THE DEFINITION OF CHURCH
All right, welcome to Mars Hill Church. Today, the big question is, “What’s a church?” How many of you, if this week, somebody came up to you and asked, “What’d you do this week?” you’d say, “I went to church”? If they asked, “So, what’s a church?” what would your answer be? Where would you take them in the Bible?
The truth is, there’s a lot of churches, there’s a lot of Christians, and most Christians don’t know, really, what a church is.
I’ve heard some weird definitions, I’ll say, of a church over the years. Some years ago, I noticed that there were these single guys—it’s always single guys. They’re always the best illustrations—there were these single guys who would be at church, but they would not be there for the summer. So I asked them, “How come you’re not at church during the summer?” They said, “Oh, we go to a different church.” I was like, “OK, what church do you go to?” “Well, we get up, and we hang out together as Christian brothers, and then we get our boat, and we go to the lake, and we water ski all day in God’s glorious creation. And for the summer, that’s our church.”
Is that a church? No, those are single guys on a lake. That is not a church.
I heard other people say, “Well, you know, we go to a coffee shop, we go out to dinner, we go out to a pub, and we hang out together, and we just visit, and accountability, you know? It’s good hanging out time. That’s my church.”
Is that a church? No, it’s not a church.
Some people say, “Well, we have parachurch. So, mom’s got some sort of women’s Bible study thing, and then we take the kids to their thing, and then the high school kids go to their thing, and then the college kids go to their thing, and we kind of have this various collection of parachurch ministries that we’re involved in. So, we don’t really have a church, but we listen to some praise songs on the radio, and we download some podcasts, and put it all together in this big, huge stew, and for us, that’s our church.”
Is that a church? No, it’s not a church. Are any of those things bad? No, we’re not anti-coffee, water-skiing, or kids getting together for a Bible study. All of those things can be perfectly fine and good, but they’re not the church.
So, where would you go to define the church, to explain the church, to articulate the church? How many of you would go to Matthew 18 where it says—this is the most common definition of the church that I’ve ever heard, and it’s wrong, so don’t say it too confidently—but it says this in Matthew 18, “Where two or more are gathered, there I am with them,” the Lord Jesus says.
And then some people come along and say, “Well, that’s it. Anywhere there’s two or more believers gathered, the Lord is with them. That’s a church.”
Is it? No, Matthew 18 is about church discipline. If one person has a conflict with another person, they need to bring in two or three witnesses to help untie the knot. That’s not a definition of a church: that’s the number of witnesses a church should require to untangle some sort of relational, sinful knot.
THE LEAST LIKELY PERSON TO PARTICIPATE IN A CHURCH
Here’s where we’re going to go: Acts 2:38–47. You can find it in your Bible or the fake Bible on your phone, and we’re going to study it together, and we’re going to see what happens when the Holy Spirit shows up and awakens people to the love and salvation of Jesus, and what happens when the Holy Spirit is present among God’s people.
This whole event that we’re going to examine comes on the heels of Peter’s sermon, and I just want to mention one thing from it: he says repeatedly in that sermon, “Men, men, men.” He’s speaking to everyone, but he’s really emphasizing the men, and he says that this good news of Jesus is for you and for your children.
So, I want everyone to listen, but especially you men. The least likely person to be participating in a church is a single, young man, usually in his 20s. You need to be in church, learning how to be a godly man so that if God should give you an opportunity to become a husband and a father, you’re prepared for that. For those of us who are husbands or fathers, one of the most important decisions we make is what church we participate in, because those will be our friends we get counsel from and give counsel to. Those will be the friendships that our wife has, and who she’s going to talk to and learn from and get good or bad advice through. These will be the friendships that our children have, and the family modeling that they experience, and it may even be the people they grow up to marry.
I see a common mistake with men where they will choose a city, or they’ll choose a job somewhere without considering, “Is there a good, godly, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving church that I can be a part of, that we can be a part of, so that we can worship and grow together and serve and give together for the well-being of future generations and legacy?”
I would submit to you that one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make is what church you will call home, so we welcome you to Mars Hill. If you’re visiting, we want you to find, by God’s grace, a good church near your home. As well, as you’re talking to other people, I want you to be able to help them find a good church.
A PICTURE OF THE NEW COVENANT CHURCH
And so we’re going to read together what that entails. Acts 2:38–47—we like the Bible, right? We’ll read a little Bible together. “Peter”—there’s the leader—“said to them”—so it’s a sermon—“‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Here’s a Christian. They receive the Holy Spirit, they repent of sin, believing in Jesus, and they demonstrate that through baptism.
It goes on to say, “‘For the promise is for you and for your children’”—so this is legacy—“‘and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’” And with many other words”—let me just hit this: this is part of Peter’s sermon, and what we have in the Bible are sermon summaries, OK? The sermons tended to be longer than the actual transcripts in the Bible. So this is a selective transcript summary.
Some of you will read the Bible, you’ll be like, “Man, the sermons are very short. Mark’s are not very short. Mark must not be biblical.” Oh no, Mark, right here in the Bible, would be very glad to point out to you that the sermons were very long. Because Peter had how many other words? Many. Hours. So, long sermons, right? Long sermons, amen. I’m biblical. You’re welcome.
OK, verse 40, “And with many other words, he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves”—I want you to really pay attention to that word. This is ongoing, habitual, continual lifestyle, right? This is not like junior high: it’s a couple years, and then you’re done with it and move on with the rest of your life. Christianity is an ongoing lifestyle of Bible study and repentance of sin and generosity and worship of Jesus and friendship with God’s people. All the things that we’re going to examine now today together was ongoing, habitual, and a new lifestyle.
“They devoted”—that’s the word—“themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with gladness and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Jesus dies for sin. Jesus rises for sinners. Jesus ascends into heaven. Jesus drops the presence and the power of God and the person of the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit shows up, the church springs into being: people are born again and they become, together, the people of God.
And that’s what we see right here in the new covenant church. And so we’re going to look at Jesus’ church empowered by the Spirit.
A couple of things. First of all, it’s Jesus’ church. The church belongs to Jesus. Not you, not me, not us. It belongs to him. So, we want to hear from him, follow him, obey him, and love and serve the church because Jesus loved the church and he serves the church.
In addition, the evidences of the Holy Spirit, the marks of the church, are not religious traditions of things we do for God: it’s the Holy Spirit putting the life of Jesus in us and calling us and compelling us with great enthusiasm and joy to have certain evidences of this new life in Jesus.
PRINCIPLES VS. METHODS
And I also want to distinguish for you between principles and methods. And this is very important: the Bible has principles for all churches, and then churches get to figure out their methods. So, the Bible says to preach. Well, do we do this book of the Bible or that book of the Bible, or a topical? Do we do video or not? Those are methods. The Bible says, “Preach the Word.” That’s the principle. There are methods.
The Bible says to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. That’s the principle. Well, what songs? What kind of music? What kind of instrumentation? It really depends on what nation or culture you’re in. In China, it’s going to be different than India, is going to be different than the United States, is going to be different than the Philippines. Praise God, their songs will be different, their music will be different, their instrumentation will be different, their language will be different; the principle remains the same.
So, I want you to know this. We will examine today the principles. We’ll look at some of the methods of how we do this at Mars Hill. Other churches that hold the same principle in a different method, we don’t judge them, we don’t look down on them, we don’t criticize them. We love them, amen? We love all churches that love Jesus and adhere to the same biblical principles.
Lastly, one person is a Christian, but it takes God’s people to be the church. You have a personal relationship with Jesus, but it’s part of the family of God. And both matter. And the world we live in is highly individualistic. People are more worried about their personal relationship with Jesus than participation in the family of Jesus. You can be a Christian by yourself, but you cannot be the church by yourself.
THE MARKS OF JESUS’ CHURCH
So, what we’re going to do now is we’re going to look at what is Jesus’ church? What are the marks of Jesus’ church? What are the evidences that the Holy Spirit has brought Jesus’ church into existence?
You know why I’m excited? I’m excited because I love you and I love our church, and I am very excited for what Jesus has done and will do in our future. And it’s been nothing but seventeen years of painful joy for me to be part of Mars Hill Church. And sometimes you’re hard, but God is always good, and we have the best people, and I love you, and I need you to know what a church is, and I want you to love our church.
So, here’s your acronym. You spelling bee winners, big day for you. You get an acronym, “Jesus’ Church.” J-E-S-U-S, space, C-H-U-R-C-H. And I know there’s some sort of punctuation in there, but we’re not going to get that detailed, OK? So, “Jesus’ Church”—write it down, take notes. You’re very excited? All right, one of you is. We’re off to a start.
J – JESUS-CENTERED BIBLE PREACHING AND TEACHING
All right, here we go. “Jesus-Centered Bible Preaching and Teaching” is the first one. So, Acts 2:14, “Peter”—there’s our leader—“lifted up his voice.” What’s he doing?! What’s he doing?! What’s he doing?! He’s yelling. I love that—I really love that. It’s right there in the Bible. “Peter lifted up his voice and he addressed them.” This is a sermon. He’s going to preach. That’s preaching.
Then Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” So, there’s preaching and teaching from the Bible, centered on Jesus. And every mark of the church, every evidence of the Holy Spirit bringing the church into being, it all points back to Jesus. So, what we’re talking about here is Jesus’ word. We’re talking about the Scriptures which reveal Jesus.
Mars Hill, we’re a Bible-believing church, amen? If you’re new, we believe that the Bible is the only book that God wrote. We believe that it is perfect, it is in authority, that everything else is to be subject to its truth, and that the big idea of the Bible is the person and work of Jesus Christ, that the Bible’s not about us—it’s about Jesus. It’s for us, but it’s about Jesus.
I want you to see that through preaching and teaching, the church comes into existence. People are not born with an innate understanding of Jesus and his person and work. That has to be preached and that has to be taught. We have to learn who Jesus is and what he has done. And that is all recorded for us, thanks to the Holy Spirit’s ministry, perfectly in the pages of Scripture.
I want you to see that a sermon is what births the church. Where there is no preaching and teaching of the Bible about Jesus, there is no church. There may be a social club, a civic organization, some cause-oriented group. But there is not the church of Jesus Christ. Just like the world was brought into being through God’s Word, so the church comes into being through God’s Word being preached. And here it is: Peter opens up the Old Testament, and he is articulating Old Testament prophesy and pointing it all to Jesus and showing everyone that it’s ultimately all—as we like to say at Mars Hill—all about Jesus.
So, on each of these points, I’m going to ask you a question. At Mars Hill Church—here’s the first one—do we preach and teach from the Bible? We do. We do. We believe that everything starts here. There may be other aspects and elements to the church—and we’re going to look at eleven of them—but ultimately, Bible preaching and teaching come first. Bible preaching and teaching come first.
So, I would just solicit your prayers for me, that I would, by the grace of God, do a good job preaching the Bible. That’s the lion’s share of my responsibility. We have other preachers, and we have lots and lots and lots of Bible teachers, classes, small groups—we call them Community Groups, Redemption Groups—training days, counseling, lots of teaching that’s going on. But we always want it to be from the Bible and about Jesus, point number one.
E – EMOTIONAL WORSHIP
Secondly, the E—emotional worship. Acts 2:43, “And awe came upon every soul.” You get this? People are like, “Wow, that’s amazing! “Somebody got healed. God answered prayer. “Somebody got saved. God’s at work. We’re not alone. Look at this! God’s here, and he’s doing things in people’s lives!” And they’re amazed by that. They’re filled with gladness over that. “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”
We believe that God can still heal, so we pray for healing, and we’ve seen God’s people healed. We believe that those who are oppressed by unclean spirits can have deliverance. They experience that in Acts, and we experience that today. We see God answering prayers. We see God helping, serving, loving, healing, providing for people. And when he does, a sense of awe comes over us. “That’s amazing! God loves us, and he’s here with us!”
Mars Hill, we don’t chase signs and wonders, but we do believe that signs and wonders should follow God’s people who are chasing Jesus. We’re not looking for the latest thing: we’re pursuing him, and those things follow us. Jesus said, “A wicked, adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” We’re not chasing signs and wonders: we’re chasing Jesus, and signs and wonders follow those who chase Jesus.
It goes on to say in Acts 2:47 that they were “praising God and having favor with all the people.” “Praising God”—that’s the language of worship, right? And what we’re talking about here is the worthiness of Jesus. Nobody’s worth worshiping but Jesus. Nothing is worth worshiping but Jesus. There’s no one like Jesus. No one does what Jesus does. No one is like Jesus is. He alone is worthy of our worship.
EVERYBODY’S GONNA WORSHIP SOMEONE
Here’s the truth: even those of you who are not Christian are going to worship. You’re going to worship someone—boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, child. You’re going to worship something—job, health, beauty, pet, sports team, income, grade point average. You’re going to worship. You’re going to give your life, your energy, your time, your talent, your treasure. You’re going to give yourself away, maybe just for yourself.
Here, when we praise God and we acknowledge the greatness of Jesus, we’re acknowledging that he alone is worthy of our worship, amen? So, it’s great when sports teams get together and they cheer, when fans get together and they cheer their band. It’s great when something happens, and people are excited, and they talk about it, and they revel in it, and they rejoice in it. But for us, we never get over the fact that God loves us in Christ, that God came for us in Christ, that God died for us in Christ, that God rose for us in Christ, that God embraced us in Christ, that God is coming again, and his name is Jesus Christ.
We never get over that. So we sing and we celebrate and we rejoice. This includes private worship, where you sing and celebrate. It includes public worship, where we come together to sing and to celebrate. And I know that worship is not just singing, but it certainly does include singing. It certainly does include singing.
DON’T GRIEVE AND LEAVE
Our culture is not one that is particularly familiar with singing, but around the world it is more common. Soccer fans around the world, when they get together for their match—I think that’s what it’s called—what do they tend to do? They sing the whole time. Well, Christians, are ones who sing.
So after the sermon, please don’t grieve the Holy Spirit and leave, all right? Don’t grieve and leave. Instead, stay and sing. And for those of you who are here and you get this, you’re those people—you’re like, “I like to sing. I like to raise my hands. I’m excited about Jesus,” if you see them leaving, grab their hand and raise it so they can sing with you. Amen. All right, you’re welcome. It’ll be fun.
PRIVATE AND PUBLIC WORSHIP
All right, what does private and public worship look like for you? Are you one when God answers prayer, when God teaches you something, when God saves someone, when God shows up, you stop, you’re filled with awe, and you just want to praise God? “Hey, thanks, Lord. I want to talk to you. I want to sing. I want to celebrate. I want to tell other people so they can sing and celebrate.” When you come on Sunday, are you thinking of reasons to praise God, reasons to thank God, reasons to celebrate God?
Some of you will look at your circumstances and say, “But Pastor Mark, life is very hard.” I understand that. But imagine if you didn’t have Jesus. Imagine if you didn’t know Jesus. Imagine if you thought that this life was all there was and that you were abandoned and alone and then you would die and cease to exist. It could be worse. Anything we are going through is worse if we don’t know that Jesus is with us and for us, amen? So, there’s always a reason to praise and to celebrate.
So, there’s emotional worship. Some of our churches are good at this, some a little more decaf. We’ve got to wake them up, OK? Some of our church services at our various locations are really enthusiastic; others, not so much, OK? It’s a good thing to be excited. Jesus is alive—good news, bad news? I’m pretty excited.
S – SAVED CHURCH MEMBERS
All right, next one, J-E-S, “Saved Church Members.” Acts 2:38–39, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is going to come and live in us through the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
This is about Jesus’ people. The world is filled with people, all right? The world is filled with people, but not all of them are Jesus’ people. Not all of those people love Jesus. Not all of those people serve Jesus. Not all of those people believe in Jesus. Not all of those people belong to Jesus. Not all of those people obey Jesus.
So, there’s a line in the Bible between what is called the world—people who don’t belong to Jesus, yet some will still get saved: it’s not too late—and the church, those who belong to Jesus, those who are born-again Christians.
This is important. This is very important. On Sunday, everybody’s welcome. Community Group, everybody’s welcome. Training Day, everybody’s welcome. Communion, not everybody’s welcome, just those who are Christian. Baptism, not everybody’s welcome to get baptized, only the Christians. Church membership, not everybody’s welcome to become a church member—you need to be a Christian. Church leader, not everybody’s welcome—you need to be a Christian. We love, serve, welcome everyone, but there is a line for those who have passed from death to life, from unbelief to belief.
And so, to be a member of Mars Hill Church, you need to be a Christian. We don’t add a lot to that. We just want you to be a Christian.
So, my question to you is, “Are you a member of our church?” Not just an attender, not just an observer, but a member of the family. And that’s what we’re talking about: family members. Church is a family. It’s not like membership in some civic organization. It’s membership in a family. “I’m going to love my brothers and sisters, and I’m going to look after my family, and I’m going to figure out what chore, all right, the Father has for me to do in our proverbial family. What do you want me to do? I’m here to help and serve.”
And this is really important because churches who do not require that their members be believers get into all kinds of trouble because they start letting non-Christians vote on doctrine, discipline, and direction issues. And then membership is the doorway into leadership—so your Community Group leaders, your Redemption Group leaders, your worship team leaders, your service team leaders, your deacons, your elders. If you don’t have members who are believers, pretty soon you’ll have leaders who are not believers. Actually, I know churches where the pastor is not a believer. Somehow, the denomination allowed a non-Christian to be the pastor. I mean, it’s mind-bending what happens sometimes.
So, we have a membership class, we have a membership process, and what I would ask you is, “Are you a member?” And if not, would you please become a member and join our church family? And if not our church family, would you find another church family where you would be a member there? And this is important, because what tends to happen is people tend to pick and choose aspects, elements, and marks of the church. So, “I’ll download some sermons.” Well, that’s fine. But no, that’s not the church. “Well, I’ll listen to Christian praise music and sing at home or in my car.” Well, that’s fine, but that’s not the church.
Are you a part of the church? Are you a member of the church? Are you connected to the church? Jesus loved the church. Jesus died for the church. Jesus is coming again for the church. The letters of the New Testament are written to churches. Are you a member? A hugely important question. And we’d love to have you, and so we do invite you.
U – UNDER GODLY LEADERSHIP
Next one, the U, “Under Godly Leadership,” OK? And this is showing that Jesus is our Senior Leader. First Peter 5 says that he is the chief Shepherd, he’s our Senior Pastor. So, leaders follow Jesus, the Senior Leader, and then people are to follow their leaders, who are following Jesus. But ultimately, everybody’s supposed to be following Jesus. That’s the big idea.
And so here, you’re going to see the apostles, like Peter. If you keep reading in the book of Acts—and I’d encourage you to be reading the book of Acts for yourself—you’re going to meet some guys called “elders,” also called “pastors.” Those words are synonymous. You’re going to meet some men and women called “deacons,” church leaders—some paid, some unpaid. You’re going to meet just leaders. And for us that would be our Community Group leaders, our Redemption Group leaders, our children’s ministry leaders, our student ministry leaders, our worship team leaders. We have various leaders at Mars Hill leading according to their gifting.
So, my big question to you is this: do you submit to any leadership in your life? I know it’s not even popular to ask that. We live in a day where, “No, I’ll be my own authority.” Do you really think you’re the smartest person in your life? Do you think you really have the best perspective on your life? Do you think that you really are without bias or proclivity to, sort of, justify yourself? We all need to be under authority. I’m under authority. I don’t know if you know this: there are pastors in authority over me. Not even those who are on payroll, not even those that I have any authority over. I have to submit to them and take orders and directives from them. Everybody needs to be under authority, especially those of us who are in authority.
The Trinity demonstrates this. Jesus comes, and he’s in authority, and he’s under authority. He says what the Father tells him to say, he does what the Father tells him to do, he says things like, “Your will be done,” and he defers to that authority. Because while the Lord Jesus was in authority, he was under authority, and he’s our highest authority, we want to be under his authority. And as he establishes leaders in the church, we want to respect their authority. And for those of us who are leaders, we also want to be under authority. It’s very important, because we’re all sinners, and we all make mistakes, and we’re all prone to wander and stray, so we need those who love us to help us stay close to Jesus.
Has God burdened you for leadership? Paul says it this way elsewhere, “If anyone desires the office of overseer, it’s a noble thing he desires.” Desire, this innate desire. The Bible says elsewhere that leaders should not serve out of compulsion. “Well, they took a vote. They made me. The committee nominated me.” “You know, my mom pushed me to Bible college. Now I guess I’ve got to be a pastor.” It shouldn’t be under compulsion; it should be out of calling.
I can still remember, as a brand-new Christian in college at the age of 19, I thought, “Man, I feel like God wants me to be a pastor.” My first inclination was not, “I want to be a pastor.” That was definitely not my first inclination. But then I thought, “I feel like God wants me to be a pastor.” So, I went to the leader in the church. I was like, to the pastor, “I feel this desire to lead.” He’s like, “I confirm that. But you’re not ready.” I was like, “I kind of sensed that.” I said, “So, how do I get ready?” He was like, “Well, it’s going to be a while.” “Yeah, I kind of sensed that, too.” He said, “Well, I need you to read your Bible and study and take these classes and do these things and be in this group and become a member of the church, and I need you to serve.” And he laid it out. So I was like, “OK, that sounds great.” And he put a track together for me to walk on that was super helpful. I mean, super helpful. I praise God for that pastor, and I praise God for that church, and God had me in the right place absolutely.
We want to be that place for you. Do you feel called to leadership? If you’re in a Community Group and you feel called to Community Group leadership, tell your Community Group leader so that they can help get you ready. If you’re in Redemption Group and you feel called to be a Redemption Group leader, tell them so they can help to get you ready. If you’re serving on a team, tell the team leaders so that they can help you to get ready to be a serving team leader. If you’re aspiring to be a deacon, talk to a deacon and see what that’s like and what that track might look like for you.
If you feel compelled toward eldership, because of God’s calling, find a pastor in the church and get some time with them, and have them evaluate you and see if you’re ready to begin some formal or even informal preparatory process to get you there.
And this can be paid or unpaid. Not everybody’s paid. Some are doing so just out of love for Jesus with a different vocational career track. And we say “Praise God” to all of that. But it’s under godly leadership.
S – SIN REPENTING
J-E-S-U-S, the next one is the S, “Sin Repenting.” And I didn’t make this up. Acts 2:38, what’s the big word? “Repent.” All right, you’re not excited about it, OK. Acts 2:38, “Repent.”
Acts 2:40 goes on to say—Peter does—“Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” The big idea here is people in the world are living their life sinfully, rebelliously, and foolishly. It’s crooked; it’s not straight. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
And so, what we do, by God’s grace, is we repent. We repent. And repentance is a change of mind, right? You’re living your life, doing your thing, and all of a sudden the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin as Jesus promised he would, and you’re like, “This is wrong. This is just wrong.” That leads to a change of heart—“I don’t want to do this anymore. This needs to change.” This leads to a change of life—“I’m going to do things differently.”
And the big idea is this: you’re either going toward Jesus or toward sin, all right? That’s the trajectory of each of our lives. And you can’t say you’re going toward Jesus and sin. I’ve never met anybody who said, “Yeah, the closer I got to Jesus, you know, the worse I became and the more sin I committed,” because Jesus and sin are in opposite directions. And it’s acknowledging that “my back has been toward Jesus and my face has been toward sin, and now, by God’s grace, I have turned around: I have turned my back toward my sin, and I have turned my face toward Jesus, and I approach him for forgiveness and for ongoing help to not go back into that pattern of living.”
And what this reminds us of is Jesus’ righteousness—that Jesus is holy, that Jesus is without sin, that Jesus died in our place for our sin so that we could put our sin to death.
Mars Hill, let me submit this to you that one of the great story lines of the Bible is the story line of repentance. The Old Testament prophets over and over and over preach repentance. The last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptizer, preparing the way for Jesus, comes preaching repentance. Jesus comes preaching repentance. Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost, and he preaches the sermon that births the New Testament church as we know it, and he starts with “Repent!”
This is very controversial in our day. And it was very controversial in their day. Peter was crucified upside down for preaching repentance. Jesus was crucified for preaching repentance. John the Baptizer was beheaded for preaching repentance. Old Testament prophets didn’t have to worry about their retirement account because they were dead early from preaching repentance. Repentance is always met with resistance.
Hear me on this. Repentance is always met with resistance. The result is, in an effort to remove those who are preaching repentance, there’s resistance against them. And the way it works in this world is it’s particularly difficult. And I would say, pray for me, right? I have to preach. I get to preach repentance. But there’s a reaction and a response to that that’s not always like a birthday party with a cake, a hat, and a kazoo. It’s not always a good time, all right? Sometimes, it’s a little hard, a little harsh, and a little complicated. And sometimes I contribute to it through my tone, disposition, and um, you know. . . . So anyway, he preaches repentance.
But hear me on this: any time repentance is not preached, the Holy Spirit is grieved, the Bible is ignored, and Jesus is dishonored. Because in our day, the greatest virtue is tolerance, diversity, love. And if you tell people they’re wrong, well, that’s intolerant. You’re rejecting their diversity. It’s not very loving.
God is tolerant. He’s putting up with a lot right now, amen? On the earth, God puts up with a lot. He’s very tolerant. He’s diverse. He welcomes people from every language, tribe, tongue, nation, background, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic history, education level, capacity. He’s very diverse. He calls everyone to what? Repent.
That’s very loving because people living in sin are rebelling against God. And if God says something is wrong, then it’s wrong. And if God says, “No,” the answer is no. And if God says, “Stop,” the answer is stop. And if you don’t, you will die and stand before God, and you’ll give an account for your eternal life, and you could suffer forever under the conscious eternal torment of hell.
We actually believe that. Jesus spoke of it more than anyone in the Bible. We believe it is very loving to say, “Repent. You’re in danger. Hell is hot. Forever is a long time. Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead. Today is the day of your salvation. If you hear his voice, please, please do not harden your heart,” amen? It’s very important that, as Christians, we practice repentance, we acknowledge our sin, we apologize for our sin to God and others, but that we also proclaim repentance and that we then endure the reaction that comes in light of the call to repentance. God is not OK with everyone. God is not OK with everything. And it’s not going to go well for everyone forever. That’s the truth. That’s the truth.
Now, you have to make a decision. “Will I repent? Will I acknowledge my sin? Will I receive Jesus’ righteousness? Will I roll the proverbial dice and die and hope that there is no judge, or if there is a judge, that he has no problem with me.” I would beg you not to be so foolish.
When the Holy Spirit shows up, people are aware of their sin, and they repent of it, and they receive Jesus’ righteousness. And this includes church discipline for those who are believers when they’re in ongoing, constant rebellion against God. Out of love, we try to bring them back just like a parent, who’s got a rebellious, wayward kid, is trying to get them to turn from their ways before they destroy their life. This is about drawing a line between the world and the church. God’s people are those who repent.
So, here’s my question: What do you need to repent of? What sin is in your life? Will you become a Christian today? Or if you are a Christian, what sin is there? And you say, “Yeah, I really need to acknowledge that and apologize to God or someone else, or both, and I need to invite the Holy Spirit to help me so that I can walk away from this because this ain’t working and this ain’t honoring to God.”
C – COMMUNION
Move down to the next one. It’s the C in ‘CHURCH,’ “Communion.” “And they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Here, what we are acknowledging is Jesus’ cross. Communion has two elements, bread and wine. We also use juice so that, according to conscience, you’re not forced to violate conscience, even though you do have freedom in Christ.
This hearkens back to Jesus’ last supper that he ate with his disciples, and he took the bread, and he broke it, and he said, “This is my body given for you,” and he took the wine and he said, “This is my blood shed for you.” So, when we partake of Communion, we’re remembering Jesus’ last supper, we’re remembering that the bread is about his broken body and the drink is about his shed blood, and we’re reminding ourselves of the sacrifice of our Savior.
At Mars Hill, we do this every Sunday. We’ve been doing it every Sunday for a long time. When we first started the church, we didn’t do Communion every week until I started preaching through the book of Exodus. And then I studied the Passover and took it to Jesus’ last supper, and then to the New Testament Lord’s Table, or Communion feast, and I realized that historically, up until the Reformation, God’s people had pretty much celebrated, in most traditions, Communion every week. So we decided to start doing it every week many years ago.
It’ll come after the sermon. And it’s an opportunity for you to see if there’s any sin in your life that you need to talk to God about before you partake. For those who are not Christian, it’s an opportunity to become a Christian. And it’s an opportunity for you to do business with the Lord Jesus and to remember his broken body and his shed blood, given out of love for you so that your sins could be forgiven, amen?
Now, how many of you like taking Communion at Mars Hill every week, and it’s kind of a new thing for you, but it’s actually something that makes sense? Because in preaching, we hear the gospel, but in Communion we show the gospel. So, it’s together, and it’s an opportunity for you to identify yourself with Jesus publicly. So, we’ll do that on Sunday.
We also do that in Community Groups, which are groups that meet in houses, condos, dorms, and apartments throughout the week. And people will get together and have a meal together. And those are Communion meals. Those are remembering the meal that Jesus ate with his disciples, and it reminds us that heaven is typified—you Food Network fans, you’re going to love this—as a what? An eternal, awesome feast party. Yay, OK? Yay! And the concept is that it’s like a huge celebration where God’s people feast together and celebrate together, and Jesus is there with us. So, when we eat, we’re saying, “Well, we’re going to eat with these people forever, so we’re going to eat with them every week, practicing for the greatest feast of all time.” And it’s part of what God’s people do. In the Bible, we call that fellowship.
So, my question to you is this: do you partake of Communion on Sundays if you’re a believer, and are you in a Community Group, enjoying a Communion meal with God’s people together every week? It’s a great honor to do so, and we would invite you, and if you don’t have a Community Group, get in one this week. There are over 600. There’s probably one right near where you live.
H – HUGE GENEROSITY
Next one is H, ‘Church,’ C-H, “Huge Generosity.” Acts 2:44–45, “And all who believed were together, had all things in common”—that’s their possessions—“And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
So, in generosity, we’re remembering that Jesus is the most generous giver ever. Jesus is the most generous giver ever. God gave us the earth. God made us in his image and likeness. We sinned against God. God gave us his Son. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
Here comes Jesus. Jesus lives without sin. Jesus gives us his life, and he dies. Jesus rises, and he gives us his righteousness. He ascends into heaven. He gives us the Holy Spirit. He gives us the Word of God. He gives us the people of God. He’s preparing a place for us. He’s got more gifts for us. He’s got an inheritance for us in his kingdom that’ll endure forever. Our Jesus is hugely generous.
Once you meet Jesus and you receive the Holy Spirit, unless you really fight the Holy Spirit, he awakens in you a desire to be generous. You say, “Man, if I’ve received so much, I want to give.”
You know, there was only one of Jesus’ disciples who wasn’t a giver. What was his name? Judas. He was a taker. Jesus is a giver. Jesus’ disciples are givers. Judas was the taker. God’s people have the Holy Spirit. They’re the givers, not the takers. We live in a world filled with takers, not a lot of givers.
Here, we see God’s people becoming hugely generous. They’re giving their possessions to other people. Some of them are selling their possessions, and they’re giving the proceeds to other people. You’re going to see, in a few chapters, there are people selling their land and giving the proceeds to the church as a large gift. This is huge generosity.
Now, let me say this—I’ve got to clarify this: immediately, there will always be at least one person in every church who, when they hear this, are like, “Yay, Communism!” No, not Communism, right? This is not Communism, right? They’re like, “Well, look, they didn’t even own their stuff. It was all in a big pot and you could just take what you want, OK?” No, that’s not the way it works, because Communism denies private property ownership, all right? The government owns your land. The government owns your house. The government owns everything.
Does the Bible teach private property ownership, yes or no? Yes, so thou shall not steal. You know what that means? It’s not yours. It’s not yours. That’s theirs, not yours. Don’t take it. That’s stealing. That’s stealing. So, the Bible does not believe in Communism but generosity. Your house, your car, your income, your wealth, your possessions—those are yours. Those are yours. They come from the Lord. The church doesn’t have any right to them. I can’t come to your house and say, “I was reading Acts 2. Give me the keys. Give me the keys. Give me the keys. I’ve always wanted an Audi Quattro. Yay!” OK? You’d say, “No, no, no, that’s mine.”
So, we have no right to take. But you’re invited to give. Do you see the difference? This is the difference between a tax and a tithe, OK? A tax is where the government does what? Have you noticed this? They take. Did you agree to it? No. Can you negotiate it? You could try. You could do prison ministry from the inside, but you could try, OK? The government just takes. “That’s ours. That’s ours.”
The church doesn’t have a tax. We don’t get a percentage. It doesn’t belong to us. Instead, there’s a tithe. This is where you give. And if you are filled with the Holy Spirit and you love the church and you love people, you’re going to give.
Can you imagine if the government passed the plate? Can you imagine if the government had on their website, “We’ve decided to do away with taxes. We want you to pray about an amount and just give as you feel led.” Do you think our revenue might decrease? Oh yes. You’d be like, “I prayed about it, and the Lord said [silence], so you know.” So, the government doesn’t trust that regenerated hearts out of love and concern for others will give generously. So, they take. The church has no right to take, but we have every right to invite others to give. To give.
Immediately, some of you will be like, “Oh, here we go. Church talking about money again.” No, we’re talking about your God, OK? So, if you have a different god, my job is not to walk up around your god and be like, “Oh, how’s he doing? I want to be nice.” No, my job is to run up, steamroll it, and knock your little god called Money over. Jesus says that some have, as their God, Mammon, which means money. Oh, that God can save them, keep them healthy, make them beautiful, make their life secure, take care of their family, and give them heaven on earth, and if something should go wrong, that’s OK, because they can go to the bank, get their savior, and then pay for it to be fixed.
Who’s your god? What’s your priority? Where’s your investment? These people are hugely generous. I saw this as an example many years ago in the church. There was a couple that was giving faithfully and generously to the church. They were a generous family. But they were one of those families that was looking for opportunity to go above and beyond their tithe to the church, to be generous toward others.
I’ll never forget, there was a single mom with a cute little boy, and he had been diagnosed with a very aggressive and concerning form of cancer. So, we brought her up on the stage—this was many years ago—prayed for her and her son. And she was concerned because her son had to go to treatment and he was going to need a lot of care, and she’s working full time and she can’t look after him. A family in the church came up and they said, “You know, the Holy Spirit impressed on us. We just bought a new truck. We feel like God said to return it, get the money back and give it to the single mother so she can take the next year off from work and stay home to look after her son.” That’s amazing. Isn’t that beautiful? And that’s exactly what happened.
I didn’t know exactly what had happened. I saw this woman some months ago. I was teaching Student Ministry up at Mars Hill Shoreline a while back, and this boy comes up. Not a little boy anymore, he’s a young man. “Hey Pastor Mark, I’m all better, I’m fine, thanks for praying, everything’s good.” Like, “OK, who are you? Because you’ve grown, I don’t recognize you.” “Oh, I was that little boy you prayed for.” And then his mom comes up. They’re still at Mars Hill. It’s a great, beautiful family. She said, “It was so nice. I got to care for my son, and he’s all better.” She said, “And I met a guy at Mars Hill. He loves Jesus, married me, adopted my son.” Now he’s got a dad. “We’ve got other kids, we’re a happy family, members of the church, and we’re generous because of the generosity of God’s people.”
Good or bad? Beautiful. That’s amazing. I love that. And that happens over and over and over in uncounted ways, humble ways, quiet ways, and unseen ways among loving relationships with people in the church. And sometimes, it makes its way onto The City, which is our social network online, onto the Marketplace. I’ve seen it. “We have furniture. Do you need furniture?” “We have clothes. Do you need clothes?” “We have baby items. Do you need baby items?” I’ve seen certain people say, “We have a car. We were thinking of selling it, but instead we want to give it away. Is there a single mom that needs a car? We’d like to give it to her.” See, that’s huge generosity. Let me just say, Mars Hill, that’s the heart of God.
When the Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver, the key to sometimes cheerfulness is giving. It is. How many of you have given something and received joy? How many of you on Christmas are way more excited to watch somebody else open the present you got them than to open the present that they got you? Huge generosity leads to huge joyfulness among God’s people.
So, how is your generosity going? How are you doing? Are you a generous person?
U – UNDERWATER BAPTISM
In addition, “Underwater Baptism,” U. You knew this was coming. Acts 2:41, “So those who received his word were baptized.” Dunked, wet, underwater, right? Jesus was dunked in a river. John the Baptizer was dunking people in a river. It says in the Bible that they baptized in certain places because there was plenty of water.
OK, how many of you were baptized as infants? All of you, put your hands down. None of you were baptized as infants. You were made wet by believing parents who had good intentions, but you were not baptized, right? That was a decision your parents made, not a decision you made, and they sprinkled you. This word means, “dunk underwater,” right? In ancient Greek literature, this word is used for a ship that sank. It says the ship was baptized, OK? That’s really wet.
Do you know why we do not baptize infants? It’s child abuse, right? Like, let’s say, right now, I had a big tank and I said, “OK, oh, see this little girl, little flower in her hair? Haha, ka-klunk!” [mimics dumping little girl in water] You’d be like, “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! We’re drowning infants!” No. OK, there are reasons we don’t baptize infants. Number one, it’s not the in Bible. Number two, it’s just flat out mean, right? To take a kid and to dunk them underwater.
So, baptism is for adults. And some of you say, “Other Christians disagree with that.” I know. We love them. They’re wrong, OK? I was baptized as an infant. My mom and dad were Catholic. They meant well. They got me wet. It was awesome. Not against it. But once I got saved at 19 in college, came to my own faith, I got baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ to show his death, burial, resurrection for me, newness of life.
Have you been baptized? That’s the question. Have you been baptized? If not, let us know. We’d love to dunk you, and yes, we will bring you back up. And we have shirts and shorts and towels, and we’d love to baptize you.
And here’s good news, Mars Hill. This last year, we baptized over 1,000 people. Over 1,000 people. The year before that, we baptized over 1,000 people. The year before that, we baptized over 1,000 people. And these are evidences that the Holy Spirit is at work, and we rejoice, amen? We rejoice in that, and we’d love to dunk you.
R – REGULAR GATHERINGS
The next one, “Regular Gatherings.” Acts 2:46, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes.” So it’s regularly gathering. God’s people generally meet on Sunday. Why? Why Sunday? It’s the day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, so we gather to remember the resurrection of Jesus. Even just going to a church meeting on a Sunday indicates some sort of public affiliation with the resurrection of Jesus.
Now, the early church had big meetings, small meetings. We have big meetings. They tend to be on Sunday. We have small meetings; we call them Community Groups. And those tend to be in homes, and we get together for meals and break bread, OK?
Some of you are new to church and new to Christianity, you say, “Why do we do these things?” Well, because, first point—what was the first point? They’re in the Bible. When the Holy Spirit shows up, these are the things that happen. They’re recorded in the Scriptures. He’s here with us, and we want to follow in what he wants us to do.
Now, there is a myth that I need to correct, and that is sometimes people come along and say, “Oh, the early church only had small meetings, not big ones. They only met in homes. They didn’t have large get-togethers. We should only meet in homes,” and “The church should be very small and disorganized,” and “We don’t need all that leadership,” and “We don’t need all that preaching,” and “Not everybody needs to get together. It should just be little group, after little group, after little group.” Or, “That’s the pure church,” or, “That’s the best church,” or “That’s the real church.”
And I’d say, “That’s not what the Bible says.” Temple courts, small group or large group? Any time you hear the word “temple” and “court,” think big, OK? It’s a big room, and they didn’t have seats. Seats didn’t come along until much, much later. They didn’t have amplification, so people would stand up for meetings. You get a lot of people in a room, just stand them up. Have you been to a concert? You get a lot of people in a room. You don’t sit them down; you stand them up.
We read of other places in the Bible that they had big meetings. It says that in the city of Ephesus from which Paul wrote, he rented the hall of Tyrannus and he lectured there, so it’s some hall, some big room. Jesus had big crowds—5,000 men, plus the women, plus the children—some 20,000 people, maybe. We’re talking a huge gathering to hear Jesus.
And there are smaller gatherings in the homes, but let me say that not all those gatherings were really, really small. See, in the hill country of Judea where Jesus grew up, the homes are very small. The people were peasants. Their homes are about the size of a parking stall for one of our cars. So, I’ve been to these places and I’ve investigated these things. Boy, you go to a city like Laodicea, one of the cities mentioned in the Bible, these people lived on a plateau, kind of like Mars Hill Sammamish. These people are very, very rich. They have huge homes. Archeological digs show indoor plumbing, outdoor fountains, three-thousand-plus-square-foot homes. These people are living very nice.
So, just because they’re in a home doesn’t mean there’s a small group of people. I was in the archeological dig in the city of Ephesus, and there were great rooms for entertaining in the homes of the more affluent people that could easily house hundreds, hundreds of people. I stood in them. When we went to the city of Corinth, many of the homes were in more of the shape of a square, and the home would be constructed with a huge inner courtyard that was open because the weather afforded a lot of outdoor time, kind of like Southern California. On an archeological dig, they discovered one of these homes had a menorah, representing Judaism, and a cross, representing Christianity, on the home, showing that this probably belonged to a Jewish believer, and this is where they met, and this courtyard would house hundreds of people.
I want you to blow out the myth that Christianity was forever this small movement of a couple people meeting in a home and nothing more. They have large meetings and small meetings, and even some of the meetings in the homes were not necessarily small meetings. Some of those were very large meetings as well—because God’s people love to get together.
My question to you is, are you attending our large meetings? Do you join us regularly on Sunday? Are you participating in our small meetings, our Community Groups that meet in homes? Those are part of our church. We don’t believe that if you just go to a Community Group that you’re fully participating in what is a biblical church. It’s an aspect of a church. Somebody who’s only in a Community Group or only listens to a sermon online is getting an aspect of the church, but they’re not participating in the fullness of what it means to be the New Testament church.
Are you regularly involved in our big groups and our small groups? And if not, we’re going to sign you up today. There’s probably one right near you. Different days and times and locations. And if you don’t like the first one, find another one. Just get involved with God’s people. Regular gatherings—this shows us Jesus’ reconciliation, that he reconciles us to God, he reconciles us to one another.
C – COMMUNITY
C, “Community.” Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the fellowship.” Hospitality is where we welcome strangers. Fellowship is where we welcome believers. So, hospitality’s where we welcome strangers; fellowship is where we welcome believers “to the breaking of bread and prayers.” So, you get this idea of community here. They’re getting together, they know each other, they love each other, they serve one another, they do life together. Acts 2:44, “All who believed were together.” There’s a community there. And Acts 2:46, “Breaking bread in their homes.” So, a lot of the language here is language of community.
What we’re talking about here is this is a reflection of Jesus’ kingdom. In Jesus’ kingdom, all of Jesus’ people are going to be together forever. In Jesus’ kingdom, we’re going to eat together with gladness. It’s typified as a huge celebration meal around Jesus.
When we gather together in community, it’s called fellowship for God’s people. This is community, friendship, life, love, joy, and unity. What it is is it’s foreshadowing—it’s a foretaste of the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, where we’ll eat with him together forever.
Let me say this: sometimes in community, you’re going to drive one another nuts. You’re going to, so don’t get this idealized picture, OK? Heaven will be great, and those people will be better in heaven than they are in your Community Group.
So, when you show up to your Community Group, don’t think, “Oh, this will be amazing. These people will be perfect. It’s going to be like heaven.” No, it won’t. You’re going to drive them crazy, OK? They’re going to drive you crazy. Welcome to the family of God, OK? And we work it out. We work our sin out. We work things through together. We realize, Man, I got some stuff to work on. You got some stuff to work on. But don’t over idealize this, OK? Don’t over idealize this. God’s people fight, but we fight as family, not as enemy. We fight as family, not as enemy.
So, are you, again, in community? Are you in a Community Group? That’s how we practice this together as a church.
H – HARVESTING THROUGH EVANGELISM AND CHURCH PLANTING
Lastly, H, “Harvesting through Evangelism and Church Planting.” Our mission has always been, we plant churches, make disciples, right? We want people to meet Jesus and people to become more like Jesus. And as that happens, you’re going to need to have more churches because there’s going to be more people, so we do church planting.
Acts 2:41, “There were added that day about three thousand souls.” How big was the church prior to that? A hundred twenty—to three thousand. They don’t have enough leaders. They don’t have enough buildings. They don’t have enough systems. Everything just broke. It’s a mess! There are people showing up to church like, “Oh my goodness, everything’s changed. I’m so frustrated!” “That’s my seat!” “How come I can’t hang out with the apostles?” They’re very frustrated. How do I know? They blogged about it. They had reviews on Yelp. People were very frustrated with all these transitions.
But you know what? It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing when a family grows, right? It’s a good thing when a family grows. More kids, more work, more problems, more joy. You know what I’d rather have? A big family than things never changing. I love the idea of a big family. Obviously—I have five kids.
Let me say this, Mars Hill. They had a little family and it became a big family, and that was a good thing. They had a little family, it became a big family, and it was good thing—and that’s what the Holy Spirit did. So what you see is, three thousand souls were added. All these new Christians come.
Acts 2:47, “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” You know what’s amazing, Mars Hill? Years ago, almost 20 years ago, I read this verse and I prayed, “Lord Jesus, I know it’s not soon, but someday, please, someday let us see people get saved day by day. Every day, every day, let us get to the point where we see people saved.”
True or false, that prayer was answered? Three years in a row, we have averaged three baptisms a day. Three baptisms a day we have averaged for over three years. People becoming Christian over and over and over and over and over again.
Last week, I’m at the airport and a woman walks up, “I got saved and baptized at Mars Hill.” I give her a hug. I swear to you, I’m at the store, somebody walks up, “Pastor Mark, I got saved and baptized at Mars Hill.” He gives me a hug. I tell you the truth, I go to a coffee shop, somebody comes up, “Pastor Mark, I got saved and baptized at Mars Hill.” He gives me a hug. I’m going out more. I get very encouraged. Lots of people becoming Christians—good, right? It’s good.
And so as a church, we get excited as the church grows. And some of you say, “Oh, it’s all about the numbers.” “Three thousand,” somebody’s counting, right? A guy with a clipboard like, “One, two, three, four, five. Anymore wet people?” He’s counting, right? We count people because people count.
You know how many kids I have? Five. You know why? I count them, right? We’re on a trip, jumping on an airplane, “Do you have all the kids?” “I don’t know. I don’t count. I’m not into the numbers.” No, I count, right? We count people because people count. We don’t want to—“Hey, did we miss anybody?” Right? Any of our people playing spiritual Home Alone? You know, how’s everybody doing? We believe in evangelism. People should meet Jesus. We believe in church planting. As more people meet Jesus, more churches should be planted.
And here’s the big idea: Kings and kingdoms will come and go. Businesses and headquarters will come and go. Teams and stadiums will come and go. And bands and venues will come and go. But the church of Jesus Christ endures forever. It’s the biggest thing on the earth. It’s the biggest thing in the history of the earth. It’s the one thing that Jesus started. It’s the one thing that Jesus died for. It’s the one thing that Jesus loves. And it’s the one thing that will end when everything else ends. God’s people will march together into God’s kingdom to sing God’s praises because they are God’s people, amen? Amen!
A CHANCE TO OBEY
I don’t know if you’ve caught this: I really love our church, amen? And Jesus really loves our church, and the Holy Spirit really loves to show up at our church, so I’m really excited to share with you what’s going on in our church. And as they give you a little glimpse of what’s next, we’re going to collect our tithes and offerings. This is a chance for you to obey, yeah. This is a good chance for you to obey. If you’re not a Christian, this is where you give your sin to Jesus and become a Christian. Then we’re going to take Communion so you can obey. We’re going to sing so you can obey. We’re going to sign you up to serve and get into Community Group so you can obey. We’re going to invite you to love and serve one another so that you can obey. Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says, amen? I like this. All right, let’s see what’s next.
[Video] That’s why we’re here. Religion does not save. Philosophy does not save. Spirituality does not save. Morality does not save. The faith of your parents does not save. The faith of your grandparents does not save. Only Jesus saves. You and I need a Savior. That’s the good news: we have a Savior.
You know, for the first time in many, many years, we’ve taken ourselves off the list of the fastest growing and largest churches in America. I think between Good Friday and Easter, we were able to welcome 28,000 people to our Mars Hill churches, and we had over 1,000 baptisms this past year, over 1,000 baptisms the year before that, over 1,000 baptisms the year before that. I mean, God just keeps saving people, and we’ve decided as an executive eldership, we’re going to take ourselves off that list just for us. It’s a conscience issue, and we just don’t want to, in any way, have people think it’s more about numbers than it is about faces.
I’m praying, and I’ve always got goals. I’ve got no shortage of goals. I can see Mars Hill at full maturity, 50 locations, 50,000 people. I can see that. But I would rather have health than growth. If I have to choose between a really healthy child and a really big child—well, what I would like is, you know, a very healthy big church. But if we’ve got to choose between big and healthy, we choose healthy. I want it to be strong. I want it to have loving, committed, stable local leaders, pastors, and deacons who are going to love and care for that family. I want the Community Groups to not settle for anything less than really working through the hard issues of life together and doing what the church family’s supposed to do together on mission in their community. You know, I don’t want to just have a bunch of podcasters who show up 52 times a year for a conference. We want a church. We want a godly, healthy church.
So, the emphasis really now is on being a healthy family. So things like Community Groups are more important than ever, and things like Redemption Groups, which we’re excited about, to help those who are suffering and hurting. And adding new things as well in the past year, like Women’s Ministry, which has been very, very successful, allowing our women and enabling our women to use their gifts and meet together in community, as well as Mars Hill Student Ministry, which is really off to a great, strong start.
It’s about people. It’s about people meeting Jesus. It’s about people being loved by Jesus. It’s about people loving Jesus. It’s about people loving each other. It’s about people then doing life together as family; walking through the hard times; being there to celebrate the good times; when there are problems or sin, it’s about helping people get unstuck and corrected; when people are growing in wisdom, having them become leaders and help look after the younger kids in the family. Those are the things that, in my heart right now, are super, super important. We have so many people.
Well, one thing we’ve learned over the years is, once you plant a church in an urban area, it tends to be a regional church: People come in from many, many miles around and then they start Community Groups in their particular area. And over time, you might get enough Community Groups to start launching other churches in those particular areas. And so for us, historically, cities have been incredibly important. This has been the case at Mars Hill for seventeen years. The Bible ends with a picture of God’s eternal kingdom as a great city, the city of Jerusalem come down out of heaven. And cities are where culture is made. It’s where people travel to and from. It’s where ideas are formed and shaped. It’s where you’ll find the students, the media, the cultural creatives.
And so, as you’re thinking about Mars Hill, be praying for us as we’re always looking for opportunities, both in old urban areas where we can reclaim an older church building, as is the case at Mars Hill Church Downtown where I’m standing, Mars Hill West Seattle, Mars Hill U-District. Surrounding us in the Seattle area are some older urban church buildings that we’ve been able to reclaim and reuse for the cause of Jesus. The same is true at Mars Hill Portland.
As well as new urban areas, areas to where lots of people are flocking, particularly young people, cultural creatives, and those who will be shaping whatever the culture becomes next. Those would be places like Mars Hill Orange County and also Mars Hill Bellevue. In those locations, there tend not to be as many older historic churches that we can repurpose and reuse, so we have to find warehouses, other kinds of space that we can repurpose and reclaim for those new urban areas as well.
So our big vision going forward as we look way, way, way down the road is continuing to pioneer churches in urban areas, and then from there, have those churches reach out to the suburban areas. So, the same kind of thing that we’ve done in Seattle—plant a church, let it grow, become healthy, strong, and regional—and then from that, plant other areas. That’s what we’re doing in Orange County, that’s what we’re doing in Albuquerque, that’s what we’re doing in Portland, as part of the long-term vision. And then you can pray with us as we’re considering other opportunities as well. Places like Austin, L.A., and Phoenix are probably first on our radar for the next opportunities, though if something else shows up, we’ll always take a look at it.
Here’s the truth: I really love our church, and by God’s grace, I want to pastor one church my whole life. I do feel about each of our locations like it’s a big family with fourteen kids. Everybody’s different and everybody needs investment, love, care, concern, and correction differently. And so, here’s what is on my heart this year and for our forthcoming year: Jesus says it this way, “A good tree bears good fruit.” Our focus, really, is just to be a good tree—love Jesus, love one another, love lost people, love hurting people, love rebellious people, heck, love our enemies while we’re at it, because Jesus told us to, and may they even join our family.
And so that’s really my heart for the upcoming year. I think that there is still an escalator of God’s grace that we’re riding as we have been for seventeen years. I think we’re going to plant a lot more churches. I think we’re going to see this church grow. But what I really want to implore for you in this next season is something that’s very simple, very profound, very important, and not very measurable, and that’s that we love one another, that you love the Lord, that you love one another, that you love the people in your Community Group, that you love the leadership in your local church, that you love the people in your family and in your spiritual family, and even when there’s conflict, trouble, or trial, we love one another and we work through that so that we could be the family of God and continue to mature together.
And so right now, I’d love to tell you all the amazing things we have teed up and lined up. And they’re coming. God has opened some amazing doors—it’d be a little too premature to tell you about. But whatever Jesus has for us, I know that if we’re loving one another, whatever he has for us, we’re going to be ready for it. And if we’re not loving one another, we’re not going to be ready for any opportunity that he would give us.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.