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 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.
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.