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Clearly, one of the reasons for Saddleback's growth is because we've maintained a harmonious atmosphere. When a church loves, it attracts people like a magnet. When a church really offers love to each other and those who are welcomed into it, you have to lock the doors to keep people out!

In Romans 14 and 15 Paul gives six secrets for becoming a loving church:
  1. The church is committed to building each other up.
    Can you imagine a small core of leaders in your church committed to building up everyone they came in contact with? What would that do to the morale of your church? What if just 5 people in your church began writing letters - one note a week - saying, "I appreciate you," and they sent them to others in your congregation. What kind of impact would that have on the morale of your church?

    Paul instructs us to make this "building up" of others our goal. He wants us to become like Barnabas. The name Barnabas means, "son of encouragement." How would you like to die and have that written on your tombstone? "She was an encourager." "He was an encourager." I can't think of any finer thing to be said.

    Life is tough, and there are enough discouraging people in the world. We need a whole band - an army - of encouragers!
  2. The church recognizes the value of every person.
    "Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died" (Rom. 14:15b).

    They may be obnoxious; they may be immature; they may be disagreeable, but Christ died for them. And don't forget that! When you start to get upset with someone in your area of ministry or in the church, just remember: Christ died for that person.

    That shows how valuable and important they are to God. What right do I have to hurt people Christ died for? The answer is: I don't have the right. Stay attuned to their importance to God.
  3. The church stays focused on what's really important."Don't allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and is approved of men" (Rom. 14:16).

    Paul is saying that the essence of Christianity is not external but internal. By focusing on the things that are internal - eternally important - we can then put up with a lot of external quirks, faults and faux pas.

    Let me give you an illustration: Back in 1917, as the Bolsheviks grabbed the reins of power through a revolution in Russia, the priests in the Orthodox Church were in a heated debate over how long the tassels should be on their robes.

    They ignored the Bolshevik revolution, and instead, split their church arguing over this trivial matter! You may remember that I am the son of a pastor, and I've been in hundreds of churches. Through that, I've learned that most churches don't split over major issues. They split over trivial, foolish little things.

    And Paul is making the plea: Don't be sidetracked by minor issues.
  4. The stronger church members limit their liberty.
    "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It's better not to eat meat, drink wine, or do anything else that will cause your brother to fall."(Romans 14:20)

    When my liberty limits the work of God, then I've got a problem. I have to be sensitive to how my liberty potentially causes a weaker brother to stumble.

    When God called me into the ministry, I was basically a hippie. I had really long hair. But then I was asked to go to Bakersfield - a rather conservative area of California - to do a city-wide crusade. Guess what? When I sent them a picture, the steering committee wanted to cancel the crusade. They were concerned that my hair would encourage the young people to grow their own hair long, in direct contradiction to what the adults had been teaching.

    What did I do? It didn't take me but a moment to decide. I cut my hair. Even though I had every right to wear my hair any length, I limited my liberty in order to minister to others.

    Paul's point in Romans is, if I need to limit the way that I dress, fine, I'll limit the way I dress. I'm not limiting myself out of legalism. I'm limiting myself because I want to minister to people who may not be mature enough to accept a different form of dress. (This is why I wear a suit whenever I leave Southern California. Other people's souls are far more important than my liberty.
  5. The church does not insist everyone agree.
    As long as I am the senior pastor of Saddleback, we will not make disputable issues a test of fellowship. We will not say, regarding disputable matters, "Believe as I believe, think as I think, drink as I drink, do as I do. Be like me! Only then can I fellowship with you." Don't force your opinion on others.

    Romans 14:22 - "So whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves."

    Paul says, on these disputable matters, keep them between you and the Lord. Go ahead and enjoy your freedom, but don't flaunt it. Enjoy your freedom, but enjoy it in privacy. You can practice your freedom without parading it.

    Romans 12:18 offers a good balance for this, suggesting that while you need to look out for people who might be offended by a legitimate "stumbling block" issue, there are some legalists who will be upset no matter what you do. You'll never be able to please them.

    In that event, Paul says, "As far as it depends on you, if it is possible, live at peace with all men."

    God even admits there are some people you can't get along with! In that case, it's not so much your problem as it is theirs. Their nitpicking says more about them than you. What you need to do is allow the Holy Spirit to help you determine when you're dealing with a legitimate stumbling block, and when you're dealing with another believer who is simply unpleaseable.

    But DON'T jump to the conclusion that it's their problem. Take it to God and see what He has to say.
  6. The church accepts one another.
    In Romans 15:7, Paul says, "Accept one another just as Christ has accepted you in order to bring praise to God."

    How did Christ accept us? Unconditionally. Non-judgmentally. No one's acceptance is based on performance!

    Paul then goes on in verse 13, to say there are four marks of a unified church: joy, peace, hope and power. Now, that's the kind of church I want to be a part of, and I'm sure you do too!

    No church will ever be perfect, but it can be healthy. Saddleback certainly is not a perfect church, but it is healthy, just like my kids aren't perfect, but they're healthy. May your church grow in joy and peace and hope and power.

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All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Author Biography

Rick Warren
Web site:
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Beginning with just his wife, Kay, in 1980, the congregation now averages 22,000 attendees at its 5 weekend services.

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