Renovating the Battered Church

The St. John’s Pulpit

St. John’s Baptist Church    300 Hawthorne Lane    Charlotte, NC 28204


Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20
Third Sunday After the Epiphany, January 26, 2020

by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD


  ‘A Prayer for God’s Church’

Living God, we pray for Your Church.  We pray for the never-ending renovation of Your Church. We pray for Your Church to become healthier in its mission to pass on Your love. We pray for Your persecuted and suffering Church in today’s world. We pray for Your Church which is persecuted by those outside Your Church and for how Your Church suffers due to our own sin.

Your Church has been misunderstood and misrepresented; blasphemed and isolated; beaten and bruised, fragmented and abused; politicized and misused; oppressed and confused. Way too often, as members of Your Church, we have pursued hypocrisy more than discipleship.; individualistic visions more than a communal search of Your will. It is easy to understand why many people question whether Your Church matters in their living. We have puffed ourselves up pretending to be better than the ancient Hebrews who bowed before a golden calf while pursuing idols of our own forging. We have bragged that we are better than those who preferred Barabbas over Jesus while preferring the familiar over Your way of humility.

Lord, we need Your Spirit to renovate our living. Tear away that which is useless and weak within each of us; install and strengthen Your purpose within us so we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with You – bearing witness of our love for You and our love for each neighbor.

Guide us as we deconstruct the patriarchal authoritarianism and forced uniformities of fear which destroy the witness of Your Church. Update our living so we are Actively Faithful to Your Missional Vison and Faithfully Active continuing the work of Your heart, as clearly incarnated in Jesus.

Lord of our active faith, as we recognize WE are part of Your Church, we acknowledge that Your Church is not an organization, a building, nor a program – but Your Church is US and other people alongside us. Lord, we ask You to renovate our hearts in these moments of worship, so we may then go forth to offer a joyful witness in the world.        May it be so, Lord, with us – Amen.



God’s Church is alive and well in the 21st century. Your presence today says you agree.

That said, some renovations are always in order.

Let me introduce you to two church members who are specialists at renovating.


Partners with Ellen & Ken Smith (Ellen & Rod are siblings)

  1. How do you begin a conversation regarding renovation?

Get to know the person/family.

Listen and Learn their visions/motivations.

Are they ready to make changes; live thru mess and inconveniences of renovation?

Are they truly ready to enter this project and collaborate (open to objectivity/outside input)?

Sometimes, it is best to take a step back.

  1. How do you deal with the costs; help people see beyond expense to investment?

Cannot sugarcoat the reality of the costs.

Outline potential phases to help them.

Can’t realize desired or needed changes without costs.

  1. How do you negotiate difficult challenges when they arise during the renovation?

Provide reminders of vision.

Cite notes about past positive agreements.

Offer encouraging feedback and assurances.


So, Let’s Talk About Renovation and God’s Church.

Recently, I read a professional journal article about the Church in transition.

The article is not focused on today; but on the Church of the 1st and 2nd centuries.

God’s Church has always been renovating.

Kathy and Rod tell us we should begin by naming our visions and motivations.

Like all renovations, some things need to be changed and some things don’t.

On the positive side, God’s Church is initiating compassion around the world.

The Church is growing exponentially south of the equator.

However, clergy scandals by Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists have destroyed trust.

Church membership and participation is down across the United States.

Less than 20% of Americans younger than 60 years of age attend worship once per month.

So, some renovations of God’s Church are essential. Our vision is to be about more than good people doing good stuff to make the world a little better as measured by human satisfactions. We are committed to learning how to live Jesus’ prayer, “Thy vision come, Thy will be done here and now among us, within us and through us as it happens in heaven.”

We are only one congregation. While we cannot change the entire world, we can certainly do our part. So, we will continue to practice justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God, love all our neighbors and expand our clear message of God’s compassion to our city.

St. John’s, you are a beloved community of active faith. Yet, you find something about St. John’s that supersedes non-profit involvement.

You have counted the cost of discipleship and chosen to invest in God’s mission.

Your relationship with God as love is expressed as you love others as God loves everyone.

I was never able to meet Dr. Jonnie McLeod. She passed on ahead of us the week I was called to be Senior Minister of St. John’s in 2011. That same week, her son, Mans, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma – a brain tumor. Some of us will gather this evening to remember Mans and the McLeod family.

Jonnie was a matriarch in this church. In her statement of priorities, she wrote these words: “The corporate community is the way to stay involved and make some changes that will really help; help the needy, the lonely, empty rich, those who do not know how to use their own talents, change policies or laws, influence people in power for the good of the majority, or simply – perhaps – elevate us into more God-like humanity.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran minister executed by the Nazis in Germany. He, once said, in the context of the Holocaust, “Only those who cry out for the Jews have the right to sing the Gregorian chant.” He saw faith as linked to justice-seeking activism. Because we live as active faith people, we pray with our hands, our feet and our very lives.

As We Renovate the Church, We Negotiate Difficult Challenges as They Arise.

We know the challenges of today are different than those of the 1920s, 1940s, 1960s, 1980s, 1990s, etc. We are always renovating. For 98 years, through wars; financial depressions and expansions; exponential growth of our city; racial segregation and integration; local community transitions; efforts for women’s rights; shifts of political power; construction projects; denominational crises; departures and deaths of members and the entrance of many new members, St. John’s has renovated. We have always refused to be party to trivial and divisive quarrels or the fads of cheap grace.

The first time I stood at the site where Jesus spoke the words of today’s Gospel passage, I read again from Matthew 16. Caesarea Philippi is 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The water trickles forth from under Mount Hermon to become a powerful waterfall and primary source of the Jordan River. When Jesus stood there, it was already an ancient place offering many worship shrines and temples dedicated to various gods. It was there, against the backdrop of all those commitments, that Jesus affirmed Simon Peter’s commitment as the foundation upon which God’s Church would be built and the gates of hell cannot withstand its power. This Church is the ongoing renovating efforts of the offensive Jesus movement attacking the forces of evil – racism, self-centeredness, prejudice, hostility, cruelty, destruction, falsehoods, injustice, violence, greed, etc.

Across metro Charlotte, thousands of people need a church like St. John’s.

Our lives are being renovated by God’s compassion – not condemnation and cruelty.

Our lives are being renovated by God’s hope – not hostility.

Our lives are being renovated by God’s shalom – not schism.

Our lives are being renovated by a beloved community – not dissension.

As we allow God to renovate us, we must invite others over to see ut us.

We must invite them to join with us as we continue renovating God’s Church.

Amen & AMEN!