Thursday, September 21, 2006

How to Build the Perfect Church

The following is an excerpt from the sermon I preached in the closing worship service of the final week of Pastor’s Training held at the Faculty of Protestant Theology in Yaounde. Following the sermon, we presented certificates to the probationary pastors, and cassocks to the five pastors who are now permitted to administer the sacraments. Then we closed the service with Holy Communion. The title of the sermon is “How to Build a Perfect Church.”

As we begin to build a mighty church in Cameroon, it is wise to remember that there is no such thing as a “perfect church.”

The church is full of imperfect people, who are sinners, who fight and argue with each other, who make bad decisions, but who come again and again to hear that their sins are being forgiven and that they are being formed into Christ’s likeness, day by day.

The “perfect church” doesn’t exist – and it never has!

Not even in the New Testament! The book of Acts gives us a sobering view of the first Christians, and it isn’t flattering. Even the apostle Paul had a violent falling-out with Barnabas, so that they had to go their separate ways.

For one thing, the church has never been perfect in its doctrines; every generation has had to refine and re-define what it means to believe in Christ.

The church has never been perfect in its organization; every generation has had to change the way it does things in order to be more effective disciples.

The church has never been perfect in its liturgy; every generation has reinterpreted, retranslated, and reformulated the words and gestures it uses in worship.

No, the church is certainly not perfect in its doctrines, organization, or liturgy.

But … we are not called to perfection in those things.

We are called to perfection in only one thing.

That one thing … is LOVE.

This is my special word to you, the first ten probationary pastors of the United Methodist Church in Cameroon. This is my challenge to you this evening: be made perfect in love.

We have talked a lot about building foundations of a strong church in the last year. This evening, we are laying some of that foundation by celebrating the progress of these pastors. But the foundation that we are building is held together by the cement of love.

I want to direct your attention to my Scripture text for the evening, because it comes from a letter written by Paul to an imperfect church.

The church in Corinth could hardly be called “perfect” in any generation!

In fact, if you read the letter closely, you will discover that, in this church, there was sexual immorality, divisions and factions, believers suing believers, and charismatic shenanigans.

In the midst of all this terrible confusion, Paul attempted to bring the light of Jesus Christ by writing this letter. How did he attempt to solve the problem?

By correcting the Corinthians’ doctrine? No.
By telling the Corinthians how to organize themselves properly? No.
By handing the Corinthians a new, correct liturgy? No.

Instead, Paul teaches them “the most excellent way,” which is, of course, love. And chapter 13 is his exposition of the way this love acts.


The people in your towns and villages are not looking primarily for churches with the correct doctrine – they don’t know enough about academic theology to know the difference.

The people in your cities and communities are not looking for churches which are well-organized – there are other churches in Cameroon that are well-organized.

The people in your neighborhoods are not even looking for the best liturgy – most don’t know the meaning of the word.

Instead, they are looking for something that will touch their lives and their hearts. They are looking for love. They want to know that God loves them, that God is doing everything he can to save them and bring them lasting peace and joy.

Someone once asked a great German theologian, “What church should I join?”

The theologian was a Lutheran, of course, but he answered, “Find and join the church with the most love in it and that will be the truest church.”

May God find us worthy to be called a “true church.”