Reasons to Leave a Church, part 3

This is the third of a 3-part series of posts addressing the question, “what constitutes a good reason to leave a church?”  The first couple of reasons were dealt with in the first post, and dealt with issues concerning the church leadership.  Yesterday’s post dealt with a couple of reasons related to a church’s theology and practice.  Today’s post deals specifically with conflict in the church.

So, the fifth and final “good” and “bad” reasons….

Good Reason #5 – There is no “good” version of this 5th reason, so let’s get right to the “bad reason”

Bad Reason #5 – conflict within the church – While #4 above may be the biggest component of the “consumer mindset”, I believe that this reason (conflict) is the number one reason why people leave their church.  It is the both the most prevalent reason, as well as the most unjustified reason.

A couple of weeks ago the History Channel aired a 3-night mini-series about the infamous “Hatfield and McCoy” feud that erupted between two families in West Virginia in the late 1800’s.  I found it ironic that in the movie’s adaptation of the feud, both families attended the same church.  Some folks can give testimony to the potential for feud-like conflict within the church, but most often the conflict is left unaddressed while the festering wounds of the conflict continue to cause pain for years.  Many have left their church home in such instances.

Scripture is filled with admonition to work out the interpersonal conflict we have with other people, especially within the church.  “Love between the brethren”, not bitterness or resentment or hate, is to be the defining characteristic of those who follow Christ (John 13:35).  Consider Paul’s exhortation to two women in the church at Philippi to “agree in the Lord”:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.  Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.  Phil 4:2-3

Resolving conflict in the Body of Christ can be messy and complicated, but Paul gives one of the keys in Philippians, chapter 2, verse 3:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Paul then goes on the explain that the kind of humility we need to have in our relationships with one another is the kind of humility that Jesus displayed in His coming from Heaven and dying on a Cross for those who were in rebellion against His Father (Phil 2: 6-11).

If you are in conflict with another person in the church, please don’t leave the church over this.  The hurt and pain that are a result of the conflict will not go away just because you move your membership to another church.  In reality, you will only be bringing that hurt and pain with you to the next church, and it will become the filter through which all of your new relationships are established.  Instead of leaving, please prayerfully, graciously, lovingly, patiently address the conflict in humility with a willingness to forgive and seek forgiveness where necessary.  If needed, ask a pastor/elder or another mature believer to help you walk through this conflict resolution.  Let the Gospel of Jesus Christ replace conflict with grace, and allow it to be a resolution that bring glory to God.

Conclusion – In over 10 years of pastoral ministry, I would have to say that the vast majority of those who left the church probably should not have left.  Of those who left because of good reasons, over half of them did not leave well.  Only a very small percentage of those who left, did so because of reasons that in my opinion are justifiable, and that when they left, they left well.  My encouragement to those reading this who are considering leaving their church home, is to prayerfully reconsider.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you can’t just do whatever you want to do….you gave up that right when you made Jesus Lord of your life.  Our obligation is to pray and ask God what He wants us to do, and then trust Him to give us the faith, patience, strength, and whatever else it might take…to obey Him.

Reasons to Leave a Church, part 2

This is part two of a 3-part series of posts addressing the question, “what constitutes a good reason for leaving a church”.  Yesterday’s post dealt with issues relating to the leadership of the church, today’s post will deal with disagreements with the church’s theology and/or methodology.  Tomorrow’s third and final post in this series will adress conflict within the church.

So, here are a couple more “good” and “bad” reasons for leaving the church:

Good Reason #3 – theological disagreement on essential doctrines – If you find that the stated doctrine of the church (and/or the doctrine being taught at the church) is unBiblical, then it is also time to leave.  Now, to determine a doctrine as “unBiblical” is sometimes difficult.  There are a great variety of theological persuasions that provide ample evidence of Biblical support for their position; nevertheless, church members must do the hard work of determining whether the doctrines held by their church are informed from the Scriptures or not.  That being said, I would suggest that the “doctrines which divide” (iow, those that require members to disassociate themselves from the church upon disagreement), be limited to essential doctrines.  There is a vast difference between leaving a church over a disagreement on the authority of Scriptures versus leaving over a disagreement about the exact nature of end time events.  For an excellent discussion on what might constitute essential doctrines, I would encourage you to read Al Mohler’s 2004 article on theological triage.  I would suggest that the essential doctrines of a local church are those that Mohler describes in his article a “first-order and second order issues”.  In the case of NewBranch Community Church, our essential doctrines are listed in black and white in our Statement of Faith. I would argue that leaving over essential doctrines should be fairly rare, since new members should know the essential doctrines of the church they are joining, and determine in advance if they are going to be a problem for them.

Bad Reason #3 – theological disagreement on unessential doctrines – You probably saw this coming.  It stands to reason that although leaving a church may be justified when there is disagreement over essential doctrines, disagreement over unessential doctrines should not justify leaving a church.  Now, just because I call them unessential does not at all mean they are unimportant.  Unessential doctrines can be very important to us individually, but they are “unessential”  in maintaining unity in the church.  We believe that there can be diversity in the unessential doctrines and still have unity among the body of believers in a local fellowship.  In keeping with Mohler’s article above, these unessential doctrines are what he would describe as “third-order issues” (or “tertiary issues”).  For us at NewBranch, we like to say that the essential doctrines  are those that we hold with a “closed hand”, while the unessential doctrines are those that we hold with an “open hand”.   The issues we hold with a “closed hand” are those clearly articulated in our Statement of Faith, while those issues we hold with an “open hand” are those which are not discussed in our Statement of Faith.  Based on this framework, I would argue that leaving over “open-handed” issues is both wrong and hurtful to the unity of the local church.

Good Reason #4 – unbiblical methodology – If the methodology of the church is inconsistent with Biblical theology, and all efforts to address the issue have been exhausted without any indication of a willingness to change, then a person would be justified in leaving the church.  However, since one’s methodology follows from one’s theology, these issues should be addressed as theological disagreements (see good and bad reason #3 above).  If the theological disagreement is over essential doctrine, then I would argue that their decision to leave the church (while not a necessity) would be justified.  For example, if we (as a baptistic church) began to baptize infants, then the disagreement would be over our theology of baptism.  Now, just because someone disagrees with us about infant baptism doesn’t mean they cannot be a member of the church; however, that theological difference may be too much for the individual to overlook, and they may decide they need to leave the church.

Bad Reason #4 – disagreements about methodology – With that being said (above about unbiblical methodology), it must be noted that most of the time folks who leave a church do so because the church is doing something they don’t like or don’t agree with.  I believe this to be the biggest component of the “consumer mindset” towards church membership.  In years past, it was almost proverbial for folks to leave the church because of a disagreement over thinks like “the color of the carpet”.  Today, folks leave their church because it doesn’t offer enough programs (children’s activities, etc.), or because the music doesn’t meet their needs (too loud, not loud enough, too many hymns, not enough hymns, etc.).  In addition, disagreements over methodology can be centered on things like:

  • How we do evangelism
  • How we serve communion
  • Whether we do Sunday School or small groups
  • Whether we have a Sunday night service or not
  • Whether we take up the offering before or after the sermon

These are not issues to leave the church over.  Take “how we do evangelism” as an example.  There are a variety of evangelism methodologies (friendship evangelism, street preaching, attractional outreach, incarnational outreach, etc.), most of which are all Biblical.  There are some that I would argue are not Biblical (like telling folks they will “have their best life now” if they pray the sinner’s prayer), but it all goes back to the theological underpinnings of the practice.   If your church has an evangelism methodology with which you disagree, make the issue about the theological underpinnings of that methodology, not the methodology itself.   If the theological disagreement (about a methodology) is over an unessential doctrine, then leaving the church is not a wise option and is ultimately hurtful to the Body.

Tomorrow will be the final post in this series, and will deal with conflict in the church.

Yielding, When We Should Be Going

Each morning, I drive my son to school.  It’s a great time to just hang with him, hear about what’s in store for him that day, remind him I love him. and pray with him.  On the way home there is an intersection that apparently causes some drivers to suffer temporary amnesia. Many of those who approach this intersection with the intention of making a right turn, yield instead of going ahead and turning.  Now, yielding is important because if we all drove our cars without yielding, then we’d have accidents every day; however, yielding at an intersection where you don’t have a “yield sign” is not only annoying to other drivers, it’s also dangerous.

Let me try to paint the picture for you.  These characters roll up to the intersection with their right turn signal on.  I’m coming the other way, attempting to turn left.  Without a yield sign, what are they supposed to do?  They are supposed to go ahead and turn right.  But do they do that?  No.  They stop and wait for me to turn left in front of them.  This bothers me.  I’m not sure why, but it bothers me.  I’m waiting for them to do what they’re supposed to do (turn right), and they are waiting for me to turn left.  All the while, the traffic builds up behind both of us, and then the horns begin to blare.  Not only does this annoy me, but it’s also dangerous.   Now, I’m in danger of making a hasty decision to turn left in front of oncoming traffic because the folks behind me don’t know why I’m not turning.  And consider the folks who are behind the too-cautious-to-turn-right-guy.  They’re blaring their horns trying to get this guy to see that he has the right-of-way, and should go ahead and turn right.  More than a few times, I’ve nearly collided in these situations because we both end up turning at the same time.  Nice!

All because someone decided to “yield”, when they should have been “going”.  Again, learning how to yield is an important part of driving; however, yielding when you should be going is not only annoying and dangerous….its also against the law.  When there is no yield sign, we’re supposed to “go”.

No, this post is not about my driving idiosyncrasies, and yes, these is a spiritual parallel.

We who profess to be Jesus’ disciples have been told to “Go”, but far too many of us “yield” instead. We’ve been given a command to “go and make disciples of all nations”…that is to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost people around us and partner with Him as He transforms people from living for self to living for God’s glory as a disciple of Jesus.  This means we are to “go”.  Go to our lost friends and family.  Go to our lost neighbors.  Go to the lost in our community.  Go to the lost around the world.  Go, Go, Go.

But instead of “going”, we “yield”.

Learning how to “yield” is a critical part of growing as a disciple of Jesus.  After all, it was Jesus who modeled yielding for us when He cried out to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was arrested, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  Yielding is remembering that we are not our own, but have been bought with a price.  It is remembering that the reason for our existence is to glorify our God, not ourselves.  It is finding joy in pleasing Christ, rather than in pleasing self.  Ultimately, yielding is doing the will of the Father, not our own will.

But if the Father says “Go”, and instead we’re “yielding”…then we’re not just yielding, we’re breaking the law.

We yield for a number of reasons.  Just as the “too-cautious-to-turn-right” guy, sometimes we yield because we’re afraid.  Fearful of not saying the right things and fumbling over our own words in an attempt to share the Gospel.  Fearful of what others might think of us if we talked to them about the hope we have in Christ.  Fearful of being seen as different; of being rejected.  Other times we yield because “going” doesn’t fit into our schedule or “our plans”.  It takes us out of our comfort zone.  It requires us to change priorities.  It means we may need to give something up in order to “go”.

Regardless of the reason, our “yielding” when the Father has told us to “Go”, simply means that we are yielding to “self” instead of yielding to our God.

Friends, Jesus said, “Go”.  That’s His plan for your life.  Are you going? Or are you sitting in the turn lane, “yielding” to your plan instead?

Preparations for Easter Outreaches

With someone else preaching for me on Sunday (because of the Missions Conference), I’ve been afforded a great opportunity this week to get caught up on some much needed preparation for some ministry we’re kicking off around Easter.   I’m not big on putting on a dog and pony show for Easter, but I think there is something to be said for taking advantage of the potential openness of folks to discussing the resurrection of Jesus surrounding this time of the year.  We’re supposed to be proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ all year long, and at Easter some folks who don’t attend church might even “expect” to be invited to church.  What are we saying to them if we don’t?

Now, it’s not about getting people into the doors of the church.  It’s about sharing the Gospel with them, but a conversation with our neighbors about coming to church is a great way to open the door to discussing this very topic.

This year, we’re going to be having a couple of outreach initiatives that we hope will encourage our people to engage missionally with the people in the community.  I’d like to tell you about one of these today, and then share the other one tomorrow.  One of these initiatives is our 40 Days of Scripture project.  Beginning in April, we will be making available outreach bags to our families and encouraging them to give them to folks in their neighborhood, workplace, and throughout the community.  The bags will include an ESV New Testament, an audio CD with an MP3 of the entire New Testament, and a postcard mailer from the church.  We will distribute the bags to families over about 3 weeks encouraging them to do this distribution on their own, then we will distribute the remaining outreach bags on Saturday, April 17th….the Saturday before Easter.  On that Saturday, we’ll take the remaining bags, and blitz the surrounding neighborhoods around the church.

What I’m really excited about this particular project is that we will be reading through the New Testament in 40 days, beginning the day after Easter.  The New Testaments in the outreach bags are divided into 40 daily readings, and on each day we will have a short devotional posted to this blog so that folks both in our church and in our community will be engaging in and exploring God’s Word together for these 40 days.  Imagine what God can do with a church and a community that is listening to Him…through the revelation of the Word, for 40 days.  I’m pretty pumped about the possibilities.

You’ll see more about this in the coming weeks, but if you would be interested in underwriting a case of these outreach bags, please let us know.  For $50, you can underwrite the costs of a case of 50 bags, and ensure that 50 homes in our community will receive God’s Word from God’s people.  Not a bad investment in the Kingdom, huh!?

A Christian Response to Halloween

How should we respond to Halloween as believers in Christ?  The holiday itself has undeniable pagan roots.  Should we avoid it completely? Should we participate, but with caution and discernment?  Or, should we seek to engage in it fully in order to see people come to Christ? Ultimately, our decision must be informed by Scripture and by a desire to see God glorified.

Here’s a great article I ran across from the Grace To You website that will help you discern the right approach for your family:

Christians and Halloween

Colossians 2:15, 1 Peter 5:8, Hebrews 10:27, Romans 2:14-16

Halloween. It’s a time of year when the air gets crisper, the days get shorter, and for many young Americans the excitement grows in anticipation of the darkest, spookiest holiday of the year. Retailers also rejoice as they warm up their cash registers to receive an average of $41.77 per household in decorations, costumes, candy, and greeting cards. Halloween will bring in approximately $3.3 billion this year.

It’s a good bet retailers won’t entertain high expectations of getting $41.77 per household from the Christian market. Many Christians refuse to participate in Halloween. Some are wary of its pagan origins; others of its dark, ghoulish imagery; still others are concerned for the safety of their children. But other Christians choose to partake of the festivities, whether participating in school activities, neighborhood trick-or-treating, or a Halloween alternative at their church.

The question is, How should Christians respond to Halloween? Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat? What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season–are they overreacting?

The Pagan Origin of Halloween
The name “Halloween” comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. “All Hallows Eve” was eventually contracted to “Hallow-e’en,” which became “Halloween.”

As Christianity moved through Europe it collided with indigenous pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pagan holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be a stumbling block to their faith. To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively Christian holiday to a spot on the calendar that would directly challenge a pagan holiday. The intent was to counter pagan influences and provide a Christian alternative. But most often the church only succeeded in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual–the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That’s what happened to All Saints Eve–it was the original Halloween alternative!

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major celebrations were marked by the seasons. At the end of the year in northern Europe, people made preparations to ensure winter survival by harvesting the crops and culling the herds, slaughtering animals that wouldn’t make it. Life slowed down as winter brought darkness (shortened days and longer nights), fallow ground, and death. The imagery of death, symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the color black, remains prominent in today’s Halloween celebrations.

The pagan Samhain festival (pronounced “sow” “en”) celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days–October 31 to November 2. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living–ghosts haunting the earth.

Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead. They sought “divine” spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations, and even romantic prospects. Bobbing for apples was one practice the pagans used to divine the spiritual world’s “blessings” on a couple’s romance.

For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and the thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper sendoff with treats–possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably “treated” would “trick” those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiplied if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime.

Trick-bent spirits were believed to assume grotesque appearances. Some traditions developed, which believed wearing a costume to look like a spirit would fool the wandering spirits. Others believed the spirits could be warded off by carving a grotesque face into a gourd or root vegetable (the Scottish used turnips) and setting a candle inside it–the jack-o-lantern.

Into that dark, superstitious, pagan world, God mercifully shined the light of the gospel. Newly converted Christians armed themselves with the truth and no longer feared a haunting from departed spirits returning to earth. In fact, they denounced their former pagan spiritism in accord with Deuteronomy 18:

There shall not be found among you anyone…who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord (vv. 10-13).

Nonetheless, Christian converts found family and cultural influence hard to withstand; they were tempted to rejoin the pagan festivals, especially Samhain. Pope Gregory IV reacted to the pagan challenge by moving the celebration of All Saints Day in the ninth century–he set the date at November 1, right in the middle of Samhain.

As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. On the one hand, pagan superstitions gave way to “Christianized” superstitions and provided more fodder for fear. People began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were demons and the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. On the other hand, the festival time provided greater opportunity for revelry. Trick-or-treat became a time when roving bands of young hooligans would go house-to-house gathering food and drink for their parties. Stingy householders ran the risk of a “trick” being played on their property from drunken young people.

Halloween didn’t become an American holiday until the immigration of the working classes from the British Isles in the late nineteenth century. While early immigrants may have believed the superstitious traditions, it was the mischievous aspects of the holiday that attracted American young people. Younger generations borrowed or adapted many customs without reference to their pagan origins.

Hollywood has added to the “fun” a wide assortment of fictional characters–demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, mummies, and psychopaths. That certainly isn’t improving the American mind, but it sure is making someone a lot of money.

The Christian Response to Halloween
Today Halloween is almost exclusively an American secular holiday, but many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. That’s not to say Halloween has become more wholesome. Children dress up in entertaining costumes, wander the neighborhood in search of candy, and tell each other scary ghost stories; but adults often engage in shameful acts of drunkenness and debauchery.

So, how should Christians respond?

First, Christians should not respond to Halloween like superstitious pagans. Pagans are superstitious; Christians are enlightened by the truth of God’s Word. Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year; in fact, any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God has forever “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross Christ and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them through [Christ]” (Colossians 2:15).

Second, Christians should respond to Halloween with cautionary wisdom. Some people fear the activity of Satanists or pagan witches, but the actual incidents of satanic-associated crime are very low. The real threat on Halloween is from the social problems that attend sinful behavior–drunk driving, pranksters and vandals, and unsupervised children.

Like any other day of the year, Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian young people should stay away from secular Halloween parties since those are breeding grounds for trouble. Christian parents can protect their children by keeping them well-supervised and restricting treat consumption to those goodies received from trusted sources.

Third, Christians should respond to Halloween with gospel compassion. The unbelieving, Christ-rejecting world lives in perpetual fear of death. It isn’t just the experience of death, but rather what the Bible calls “a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume [God’s] adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are not terrifying; God’s wrath unleashed on the unforgiven sinner–now that is truly terrifying.

Christians should use Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination–death imagery, superstition, expressions of debauched revelry–as an opportunity to engage the unbelieving world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given everyone a conscience that responds to His truth (Romans 2:14-16), and the conscience is the Christian’s ally in the evangelistic enterprise. Christians should take time to inform the consciences of friends and family with biblical truth regarding God, the Bible, sin, Christ, future judgment, and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ for the repentant sinner.

There are several different ways Christians will engage in Halloween evangelism. Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities–listening to ghost stories and coloring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives.

That response naturally raises eyebrows and provides a good opportunity to share the gospel to those who ask. It’s also important that parents explain their stand to their children and prepare them to face the teasing or ridicule of their peers and the disapproval or scorn of their teachers.

Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals”–the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. It’s ironic when you consider Halloween’s beginning as an alternative, but it can be an effective means of reaching out to neighborhood families with the gospel. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.

Those are good alternatives; there are others that are not so good. Some churches are using “Hell House” evangelism to shock young people and scare them into becoming Christians. They walk people through rooms patterned after carnival-style haunted houses and put sin on display–women undergoing abortions, people sacrificed in a satanic ritual, consequences of premarital sex, dangers of rave parties, demon possession, and other tragedies.

Here’s the problem with so-called Hell House evangelism: To shock an unshockable culture, you have to get pretty graphic. Graphic exhibits of sin and its consequences are unnecessary–unbelieving minds are already full of such images. What they need tosee is a life truly transformed by the power of God, and what they need tohear is the truth of God in an accurate presentation of the gospel. Cheap gimmickry is unfitting for Christ’s ambassadors.

There’s another option open to Christians: limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. There’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbors. Even handing out candy to neighborhood children–provided you’re not stingy–can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behavior does not dishonor Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

Ultimately, Christian participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience before God. Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, you must honor God by keeping yourself separate from the world and by showing mercy to those who are perishing. Halloween provides the Christian with the opportunity to accomplish both of those things in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a message that is holy, set apart from the world; it’s a message that is the very mercy of a forgiving God. What better time of the year is there to share such a message than Halloween?

This article by Travis Allen originally appeared here at Grace To You.

 

 

A discussion of early church community

On July 11th, Tyler preached a sermon on community in the early church and how it applies to the way we do community today. In the first part of the sermon (which you can listen to here), he gave seven observations on early church community based on Acts 2:42-47.

In our last BASE group meetings, we had some great discussion around these points. I have listed the points below as well as some discussion questions for exploration.

I of course encourage you to explore these questions prayerfully on your own, but I am convinced that they would be best considered and discussed in the company of others in the church, particularly those in your BASE group.

Characteristics of Early Church Community

Devoted to study

  • Why is it necessary for us to study Scripture within the context of community? What benefits do we gain from doing that?

Spent time together

  • What keeps us from spending time together like we should?
  • What do we gain from time together?
  • How do we balance this with the demands of work and our family?

Devoted to prayer

  • Why should we pray within the context of community?
  • How can prayer become more organic in our lives together rather than something we program or schedule?

Met physical needs

  • What “needs” do people in a middle class suburban context have that we can meet?
  • How do we identify those needs?

Met in large and small groups

  • How do we do this more organically?
  • Why does it seem that time together always needs to be programmed for us before we will actually do it?

They were joyful

  • In what ways does community produce joy?
  • Why don’t we find more joy in community? In other words, why does community sometimes feel like something we have to do, rather than something we look forward to doing?
  • How do we find greater joy in doing life together?

The result was community-fueled mission

  • How can we do better with bringing the lost into our community?
  • What does community-fueled mission look like?

Of course I welcome discussion and questions in the comments section as well.

Community vs Affinity (part 2)

The following is a guest post from Tyler Recker.

In my last post, I began a discussion on how diversity within community is a better testimony of the Gospel than affinity (where everyone is alike).

With this post, I want to clarify a few things and refine what I am trying to say, and then in my next post, I would like to put some practical feet to this point.

The Problem.

The problem is that on a local church level churches are far too segregated by age, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Furthemore, on the small group level, the church usually has structures and systems in place designed to make sure things stay segregated accordingly. (So, we divide people up into life stage classes, etc.)

Last week, I began making the point that we need to cultivate deep relationships across the spectrum of life stages so we can all mutually benefit from one another and so the full gifts of the body are leveraged in the small group context.

Allow me to clarify these points further.

1.  We need to intentionally seek after diverse community, because affinity will happen naturally.

In all my talk about being in deep relationships with people different than us, I am not at all denying that sometimes we need to be around people who are at a similar place as us. When you are young and married it is helpful to be around other young married couples and hear their stories, so you are comforted that you are not alone in all the difficulties of that life stage. When your kids hit the teen years, you need other parents of teenagers that you can just share stories with and no you are not alone. When you hit the empty nest period, you need relationships with other folks who are walking through that as you navigate this new life stage.

However, all of these relationships will happen quite naturally.

The young marrieds will find each other. The parents of teens will find each other. The empty nesters, the singles, the seniors, the new parents, the homeschool parents, the single parents, etc will find each other out and will find time to hang out. On the other hand, because of our cultural conditioning (or other factors), diversity simply does not happen quite so naturally.

2.  We need diverse community because it deepens regard for Jesus.

When we are in groups based on affinities, it’s very easy for the group to become about the affinity, rather than about Jesus. In fact, I would go as far as to say that when the group is organized around affinity, it is very difficult to keep Jesus as the center of it.

Ever been in that Bible Study on Romans but somehow you knew that it was always going to come back around to parenting, or football, or another topic unrelated to the biblical text? Why? Maybe because everyone is gathered around that affinity, rather than around Jesus…

When I’m surrounded by people who aren’t like me and aren’t in the same life stage as me, then I am reminded that the power of the Gospel transcends these silly categories to work powerfully in the lives of all His people. And I leave with a greater sense of how great Jesus is.

Bruce Milne articulates this far better:

“Just as in the matter of our being justified before God we had to learn that all our human works had to give place to Christ’s work for us at the Cross, so in our fellowship together we have to learn that Christ is the exclusive basis of it (Gal. 3:28). This means that we need to take as our brother every one within the church or local Christian group whom Christ himself has received and not simply those to whom we feel attacted on other grounds.

Other common factors such as shared outlook, a compatible temperament, common experiences, a shared social background, a common level of intelligience, our belonging to the same sex or age group, are all secondary to the common share we have in Christ. One of the reasons why fellowship in many churches and Christian groups fails to attain to New Testament levels lies precisely here…that we permit these other bases of relationship to usurp the place which ought to be reserved for Christ alone.”

Bruce Milne, We Belong Together, p. 27 (in my 1978 copy).

Next week, I’ll go over some practical steps that we can take to move in a more diverse direction within our small groups so that by doing so we can better glorify King Jesus.