at posing the question of all questions: Are you going to embrace the resurrected Lord by faith and be saved, or are you going to efface Him? God gave Peter jaw-dropping results because he spoke gospel truth and challenged people to make a decision.
I believe in 2024 the same Lord is waiting to give you jaw-dropping results as you courageously step forward to present the gospel, and then turn to challenge the non-believers to be saved. Using a harvest metaphor instead of surfing one, Jesus informed us regarding the opportunity before us:
35 "Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest '? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest (John. 4).
All farmers knew it takes time for crops to mature so they can be harvested. Jesus, said here, concerning the Samaritans, who came to listen to him because of the testimony of the woman with a sordid marital past, that the time for the spiritual harvest is always NOW, not later. Although those words were spoken 2,000 years ago, they speak to and challenge us today. Each of us are surrounded by people ready to be harvested for the gospel of Jesus. True, some will be argumentative, others will say they are simply religious, some will save the Christian faith is illogical, and others will say they can’t tolerate a faith which is so exclusive. Yet, regardless of where they are in their spiritual blindness, Jesus says many are prepped and ready to be saved. All is needed are spiritual surfers who will share the gospel, as Peter did, and challenge the lost to be saved.
Many people, old and young alike, have been saved because of the spiritual surfers in this church, but we have only begun to tap into the souls which need to come face to face with the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. So, let’s get the most out of the wave we have enjoyed surfing for years by personally leading the people in our lives to the feet of Jesus where they can be saved. And how should you be praying as you surf? “Lord, may this year be the year my wife, my grandmother, my brother comes to know your salvation,” “Lord, may this be the year where you will open many doors for me to share your gospel.” “Lord, show me who needs you, and empower me when I give them the reason you were resurrected.”
Talk about a proven way to get the most out of the divinely appointed wave of God.
All of this leads naturally to another question for spiritual surfers:
How Do You Lead Someone To Christ?
It’s one thing to say, “Let’s go spiritual surfing for souls,” and quite another to actually know how to do it. Do you know what to say? When it comes to closing the deal, as it were, do you start to freeze up on your surf board? If so, make 2024 the year you learn a simple method of sharing your faith. Here is one I learned while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 80s, and I’ve used it numerous times to lead people to saving faith in Jesus.
This simple presentation starts with the question. “If you were to die tonight and stand before Jesus, and he were to say to you, ‘Why should I allow you to enter into my heaven?’ what would you say? At this juncture, you will hear a whole lot of answers: I should gain entrance because I am basically a good person, or because my parents went to church and I attended with them, or I have performed many good works in my lifetime. After listening to these responses, you then share Paul’s words to the Ephesians in chapter 2:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as the result of works, that no one should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
Being a moral person is admirable, but according to the Scriptures it will not save you. Let me explain to you how the Scripture say you must find forgiveness for sins before a holy God.
First of all, there is the bad news. You are born a sinner. Paul talks about this in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” God is perfect, and we are imperfect. Hence, we could never do enough to secure his favor because of our sinful status we inherited from Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). God is holy, and we are unholy; therefore, we will always fall short of pleasing him. Think about it this way. If we both had baseballs and attempted to throw them from where we were standing here in Virginia, there is no way either of us would ever hit downtown Manhattan. One of us might throw farther than the other, but we would both fall short because we don’t have the capability of hitting the target. So it is with attempting to reach God on our own terms. Our sin limits our ability to reach God’s target of holiness.
In addition to this, the divine penalty for being born a sinner is spiritual and physical death. Once more Paul talks about this in his letter to the Romans, “for the wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom. 6:23). If you were to come to my house to help me with some landscape work, and I were to agree to pay you a wage, you would expect to be paid at the end of the day. So it is with our sin. We are born sinners and we live like sinners, therefore, the divine wages for our sin from a holy God is spiritual and physical death. Thus, there is no way we could ever come to God, that’s why He, out of love for us, sent His Son, Jesus.
This next part of the story is what I call the good news. This good news is founded on the fact that Christ came to the earth and died for all of our sin. Again, Paul talks about this in his letter to the Romans, “but God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). By way of illustration, let me tell you a story from the Civil War. At one point, “a company of regulars known as bushwhacker’s was arrested by Union soldiers. Because they were guerrilla fighters they not in uniform, they were sentenced to be shot. A courageous young boy in the Army touched his commanding officer on the arm and pleaded, “Won’t you allow me to take the place of one of the men you’ve just condemned? I know him well. He has a large family who needs him badly. My parents are dead and I have few friends. No one will miss me. Please let me take his punishment.” The officer hesitated, but finally gave his consent. Pulling the husband and father to one side, the young man filled his position in the death line. On the stone that marks his grave a little southern town reads these words: sacred to the memory of Willie Lear. He took my place.” On a spiritual plane, this is what Jesus has done for you and me. When we were worthy of death, he came and took our sin upon himself so that we might have the prospects of spiritual life.
How do you secure spiritual life with Jesus? Paul tells you how when he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Jesus offers you freely the gift of salvation, but you must take it by faith. What does faith mean? It means you study the evidence to determine whether it is true or not. When you conclude that it is true for you embrace the facts, trusting in the unseen Savior to grant you eternal forgiveness and new life as he said he would (John 3:16-17). Think about the last time you were strapped into a radical roller coaster. By faith, you believed that the engineer who designed this ride knew what he was doing, even though you have never seen him. By faith, you sat down in the seat and pulled the shoulder harness over your head and locked it firmly in place. Such is the nature of faith that saves you. Even though you have never seen Jesus, you trust that the evidence concerning His person and work is true, you don’t need any further convincing that you are in fact a sinner, and you believe that He will grant you eternal forgiveness and a new life the moment you place your faith in him.
In light of all this, I just have one question: Would you like to ask Jesus to be your savior right now?
I have posed this question to many people in my lifetime and have been pleasantly surprised when they answer “Yes, I would.” As you look at the new year in front of us, make a commitment to the Lord to at least learn the simple gospel presentation. And while you’re making a commitment of this nature, make another commitment that you will purposefully share this presentation with people. Further, commit before the Lord right now that you will you will make sure you give them an opportunity to embrace Jesus by faith and be saved.
Do all of this and you will be amazed at the wonderful results the Lord will give you. Not only will people be saved, but your faith will be emboldened, and the church will grow and flourish.
How Can We Accommodate Our God-given Growth?
As we continue to fulfill our calling is spiritual surfers, which will result in the church enjoying even more growth, how do we effectively accommodate this growth? Currently, we are running between 2302 to 2400 people per Sunday. Christmas was our high watermark with 3, 475 people in worship. I’m sure Easter this year will find a similar amount of people coming to worship the risen Lord with us. Additionally, within these numbers we have on average of 750 children, adults, and teens in Bible study. Also, within these numbers we are running in the mid-1500s for worship. While our sanctuary seats 1150 people, we can all see on a given Sunday how tight the seating is. And this is not to overlook the fact of how difficult it is to find parking places when you come to one of our two services.
In light of this growth and the challenges it presents to us to make the worship experience here comparable as opposed to difficult, what are some solutions?
For one, I would like you to consider where you sit in a given worship service. Many come in and sit on the outer perimeter of a given section. You might think the Lord has personally called you to sit in this area, but such is probably not the case. By sitting here, it makes it difficult for the middle seating to be filled up as it should be. So, what I would say is consider the Lord is calling you to sit in the middle of a given section, leaving the outer perimeter open for those who come in after you. Being sacrificial like this is really what servanthood is all about right (Mark 10:45)?
For another, while we have enjoyed seeing 30 to 50 cars on average in our shuttle lot located in the park-and-ride near Marshall’s on Old Keene Mill Road, we really do need more of you to commit to this wonderful service. When you commit to parking here and taking the shuttle, you are allowing a new family to easily access our parking lot and get into worship with minimal to no frustration. That is huge. There have been several times over the last year when over 30 cars have pulled in to the parking lot and then exited because they could not find a parking place. We should do all we can to make sure that this does not happen to anyone who wants to come worship the Lord with us. Hence, I ask you today to scan the QR code on the screen behind me and commit to being part of our excellent shuttle service. And as a side note I would like to thank all of our drivers who sacrificially give of their time to make this service possible.
I would also like to talk to you about how you either approach the building from your car or how you approach your car from the building after service. If everyone simply fans out and walks in any direction that they like, it slows down the flow of incoming and outgoing traffic at various junctures as they slow down to accommodate you. The most efficient way to enter the building or to go back to your car after service, is to make sure you walk within the designated walkways in the parking lot. They have big white stripes bounded by parallel lines so you should not have any trouble identifying them. As you walk in these pedestrian sentence, you will make it easier for the traffic to flow in and out of the parking lot. So, could you commit to walking differently in order to have a positive impact on the parking lot?
Finally, I would like to share with you what the Elder Council is working on in order to secure more parking places. Our site plan has not been updated for years, and it is time to do this, especially where parking is concerned. Right now, our site plan allows us to have 524 parking spaces. But because of various changes in County code our engineering company, Walter L. Phillips, says we can possibly get 115 more parking spaces on our property. There is land that we can possibly develop to the right of our main entrance. If we do this, it would give us 17 more spaces for vehicles. We can also possibly add 60 parking spots on the west side of the worship facility where there is currently a small forest. Also, we can add possibly 13 more parking places in the area where the massive oak tree was hit by lightning a couple years ago, and we can also possibly secure 25 more parking spaces just to the right of the retention pond. If we really want to go for broke, we can now bury the retention pond on the north side of the building near the forest. If we did this major project, it would give us an additional 64 spaces. That would push our 115 number up to 170. All of this, of course will cost money. At this point we project it will cost between one and $1.5 million dollars.
Please be in prayer for us as we continued to walk down this very important road. Pray that the county will make decisions in our favor, and that the Lord will provide the funds needed to keep us maximizing the wave of growth He has sent to us.
Moving from a practical ministry need, I need to turn briefly to a spiritual need. It is found in the following question.
How Can We Guard Our Unique Unity?
We have enjoyed much unity for the last 15 years. As Pastor Alec rightfully pointed out in his last sermon, Jesus’ High Priestly prayer was concerned with future believers being unified (John 17). He prayed this because He knew our Adversary, the Devil, would seek to create doubt, division, distrust, and disinformation. Christ’s prayer has been fulfilled in our body, and it has enabled us to build the body, while also spending ample time focusing on the needs of our city and world.
Unity, however, it not assured. It is typically attacked in two ways: doctrinal and relational. Doctrinally, we see a doctrinal attack against the church in Colossae. Heretical teachers had a plethora of false teachings they sought to drag into the church:
- Gnosticism: the spirit is good, but matter is evil (Col. 1:15-20).
- In order to be saved, a person must follow ceremonies, various rituals, and restrictions (Col. 2:11, 16-23; 3:11).
- To be holy a person must deny the desires of the body and embrace strict asceticism (Col. 2:18-23).
- Christ was not human and divine (Col. 1:15-20; 2:2-3)
To name a few. Read and study Paul’s letter to this church and you will quickly see how he forthrightly addressed these crafty false teachings. By so doing, Paul sought to safeguard the unity and peace of the church.
In our day, doctrinal attacks are typically wrapped up in what is now called wokism, or the thinking we are now awakened to issues like oppression, social injustice, and so forth. For instance, in this new system, there is not Truth, but truths, meaning there is no absolute Truth, but just whatever you deem to be truth. Such thinking contradicts the Word of God, especially where Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Truth is absolute and it never changes, no matter how ardently or emotionally a person is committed to the fluid nature of truth.
Further, in wokism, everyone else is the problem, meaning the victims do not need to take responsibility for their actions, only the oppressors do. Again, this is not a biblical doctrine. The Scriptures are quite clear: we all will held responsible for our personal actions. Regarding this, Jesus is quite clear:
27 "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds (Matt. 16).
36 "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. 37 "For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." (Matt. 12).
Hence, in the spirit of Paul, we are committed to pushing back against heretical teachings masquerading as truth designed to help people. Our unity is guarded as you stand with us on the truth of the Word of God.
Relationally, the Devil tempts us to be a war with each other. The classic example in the New Testament is Paul’s counsel to two warring women in the church at Philippi:
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Phil. 4).
What were these women fighting about? Who knows but it tore at the fabric of the unity of the local church. Paul advises them to settle their differences and move on to maturity for their sake and the sake of the church. Are you at odds with someone in this body? Get together with the person in question, confess what needs confessing, forgive what needs forgiving, and move toward peace.
Assuredly, there are many other ways the Devil seeks to create chaos among Christians so their witness is hamstrung. Suffice it to say, I present you with two classic areas to underscore our constant need to do what we need to do to preserve the unity Christ prayed about. Can we count on you to be a person of peace? We need to maintain our peace and unity so we can continue to surf far and fast for Christ. After all, two guys fighting on one surfboard while riding a sixty-foot wave aren’t going to go far, will they? No. In no time they will be shark bait.
Lastly, to keep us all enjoying the wave God has placed us on, in 2024 we need to ask and answer the following question:
How Can We Stay Connected With Other Surfers?
The New Testament is clear. Regardless of the size of the local church, we are called to be with each other for fellowship, strength, and maturation. Think, for a second, about all of those “one another commands:” “Bear with each other” (Eph. 4:2), “Live in harmony with each other” (Rom. 12:16), “Therefore encourage one another” (1 Thess. 5:11). This is just a short list.
Do you realize none of these commands can be fulfilled if we are not close to each other on a frequent basis? These commands, by definition, call for us to act like brothers and sisters toward each other, which means we make time to be together. As we are in close proximity, we are positioned, then, to admonish (Col. 3:16), to bear with (Col. 3:13), and to show hospitality toward each other (1 Pet. 4:9) to name a few more.
Along these lines, I must ask: Are you plugged in or unplugged? How do you get plugged in to the body life of the church?
- Get involved in Men’s or Women’s Ministry.
- Get involved with the College Ministry.
- Get involved with a small group. Seven hundred people are waiting for you to join them. Note to self: small groups make a mega church seem like a mini-church.
What are the benefits of being together?
- You are positioned to fulfill the “one another” commands.
- You will build lasting friendships.
- You will find folks to stand with you when the winds of adversity blow.
- You will find folks who will pray for and with you.
- You will learn wisdom from older, wiser saints.
- You will be held accountable for how you walk with Jesus.
- You will have some real, meaningful fun.
Make this year, therefore, the year you really get connected. Do this and you will grow, and our church will get more mileage out of the wave we are riding.
Surfs up! So, let’s get going.
 Michael P. Greene, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1982), 361.