A PRAYER FOR WHEN LIFE COMES UNDONE

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17

Lord, this morning I am reminded of who you are and how you hold all things together. In my life I often forget this. I quickly become a spiritual chicken little; thinking the sky is falling and there’s no way out. Fortunately my weakness and lack of faith has no affect on your strength and faithfulness.

Jesus, you are the Son of God. You were before all things, you made all that is made, and only you can completely unmake anything. In you is the source and power of life. In you is eternal hope; even in the worst of situations. There is no power greater, no mind wiser, no leader more capable and no god greater. In you we see the beauty, love, power and ability of God.

I confess that I too often believe I can (and have to) hold all things together. And when that falls apart I am quick to look to someone or something else to protect and pull it all back together. I put too many things before the One who is before all things, to my detriment and disgrace. Forgive me lack of faith. My unbelief only images my idols and unravels my world. Fear, worry and despair display the domain of darkness not the kingdom of his beloved Son.

Holy Spirit, thank you for pointing me back to His deliverance; for speaking truth into my doubts through your enduring Word. Give me eyes to marvel at the strength of Christ anew. Grant me faith to trust that He alone holds all things together by his word. That He alone, by his blood, covers over all my failures and fears with outstretched, unmatched arms of grace. Continue to transfer my thinking into trusting. Let me view every circumstance in light of his power not mine and every opposition as under His throne.

Thank you Lord, that nothing about my day, my week or my life has surprised you. I am confident that nothing behind or before me can overtake or unravel You. You hold all things together. You are preeminent and premiere and because of this, I can trust that even my shortcomings and inadequacies are being used by You to create in me something beautiful and beneficial here on earth as it will one day be in heaven.

Thank for Father for Jesus. Thank you Christ for your cross. Thank you Spirit for your eye opening, heart illuminating truth. Amen.

CHRIST AND SINGLENESS

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned him, and to which God has called him. 1 Cor 7:17a

 A couple of weeks ago, as part of our current sermon series, I spoke on being Single and Christian. Over the last couple of years, God’s been stirring my heart for the single people in our churches. There can be a pretty big stigma in terms of singleness among the Christian community. Culturally we’re taught to pursue and glorify singleness, worshiping the idol of individual independence. Likewise though, Christian culture can tend to view marriage as most glorious and end up making it an idol.

The bible teaches us that it’s God who’s most glorious and that making most of him is the goal of all our life. Both marriage and singleness are uniquely designed by God to help us do just that. Sin distorts anything; thankfully the gospel redeems everything. In Christ, singleness finds a home. It’s made beautiful and beneficial in light of Him; uniquely displaying our love for and trust in our all-sufficient and sovereign Lord.

If you’d like more on the Gift and Calling of Singleness that Paul outlines in 1 Cor 7, you can listen to the podcast. For this post though I wanted to touch on some of the practical things I’ve mentioned in regards to singleness over the last couple weeks. I compiled a list of eight principles for living a life of Singleness to God’s glory and for your good. It’s by no means comprehensive, nor do I have a verse for every one. They come from biblical principles, human experience and pastoral observations. My hope is they’ll be seen as simple, practical and helpful.

SINGLENESS AND YOU

Jesus First – Prioritize your relationship with Jesus above every other relationship. Cultivate your heart for him, find your identity in him and keep your focus on he and his kingdom first. The quality of all our relationships are rooted in our relationship with Christ.

Be Content – Scripture teaches, songs remind and life confirms we’re prone to wonder. We all want bigger, better and faster and chasing the world easily temps us to leave the Lord. Where you are and what you have are all a perfectly, purposefully timed gift from God. Practice gratitude.

Be Holy – Image scripture not the world. Walk in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yes, potentially you’re saving yourself for someone to come, but primarily you are sanctifying yourself for the One who’s already arrived; the One who sanctified himself for us through his life and death to make us his. Commit your body and mind to him while single and don’t act married until you are.

Be Humble – I’ll let the life-long single theologian John Stott speak to this:

 Apart from sexual temptation, the greatest danger which I think we face as singles is self-centeredness. We may live alone and have total freedom to plan our own schedule with nobody else to modify it or even give us advice. If we are not careful, we may find the whole world revolving around ourselves.

Be Intentional – The time is very short, make the best use of it. Single or married our mission is gospel proclamation and kingdom extension. There are no greater gifts outside the gospel itself like youthful zeal and the freedom of singleness when it comes to undivided devotion to Christ and his commission. Maximize it without regret.

SINGLE AND SEARCHING

Start with a Friendship, Not Romance – I learned this from Tim Keller and from looking back over the years spent with my best friend and spouse. What you need in this life, and want going into eternity, is a good friend, because that’s what lasts. Find and be a friend first. Walk with them as friends toward Jesus, helping the other become the person God designed them to be in him. You usually figure the physical stuff out just fine.

Clarify Your Beliefs Together in the Beginning – We over look a lot of things about people when we’re attracted to them. Let me just say, don’t let hotness supersede holiness. I’ve yet to sit with a couple after recently getting married who were having problems with each others physical appearance, but I have wept with many who realized they assumed someone’s salvation. What do you both believe? Who do you believe in? What does that mean? Where do you go to church? What are you learning from Christ? What is the gospel and how does it apply to life? These aren’t secondary matters. They are of marriage shaping, life changing and joy thriving importance.

Make Courtship Communal – Whatever you label your pursuit of a spouse; courtship or dating, let me ask you: Does your church family know the person you’re after? Why not? Do they have authority to speak into your relationship? They should. Lots of mistakes could be avoided if we simply invited and involved others in our courtship/dating. Do more together with others than on your own. There is no better help for you (and them) when it comes to keeping the first five points. Don’t limit your community to people just like you. Singles be around married, marrieds included singles. Ask questions, seek wisdom, invite accountability and have fun together. That’s what being the church is all about and this is a time when it’s biblically beneficial for both.

My prayer for your today is that in whatever season of singleness or solitude you currently find yourself in, contentment in and enjoyment of Christ will rule your hearts.

Enjoy

 

A PRAYER FOR WOUNDED RELATIONSHIPS

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Pt 3:8

Father I come to you this morning with a burden for broken relationships. This has been heavy on my heart for awhile now and the weight doesn’t seem to get any lighter. I know I’m not alone either. You made us to be in relationship with you and with others and when either is out of place the pain can be awful.

Lord, I worship you as the Triune Relational God this morning, thinking of the perfect union you have within yourself – Father, Son and Spirit – a Oneness that you have always shared and desire to share with us. You did not need anyone. You had all the love one could ever hope for, so much in fact that it was too much for anyone but you to contain. What an incredible love it is that you would wish to extend it to rebels like me. Father, you are the most tender hearted one of all. You did not repay evil with evil, but you sent your Son as a sacrifice of grace, with unity in mind, to make sinners into sons and daughters. Jesus you humbled yourself, even to death on a cross, bearing my sin in your body on a tree, that I might die to sin and live to righteousness. What an incredible example of love and what an effective act of affection to make us capable of loving you and one another.

I confess God, that in light of this wonderful, transforming truth, I sense the failure of my own brokenness all the more. I feel the fracture in my relationships. My pride and selfishness squint into the face of your radiant humility. I have not had unity with others in mind, so much as a priority of self-preservation and protection. I blow it more than I care to admit. Putting myself first, I do not consider well enough the hurts and heartaches of others. I am often unsympathetic in my actions and overly supportive of my own cause. When attacked I want to attack. When wronged I want to wrong. When hurt I want to harm. I am guilty of being quick to judge and slow to forgive; fast to speak and sluggish to listen. Unsurprisingly, I seldom believe I’m in the wrong. Lord, I struggle to image your peace making, people loving, self-suffering enduring love. I tend to blame others before examining my own heart. I conveniently overlook my own sin in favor of exposing theirs. I have often withheld forgiveness in attempt to regain a sense of lost control. And in all of this I reject the very gospel I excitedly embraced and desire daily to enjoy. Lord I need your mercies anew today for sure.

Thank you Father for your kind rebuke. Thank you for pointing out the backpack full of relational rocks upon my back. It’s a hard but caring lesson; to be reminded of your love through discipline. That’s exactly what a great Dad does when they care for their kids. I am reminded of your grace again today. Of how you do not look at my failures and condemn me, but see me in your Son and smile. You are not holding my sins against me; you have put them all on Christ. Jesus you know I am a relational wreck, that’s precisely why you came – to reconcile us into renewed relationship with God and redeem our flawed relationships with one another.

Spirit, help me to believe and accept the forgiveness and love I have as a child of God. Aid me in being more aware of my unhealthy ways of relating to you and others. Would you keep my eyes fixed on the cross and help me to see every relationship in light of the gospel. Lord, I know I’m not the only one. There are many suffering today from relational wounds of the past, operating out of present hurts and despairing of what tomorrow holds. Jesus I pray for those facing struggling friendships, breakdowns in marriage, difficulties with co-workers, tensions in homes and turmoil in their souls. Love us into gospel hope, and lead us into renewed unity. For your glory, Lord, I ask that you grant us tender hearts, humble minds and brotherly love that the world might witness the living God at work and our hearts would be overjoyed with lavish grace. Amen.

THE SPIRITUAL COST OF SMART PHONES

This week I’m easing back into my regular work week after a little vacation time. I hope you’re able to find some rest and recreation this summer as well. We all need it, and if your like me, struggle to take full advantage of it when it does avail itself.

One of the things I find myself needing to take a break from most is my phone. The internet, social media, entertaining videos, all vi for my attention on a regular basis, but my phone…that square headed little gremlin scheming in my pocket, is constantly crying out for attention, and if I’m honest, I kind of like it.

As I sat down to write this today, I realized I’d left my phone at home and in a moment of great irony and sad reality, I found myself feeling a sense of loss, fear and even panic thinking about what it’d mean for my day not have it by my side. Fortunately a browser was close at hand and I avoided getting the shakes.

My smart phone can be a great tool to help keep me connected, but it also came with a ton of hidden fees that cost me dearly and can disconnect me from things that matter most like family, friends and God.

What I need most when I disconnect from my work life is to reconnect deeply with my worship life. Genuine rest is better with genuine worship. We need daily time with God for sure; time in the word, in prayer and meditation. It’s a fight to keep the cares and concerns of the world from choking the breathe of the gospel from our lungs. But lets face it, life happens, things get busy and our relationship with God and our enjoyment of grace suffers for it. And when it’s been weeks, months…years of that, what we need is not just a week at the beach or a month in the mountains but sustain, thoughtful, reconnecting time with Jesus. I can leave work at the office and I can usually stay away from email…but my phone; it stows away unconsciously into my times of quiet worship. That phantom buzz seems to scream into my leg at the very moment I sense I’m reconnecting with my Maker.

There are a ton of available apps to help us worship God, but there several million more that keep us from it.

Tim Chester, one of the authors who’s been most helpful in my life, when it comes to teaching me practical gospel application, shared the following insightful questions from an audio interview with Tony Reinke on Desiring God. I think we would do well to consider them personally and answer them honestly ourselves and with others:

  1. Am I becoming like what I behold in my iPhone? Are my face-to-face relationships conforming to modes of communication that are shaped by my online habits?
  2. Am I overlooking my finiteness? I am finite. I am a man severely limited in what I can know and what I can read and what I engage and what I can care about. So do I want to know everything? Do I fear being left behind on what’s trending online right now?
  3. Am I multitasking priorities that should be uni-tasked. Specifically is my time with God in the word and I prayer being distracted and even being replaced by digital interruptions?
  4. I am deleting my embodiment? Do I truly value the personal, face-to-face relationships in my life over the disembodied relationships I maintain online? Are my face-to-face relationships with my neighbour, my wife and my kids suffering as a result?
  5. I am losing interest in the gathered church on Sunday? Baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, corporate worship, the laying on of hands – do I truly value the embodied reality that is my local church? Do I fiddle through it on my phone looking for something more entertaining?
  6. Am I careless with my words? It’s easy for my words to be published online. So what self-imposed limitations do I have to filter what I say and do I have any accountability in my life for what I say online?

I paid enough for my phone a few years ago. I’d like to keep it from costing me even more today. It’s tremendously helpful in our age, but like with everything else I have to be mindful of how and when I use it. I need to develop discipline with it or it will get more of my attention that it deserves.

It’s already a fight to have authentic relationships these days. False community is everywhere and idols are as shiny as ever and there’s an even bigger better one around the corner to keep us glued. The subject is worth a conversation and at the very least as Christians we should add it to our talking points with others we’re accountable to.

Listen the whole audio interview with Tony Reinke here.

STAYING CLOSE TO CHRIST

Abide in me, and I in you. – John 15:4

Are you currently close to Jesus? Is his presence and impact evidenced in your life? In John 15 Jesus teaches us that it’s vitally important that his disciples actively remain in relationship with him. He explains that our fruitfulness in mission, growth in grace and fullness of joy is at stake.

You might say, “I agree, but what does a life lived close to Jesus look like? Are there visible affects of disciples dwelling daily in relationship with God?” Good questions, let’s look.

Humility

When we are abiding in Jesus our lives begin to take the shape of his. We begin to love what he loves; seeing and caring for people as he does. Christians are grace saved sinners. That means, we’ve felt the weight of our guilt before God and experienced, through faith, the liberating freedom of Christ’s redeeming work in our lives. The cross humbles us. It rescues us from selfish pride into humble rejoicing. The more we think of God’s loving sacrifice, at the expense of himself, to save unloving sinners the more our souls melt for him in worship and service to others. The reality that God laid his life down for me, moves my heart to lay my life down for others.

Are your attitudes and actions marked by gospel abiding humility?

Holiness

There has been a tremendous resurgence in the doctrines of grace over the past several years. I am profoundly grateful for this in my own life and have seen first hand the powerful affects of it in countless others who lived under the joy crushing weight of rule driven religion. Sadly I’ve also noticed a disturbing trend. Many folks, under a banner of “grace”, begin cherry picking the commands of scripture, taking “free in Christ” to mean free from obedience and free to sin. Paul addresses this misappropriation of grace at length in Romans 6-7 so I’ll encourage us to read his words not mine.

Christians are not set free by grace to ignore the law but to enjoy it. Before salvation the law condemned us in chains us as slaves. In Christ God’s good commands guide us into liberty and love. We are saved by grace from from a self saving life of “got to” into a mercy pardoned life of “get to”. God’s standard of holiness for his people has not changed, our desire for it has been redeemed. We have become “obedient form the heart”. It’s now our delight to honor God through holiness. When we are clinging closely to Jesus we will find ourselves less tolerant of our sin, giving fewer excuses for disobedience and joyously willing to fulfill his commands.

Are your exploits abounding in grace abiding holiness?

Happiness

Finally, when we are remaining in the presence of Jesus love, joy is plentiful. “I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

There is nothing so heavy pressing upon my soul that time spent marveling at the love of God for me in Christ Jesus cannot lift. Is the Christian never sad? Surely not. Does the Follower never find himself in darkness and despair? Impossible in this world. We cannot; however, abide in Christ and constantly wear a frown. A heart not warmed by time sitting by the fires of grace is one that has yet to beat with eternal life.

Are you overwhelmed and saddened by circumstance? Withered from lack of abiding and worried by the things of this world? Open his word and listen. Lay yourself before him in prayer. Reach for his scar marked hands and linger in the loving radiance of his glory. Ponder anew what it cost him to rescue you from sin, Satan and death. Rehearse once more what was lost for your gain and what it cost to call you friend. Tears of repentance will once again bring about a harvest of joy.

Are your troubles accompanied by grace abiding happiness?

Now you might be saying to yourself, “that’s not me…well at least not all three”. Let me just say, that’s ok. The point is for us to hold our lives up to his light and see what shadows we cast; allowing the truth and grace of the gospel to form us into greater reflections of him.

Conviction is not condemnation, it’s an invitation. Go to him. Spend time with him in the word and on your knees in worship. Confess where there is less of him in your life. Repent of the things grab your attention and keep you from enjoying his presence. Share your convictions with others in your church and ask them to walk with you in encouragement and accountability. God has promised to finish the work he began in you and he is always faithful to his word. Ask, act, abide and expect. Revival and renewal awaits.

So You Want to be a Pastor?

I remember when I first began to sense God was inviting (ok pushing) me into pastoral ministry I had all sorts of ideas of what that meant, looked like and would take. I was overwhelmed on the one hand, feeling totally incompetent, and on the other “I got this.” I’d lead teams and run multiple businesses, surely I could start and run a church. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that made Jesus laugh out loud too.

Fast forward. I’ve been in ministry for quite some time now. I’ve been a church planter and pastor for the last eight years and pretty much everything I started out believing about myself and ministry has changed completely. It’s been humbling and humiliating. In many areas I realized I was way worse than I naively first thought and in many others, well lets just say God was far more gracious and loving than I imagined.

Over this time I’ve met countless young men at various stages of church planting and pastoral ministry, all of whom have ideas about where they were going and what they’d face. Often they ask guys in my stage of life and ministry what we’ve learned. “What advice would you give a guy like me at this point in the game.” Over the years I’ve given multiple responses ranging from “run away” to “do this or read that” (usually just whatever I thought was working in our own church, which inevitably changed right after that because it wasn’t, but that’s another post).

I’ve settled, in the last couple years, into a few key concerns young guys considering pastoral ministry need to address. Things they should pray about, seek input on and think long and hard over. (Preferably before they are knee deep in it.) Questions I honestly think are best worked out in the context of an existing ministry; ie an internship or apprenticeship. Bible college and seminary are great and needed, but some things about soldiering aren’t answered at boot camp. It’s only in the trenches of the battlefield they’re rightly assessed. I challenge every young guy I meet, even older guys rethinking where they are and what they’re doing, to get with another guy doing what they aspire to do. A man who has answered and addressed these for himself and from other pastors and planters they respect.

I’ve listed them specifically in the order of importance I see them falling in.

1. AM I CALLED?

There will be days you want out. There will be times when others want you gone. There will be many evenings when the enemy hurls accusations and there will be nights you anxiously lay awake believing all of it. There will be tears, heartbreak, emptiness, loneliness, fear, guilt and shame. You will worship idols and wrestle with identity. You will question not only your ability, but your own salvation. You will battle sin and Satan. You will feel betrayed, abandoned and alone because a servant is not greater than his master.

There are amazing things about being a pastor. There are incredible blessings and benefits. The privilege of walking with others on their journey with Jesus can’t be beat. The Sunday’s when the sermon brings repentance and faith and midweek teaching produces growth. The instances when you witness first hand the work of the Holy Spirit. The moments when sinners turn to saints, enemies become friends and years of wounds are healed in an instant. Those days will set you on fire, renew your passion and strengthen your resolve. Those are the things you imaged ministry was mostly like.

But those days are easy and exciting. They require little “gospeling” of yourself. They don’t send you to counseling and don’t cause you to seriously contemplate quitting…life. What about those? The days that demand I know my Savior and am absolutely sure of his call.

Are you Called? Not competent, not capable and not willing – Called. Is there an unmistakable invitation from the Lord on your life? Is it affirmed by other war torn men not just your mom and youth pastor? Is there a desire to weep with those who weep, not simply stand in a pulpit and preach? Is there a fire for others to know Jesus in their souls more than your name on the cover a book? Is there a fear? Are you afraid of what it will cost? Are you scared to death of your death. Are you terrified of the toll it will take? Are you eager to rush in even so?

Is there anything else you see yourself doing? Is there another route to your reward? Take that path and save yourself some pain.

Calling gets you out of bed on Monday morning. Calling pulls you to your knees in the night. Calling enables you to have hard conversations with your family. It gives you courage to lead. It prevents you from leaving a church that’s smaller than you hoped. Calling keeps you in a town that will never host a conference. Calling brings you to your feet to take another hit. Calling gives you strength to take up your sword and endurance to wield it with skill and love. Calling brings you back from the dead.

How? Because of who has called you. The One who answered the call first. The One who loved you and gave himself up for you. The One who goes before and forever walks with. The One without whom I would not be alive. The One for whom I would gladly lay down my life and my dreams.

Before you plant a church or become a pastor, be sure about His Calling.

2. HOW’S YOUR CHARACTER?

Usually I loose guys after that talk. So if your still hear, great.

How’s your character? How are you doing with Jesus, personally, right now? A common assumption is that one’s spiritual life will get better because of ministry. That my friends is like playing chicken on a NASCAR track.

Paul told Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely for in so doing he would save both himself and his hearers. If you are going to lead others toward Jesus, you must be going to him yourself. Is what you believe affecting your own soul? Is what you aspire to teach being applied to your own mind and heart? Is the gospel growing you? Is there fruit to your faith. Ministry exposes your character faults before it helps to fix them.

Is there any unconfessed sin in your life? Are there any unresolved issues in your marriage? Planting and pastoring is not the place to work them out. Deal with it before it deals with you. Work on your character before it wrecks your own life and the lives of those you lead.

Every good disciple maker has been discipled. Every good teacher has been taught. Take some time to sit at someones feet, work on your issues and understand the gospel ahead of time. You can grow be a shepherd, but you best not skip learning to be a sheep.

Is your character becoming more like Christ? Where do you need to grow in repentance, faith and obedience? Work on who you are in Christ, before you go do things for Christ. Allow others to sharpen you, assess you and yes, correct you. Letting the bible read you before you stand and read it will go a long way toward making you a better pastor. Peter summarized his thoughts on being a pastor as “being examples to the flock.” Who you are needs to proceed what you do.

3. ARE YOU COMPETENT?

Finally, are you competent? What abilities and traits do you have? What skills have you acquired up to this point? What do you still need to learn? Too many well intentioned men skip right to the “how” of it all. At this point, after working through the first two, it’s good to get assessed. To have others help you figure out some basics traits and tools that will help prepare you for being a pastor or church planter. You can get this through internships, seminary, study and mentoring. You can read books and talk to existing ministers; there’s lots of ways to learn. Personally I like hands on. Theory is good, but it needs to be applied.

It’s good to have some of the basics under your belt. There definitely seems to be type of personality and proficiency that helps someone thrive in ministry, but there’s good news – God doesn’t call competent men and women to his work, he calls them to faith in him. Actually, and thankfully, he seems to prefer incompetent people because they best glorify him. Lots of folks start with competency first to the detriment of many a man, family and church. Character not capability earns greater respect, and calling more than ability keeps you in the race.

Yes, we want to increase in our ability and add to our skill set. We should strive to be good students and grow in our competencies. That’s just good stewardship and leadership. God  invites us to shepherd, thankfully he doesn’t require us to be great. That’s his title. Lots of things are figured out along the way. We learn, we fail and grow; through the power of the Holy Spirit giving us necessary gifts and through hard work and diligence that honors him.

This is honestly the last thing that concerns me when someone asks for help. I know I’ve frustrated guys at times along the way when they ask for checklists, ideas and how-to’s and I instead press into their hearts before I equip their hands. I believe most relevant expertise comes through experience. Learn along the way and live alongside others. Find a peer group of pastors and church planters that have gone before you and will walk with you. That’s been the greatest part of being in a network like Acts 29. I’ve been able to learn from and with brothers in the trenches.

The day’s of easy ministry are over if you really want to engage and win the world for Jesus. The Kingdom needs men called and confident in Christ. Men full of the gospel not of themselves. Pastors sure of who they are in Jesus. Courageous, called, godly men who don’t have it all figured out, but who love God, love people and know they are loved by him. I am praying God raises up 100s and 1000s of new pastors and church planters. Waves of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to carry the gospel around the world and equip the church to love Jesus and live on mission for his glory and fame.

Are you Called? How’s your Character? Are you Competent?

Seven Assumptions about Community

Community is essential to following Jesus. Discipleship’s not a solo discipline. You just can’t fulfill the command of Christ to “love one another” without some “others” in our life. It’s in biblical community that we encourage, challenge and celebrate; where we apply and share what we’re learning from sermons, personal study and the struggles of life. Jesus modeled community and Jesus died for community. (Acts 20:28).

The way a church seeks community varies. Whether they call them Life Groups, Cells, or Missional Communities the point is people getting together outside gathered worshiped to care for and disciple one another, equipping for and encouraging ministry and mission.

That said I’ve noticed over the years some common unspoken assumptions we tend to have in community. Subtle ideas that can keep us from the desired outcome of our group. Notions that can stifle us personally and collectively. Assumptions that can quench the Spirit and prevent us from experiencing the fullness and joy we’re promised in Christ.

Here are Seven Common Assumptions about Community:

1. Everyone’s a Christian

Just because someone shows up to your group doesn’t mean they know Jesus. Some people are exploring faith and need love and understanding. They can get lost in church talk, “christianeze” and assumptions that everyone knows what they are doing and how to use a bible. Additionally just because someone has been coming to your church or even grown up in church doesn’t guarantee they understand the gospel. When we assume salvation in someone we can actually keep them from it. Affirming a Christless Christianity is neither helpful or beneficial. Love doesn’t assume. Listen for gospel understanding in people’s words. Look for gospel fruit in peoples lives. Don’t be afraid to ask, speaking the truth in love. Likewise, don’t assume it’s only others that need Jesus.

2. Everyone’s been Baptized

This is similar, but not. You would be surprised how many genuine believers have not been baptized or were before they believed. It’s good to know people’s salvation story, it’s even better (dare I say essential) if you’re gonna walk together as community. Discipleship is helping one another be obedient to Christ in love. Let’s not let one another avoid disobedience (Jesus commanded baptism) nor let one another miss out on the witness and joy of celebrating salvation through baptism together.

3. Everyone’s a member of the Church

Are the people in your group committed to the same people and the same mission? We don’t require membership to be in one of our groups. We think it’s a great place to begin knowing and being known. Community is an awesome connecting point for new people. We do however want to see people get connected, find family and join a single church, even if it’s not ours. Does your church have a path for connecting guests and helping them become member? Does your group know that process and are they helping people to walk along that path?

4. Everyone’s honest about their needs

Is everyone doing ok, or am I just assuming so. Am I? “Doing Life”‘s a popular churchy catch phrase, but life has ups and downs; good and bad. If we just get together and eat, study the bible or serve in our community together, but end up neglecting one anothers own needs we’ve missed the point. Someone always has a need and there is usually a greater need behind that one. How are marriages? How are finances? What’s happening in the home? What’s happening in the heart? Be confident enough in Christ to ask and be humble enough in the gospel to offer up what’s ailing us.

5. Everyone’s doing great with God

I’m a pastor and I have dry times with God. More than you might think and more than I’d like to admit. We all do.  Life lets no one off the hook and the enemy is always roaring. Sometimes the Cross seems less bright and quite often our cares and concerns can joke out the gospel. It’s ok not to be ok. The Good News isn’t for those who have it all figured out, it’s for failures and fools. Listen for hope in your conversations with others. Share the hunger in your own soul. Be willing to walk with one another through the valleys.

6. Everyone’s doing better than Me

One of the greatest lies the enemy tells us is that it’s only you. Only you are getting it right, only you are getting it wrong. No matter how amazing the physical and spiritual lives of those around you seem, there’s always more to the story. Don’t listen to the lie that says you’re all alone in this. Don’t believe the belittling and braiding of Beelzebub. He’s just trying to guilt and shame you out of community and keep you living in fear of being found out. Come into the light. And when someone is courageous enough to admit they’re not doing well, celebrate it and encourage with mercy and love.

7. This is Everyone

Everyone needs Jesus, and no group contains everyone. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone in the room is everyone that would benefit from your group. We are sent people and we are meant to be inviting people. Let’s not live for ourselves, but for the good of others and for the sake of He who lived and died for us. Help others in your church get connected into biblical community. Invite people outside the church to come experience it as well.

My hope is this might help you think through your own assumptions. I know it made me pause a few times. Maybe this will spark a good discussion in your group this week. Ideally the hope is it leads us to gospel transformation and increasing joy in Jesus Christ.

 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25