Describe the ideal congregation. Were it possible for each of us to write our description of an ideal congregation, the descriptions would be fascinating. I am talking about descriptions from every age group and from every need group of Christians.

I would not dare guess how many different concepts of an ideal congregation are seated here right now. Each of us assume that the majority of the congregation have the same concept of an ideal congregation that we have. When we consider an ideal congregation, I sincerely doubt that a majority hold any concept in common.

I recently heard about a conversation between two members of the church in another state. One asked, "What's the congregation like where you attend?" The man replied with some frustration, "My congregation is always planning something new to do. They have more ministries than I can count, and they are constantly urging people to get involved. It is just busy, busy, busy all the time. And they never leave you alone."

The man who asked the question relied, "That is too bad! You ought to go to church where I go. You come in, sit down, get up, and go. Nobody bothers you."

Is your description of an ideal congregation a congregation that never bothers you?

  1. I want you to listen to the Psalms describe a person.
    1. The description:
      1. Psalm 1:1,2 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
      2. Psalm 63:6-8 When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, for You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.
      3. Psalm 77:11-13 I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God?
      4. Psalm 143:5,6 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands. I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land.
      5. Psalm 119:9-16 How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.
    2. I want you to note some common characteristics of the person described in these Psalms.
      1. Each of the readings obviously talk about a person who hungers for a close relationship with God.
        1. This person does not reach out to God because he has to.
        2. He reaches out to God because all his being wants to.
      2. Each of these readings declare that it is as natural as taking a breath for this person to think about God.
        1. He thinks about God as he goes about the day to day affairs of life.
        2. He thinks about God at night.
        3. It is a natural thing for him to meditate about God.
      3. Each of these readings show that it is important to the person for God to be pleased with him.
        1. God's opinion of him matters.
        2. He wants God to know that he cannot imagine life without God; such an existence is unthinkable.
      4. This hunger, this desire to think about God and to walk with God comes from the heart.
        1. While it certainly involves what the person does, it cannot be contained by mere deeds and acts.
        2. This hunger and desire arises from what the person is, from what he inwardly is.
    3. To me it is obvious that this person could never regard a "Please don't bother me" congregation as being ideal.

  2. Consider two well known verses heard frequently if you grew up in the church.
    1. Jesus gave the first in an introduction to a sermon.
      1. It is one of the beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-11.
        1. The beatitudes describe the righteous person.
        2. Jesus' description was quite different to the common description given in the Jewish religion.
      2. One characteristic of a righteous person was this:
        Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
        1. The righteous person has an appetite for righteousness.
        2. He is like a person who is starving, or a person who is parched.
        3. Jesus' promise is simple--the person who hungers for righteousness will be satisfied.
      3. To me the profound insight is this: God does not force feed anyone.
        1. The decision to eat or not to eat belongs to each one of us.
        2. The person who cultivates an appetite for righteousness will have it.
        3. We each develop the willingness for Him to feed us.
        4. We meditate on his teachings.
    2. The second verse is a statement made by Paul shortly before his execution. Consider Paul's statement in 2 Timothy 2:15 as it is translated in several translations.
      • King James translation: 2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
      • New American Standard translation: 2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
      • New International translation: 2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
      • Jerusalem Bible translation: 2 Timothy 2:15 Do all you can to present yourself in front of God as a man who has come through his trials, and a man who has no cause to be ashamed of his life's work, and has kept a straight course with the message of the truth.
      • Today's English translation: 2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to win full approval in God's sight, as a worker who is not ashamed of his work, one who correctly teaches the message of God's truth.
    3. Carefully note the key emphasis in Paul's statement.
      1. First, receiving God's approval is a serious commitment in our lives.
        1. It is not, "if it happens it happens; if it don't, it don't."
        2. It is not an accident, the accident of being with the right people at the right time.
        3. It does not happen without our involvement and interest.
        4. Gaining God's approval was to be so important to Timothy that he committed himself without reservation to gaining that approval.
      2. Second, we will settle for nothing less than God's approval.
        1. The objective is not our fellow Christian's approval.
        2. The objective is not the church's approval.
        3. The objective is not the approval of the prominent perspectives in our area.
        4. The objective is not the approval of the "who's who" in the Church of Christ.
        5. The objective is standing and living in God's approval.
      3. Third, we seek to obtain God's approval by doing two things.
        1. We serve God's purposes in such a manner that we have no reason to be ashamed of our work.
          1. Our work makes us unashamed.
          2. Our insensitive stubbornness does not blind us to shame.
        2. Our work does not shame us because we handle God's message of truth carefully and accurately.
          1. We do not force God's teachings to say what we want them to say.
          2. We are devoted to understanding the message, and we live by God's emphasis, not by human emphasis.

  3. Give serious thought and consideration to two things.
    1. On April 1 we will have our annual teachers' appreciation dinner in our Family Life Center.
      1. This week Ted Edwards wrote everyone who has taught in any part of our teaching program to encourage them to attend.
      2. If by some chance you didn't get a letter, but you taught in VBS, in WINGS, in the education program, or in any aspect of our work, we want you to come.
      3. Everything that God wants to happen in our lives begins by learning.
      4. To learn and to grow in faith, there must be teaching.
      5. We want to encourage and appreciate our teachers.

  4. Next Sunday morning quarter two of emphasis on Christian service begins. (See Year 2000: Spiritual Success or Distress?)
    1. The first quarter we focused exclusively on Jesus.
      1. We learned that Jesus was a servant.
      2. We learned what it meant for Jesus to be a servant.
    2. Next Sunday morning we begin studying the fact that Christians are servants.
      1. The title of the quarter's study is, "Jesus Makes Us Servants."
      2. Jesus is the perfect example of what God wants us to be.
      3. This quarter will develop a basic understanding of what God wants us to be.
    3. I want to issue three challenges.
      1. The first challenge is given to those who do not attend Sunday morning classes.
        1. All the adult classes are studying the same material.
        2. All the teachers of those classes get together every Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the next Sunday's lesson.
        3. There is a variety of study opportunities.
        4. This is the ideal time to become part of a class.
        5. Bring your appetite to learn, and come.
      2. The second challenge is to those who attend but want a different learning situation.
        1. The elevator works.
        2. Every adult has access to all the classes upstairs and all the classes down stairs.
        3. The reason we installed the elevator is to give every adult access to every class.
      3. The third challenge is to those who enjoyed last quarter's study.
        1. I have received so many encouraging comments and so many statements of appreciation for the material.
        2. One person came to me this week asking permission to share some of the material with another congregation in another state.
          1. She said that she has been a Christian for a little over ten years.
          2. But our recent studies have taught her more than she has learned at any time in her Christian life.
        3. If you enjoyed your class last quarter, encourage someone to come next Sunday.

[Prayer: God, stimulate our appetite for righteousness. Increase our hunger to understand Your message. Help us handle Your truth properly so that we understand You and Jesus properly.]

In my introduction, I asked you the wrong question. The question is not, "What is your concept of the ideal congregation?" The question is, "What is God's concept of the ideal congregation?" God's concept begins with people who are hunger and thirst for righteousness.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 March 2000

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