"We do it for the mission. God calls us to be workers in the community. To live out discipleship." These are the words of Rev. Mike Slaughter, pastor emeritus and global church ambassador for Ginghamsburg Church. Slaughter shared the message at Sunnycrest UMC's Come Home event.
It has been 18 months since the World Health Organization announced the onset of the coronavirus. The impact on our lives has been immense. How we live our lives has changed, including how churches invite people to grow in their relationship with God.
Sunnycrest United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has been dreaming and re-imagining church in the post-pandemic season. This weekend, the congregation invited the Sioux Falls community to a concert with Sanctus Real and a compelling message from Rev. Mike Slaughter. It was an invitation to Come Home to Jesus.
Worshippers at Sunnycrest were told by Slaughter, "The problem with today's church is that we have a whole lot of fans of Jesus but not a lot of followers of Jesus." Slaughter stated that 87 times in scripture, Jesus says, "follow me." Only twice did Jesus say, "worship me."
Slaughter posed two questions to encourage others to tear down the walls and love our neighbor. First, what are you arguing out about? Second, who are you listening to?
"Jesus asks us, 'what are you arguing with them about?' So many times, we get caught up in the argument by identifying who we are," said Slaughter. "You are a follower of Jesus; it is not supposed to be about you. Christ lives in you. As soon as I identify as someone else or something else, like Republican or Democrat, I lose my witness to half of the country. What are you arguing with them about?"
Slaughter told those attending that it is all about relationships with God and each other. "Jesus gave us one commandment when he was here on earth, 'Love others the way I love you.' That is unfailing love. That is unconditional love. You can never outrun Jesus' love for you. It is sacrificial love. You can't be outside of God's love."
The information we receive and the messages we receive influence who we are as Christ-followers shared Slaughter. "Who are you listening to? News has become partisan in the last thirty years. Others are shaping our beliefs. Jesus says in Mark 4:24. 'Be careful what you listen to.' Do you spend time on the Word or social media? What do your words reveal about your heart?"
Words can create unity, Slaughter explained. "Words have power. Why do we argue? We want to get it right. I want to convince you that Jesus is on my side," said Slaughter. "The disciples were technically right but relationally wrong. This means with God that the right relationship is more important than the right argument. God is a God of relationship."
Slaughter meets with Rev. Charlie Moore, who serves Sunnycrest UMC, twice a month in a coaching, mentoring relationship. Moore says that he has grown in his faith and discipleship because of his ongoing relationship with Slaughter.
"The face of what church looks like is about who we are out there," says Pastor Charlie Moore, "Discipleship is not about what happens on Sunday. It is about what happens the rest of the week. So our desire here at Sunnycrest is focusing 90% of our energy on Monday through Saturday, not Sunday morning."
Slaughter says, "To make disciples, you have to be a disciple. John Wesley lived that out through the circuit riders. Wesley and the circuit riders were not just about creating worship. Welsey and the circuit riders were disciples who wanted to raise up other disciples for Jesus."
Slaughter, who led a mega-church for 39 years with multiple campuses in Ohio, said that faith is not about the size or worship. However, he shares that the pandemic has caused churches to move from performances at worship to an authentic faith—followers of Christ outside the church's walls.
"We are shifting from entertainment to being authentic, mega-churches to house churches. We are returning to the circuit rider influence and mission. You know the circuit rider only showed up once every three or four months. All of the Methodist movement was and is about equipping and reaching out," explains Slaughter.
While he was in town, the Sunnycrest leadership team met with Slaughter for ten hours to prepare to lead others to discipleship throughout the Sioux Falls community and beyond. The group explored the questions—what is our why? How are we being disciples and empowering others to be disciples?
"We tend to focus on the fluffy Jesus—the Jesus that makes us feel comfortable. We need to step out of our comfort zones, the Jesus that was a rebel, serving others," says Pastor Charlie. "Mike helps us to do that."
Abraham Perez, affectionately known as "Cheeks" because of his vibrant, infectious smile, connected Sunnycrest to Sanctus Real. Perez extended an invitation for Sanctus Real to be part of the Coming Home weekend.
"We know Cheeks, and we love him. We met him at the Life Light festival," says Dustin Lolli, lead singer and creative influence for Sanctus Real. "We are blessed to do ministry through music. It is all about the mission. We play in stadiums and other huge venues. But playing here at Sunnycrest is about mission and discipleship. It is about sharing Jesus with real people."
Sanctus Real held a concert on Saturday night at Sunnycrest to a sold-out audience with 75 people on the waiting list. They also played for the four worship services on Sunday.
Outside on Sunday, families were invited to enjoy inflatables as the kickoff to Kingdom Kids—the children's ministry at Sunnycrest UMC.
John Srstka, a lay leader at Sunnycrest UMC and the Dakotas Conference Co-Lay Leader, summed up the weekend. "It was a great weekend at Sunnycrest. Lots of new faces. We also had lots of people step forward to serve all weekend long whether it was parking, meals, greeting, setup, or tear down. The message from Mike Slaughter on Sunday was very thought provoking. He reminding us Jesus' top priority was relationship & unity. As followers of Christ we should be examples of relationship building and unity. Be mindful of how we identify ourselves as we usually end up identifying by our differences- nationality, denomination, political party- rather than where we are united. Having Sanctus Real as guest worship leaders was very inspiring. We sang the same songs we sing every week, but I heard the words differently. It is good to get out of our routines."
Pastor Charlie Moore agrees with Srstka. "It has been a really good experience for everyone. The whole idea was to invite people to Jesus. We want everyone to "Come Home" and build their relationship with Jesus," said Pastor Charlie.
Watch the recorded contemporary service with the message from Rev. Mike Slaughter here.