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?

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Discipling Love into Community

In my last article, I was writing out some principles that help gospel communities be loving and other-centered. Immediately after sharing the article, another principle came to mind (which often happens after I preach, too, and leaves me with that how-could-I-have-forgotten-such-an-important-point feeling. Ever get that?)

So, here’s a third point:

Assign It

Literally, ask others to love others. Notice what Jesus did after he washed the disciples feet during the Last Supper. He commanded them to wash each other’s feet and directly linked it to loving one another.
washing = loving. Ordinary task done with a heavenly mindset = the sharing of the love of Jesus to others. 

And then, by nature of the holy motive and the caring deed put together, Jesus equated that to following him. The meaning and the action must go hand-in-hand.
loving = following. The sharing of the love of Jesus to others = devoted obedience to God

Jesus first provided the model, and then he said, “Now you do this simple task for each other, and the whole world will know you belong to me. Just as I have washed your feet, now you wash each other’s feet.”  (John 13:14,34-35). It’s painfully simple. Jesus did love in this way. Then, he assigned it to us and said,  “You do it — in this way — for my sake.”

Therefore, I don’t think it is wrong at all to ask people who we are connected to in Christian community to serve others around us. In fact, it is for their good! We will literally be releasing the healing oil of heaven upon an aching world.

A Christian community will never go beyond the level of a “physical Facebook gathering” unless there is a release of the washing > loving > following principle. Discipling friends in this simple yet foundational way is critical to helping them break the chains of choking selfishness. Therefore, godly living is relational; sacrificially oriented to God and others around us.

The Principle of Breaking Fresh Bread

The Italian word Panificio means ‘bakery’ and therefore a baker is called a panettiere. One of the Italian charms is the local bakery strategically situated within nose-shot of every bread-lover on the peninsula. Each bakery must have the following three components to put bread into society: fresh ingredients, the fired ovens, and the artistry of the panettiere himself.

Fresh ingredients worked together through the ovens of prayer to break fresh bread with others.

In our ministry, we try to teach this metaphor as a guiding principle for how we gather together and share the Word and life of Jesus in our Gospel Communities. In other words, our LifeTeams (small groups) strive to live-life-out-together-in-Christ and will seek opportunities to bring the Bible into the fullness of life and its rhythms. The Bread is so fresh and filling that we are eager for opportunities to share it. On a side note, some might ask if this is done in our “weekly meetings”? Yes, however, I would like to emphasize that learning Jesus happens not only in our meal gatherings but can and should happen everywhere, and at all various opportunities.

So, here is the principle in short (shorter than when I would teach it):

Every maturing disciple of Jesus is a panettiere; one through whom the Bread of Life will share himself to others.

Firstly, therefore, utilize the fresh ingredients available to you through healthy personal exposure to the Word, accountable questions, the preaching & teaching of God’s Word that you hear, Bible stories, sermon application, studies that are Cristo & Gospel centric (not just helpful how-to’s), devotions, praise, pastoral articles, training materials (such as Porterbrook), and specialized guides that are produced through the ministry.

Secondly, remember that having good ingredients is not enough to share the freshness of warm bread. A lump of dough is neither compelling nor tasty. These ingredients have to be worked-together into your life and be “fired-up”. Your heart and life is the furnace through which the bread is given. Are you engaged in an active walk with Jesus? Are the ovens of prayer lit? Pray through the people all around you and the fresh Word you’re sharing with them.

Thirdly, panettieri (bakers) become better at their craft over time. Walking in the Spirit with others really starts to hone listening skills and become story-formed. People with a vibrant and loving relationship with Jesus will notice that they will be able to share many more Gospel insights into the lives of others around them. They will carry with them the power and perfume of Jesus. Also, they will mature in their discernment in how to lead their gatherings to be more Cristo-centric. What I mean is that a godly panettiere does not just study to pass information along to people; they share the bread of their very lives.

So, in summary, to serve well in a Gospel Community a believer needs to be gathering fresh ingredients (which there is an abundance of when you learn where to look) that the Father is placing into your life. Then, those ingredients must be kneaded together in the cucina of your life and brought through the ovens of prayer. And finally, break fresh bread as the Spirit leads you into the abundance of His opportunities from gospel gatherings to grocery shopping. This can be done through stories, authentic conversations, and real-time examples of the Gospel in action (like parenting or colleagues or neighborhood problems etc.)

If you noticed, I did not emphasize a heavy reliance upon professionally produced Bible studies. While I’m generally not opposed to them, I find that they tend to produce a ‘sterile’ environment of information-passing because people naturally lean-on the material and look-at it and talk-about it. These are all things that we want people to engage in around Jesus. Often, our studies can simply distract us. Worse, they can mantle and mask many of the real needs and problems under a veneer of Bible information resulting in Pharisee-formation more than disciples of the living Christ. So, beware of becoming “Bible-study-centered”. We tend to make meetings out of studies and compartmentalize them away from our daily lives.

Are you enjoying Christ today?

Missional Messiness

In a couple of our recent training sessions, we have been discussing the subject of missional hospitality. And, commonly, we hit the deep and scandalous topic of how clean should your house be when hosting other people?  On the surface, this does not seem like a problem until we start reflecting more on our motivations both for and against a cleaner casa.

Some Good Questions

welcome to our formerly clean houseHere are some of the questions we asked, and I might add that they are good conversation developers:

  1. How much cleaning is enough in our cultural context for people to feel at home and not be distracted? (for example, northern Italians are fastidiously clean by nature. Sometimes, this is greatly appreciated, and at other times, one can feel quite awkward.)
  2. How much cleaning is necessary to be tidy and yet not cross the line of presenting an artificial, sterilized, and even hypocritical version of ourselves?
  3. How much cleaning reflects a performance-to-impress attitude where we simply become Martha in our own home and miss all of the good worship of Jesus? Is genuine hospitality a dinner party or something much more familiar?
  4. How should we respond when the little humans (children-unleashed) make a mess or break something in our homes?
  5. Do other people know where you keep your utensils, serving items, and tools? And do they have access to them?

A Key Principle

Don’t allow grace and mission to be hindered over a standard of sanitation. Martha couldn’t choose ‘the better meal’ because she was hindered in her hospitality. And a Pharisee was revealed as a fool because he failed to clean his “house” properly; his mission was himself, not grace. Luke 11:37-41

In the ministry here (Serenissima), our Gospel communities are called LifeTeams. And because we are seeking to share more and more life together, a LifeTeam is all about making a missional mess. Often, Christian community is simply a mess-on-mission. Somehow when the mess comes, however, the graciousness of God is mysteriously revealed and people can rest their souls and feel more at home than in their own houses. And that’s the beginning of missional hospitality; the use of our homes as temples to God and not to ourselves.

So, how clean should our house be when hosting other people? As clean as necessary for Jesus to be seen. And that could mean letting the little humans be loved as little humans, as well as re-humbling ourselves in the whole idea of putting on a production when someone comes through our front door. For some (and we have experienced this too), it might mean a bit more effort to recognize the missional context of people with which they are working. With a nip of hyperbolic language here, leaving an un-emptied, cat-litter box in the middle of the room where you are sharing Christ — honestly — might be a distraction to some. It’s just an observation, but I don’t think I’m out of my sand-box on this one.

A Nip of Newbigin: Working as Kingdom Agents

…the preaching of the Church carries no weight if it does not come from a community in which the truth of what is preached is being validated (even though always imperfectly) in the life of the community…

L. NewbiginIn this article, we are covering the third of five points for what Lesslie Newbigin calls helpful points for the re-evangelization of Europe (read: secularized cultures).

Christian communities that live by the other story AND engage their cities around them have a big job to do, in that, they have to disciple and empower their members to be Kingdom Agents first — before members identify themselves as an employee of such-and-such company. Then, as KAs, they need to engage all of their work and the sectors of society as a people with this sacred identity.

Newbigin explains:

It will be a major part of the work of such congregations to train and enable members to act as agents of the Kingdom in the various sectors of public life where they work. This kind of ‘frontier’ work is very difficult… It must become a part of ordinary congregational life that members are enabled to think through and discuss the ways in which their Christian faith impinges on their daily life in their secular work.

Here is where there ought to be a discernible difference in behavior between those who live by the old story and those who live by the story the Bible tells. It ought at many points to lead to differences in behavior, to dissent from current practice, to questioning. And this, of course, will be the place where the counter questions arise. The Christian will be asked, ‘Why do you do this? Why do you behave like this?’ Here is where true evangelistic dialogue begins…  [Lesslie Newbigin: A Reader, p. 235]

Again, Newbigin is spot-on. My guess is that we engage with others at least 70% of our waking hours through the means of some type of work activity. However, we live by the Story 100% of the time. We need to remember that this story includes both a resurrected and ascended Lord. Since this Lord is alive and in authority, we engage each sector with this initial reality in mind. So, we can ask, How does a living and holy Lord impact the way that this job is done, the means of how we do this job, and the reasons and results of what we do?

As a church, we are not so much coming in to each place and telling Christians how they can do their jobs better or more efficiently. We may not have the technical expertise for that. However, we are seeking to tell them how their job is better when their true employer has changed. And, we are striving to align our approach to work to the cruciform story of the true King.

Here’s a real-world example: One of our members owns a hair salon. Recently, the member was sharing with me that a “division of life” was inculcated in their thinking years ago. They thought on one side they had their private, religious life. On the other side, they had their secular employment and means of making money, and neither the two should ever meet. Talk about work as much as you’d like at a “church setting” but don’t ever talk about God in a “work setting.”

Now, they are discovering the refreshing liberation from this heavy dualism of life. The member said to me, “For the first time, I’m realizing that God sent me right into this hair salon as his representative. It’s right here where I lovingly share that I have found one, true answer to the troubles I hear on these chairs. His name is Jesus.”

The people getting haircuts are not just clients. They are people Jesus loves. I guarantee that they are being introduced to his love in ways that they have never heard or thought of him before.

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.