If Luke Wrote About Your Church

In our small group leadership training plan, we ask the question, if Luke were alive today to write about the impact and effects of the Gospel in your community, what would he say?

Some Context

When Luke wrote the second chapter of the book of Acts, he began it with the spectacular inauguration of his new family. The Holy Spirit of God, full of divine delight, was freed to accomplish what he had ached to do for millennia past — to fall upon us and sweep us up into wedded bliss and power and union with Jesus. The church was consummated and what a celebration it was; complete with heavenly wind, fire, and good news proclamation in all languages. In fact, it was such a powerful and joyous occasion, some hardened onlookers thought Jesus’ bride was drunk!

Then, Luke writes in Acts 2:42-47 about the happiness of the bride and her honeymoon as it were in those first weeks of her union with Christ. Look at how filled-up she is with the mission and heartbeat of Jesus and look at some of the things Luke celebrates:

  • They eagerly devoted themselves to hearing and learning more about their groom with the apostles’ teaching.
  • They shared all that they could with each other and invested their earthly resources in each other.
  • They spent time together and invited others to join them.
  • They were in the marketplace telling the Good News message through selling items of value and property for the benefit of others. (quite possibly at inopportune times to sell their goods for the “highest value” for themselves just to be able to benefit others.)
  • They praised and adored God both publicly and privately. Worship became integral and contagious.
  • They ate meals together in Jesus’ name.
  • They were socially winsome and found favor among all the people.
  • They were welcoming in whatever they did in their homes (house-to-house). So, their homes became centers for community and moved away from being personal castles.
  • They saw answers to their prayers abounding as the Holy Spirit delighted to shower them with love through his special signs and wonders.
  • There was no line or barrier between “my church life” and “my regular life”.

Did you notice how different these things were from the first part of chapter 2? Married couples don’t have a wedding ceremony every day. Luke is highlighting how ordinary life with Jesus was filled-up with purpose and power that stretched into the spiritual and the eternal. The church is not dating Jesus in a paramour relationship. No, He is her everything.

Back to the Question

Now, how much do we recognize the integral and united nature we have with Christ while living in our communities? You see, our goal is not to replicate what the early church experienced in Luke’s list. If we do that, we turn our marriage relationship with Jesus into something mechanical and heavy by thinking that if we can just copy what they did, “church will work!”

Instead, Jesus will orchestrate all kinds of new gospel gestures, sacrifices, activities, and rewards to impact your community right where you are. So, imagine if Luke was walking around your church this month.

• How would he celebrate the gospel happening among you?

What might he write in his list to show how Jesus is orchestrating the impact of the gospel in YOUR everyday lives?

This is a great exercise to do right now personally and/or in a group of friends. If you sense that Luke wouldn’t have much to say, then you might be experiencing more of a cultural Christianity than a vibrant, communal, gospel-fueled Christianity. At that point, it would be wise to evaluate if you really understand the gospel and especially the Ascension of Jesus. And, it would be wise to deeply ask what has been radically transformed in your life and the lives of your church community. What can we celebrate as evidence of the gospel in action?

Advertisements

Planting Ecclesiology as a way of life

Immediately apparent when commencing to plant ministries in Italy is that all people use the word church, but rarely anyone uses it biblically. The very idea of church here is something ‘private, cold, judgmental, obligatory, an event, passive, traditional, cultural, heavy, & Roman’. Therefore, we have a great crisis when it comes to the understanding of what actually constitutes a church.

Embedding Believersplanting ecclesiology

This is one of our major concerns, in that, if we enter a city and open a traditional church structure, it will be viewed through the cultural lens and automatically disregarded. Similar to the seasonal circus that comes to town, people in the general culture will ask, “What’s that?” And others will naturally respond, “Oh, I think that’s one of those foreign churches, evangelista or something…” Instantly, a perceived level of distance and safety is established.

However, if there are people who they know and have had experience with, the conversation might go a bit differently,

“Who are those people?” they might ask.
“Oh, that is the group that Daniele is a part of… you know Daniele, the mechanic that helps a lot of people with their cars over on Viale Venezia… His wife teaches some language classes and they run activities in the park with the kids.”
“Ya, that’s right — a classmate I went to school with works for him. It’s a bit surprising they opened a business in this crisis!”

We are not seeking to plant more institutions in post-catholic Europe, but rather, we emphasize planting people who are energized, holy, and evidentially part of the New City and the Christ culture. If the people of our Italian cities will find a refuge in Jesus, then, it will most likely come from people who have lived in their city with them through all of its positives, negatives, ups, and downs. These embedded believers do familiar-looking things, but they do them with an entirely different set of motives and attitudes.

“Church Work”

Embedded believers approach their lives and cities in an integral and theological way. Like an under-current that courses through their actions, they show gracious respect to local authorities but they reject that their sustenance comes from the state as their sovereign provider. Embedded believers are not getting all they can but giving all they can. In a suffocating economic market, demonstrating that you are not “on the take” but “living to serve” speaks loudly into people’s lives.

Furthermore, embedded believers are not demanding jobs, instead, they are developing them in the full realization that the “Earth is the Lord’s and all of its fullness.” With health, creativity, holy determination, persevering faith, and youth (life is said to begin at 40 in Italia) – their mission is pan-vocational because their theology is integral to all of life; impacting every aspect.

The Reformers of the 1500’s (especially Luther & Calvin) rediscovered this in their theology of work. One of their main emphasis was on the subject of consecration. They moved the emphasis off of the job or the talent and rested it upon the worker’s devotion to God. You could be a joyful, contented farmer or a deceptive, adulterous religious leader. The issue was not whether one was called as a religious leader versus called to farm. Rather, it was what kind of farmer or religious leader you actually were that made all the difference. To this day in Italia, the mindset lingers that work is unholyIt is a necessary evil and not a gift from God. Work should be avoided or oppressive and therefore, cheating others is rampant. Yet on the other hand, a person is more holy or powerful by the garments he wears or the buildings he enters. Life is divided into two categories: what to show (pride) and what to hide (pleasure).

“Home Work”

It is at this point where a marginalized, periphery church begins to touch the fabric of the city when she helps holy farmers, devoted teachers, and Christocentric entrepreneurs. Not only does the church assist these believers to establish their livelihoods, but she is also training them to grow up into the city through opening their homes for ministry as a regular rhythm of life. It is their gospel character on display throughout the city that makes them a community of light.

Embedded believers are not hidden behind their jobs where people cannot determine if they are truly kind or just trying to earn money through quality customer service. Their home is a refuge for seekers to come and find peace, and in turn, embedded believers are seekers who reach out to their cities in peace. I believe this balance of a ministering home coupled with a ministering business is critical to planting churches. It is a salty model because it does not stay confined to four walls of a comfortable structure. Integral home-life and work-life stimulate missional-life.

If you have read this far in the article, I am voicing some of our developing ministry philosophy as we face a church and market crisis here in southern Europe. I am not saying that this is a formula, but rather, an approach to life and work as missional theologians.

  • Have you experienced Life-work in this way? 
  • As you read this, would you have any helpful suggestions or comments?
  • How do you think an approach like this would impact where you live?

Communities of the unburning bush

The Lord himself – who is who he is – has bound himself inextricably to his people.

Immanuel: the-with-you-God

 

That key phrase caught my attention in a smaller but similar way to Moses noticing an unburning bush. I’m currently enjoying a read through the newly released work, Covenantal Apologetics by Scott Oliphint. In chapter 2 (Set Christ Apart as Lord), the author draws special attention to the essence of who Jesus Christ is and claimed to be. Jesus is the embodiment of the I AM that spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert. Rejecting Jesus is rejecting the I AM (Yahweh). Here is the quote in context and then a brief application.

Covenantal Apologetics by Scott OliphintThe revelation that Moses has of what is really the unburning bush is, in part, designed to reveal to Moses both of these truths [wholly satisfied God alone is who he is and also commits himself to his covenants]. The fire, which represents The Lord himself, is in no way dependent on the bush in order to burn. The fire is, in that sense, a se. It does not need the bush for fuel; it is able to burn in and of itself. But it is also with the bush. It could easily appear on its own, because it is in need of nothing to burn. Or it could appear beside the bush. Instead, it is linked inextricably with the bush, even as The Lord himself – who is who he is – has bound himself inextricably to his people.

One of the unique and glorious truths of being knit together by the Gospel in community is the presence of the wholly satisfied God. That presence is what sets redeemed friends apart from any other form of community in this world. Moses must have seen a billion bushes but only one like the I AM’s. Similarly, the people of our cities will see tens of thousands of friends, families, and homes but what makes all the difference is the connected lives of unburning believers. I desire my home to stand out like that, and the fire has already united with me because he loved me first.

We might ask, “Where’s the sign? You know, the unburning house or unburning church so people will be shocked out of their shoes?” The answer is to look into the ordinary and the mundane which contains the extraordinary (like the ordinary manger holding the Creator and Redeemer of the universe). This is using the eyes of faith to see the hidden, blazing reality.

One day, the I AM himself took off the sandals of his desert pastors and washed their feet (Jn 13). There, he showed us how to be an ordinary bush but ablaze with transformed hearts. After all, he is seeking people who worship him in spirit and in truth. Are we not a people bearing and reflecting the image of the sovra-natural God who in no single way needs us but loves and binds himself to us? Instead of consuming us for what we rightly deserve, he is now revealed through us; converting the ordinary into the remarkable.

What Makes Your Church Attractive? Part 2

Continuing from part 1, we shared that entertainment or recreational-propelled worship is the wrong kind of attraction to the church community than what the Scriptures call for. It’s not a missional-oriented approach because it is man-centric. While deliciously tempting to fall into, an attitude of let’s change this to attract more people can actually become an affront to God, all while using his name. So, how do we maintain our missional edge and a holy attractiveness at the same time?

"Coming Attractions"Are You Serious?

It’s radical devotion to the rules of the gospel and living our new identity in Christ that makes us so beautiful. We need to be serious about our active piety. It is our devotion which points to the real, radical center of Jesus. How can you tell when a church is flowing in this attractive sense of devotion? Tim Keller recently shared that one sign occurs when new guests come to your church gatherings. They will notice a number of familiar forms about church (things they expect to see) but they will also see a people (young and old) who practice them with a serious, new life. Prayer has power and passion, forgiveness works, and the community is filled with hope of the kind that welcomes the good reign of God and its final coming.

The Attractive City of Love

Jonathan Edwards called the church, The Glorious Society of God. Edwards’ emphasis was that God wills himself (his perfections and wonders) to be known through the power of a redeemed people on display. The church, therefore, becomes a reflection of Heaven; what Edwards also called The City of Love.

Therefore, we can’t “make our church attractive” or the story and glory would be all about us. Attractiveness, therefore, is a by-product of the shared, communal pursuit of Jesus and the practice of active love. We could describe it as a people who are actively falling in love with Jesus, but that phrase is so vague and dried-out by modern meanings. Instead, our concentration is serving the Lord by serving others and attractiveness will happen often without us even recognizing it — and definitely not by forcing or generating it.

Because the church is the alternative city, it should and it will portray the image of the City of Love. In Heaven, you never have to try to fit-in. A person will never experience the want of being accepted. In Heaven, right now and forever, love emanates outward. Waves of love greet the child coming Home. From the enthroned epicenter, through the Apostles, outward from the great saints, coursing over the multitude of the elect, raced along by praising angels, cascading down into the thousands on Earth gathered in God’s family, received by us in the church, and spread around the world to the last, the least, and the lost, this is how we experience the path and power of God’s love.

We as God’s children are surrounded by a great cloud of saints, all compelling the farthest to come into the banquet, and never to be separated from the love of God by anything. Holy Minestrone! Now that’s attractive!

So, I would say that we shouldn’t throw out the word ‘attractional‘ but we should be careful what we apply it to.

The Immanuel Principle

Immanuel: the-with-you-God

God: “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people out of Egypt”
Moses: “But, who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
God: “But, I will be with you…”

Moses asks God, “Who am I?” And Yahweh responds by speaking about himself, “I, the Great I AM, will be with you.”¹ What a strange response that more than answers Moses’ question.

Don’t miss the beauty here. Moses doesn’t have to be somebody great; Yahweh already is. Moses groans with deep inadequacy and nobody-ness. BUT, the saving, personal God of Israel is there with him, so it doesn’t matter. Who Am I?  Moses, you’re the man with whom God is. He doesn’t need to force Pharoah’s hand because Pharoah will be challenging the I-AM-with-Moses God. It was his total identity.

Why? God had committed himself to a covenant to eternally dwell with Moses and his people.² Repeatedly, the Lord declares, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” So, when Jesus (the greater Moses) comes and is given the name Immanuel  it means that Yahweh has kept his promise and can be found living with his people — forever. Who Are We?  Church, we are his people, and he is our God because he committed himself to be there, with us. It IS who we are; our new and complete identity.

In the eyes of this world, most of us are not elite, enabled, dripping-with-talent, accomplished, well-off, employees-of-the-month, or even parents-of-the-year. But, in Jesus, we don’t have to be known as any of those things because we already are known by the one who himself becomes our identity. Immanuel is the-with-us-God. That’s how I want to be known, don’t you?

In closing, the pen of Paul blazes like a new burning bush for the church. Notice the Immanuel Principle through the words “chosen by God” and “in the presence of God…in Christ Jesus” :

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus…”  1 Corinthians 1:26-30a

¹ ‘ehyeh ‘immak — “I AM, with you” — you can see the “imma” that forms the name Immanuel.
² I am indebted to John Frame in his work The Doctrine of God for pointing to the covenant presence of God (ch. 6). Some of my thoughts in this article were “ignited” and adapted from him.

Enhanced by Zemanta

More Shared Life or Shared Meetings?

Circle_of_hands

So, you’re a part of a small group where you’re developing friendships, sharing the Word together (sometimes sweet; sometimes dry), and you may even be eating a meal together. Aaaaannnd… that’s about it. You generally know everybody’s story so you’re churning the weeks by where on one hand, you have your small group time (call it whatever you’d like) and on the other hand, you have the rest-of-your-life. And the problem is that both hands rarely come together.

So, how does a group that is more or less stuck in meeting mode go deeper and become missional?

Here are two practical tests or objectives to help a small group become a missional community that is sharing more of life together instead of just sharing more meetings.

  1. Your meeting times are one-of-the-things you do together in Christ — not the only thing you do during the week together (ie. one of two meetings you attend).
  2. When your group shares more life together outside of a weekly gathering than you do during a 2-3 hour gathering.

Shared life, therefore, is the ordinary and every-day things that you do with the purpose of including others and utilizing those times to talk about and see the extraordinary Christ in the ordinary routines of daily life.