FELLOWSHIP OF THE FUTURE
AUGUST 5, 2001
A while back I decided to get in touch with my feminine side. I know that’s hard for you to believe, but I did. I accompanied my wife, Lisa, to Canton, Texas. Have you ever been to Canton, Texas, before? The world’s largest flea market, they call it. It’s pretty amazing. When I cruised to Canton with Lisa, I couldn’t believe the demographics, with a ratio of 99% female to 1% male.
That meant that it was great people-watching, just to sit back and watch thousands of women, pushing shopping carts in a NASCAR-type pace in triple degree Texas heat, perusing hundreds of isles of antiques, clothes, jewelry, and those little knick knacks, they call them. It was wild. After several hours of the drill, Lisa and I decided to stop for some lunch, so we ventured over to the food court. The food court in Canton, Texas, consists of a bunch of picnic tables strategically located so that you can watch the people while you dine.
As we were munching on chicken sandwiches watching all the people file by and just having a great time sweating and shopping, Lisa and I noticed an employee of the chicken restaurant doing something a little bit odd. She was carrying around this tray full of samples, you know, chunks of chicken? She was handing the chicken out to those of us who were already gorging ourselves with chicken sandwiches. She was just hanging around the picnic tables, and she walked up to us and said, “Would you like a sample of chicken?” We said, “No, we are full. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.” As she walked off, Lisa said, “Ed, is that hilarious, or what?”
Here this girl was handing out chicken samples to the already fed, the already full, when she should have been going out amongst the masses filing by—those who obviously had not eaten lunch yet, those who were hungry. She should have been giving food to them. Then it dawned on me. I said, “Honey, that’s the problem with so many churches. That’s the temptation that so many churches have.” We just want to feed the already full, the picnic people, and worry about us four and no more, as opposed to feeding the masses and going out and sharing the chicken, the bread of life, with those who are filing by, those who are hungry, and those who need it. I think you see where I am going.
The Church Must Present the Food in a Creative and Thoughtful Way
That brings us to our first statement. You can check it out on the side screens. The church is an eating establishment, thus it must serve the food, and present the food in a creative and thoughtful way. Why was this girl just hanging out with the picnic table people, giving out samples to the already fed? Why was she doing that? I will tell you why. It was the easy way, the less stressful way. She would have to have worked a little bit harder, gotten a little bit more sweaty, gotten a little bit more tenacious to get out there and hand it to the people who were filing by. She just took the easy way out.
I am going to tell you something. It would be easy for us to set up Fellowship Church just for the picnic people, just for those people who are already full. That would be easy, no work, no difficulty, just for the already convinced. That’s the easy way to do church, but it’s not God’s way. It’s not God’s way. If the church is a restaurant, and I believe the Bible says it is, it’s a feeding place, then it must serve the food in a creative and thoughtful manner.
We love to have people over to our home for dinner. Lisa loves to cook. We have people over a lot. Usually before someone comes over to our house to eat, Lisa will pick up the phone and call them and say this, “Is there anything that you don’t like?” People will say, “Well, I don’t like liver. I don’t like onions. I don’t like jalapenos, whatever.” So we try to think about our guests. Before the guests come over, we make sure the house is clean. We light the candles, put on soft music. We will bring all of our kids around and give them a manners pep talk, you know what I am saying? No food throwing, no burping at the table. Then the guests come over.
Lisa serves the food in a more creative and thoughtful way. It’s still food; however, we are thinking not just about the Young family, but also our guests. We are putting our guests above ourselves. We don’t neglect the Youngs. We still feed them. But it is our guests first. Are we compromising the food, watering down the food? No. We are being sensitive. A great church like Fellowship does an outstanding job, in my opinion, of being sensitive to others. I believe we do excellent work at serving the food in a creative and thoughtful manner.
Jesus nut-shelled it when he said in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” We have, friends, the ultimate food, the bread of life; and the ultimate food deserves the ultimate presentation. I cannot fathom the thought of someone—whose life is in shambles, showing up at Fellowship Church…. I can’t even entertain the thought of them showing up here and hearing a half-baked presentation of the Word, the bread of life. I cannot go there.
So we are to take it, I am talking about the church now, to the next level. No wiener roast here. No paper napkins, Styrofoam cups, and plastic forks. We need to do the best we can with what God has given us. We don’t freak out about it. We don’t wig about the presentation. We do the best we can, and we work and strive to get all the senses involved as you hear and experience this weekly corporate feeding.
Take this service, for example. Think about the different lighting sets we use, different moods. Think about the architecture of the church. Think about the drama. Think about the songs with the video. Think about this message and on and on it goes. That is serving the food in a creative and thoughtful manner. So if you ever go to a church and you are bored, if you ever go to some Bible study and it seems kind of routine, or you don’t understand what’s going on, don’t blame God. He is not boring. Blame the leaders. Blame the singers. Blame the pastors. Blame the deacons, whoever. Don’t blame God. Let’s serve the food, and let’s continue to do it in a creative and thoughtful way. The church is a restaurant. That’s pretty cool.
The Nourishment from the Food Gives us the Fuel to Serve Others
Let’s go to the second statement. If the church is a restaurant, then the nourishment from the food should give us the fuel to effectively serve others.
Why do we eat? We should eat to live. We should not live to eat. But I think some of us live to eat, don’t we? The next meal, the next snack, Krispy Kreme. The medical community tells us what: to eat healthy, exercise regularly. If we do all that stuff, what is going to happen? We are going to live a good life, an optimal life, a strong life. That’s a good thing.
This past week we took our Management Team on our annual summer retreat. We went to a little place outside of Palestine, Texas, for a time of planning. We had an awesome time, but there was one problem, one hurdle. When you are out in the middle of nowhere, outside of Palestine, Texas, there are not any restaurants around. It’s not like you can go to this restaurant or that restaurant, not even a Whataburger. You know you are out there when you can’t find a Whataburger in Texas. So, we found a young woman who was a cook, and she prepared the meals for us.
This woman—you are talking about a creative cook, she was the person—she had done her homework, obviously. She knew how we liked our coffee, she knew what we liked to snack on, she knew for example, that Owen Goff liked a couple of beers with every meal. I’m just joking. If you are not laughing, get a life, come on. I’m just teasing. Owen Goff does not drink. See, I have to do that sometimes in these early services to make sure you are not nodding off. Anyway, back to this cook, she was highly creative. I asked her one thing before the retreat, and I kind of snuck this in, because you know I like to eat healthy. I said, “Can we eat healthy food during this retreat?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Don’t cook the life out of the vegetables, keep them fresh and crisp. And I want healthy food.” It was great. We had healthy food at every single meal.
To be honest with you, some of the Management Team people—I’m not naming any names, Mike Johnson—were going through convulsions because we weren’t having any sugar. One time, Mike snuck off and got some Twizzlers. I found them and hid them so he couldn’t eat the Twizzlers during the trip. But we had a great time. I truly believe that because we ate such a healthy type menu—kind of a Daniel diet, going back to the Old Testament—it afforded us the strength and power and gave us the fuel to really have some great meetings. I cannot tell you all the stuff we got accomplished because of the food.
So make sure you understand that the food, the Word of God, is nutritious. It should give us fuel, not to sit there and have these big old spiritual potbellies. That is the problem with some of us. Some of our spiritual potbellies are so big, the only thing we can do is navel gaze. “There’s my navel.” It’s time for a lot of us to push away from the table, away from the picnic, and get out there and say, “I’ve got fed here. Here is a sample. You are hungry. You are without Christ. Your marriage is messed up. You don’t have a true focus. Come with me. Let’s get fed.”
It’s like an ancient theologian said, “Christianity is simply beggars telling other beggars where to find food.” I have found the bread of life, and so have you. One of the ways I feed myself is to feed others. The church is a restaurant.
Hebrews 10:25 says that we should not turn our backs on, we should not forsake, the gathering together of believers. We are to—and we are commanded to do this, friends—to get together for corporate feeding. That is what we have here at Fellowship Church, a corporate feeding. But this cannot be your only meal. What if you say, “Well, I am just going to eat once a week at this restaurant.” That would not work. This is a special meal, a corporate meal. You also must learn how to feed yourselves, and that is the role of the church. We want to teach you how to feed yourselves, and we have many systems set up to do that.
I am so excited because many of you feed yourselves. Take my four kids, for example, and I have talked about this before. When they were little, we fed them. But we don’t want to feed them for the rest of our lives. We want them to mature and one day learn how to feed themselves. The same is true in spiritual maturity. You go for a corporate feeding and learn how to feed yourself, then you have a small group feeding as you get involved in Home Teams. Then you have a ministry feeding when you get involved in a ministry here. You keep feeding and sharing and you become responsible, because the Spirit of God works through you to help feed and lead others to the bread of life. Just like Tianne talked about in her welcome, when we get involved, the Lord Jesus can work through us within the context of the church. That’s a cool and exciting thing.
Do you know anybody who is a food sharer? Food sharers make me nervous. Let me describe a food sharer. A food sharer is someone that you go to a restaurant with and when the entrée comes, they always say, “Oh, take a bite of this. Take a sip of this. Let me tear off some of this and give it to you.” I don’t like that. Stay away from me, food sharers. It doesn’t quite taste the same when someone is sharing food with me. I want to eat my food my way. The only person I will share food with is my wife, Lisa, but with anyone else, I don’t like it. What are you going to say? “No, I am not a food sharer. Thank you.” Some of you right now are saying, “I am sitting next to a food sharer.” Some of you want to say, “I’m a food sharer, and I have a problem.”
The Bible says that we are to be food sharers. I am to share food, because I have some people around me who are hungry, who are filing by. I must go out there and share samples of the Savior with them to, prayerfully and hopefully, get them into the restaurant, get them to understand and to know Christ personally. So they in turn can share and feed others.
What, I ask you, were the bookends of Christ’s ministry? The introduction was in Matthew 4:29 when Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The conclusion was in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Both were about feeding. We must never neglect the family, the picnic table people, but we can’t just gorge ourselves and get fat, can we? We have got to push away and get out there and serve.
I have a chance to speak around the country. A while back a guy walked up to me and said, “Ed, I want to ask you a question about spiritual matters.” I said, “Okay, fire away.” He said, “I just don’t feel like I am getting fed, you know.” I said, “Really? Well, tell me about what you are doing in your life.” He said, “Well, I am a Christian.” I said, “That’s where to start.” He said, “I am listening to about four different pastors speak by means of tape a week, and also I am attending the church.” He mentioned the church and the church is a very strong church. He said, “I just wonder if I am really getting fed. I want to know more about the Bible.”
I said, “Wait, let me tell you something. You are fat. You are fat. You need to get away from the table and apply and do what you have been learning. You are gorging yourself. Your waistline is expanding, your hips are getting bigger. You are getting really big. So get out there and do something.” That is a word to me and a word to you. We digest and take the nourishment from God’s Word for what reason? To go out and do it. Next weekend, I am beginning a ten-week study on the book of James. Please, I beg you, be here for the next ten weeks and invite your friends, because we are going to see what it really means to do the Word of God. James, by the way, was the half-brother of Jesus and was a fascinating man used by the Holy Spirit of God.
The Church is Always in a State of Expansion
Now, let’s segue into another statement about the church. The church is a restaurant, right? A big eating establishment, a special thing. So if all of this stuff is true, look at this next statement. As the process continues or is accomplished, what is the process? Serving the food in a creative and thoughtful way. What is the process? Understanding that food is the fuel to energize us to serve. As the process is accomplished, the church is always—not sometimes, always—in a state of expansion, always in a state of expansion.
Every church should be an expanding church. I don’t care if it is around a community of 300 people or three million people, every church should be expanding. Think about a restaurant. If a restaurant is really popular, and people are getting fed, and they like the food, and the food is served in a creative and thoughtful way, and it really energizes them, what is going to happen? That restaurant will expand its hours to serve more people. That is what we are doing here at Fellowship. Next weekend, we are adding another service to our schedule. We will have four services for your convenience, Saturday night 5:00pm, 6:45pm, Sunday morning 9:30am, 11:15am. As we are planning, we are ready to even add a fifth service in January if we need it. We are like a restaurant expanding the hours.
Also, if a restaurant is really growing, they look for other locations. We are doing that right now. At Fellowship Church, we are looking for land aggressively at another part of the Metroplex so we can expand Fellowship. Is that cool? We will have one church in a couple of locations. So just get ready for it. That thrills my heart. I don’t know when or how or where, but we have some leads and we are looking. I would not be surprised, though, two years from now, that we don’t have another Fellowship Church within the confines of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to conveniently serve you and reach more and more people.
As I am talking about that, some of you are saying this, because I know, because I am a person and I have said it too, “Man, this place is big. This is a big church.” I have heard people say that before and I have said it before. Don’t think I haven’t. I didn’t plan this. This is a God deal. How big is big? “How big are we going to get, Pastor?” We are going to get as big as God wants us to get. That’s my answer. Now, once Dallas/Ft. Worth gets converted, we will stop growing. But as I said before, and I don’t mean to be rude by saying this, the moment we say, “Let’s just stop and become the picnic table church,” we are collectively flipping off the rest of the Metroplex and telling them to go to hell. We are. I don’t want to flip off the rest of the Metroplex. I don’t do that anyway. We are just telling them they can go to hell. “You can spend eternity in hell, thank you very much. But we are going to stay here with the picnic table people.” We could do that. We have 12,000 people showing up. Put it on autopilot; just kind of chill and relax. We could do that, but we are not. It’s the easy way but it is not God’s way.
I want to address the big question. I want to tell you why I love a big church. I’ll say it again, every church should be big within the context of its community. If there are 300 people, that church should be big within 300 people; three million people, big within three million people. You hear my screaming.
It’s a Biblical Thing
The first reason I like a big church is it’s a biblical thing. God obviously did not have a problem with big because the first church in the first hour grew three thousand people like that. Let me go through some scriptures to show you how big the early churches were.
Acts 5:14, “More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” Acts 6:7, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Acts 11:21, “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Acts 4:4, “But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” It’s a biblical thing and that’s a good thing.
It’s An Accurate Reflection of Heaven
Another reason why I love a big church is it is an accurate reflection of heaven. Heaven is not going to be a small place. It is not going to be a little place where you have a dirt road, one stoplight, and a green sign that says, “Population 517.” No. Heaven is a big place. You heard Eric singing about it, “a big, big house.” Thank you.
Revelation 7:9 is talking about heaven. John had this vision of it, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” That’s heaven.
It was so cool to hear about this First Wednesday service a couple of days ago. We had this place packed out, and the worship was so intense and so fresh and exciting, people did not want to leave. That is a reflection of heaven, a microcosm of heaven. That’s another reason why I like a big church.
It Offers a Wide Variety of Ministries
Another reason I like it is that it offers a wide variety of ministries. Unlike the drama, we have a bunch of choices here at Fellowship. Just think about the choices: athletic ministry, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, children’s ministry, Adventure Week, Jr. High Beach Retreat, Senior High Elevation, and I could go on and on. We have got a lot of choices here. That is a great thing about a big church. We have something called a “Hand and Hand” ministry over in the children’s area. When a family is going through a difficult situation with a child, maybe they have lost one, that ministry is for them, just for them. We have a ministry for those who are physically challenged in our church, physically challenged children. Those are specific ministries that only a large church can offer. You can find and see a wide range of ministries here and that is a great thing.
It Offers a Large Relational Base
Here is another reason why I love a big church, and you will love this one, singles. It offers a large relational base. You can meet anyone here—an electrician, a pastor, a coach, a teacher, professional athlete. You can meet anyone here. That is what the body of Christ is all about green, red, brown, white collar, pink collar, blue collar. They are here. It’s a wonderful thing. That’s a beautiful thing.
Singles, you guys are out of control, getting married left and right here. Isn’t that exciting? Singles meet each other at Fellowship Church and get married. That’s why we are having to build this building over there, so we can have a wedding chapel. It’s not the only reason, but it is a good reason. We have a chapel being built over there, children’s rooms, classrooms, and we need your help to make this thing happen. It’s part of expansion and it’s part of the restaurant growing. So it offers a wide variety of ministries, a large relational base, accurate reflection of heaven, a biblical thing.
It Provides Many Options for Service
Let me do a couple more because I have to close it down here. I also like a big church because it provides many options for service. Again, unlike the drama, we have got a lot of options here to get involved. You just name it. A lot of people think because we are a big church, we don’t need you to get involved. Doris Scoggins told me a couple of weeks ago in a meeting that we need 4,500 volunteers a month, non-paid staff members, just to make Fellowship go. And as we expand, friends, to other services and buildings, we need more and more help. Membership means ministry.
We have the hardest working staff I have ever seen, but I am going to tell you something. This is Church 101: our staff is miniscule compared to other churches our size around the country. We are probably one of the ten largest churches in the country. We don’t make a big deal about it, but I think we are. People have told us that. Most churches our size have about 5-6 times more staff members than we do. We only have 75 full time staff members. Most of these churches I talk to have 500-600 staff members. Now why do we do that? We do that intentionally because it forces the staff to hand the ball of ministry to the laity. Membership means ministry. You must have a ministry.
I remember recently a woman in our church died suddenly, a young mother. When she passed away, within a hour and a half, her Home Team was there. Dean West, one of our Pastoral Ministry guys, was there. Our Children’s Pastor was there, and our Student Pastor was there, that quick. That’s a big church in action, multiple levels of care and concern.
I haven’t spoken here for the last four weeks at Fellowship. Troy, Tianne, Mike Johnson, and Tracy Barnes spoke. They are all unbelievable speakers, incredible. This woman came up to me and said, “Ed, I wanted to meet you because I attended Fellowship Church for three straight weeks, joined it, and I have never heard you preach.” I said, “Thank you very much, because there is no way I could do all the services anymore. There is no way.” I mean, I already put some dye in my hair now. My hair will turn totally white if I keep doing every single service.
I am going to be the primary speaker at Fellowship. I am the Senior Pastor, and I will do most of the speaking; however, you will see a share of the team approach more and more. As we do five services per weekend and as we have two or three other locations, it will be a rotational thing. That’s a good thing because I get tired of hearing myself talk. God wants to use other voice boxes, and he will and he does here. And that is a good thing, a positive thing, for Fellowship. So make sure you get involved in a ministry, use your gifts, get outside yourself, and…. I could start preaching, but I will not.
It’s an Easy Place to Hide
I have got to say one more thing about why I love a big church. It’s the last one on my list here. I highlighted it in pink because I love this one. It’s an easy place to hide. That’s a good thing. Okay, let me pick on somebody. I have a good friend named Thomas Cross. Thomas, raise your hand. Thomas and I have known each other for a long time. Thomas and Lynn are like pillars of our church. I have traveled to Israel with them. Thomas played professional basketball, how many years ago? How long ago was that? You have to tell. 1959. Where did you go to college? Seaton Hall, and he played professional basketball. That’s amazing. How tall are you, 6’11”? 6’10”, that’s all? You know I like basketball.
Let’s say that I didn’t know Thomas, and Thomas and I saw each other in Canton, Texas. Let’s say he was shopping with his lovely wife, Lynn, in Canton, Texas. I doubt you would do that, Thomas, but let’s say you were. What if we started talking at the chicken restaurant and I said, “Thomas, what do you do for a living? You’re tall, do you play basketball?” You tell me, “Yes.” Then what if I said, “Thomas, I am a pastor of a church called Fellowship Church, and I would love for you and Lynn to come by Fellowship Church.” What if Thomas says, “Ed, I appreciate the invitation, but I had a bad experience in church years ago, so I just don’t go anymore.” Have you ever heard anybody say that before? “I had a bad experience in church, so I just don’t go anymore.” I hear that a lot. Do you know what I would say back to you, Thomas? “Now, Thomas, have you ever had a bad experience at a restaurant?” You would say, “Yes.” “Do you still go to restaurants?” “Yes.” Try another one.
Let’s say I invited Thomas to Fellowship, and he said “Okay.” Then what if he said, “Before I show up, what size church is it?” If I said 200 or 300 people, he would probably respond, “I don’t know if I am going with 200 or 300 people. I am 6’10”. I would stand out there.” But what if I told him we have 12,000 people. Thomas is thinking, “I am in. I can just kind of hide.” I don’t care who you are, you can just blend in here. With 12,000, you can hide, kind of do the James Bond thing, clandestine thing—hang back in the shadows, kick tires, test the waters, hiding. That’s good. That’s why we have so many new people and so many unchurched people come to Fellowship, because it is an easy place to hide, to blend in. And that’s a good thing. You can get lost in the crowd.
But there is a bad side to it, too. Isn’t there, Thomas? Some people, unlike Thomas and Lynn, show up and remain in the shadows for the rest of their lives. “I’ll just cruise into Fellowship and cruise out. I will never sign anything, or go to Home Team, never join the church. I’ll just kick back and take the benefits for my children, the young people, but I am not going to commit. I’ll just stay back in the shadows and hide.”
It’s time for many of you to join Fellowship Church. Our church is not the only church. There are some great churches around the Metroplex. If this is not your church, don’t join it. Join somewhere else. We are not a perfect church. As I always say, if you are looking for the perfect church, don’t join, because you will mess it up. But you need to join a church and there is a place for you here at Fellowship Church, so quit moving around in the shadows and get involved. Do that.
Newcomers Class today, Room 132, right after the 11:15 service. We would love to have you. Just show up, sign up, and we will get you involved.
I leave you with this. As you look back on your life ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, what’s it going to be like? What are you going to look like? Are you going to be a person with a big potbelly stuffing your face at a picnic table? Or are you going to eat, get the nourishment from the bread of life, and get out there and feed the hungry, so they in turn can eat the bread and feed others. What is it going to be for you? I have discovered something about Christianity and the church over the last several years in one little phrase, “It’s not about us.”