Tag Archives: apostles church

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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Cognitively Charismatic

A few months ago, I attended the Brooklyn Tabernacle’s conference and prayer meeting. While I was there, I was confronted by lack of receptivity to God and what He would want to do in and through me. I was open to ministry strategy and the study of theology, but what about God answering big prayers or awakening spiritual gifts that I don’t really understand?

During the season of Epiphany at Apostles Church, we are going through the 7 signs of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John. This has led to some amazing conversations about spiritual gifts, especially those typically associated with the charismatic wing of the church.

As someone who associates more with Reformed Theology, loves John Piper, and named his 2nd son after the dead theologian John Calvin, I’ve always settled with the typically charismatic gifts as still existing but certainly not completely comfortable with them. These are things like healing, prophecy, tongues, and discerning spirits.

Charismatic With a Seatbelt or Cognitively Charismatic?

Mark Driscoll has used the term charismatic with a seatbelt to describe a willingness toward the gifts, but trying to avoid some notoriously crazy associations with the charismatic gifts.

That always sounded good, but the last few months I’ve realized that I have been merely cognitively charismatic. Open to the charismatic gifts in knowledge only, believing them to exist, but not really open to practicing any of them.

Demystifying the gifts

This sermon series at church has been incredibly helpful because the scriptures speak of Jesus healing people. He heals people physically, spiritually, and performs all kinds of amazing miracles. Jesus told His disciples that they would do greater works than these before speaking about the Holy Spirit, God who dwells in and empowers Christians with spiritual gifts.

Christians are comfortable with the gifts for preachers and teachers, but the charismatic gifts are mentioned right in line with those. In the past as I have thought about gifts of healing or prophecy, I’ve imagined them as magical powers and mystical gifts.

But seeing them as I would see the gifts of teaching and preaching has been incredibly helpful.

Earnestly Desiring the Gifts

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul challenges the church to earnestly desire these gifts. This has led me to approach God in prayer with an openness, not simply because I want to see people healed or truth be proclaimed through prophecy (though I do!), but really because I want people to see Jesus as glorious. That same chapter says these gifts are given for the common good. Are we forfeiting the common good of others by being merely cognitively charismatic?

I think we are.

Why not now?

1 Corinthians 13 serves as a reminder that greater than these gifts is a focus on love and in reality these gifts lack any power without love and compassion. My challenge is why wouldn’t we want to see these spiritual gifts happen in our church? Why wouldn’t we want to see people healed?

My hope and prayer for this sermon series on Signs is that it begins to cultivate openness to spiritual gifts within our church, that a community could really embody Jesus to one another and to our city.

If you really believe God can do really powerful things, why not be open to God using you. And why wait? Why not now?

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Advent: He’s Come. Now Live for His Coming.

While this was not my first Advent season as a Christian, this was the first Advent season I really invested in daily pursuing time to reflect on Christ’s coming at Christmas. For those who come from less liturgical backgrounds, Advent is a season of the church calendar, which is intended to remind us of the gospel of Jesus Christ, His life, death, and resurrection throughout the entire year.

The Advent season places us in Mary’s last month of pregnancy leading to the birth of Christ, reminds us of the anticipation among the nation of Israel for their king to be born who will rescue them and builds into us the longing for light, joy, peace, and love that comes with Christ as the weeks build on.

This season, I was given Christmastide, a book of daily readings and prayers during the Advent season with specific scripture passages throughout the day and a common prayer throughout the week to engage my mind daily in what we celebrated each Sunday.

Last Sunday, JR (our Lead Pastor) used a phrase that really captures the Advent season and what God has been using this season to stir up in me. The phrase…

He’s Come. Now Live for His Coming.

For me, that captures the beauty of the Advent season for the Christ follower. Christ has already come. He has already died for your sin and my sin. He’s already rose from the grave. He’s already brought salvation to the many and He’s already started building His people into a church (that sometimes looks like Him and sometimes doesn’t).

But He’s coming again. An even better coming than the first time, since the 2nd Coming ends the pain, the suffering, the frustrations of this life, & wipes away the tears that come from these hurts we face. It all ends when Christ establishes His joyful, perfect, forever kingdom. But what about now? How do we live in the same anticipation of the first coming?

To borrow from JR one more time, since He’s coming again, we get to cultivate now what is coming then. If Christ’s 2nd Coming does all of the above and more, then we get to be a small part of seeing that Kingdom lived out now. That’s amazing and worth giving up your life, your time, your resources, and your emotions to see happen.

As Christ followers, we get to bring light of the truth of Christ to the dark areas of our lives and our neighbors, we get to bring peace to the hurting, to the angry, and to the strife amongst families, neighbors, and enemies. We get to bring the joy of a new life and second chance in Christ to those in despair and depression. We get to bring love to the unlovely, the outcast, the oppressed, and we get to bring Christ, the wonderful truth-teller, the comforting friend, the wonderful counselor, the atoning sacrifice, the King of Kings, the Savior to the world.

This Advent season creates in me a deep desire to the see the coming Kingdom of Christ and I love being in a community at Apostles Church that aims to establish the coming Kingdom living today.

He’s Come. Now Live for His Coming.

 

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Big News: Austin to NYC…Engineer to Pastor

We’d like to share some big family news with you. In about a month we will move from Austin to New York City as I will be changing careers and joining the staff of Apostles Church in Manhattan as their pastor of residence for community and justice.

This summer has been quite crazy as we have prayed for our house to sell (God provided) and began to prepare for a big move.

Back in May, I stepped out of college ministry at the Austin Stone and wasn’t really sure what was next when it came to ministry. Amber and I had taken a trip last summer to Boston and New York City to see if God was calling us to move to the Northeast in the future. We hadn’t settled on a city or a timeframe, but were confident that we would end up in the Northeast with the focus of spreading the gospel to the least religious states in the US.

Earlier this summer Michael Stewart, one of the pastors at the Austin Stone recommended that JR Vassar and the staff at Apostles Church talk to me about an opening for their role of Pastor of Community and Justice. Through conversations, emails, and spending a few days with their church and families, it became clear to us that God was providing an opportunity to join the staff at Apostles.

Obviously, this is a huge move and it involves the sadness of leaving behind our immediate families who live in Houston and Austin, our friends and our church home. We have received many of the same questions, so I hope to answer them and any others that you may have.

From Austin to NYC

We are moving to Manhattan, so we will be living in the city and yes, we do know that the city is expensive, that they actually have winters there, and that raising a family in the city is not easy. We’re not going there because it is comfortable. We’re going there because only 2.3% of its population claims to be evangelical (believing the gospel), because millions of people there don’t know the hope that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we really believe that the gospel offers the joy of eternal life for those who believe and pain, death, and sorrow for eternity to those who do not believe, how could we sit back and not go to the places where there is little witness to the gospel? New York City is an area that wouldn’t say they need Jesus, but it is an area greatly in need of the joy and hope that is found in Jesus Christ alone.

In addition to that, we love New York City. It’s a little weird to say we’re going to be suffering for Jesus in one of the greatest cities in the world. We’re excited about raising our kids in Manhattan, about being a part of Apostles Church, a church that loves each other so well and cares for their neighbors so well, and living out the gospel in community with the people there.

We’re also excited to be moving close to extended family along the East Coast who we rarely see, but will hopefully see much more of.

From Engineer to Pastor

This move also means I’ll be leaving transportation engineering. I just passed my professional engineer’s exam and the last 5 years I’ve been designing roads as an engineer by trade and in my free time serving as one of the co-directors of the college ministry at the Austin Stone. I’ve enjoyed engineering, loved my co-workers, and we have loved our church and partnering with the mission of the Austin Stone. Over the last 6 months, I’ve sat in sales meetings and discussed my potential future as an engineer and I could stay as an engineer and design roads while honoring God and making His name known in the engineering world or I could give my life full time to spreading the Kingdom of God through evangelizing with the gospel in word and deed and it’s my heart’s passion to do the latter.

I’ve been asked “Why not be a pastor in Austin?” It’s a valid question and honestly I’ve tried to live each day as a pastor these last 5 years, but there are many here who are a part of the Austin Stone that can accomplish the mission of God here in Austin, but there are few who are going to the areas in the US and the world that have the greatest need. We are confident that God has placed us in an amazing situation partnering with Apostles Church and I’m extremely excited to give all my time to being a pastor in NYC.

What will your role be at Apostles Church?

I’ll be filling Kristian Rose’s shoes as the Pastor of Community and Justice, which means I’ll be working with the leadership team at Apostles to provide vision and direction for their Community Groups (weekly small groups), their monthly mid-size gatherings, while training and developing leaders to lead these groups with a Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting passion to see these communities be on mission together in the city. The justice piece is working primarily with Derek Devine at Apostles to connect the community groups and the people of Apostles to serving the city through mercy ministries.

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll provide more details and information about our house selling, our coming move, and our new church home.

We have around 1 more month left in Texas and we are anxious and excited to get to New York City while sad to leave all our family and friends.

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Filed under Church Life, Life, Major News