2 Cities Church exists to turn followers into leaders!

Pastor Jeff Struecker
We are wrapping up our sermon series. I want to tell you about this moment, this both exciting and terrifying moment that happened to me back in July of 2019, July 8th, specifically. For those of you who weren’t part of the core of people that helped start this church, our church began on July 8, 2019. 
The morning that we were founded as a church, I was up early. I was out running and praying. I was both scared and excited at the same time: scared about the idea of helping to plant a church in the Chattahoochee Valley and trying to raise up leaders, but I was excited. I was thrilled, actually.
That morning I prayed a very specific prayer, and it has not left my mind since July 8, 2019. That prayer was, “God, use this church to raise up 1,000 leaders in my lifetime.” I had just made a commitment that morning early on the road. I can remember exactly where I was when I made this commitment. “Lord, I will use every fiber of my being, every ounce of my strength, every bit of my energy, I will give my dying breath to see this church raise up 1,000 leaders in my lifetime.”

Would you consider yourself to be a leader? Would you consider yourself to be a church leader? If you’re getting connected with 2 Cities Church, I need you to understand something about our church. Our church exists to turn followers of Jesus into church leaders. Now, I think many people are going to struggle with the idea of calling themselves a leader, because many people have been trained to believe that you have to be a priest or a pastor to be a leader.

2 Cities Church exists to turn followers into leaders!

Let me explain what I mean when I use the word leader. You see, when Jesus called people out of their sins and into a relationship with him, when he went to fishermen and he called them to drop their nets and to follow him, he made this statement: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He called people first to be followers.

I think sometimes Christians can get stuck at this stage and miss the real reason that he is calling you into a relationship with him in the first place. “Follow me, and I’m going to turn you into a leader. I’m going to make you into a fisher of other men and other women.”

2 Cities Church exists to be men and women who belong to the city of God, but we are leading other men and women who live here in the City of Man. We’re trying to be good citizens of both cities at the same time. So, by the end of this, I hope everybody will say, “I believe God has called me to be a leader, and this year I’m going to lead one person, just one person. But this year I’m going to push back darkness, and I’m going to lead one person to understand who Jesus is and what he’s done for them. Then I’m just going to leave what happens next in Jesus’ hands.”

I’m going to point us to a couple of verses from the new Testament and what I believe is probably some of the most important verses in the entire Bible about sharing our faith. It tells us the whole picture of sharing our faith. These verses are found in 2 Corinthians. They come from the great Apostle Paul, this former persecutor of the church and a guy who tried to stamp out Christianity, who becomes one of the greatest spokesman for the faith in human history.

When Paul says this about sharing his faith, he is speaking to other Christians when he uses the word “we” about sharing our faith. Here’s what he says:

2 Cor 2:15-17 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. Who is adequate for these things? For we do not market the word of God for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.

Paul has given us some very basic words here on sharing our faith. These three verses are intensely theological. There’s a lot of theology that we’re going to talk about, but they’re also very practical. What I want to do today is just focus on the practical nature of becoming a leader for one other person, just leading one other person to understand who Jesus is and what he’s done for you.

The way that you do that starts by being amazed at what God has done in your life, being so excited about it that you cannot really contain it. Please, please, please don’t ever get over who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for you. It should be as exciting for you today as it was for you on the first day.

Stay amazed at what God has done in your life

You see, Jesus saved me at 13 years old. I remember what it was like before Jesus saved me. I remember the fear that I dealt with. I remember the loneliness. I remember the anxiety… I still remember it very clearly. And I also remember what it felt like the day after Jesus saved me.

Now, I realize that some of you came to faith in Jesus at a very young age. You grew up in a Christian house. You heard about Jesus almost every day of your life, and you don’t really remember what it was like before you became a Christian. But many of you have these periods in your life. Maybe they were a week. Maybe they lasted for years, where you turned around and you started to live life without Jesus. Remember what that was like? Do you remember the struggles and the anxieties when you were walking away from Jesus?

You see, the idea here is that you and I remember what Jesus did for us. We don’t ever get over what he did. In fact, today I wore my favorite T-shirt of all time. Here’s what it says on the T-shirt for those of you who can’t see it: “I am the wretch the song refers to.”

I don’t ever want to forget who Jesus is and what Jesus did for me. I don’t ever want to forget what life was like before Jesus saved me. Then I want to constantly tell people what it was like after he saved me, because it has been almost 40 years, and I still remember today what it felt like the day after Jesus reached down and radically saved a guy like me.

I want you to think about it this way: When you’re excited about something, you can’t hold it in. You can’t help but tell people. You know what this is like. You’ve got to tell your family. You want your friends to know. When you just landed that perfect job, you can’t keep it to yourself. Or when you just found the perfect woman, you want to tell everybody about it. When you just got accepted into the college that you’ve been dreaming about or when you just bought the car that you’ve always wanted to own, you want other people to know about it. You’re excited to tell them about it. And they’re excited to hear about it, because they can see it on your face.

I’m saying that Christianity is supposed to be like that for us. When I got up today, I needed the blood of Jesus to forgive my sins as much as I needed it on that first day. I needed the grace of God to give me the strength to become more like him today, just like I needed it on the first day.

Maybe this isn’t you, but I meet Christians from time to time who really seem like they’re bored with their relationship with Jesus, like it’s stale or it’s not exciting to them. I kind of want to say, “If your relationship with Jesus isn’t exciting, you’re doing something wrong.”

You’re just not doing it right, because it should be as impactful in your life today as it was on the first day. People should see that there’s something about you, something different about you that makes them want what you’ve got. That all starts by being amazed and never getting over who Jesus is and what Jesus did for you. But it doesn’t stop there. That’s how Jesus steps in and changes a person. We just get excited to tell others about it.

You were made to make a difference

After he’s changed us, we need to remember that he made us for his glory, and he re-created us to make a difference. When God created you in the first place, it was so that he could love you and so that he could shower you with his glory and that he could put you on display for the world to see. When God re-made you, he re-made you to make a difference. We say “pushing back darkness” around here, but just to make an impact wherever you find yourself. That’s the reason why God stepped in and saved you. It was for his glory and for your good. But please don’t ever get these two mixed up.

You see, if you’re not careful, you’ll start to put yourself at the center of Christianity. Christ must remain at the center. God saved me for his glory, not for my glory. He happened to save me for my good, but he ultimately did it so that he could just put me on display for the world to see and to show the world how much of a difference he could make in a person’s life. The Apostle Paul refers to this as a fragrant aroma or a fragrant offering.

Now, if you were living in Bible times and you went to a synagogue or you went to the Temple, the priests would often carry a sensor through the congregation on their way to the front. They would take some of that frankincense, and they would sprinkle it on the altar, and the fire would cause smoke to go up. It was a pleasant aroma for everybody in the room. The Bible often refers to the prayers God’s people or the sacrifices of God’s people as a fragrant aroma to God. What Paul is describing is a life lived for Jesus that smells good to God and it also smells to other people.

To some, it is the aroma of death, Paul says. To those who want nothing to do with what you believe and don’t want to hear what you have to say, it’s the aroma of death. But to some, it’s the aroma of life because they see your life and they see that there’s something different. They get this pleasant whiff of the life that you’re living. Paul calls this in 2 Corinthians, the aroma of life that leads to life. If you’re saying, “I just want to make a difference, Jeff. I want to leave a pleasant smell. When I leave the room, I want to leave an impact…,” well, let me give you a couple of things to think about here.

If you really want to leave a difference, then I’m going to ask you to smell good to those around you by serving them. Just find a simple, very natural way to serve people that God has already placed in your path. Maybe for you, it’s inviting somebody out this week to a cup of coffee. Say, “Hey, I want to buy you a cup of coffee. I’d like to have a conversation with you.” Or maybe it’s that you write a note, a little note of encouragement. Write it to the cashier that checks you out at the Publix grocery store. Write it to the person that works on your car. Write it to the person that waits on your table.

Just write a little encouraging note, a personal note, if you see the same person over and over again, and just leave that note with them as a note of encouragement. Maybe that note will become the thing that helps to start a conversation this year. Or maybe you could put a gift card in the mail to somebody that you know, maybe somebody that’s hurting and a little note with that gift card that just says, “I’m thinking about you. I’m praying for you. I’m here for you.”

Here’s another idea. Maybe you could offer to help your neighbors with their yard work and don’t accept any payment whatsoever. When your neighbors are asking, “Why are you doing this for me? Why are you being nice to me?”, it opens the door to a conversation about who Jesus is and what he’s done for you and how you want him to do that for other people.

I’ve got a couple of other suggestions. Why don’t you try to direct message a friend on social media? -somebody that you went to high school with, somebody that you worked with a long time ago, and you haven’t talked to in a long time and you’re not sure where they’re going to spend eternity. Just reach out to them that way, and start a conversation with them.

Or better yet, send a text to a friend and just ask them, “Hey, can we meet together this week? Can we have a conversation? Can we FaceTime? Maybe we can meet together over Zoom.” And here’s a final example. If you guys haven’t seen this yet, you really need to check this out. Instead of inviting somebody to a conversation, why don’t you invite them to your home to watch an episode of the mini-series, The Chosen? Just ask them, “Would you come over to my house? I’ve got a TV show I think you’re going to love. I just want you to watch it.”

Then at the end of that TV show (and if you don’t know The Chosen, you’ve got to check out the trailers online on this programming), Just invite them to come over to your house and watch an episode with you. At the end of that episode, start a conversation with them. Basically, what you’re doing is saying, “When I leave a room, I want to leave an impact. I want to leave a fragrance that are going to cause people to want to know more about who I am and what makes me tick about what I believe.” That’s what it looks like to make a difference, the difference that you were re-created, born again to make.

God changes the world one heart at a time

Step three is to keep in mind that disciples are not mass produced. Paul uses the phrase, “marketing the gospel”. What we’re reminding ourselves is that God changes the world one heart at a time. He does it when one Christian shares what they believe with one person that’s not a Christian, and then that person steps across the line of faith. We around here start to get them plugged into what we call Basic Training and start to teach them how to do this with somebody else. When one person talks to another person, and then those two start to talk to two more, who talked to four more, pretty soon the entire world starts to hear about who Jesus is.

But it happens one heart and one person at a time. See, the idea here is that everybody is different, everybody is unique. We don’t take this mass market, this factory line assembly approach to making disciples. Jesus just dealt with people right where they were and started investing in them as individuals and moved them from where they are to who we wanted them to be, who he made them to be.

I want you to hear something from me. Leaders, leaders in the church, are listeners. God gave you two ears and one mouth on purpose so that when you start the conversation with somebody about Jesus this year, you do a lot more listening than you do talking. I do a whole lot more listening than I do talking. This is how we treat people as unique, treat them as individuals. We just listen to them tell their story. We ask a couple of questions, and then just let them pour their hearts out. If you’re saying, “Jeff, I don’t even know where to start. What questions do I use to start the conversation? I want to talk to my neighbor. I have a family member, somebody who’s close to me, but far from Jesus. How do I even start this conversation?”, let me give you a couple of conversation starters.

Ask a question like, “Do you have any spiritual beliefs?” Then just listen, and let them start talking. Or ask them the question, “What do you think happens to a person after they die?” Don’t answer. Don’t argue. Just listen, and let them tell you what they believe. Try asking this question, “Do you believe in heaven or hell?” You’re not arguing for the existence of heaven and hell. You’re just asking them, what do you believe? Or ask them, “Do you believe that there is God?” Ask, “When is the last time that somebody looked you in the eyes and told you Jesus loves you.”

Or ask a question like, “Is there anything that I could do to help you understand who Jesus is and how much of an impact that he has made in my life and how he can do that for you too?” Then just listen. And when you listen, you’re listening with your heart. See, I’m convinced that sometimes Christians start the conversation, and what they’re attempting to do is try to argue somebody into heaven. They’re listening with their head for the person that they’re talking to, to say something wrong so they can pounce on it and tell them how wrong they are.

If that’s the approach that you’re taking, it usually doesn’t work that way. But if you will listen with your heart, I am absolutely convinced that most people will just honestly tell you what’s holding them back from becoming a Christian. In fact, I can almost answer for you right now. The majority of the time that somebody is hesitant to become a Christian is because they’ve been burned in the past. They’ve been burned by another Christian, and they think that all Christians are like, “And I don’t want to be like that. So I’m not going to accept your faith.”

Or they’ve been burned by the church, and they think, “I want nothing to do with the church, because the church is full of people that hurt me like that.” If you’ll just ask an honest question and then listen with your heart, not your head, not trying to win an argument, but listen with your heart to treat people like an individual. Treat them like they’re unique, and most people will tell you, in no uncertain terms, what’s holding them back. I am 100% convinced you can listen most people into the Kingdom of God if you will just be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and listening with your heart.

Paul says it this way: “We don’t mass market the word of God.” Some people do that. We don’t do that. He uses this phrase next in verse 17, “We listen with sincerity…” He’s saying we listen with our hearts… and we listen from God. And we listen as unto God. We’re doing it with sincere hearts because we believe God changes the world one heart at a time. He does it through people like me and you, which brings us to the fourth and the final point.

Lead 1 in 202One

Actually, this entire sermon series is leading up to this point. Will you make a commitment this year to talk to one person, and by talking to them, you are leading them? Talk to one person in the year 2021 about Jesus.

Now listen, if you’re sitting there and thinking, “Jeff, I’m really, really intimidated about the idea of talking to one person about Jesus,” I want you to hear what the Apostle Paul said one more time. Paul lived in a day before there was internet, mass media, or social networks. He lived in a day where the gospel spread from one person to the next through one-on-one conversations. Perhaps nobody in human history shared their faith in more one-on-one conversations. We don’t have a record of anybody sharing their faith with more people individually than the Apostle Paul in the Bible.

Even the Apostle Paul says, “When I start to think about sharing my faith with another person, I start to ask the question, Who’s adequate for this? Who can feel up to this? Who feels like they should be good enough, or that they’re smart enough to do this?” If the Apostle Paul of all people, the great Apostle Paul says, “I don’t feel adequate to do this,” maybe it should give you some encouragement to think, “I don’t feel adequate to do this, Jeff, but if God could do it through a persecutor of the church like Paul, if God could do it through a person like you, Jeff, than I believe God can do the exact same thing through a person like me.”

Would you just start to pray? “God, is there a family member that I don’t know for certain is on their way to heaven? Would you put them on my heart this year? Father, do I have a friend? Is there a neighbor that I’m not really sure if they believe what I believe?” Maybe it’s a coworker or maybe it’s somebody that goes to class with you. Maybe it’s the cashier. Maybe it’s a parent that their child is on the same ball team as your child. Maybe it’s an online gamer that you talk to all the time. Perhaps it’s somebody at the gym.

Would you just say, “God, would you put somebody on my heart right now, somebody who I’m not sure that they’re on their way to heaven? Would you give me an opportunity? I’m freaking out about this a little bit, but God, would you give me an opportunity to just start the conversation, to ask some questions and then to just step back and to listen and to pray? And to trust what happens next in your hands?”

You see, 2 Cities Church likes to tell superhero stories. When we share our faith, we make it unmistakably clear that Jesus is the superhero of our faith. We’re not the hero of that faith. In fact, when we do Session Three of Basic Training, which prepares you for Session Four, “Producing Lay Leaders…”, when we do Session Three, “Teaching You How To Explain The Good News”, we ask you to use this very specific phrase, use these words exactly: “Then Jesus saved me.”

We ask you to use those words so that there’s no confusion. It wasn’t a prayer that I prayed it. It wasn’t walking down an aisle. It wasn’t something spiritual that I did as a little girl or a little boy that changed my soul. No, Jesus reached down into my sin, and Jesus cleaned me up and he changed me.

We actually ask you to use two or three words to explain your faith to people, just two or three words that describe who you were before Jesus and those opposite words that describe what happens after Jesus saved us. But we want it to be unmistakable that Jesus is the hero of my salvation story. I’m not. He can do for you what he did for me. You see, if I place myself at the center of this story, then people start to decide whether or not they think they’re that good or they think they can live up to that standard.

When I make Jesus the super hero of this story, it takes all the pressure off of me, because now I just explain what happened and step back and leave the results up to God. I just explain who Jesus is and what happened when he saved me and tell people that he can do the same for them and invite them to a relationship with Jesus. But what happens next, according to the Apostle Paul, is life or death, and it’s not up to me. It’s up to the Holy Spirit of the living God and the person that I’m having a conversation with. And I am just being a faithful, fragrant aroma to God at this point, trusting that the one who started a good work in me will use me to start a good work in others, and he will keep doing it until the day he calls me home or until he completes the work that he’s done in my life.

So, I’m going to ask you, would you pray, “God, put one name, one face on my mind. Would you help me this year to start a conversation with one person?” One person reaching out with one heart and just sharing sincerely what God has done for you can change the world. It really can.

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