What We Can Learn From A Bar
1 Corinthians 9:20-21
One of the most captivating things about Jesus was His ability to use everyday things to teach biblical truths. Consider the birds of the air, a certain man went out to plant a field, consider the lilies, and a woman who had ten coins were all introductions to some of the greatest teachings the world has ever known.
I understand that I am a far cry from the master teacher we see in Jesus, but I want to try to take page from His book this morning and try to do the same thing. As you can see the title of sermon this morning is What we can learn from a Bar. At first it sounds like it should have a punch line, doesn’t it? How is a church like a bar? They both have people passed out in them.
This morning I want us to take a serious look at what we can learn from a bar. Now I’m not interested if you have ever been in a bar or have just driven through a town that has a bar. This year we have been talking about how we are called to love our community, how we are called to be light and salt to our world. We spent a considerable amount of time this year talking about how we are to Model Love in the Model City. So I want us to go back to that idea and see if we can find some mustard seeds to take home with us this morning.
From 1982 to 1993 CBS ran a show about a former relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, Sam Malone who owns and runs a bar in Boston named Cheers. The show was centered around a group of barflies that always seemed so happy and excited about being together. Even if you never watched the show I am sure you are familiar with the theme song: “Sometimes you want to go; where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. You want to be where you can see troubles are all the same; you want to be where everybody knows your name.”
I have always wanted to be a part of a community that had lived up to that song. I believe that we have all longed to be a part of a family where we are known and not just tolerated, but appreciated. Actually, I don’t want to be tolerated. Being tolerated is just so sad and heartbreaking. I want to live in a community with folks who not only see my quirks, differences, and idiosyncrasies but one that still accepts me. People who understand that I don’t have it all together, that I struggle and even fail from time to time, but still love me. I think you do as well, and so does everyone that lives in our community.
“You want to be where everybody knows your name” might have been written about a TV show, but it should be the underlying attitude in the body of Christ. I believe that the same things that bring people to a bar are the same things that bring people into a church. And while we could talk ad nauseam about all of the ways that a church is different from a bar, or how we are called to live in the world but not like the world. I believe that there are a few things we can learn from a bar. So this morning I want us to look at three things that bars do well that the church can imitate.
First we have to understand that bars make people feel connected.
Contrary to popular belief, people don’t go to bars to get drunk. If their goal was simply to get drunk, I imagine that you could do that at home a lot cheaper. People go to a bar because they enjoy being around other people in an environment that makes them feel connected. Which is pretty interesting, because one of the primary descriptions of the church is that we are a body. The Apostle Paul uses a lot of ink in his letter to the church in Corinth, describing the church as a body and how we are connected to one another. He says in 1 Corinthians 12, The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (Verses 12-13)
Paul says that being connected to one another in the body of Christ is not just a good idea, it is imperative: But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (24-25)
Finding common ground with people is called fellowship, which is a far cry from having a potluck in the church building. The Greek word for fellowship is κοινων?α (Coin-ni-a) which actually means common. When we fellowship with others we connect with them. We find a common ground with them. I am a huge believer that our churches were not intended to grow through programs, but through connection. Or as Jess Moody put it, “We will win the world when fellowship, not evangelism, becomes our focus.”
If we can learn anything from a bar it is the ability to look at what we have in common with the people that God is putting in our path. I have to know my story, and be able to hear your story, so I can introduce you to the one in heaven who is writing the redemption story.
In 1 Corinthians 9 the apostle Paul writes about finding common ground: When I am with the Jews I seem as one of them so that they will listen to the Gospel and I can win them to Christ. When I am with Gentiles who follow Jewish customs and ceremonies I don’t argue, even though I don’t agree, because I want to help them. When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too… (20-21)
Now Paul is not saying that we have to compromise our consciences or put on a show in order to connect with people. He is simply calling us to be transparent. When Paul is with the Jews he is comfortable among them, when he is with the Gentiles he is comfortable among them. He is not putting on a show to look like a Jew or Gentile. He is simply speaking to them in ways that they comprehend. We need to start looking for common ground among the people in our community.
If I try to relate with someone who is struggling by lying to them or making them believe that I am perfect or that I don’t struggle, there is no way that I can be effective. And instead of making a connection with them, I encourage this irrational fear that they are broken.
If I try to connect to someone about family problems and I tell them I have the perfect family, I will never be able to get to the core of the problem. I need to minister to people and be honest in a way that is understandable.
Paul continues to talk about connection in verse 22: Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him. That’s your calling, if you have accepted God’s merciful gift of grace, then you have been given the charge to make connections with people so that we can lead them to our Savior.
Next we need to know that Bars make people feel comfortable.
Unfortunately there are a lot of churches that are not very comfortable. While the individual members are pretty comfortable on a daily basis, when we all get together something weird happens. In the last 20 years Trista and I ministered with a congregation that had these front doors that had the ability to transport you to a completely different universe. What I mean is if we were standing in the parking lot folks had normal conversations, and talked about normal things. But once you walked through those front doors, something weird happened. People only talked about church approved things and used this weird old English, thee and thou language. Even our vocabulary changed because people would use words like redemption or propitiation in a sentence. It was really kind of creepy.
Now while we don’t have that problem here at Greenbrier, there are still things that we do that might not make folks feel comfortable. There can be a bit of separation that let folks know where they fit in our pecking order. But that’s not what we see with Jesus. Actually we see something quite different. We read in Matthew 9:10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.
Jesus was comfortable with sinners and they were comfortable with Him. In fact, Jesus was more comfortable with sinners than He was with the religious people of the day. Compare the text we just read with Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”
Do you see the difference? Jesus’ response to religious leaders, who thought they were perfect, was much different than the way that He responded to those who admitted their brokenness. In reality when we get close to Christ, the ones who refuse to admit their struggles and problems should be the most uncomfortable.
I love that Jesus was comfortable around sinners while the religious leaders were not. It’s not enough for us to make sure this place is seeker sensitive, where folks who are seeking to get to know God and Christ can be comfortable. We must make sure that we are comfortable reaching out to them. You must get comfortable acknowledging you brokenness. Paul writes that all have sinned (Romans 3:23), so why do we try to hide the fact that we don’t have it all together, why do we try to hide the truth of our brokenness, when we all know your not perfect to begin with. If we are not comfortable with our brokenness, we will never be able to point other broken people to Jesus who can put the pieces of their lives back together.
People need to be comfortable here because we have the cure for sin. The church should not beat people up because they are sinners but welcome them in and give them the honored seat. Rex Brown said, “The church has become like an Aids clinic that is afraid of people with Aids. The true function of the church is to disturb the comfortable and to comfort the disturbed.”
Basically we need to normalize the human condition, normalize the fact that we are all great sinners in need of an even greater Savior. Which leads us to our last point thins morning.
We need to know that Bars make people feel normal.
One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes is "No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.” All of us believers seem to have this common struggle of believing or acting like those outside the walls of this building are somehow beneath us. We think we are better than those pagans out there in the world. We act like the troubles and sins of the world don’t affect us in the church. We act like Christians don’t struggle with sin. It’s like we have found this magic potion that makes all our sinful desires disappear.
The truth is that there is no potion. Christians struggle with sin as much as the rest of world. Paul, was an apostle, filled with the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit and he was willing to admit his struggle with sin. In Romans 7 he confesses, I am so human. Sin rules me as if I were its slave. I don't understand why I act the way I do. I don't do the good I want to do, instead I do the evil I hate. (14-15) I think if an Apostle was able to admit that he struggles with sin, that the rest of us should be willing to admit that we struggle as well. You see it’s only when we admit that we struggle and fail, that we will finally be able to see the truth about the grace of our Savior. We are all sinners and but thankfully the church exists as a testimony to the forgiveness of Christ.
I fear that far too many good people have forgotten what God says in Romans 14:13 So stop being critical and condemning of other believers, but instead determine to never deliberately cause a brother or sister to stumble and fall because of your actions. I like the way the Message paraphrases that verse. Forget about deciding what is right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is.
I wonder if sometimes Christians and Churches are so busy pointing at the world and their sins that we have forgotten about pointing the world to our Savior.
I wonder if we would truly be comfortable enough to let other broken people, people who are just as broken as we are but broken in different ways, to come here? Would we allow people to come here and give them the time it takes for God’s love and forgiveness to change what needs to be changed? The hardest lesson many of us will ever learn is that God changes people, we don’t. The church belongs to Jesus and our purpose is to serve Him. And we serve Jesus by loving the people He loves in the way that He loves them.
A few years ago Trista and I had some friends who moved to Colorado. They hadn’t been there a year when we received news that their church building had a fire and it was a total loss. While they were waiting for the insurance process to play out, they were trying to find a place to meet. In town there was an old bar, and the owners of the building said they could use the building, but they would have to clean it up first. Needing a place to meet, they decided with a little work, it could meet their needs. So they went to work, cleaning up the building.
They moved the tables into a back room and put some chairs out on the dance floor. They took the neon signs down, and put a podium up on the stage. Cleaned out the dust and various other things, and while it wasn’t perfect it was useable. And something happened in that space. It wasn’t a church building, so the folks fell a little more at ease, they could sit around and talk about life, struggles and successes. It was okay if someone struggled or made a mistake. There was a feeling of acceptance. In essence, they cleaned up the bar but there was a certain atmosphere that remained. And it made all the difference for that little church and that little community.
For the first time in that little community, a bar was actually offering people a solution to their problems. Jesus’ invitation is very simple in Matthew 11:28 he says Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest.
Everyone who is tired, discouraged, and disheartened should be able to find their happy hour, and happy life living among the people of God. What do you need to lay down at the foot of the cross, so that we can be a place for the tired and weary to find rest?
Questions For You To Consider
What are some ways that we can encourage one another?
What are some ways that we can be more seeker friendly?
How are you going to make sure that Greenbrier is more relevant?
What role does church fellowship play in developing compassion for others, humility, and the ability to forgive? (See Colossians 3:12-13).
Which requires more humility, to encourage or be encouraged?
Who do think needs the most encouragement in a church or members or visitors?
What does Galatians 2:9 tell us about how seriously the Early Church regarded fellowship?
Why is it important for the church to be a place where seekers feel welcome?
Why is it important that we introduce people to our Savior?