Tag Archives: gospel

Good & Bad Messiness in Missional Communities

Every community faces messy seasons where things are not perfect in the community. This is true in group therapy, where they call this the storming phase of group development, and this is true of every small group in the church. This is an important phase for a community and especially for a missional community in the church.

For the church, when messiness arises in the missional community, there needs to be an assessment of whether this is the result of good or bad messiness. Identifying the reasons for messiness guides the response, whether celebrating messiness for good reasons or seeking to change things for bad reasons.

Below are 3 good reasons and 3 bad reasons for messiness in missional communities.

The Good, Gospel-Centered Reasons

Gospel-Centered Confession & Transformation

Yesterday, I outlined the majority of this idea. When a community is centered on and celebrating the gospel of Jesus Christ, people bring out past hurts, current sins, and struggles to the community to seek transformation and change. This is to be celebrated, but can be difficult to recognize as good because of a false understanding that morality equals spirituality.

Raw Questions from Exploring & Potential Believers

Another good reason for messiness comes from people exploring Christianity, either new to the faith or exploring it for the first time. This typically leads to raw questions that are unfortunately uncommon in church settings, but must be dealt with as people explore how Christianity truly affects life. These questions can cause messiness because they confront people’s beliefs, their values, and way of life.

This is what missional communities are intended to be. The best place to explore Christianity amongst people that love God and seek to live for Him. One thing we encourage our leaders to be aware of is the desire to always have the “right” answer. We encourage our leaders to be comfortable in saying “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out.” It’s better to seek out the gospel-centered scriptural truth, than feel pressured to share personal advice. Missional communities have the best opportunity to cultivate this type of messiness as people from all walks of life are invited to explore Christianity.

Inter-Generational & Racially Diverse Convergence

This has been common since the establishment of the church as you see this type of convergence in the book of Acts and later Paul explains to the Ephesians church the benefit of racial diversity as a celebration of the gospel. This type of messiness results from misunderstandings and pretenses that can arise from interactions between different races and generations.

It can get messy as pride, ignorance, and poor understanding come to light that most of us can be unaware of. The gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to put down our preferences (conscious or subconscious) to value everyone based on God’s value of them, not their contributions, life stage, or race. Paul celebrates this in the church at Ephesus that their unity is based on faith and not racial preferences or similarities. It’s a mark of the gospel because the greatest treasure in a community.

The Bad, Avoidable Messiness

Undefined And/Or Unshared Leadership

Missional communities demand that shared leadership and defined leadership exist. A community needs multiple voices to guide the aspects of their community to insure that the community is cared for and the gospel is extended. It cannot be on one or even two people to accomplish all that a missional community is made to do.

When there is unclear leadership, things get messy. Despite some people’s ideas of organic-everyone-lead missional community life, a community naturally recognizes who is the leader over time and needs direction to be centered on the gospel. When leadership is not shared, it gets messy because it can feel as though the leader is simply inviting people to accomplish their ideas, instead of the community forming around a collective vision.

Unclear Vision & Direction

Another bad reason for messiness comes from a missional community that has not set the direction or vision. For some communities, this is about setting the aim for honoring God as Christ followers through the lifestyles that we choose to live while others involves setting the direction in extending the gospel so that the community is on mission together rather than a collection of individual missionaries.

Lack of Mission & New People

The last, but certainly not final, reason I want to highlight for bad messiness occurs from a lack of new people and mission. This typically results in a inward focus, trying to perfect the community, and eventually plays out in cattiness between people in the community. When new people come into a community, they can break up some norms that result from dysfunctional relationships that have formed.

Often people are nervous about including new people that come with new ideas and questions, but these new people often bring the community into a healthier life stage. Lacking mission will eventually be the death of the gospel-centered community because the gospel was intended to move outward to the rest of the world. It was not intended to be hidden and much frustration can result from a lack of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

What does a missional community do with all this messiness?

These are simply a few of the reasons messiness exists within missional community and each community could likely expand on these and tell specific stories. As each community faces this type of messiness, they must return to the gospel of Jesus Christ to explore how to respond.

On Thursday, I’ll take a look at how I have and would recommend missional communities respond to messiness.

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Summertime for Missional Communities

We are in the midst of the summer here in NYC, as evidenced by the inescapable heat. Summer starts a little later in NYC than other areas of the country due to a school end date in late June. Similarly, our city has a summer rhythm of life that slows down just a little and enjoys the season immensely.

Churches in the summertime typically mirror this summer rhythm of slowing down, enjoying summer fun, and being less programmed as many people in the church take vacations. While missional communities are not a church program, each church must consider how they encourage and lead their communities or small groups to approach the summer.

How should missional communities function in the summer?

Finding Rest through More Fun & Less Formal Activity

I’ve known many churches who take a break from small groups during the summer, but that communicates that community and mission are seasonal activities and goes against the grain of scriptures description of Christian community. The break has good intentions to provide rest, but it does not help the community develop ongoing healthy rhythms of rest that can be woven into their community during the summer season.

Summer provides time to be less formal in our interaction and participate in the relaxed activities that function naturally as community creators and opportunities for extending the gospel of Jesus Christ. Encouraging communities to view this summer with the intent of finding rest while not sacrificing gospel activity will help them become a community on mission in the everyday.

Approaching the summer with the hope of extending the gospel can also be a way to experience rest. Throughout the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, the Sabbath (day of rest) often plays a predominant role in Jesus’ healing and teaching activities. On the day of rest, Jesus found rest through extending the peace of His love and establishing rest for others.

We encourage our community group leaders to invite others to plan fun activities and social events from their communities so they can take a break from being the initiators of their community. This becomes an invitation to shared leadership amongst the community, inviting all to be contributors to the health of the community.

Summer is a time for more fun and this can teach us that missional communities were intended to also be fun communities.

Finding Mission in Natural Ways

I mentioned this above, that the summer provides some natural activities that can be infused with the mission of extending the grace and love of Christ. Our communities need to approach their summer fun with an eye toward including neighbors, family, and co-workers, instead of just fellow Christians, to learn that mission can happen on the beach, at the pool, and around the grill just as much as on a short-term mission trip.

Here in New York, I watch missionary teams come from all over the country with similarly colored t-shirts and a catchy bible verse on the back to hang out tracks, host camps, and do other “missionary” activity. While these could be good ways to make people aware of Jesus, they are not natural. It’s not natural to spend hundreds of dollars, look awkward, and do abnormal things in a city that is not your home.

When the gospel of Jesus Christ shapes the way we approach life, it can be normal to talk about your regular life (now shaped by your faith) over a meal, at the pool, and while hosting a backyard BBQ. Missional communities can enter into the rhythm of their city during the summer, participate in the neighborhood’s activities and find themselves cultivating friendships where life and the worldview that shapes it can be discussed.

The hope for missional communities in the church is for the community of Christ followers to be living this way throughout the year and the summer provides an easy learning ground to teach us outside of a classroom.

Finding Vision for a Fall Re-Launch

The summer season also provides a time to celebrate what God has done in the community over the past year. I find these is so much to celebrate in all the community groups at our church over this past year and unfortunately it usually takes times of slowing down to reflect and recognize all that has happened. The summer is a season of celebration that can provide great excitement for future motivation.

As each Community Group pursues the gospel shaping their summer fun, they are inadvertently preparing their community for a fall re-launch. Cultivating a community that enjoys one another and has a view towards welcoming others into it.

The summer is meant for us to be refreshed by having fun, but it can teach us to make this type of fun activity a community rhythm even when the formal schedules of school, busy season at work, and a busier church calendar begin to vie for our time in the fall. Of course, you could also use it to take a break from doing anything and you may find rest, but you might also cultivate a lifestyle where rest means escaping and disengaging. I’m not suggesting that you never simply stop, there needs to be time where things merely lie dormant. At the same time, rest was intended to be implemented into a weekly rhythm and not just a yearly break.

Missional communities need to enjoy their summer and find rest, but rest does not always have to be absent from the family of God or the mission of God (not that they should be separated).

Enjoy your summer, it’s the only way to find rest.

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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.

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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.

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Filling the Missional Community Holes

On Wednesday, I wrote about how the church needs more than missional communities because the nature of these gospel-centered communities on mission are limited. While they are able to accomplish much in the area of discipleship and life transformation, they can be lacking when it comes to theological training, counseling, discipleship, and family equipping.

As I’ve looked into a number of churches who pursue missional communities, I’ve noticed that they supplement their communities in these areas to enable people to live gospel-centered lives with a group of people. These are just a few of the ways I’ve seen these addressed in a way that doesn’t run contrary to missional communities, but promotes mission in the context of a community of Christ-followers.

Theological Training

Porterbrook Network

Porterbrook Network was established in 2006 by Steve Timmis & Tim Chester. They are the authors of my favorite book to give away, Total Church. They established it to “equip individuals and churches to rediscover mission as their DNA, to become better lovers of God and lovers of others, and to proclaim the Gospel through word and action for the Glory of God.”

Our church had over 100 individuals sign up and go through the Porterbrook Learning material which is compact theological training, best processed within a community. What I love about the material is that all of it is designed to equip communities with the theological understanding of God and His mission. This propels a community toward application in mission rather than ending in knowledge as I’ve seen many a Sunday school class do.

Equipping Classes

One example of equipping classes that I’ve experienced and learned an immense amount from is the Get Trained Ministry at The Austin Stone Community Church. Equipping classes can be a great opportunity to further learning in the truth of the scriptures, Christian theology, and Christian mission.

The consistent danger to be avoided is creating another environment where passive learning can take place. Passive learning plays into the dominant consumerist nature that destroys Christian community and is a product of the culture, not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Counseling

Counseling Centers

There seems to be a growing desire for Christian counseling to be operating in conjunction with a church and I am all for it. Professional Christian counseling without connection with a church seems contrary to the thrust of the scripture that sees God creating a loving community for His mission.

There have been a number of churches who have seen the value in professional counseling and have started Christian counseling centers. I love the idea of a church connected counseling center when it comes to Christian counselors because of the connection to the community. The downside of counseling can be its seclusion from a people who can care for, support, and provide accountability to the individual seeking change.

It embraces the idea that change of the individual is best accomplished in a community, while providing someone trained to address the issue and focused time to spend seeking healing. Counseling can too often manage your condition and circumstances, where a gospel-centered community can remind you that it’s about Jesus and only His redemptive work in the cross and resurrection can truly heal and transform you.

Redemption Groups

Redemption Groups were started by Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. They are an “intense small group that digs deep into difficult and seldom-discussed areas of life, such as abuse, addiction, and trials of all sorts.” Since the focus on missional communities is not a support group, redemption groups provide that environment to spend focused time addressing these issues.

They are also gospel focused in nature which aims to provide an easy transition into a missional community. The end goal must be a transformed community ready to extend the healing that they have received in the gospel.

Discipleship

Building a Discipleship Culture

Missional communities are one of the primary ways people can be discipled by Christ in a community. They must be a part of a church with a discipleship culture for them to truly serve the purpose of discipleship. Mike Breen & Steve Cockram’s book are great on cultivating a discipleship culture within the church.

While the book is great, the content doesn’t need to be simply copied and pasted into your community. Discipleship is ultimately implementing and embodying Jesus’ way of making disciples who make disciples. It was a repeatable process that focused on the few to reach the many instead of the modern church aim of focusing on the many to reach the few.

Family Equipping

Honestly, in the area of family equipping and missional communities, I’ve yet to find anything that cultivates families on mission & discipleship within families. I fully believe in integrating children into missional communities as it takes a community to disciple a child, but I also believe the church has the responsibility to equip parents in discipling their children.

Many churches provide age appropriate worship and peer contexts, but don’t confront the deferral parenting these have a tendency to create and our culture typically promotes. Other churches emphasize family discipleship and separate it from missional communities.

If anyone knows churches or ministries seeking to both, I’d love to learn. The church community is a family and a community of families. Equipping for gospel-centered parenting seeks to develop the missional community conversation for multiple generations. It’s a hole that still needs filling.

These are obviously just a few examples to assist gospel-centered communities on mission. There are many more and many that I am not aware of I’m sure. How have you seen churches supplement missional communities?

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Fall Review, Part 1

Well, I haven’t posted in about 3 months. Let me catch you up on all that has gone on (my excuses for not blogging).

College Ministry

August and September are always incredibly busy around churches, but especially busy for college ministry as the new school year starts and ministry begins anew. This year our leadership team added Tyler David as a college resident. He brings fresh passion and ideas to our team as my good friend Todd Engstrom transitioned out of college ministry to continue benefitting the church as Pastor of Missional Communities.

Transitions amongst a team are always difficult, but God has been faithful to grant us unity and help us work together well. This past semester has been amazing to watch God move through students to see a number of their fellow students come to believe in Jesus and begin following Him with their lives.

Testmasters PE Exam Review Course

At the end of September and through most of October, I started preparing for Professional Engineer’s exam. It’s an 8-hour exam that I must pass to become a professional engineer and be responsible for stamping plans as final and become liable to get sued (woohoo!).

To prepare for this exam, my company pays (reimburses when I pass) for a Testmasters review course. The review course consisted of 3 consecutive weekends (Thurs-Sun) of class all day long. So I would work Mon-Wed and have class in San Antonio from Thurs-Sun. Needless to say, it was trying for all around the Gentry home. But I got through it and took my PE exam on October 23. I’ll find out the results around Christmas time because it takes 60+ days to process a scantron apparently.

New Braunfels – My Spiritual Birthplace

One benefit of going to San Antonio on weekends was staying with and reconnecting with old friends. Kimo Aleman and Justin Smith are two guys I met working at T Bar M Christian Sports Camp and they opened their homes for me to stay closer to San Antonio for the review course. It was quite refreshing to catch up with old friends and here about what God is doing in their lives.

While I was there, I went to visit T Bar M. It’s my spiritual birthplace. At that camp when I was 13, I was praying to God when I felt Him asking me to give Him my life and to follow Him forever. I could no longer take the label of Christian, but only live it at camp, God wanted my whole life.

So I went back and it was completely empty since it’s not the summer and I enjoyed just walking around and remembering God’s work in my life through the many summers there as a camper, an all-star (work crew), and a counselor. If you haven’t, I strongly encourage you to remember often God’s work throughout your life. It’s quite refreshing.

BYX Retreat – A preaching first…

The weekend before my PE Exam, I spent in the middle of nowhere Texas, 2 hours west of San Antonio with the Christian faternity BYX chapter from A&M. They asked me to be their speaker and I spoke 4 times in 2 days. It was one of the first opportunities I’ve had to preach and especially to preach that much. My topics were the following:

  1. Knowing and Enjoying the Gospel – It is often assumed Christians know the gospel, but knowing isn’t enough. You only give your life to things you enjoy. The gospel is most enjoyable and deserves your life.
  2. Gospel Repentance – When we recognize sin, we either ignore it or beat ourselves up over it. We rarely acknowledge our wickedness, get to the root of why we do it and then embrace the work of Jesus on the cross and in the ressurection to give us forgiveness and victory.
  3. Gospel-led Community – Fighting for your brother’s love for Jesus as much as your own.
  4. Gospel-led Mission – The gospel saves us to send us out on mission. If we aren’t evangelizing, we don’t believe the gospel.

It was an amazing time with a good group of guys from A&M including my brother-in-law, Dan. I loved it and God did great things.

To be continued…with pictures…

Well, I caught you up through October. Next time, I’ll include some pictures of the family and finish the fall review. Probably next week some time…or in 3 months…

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TASCC College Ministry|Freshman @theAustinStone

college-blog-bannerThe College Ministry at The Austin Stone Community Church is starting something new for freshman ministry this year. We’re calling it Freshman @theAustinStone and it’s a 6-week transition process within a freshman missional community where we discuss the essentials of Christian faith and how it plays out in the context of Christian community and on their campus.

We’re starting this Wednesday, Sept. 16th @ 8PM on UT’s campus in Burdine 106. Freshman will be organized into their future missional community and the night will consist of worship, 15-20 minutes of teaching and then discussion within missional community regarding the topic of the night.

We’ll be dealing with 6 issues that focus on Gospel, Community, & Mission and answering the essential questions of what it means to believe in Christ and how we are supposed to live as Christians.

Week 1: The Gospel: What is the Gospel?

The very thing that make someone a Christian is often the most difficult for Christians to really understand. Often it is assumed that people know and understand the gospel, but this week will lay a foundation and establish a biblical understanding of the gospel as the power of God for salvation of all men.

Week 2: Gospel Repentance: What is sin & how do I deal with it?

The 1st of Martin Luther’s 95 thesis is “all of life is repentance” which comes from an understanding that the root of all sin is idolatry. This week will focus on identifying the roots of sin in our life and appropriately understanding the idea of repentance through the gospel.

Week 3: Gospel Living v. Religion: Parable of the Prodigal Son

The most famous parable, the parable of the prodigal son, actually reveals that you can be far from God both while living solely for the pleasures of this world and by living a religious life focused solely on morality.

Week 4: Gospel-Led Community: What is true Gospel-Centered Christian Community?

The gospel calls people individually, but calls them to be a part of a community of believers. This collection of individuals is then transformed to live sacrificially for each other and the context they have been placed. This week will examine what a true gospel-centered Christian community looks like.

Week 5: Gospel-Led Mission: What do you mean by mission?

Often the term mission can be accomplished out of a sense of duty or responsibility as opposed to it being a result of valuing the gospel above all else. This results in treating people at projects to be improved upon instead of simply caring for all people that they might know joy, peace, and truth. This week we’ll evaluate our motivations for social justice & evangelism & we will discuss how this is most effectively accomplished when do this together as a community.

Week 6: Gospel-Led Commissioning

Really it’s just a commissioning (Christianese for sending them out), but I wanted to see if I could put “Gospel-Led” in front of each week. It will be a night of prayer, worship, and sending them out as groups.

 

Our prayer and hope is that this unites the freshman with a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ so that their community and this campus is changed as they are changed.

Please pray for us and these freshman.

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I am Joseph of Arimathea

The other night I was reading the bible in the gospel of Matthew and noticed something I hadn’t thought about before.  Matthew 27 walks us through the judgment, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus Christ. The one part of that story I’ve never really focused on is the burial of Christ accomplished by a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, but after reading it, I can’t help but think it to be a symbolic picture helpful in understanding the gospel, the fact that Christ died for you, which Romans 6 says you died with Christ to sin, and that He raised from the dead in victory over sin and death, in the same way Romans 6 says we were raised to a new life changed forever.

The story serves to prove Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 53:9 about Jesus being buried in a rich man’s grave and that was definitely the primary intent of the author, but reading it the other night I couldn’t help but see it in a new light.

Matthew 27 talks to us about Joseph of Arimathea when it says in verses 57-60:

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The part that really stuck out was verse 59, Joseph buried Jesus in his own tomb that he had cut for himself. While this was obviously a gesture of love for Jesus, the symbolism from the story is what strikes me. Joseph buries Jesus in his own tomb symbolizing Jesus’ death for him, entering his grave where Joseph had prepared to be laid upon death, but 3 days later Jesus raises from the dead out of Joseph’s tomb, symbolizing that sin and its consequences (death) no longer had eternal power over Joseph or anyone who believes.

It just struck me as I heard and read the story, I am Joseph of Arimathea, that Christ has gone to the grave that I dug for myself through sin, but He conquered it for me that I wouldn’t have to endure everlasting death, but be able to enjoy everlasting life.

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Does mission lead naturally to community?

I’ve been wrestling with a statement by someone I respect immensely and who has influenced my missiology greatly. The statement is:

“When we are all working on mission, community happens naturally. When we’re working on community, mission gets lost somewhere.”

I think this statement challenges the status quo for 95% of churches in America. The reality is that most churches are primarily concerned with their own community and never get their people on mission. I recently tweeted (Yes, I’m on twitter) that I’ve been starting to question whether the statement is reality or a pendulum shift. It resulted in great convos, so the next step is obviously blogging about it. I haven’t come to any conclusion, but here are my ramblings.

Both of these aspects of the gospel (community and mission) are good, godly results of the gospel, but left on their own will ultimately kill the group.  The point at question is, “Does mission together automatically build community?” The answer is no. If the group is so focused on serving, doing, and giving, you’re cooking a recipe for burnout, a byproduct of which is individuals feeling used and valued solely based on their contribution to “mission”. If their contributions in mission dwindle, they wonder and question their role in the group they are serving, will they be loved/accepted if they don’t contribute because mission is primary?!? Personal care of those on mission gets lost when mission is held up as ultimate and primary.

To contrast, community alone kills when the group loves each other so much they no longer want to see new people come into the group. They love spending time with each other so much that they refuse to seek out anyone or fully welcome newcomers. The group eventually becomes disgruntled because they aren’t doing anything because community has become primary. Christians were made to be on mission, so they become disgruntled and the group ultimately fades away and dies.

So there’s a problem, what’s the solution?

The statement above has the most gigantic caveat. It is based on the assumption of the gospel being primary in an individual’s life as well as in a group. If this caveat happens, if they understand the gospel, both community and mission flow out of the individual and if the group gets it, both community and mission thrive. If the gospel is primary, it becomes understood that the gospel calls people out of darkness into light, from being a slave to being a family member and being cared for solely because of Christ’s work, not solely their contribution to the group. If the gospel is primary, then it is also understood at the same time that the gospel calls that same loved individual on mission to the world carrying the same message they have just received and been transformed by.

But the gigantic caveat should never be assumed and the gospel must always be primary and should not be replaced by the primacy of mission or community. The problem is each of us is naturally bent towards making one or the other primary and lobbing bombs at the other side because they aren’t doing what we hold as primary. Only when they are seen as results of the gospel in our lives and mutually embraced will mission assist in developing deeper community and a community thrive on mission.

The original statement is absolutely needed for the American church and I need to hear it often.  But we must be certain that we don’t forget the gigantic caveat.

When the gospel is being held, valued, proclaimed as primary within a group of people then community and mission happen naturally.

The question remains of how this can be accomplished. How can the gospel stay primary in an individual’s life and primary within a group of people? I’d love to hear your thoughts and hopefully I’ll add mine soon.

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Lessons in Evangelism – Community Evangelism

In my last post in this series, I dealt more with a personal evangelism method (Questioning Evangelism) which is where most of us find ourselves when we seek to declare the gospel at work, in our neighborhood or apartment. It’s also how we’ve come to view and teach evangelism. It has become a personal responsibility that you do by yourself so you better know all the answers and the best methods to explain the gospel to anyone you see. This is a half-truth that often overwhelms us because the burden rests solely on us for it to be carried out. It’s true that we must be ready to give an account for why we believe what we believe, but evangelism was never seen as solely an individual activity.

I’m talking about the idea of community evangelism, which is joining with other believers in Jesus Christ to express the gospel through word and deed to similar individuals, a neighborhood, or a group of people. Instead of doing it on your own, partner with other believers to accomplish the same task together.

This is something I’ve primarily learned by observing it carried out by others, but also through observing truth in the Book of Acts in the Bible. In Acts you never see anyone sent out to evangelize or establish a church or to be on mission all by themselves, it’s as if it didn’t make sense to them. The first missionary journey (Acts 13) sets apart Paul and Barnabas to go together, and even with they split in Acts 15, they find others to go with them as they separate and never go alone.

Christ sends out His disciples in pairs in Luke 10 and then sends them as a group when He ascends into heaven. It appears more biblical to seek to do this as a community rather than as individuals.

Maybe for us the independent American lifestyle has bled into our evangelism methods and theology to the point we refuse to share our burden and responsibility with those we love that also happen to be closest to us.

Two examples of community evangelism in our college ministry:

Kasey and Clay: Two of our college guy leaders began interacting with and caring for Korean international students on UT’s campus. Each of them would interact with them separately, but also together at times and each time would seek to engage them with the truth of the gospel. As a result, they’ve seen a Korean atheist become a believer in Christ and then join them in reaching his friends.

Madison and Megan: Freshman girls in our college ministry that decided to pray like crazy and share their faith as much as possible. Together they have seen a number of people come to faith in Christ, baptized girls in their dorm’s pool and seen those girls join with them in sharing their faith and baptizing others. Here’s the video.

How does this play out in our lives?

I have seen this begin to play itself out in my marriage most of all. Amber and I are a ministry team that lives in close community as part of our marriage. We spend our weekdays separate, but with a common focus of seeing the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed through our words and our lives to the people we see on a regular basis. When together, we encourage one another, keep each other accountable to staying committed to sharing our faith, we learn from one another and we pray for each other. Lately, we’ve also worked together in spending time with the people each of us has connected with individually. In those moments we get to show them Christ by our lives in community and then collectively declare the gospel. We’ve seen more opportunities to share our faith this way than ever before.

Community evangelism creates more opportunities for the gospel to be spread, provides a close training and support network for learning, encouragement, accountability, and prayer. There are small groups in churches everywhere, but many of them meet to serve just each other, what if their focus for gathering was centered on engaging communities with the gospel they encourage each other with? I think they’ll see and experience greater joy in Christ and see salvation in Christ more than ever before.

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