The Birth of a Generous Church

April 15, 2015

I’ve always been intrigued with the Corinthian Church.  A church with problems, you don’t have to
read very far through the letters addressed to the church to discover that they
struggled with “issues”.  Theological
issues, moral issues, behavioural issues. 
But in my experience that is the reality of the church.  I mean as long as the church is made up of
people.    In my 33 years in the ministry, the three
churches that I have served as lead pastor have all experienced theological
issues, moral issues and behavioural issues to one degree or another.  The perfect church will never exist as long
as it’s made up of imperfect people. 
But for all of their struggles
listen to how Paul addresses them in his first letter:  1
Corinthians 1:2-3
I am writing to
God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy
people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all
people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and
ours. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
But what has intrigued me more
than anything about the church in Corinth was their generosity.  Listen what Paul wrote to this group.  In 2 Corinthians 8:10 Last
year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin
doing it.  That’s pretty
impressive.  They were the first who
wanted to give, but not only did they want to give they were the first to begin
doing it.
So here we are, on the Sunday that celebrates twenty years
of worshipping together as a church. 
That means that for 1040 Sundays, actually 1039, because we had to
cancel church on November 7th 2004,  there have been folks who have gathered
together under the banner of either Bedford Community Church or Cornerstone
Wesleyan Church to worship and serve Jesus Christ.
But along with that this is our first week of Stewardship
Emphasis month, or as it is now commonly known at Cornerstone “Money Month”. 
For those who are new to Cornerstone or are a guest today a
little background. 
Thirteen years ago
we started dealing with the topic of money differently than we did for the
first seven years we existed.  For the
first seven we treated money the way most churches do.  We prepared a budget each year, which
actually is probably more responsible than a lot of churches, but the budget
really wasn’t based on reality.  It was
more of a wish list than a budget.
And then I would
preach on money whenever money became an issue. 
Which unfortunately probably came across as scolding or begging.   In 2002 the leadership team decided that
wasn’t working and so we moved in a different direction.  Each year in the month of April I focus on
the theology of giving at Cornerstone and so in April, I preach on money, how
we make it and how we use it.  And then
at the end of April we ask those who make Cornerstone their church home to make
a commitment of what they intend to give weekly for the next 12 months and that
is what we base our budget on.  In a very
real sense the people of Cornerstone determine what type of church they would
like to have. 
As many of you know the preaching schedule at Cornerstone is
in the planning stages months before we actually get to preach a particular
message.  So now we are planning for our
summer series, I’ve been at least thinking about Christmas and have scrawled
down thoughts for next Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  We don’t always nail it the way we planned
but at least we are thinking about it. 
So back in the fall it dawned on me that I would have to combine Money
Month with Easter Sunday and our Anniversary Service this year. 
Now my first thought was that I would have to reduce Money
Month to two weeks, and while that may have made some of you happy I realized
that it really didn’t serve the purpose that we had put in place 13 years ago,
sorry. 
So last Sunday I preached on “A Generous Easter” and it was
as I pondered where I would go on our 20th birthday that I realized
that Cornerstone is a generous church that was birthed out of the generosity of
other churches and that we aren’t alone in that.  Every church that exists and has ever existed
was once a brand new church. 
The Beginning of the
Church
Last summer, summer is a season when there is no snow on the ground
the rivers and lakes are liquid and children frolic on green grass, just in
case you were wondering.  Last summer the
staff preached a series called “Down the Road” and we followed the journey of
Paul from his conversion to his death. 
And you will recall that Paul was one of the Jewish religious elite who
persecuted the church before he met Jesus. 
And in the early days of his ministry his target audience were those who
shared his Jewish faith.  Those were the
ones he had the most in common with.  But
then something happened. 
Paul was in the middle of what
is commonly called “The First Missionary Journey” and ends up in the city of
Antioch which is in modern day Turkey. 
This is not the city of Antioch that is mentioned earlier in the book of
Act where the believers were first called Christians, that was in Syria.  Apparently Antioch was a lot like
Springfield.
And as was Paul’s tradition he
goes to the Synagogue and starts preaching to the Jewish folks who have
gathered for the Sabbath.   But listen to
what happens the next week:    Acts 13:44-49 The following week almost the entire city
turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord. But when some of the Jews
saw the crowds, they were jealous; so they slandered Paul and argued against
whatever he said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was
necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have
rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to
the Gentiles. For the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I have made you
a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the
earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord
for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. So
the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.   
This is a major paradigm
shift.  If that hadn’t happened we
probably wouldn’t be here today.  Up to
this point the gospel was being preached only to the Jews, a few gentiles
heard, but for the most part if you weren’t Jewish you weren’t invited to the party.  You might even recall that Peter was accused
of associating with Gentiles when he preached in Antioch in Syria, and was
reprimanded for it.
But now we see Paul casting a
vision for a church that would embrace those who were outside the church. 
For Cornerstone that dream
began in November of 1992 in Brisbane Australia when I attended a conference about
“Building a church for the Unchurched”.   The conference was put on by Willow Creek
Church and the key note speaker for the week was the Lead Pastor from Willow
Creek, Bill Hybels.  And God spoke to my
heart about pastoring a church that would reach the pre-churched the unchurched
and the de-churched.
In Paul’s case his proclamation
is a shift in focus, to reach folks who previously had been largely ignored by
the church, and the decision wasn’t without controversy.  If you keep reading in the book of Acts you
discover that Paul has to return to Jerusalem to defend his decision and his vision
for the future in front of the church leadership.  And the result was that they put their
support behind Paul and Barnabas and they head out on the journey that will
ultimately introduce Christianity to Europe. 
But without the leadership of
the church putting their support behind Paul it would never have happened. 
It was in January and February
of 1994 that Angela and I were in discussion with Ray Barnwell the District
Superintendent of the Atlantic District about returning from Australia.  And Ray asked if we would be interested in
planting a new church on the district. 
And I cast my vision for a church that would be innovative and different
from other churches, a church that would be designed to reach the unchurched,
the pre-churched and the de-churched.
And the dream that would become
Cornerstone moved closer to reality.  But
it could never have happened without the generosity of people who would never
attend the new church and in some cases people who we would never meet.  The denomination gave us a $10,000 US grant
for equipment and signs for our new church and the Atlantic District committed
$30,000 for our first year, $15,000 for our second year and $7,500 for our
third year. 
And during the first nine
months that we were in Bedford I travelled every weekend to Wesleyan churches
across NS and NB casting a vision for this new church to people who would never
feel comfortable attending the church we were dreaming of, but they embraced
the vision and committed to give and pray for a church they would never attend.
And it was the dollars and
prayers of those folks, their generosity that allowed us to see our church born
and survive during those early years when the offerings would hardly cover the
rent we were paying for our office and worship space.
The Birth of the
Church
The church in Corinth wasn’t the first church to be birthed in
Europe, but it would be one of the most influential in many ways.  Corinth was a Roman Colony and the capital of
that province, it was a key commercial centre and major sea port and it was
also described as “A key centre for pagan worship” and Paul would spend 18
months here establishing the church. 
But he wasn’t alone. 
If you read down through the account you see several folks named who
were instrumental in making the dream a reality.  A couple by the name of Aquila and Priscilla who let Paul live with
them while the church was in its infant stage, and they helped provide him work
as a tent maker so he could support himself and the baby church.  There was a man named Titius Justus, who was
a gentile who also opened his home to Paul and the church.  We are told that Crispus was the leader of
the synagogue and he became a believer.
And then Silas and
Timothy arrived as ministry partners to help establish the church. 
The week before we
launched we knew for sure that we had about a dozen people who had committed to
be a part of our new church and another dozen who were half way in and another
two dozen beyond that who had told us, “Let us know when you get a church
started.”  And so on our first Sunday we
had 99 but many of them were visitors.  And
some who were in that first service are here today, either in this service or
the other one.  And that morning one of
the songs we sang was “We Are a People of Power” and I truly believed that.
And by the end of
the first month we had about forty folks who were committed to being a part of
our new church.
When we started
Cornerstone I couldn’t have done it by myself. 
Angela was my ministry partner and she led worship and then left to lead
children’s ministry.  There was always
one song that we had to sing with a cassette, we called it the band in the
box.  And our kids did whatever had to be
done, Steve played drums and Deborah did whatever we asked her to, played bass,
ran PowerPoint, helped in nursery and children’s church and youth.  And that continues to be the reality at
Cornerstone.  For the pastoral staff every
week is bring your kid to work week, ministry families are the first here on
Sunday and often the last to leave on Sunday. 
Marilyn’s boys have taught in the children’s ministry, have helped in
youth and done sound, played in the band and become puppeteers, because they
were needed. 
And here is a
teaching moment, today when a pastor works at a job outside the church as well
as pastoring we refer to them as bi-vocational but for many years they were
referred to as Tentmakers, which was a reference to what Paul did to support
himself in the early years of the Corinthian Church.  Every pastor at Cornerstone, without
exception has been part-time or bi-vocational at some point.  And that continues because although Stefan
will be coming on full time in July he has been on staff as a volunteer since
July.
And so for those
first ten years that Cornerstone existed it was the generosity of the small
group that called Bedford Community their church home that made it possible for
the church to exist.   Some were like Aquila and Priscilla and
sacrificially gave of their finances. 
There were a number of years that Cornerstone had the highest per capita
giving of any Wesleyan Church in the Maritimes, we just needed more
capita.    And it was because of that giving that
Cornerstone was able to be a missions giving church even during the lean
years.  Before we had our first service
we started supporting our first overseas missionary, and that couldn’t have
happened without people who were committed financially to the work. 
But it wasn’t just a
dollars that people gave.  Some were like
Justus, the gentile in Corinth, who had no exposure to church before he started
attending church.  Folks who started attending
and were introduced to Jesus and things changed for them.  Financially they had never thought about
giving to a church before and the five dollars a week that they started with
seemed like a stretch but pretty soon they were giving sacrificially to make it
happen, and helping to set up and tear down every Sunday and running the sound
system and hosting small groups.  And
then it wasn’t just their money they were giving, it was their lives.
And there was
Crispus, the leader of the synagogue. 
This new work in Corinth wasn’t like worship in the synagogue, and now
he wasn’t the leader anymore and things were different. What he generously
offered, along with his finances were his preferences.
I think about
conversations that I had throughout the years with folks who came to our church
and then left because they felt that their needs weren’t being met.  And I would smile and nod, because there
wasn’t much else you could do.  As they
said they wanted to attend someplace with the music they preferred, or a church
with a longer service, or that we only had six children in the children’s
program and they wanted a larger program for their kids, or a bigger youth
group for their teens or we didn’t have more midweek programs. 
But what allowed us
to become the church that we have become were the families that put their
preferences on the back burner because they believed in the vision of what we
were trying to do, to create a church that unchurched people would enjoy coming
to and would meet Jesus and accept him as saviour and Lord.    And
like Crispus they sacrificed their preferences for the vision.  And their kids were part of the small Jr.
Church program and their teens were part of the little youth group, and they
didn’t always get to sing the music they preferred. 
And that attitude of
generosity flourished when we came to the point that we realized that if we
were going to see our vision become a reality then we would have to have a
church building of our own.  And we’ve
told this story before, when we made the decision to build there were around
fifty people attending Cornerstone on an average Sunday and we embarked on a
capital campaign that would determine the future of our Church.  And from that group we raised commitments of
over $358,000.00, to be paid over a three year period.
And people gave up
vacations, and new cars and sacrificed everyday things to make that a
reality.  And there were large gifts and
there were small gifts from single moms and high school students, because the
theme was “Not Equal Giving but Equal Sacrifice”  And you could add to that the $10,000.00 the
denomination gave us for our first building and how that was matched by the
district.  And while we didn’t have an official
anthem as we moved ahead, I don’t know how many times that year we sang “All
Things are Possible”
The Transition of the
Church
The church in Corinth had a transition when Paul left after 18
months, it was a different church than it had been under his leadership.  For Cornerstone that transition happened that
Sunday almost ten years ago when we opened the doors to this new building.  And in many ways we became a different church
than we had been.  But the thing that
remained the same was the generosity. 
In Paul’s second letter to the
Corinthian church listen to what he tells them: 
2 Corinthians 9:2 For I know how eager you are to help, and
I have been boasting to the churches in Macedonia that you in Greece were ready
to send an offering a year ago. In fact, it was your enthusiasm that stirred up
many of the Macedonian believers to begin giving.   It was the generosity of the believers
in Corinth that set an example for the believers in Macedonia, which is modern
day Turkey. 
And since we have moved into
this building the folks who have come and embraced the vision and the dream of
Cornerstone have continued to be a generous people.  And when people criticize churches that want
to grow and are growing they don’t understand that a church of 300 can do so
much more than a church of 50 or even a hundred.
And the generosity that
continues to bubble up at Cornerstone has affected people in our communities
and communities around the world.   The
financial generosity that has continued to allow us to have this building.  The 358,000 dollars that was raised by the
small group was seed money, but the monthly mortgage on our new building was
more than our total giving the month before we moved in.  Someone asked shortly after we moved in how
much our mortgage was and I replied “$283.00” and they said “that’s not bad” to
which I added “per day”.   And yet
because of your generosity we have never missed a mortgage payment, or a power
payment or a payday.    
But it’s not simply a matter of
you giving to keep the building open, that’s like the church that had service
so they could take an offering so they could stay open another week to have
service to take an offering. 
Your generosity has reached
well beyond this building.  Because of
your generosity families at Ronald McDonald House can come home from being with
their sick kids at the IWK and have a hot meal. 
And because of your generosity there are hundreds of people across
Halifax who have had soup in their cupboards for their lunch or supper.  And because of your generosity through the
years hundreds of children in developing countries have had gifts to celebrate
Christmas with.  And because of your
generosity there is a safe place in Odessa in Ukraine for homeless teens to go,
and because of your generosity wells have been drilled to provide fresh water
in Sierra Leone and the Congo, and they have been instrumental in the fight
against Ebola.  There are people that you
will never meet who are alive today because of gifts you made to the well
projects. 
And there are children who have
been sponsored in Ghana and Peru and around the world who will have a better
future because of your generosity
There are pastors teaching and
preaching in villages in Sierra Leone and Ghana who were trained because your
generosity allowed me the time to take teams of teachers to West Africa and you
helped support my trips financially.  And
there will be people in heaven who came to know Jesus in a bush church in
Africa because of your giving. 
And there are still people who
stay even though we don’t sing the music they like, and even though Denn wears
jeans to preach and they aren’t entirely comfortable at Cornerstone but they
have sacrificed their preferences to be part of a church with a vision to
provide a comfortable place for people who don’t go to church to go to
church. 
And as we move into the future
if we are going to impact the lives that we need to impact, if we are to
introduce more and more families to Jesus, if we are going to see more
marriages salvaged and more teens kept out of potentially dangerous situations
because of a change in their focus and priorities it will be because you
continue to be generous, with your time, with your preferences and with your
money.   
I wish I could recognize every
person who has made Cornerstone a reality through their generosity, but you
will have to be satisfied with my heartfelt thank you.  I had mentioned earlier about those who were
here for the first service, but there is someone here, other than members of my
family, who has been here from the very beginning.  And there is only one of them.  And that is Karen Wickwire.  She was part of the small group that met in
our living room  on Basinview drive, she
was here for the first service and she has faithfully served and given at
Cornerstone for the past 20 years, and not just as a church member but as a
friend.  We haven’t always agreed on
everything but she has always supported my ministry and vision for this church.  When the church struggled and I struggled as
the pastor it was notes of encouragement from Karen that I kept on my bulletin
board that kept me going.  And there were
the meals that Karen took Angela and me out for, and times that I was working
outside the church and pastoring that Karen provide us with a few days away at
White Point.  And so while we could never
adequately express our appreciation to Karen we have a gift of roses for her
and Angela and I are going to take her out to Supper as a gift from
Cornerstone.