Monthly Archives: February 2012

Verge Day 1 Recap

The Verge Conference started today and it was amazing. I said it was the only conference that I feel like was worth attending for its theology and its practice.

It did not disappoint at all. I really love the way it is arranged this year with Pre-Conference Breakout Sessions for Missional Communities & Mercy/Justice all on one day. This provides a great opportunity for any church member to take a day off and attend so that it’s not just a pastor’s conference.

Today, I spent half the day at the Missional Community Pre-Conference & half the day at the For The City (Mercy & Justice) Pre-Conference. I’m so thankful to have been at both.

Missional Community Pre-Conference

I missed the first panel discussion thanks to Austin traffic and fog, but I made it to Brandon Hatmaker’s breakout session, Serving Through Missional Communities: Seven Steps to Moving Beyond the Event. It was very helpful and practical for how the gospel of Jesus Christ develops a community to be merciful and compassionate. It was also helpful in leveraging service events to be more than a social justice activity to become an opportunity for Christians and those outside of the church to be educated on the full meaning of the gospel.

One of the more impacting parts was the idea of letting go of the return on investment we get from serving. Brandon told the story of feeding the homeless and the homeless consistently asking about when the church was and how he began to understand that was their way of paying him for his service. They had nothing to offer him, but the hope that they might come to his church. This is important because churches can often use social justice to get people to come rather than to extend the love of Christ without expectation of anything in return.

It challenges us to check our motives and come to serving others and meeting needs with no expectations but to extend the love of Christ.

It was really refreshing to hear how God is using Brandon and his church to display the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote a book if you want to learn more: The Barefoot Church (Primer)

For The City Pre-Conference

As much as I enjoy missional communities, I could not have been more thankful to be a part of the For The City Pre-Conference.

I think it could potentially be the best part of Verge for me this year. Time will tell.

I arrived right before Bob Lupton spoke and it was absolutely amazing. I’m sure much of it is in his book Toxic Charity, but to hear someone who has empowered the poor rather than kept them dependent on handouts was challenging and so encouraging.

Some quotes that challenged me:

“The poor can pay a heavy price for our goodness.” – Talking about how our handouts create dependency which continues the cycle of poverty.

“One way giving keeps the needy in the needy role and the giver in the giving role. It diminishes relationships.” – This was incredibly challenging in regards to how the giver can often relish their position and never relinquish it to those they give to. We can participate in giving olds clothes and gifts in a way that removes the dignity of the poor and disempowers them. So challenging.

I also got to lead my first breakout session at a conference. How to get those who care about you to care about your mission. It was fun to share what I’ve learned (and continue to learn) about meeting people where they are, helping them understand the mission God has called you to, and how you invite them to participate and engage needs with you.

But nothing really compared to listen to Dr. John Perkins. I was able to meet him and just thank him for his life, his love for Jesus, and his faithfulness in ministering for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has been a slave, fought for civil rights, created the Christian Community Development Association, and participated in discipling and creating many leaders to continue the work of restoring broken communities.

Some quotes from Dr. Perkins:

“We have deified capitalism to the point that the church is unable to speak prophetically into the system.” – He was discussed how capitalism is the best system in the world, but making it a god makes us slaves to a system that was meant to serve us. For the church, we are unable to talk about the brokenness of America’s abuse of capitalism because Christians have replaced Jesus with the system as well. A challenging thought for sure.

Listening to him talk about 50+ years of knowing and serving Jesus was such a powerful testimony to the worth of giving your life to serve Jesus and display Him through restoring brokenness in neighborhoods as well as systemic brokenness.

In the middle of Bob Lupton’s talk, I asked one of our church staff to buy the digital access for the Verge content because I know I wanted to hear it again. It’s worth it.

I ended the night with dinner and beverages with great missional community thinkers that challenged and encouraged me tremendously. It was a great day 1.

Tomorrow starts the Main Conference sessions that you can watch on simulcast if you want. It will be well worth your time.

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Missional Community: Integrating Children

One of the many challenges that Community Groups face is how to handle children in the community.  We have a key conviction that children should be included and seen as members of the Community Group.

This means they are seen as members of the community that need to be discipled with the gospel as we seek to be a community on mission. If we don’t count the children, then we could easily find ourselves in the situation one of our Community Groups faced where there were 14 adults and a total of 16 children. That’s 30 total people that must be considered and accounted for in order to even meet as a Community Group.

In New York City, there are no apartments that fit 30 people and even if there were, 16 children in one apartment is asking for chaos and destruction. It became unmanageable and impeded the ability of the Community Group to care for one another and be on mission together.

Church Community as Family

We discuss Community Groups as a family and we all know the extended family is involved in raising and developing the children. When we move to a community in proximity and become a community that moves beyond the event into the rhythm of everyday life, we discover that an entire community viewing themselves as a family blesses the children of the community.

They are given models of the Christian life other than their parents in all walks of life with varying pasts that educate them on the paths and careers they would want to pursue.  The various spiritual gifts, talents, and resources in the church are displayed for them inside of a community that is seeking to love Jesus most and to love them.

If I had never been shown how to parent by a family before I had kids, I would have been a dramatically different, likely over-protective and fearful parent. But I was handed a 3-month old when I was a 23-year old single man and given a bottle to feed her at dinner with the community I had just started being a part of and I am so thankful for this education. I was able to see the good and challenging parts of parenting, discipline and delight of parenting that led me to see children as a blessing and prepared me to be a father.

There are so many people in the church who have never seen a family try to display the love and grace of Christ to their children. Many who were not shown this by their own parents and are left trying to figure it out. When we seek to integrate children, we bless the family and the kids, but we also bless every member of the community that is able to learn from watching parents who seek to love their kids.

What most people think about in the children in Missional Communities/Community Groups conversation is the actual formal meeting time. Every missional community has a time set aside where they meet (let’s call this the formal time) and then they spend time together outside of this time (let’s call this the informal time).

During Community Group Formal Meeting Time

As we’ve approached this question with our Community Groups, we really believe there are 3 primary options, but with each option it must be considered how the children will be shown truth, have fun, and experience the love of Christ. The 3 options are babysitting, family integration for part of the Community Group or family integration all the time. Each of these requires their own intentional focus for the specific time the group meets. But this also point us back to the reality that we must stop viewing church community as an event to attend once a week, but a community rhythm we live throughout the week.

Babysitting

Some Community Groups choose to have the kids meet at one house, others choose to have them in another room, but each week someone from the Community Group rotates to babysit as their way of serving the community. We also encourage them to use the Jesus Storybook Bible or provide kid’s ministry curriculum that is age appropriate. This can be an amazing way for a community to serve one another while learning to disciple each other’s children.

Family Integration for Part of the Community Group

This is orienting the Community Group so that children are included for parts, but not all of the time. This might cause you to change your Community Group time to meet to Saturday morning for a big family breakfast with everyone that includes a time focused on everyone caring for and teaching the children. The other time is utilizing babysitting to have fun, know God, and extend the love of Christ to children. This forces a community to learn to let all of our conversations be rooted in the gospel even in the midst of our children.

Family Integration for All of the Community Group

This is the commitment by the Community Group to reorient everything so that children are always welcomed. This must be an outflow of the entire community desiring to extend Jesus’ love to the children. What are things about your Community Group that would have to adapt to include children? The conversations would likely change, the setting would likely be more informal and having encouraging or challenging conversations will have to become normal in the midst of chaos. This will also force the accountability times and even some of the prayer times to be different throughout the week.

For this to be a reality, the community will eventually learn to have a conversation that is broken up by the cries and requests of kids. This challenges the typical view that children are an interruption rather than a blessing to our lives. If you ever want to extend the gospel to a parent, you are going to have to eventually be able to communicate with them while they have their kids climbing on them and hurting themselves.

The benefits of this mindset are many. I know from experience that my children benefit greatly, have more joy, and more obedience after they are around a number of people who love them. For it to be a community that also seeking to love Jesus most assists me greatly as a father to share my faith with my children in a natural way.

But this not only benefits the children, the entire community is changed and blessed by this key conviction. This provides a window to gospel-centered family, teaching singles and young marrieds how to be parents and to grow spiritual, gospel-centered children. This could open up singles to adopt and pursue parenting children before society tells them they are ready. Parents benefit from what I mentioned before, receiving help in extending the love of Christ to their children from a wider community.

Gospel Enjoyment leads parents to integrate their faith into every moment of their family time and it leads a community to do the same as they integrate families and children into the rhythm of their Christian community.

This continues to be a challenge for us, but our convictions are leading us to explore different options, challenge the notion that we must outsource children’s ministry to professionals, and we are continuing to learn. We gladly welcome any additional insight from your experience.

What have you seen happen when trying to integrate children into missional communities.

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Missional Community: Rhythms over Events

At Apostles Church, we are defined by 3 core values, Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, and Prayerful Mission and our Community Groups aim to contextualize these values in their neighborhood. They are often guided by 3 convictions that we believe assist them in being a gospel community on mission. Those 3 convictions are proximity over affinity, rhythms over events, and integrating children.

A large shift in my understanding of church was moving from events to rhythms. Church has become a place to attend, an event to experience, rather than a people to partner with, a lifestyle of mission. Small groups aim to provide that expression of church, but can easily become another church event. So now church becomes Sunday & Tuesday night, but no community is actually built.

Let the Community happen all week

If a community forms a rhythm of life where interaction happens more often than once a week, then there is less pressure to accomplish so much in the formal group time. We try to cram prayer, bible discussion, mission discussion, accountability, confession into this time and it’s impossible. We then define success by whether we covered all portions of these or if the conversation was good. But the success of Christian community is so much more than great discussion, it’s the gospel applied to our everyday mundane lives and the gospel extended to our neighbors.

The challenge is to view yourself as part of a community that forms rhythms and patterns rather than a member of event that happens once a week. We all currently have rhythms of life for meals, work, rest and recreation. We must filter these through our faith and believe that the gospel informs and transforms our rhythms. We may need to transform our old rhythms and incorporate new rhythms.

Let the Community speak into your life

This type of Christian community only occurs when we reorient our lives with the community of God for the mission of God. Letting the community challenge the way we spend our time, letting them challenge our idols so we seek to build the kingdom of Christ rather than our own kingdom.

Jeff Vandersteldt describes mission as doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality. So it’s looking at current rhythms (when we eat, work, play) and asking how these can be shifted to incorporate our community and our neighbors so they become focused on the gospel. The kitchen table can be your greatest place of mission if you expand the reach of the meal you are already eating.

We may have to reorient our work schedules or be more purposeful with the little time we have. When I worked as a civil engineer, there were regular happy hours on Thursday & Friday evenings that I would typically miss to be home with my family. I discussed this with my wife and she encouraged me to go to these happy hours occasionally and I invited a guy from our community to join me. It was a great opportunity to develop relationships that led to great gospel conversations at and away from work. It only happened because I worked with my wife to reorient our schedules for the mission of God. Gospel enjoyment is so key here. We only change our lives so we can enjoy the things we love.

Practical Steps

One of the most helpful things we have done as leaders was to identify the circles of people they current exist in. The people we interact with who do not know Jesus in our neighborhood, our workplace, our friends, and our hobbies. I encourage you to do this with the other believers in your community and identify where God has provided open doors for mission to your people group.

Then we brainstormed ways we can invite these people into our community and ways we can participate in their community. In the gospels we see Jesus enter the lives and homes of non-believers, then invite people to follow and participate in His life. It’s not just about asking them to come into our world, but it’s about going to their world, their turf and believing the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

Asking questions of your neighborhood

What are the rhythms of your neighborhood? When are they outside enjoying the neighborhood? When do they eat dinner? What type of cultural destinations do they participate in, what is the predominant religious makeup of your neighborhood? These are all essential questions to ask in order for your community group to form rhythms that naturally interact with the people group you are hoping to reach. God has sent you as a missionary to these people groups.

How does your Community Group need to change for each other and the mission of God? For some of your Community Groups, there needs to be a new rhythm for gospel confession and accountability, the creation of a time where each of them are challenged to make Jesus their greatest delight and then address their sin. Sin can be one of the greatest hindrance to the mission of God.

For others it is creating a rhythm where non-believers are regularly incorporated into the community. It could be a weekly pot luck dinner, participating in local concerts or events, or joining sports leagues with gospel intentionality.

Approaching the gospel for holistic transformation in every aspect of life, moves us from events to a comprehensive rhythm of life in the community of God for the mission of God.

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Missional Community: Proximity over Affinity

At our church, we are defined by 3 core values, Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, and Prayerful Mission and our Community Groups aim to contextualize these values in their neighborhood. They are often guided by 3 convictions that we believe assist them in being a gospel community on mission. Those 3 convictions are proximity over affinity, rhythms over events, and integrating children in the Community Groups.

One of the major shifts we made over a year ago is moving from affinity based small groups (marrieds, families, single men, single women) to proximity based gospel communities on mission. We made the shift for a few reasons.

Gospel Mission

When you gather around affinity, an unintended result is that people don’t even reach outside of their affinities in their own church. If they can’t even be on mission within their own church to people who are different, they will have difficulty being on mission to those different than them outside your church community.

We had a few Community Groups that were gathering people from all 5 boroughs in Manhattan and because of the traveling time and challenges, they were really unable to be in each other’s lives on a regular basis that would lead to true community that encourages and exhorts. They were unable to be on mission together on an everyday basis. It presented many challenges.

Gospel Identity

Additionally, people begin to define themselves by their affinity and it has the danger of becoming their primary identity over the gospel. This was evident to me when we made the shift and the pushback I received was asking how a single man can identify with the other men in the group that all identify themselves as husbands and fathers. The reality is that the gospel is your primary identity and then defines the way you live as a husband and father just as the gospel is the single man’s primary identity and he seeks to live it out as a single man. A husband and father can be challenged by the single minded devotion to Christ of the single man or woman, just as the single man can be challenged in what it means to become a man who pursues covenant and disciples children.  It also seems to be a problem when Jesus or Paul is unable to hang out in your small group time.

Gospel Presence Where You Are

Another reason we made the shift is that as you read the scriptures, there is a consistent challenge to love the city where God has sent you, to not assimilate into the ways of the city, but to seek its flourishing, its welfare, its shalom, which is Hebrew for holistic flourishing. We see this idea in the old testament as the Lord speaks through Jeremiah to challenge the exiles in Babylon to seek the welfare, literally the shalom or holistic flourishing, of that nation that they have been brought to serve because in seeking its flourishing, they will flourish. In the New Testament, Paul in Acts 17 describes God as determining the boundaries of our habitations so that people would know God.

As a result, transitioning from affinity to proximity can be challenging and we focused on people over process during the shift. This caused a lot of people to ask for the first time “How can I love my neighborhood? My neighbors?” We just kept asking, what do you love about your neighborhood? What would you love to see God repair, restore, redeem through a community in your area? It’s changed how people walk the streets of their city, how they view their neighbors, and created a desire for mission in the people at Apostles Church.

We encourage people to find encouragement in their affinity within their Community Group or within the various Community Groups in the same region that partner together for a wider gospel presence.

In Transition

The transition is ongoing, but many left the Community Groups they were traveling to in order to start a Community Group in their neighborhood. For others, as their lease came up, they chose to move with gospel motivations. Instead of asking how can I get more space, the question becomes should I move to engage with a certain community or should I move to a certain area of town where there is a major need for gospel presence. We have to let the gospel guide all of our decisions.

For a few couples, this led them to move within a 10 block radius (1/2 a mile for you non-New Yorkers) of their Community Group. For others, this led them to move to Brooklyn Heights and Beorum Hill in Brooklyn to see a gospel community get started where there hasn’t been a large presence.

With proximity becoming a conviction, our Community Groups now gather around the gospel, the identity they have in Christ as the bond that forms them together and the mission they are all on. It opens opportunity for mission to families for our singles and opens up mission to singles for young marrieds and families. As a result, we are more adequately reflecting the demographic of the neighborhood in order to extend the gospel to our neighbors.

It forces us to get out of our comfort zones and be confronted with the challenging circumstances of others so we see how God has uniquely equipped us with our circumstances, our life stage, and our personalities to care for, encourage, and challenge each other where God has placed us.

Proximity provides the greatest ability for our Community Groups to embody and live out our core values of Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, and Prayerful Mission.

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Pursuing Prayerful Mission

How does a church become missional?

This seems to be the question that many churches are asking, wondering how a church moves from inwardly focused to externally focused, moving from simply loving one another to extending the love of Christ to the world.

A predominant response is to swing the pendulum from a consistent focus on community to a consistent focus on mission. It’s logical, but it does not address the problem. The Christian’s difficulty in extending the message and mercy of Christ is not because they haven’t heard the challenge to do so or they haven’t heard it enough. It’s a gospel problem.

The Christian either has a half understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ or the gospel of Jesus Christ is not the most valuable thing in their life. We talk about, proclaim, and bore people to death about the things we think are most valuable and the things we treasure. This is partly because we spend most of our time learning about, thinking about, and growing our affections for what we value. Whether that is your kids, your singleness, your job, your hobby, and your cat; what you value most, you will talk about most. It becomes the thing that shapes your life and becomes a definer of who you are.

Since this is true, the church must focus on Gospel Enjoyment first and foremost. The only way to awaken a Christian and an entire Christian community to extend the love of Christ is for them to know and cherish the gospel of Jesus Christ most. It is most valuable, the best news, and until it becomes the definer of life for the church, evangelism, mercy & justice and any other missional activity will be motivated by duty and lack a natural expression.

In assisting our communities to pursue Prayerful Mission (Prayerfully seeking to renew all things with the message and mercy of Jesus Christ), we bring their attention back to the gospel. To love what is most lovely and to value Christ above all things. From there, we look to Christ to see how He instructed His disciples to be missional.

Pray

At the end of Matthew 9, Jesus speaks the famous phrase, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” that has been used to motivate people to go, but Christ quickly follows that with instructions to pray. Not only that, but His motivation to pray came from a compassion after seeing large crowds of people. He loved them so much that He begged His disciples to pray before He then sends them out in Matthew 10.

The church can easily see the mission is great, there are many who do not know the gospel of Jesus Christ. But how often does it motivate us to pray? We must become a praying people if we are ever to be a missional people.

Gospel Explanations come from Gospel Motivations – Evangelism

One of the things the great JR Vassar says often is that a life motivated by the gospel leads to a life explained by the gospel. Gospel explanations stem from gospel motivations. This needs to become our understanding of evangelism.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with handing out tracks and street preaching, the most common form of evangelism is people sharing why they live the life they live.

When this happens, whether you’re a Christian or not, you are evangelizing.

For our communities, we try to help them process how the gospel defines their approach to their home life, their work life, the way they spend time and money, along with other things. This is why an intentional community that counsels with the gospel is so essential.

In equipping our communities, we encourage them to recognize receptive opportunities that are already in their lives. We do this to move mission from a “this happens somewhere else” mentality to a “this happens in the everyday” mentality. When Jesus sends His disciples, he encourages them to spend time with the most receptive, so it becomes helpful for us to evaluate where we live, work, and spend our time to see if God has already provided opportunities for us to share our gospel-motivated lives.

The Gospel through Mercy

A few years ago, I only thought of the gospel as a spiritual reality to extend to people through a message. But in re-reading the gospels and the epistles along with Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller, I was confronted that I had a limited view of the gospel. Christ came not just to heal people spiritually, but to address the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual brokenness in our world.

He is doing this through a community defined by the gospel. We partner with Hope For New York to join non-profits in serving our city, but we also encourage creative compassion to the neighborhoods where our communities exist. This has led to people surprising their local parks through joining clean-up projects and even establishing a non-profit to serve foster children in NYC.

Extending the mercy of Christ to tangible needs coupled with a gospel explanation is a powerful display of who Jesus is through a community that loves Him.

Multiplying Disciples and Communities

This brings us back to the gospel in asking what is the final goal. The final goal that starts with the gospel is to see more disciples and more communities that seek the renewal of all things with the message and mercy of Jesus Christ. We prepare the people at Apostles Church that they won’t be in the same Community Group forever because Jesus and His mission is most valuable.

This frees us from dependence on community – though we never neglect or stop loving those we initially establish community with – to then extend a new creation of a community to those outside the community. For us, we see this as a proclamation that Jesus is even better than our closest friendships.

But none of this happens without the gospel of Jesus Christ becoming primary in our lives. We could explain this and attempt to exhort people to mission all day, but only the gospel provides the freedom and the joy to extend the message and mercy of Jesus Christ to everyone.

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Valuing Intentional Community

This past Sunday, we had our 2nd of 3 equipping classes focused on our core values of Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community & Prayerful Mission. We focused this past week on Intentional Community Our aim in this core value was to take two Christian buzzwords and slam them together (not really).

The fact is we all want to be known by other people. We all desire to have people concerned with us, caring for us, and to be a part of a group making a difference.

Though this is a desire, it does not happen unless it is pursued and you have to be intentional to pursue anything well. Community is a Christian buzzword, usually meaning a group of Christ followers that care for one another, but the scriptures expand on this definition to cast a vision for community that can truly change the world.

Intentional Community for our gospel communities on mission is defined as a shared rhythm of life by the Spirit of God for the mission of God.

Christian community is supposed to function as a healthy family that uses each person’s unique gifts, talents, and resources for the benefit of the whole community. But this healthy family doesn’t just function well for one another; they are consistently extending this love for one another to those outside of the community. In essence, the world should look at the way a Christian community loves one another and their neighbors and say, “If this community is anything like Jesus, I want to know Jesus.”

Shared Rhytm

For a Christian community to truly embody Jesus, they must get out of the event-Christianity mindset that reserves faith for Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. For too long we have tried to cram all of our Christian fellowship, prayer, learning about God, and extending this love and message to others into a span of 3 hours.

At Apostles, we encourage our community to form a pattern of life together, to establish community rhythms.

Community Rhythms

When we discuss community rhythms, we start by challenging each other to adopt a spirit of invitation in everything we do. Christ has given an open invitation to anyone who would accept it to join the community that God has had since the foundation of the world. Christ repeatedly expresses His desire that we know the love and joy that God the Father and Jesus share in the Trinity with the Holy Spirit. A community that embodies the gospel cultivates an open invitation to others to be a part of the community’s life.

This usually takes on the form of meals, serving together, recreational fun, coffee, and the generic chill time that we all have. This happens by acknowledging the normal things you do everyday and leveraging your regular life for the gospel in community and on mission.

By The Spirit of God

The scriptures indicate that God initiates this community by the Holy Spirit compelling people to love one another and extend this love to others. This happens through the spiritual gifts that exist within every believer.

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are essential to every Christian community because they are the unique expressions of Jesus that every Christian has been given to use for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12 lists a number of spiritual gifts, beyond the church’s usual obsession and comfort with preaching & teaching as the best gifts, to elevate the importance of every Christian using their unique passions, gifts, and natural talents to build up the community.

In equipping people, we don’t use spiritual gift tests or personality assessments because those usually eliminate people’s openness to the uncomfortable gifts (healing, prophecy, even tongues). We encourage people that the best way to identify your gifts is to be open to being used by God for others and begin practicing them. See what builds up the community and begin to embrace those gifts.

Gospel Counseling

We also equip our people to counsel one another with the gospel. Counseling is usually seen as a last ditch effort to save a terrible situation, but we seek to embrace the gospel as the definer of all spheres of life. Since this is true, we seek to address every challenge with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We encourage our leaders to start by asking about the challenges that people face, discussing their goals in the challenge, and helping them to develop a gospel-centered mindset and steps to achieve this goal. I completely stole this method from Gospel Coach by Scott Thomas.

For the Mission of God

We end by discussing how all of this is not merely to create a focus on the community, but to create a community that embodies Jesus in order to invite those outside of the community into a welcoming, gospel-humbled environment.

We have the opportunity to use our spiritual gifts and our lives defined by the gospel to extend the message and mercy of Jesus Christ. We have the great opportunity to be an alternative community not by creating our own subculture, but by embodying Jesus to our culture.

“The world will know you are my disciples if you love one another…”

These are the words of Jesus as a challenge us to value Christian community and we live in a city that is in need of entire community of Christ followers to display Jesus’ love and His mission to heal the brokenness and restore hope.

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Cultivating Gospel Enjoyment in Communities

©iStockphoto.com/ Marcus Lindström

Yesterday, I outlined our core values and the convictions that end up guiding them. Our communities start with Gospel Enjoyment to center our lives on the finished work of Christ and define our lives through its implications.

In concept, it’s a good aim, but in order for it to move from rhetoric to reality we have tried to equip our leaders to cultivate gospel enjoyment in their communities.  I’m convinced that a community that loves the gospel above all else will love one another well without creating a dependence on the community. I’m also convinced that this is how mission is sustained, by loving Jesus more than success on mission. Any Christian will tell you though that it is hard to maintain the gospel at the center of life.

In order to help our leaders we provide up-front training and then aim to provide ongoing coaching as they seek to lead their community to love the gospel most and extend the gospel on mission. Here’s the focus of our upfront training for Gospel Enjoyment.

Caring for the Leader’s Soul more than their Success

Every time we gather our leaders we celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. We start by reminding them what Christ has done by His death and His resurrection and by celebrating what God has taught them as leaders (not just their success stories).

We clearly communicate to them that we care more about their love for Jesus than their ministry for Jesus. I’ve been through burnout thinking leading a Community Group was more important than cultivating my own love for Christ. We try our best to prevent that through consistently encouraging and challenging people to spend more time with the Lord.

We don’t merely tell them to spend time with the Lord, we train them to do it. We teach on Sabbath (planning & working to set aside a full day for rest & refreshment in the Lord), we teach & model prayer in our trainings, and we are now training people to study their bible through hermeneutic (fancy way to say bible study) principles.

We want our leaders to know that our expectations of them are faithfulness not great success. We believe God takes care of the results, but calls us to faithfulness to Jesus and faithfulness to loving others. Our leaders need to abide and spend time with the Lord to see fruit or success in their own lives and cultivate fruit in the lives of those they lead.

Practical ways to cultivate Gospel Enjoyment

It’s one thing to cultivate Gospel Enjoyment personally, but it can be a challenge to cultivate it in an entire community. When thinking about how we cultivate gospel enjoyment, we focus on 3 main things. We use the language of Soma Communities & Jeff Vanderstelt of gospel fluency, focus on the scriptures over the sermon, and equip for Christ-centered accountability.

Gospel Fluency

Gospel fluency is having such intimate knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that you are able to see how the gospel influences all of life. We encourage our leaders to consistently ask of themselves and others “How does the gospel address that?” This may sound Sunday school-ish, but it results in celebrating the magnificence of Christ.

For instance, if someone in your Community Group has been complaining about work and specifically about their boss. Maybe their boss is incredibly hard on them, rude to them, and they are now angry at their boss. How does the gospel address this? Well, when we look at Christ, He was beaten, cursed at, spat on, reviled, yet we are told He did not revile in return, He did not seek revenge, but extended forgiveness and love. Seeing the gospel shows us how much we need Jesus to guide more of our life if we are ever going to love our boss who seems to hate us. It changes us from wanting the worst for our boss to wanting our boss to know the love of Christ through our actions.

The hope is for this to be commonplace in the community to where every believer in Christ is beginning to process their life through the lens of the gospel and the scriptures.

Scripture-based though not a Bible study

A lot of missional communities or community groups are sermon-based discussion. This is an easy method of leading groups, but it is short-sighted. It doesn’t equip or encourage people to be in the scriptures. We develop a weekly guide that is based on the scripture for the upcoming sermon. We do this to avoid the “my pastor said this awesome thought that stuck with me” discussion and to encourage the “I was challenged by this passage of scripture” discussion.

It’s subtle, but it’s been helpful to place the focus on contributing to group discussion what you are learning rather than regurgitating what you consumed on a Sunday. Though we are scripture-based, we encourage our communities to not see themselves as a bible study. Bible studies are not bad, but often end as events for knowledge with little community application outside the time the group meets.

In addition to the weekly guide, we encourage our leaders to let the devotional life spill into the everyday. Our private time spent in prayer and reading the bible is meant to change us and then to be used to assist and change others. 

Christ-centered accountability

A big emphasis this year is cultivating gender-specific Christ-centered accountability groups. Accountability groups in church world too often mean a confessional booth and a pep talk to attack the sin you just confessed better next time. This puts the focus on sin and that’s not how you defeat sin. (See Colossians 2:20-3:4)

The aim for these accountability groups is Gospel Enjoyment, so the questions need to open-ended and focused on how we are growing in our love for Christ. Morality & the end of sin in our lives only comes when we finally see that Jesus is better than all of our desires.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this is just our starting point with the hope being that we care for our leader’s souls and encourage them to love Jesus most throughout their lives so they can encourage others to do the same.

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Filed under Community Groups, Missional Communities, Small Groups