Monthly Archives: May 2012

To Lead Well, Be Faithful

Most people assume leadership involves a lot of activity, doing amazing and monumental things or accomplishing many tasks. When we look at leaders, they seem to be incredibly busy and while leadership naturally lends itself to more activity, the only way to ever lead well is through faithfulness. Whether it’s in a company, your family, and in ministry, faithfulness lends itself to good leadership.

Michael Hyatt recently wrote an article titled “3 Reasons Why Faithful is the New Radical” speaking to leaders who desire to be radical. This is especially true of those of us in the Missional Community world who long to see gospel-centered movements. I loved what he had to say,

By and large millennial Christians want offer lives in service to God and others by offering new and creative solutions. This is good.

But if I could speak a word of caution, from one rabble-rouser to another, I would say that sometimes the most radical thing you can do with your life is to simply be faithful.

Yes, you heard that right. By consistently doing the same thing every single day you might be more radical than you think. I know that doesn’t sound very sexy, but it’s the stuff that gives weight to significant social movements.

1 Corinthians 4:2 says that God holds his people accountable, not for the big splashy things they’ve done, but for simple faithfulness:

In this regard, it is expected of managers that each one [of them] be found faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2, HCSB)

He goes on to share 3 reasons why faithfulness is so key. As I read it, it reminded me of what we ask of our leaders in our Community Groups. As people approach leadership in our Community Groups, we want to be clear to them that our greatest expectation of them is faithfulness. When we speak of faithfulness, it starts with faithfulness to God and then extends to specific people in your life.

Here are 3 reasons why we look for and expect faithfulness from our leaders.

Being Faithful Starts Before Leading

If people aren’t faithful before they start leading, they won’t be faithful while leading. We’ve taken risks on people thinking they would be faithful once they started leading and it simply wasn’t true. This is the clear pattern of scripture as well.

Jesus was faithful to God and faithful to his parents long before He comes on the scene and is baptized. He lived a sinless life, perfectly obedient to God and He remained faithful as He led His movement to the cross and beyond. Faithfulness in leadership is mirroring the character of Christ to those you lead.

In the Old Testament, David is faithful as a shepherd before he ever becomes a king. He lived in obscurity faithfully tending and protecting his sheep and his faithfulness there prepared him to fight Goliath and eventually become a great king.

His kingdom eventually suffers because of his lack of faithfulness to his role and to God. Faithfulness to tasks is one aspect of leadership, but spiritual leadership for Community Groups hinges on the leader’s faithfulness to God.

Faithfulness to God is True Success

All leaders want to be successful in leadership, but we consistently remind our leaders that God’s success is the result of abiding in faithfulness to God. Christ instructs His disciples in John 15 to abide with Him and bear much fruit.

In the missional community discussion, it can be easy to attempt to measure success in terms of people added to the community, service to the community, and in multiplying the community. These are all good things, but if they lack faithfulness to God, the community will likely suffer. God clearly desires devotion to Him over activity apart from dependence on Him.

While subjective in nature, success as gospel faithfulness can be easily seen in the results of confidence in the gospel and greater love for people.

Faithfulness to People helps a Community Thrive

There are certain people who have been placed in our lives closer than others. They could be family, friends, co-workers, or neighbors, but they seem to interact in our world with more frequency than others. When Paul preaches his sermon in the Aeropagus, he indicates that this is no accident, that it is in fact the design of God so that others and we would know Him.

Understanding this allows leaders and communities to be faithful directly where they are placed and directly with people who are placed there as well. This can decrease the strain on relationships for many of us and I’ve noticed that a thriving community results from the faithfulness of leaders to the people who are right in front of them.

Our Community Groups seek to care for one another and their neighbors. This could be a daunting task unless they understand being faithful to who God has placed in their midst. This lets them identify and meet the tangible physical and spiritual needs for one another and their neighbors easier by focusing on specific people.

Faithfulness builds on itself and expands the capacity of the leaders as their influence grows. We can’t be certain what the future has for our lives or our leadership, but we can be faithful with what we’ve been given. Whether it is a job we don’t enjoy, money, or friendships, learning to be faithful with what we have will allow us to be faithful when we have more.

Great leaders are faithful leaders.

1 Comment

Filed under Community Groups, Leadership, Missional Communities, To Lead Well

Forming Missional Communities

It is one thing to grasp and get excited about a vision for missional communities and a completely different thing to go about forming missional communities. The vision for gospel-centered communities on mission is compelling, exciting, and stirs us within towards embodying scriptural truth. I find it hard not to be attracted to pursuing this vision.

But it’s not easy. Forming missional communities can be immensely challenging and even transitioning from an existing small group model to missional communities can be a massive challenge.

As people grasp this vision in our church, we try our best to assist them in thinking through the key components that will allow them to move from vision to reality.

Why?

This question has multiple levels to it.

Are the leaders starting this for a reason other than faithfulness to God? Are they looking to cultivate a gospel presence on mission to their neighborhood or is this a religious act? This isn’t a test for the leader, but a gospel confrontation to seek their own spiritual health and alignment with God. Leaders must know that starting, sustaining, and leading a missional community is about faithfulness to God and not to a bunch of community tasks.

The other level concerns the vision for the community. Why is this community forming? Why in this neighborhood and why these people? Vision is essential for any community or it will not go anywhere, let alone form into a community that loves one another well and loves their neighbors well. This type of community doesn’t just happen because people who love Jesus are in the same room. There must be a vision, but there must also be so plan for what the community will do.

What?

Our church has 3 core values, Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, & Prayerful Mission. These are the principles our community groups are centered around, but each community group will see these accomplished differently based on the people in their community and their local neighborhood.

We encourage the leaders to think through what they would like to see the community do to cultivate these core values. As they gather as a community we encourage them to ask questions and discuss how everyone in the community sees these core values becoming a reality for the community. This usually requires the community to confront changes to their lifestyles that will need to take place for the community to flourish in these 3 areas.

This question also deals with what is the community group going to actually do to extend the gospel of Jesus Christ to their neighbors. Many of them seek to establish presence through consistent meals and others start by seeking to serve their neighborhood in tangible ways. For every community, it eventually evolves to truly meet the needs of their neighborhood, but every community must start with a plan of what they are going to do.

Who?

This also has multiple layers.

Who is going with you? Jonathan Dodson had some great advice on this for our community. He recommended having no fewer than 6 people start a missional community and it has been a helpful encouragement. Fewer than 6 decreases the spheres in reaching out to friends, neighbors, and co-workers and doesn’t provide a sustainable base. The flipside is being careful to avoid being full before ever starting. You want to have a solid core, but also empty seats as a reminder of mission. I’m thankful to his guidance in this area and in many other ways.

Who are you going to? This is the next layer. This isn’t a vague neighborhood description; this is the names of people you care about. These are people you desire to experience quality relationships centered on the gospel, to discuss your faith with whether their faith differs or not, and those people you genuinely desire to serve.

Prep Time and Cast Vision

As a community begins, we encourage them to prepare for the first get together by thinking through the vision for the community. The majority of this vision comes from answering the questions above, but the first gathering of the community is not merely the leader sharing. The first gathering must be centered on the leader sharing the vision, but also forming the vision as a community. This involves letting the community speak into and establish the collective vision.

The entire community must take ownership of the vision. These first few gatherings are typically Christ followers who are discussing the core values being fleshed out to their neighborhood.

Share Leadership

As the community group moves forward, we encourage the leadership to continually share leadership in the various ways the community life is functioning. From sharing the discussion lead-role to inviting people to use their gifts in hospitality, mercy, or even prophecy to benefit the community as a whole. Each person has value to the community and the community will be lacking until each individual seeks to use their unique gifts, talents and abilities for the benefit of the whole. A community of contributors is formed through all seeing themselves as leaders toward the collective vision of the missional community.

This formation stage lays the groundwork for the future of the community. Taking the time to consider its direction is essential for long-term health and avoiding massive corrective transitions in the future.

We have not always done well in preparing leaders, but have learned not to be quick to form new missional communities, that we must be thoughtful in our approach as a church. Too much thought can delay momentum and movement, but too little will destroy it altogether.

Forming missional communities requires thoughtful assessment of how the gospel of Jesus Christ shapes a community to extend grace and mercy to their neighbors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Missional Communities

Missional Community Crossroad Moments

I intended to go deeper into the Missional Community life cycle this week, but I realized that my posts from Tuesday & Wednesday assumed progress in knowing God, loving one another and loving the world. But what happens when a missional community starts to face the reality that they are struggling in those areas?

The community comes to a crossroads moment. Will the missional community end or change to avoid continuing in decline towards ultimately ending?

Before discussing these crossroad moments, a brief review of the intent of missional community. Missional Communities are a collection of people who have partnered together on the same mission. The name spells it out, but doesn’t necessarily explain it comprehensively. For the church, these communities are formed based on their gospel identity. They understand the need to cultivate a healthy community and that mission ultimately requires a healthy community. These communities see their role as forming Christ-loving disciples who embody the gospel through making other Christ-loving and following disciples.

This requires that they grow in their love for and obedience to God (we call this Gospel Enjoyment), that they grow in their care for and investment in one another (Intentional Community) and they grow in extending the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed (Prayerful Mission). This is progression in the gospel and its implications as a community on mission.

Missional communities face crossroad moments when progression in the gospel slows or stops. Then the community must discuss changing or ending.

Changing for Healthy Community

There can be moments when a missional community is to heavy on mission to the detriment of loving God and loving one another. The results are the community demanding reports of missional engagement and the value for each member becomes their contribution to mission not their value in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This crossroad moment allows the community to remember Christ as their first love and focus and return to the gospel as center of the community. This may mean increasing time together as community to have fun. It may mean to come together for more prayer or simply take the time to express concern and work through some of the struggles of people in the community. When a community stops bearing one another’s burdens, struggles, or even sins, their mission will ultimately suffer.

Changing for Healthy Mission

Many small groups that have transitioned to missional communities will face the opposite crossroad moment. Even among many missional communities, the tendency to turn inward and only show concern for one another is strong and can lead to the absence of mission altogether.

This crossroad moment forces the community to come to terms with their error of sacrificing the call of Christ to extend His message to all. The way out may mean ending the bible study focus for a while, choosing local restaurants, concerts, or events that provide more natural avenues to connect with people who believe differently than them. Their will need to be a season of correction while avoid overcorrection towards the error of sacrificing community.

One of the best ways to move forward from this crossroad is to pursue serving the poor and marginalized in the area. Engaging the brokenness of our local neighborhoods brings us back to the heartbeat of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It reminds us that Jesus came down out of heaven, a perfect situation, and entered into one of the most broken earthly situations being born to a outcast virgin in a barn. Christ did this to stop the mess in our lives and to begin fixing it.

This good news propels us toward mercy when we remember it, but we are propelled towards hiding from brokenness when we forget the gospel and seek to protect ourselves and the community from the brokenness around us.

Some Missional Communities Should End

Ending the missional community must also be an option during these crossroad moments.

I mentioned in the original post that all missional communities centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ face a time of messiness that is healthy, so I’m not referencing those situations. There are times when the messiness only gets worse and multiplies in the community. This happens when the messiness or community errors are not processed through the gospel as a community. In these situations, it’s best for the community to end and transition to other missional communities or new missional communities to disrupt the cycle of messiness.

In other cases, I’ve seen some missional communities end where there was a lack of shared leadership and the leader was burned out. A missional community dependent on one or even two leaders who do everything will suffer and hurt from lacking the contributions of all. The spiritual health of the leaders is essential to the health of the community.

For those that end, it’s not simply a failure, but acknowledging the reality that God is trying to do something different and following Him will require sacrifice of some kind. Sometimes this sacrifice is ending the current missional community in hopes of pursing gospel-centered community on mission in another community.

The Majority Should Simply Change

Most missional communities in crossroads moments benefit best from changing and adjusting through seeking God and processing the implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Seeing these crossroad moments and moving beyond them transform a missional community to a new level of healthy community and healthy mission. This is similar to when we each individually face challenges in our lives. We come out on the other end with more wisdom, and often unknowingly, a quality character that has been developed through the challenges.

Every missional community will face these crossroad moments along their life cycle that could lead to a greater understanding of and celebration of the gospel. It’s a beautiful moment for a community to evaluate themselves in light of the gospel implications and transform to become more like God’s desire for a community.

Leave a comment

Filed under Missional Communities

Life Cycle of Missional Communities in New Areas

Yesterday, I wrote about the typical life cycle of a missional community within an area where there is an existing gospel presence from the church. The typical group goes through stages of formation, fun, messiness, mission, and multiplication, but if the church is called to extend the gospel of Jesus Christ to areas of their city where there isn’t a gospel presence, new missional communities must be started in new areas.

There have been leaders at Apostles Church who have started Community Groups in new areas and we have set up some of them for success, but did not help others well. One of the important things is properly preparing them for the hard work of establishing a new gospel-centered community in an area where there isn’t a lot of support in terms of numbers of people. The process for establishing the community is lengthier and the tasks much different.

I’m thankful to the men and women of our church who have loved their neighborhood so much they would start a community with less support than usual in hopes of seeing a gospel presence there eventually. One example is Joe Khalil on Staten Island, who has not only been faithful in serving our church immensely, but has been faithful in loving his neighborhood. There have been exciting days for Joe and there have been challenging days for him and his Community Group. I am so encouraged by his leadership and his love for his neighborhood.

The Sunday gatherings for Apostles Church serve communities well that have easy access to the gathering, but they are not easy to access from Staten Island. Joe has consistently gone the extra mile to bring people, to consistently reach out to those in the community and he is beginning to see the fruit of his labor and love for Staten Island.

A comfort for Joe and many in our church who start Community Groups in our area is what has happened in Brooklyn. Brooklyn used to have 1 Community that was thriving and 1 that consistently struggled to gather people but has become a thriving collection of 4 Community Groups in need of at least 2 more and even in need of a local worship gathering.

From my perspective, I’ve seen these new communities face the following challenges that others have not faced.

Establishing a Committed Core

While the aim numerically for starting a new Community Group is between 6-10 people, these communities usually start with 2-4 people. If someone can’t make it, it could be a lonely night discussing scripture with just you. Establishing a committed core happens with every community, but establishing in a new area that isn’t familiar with this community approach takes a lot longer. It requires patient and very intentional pursuit from the leader of the Community Group.

The frustrations come when the leader starts to feel that they have made some strides and have some consistent members, only to find it back to the original few a couple of months later. I’ve seen new Community Groups ebb and flow with establishing this committed core for over a year before beginning to see the committed core formed and consistency established.

Part of this is the result of a kind of urban sprawl of Christian community. When a viable, consistent gospel community presence has longevity it begins to grow.

Persevering for the Urban Sprawl of Christian Community

This requires great perseverance. I remember meeting with Community Group leaders from further out in Brooklyn who had experienced growth and decline multiple times and found themselves back to their original leaders after almost 2 years.

Over the course of the next 9 months they grew to the point of being full and exploring multiplication. It was amazing and a lot of it had to do with longevity of gospel-centered presence. They weren’t giving up and desired to see a Community Group in their neighborhood so bad they endured the highs and the lows. This perseverance made them a viable and healthy option for community, proving that you can be connected to our church, live in that neighborhood and still enjoy a thriving gospel-centered community and mission.

While the Sunday gathering can be seen as supplemental to community life, having a local worship gathering can propel gospel-centered communities on mission to their neighborhood.

But where a gathering does not exist, establishing this type of community takes a while and it can be emotionally and spiritually taxing on leaders trying to establish a community from scratch. They need encouragement and need leadership who pursues them and adopts their community as a point of prayer. There will be times when they want to give up and they may need to be reminded of why they started in the beginning.

Establishing longevity cannot be rushed and it communicates a love for the local neighborhood simply through presence. We live in a time where it can be easy to move on to something new, so perseverance in love speaks a great truth found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as God patiently deals with us.

Faithful to Grow Slowly into the Life Cycle

Eventually these new communities will experience growth and any growth must be celebrated. Small growth is great growth in new and more challenging areas. Slow growth eventually builds on itself over time and through faithfulness by the leaders.

God’s ultimate call for every leader is faithfulness to what He has given them. In these new areas, he has called these leaders to be faithful with the few even as they seek more people. This faithfulness develops them into leaders who celebrate success as gospel and not merely numeric growth. When Community Group leaders are faithful with a few it is evidence that they will eventually be faithful with many, which exactly what Jesus speaks to in His parables.

This slow growth eventually moves them to the life cycle I mentioned yesterday and they begin to face those similar challenges.

The Growth of the Leader

This process of starting something new has the greatest affect on the leaders themselves. It can be hard and have some negative affects, but for those who press into God and fellow leaders in the church community they experience much growth. Persevering through highs and lows develops character, an understanding of scriptural truth and wisdom that cannot be taught in a classroom.

The personal growth I’ve seen in many of these leaders has made them some of our best leaders. For the groups right now that are starting in new areas, I see them facing the challenges mentioned above, but I am also hopeful for the type of people it will make them as they depend on God and ask for Him to grow their Community Group.

The Benefit for the Church

The church benefits greatly when these leaders step out into new territory. They remind us that the gospel of Jesus Christ was meant to go beyond its current boundaries and be extended to everyone. This does not allow us to become complacent and satisfied with our current state, but challenges us to dream of the blessings parts of our city are missing when they lack a gospel-centered, Jesus-like community presence.

These leaders have much to teach us about extending the gospel and continually extending invites to the community.

I was once challenged to start a missional community from scratch at my workplace or in my neighborhood when I lived in Austin. It was one of the most challenging and easily the time where I learned the most. I never saw the missional community grow into the life cycle stage as we moved away from Austin before even forming the community.

The challenge of that experience causes me to greatly value the patience, perseverance, and efforts of these leaders of gospel-centered communities on mission to new areas. I love celebrating with them even the smallest measure of success and encouraging them to push through the challenges and setbacks. The gospel of Jesus Christ is worth it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life

The Life Cycle of a Missional Community

At the beginning of each new season of Community Groups at Apostles Church, we gather together as leaders to re-focus on the gospel and our core values while also highlighting important points of emphasis for the season. Back in January we gathered for 3 hours, had amazing conversation, shared a meal and communion with one another to start the year. It was a great beginning.

One of the things we discussed was the life cycle of a gospel-centered community on mission (missional community). Every living thing has a specific life cycle and it’s important to identify this for a Community Group so leaders don’t have false expectations throughout leading their community.

Every community goes through a time of formation, fun, messiness, mission, and multiplying.

Formation

This is the beginning of the community where developing relationships, vision, and a cohesive direction happen. It’s a crucial time, but it also takes longer than most people think.

Many leaders approach a new community thinking it will develop great relationships quickly and when the first few gatherings of the community turn out to be awkward, they’re confused. Communities typically take at least 3-6 months to form quality relationships and begin to care for one another well. There are some communities that form faster and some slower, but it generally takes about this much time.

This is the point where the community lays the foundation, vision, and future direction for the community. For missional communities, it is essential to begin with the understanding of and preparation for extending the gospel on mission and eventually multiplying. Each community must recognize that this will not be the last community they will be in and more than that, begin seeking to extend the community to others from day one.

The community takes this time to get to know one another, to work through the awkwardness, to begin bearing one another’s burdens, learning how to care for one another and extend the message and mercy of Christ together as a community.

Fun

After the community forms, there is usually a time period where things are pretty smooth and enjoyable. Relationships have been developed, depth of gospel conversations is happening, and the community is beginning to extend the gospel. This usually happens for a few months.

It is easy during this time for the leader to feel like the community is successful, but the community is about to face a new challenge that can feel like failure.

Messiness

As a community is established on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it will eventually face a season of messiness. This time of messiness happens when people begin to feel comfortable sharing the junk in their lives. Sins, past hurts, brokenness, and ongoing struggles begin to be confessed. Most leaders assume failure because hard things are being revealed and it’s not “picture perfect”, but messiness is actually the best sign of gospel health. Confused yet?

Messiness reveals that the community is actually founded on the gospel of Christ and not just merely liking one another. The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that we are sinful, but we don’t have to make up for our sinfulness, mistakes, errors, and brokenness because Jesus did that for us through His perfect life, forgiving death on the cross, and life-giving resurrection from the dead. As the community continues to encouraged people to believe this for every area of their life, the people in the community begin to realize that freedom from the burdens of sin and brokenness is actually possible.

An opportunity to be rid of guilt and shame through confession and belief in the power of the gospel gives great comfort to people and lets them begin to share where their lives don’t match up with Christ’s life.

This is messy and this is good. This is how a community becomes empowered by the gospel, by letting the truths of Christ’s redemptive work transform the individuals within the community. Healthy mission follows healthy gospel transformation. If you want to know why your small group or church aren’t on mission, it’s because the gospel of Jesus Christ hasn’t been applied to the community yet. When the gospel is applied, sin is confessed, and people become delighted in Christ over themselves, mission follows naturally.

Mission

As the gospel of Christ is applied to the ordinary life of the community, the ordinary life becomes a place of a great mission. Mission as a community is extending the regular rhythm and life activities of the community to people’s neighbors, co-workers, and family. It’s opening the community to new people to let them experience a community shaped by the gospel.

This happens through meals together, gospel conversations over late nights, nights out together, family outings and every other “normal” activity that both the community and the local neighborhood participate in.

One side of mission that can be neglected by a missional community (to its own peril) is extending the mercy of Jesus Christ through social justice. The phrase social justice makes some people cringe, but Jesus was clear that His disciples would experience His salvation in such a way that they couldn’t help but care for the poor and the marginalized. Something powerful happens to a community that takes ownership of their neighborhood to the point of creative compassion to meet the needs of the neighborhood around them.

Mission is a time where the community continues to grow in their knowledge of God, His gospel, and their love for one another. The results are usually that the community grows in number and then it faces another challenge. Will the community multiply or will it decline?

Multiplying

As a community grows, it approaches a point where it either multiplies, creating another community or it begins to decline as a community. Becoming multiple communities is challenging, but remember in formation that this was planned and discussed. It doesn’t make it any easier though. If the community chooses to delay multiplying, they will see the community decline, the conversations begin to lack the gospel depth they once had and mission becomes harder with a larger community.

Most communities delay multiplication out of fear. They fear losing friends and relationships. Multiplying is never easy, but often results in the exact opposite of these fears. I’ve seen multiple communities where friendships deepened as a result of multiplying. While they no longer spent as much time together, their time together developed a quality in encouragement and care that they had not seen before placing the gospel mission before their relationships.

Following multiplication, the life cycle begins again for both communities. It can be a confusing and challenging time after experiencing great things in the original community, but eventually each community begins to see the same results of the gospel they had seen earlier.

While this is the typical life cycle of a missional community, some communities that are starting in brand new areas where there isn’t a gospel presence from their church community face a more challenging and longer process for developing as a community. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the challenges facing missional communities that are started in new areas and later in the week, I’ll look at the key components of the formation of a new missional community.

2 Comments

Filed under Missional Communities

Gospel Enjoyment: You will die for what you love

“I love that so much I would die for it!”

We’ve all said this or something similar, usually in reference to an object or possession we wish we could purchase. It’s not used literally, but it reveals that we can value and love something so much that we would sacrifice for it.

And the truth is we do sacrifice for what we love. We sacrifice for our friends and family because we love them, we sacrifice for charities usually because we love their cause or love someone personally in the midst of it. We sacrifice for our political views, sometimes sacrificing those same friends in the process…

This same thing occurs with eternal life given in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus says that if we would have Him as Lord and Savior we should be willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him.

You can’t have God and still be god
We would all like to maintain control over our lives and add faith as an accessory that doesn’t interfere. The Christian faith is not like this. It’s a faith built on the belief that Jesus, fully God, took on flesh and lived the perfect life that was demanded of us and then chose to die the death that was due us in punishment for our sins. But death didn’t hold Him and He rose again.

We want that resurrection victory without dying to our way of life to obtain it. In Romans our faith is said to be illustrated through baptism, that we unite with Christ in His death and His resurrection when we are publicly baptized.

Placing faith in Christ is letting go of control over your life. You are no longer the defined of how life should be, but God becomes the defined of life. This means a death to self-guided living and life to Christ-guided living.

When we begin to see the gospel as glorious and most lovely, we begin to die to our selfish ways and be conformed to the ways of Christ. Only through gospel enjoyment, loving Jesus most, will death to our self-focused, self-exalting ways happen.

You will die for what you love.

Jesus Did
John 3:16 is the most well known verse thanks to sports but it proclaims that God so loved the world that He sent Christ to die for us so that through faith we might have eternal life. In Hebrews 12, it describes Jesus enduring the cross for the joy set before Him in sitting at God’s right hand in heaven.

Jesus loved His Father to the point that He died to His own will and He loved the world so much that He saw the Father’s will as perfect.

He died for what He loved. What a beautiful gospel.

A continual dying and a continual living
Now the Christian experiencing this weird mix of dying continually to an old way of life that was self-guided seeking self-satisfaction and through these deaths finding a self-less joyful lifein Christ.

This denying of ourselves is only sustained by gospel enjoyment. We need to be enlightened to see God’s ways and His truth as more glorious than our own.

You will die or sacrifice for what you love, whether that is yourself, others or God, but Jesus is the only never ending satisfying joy worth dying for.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gospel Enjoyment

Gospel Enjoyment: You Live for what you Love

How do you order your life? How do you spend your time, money, and emotions? You only live for what you love. Some of us may not think this is true, we could look at our jobs and describe our frustrations, but there are reasons you stay at your job. It could be to support the people you love, the love of responsibility, or the love of being known as reliable.

Even though there are things that we obligated to give our time to, our emotions and thoughts are always spent on what we love. I’m a huge sports fan and it doesn’t matter if it’s basketball, football, baseball, hockey or miniature golf, I’m in. I’ll glad spend me thoughts, emotions, money, and time thinking about, reading about, figuring out a way to play or watch sports.

I’ve seen this be true for people who love music, fine arts, faith, social justice, or comfort. We only live for what we love leaving us the important realization that we must be careful what we love. Do we truly love what is most lovely or do we settle for things less lovely?

Whatever we love, we give our money, our time, and emotions and end up finding new ways and new time to enjoy it with our lives.

You Spend Your Money on what you Love

This is the challenge Jesus gives in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 6.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In the midst of Jesus’ sermon which raises the bar on understanding who God is and what He desires for people, he points to this truth that we spend on ourselves on what we love and our money usually shows us what that is. Your bank statements and your possessions can easily display what you love. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it is revealing.

If we treasure God and the heavenly things, our view of money shifts and the way we spend it shifts as well. Money becomes a tool to build God’s kingdom rather than a master we are always seeking to serve. Money as master or the object of affection betrays us as it leads us to sacrifice just about anything (family, friends, ethics) to attain more and there’s always more. Loving something beyond money sees money as a tool for living for what we love most. For the Christian, money is a tool to spent on the things God cares about.

You Spend Your Time on what you Love

Whether we give to much time to work because we love success or we give our time to our favorite televisions shows because we love to laugh and be entertained, our time is spent on what we love.

We will arrange our schedules around what we love most. I see this in my own life all the time. During college football season, I try to get everything done and spend time with people around the games that I want to watch. As I seek to express my love for my wife and my children, it can easily be seen by how I spend time with and for them. My wife knows that I love her, but scheduling consistent date nights speaks greater volumes than mere words. My time is reflecting my verbal commitment of love.

The same is true of Christianity. We can say we love Jesus all we want, but if our time is spent on everything but Him, our time reveals our true love.

You Spend your Emotions & Thoughts on what you Love

Sometimes I wish I could have some of my emotions back, especially when it comes to sports. I seem to choose teams that are underdogs and are so for a reason. They always lose, but I still get emotionally invested into games. There have been times when it affects my mood or an upcoming big game causes me to think a little too much about how well my team will perform.

I know I’ve used a lot of sports references, but I know the same is true for many women when it comes to decorating or fashion. They give a lot of time to searching catalogs, discussing trends, colors, etc. in search of a satisfying outfit or room décor. It’s the natural outflow of loving something, that our thoughts and emotions would become tied up with the thing we love.

This is why the scriptures emphasize our minds being renewed by the Word of God (the Bible) in Romans 12, that we are to set our minds on Christ (Colossians 3), that we need to think on what is honorable, true, pure, and lovely (Philippians 4). If the Christian life is loving God most, our emotions and our thoughts get tied up with God and His initiatives.

Jesus Lived for what He Loved

One of the great things about the incarnation of Jesus, when He lived as a human, is we were able to see what Jesus loved by how He spent His money, time, emotions and thoughts.

In 2 Corinthians 8:9, the scriptures say “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” He laid aside the riches of heaven to put on flesh because of His love for the Father and for us, so that we could become heirs with Him through faith.

Jesus said He only spent His time and did what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19). He spent time away from others in prayer with the Father, He spent time with the hurting, the poor, and the needy instead of the well-known, the rich, and the righteous displaying the Father’s heart for the poor and the marginalized.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds of people (Matthew 9:35-36), He wept when He saw Jerusalem knowing He would give His life for those He loved.

If we as Christians ever wonder what it would look like to love God and let our lives reflect what we love, Jesus has displayed for us fully through His life how to live for what is most lovely.

It’s an interesting thing to that we live for what we love and when we spend our money, time, emotions and thoughts on what we love, we end up loving it more. It’s as if we step into a cycle of love leading to actions and actions feeding the love. This makes it that much more important that we assess what we love and make sure it is what is most lovely, Jesus.

Next blog I’ll continue this thought by focusing how gospel enjoyment highlights that we also die for what we love.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gospel Enjoyment, Life

The Source of Gospel Enjoyment

Gospel enjoyment is centering on and celebrating the finished work of Jesus Christ in His life, death and resurrection.

Gospel enjoyment recognizes that you only live for what you love, so for the Christian or anyone else for that matter, we must evaluate if we love what is most lovely. The good news of Jesus Christ is the most amazing truth and is most lovely, but we are not merely called to cognitive belief of the truths of Christ as our Savior, we are called to love this truth.

Effort Alone is Not Enough

Living a life that mirrors Christ is a huge challenge, but gospel enjoyment gives freedom that enables us to live this life God calls us to with great joy and victory. It’s essential that every Christian love the gospel or they will never embody Christ in their lifestyle or their actions toward others.

Those who claim Christianity know the personal struggle of trying to maintain personal holiness and morality without becoming judgmental know-it-alls who are unable to love others. The commands of scripture toward taking responsibility for the local church community can also seem daunting, let alone the call to embody Christ to our neighbors with our words and our actions.

One path that many Christians take is the one of resolve and willpower aiming to accomplish the commands of scripture or at least the ones their local church tends to care about. This resolve and willpower either creates pride and a judgmental attitude if a measure of the “Christian life” is achieved or condemnation and guilt when it isn’t achieved. We need more than resolve and willpower.

Effort alone never results in transformation, but effort is needed toward the right end. Effort is needed for gospel enjoyment.

We must ask, how do we get gospel enjoyment? How does it happen? How do we get to the point of delight that transforms our efforts?

The Great Commandments as Jesus articulated them were to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Faith cannot be separated from love because salvation is tied up with joy in knowing the good news of God’s redemption through Christ’s perfect life, substitutionary death and bodily resurrection.

Knowing God as the Source of Gospel Enjoyment

“We love because He first loved us” is how the scriptures (1 John 4:19) explain the love of God that we are to embody to one another. It highlights the source of all gospel enjoyment as beginning with God. This is at the end of passage that highlights the love of God:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfect in us.” 1 John 4:7-12

Jesus in His high priestly prayer in John 17 echoes this desire for Christians to know and have the love of God in them.

“O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it know, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.” John 17:25-26

God alone is the source of all joy, delight, and love. Jesus Himself points to loving Him as the path to obedience and Paul directs us in Colossians 3 to seek the things above, where Christ is, as the path to our lives becoming more like Christ. In the same high priestly prayer Jesus says “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” (John 17:3)

I have seen from the scriptures, from my own life, and from many others that the call of the Christian life (eternal life) to align every area of life under Christ’s gracious reign is only accomplished when we love God and the gospel of Christ most.

This is gospel enjoyment. It’s our greatest delight becoming our greatest direction. It’s the path to our efforts no longer being futile because they are directed at knowing God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gospel enjoyment is the path to obedience, the path to living in Christian community the way God has designed it, and it’s the path to embodying Christ to the world around us on mission through declaration and demonstration.

And it all starts with knowing and delighting in God. You only live for what you love, so for the Christian, the question is why have we tried to live the Christian life apart from a great love for God? Our faith is the invitation to love what is most lovely in Jesus and to let that love guide us to be transformed toward being like Him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Groups, Life, Missional Communities

The Gospel, Christian Parenting & Schooling Options, Part 2

Last week, I wrote a post on how the gospel of Christ must shape the approach to schooling for Christian parents.

There is great benefits to a church community that embraces all of the schooling options provided in our culture, but it requires that families have confidence in the gospel of Christ and not their “right way” of schooling. When this confidence in Christ prevails, it leads to families who do not condemn others for choosing a different schooling option while allowing for collaboration across the various schooling perspectives.  Each option of schooling has its benefits and challenges for Christian families who seek to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ. We also must understand the full implications of believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ as the definer of all of our lives, including family life.

Placing your faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, believing that having faith in Christ’s perfect life, death on the cross for your sins, and believing in His bodily resurrection from the dead requires that we bring our life and our life’s purpose under God’s gracious reign. In parenting, this means Christians aim to raise their children to know and live like Jesus. The scriptures go on to say that this is displayed through a lifestyle that reflects Christ’s holiness in morality, but also His gracious boldness in mission. For families in the church, personal morality and gracious engaging culture on mission have often been seen as mutually exclusive, but the gospel of Christ demands both.

This means that schooling options and outside of schooling family life must be evaluated in how it influences the family’s ability to truly follow Christ. This perspective leads us to ask what are the benefits and challenges for families trying to reflect Jesus in each of their schooling environments.

These are broad strokes that attempt to take complex family situations and summarize them in simple phrases of benefits and challenges. They are not comprehensive. (yes, this is my disclaimer of my own imperfection)

Private School

I’m distinguishing between private schools and private Christian schools because they have different benefits and challenges.

Benefits

Excellent schooling
Many private schools promise preparation for a great future in education and career success. Private schools carry with them a reputation of future success based on their rigorous education. This helps families embody the gospel of Christ by honoring God with excellence in education that can lead to influencing culture for the common good, not just the exaltation of a Christian nation.

Provision for Gospel Mission

While many parents choose private schools because of their education reputation, one thing they may overlook is the opportunity their family now has in displaying Jesus to an area that can typically lack a gospel presence. Christian families have the opportunity to display the grace of God to their children in an environment where acceptance is usually based on individual performance. This contrasts with the gospel proclaiming acceptance through faith in Christ alone.

Challenges

Stressful high performance atmosphere

The challenge for families in this environment is not crushing your children under the weight of stressful performance. Your child may excel at school and yet have their soul crushed by the demands of achievement. Private schools cultivate an environment that will challenge parents in encouraging their children to not base their worth on the grade or rank in class. The freedom the gospel of Christ brings in the area of performance can actually enhance their performance because it places the performance of Christ over the performance of self. This realignment is freeing to pursue excellence without anxiety.

Financial burden

The cost of private school is beginning to trump the cost of Ivy League education. While the church needs families who display the gospel in every socio-economic class, the financial burden can be a challenge to stewarding resources for God’s kingdom first.

A Culture that can Lack Diversity

While many private schools are seeking to improve diversity, they predominantly have one demographic. For families who are seeking to prepare kids to love all different types of people, they will have to identify ways outside of their natural schooling environment.

Public School

Benefits

Preparing for Authority Outside the Home

This is true of private schools as well but I didn’t want to keep repeating everything. One of the primary roles of parenting is to be the life teacher of their children. Deferral parenting prevails throughout schooling outside the home, but parents never move on from being their children’s educator. Schooling outside the home provides focused time for children to be educated by trained educators and freedom to parents to become supplemental educator.

This is a great opportunity to educate in the gospel of Christ or provide additional focus in areas of weakness for your children. Eventually, children will work for someone else and schooling outside the home prepares them to work for an authority that may not reflect the character of Christ. Following Jesus’ example and the teachings of scripture, Christians are to honor all earthly authorities as set up by God ultimately.

Exposure to diversity & culture

There are certainly public schools that lack diversity, but the majority of public schools provide the other education of social intelligence. It is increasingly important in our country that our children learn to appreciate the cultural distinctive and learn to extend the gospel of Christ to a variety of belief systems. This provision of gospel mission is a challenge to any family, but by living this in front of your children, you are educating them with & without words to love people for their dignity as God’s creation and not simply because they benefit you.

Challenges

Quality of education

In many areas of the country, the quality of education through public schools is lacking and not getting much better. Parents are faced with the challenge of valuing education, seeking education reform for the benefits of the children in their area while seeking the best education for their own children.

Environment that can contrast home

Just as the world around us does not always reflect the values of a Christian family’s home life, the public school does not promote Christianity. This can be a challenge and an opportunity for parents to prepare their children for a society that does not believe the same as them.

Family time becomes dictated by school

Schooling outside the home is giving up autonomy and freedom for families for vacations and family activities. A lot of people, Christians included, don’t like giving up autonomy to a perfect and gracious God, let alone to an impersonal institution.

Private Christian School

Benefits

Christian-based environment

This provides an environment that seeks to reinforce the home environment while seeking to provide an excellent education. This has its advantages in assisting parents in educating their children in the truths of the scriptures and in the lifestyle that models Christ. It does not always reflect it perfectly, so parents must beware of deferral parenting in this environment.

Quality of Education

The quality of education is also typically better and similar to the benefits mentioned for private schools.

Challenges

Lack of gospel mission as family

Natural relationships that can come from private school or public school do not exist in this environment as readily and will require that families find ways to incorporate the mission and mercy of Christ into their rhythm of life.

This also plays into the lack of diversity mentioned above. Christian families must ask whether they are seeking private school for educational purposes or for child-protective purposes. Pursuing a safe and secure place can be beneficial to a point, but safety as governor of a child’s life can impede the mission of God in their future. I’m not advocating throwing them to the wolves of culture, but in light of the gospel this must be considered.

Homeschooling

Benefits

Time

There is a benefit for families to dictate their time and even utilize their time for great extension of the gospel as a family through having more autonomy of schedule. Families can dictate their time and this provides great responsibility for families in stewarding their time for God’s ends and not their own comfort alone.

Parents who shape the content & environment

Parents are able to determine the curriculum and shape their children’s education and the environment where they learn. This enables parents to customize their children’s education to enhance their strengths, to supplement their weaknesses and even add classes not naturally provided in public school environments.

Challenges

Teaching & Parenting, especially w/ multiple kids

While parents never stop being a teacher of their children in general, they don’t always have to provide grades. The mix of being a parent that loves unconditionally and a teacher that grades conditionally can be a challenge in seeking to reflect the gospel of Christ. This gets enhanced when trying to parent younger children and educate older children.

Social constraints

The very nature of homeschool provides constraints socially and culturally. This can be overcome, but the gospel of Christ that prepares every child for eventually interacting with the culture demands that families consider how they will supplement their homeschool to provide social interaction. Children need friends and need friendships that become best friendships and need to deal with the loss of friendships.

Using Time for God’s Mission

The flexibility of homeschooling can be a temptation for many Christian families to focus on one-half of the gospel, moral adherence. This is the natural tendency of many in the American church and while moral adherence must not be sacrificed, children must be prepared for it to be confronted by the culture around them. We do not live M. Night Shyamalan’s Village and must not be naïve as parents in assisting our children in encountering culture.

Charter School

Benefits

High-performance of a private school without the cost

The rise of charter schools has provided quality education without the natural cost. The challenge can be getting a spot in the competitive lottery system.

Diversity of beliefs & cultures found in public school

A natural provision of gospel mission enables families to reflect the gospel as similarly described in public school above without some of the challenges facing public school parents with low quality of education.

Challenges

High-stress & typically time consuming environment

All success comes at a cost and with charter schools that can be the sacrifice of time and the increase of a stressful environment. Parents will battle the similar challenges as private school families.

Processing culture

Accompanying diversity of beliefs and culture is the challenge for parents to help their children process the differences without condemning others that are not like us. The gospel of Christ offers an inclusive invitation to all to an exclusive claim that Jesus Christ alone is Lord & Savior. That’s a challenge for me to process let alone to assist children in dealing with these challenges as they face other children from different cultures and belief systems.

Conclusion

While the scriptures and the gospel of Christ do define one “right way” to educate your children, the gospel of Christ must shape our approach to understand the benefits we are choosing and confronting the challenges we will face as families who adhere to the Christian faith. Churches with a diversity of schooling families benefit as these families collaborate instead of condemn one another.

We eventually chose public school and I will be writing about why we chose public school while providing an update on Eli’s first year in public school in the near future.

3 Comments

Filed under Church Life, Parenting