First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Simple Math: Multiplication

Simple Math: Multiplication, Luke 10:1-2
First United Methodist Church, November 4, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer 

This morning we are looking at Mission Practice Number 8, from Milfred Minatrea's Shaped by God's Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches.  That practice tells us that we are to Measure Growth by Capacity to Release, not Retain.

As a parent of 3 children, I can say this practice looks familiar to me—it was what Scott and I set out to do as we raised Matthew, Christopher and Dominique.  We wanted to teach and provide our children the experiences and skills that would help them to be successful in the world.  There have been those moments over the years where someone has taken up temporary residence in the basement for a time after we thought they had launched—but that wasn't the end plan for them or for us.

As each of us raise our children, our desire is to equip them so they can successfully set out into the world, and we can without guilt or fear convert their former bedrooms into a man cave, a craft room—or—like that television commercial awhile back, knock out a wall or two and install that Jacuzzi.   

Measure growth by capacity to release, not retain.

That’s what Jesus did.  He called 12 disciples, he taught them, mentored them and involved them in the work of proclaiming the Good News. And then in Luke 9 we read how Jesus sent those disciples out, giving them power and authority to drive out demons, to cure diseases, and to proclaim the kingdom.  He sent them out.

In Luke 10, he sent out 70 more (or 72, depending on the interpretation you’re using).  He sent them out in pairs to every town and place he planned to go.  It was an advance team of sorts, to prepare people to receive him.  He said to them, "the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…"  That continues to be the case today.  Christ’s message is meant for all people in all times and places.  His Good News brings hope to our broken world; people’s lives around the world are still being transformed. And yet there are still those who haven’t heard…and so Jesus continues to send his disciples out to proclaim his message today. 

In a missional church, every member is released to serve in God's mission.  We are each released/sent out to serve in Christ’s mission and ministry.

In order for us to do this effectively, in order for we as the church to accomplish our mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ, we must equip the saints for the work of ministry.  That comes from Paul in Ephesians 4:12, and on this All Saints Sunday, it is a good time for us to be reminded that we are each saints.  We who are Christians are forgiven sinners, we are entrusted with Christ's work in the world, and scripture calls us saints, even though you might turn to your neighbor, raise an eyebrow, and wonder: really? I’m not so sure about that! And so now I want everyone to turn to your neighbor and respond, "Yes, really."  As Christ followers, as forgiven sinners, we are each saints.  

Now, we do things differently than the Roman Catholic Church, so even though Katherine Casper was canonized as a Saint of the Church a few weeks ago (October 14), we won't be raising funds to send anyone to Rome to witness the event as it happens.  But as saints of the church, you and I have responsibilities, and so we come together in this place to be strengthened and empowered to fulfill those responsibilities.  

We are equipped through small group gatherings, Bible studies, Sunday School and worship.  Here, on Sunday mornings, we gather together to worship and give thanks for all the ways God has blessed us.  Today we have also lifted up and given thanks for those people who have died in the last year, who have blessed our lives, our church, our community.  Each of them—forgiven sinners.  Each of them—known and loved by God.  Each of them—influencing the lives of those around them, perhaps our own.  

Every Sunday morning, we listen to God's Word, we reflect on how we might respond to that Word, we sing together, we pray together, we pray for one another, and we bring our offerings which help us to accomplish Christ's work.  Today as well, we'll share in the Sacrament of Communion together—the meal that is offered as a means of grace, a means of empowerment, to fill us with what we need to go forth to do Christ's work.  And then at the end of each service we are sent off with a benediction—we are commissioned, we are blessed to go forth in Christ's name, to do Christ's work.  

We are sent out/we are released to serve in God's mission.  We are sent out as missionaries.

We may not think of ourselves as missionaries. Instead, we think of particular people who we know have done amazing work.  Over the years perhaps you've come to know and have even supported particular people who have gone off to faraway places.  Or, maybe you’ve met missionaries serving here in the US, in places where you’ve gone to serve on short term mission projects.  When I think about international missionaries, Ken and Debbie Vance and John and Kendra Enright come to mind.  These families began their ministries in the 70's in the Congo, and then moved to Zambia and settled there when the political situation made that necessary. A number of UM Churches across Indiana have supported the Vance’s and the Enright’s over the years. John Enright was killed in an accident a year ago and Kendra has since retired, but they each continue to live and serve there, along with their children and grandchildren.  They’ve lived in Zambia for so long that it’s home.  

You’ll notice in our worship folders each week the name of missions and missionaries, and where they’re serving, so we can lift them up in prayer. These missionaries need our prayers, they need our support and encouragement as they do their work.  

Each of these persons have responded to a call of full time ministry and do a variety of tasks: they’re pastors and preachers, teachers, doctors and nurses, social workers, community organizers—they do what needs to be done, sometimes risking their lives for the sake of the gospel.  But as important as their work is in all these places, it is God’s intention that each of us who are followers of Jesus Christ be missionaries as well.  We are called to reach out in mission and ministry in whatever mission field we find ourselves… It might involve traveling somewhere on a short term mission project…it could be when we’re at our community supper, or while we’re working out in another ministry in town, maybe in your small group or even at the grocery store.  We are each needed.  The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.

In a missional church, every member is released to serve in God's mission.  We measure growth by our capacity to release, not retain.  

Minatrea talks about the 3 criteria that are often used to measure the success of a church.  He calls them the 3 B's:  Building, Budget and Baptisms. As we talk about these, the focus is on growth.  We should be talking about growth, right?  We want to grow, right?  We want to do what we need to do to grow, right?  But consider this:  In a missional church, the goal isn’t to get bigger.  The goal is to equip people to live as authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.  As we do that, the church grows naturally through multiplication.  The fruit can be measured in what we do after the benediction.  It is measured in our capacity to release, not retain.  

Some of us are actively engaged, stepping out, stepping up, serving, giving.  Coming to worship and being engaged here, listening and learning is an important thing.  But Christ calls us to respond.  If you aren’t already serving in some way in the life of the church, maybe now is the time.  It might be helping with ushering or with sound.  It might be singing in the choir.  It might be teaching…being a part of the children’s ministries, loving on our children and being a part of the team that teaches them about Jesus. It could be starting a new adult class.  It could be participating in one of those classes.  It might involve serving on the team that deals with our building needs.  This building has been around awhile and the work of the Trustees of our church is very important.  The building is a toolbox and we want it to continue to serve us in ministry.  Maybe you’d like to participate in the outreach ministries of our church, planning activities that will bring people in, considering how the unchurched who visit those activities might learn more about who we are and join us on Sunday mornings.  Maybe Social Concerns would be a good place for you to step out into the community and come to better know and serve those who need a community of faith, who don’t know Jesus.  Or maybe giving of your finances is a place where you need to step up.  If you don’t regularly give, perhaps it’s time to begin.  If you don’t give in a way that you “feel” it, where you need to fit it into your family budget, then maybe it’s time to do give in that way.  Next week we’ll be bringing our 2019 commitments forward, so now is the time to be intentional, thoughtful, prayerful, about how you want our church to bless next year, and in the years to come.

Growth is measured by our capacity to release, to give, to offer what we have and who we are…not to retain, not to hold it back or hold it in.  

As the church we measure growth by the capacity to release, not retain.

We raise our children to send them out into the world, healthy and strong, ready to embrace life with confidence and courage. It’s the same thing in the church.  Our task and our desire is to grow in our faith, to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, so that we can step up and step out in confidence and with courage, being a part of sharing Christ’s message of love and grace…engaged, being disciples, being missionaries wherever we are, and making disciples wherever we go.