Jesus has a big mission for His church! It is our belied only one church exists in New Orleans, Jesus’ church, which is made up of many expressions throughout our city. As I was preaching this Sunday in my local expression, Restoration Church, we introduced a new sermon series entitled “When The Saints Go Marching In” exploring the book of 1 Timothy. In these last letters written by the apostle Paul, a young pastor named Timothy is receiving strong truth and encouragement on how to lead and grow a church in a very difficult context.
Many similarities exist between the church of Ephesus and the church of New Orleans; our cities mirror one another in some unique ways. Ephesus was a strategic point of travel and trade in a region comprised of modern-day Turkey. This city had a major port and harbor strategic in connecting the region. In a similar manner, New Orleans lies at the mouth of one of the world’s most powerful and vast rivers called the Mississippi which connects us as a major port city and center of cultural influence.
Interestingly Ephesus, like New Orleans, became a major tourist attraction in its time. It’s historic architecture including the Temple of Artemis drew crowds from around the ancient world. Artemis was the goddess of hunting, virginity, and young girls. This temple drew throngs of people who would gather to worship the pursuit of sexuality and women. Ephesus became known for many pagan practices and steeped in sexual sin making it easy to correlate to the bars and clubs, our “modern-day temples,” which populate our city’s most popular tourist attraction Bourbon Street.
Ephesus was prominently known for its large amphitheater which gathered large crowds for play and sport. This amphitheater housed approximately 25,000 people, or roughly 10% of the city’s 250,000 people. We live in a city known for a similar arena called the Superdome which can house greater than 10% of the population of our two largest parishes, Jefferson and Orleans, which make up metropolitan New Orleans. The Superdome is filled to the max during football season with fans rooting on our favorite football team, the New Orleans Saints.
Someone posed the question to me recently about uniting the church of New Orleans for worship one day in this arena. I agreed and told them I have the same vision in addition to many other pastors and churches throughout our city. With my background in concert promotion with The Restoration Collective (formerly Abandon Productions), this person asked why we couldn’t do it now. As I thought more about it beginning to crunch the numbers of the largest churches in our city and contemplating the percentage of our metropolitan area’s evangelical make-up, I realized we realistically don’t have the numbers to come close to filling that building.
The combined population of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes according to the 2010 census is 811,267. Our city’s evangelical make-up according to the North American Mission Board is 11.6% which claim affiliation with a church. We know that people who “claim” church participation doesn’t necessarly equate to “faithful” participation, but if we go solely by those numbers the total church population of our city would lie around 94,106. Let’s say we get 50% of our churches to participate with 50% buy-in from the congregants of each of those churches, we could expect a maximum of 23,527 to fill an arena which houses 76,468 for each New Orleans Saints football game.
It’s not a stretch to say the number of “Saints’ fans” filling the Superdome for each home game greatly outnumbers the total number of “saints,” followers of Jesus Christ, in metropolitan New Orleans who fill our church buildings or gathering spaces on a weekly basis.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong being a fan of the New Orleans Saints. Anyone who knows me knows I love football. As a member of the Who Dat Nation, I go crazy rooting on our Saints. But some take it to another extreme allowing football to become their “god.” I saw a post recently on Twitter which read like this, “People say, ‘Football season is here!” Because ‘behold your god’ sounds too harsh.” Ouch. Don’t believe me? Ask any pastor in New Orleans if their attendance for church gatherings goes up or down numerically during Saints season. The answer will be, “Down.”
Paul charged Timothy to get to work in a city as misguided as ours. Idol worship and dedication to other gods such as sex, sport, success, etc. where just a prominent there as they are here:
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” -1 Timothy 6:12
It is time for us to “fight the good fight” and lead as many people as possible to “take hold of the eternal life” offered in Jesus Christ and make this “good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” It is possible. We need a big vision. We need to plant more churches. We need to spread the gospel to every corner of our city. I pray for the day when we fill the Superdome in our city many times over with throngs of people screaming and shouting the glory and fame of Jesus Christ!
Why can’t we have “a dome-sized vision” for our city?
- written by: Dean Ross, Pastor of Vision & Teaching for Restoration Church
- post inspired by the message “Jesus Has A Big Mission For His Church” https://soundcloud.com/restorationgathering/9714-when-the-saints-go-marching-in-dean-ross
- statistics taken from the North American Mission Board, Wikipedia, and the United States Census Bureau.
- the tweet mentioned is from the parody account @FakeJDGreear
- scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.