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Preseason: Attend a Service – Sermon Notes


Part One: Attend a Service
Pastor Rick Henderson                August 12-13, 2023

In 182 days, two teams are going to lay their bodies on the line for 60 minutes, competing as more than 100 million people look on. All to hoist this trophy. We throw parties to watch that game. Even people who don’t like football watch the Super Bowl.

Now, the team gets the trophy. Players get rings like this one. My man, Harold Burden, gave me this. It’s a replica of the championship ring that the New Orleans Saints received in 2010. You guys don’t remember anything about that, do you?

Here’s my real question. What decides and when is it decided who the winner is? Everything that happens, all the effort, each decision within the 60 minutes of game time is important—but it’s not only decided there. Everything that happens during the playoffs and the regular season is critically important—but it’s not only decided there. No team wins at the end of the season without first making winning decisions in the preseason. That’s not just a sports thing, it’s an all-of-life thing. And it’s a Christian life thing.

For those of you who aren’t into sports, don’t worry. I’m not going to force-feed you football metaphors. And yet, if you’ll lean in and think about the value of a preseason for a sports team, we’re going to see that winning at the important things in life also requires a preseason.

The apostle Paul used sports metaphors and terms like winning to connect us all with urgent truth.

If he were alive today, I believe he’d be a football fan. I bet he’d even be in a fantasy football league. His team’s name would be something like Chief of Pig Skinners. That joke only works for people who like puns, Bible trivia, and fantasy football. It’s a niche audience. Let’s look at this together.

1 CORINTHIANS 9:24-27 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Here’s his thinking. If athletes decide to train long before the competition comes. If athletes invest themselves in making all the mini decisions in obscurity, long before crunch time hits, so that they can win something that won’t even last, why wouldn’t we have the same approach to winning the prize that lasts forever?!

Paul was talking about the prize of not earning salvation and going to heaven. He was talking about the prize of leading other people to know Jesus. Having a relationship with Jesus, knowing him, being fully forgiven, fully loved, fully accepted—that doesn’t depend on our effort. That’s all based on Jesus’ effort. He did it for us, and we receive that as a gift by trusting in him.

Being on mission with Jesus does require our effort. And Paul didn’t want to run out of gas in the middle of the game. To set himself up to endure in hard moments, to be able to compete and respond well in any moment, he pre-decided that he would make the kind of choices now that would support winning choices later. That’s not just commitment. That’s wisdom. His imperative for us is to do the same.

1 CORINTHIANS 9:24b Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Individually and collectively, let’s be people who are getting after the prize. Let’s be people committed to leading others to know and follow Jesus. If we are going to do that, like Paul, we will make the pre-decisions now that support winning in the moment later. This will be the big idea of this series.

SERIES THESIS: Wise people don’t just make GOOD decisions; they make PRE-DECISIONS.

This is something that applies to all areas of life. You don’t have to be a religious or spiritual person to recognize this and benefit from it. Anyone can cash in on wisdom by applying this to any aspect of life. But for followers of Jesus, this is non-negotiable. We’re commanded to approach life with this mindset. We’ll unpack this more and more each week. So I’m inviting you to pred-decide to attend each week. Don’t wait to see what happens next weekend. I’m inviting you to predecide right now.

This is what we are going to do today. We’re going to explore how this mindset brings together one of the more important sets of relationships that we will have AND our commitment and call to join Jesus on mission. I want you to grab a Bible or use your phone. We’re going to read:

ACTS 2:41-47

Acts is the fifth book in the New Testament. Go to the second half of the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and then Acts. It was written by Luke. He was a physician and a historian. Believe it or not, he is the gold standard for historical accuracy from that era. Before I read, we need to know the backstory.

It’s been not quite two months since Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Jesus has ascended to heaven, and his small band of remaining followers are gathered together. It’s the Jewish celebration of Pentecost. That day was a big deal because the Holy Spirit came, he indwelled, and he empowered them all to preach the gospel. It was both men and women. It was old and young. When they went out into the public areas of the city, when they preached, people heard the message of the gospel in their own languages.

This was a miraculous, multigenerational, multicultural, egalitarian, gospel proclamation fest. And it created a scene. People wanted to know what was going on. So, the Apostle Peter stood at the front of the massive crowd and preached an epic sermon. And this was the result.

ACTS 2:41-47 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Some people like small churches. Some people like medium-sized churches. That’s fine. The very first day of the very first church—it was a mega-church. What was this church about?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I just want us to slow down and think about what it must have been like to be a part of the experience of the early days of the first church.


  • Devotion to teaching and fellowship

They weren’t just devouring content. They were devoted to each other. They didn’t just learn the same things. They learned it together. On this side, the lockdowns we lived through a few years ago, we now can appreciate this in a way that maybe we couldn’t before. For all of us who did church online, this is what we learned.

We can get content alone. We can’t get community alone. We can all learn the same things at the same time and all be alone. But we can’t grow together without gathering together. Allow me to be crystal clear. When we gather together, it’s not in devotion to my teaching or a pastor’s teaching. That’s a fast track to being a toxic church. We all, you and me included, gather together to devote ourselves to God’s Word.

What else did we learn? We can worship on our own and in our own ways. And I hope you do. I do. On my own and in my own way, I sing loud, and I dance. Nobody wants to see that. But do you know what I can’t do and what you can’t do when we worship on our own and in our own way? We can’t experience being united in the one we worship unless we are united when we worship.

I’ll add one more to the list. Even though we could do it on our own, even though it might conceivably have some value on our own, taking communion doesn’t feel like communion without our community.

  • Inspiring stories of God at work

That can be miracles, but it doesn’t have to be limited to that. Every time we play a baptism video, that is a story of God at work.

  • Generosity and humility
  • Gathered in large, public settings
  • Gathered in small, intimate settings

They gathered in big groups at the temple. They gathered in small groups in homes. Both the big group and small group experiences are important. And both are irreplaceable in the life of a Jesus follower.

  • Enjoyed hospitality and good food
  • Growing in number

God was at work, and this church was on mission. The result was that it grew every day with more people who wanted to become fully devoted followers of Jesus.

What must it have felt like to be a part of that church? That’s the kind of church that every pastor wants to pastor. That’s the kind of church where more people volunteer to host smaller groups in their homes every day, and more people want to join them. That’s the kind of church that people are thrilled to give to financially. That’s the kind of church where people were dragging their friends to join them. It must have been the kind of church experience that felt like it was full of the best relationships possible.

What is it that makes the best relationships the best relationships?

The best relationships are defined by high TRUST and healthy EXPECTATIONS.

What is trust? It’s me being confident that you are honest, safe, and reliable. And if I’m trustworthy, then I am honest, safe, and reliable. If we share trust with each other, we have the feelings, beliefs, and behaviors woven together into safety, honesty, and reliability.

What does it mean to have healthy expectations? Because I don’t ever want our relationship to be in doubt, I give you permission to expect that I will be there for you. Everything that love requires, you can count on that from me. I hope you don’t ever take it for granted. And yet, I happily give you permission to expect that from me. Because you don’t want our relationship to be in doubt, you give me permission to expect that you will be there for me. Everything that love requires, I can count on that from you. You hope that I don’t ever take that for granted. And yet, you happily give me permission to expect that from you.

Those are healthy expectations. They aren’t imposed. They are demanded. They are freely and mutually given. We can invite each other into that kind of relationship, but we can never force anyone into that kind of relationship.

I’m convinced that every relationship in my life and every relationship in your life could be plotted somewhere on this chart. The further you go up, the more expectations you have. The further you go this way the more trust you have. The further you go back this way, the less trust you have. The absolute best relationships are here [Q4]. And it feels like this.

Instead of talking about relationships in general, let’s zoom in on our relationship with church. Let’s start with this thought.

Wise people pre-decide what kind of RELATIONSHIP they want to have with a church and what kind of CHURCH they want to have a relationship with.

If you’re a person who still doesn’t know if you’re ready to follow Jesus or not, this probably feels premature. And yet, you’re at a church. Even if I don’t know you, I bet I know something about it. At the very least, you want us to be trustworthy. At the very least, you want us to be safe and honest. This conversation includes you too.

For the rest of you who are already following Jesus, I’m just going to take it as a given that you’d prefer to have the best kind of relationship possible. No matter where you’d plot your relationship with our church on this chart, you’d love for it to be the best relationship possible. I want that too. I want it for me, and I want it for you.

But what about the second part? How do we know which church to be in a relationship with?

Imagine that below this line is all the wrong way to do church. And at the top of this line are all the right ways to do church? I don’t know if you know this, but there isn’t one right way to do church. The New Testament is very clear on the kind of people we are supposed to be. The New Testament is very clear on what the purpose and mission of the church is. The New Testament is shockingly vague, shockingly unclear on instructions for how a church should operate. For all the many different kinds of churches on this side of the line, arguing over the right and wrong expressions of church is a waste of time.

Imagine with me. If I lived in Rochester, I’m not a pastor, and Autumn Ridge doesn’t exist. I could go to Christ Community, sit under Darril Holden’s preaching, join with that community, and thrive as a Christian. Or I could go to Word of Life, where Bishop Sydney Frye is the pastor. He’s a godly man of integrity. If I joined that community, I could thrive as a Christian. I could go to Trinity Presbyterian, where Chris Harper pastors. I could go to Rochester Assembly, where Mike Stehr is pastor. I could thrive as a Christian if I joined any of those communities.

The experiences would be different. There isn’t a church on the planet that I can go to where I will agree with everything 100%. There isn’t a church on the planet that perfectly aligns with all the things I prefer. And yet, we’re all united in Christ. We all affirm the historic, orthodox faith. Whether or not I would thrive in my relationship or any church I joined has everything to do with the pre-decisions I make.

Make sure you hear this part. I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t matter what kind of church you pick. I am saying that it’s not just the church you pick, it’s the kind of relationship that you and I pre-decide to invest in that’s just as important.

In the beginning, there was only one church. But as the message spread, house churches started popping up all over the place. People had choices for which house church to join. We have choices too. Instead of telling anyone what choice to make, it might be helpful to pull back and reflect on how we tend to make church choices.

Orthodoxy means the essential beliefs that unite all Jesus followers. Even though it feels like there are an infinite number of different types of churches, all the churches that are on the top side of this line are under the umbrella of orthodoxy.

This is where it starts to get messy, because people disagree on stuff. Have you met people? They agree on this [orthodoxy] but disagree on other meaningful things. That’s why there are Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, CMA, nondenominational, and so on.

I know you’re not going to believe this, but there is even more stuff that people disagree with. These may not be as big, but they can still be very meaningful.

It’s not wrong to disagree. That’s allowed. We are allowed to disagree on which way to fund missionaries is best. We are allowed to disagree on what should be decided by a congregational vote and what should be decided by elders or pastors. We are allowed to disagree on what’s the best curriculum for Kid’s Ministry. We are allowed to disagree on the kind of worship music we have.

Speaking of that, I want to make sure that you all remember our Church Family Meeting. Our church is eventually moving toward Unified Worship. This meeting will be a chance for us to talk about that and you can ask questions. I hope you’ll be there.

Some people decide to pick a church based on denominational distinctives. Some people decide to pick a church based on factors that are meaningful, but smaller than that. I have zero interest in judging anyone for how they pick which church they want to be in a relationship. I’d rather tell you the approach that we are trying to take.

While all of these things are meaningful…We’re trying to be the kind of church that rallies around our mission. All these other things matter, but the things that matter most are our faith in Jesus and being on mission with Jesus. All other factors, all other preferences, and all possible choices submit to that. This is why our church exists. This is our mission.

ARC MISSION: We exist to lead people to be fully devoted followers of Jesus.

Just like the Apostle Paul, we want to win. We want to run in such a way as to get the prize. We want to be the kind of church where people become followers of Jesus. We want to be the kind of church where people who already follow him can grow in their devotion and maturity. This is what captivates us. We want to be a collection of people making the pre-decisions that will ultimately lead the Super Bowl. Our vision statement describes what is the Super Bowl for us.

ARC VISION: We want to be a church of all cultures where curious, skeptical, and hurting people love to attend.

All kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds loved being around Jesus. We want to be like him. And if we can, that’s like winning the Super Bowl for us.

Let’s go back to our chart.

Any relationship can end up here, but no relationship starts here. It takes time and intentional effort for any relationship, including our relationship with our church to get here. So, if no one starts here, how do we achieve and maintain this kind of relationship with our church family? But there’s another question too. What do you do when you feel like you were here, but you aren’t anymore? Believe it or not, the answer is the same. Let’s start with this.

Wise people pre-decide the OUTCOMES they want and the INPUTS they’ll give.

The outcome we want is to have the best kind of relationship possible with our church family. That’s the outcome. Now, what’s our input going to be? Our input is about owning our piece of the pie. This is about taking responsibility for what we will contribute and what we won’t contribute to the relationship.

Being a pastor makes a church geek. I love talking to other pastors. I love reading about other churches. We all know that things change over time. No church stays exactly the same forever. If that were the goal, it’s impossible.

What virtually every church in America is reporting is that the last three years have agitated and expedited all kinds of factors that have caused people who felt like they were here, to now be somewhere on this side of the line [Q1-Q2]. Our church has experienced that. Maybe you’re feeling something like that right now.

Wisdom tells us to pre-decide the kind of relationship outcome we want and to also pre-decide the kind of relationship input we will give. I think that’s an everybody thing.

  • Pastors and staff get to decide that.
  • Elders get to decide that.
  • Ministry volunteers get to decide that.
  • People who attend every week and people who attend every other month get to decide that.

We’re calling this the pre-season series because we’re using this as a season to decide which pre-decisions we are going to make. And as we think about that individually and collectively, we’re going to look back to the first church as an example. If you stick around, we’ll discover together that they had to navigate tough, challenging stuff.

Let’s start with this. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to each other. We can follow their example by pre-deciding to gather together, to learn together, and worship together. Trust builds as we’re together. The experience of trust is not a destination. It’s something we can enter and move deeper into. I bet what you want is the exact same thing I want. That we have off-the-charts experiences of honesty, safety, and reliability. Maybe these can be our next steps.


  • Pre-decide what relationship outcomes we want.
  • Pre-decide what relationship inputs we’ll give.
  • Pre-decide to ATTEND a service weekly.

Wise people don’t just make good decisions. They make pre-decisions.