Clearly, one of the reasons for Saddleback’s growth is because we’ve maintained a harmonious atmosphere. When a church loves, it attracts people like a magnet. When a church really offers love to each other and those who are welcomed into it, you have to lock the doors to keep people out!
In Romans 14 and 15 Paul gives six secrets for becoming a loving church:
1. The church is committed to building each other up.
Can you imagine a small core of leaders in your church committed to building up everyone they came in contact with? What would that do to the morale of your church? What if just 5 people in your church began writing letters – one note a week – saying, “I appreciate you,” and they sent them to others in your congregation. What kind of impact would that have on the morale of your church?
Paul instructs us to make this “building up” of others our goal. He wants us to become like Barnabas. The name Barnabas means, “son of encouragement.” How would you like to die and have that written on your tombstone? “She was an encourager.” “He was an encourager.” I can’t think of any finer thing to be said.
Life is tough, and there are enough discouraging people in the world. We need a whole band – an army – of encouragers!
2. The church recognizes the value of every person.
“Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15b)
They may be obnoxious; they may be immature; they may be disagreeable, but Christ died for them. And don’t forget that! When you start to get upset with someone in your area of ministry or in the church, just remember: Christ died for that person. That shows how valuable and important they are to God. What right do I have to hurt people Christ died for? The answer is: I don’t have the right. Stay attuned to their importance to God.
3. The church stays focused on what’s really important.
“Don’t allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and is approved of men.” (Romans 14:16)
Paul is saying that the essence of Christianity is not external but internal. By focusing on the things that are internal – eternally important – we can then put up with a lot of external quirks, faults and faux pas.
Let me give you an illustration: Back in 1917, as the Bolsheviks grabbed the reins of power through a revolution in Russia, the priests in the Orthodox Church were in a heated debate over how long the tassels should be on their robes. They ignored the Bolshevik revolution, and instead, split their church arguing over this trivial matter! You may remember that I am the son of a pastor, and I’ve been in hundreds of churches. Through that, I’ve learned that most churches don’t split over major issues. They split over trivial, foolish little things. And Paul is making the plea: Don’t be sidetracked by minor issues.