Church Growth & Beer

Brew your beer: ask God into your life, ask him to bear fruit in your life, let it ferment, and pour out that offering to the world.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27 “The body is a unit, though it is composed of many parts. And although its parts are many, they all form one body. So it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or  free, and we were all given one Spirit to drink…Now you are the body  of Christ, and each of you is a member of it.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27 “The body is a unit, though it is composed of many parts. And although its parts are many, they all form one body. So it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or  free, and we were all given one Spirit to drink…Now you are the body  of Christ, and each of you is a member of it.”

It’s about to be February 2021, and here we are, some of us here in the chapel, some of us Zooming in. I’m so grateful that we have all of these ways to gather, not just in person but online. I was saying last week, that as much as Zoom might not seem like a real gathering, it is. It’s like decaf coffee – it might not pack the same punch, but it’s still coffee! 

Now, everyone here, including on Zoom, can say later today that you went to church. And you did go to church – whether you came to this chapel or not. Our church is not this chapel. Our church isn’t this chat room. Our church is us – and we are the church.  

Now, I’m the hip new pastor here. I’m here in this pulpit because I got the vote of confidence from this community that I’d be the right shepherd for our church’s common life in this season – and it’s been our prayer that our little church here in Aquinnah will grow. 

I am humbled to be charged with the pastoral ministry of this community, and charged with growing this church.  

But I have to confess to you all, I can’t grow this church. If I try to make this church grow, I’m going to fail. And if you expect me to make this church grow, then I am going to fail you. 

But before you drag me off this pulpit, let me tell you why I’m not going to make this church grow. 4 words from St. Paul, 1st Corinthians Chapter 3, verse 6: “God makes it grow.” 

According to Ryan Malonson’s history, this church was first founded in either 1666 or 1693 as a Puritan Congregation church by Metaark, Sachem of Gay Head, with the help of Thomas Mayhew Sr. He also lists “Peter Tackamason; then Silas Paul, who for a time was the only Baptist sinister on the island; and Josias Howwoswee” as founders. Ryan tells us that “There is no actual record of how the Gay Head Church went from Congregational to Presbyterian to Baptist. 

“Just as the church was growing, so was the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.” 

I love how Ryan makes a point of showing how interconnected the growth of the church is with the growth of Martha’s Vineyard – like all good historians, he wants us to see the entire story – and like a good biologist, he wants us to see the entire ecosystem of this church body’s growth. 

Because the church is a body. It’s a living organism. St. Paul in today’s reading said, “you are the body of Christ.” He was talking to folks who were having an argument about who founded their church. Some said, “I follow Paul” but others said, “I follow Apollos,” the co-founder. They were arguing over which way their church would grow.  

But Paul said, “Y’all aren’t being spiritual about this.” When he talks about the growth of the church, he describes it in terms of gardening: “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything [or anyone special], but only God, who makes things grow…we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 

Now, who is Paul is talking to? Not just to ministers, I’ll tell you that. So first of all, Paul is backing me up! — no minister is the cause for a church’s growth. But second of all, and more importantly, Paul is admonishing his congregation to some workplace synergy – we are God’s fellow-workers. 

This is Paul’s way of saying, “Quit bickering about your pastor growing this church. This is a team effort – with God.” 

So. Now you have the secret for miraculous church growth. I could be done with this message now. Am I done?  

I’m not done here. The Bible isn’t done. 

*** 

We haven’t stopped and asked ourselves the simplest, most important question in reaching our goal of church growth. 

What is church growth

Last week we talked about Joel Osteen. More like picked on him a bit. That dude’s church meets in an arena. Millions of people consume his messages and books. His church has serious numbers. 

Not to knock Mr. Osteen – but is that church growth? Or is that business growth? Is that audience growth? He’s got serious numbers — 

But are numbers how we measure church growth?  

The church is a body, comprised of individual members, just as any organism is a body made of cells. Now, if such an organism enjoys unmitigated cellular growth, in the same way that a church can enjoy unmitigated membership growth, is that growth to be celebrated? No. That’s cancer.  

In a healthy body, old cells die and are replaced with the new cells the body needs. But with cancer, old cells that should die don’t, while new cells form that aren’t needed. These are tumors. They spread into places where they’re not needed, wreaking havoc on the health of the body. 

We don’t measure the health of a body by the multiplication of its cells. A healthy body is not one whose sole purpose is just growth – that’s cancer. A healthy body is healthy because the cells that it does have function as they should. 

It’s the same with our church. We shouldn’t think of growth as merely as getting bigger, but as spiritual health. We should think of growth less in terms of church membership and more in terms of the spiritual maturity of our members. 

Think about Aquinnah. In a town of 350, how big is this church going to get? What happens when our membership peeks out at 350? Is there no more growth? Do we then start poaching Christians from other churches? 

No, in fact I submit to you that it if there is no spiritual growth, it would be better if we had only 5, not 350. And this is what Jesus meant, when he said, if a part of the body makes you sin, cut it out – we know this applies perfectly to church teaching, because everyone agrees Jesus never meant to literally amputate parts of your body that make you sin. He was speaking of the body of the church – that each member be in good spiritual health. If you don’t have spiritual health in your church, you have no church at all – the body of Christ might as well have no limbs. 

But the body of Christ is a living organism in which we have living hope, because therein we find the words of life, the Holy Spirit, and the God of Love. And that’s our business here today, right? That’s what you came for here today — you didn’t come here just to navel-gaze about our church, but to discuss the words of life from Christ, and tend to our spiritual health, which is the true church growth. 

Which is why I want to talk about…beer. 

*** 

Yes beer. And not just any beer. 

Rochefort. Brewed by the Trappist monks of the Abbey of St. Benedict in Belgium. Founded in 1648. 

Chimay. Brewed by the Trappist monks of Scourmont Abbey in Hainaut, Belgium. Founded in 1862. 

Spencer. “Made by the Trappist monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Massachusetts, Spencer is the first Trappist beer brewed outside of Europe.” Founded in…2013. 

So: Beer. But not just any beer. Trappist beer. What does trappist beer have to do with church growth, true spiritual health? 

The Trappists monks weren’t drunks. They weren’t drunk monks. They were serious monks. This was an order of monks founded in the 1600’s by dudes that weren’t just miffed at society, they were miffed at the church; and not just miffed at the church, they were miffed at the monasteries. Monasteries are supposed to be the most strictly observant form of religious life – and even this wasn’t enough for these guys. 

They vowed strict observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict, which basically meant work and pray all day. They were so hardcore, they invented their own sign language to keep speaking at a minimum. And their asceticism was so rigorous that they rarely ate.  

And as monks tend to do, they cut themselves off from the world around them, and held to a rule of being completely self-sufficient. They made their own food, like cheese, and jam, but remember, they fasted a lot, so they didn’t eat much – so how did they look after their nutrition? 

Beer. Heavy Belgian beer. For these monks, drinking beer wasn’t about going out for a wild night at the Ritz. It was part of their religious life and part of maintaining their health. They drank beer the way yoga moms drink kombucha, kefir [kee-fur], or beet kvass. Fermented and nutritious, cleansing to the body and soul! 

What does this have to do with us? I’ll tell you. Think of what Trappist Beer has become – a lifeline between monk and mankind. Trappist Beer is not just sustenance and part of the spiritual health of the monks, but it’s also a ministry to the rest of the world.  

And if you think it’s controversial that I say that beer is a ministry to the world, because beer which has mixed connotations, beer which doesn’t have the cleanest reputation, beer which isn’t necessarily associated with the Christian lifestyle – I was hoping you’d think it’s controversial. Because it is.  

I want you to brew beer. I want you to find what it is that gives you sustenance and spiritual health. Just like the monks need beer to survive without food, this is the thing that you can’t live without spiritually. I want you to focus on that first and foremost in your spiritual journey, in your faith walk of Christian witness.  

And then I want you to share it with the world. Like beer, it won’t be for everyone. It might be controversial. It is often the things within us that have brought us the most pain that will save us – but it is a truth that the light is only found at the end of a dark tunnel. This is where your story, your life, your pain, intersects with the story of Jesus, his life, his pain in dying for us.  

With God’s pain in loving us to death. 

They say, you have to put your oxygen mask on before you help others. They say can’t save someone from drowning if you’re drowning yourself. In this particular way, I’m saying, put yourself first. Brew your beer – that unique, and fermented thing which you desperately need in your spiritual diet. It is your special brew, cultivated and fermented with love and care. 

And then share it with the world. 

I emphasize that beer is made by a process of fermentation. A form of cultivation – where you let the addition and multiplication, the growth, happen naturally. A synergy between man and nature – or nature’s God. It is just like the church, where we are fellow-workers with God. And we can trust God to bring forth fresh expressions of His creative spiritual power, if we allow him to take care of our growth. 

Our old church is like a tree with really deep and strong roots. But perhaps the branches have been over-pruned, as you can see – there aren’t a great many branches at the moment. So maybe it’s time to let the branches go unpruned a bit and run wild and see what fruit they bear.  

And what this means is, brew your beer. Ask God into your life, ask him to bear fruit in your life, and let it ferment, and pour out that offering to the world. As your pastor, I ask you no more than this. This is, in fact, the Great Commission. 

Remember, this chapel isn’t church – we’re the church, God’s garden, and this chapel is a green house. Sunday morning isn’t church – we’re the church, God’s garden, and Sunday morning is a time for routine watering. And by another analogy, Sunday morning isn’t the big game – it’s the practice, and the Bible is the playbook. When we part ways on Sunday morning, that’s when the big game begins. Sunday morning is rehearsal, and when we leave the chapel, the big show starts. 

So ask God into your life. Ask him to bear fruit in your life. Jesus died for you so that your sins and shortcomings would not define you, but so that through your faith you would be saved by the grace that truly defines you, if you just had the eyes to see.  

Where you see weakness, God sees strength. Where you see failure, God sees opportunity. Ask God into your life, ask him to bear fruit in your life, and He will – and that fruit will be your ministry. And that is what I am commissioning you to do today: find your ministry. Brew your beer. 

In the church, ministries are like feats of strength in old time strong man competitions. They indicate far more than a healthy body, they demonstrate miraculous strength. That’s the kind of growth we want to focus on – organic, living growth as measured by the measures we use for any organic, living body: health, strength, resilience, and vital energy. 

I hope you are inspired to brew your beer, to find your ministry, your vocation in God’s kingdom here. This is a real commission – I want follow up. Talk to me, I’m here to help. Talk to one another. Let’s make this happen. 

I am excited to see our faith community bear fruit. Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” We want God to bear fruit in us. Paul says of the church, of us, “Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” — 

Therefore we should earnestly pray that God’s Spirit dwelling in us bears the fruit thereof, since this is what true growth is. What is that fruit? Paul says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” 

The Spirit of God is the spirit of life. If there is no spirit of life, the body is dead. But if a body has the spirit of life, it is alive, and well, and, it is growing.  

In the same way, may you all be blessed abundantly with the indwelling of the Spirit of God who is love — that you as individuals, and that we as a single body, may bear the fruits thereof, and abundantly at that. Amen. 

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