by Larry B. Elrod"Behold How They Love One Another"
The "only thing that will be here for sure when Jesus comes back" is the church, said Pastor John Morgan in a chapel address at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"Jesus loved the church, died for the church and is coming back for the church," said Morgan, who has pastored Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston since its foundation in 1966. The church began with 16 and now has a membership of more than 14,500, and an average attendance each Sunday morning of 6,500.
Identifying trust as the key to the church's vitality, Morgan said, "When the last chapter is written, when the trumpet sounds and when the voice comes down out of heaven, the last group to remain standing in the Christian faith is not going to be those who have the greatest preachers-though I am for producing the best ones we can. It will not be the ones who have the best organization or the best programming. It will not be the ones with the best buildings.
"It will be the group that the world looks at and says the same thing the world said about the early church. ‘Behold, how they love one another.'"
Love will cover a multitude of bad preaching, the pastor said. "As we try to plan out how we are going to reach this or some other generation by using labels and marketing strategies, let me tell you what will reach any generation in any country, state or county seat. It is love."
Recalling a time four years ago when he made an important decision, Morgan said, "We now have no TV ads, no billboards and no slick brochures. I told the church that I was embarrassed…that if we were half as lovable as that highway sign-for which we were paying $5,000 a month-said we were, we ought not to be able to find enough parking for all who would be coming."
So Morgan ended the expenditure of $152,000 for promotion and began teaching people two things: how to love God and how to love each other. As a result, "The church has exploded."
He then offered a caution: "I am a man of great conviction. I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. But conviction without compassion is a dangerous thing. It is called Pharisaism." When the Pharisees came, people went out the door, Morgan said. When Jesus came, people came from everywhere. "Was it the conviction? No. It was the compassion."
Are people are saying about us: "Behold, how they love one another"? Or have we become so caught up in our convictions that we have forgotten about the compassion which must walk side by side?" he asked. "If we have, we will turn people away by the millions."
Morgan said he teaches everyone in the church to do this: "Give everybody a word. Give everybody a look. And give everybody a touch. For many of them it is the only time it has happened all week. Women who have been abused, children who have been neglected, and men who are successful but without any fellowship in a personal way enjoy the word, the look, and the touch.
Referring to the early church in Acts 2:42-47, Morgan noted that today's Christians seem to be trying to do church backwards. "The Bible says that first came the fear of the Lord, then miracles, then unity, then joy, and then additions. We tend to seek to get additions first, then joy, then unity, then miracles, and eventually fear of the Lord. Our people need to understand that our first love is to Him.
"That then becomes what it is all about-love, fellowship, and steadfast faith," Morgan said. "When anyone in our church is going through a rough time, I get up on Sunday morning and let the people know there is a need. Most churches will help someone coming through town. But when one of their own is hurting, they are afraid to set a precedent. We have learned that God has got plenty of money. He is just looking for someplace to put it. He is looking for a perfect heart. And the only way you can have a perfect heart is to have a heart full of love."
Morgan offered this advice to small-church pastors: "Ask God to show you people in your community who are not part of your church, but who are examples of love and character. Honor them in your church. Then watch what happens in your community. The reputation will begin to grow and people will say, ‘Behold, how they love one another.'"