Building the winning church Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Kingsley Larbi Sunday, February 24, 2019 Celebration Service at PIWC, Atomic

Vision is the most important characteristic of great leadership

The most important trait or characteristic that every great leader has is vision. Vision gives focus and a sense of direction—where you want to go. That is the reason the wise man said without vision the people lose a sense of direction. (Proverbs 29.18) It is also for this reason that Vision 2023 must be fully appreciated by all of us.

The leadership of the church has identified particular problems and it is through what has been outlined in the vision that we will address these problems. As our pastor told us on February 3, it is a five-year vision with the theme, “Possessing the nations.” For each of the next five years before us, there will also be a particular vision that will speak to the overarching vision. And, for this year, it is “I will build my church,” based on Matthew 16.18.

Brothers and sisters, the theme, “Possessing the nations,” could become a mere slogan unless we understand and appreciate the context that gave birth to the theme. Equally, the subtheme of the main theme is “Equipping the church to transform every sphere of society with the values and principles of the kingdom of God.” It is when we understand the main theme that we will understand the subtheme. So, today, I want to speak to the topic, “Building the winning church.” This is Part 1 of the message.

What is the context in which we must understand “Possessing the nations”?
According to the 2010 population and housing census, 71.2% of Ghanaians claim to have an allegiance to the Christian faith. But the critical question is “Has the numerical strength of the church been able to impact society?” Has the church been able to impact the public space in our own country? This was the concern of the leadership of the Church of Pentecost. It is this concern that gave rise to the theme, “Possessing the nations”

We know that though many so-called believers claim to have an allegiance to the Christian faith, their day-to-day lives do not show that they have encountered the risen savior. So, the leadership of the church has seen the need to revisit the concept of the church being salt and light in the world.

The destiny of the nations of the world is in the hands of the church of Jesus Christ. Hence, the vision of the leadership of the CoP is to raise an army of Spirit-filled Christians and fully equip them with the knowledge of God’s word. It is expected that these Spirit-filled Christians will engage the world and society with godly principles wherever they might be. As these Christians engage the world and make disciples by witnessing by word and deed, many will be won to the faith and become disciples of Jesus Christ who will participate in the process of transforming their world.

What is the nature of the task?
The task is huge. Even thinking of Ghana alone, it is a big task but since Ghana is our Jerusalem, we will focus on the realities of our context as we also project into the future.

Our current president, Nana Akufo-Addo, when he took over, made one statement that shook me. He said Accra would become the most beautiful city in Africa within four years. I thought to myself that if he had said it would become one of the most beautiful cities in Africa it would be very easy to accept; but, to say that Accra as it is now can, in four years, surpass Kigali… So for me, I was comfortable focusing on Accra becoming one of the most beautiful cities in Africa.

I was in a church where a new leadership of the church was being inducted into office. A former vice president, former chief justice, and great men and women, including those from the clergy were there. When it was time to take the offering, one of the clergymen took an envelope, tore it open and dropped the part he tore on the floor. I shouted, “My friend, what are you doing?”

Our own Chairman has bought into this environmental cleanliness agenda—great and wonderful. Not long ago some members of the CoP went to Agbogloshie to do general cleaning. They brought a child from the UK who, after he had had finished eating some yoghurt, held on to the sachet. Shortly afterwards, he saw another child who quickly dropped his sachet after eating. The child from the UK had been brought up where a certain conditioning had taken place that you don’t litter indiscriminately. People in Ghana, however, have not been so conditioned so they can easily throw sachets around and drop pieces on the floor after tearing envelopes open. The reason I felt for Nana Akufo-Addo was that the conditioning alone would take two years. If we don’t begin from childhood, no matter how we shout from the pulpits or how convincing the head of state is, there will be no change.

So, possessing the nations is good because we can even reach beyond out borders but we must begin our witnessing from our Jerusalem, not forgetting the wider world. That is why I believe the task the leadership has set for us is a huge one.

The 2010 population and housing census showed that 71.2% of Ghanaians claim to be Christians. The 2018 mid-year stats of the Church of Pentecost also indicated that the population of the church in Ghana alone was 2.6 million. It means about 10% of the population of Ghana belongs to the CoP. I went to Agbogloshie and wanted to by tuna. The lady was very nice to me so I asked her what church she belonged to and she said “The Church of Pentecost.” If a large part of the population of the country is Christian and a large part of that Christian population are members of the CoP then we should take part of the blame for the state of the nation.

Our leaders are not playing the ostrich. We must confront the issue with boldness and grace—we are able to overcome. It should be our prayer that the strategies outlined in the vision will bear fruit. Let us pray for our leadership that God will give them vision and energy and the wisdom to be able to bring it to pass. It is good for Ghana, Africa, and the world.

Our slogan says we are agents of transformation. By saying we are agents of transformation, we are making a commitment that in spite of the challenges out there we can be repositioned to succeed. If we do not understand the context, we will meet here and elsewhere and recite the slogan and sing about it but nothing much will happen.

My message assumes knowledge of our pastor’s sermon on February 3 titled, “I will build my church.” The message is so good that I would encourage you to listen to it at least once a month. You must keep listening to it until you catch the consciousness because until the 2.6 million population of CoP catches it and puts it to work out there, the church cannot make the impact it wants to make.

Biblical understanding of the church
When it comes to the church, we have metaphors or images like the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the household of Christ, the temple of God and the vineyard of the God. These are descriptions, similes, or metaphors but they don’t give us the definition of the church.

The biblical definition of the church is the community of God’s people. Two words are critical: “people” and “community.” The New Testament has put it as “the called out ones” so we have a people—not discrete, disparate individuals—whose foundation and head is Christ. Because the head is Christ, the future of the church is sure.

So the church in the first place is a people, not a denomination and not an institutional structure or a building but a community of the disciples of Christ. It is important to understand the church as a community of disciples of Christ—a community of the king. Understanding it this way is critical for us to be able to fulfill the purpose of the church and to constantly remind us of why we exist.

When we understand the church as a people or community, I see myself as part of that community and not just an individual Christian. Being a disciple of Christ presupposes that my life is governed by the teachings of Christ. This understanding will help us constantly live our faith as God’s people. According to Ephesians 3.10, it is through this community of Christ that God has chosen to manifest his manifold wisdom—he didn’t choose to do it through angels or any other means.

The understanding of the church as a community and also as disciples of Christ will help the church see itself as representing and manifesting God’s love, justice, righteousness, and holiness. A community of Christ is an embodiment of God’s righteousness, justice, holiness, and all the things that God stands for.

We must represent these attributes to the rest of mankind just as Israel was called through Abraham to be a witness of God’s righteousness, holiness, and justice to the world. It is through the individual manifestation of these attributes that I live out the life God’s wants me to live. That is when my witness becomes effective. We cannot function as the salt and light of the world if we are not manifesting God’s righteousness, holiness, justice, and love. It is when we manifest these that people will see that we are the salt and the light of the world.

If we don’t understand this, we will be parliamentarians and meet and pray and go back to the floor of parliament and begin to fight and envy but when we see it that way then, when I see myself as a parliamentarian, judge, teacher, head of state, I will see myself as part of the community of God’s people and a disciple of Christ. That should come before every other thing.

Yesterday when we were returning from Kumasi I said we must pray for one of the chairmen of the political parties who is a member of this church. The system itself is corrupt. People will not think the way he thinks. People want to go the wayward direction because they are not recognizing themselves as the disciples of Christ so when you are there you must be there well. Sometimes these people enter into these positions without being prepared to be there. So people will become heads of state and they are manipulated by others behind the scenes and that is why Africa is the way it is. We are growing in numbers yet not making an impact. At times I become ashamed that we have more Christians than other nations but because we are not conditioned rightly we are not able to do what they do.

Why has the church failed to live as disciples of Christ or the people of God?
We have short-circuited our understanding of the Great Commission. When you look at the Great Commission there is only one imperative or one main verb. And that is to make disciples. The going, baptizing, and teaching that are also in the text are natural concomitants of disciple making and they are auxiliary verbs, participles, or helping verbs. They don’t carry the weight the main verb has. So, in the commission, the main work is to make disciples.

The failure of the church through the nations has been to recognize this fact. If you get the book on the commemoration of 50 years of McKeown’s ministry and you see my article you will see it. We have done more of going, baptizing, and teaching; and sometimes even our teaching is not really about building the disciples so they are stable and not tossed to and fro by any wind of doctrine. In the past, by merely coming to the front and accepting Christ and being baptized you were a complete member of the church by force. We have to begin from the beginning in order to correct these things. Our man (Apostle Nyamekye) will succeed if we pray for him and the church will also succeed. The ultimate aim of our evangelistic activities should be building communities of disciples. I thank God for the leadership of this church.

Why should we understand the church as a community of God’s people and as disciples of Christ? There is a call to us through the leadership of the church that the church must rediscover itself. We have been called to be disciples. It is a call to the church so we cannot discount it and continue to see ourselves as belonging to God’s community. So, the church that wins is the one that sees itself as a community and works towards building that community.

Because the church sees itself as disciples of Christ they live their lives to please God. God is love, just, righteous, and holy and this is our responsibility. When we fail to live up to this, the church will continue to grow but can’t make the right impact.

The attributes of love, justice, righteousness, and holiness must be seen not just to be inside there. We must see ourselves us an embodiment of these virtues or attributes. You can see from a detached perspective that God has all these attributes but that is not enough. That is just mental assent. We must get to the point where these virtues are being replicated through tour lives. That is when people can see us as true people of God. Hence, we must go and possess the nations by becoming true disciples who are concerned with the welfare of the nations and who will not do things detrimental to their health.

Three questions
For those of you want to do more, these questions are for you. I will try to address them the next time I preach.

1. When Jesus said “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16.18 NIV) which church was he referring to? A denomination, an institution, or the church as a body, an organism, or the community of God’s people?

2. Why did Jesus have to go to Caesarea Philippi to confront his disciples with the question of his identity? Why didn’t he do it in Judea or at the Judean hills? He chose to go to Caesarea Philippi, a context where Baal had been worshipped and where Philip the tetrarch had built a temple for idol worship, instead of, say, Jerusalem, which was the bastion of Judaism and a focal point for the manifestation of many messianic events and prophecies.

For example, the wise men traveled from Babylon to Jerusalem to seek the Messiah but Jesus didn’t ask them the question there. Instead, he went to a hidden place with Syrians and other people who didn’t know God.

3. Why is it that with regard to the permanence and security of the church—the church was born in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost but Jesus made this statement before the church was born. Why didn’t Jesus make that statement in Jerusalem where the church was to be born later?

In other words, the prophecy “I will build my church” is messianic and practical. Why didn’t he make that kind of statement in Jerusalem? Why did he have to go the heathen territory where the Greek gods were worshipped with shrines and temples constructed in the name of Augustus Caesar instead of to Jerusalem, the bastion of Judaism?

Think about this, those of you who are Bible students. Those of you who will be able to answer these questions, I will give you one of the four books that, by the grace of God, I will launch when I am celebrating my 70th birthday three years from now.

God bless you.

Main references
Matthew 16.13-19, Matthew 28.18-20, Titus 2.11-14

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