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?

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If I Open My Window, You Open Your Door

It’s a nice church, but it’s not somewhere I feel that I could really bring my friends or colleagues. It’s over their heads, they’ll get bored, and they may even walk out. I don’t think I want to risk all the awkwardness.”A window from the local village of Polcenigo

What a frequently painful comment to hear about a church. And yet, it’s an accurate comment albeit a general one. I have heard this expression in numerous places that I have been, have you? (members of Serenissima are not permitted to answer that!)

How did we (the church in general) get to the place where our own people would not want their friends, colleagues, and neighbors to share in the joy that has transformed their lives? Jesus basically said the world will know that he is God and sent by the Father just by how we love one another, but many don’t even want others to meet their church family.

When a congregation arrives at that point, whose fault is it? Is it the pastors’ fault? Or the people’s fault for thinking like that? I think it’s both and I offer a start to reduce the emphasis on this over-emphasized clergy-laity divide where we should all be living missionally in our respective roles:

Pastors’ Fault!

I was listening to a pastor’s consultation held in England a few years ago. Tim Keller was speaking along with many others about how our preaching needs to be missional. In other words, is our teaching only for the faithful? He said something timely along these lines, “You should preach to your congregation as if your city is listening-in through the windows and one day they’ll be in the seats.” At the very least, this begins to evaporate an us vs. them language and mindset. The truth is that as we gather in our congregations, it’s an all-of-us before God reality.

One of my personal preaching questions is, “What if I were sharing this message with my entire province? — because I am. Is it clear, faithful, applicable, and grace-full? Will they be able to see & start to understand Christ in their current cultural ways of thinking?” Asking this question among others is me learning how to open the windows. And I live in Italia… hello, this is not an easy question to answer! However, we really must strive to speak both to our people and their friends. If we preach with closed windows (the “us”, the faithful), our people will simply not be missional and we’ll just stick them into “small groups” without ever mentioning that we even have small groups. What we as preachers are really communicating is that we hope our people will just magically understand and “get it.” Then, they will turn into sacrificial, missional Christians and we will be able to say, “See, we told you all along.”

People’s Fault!

And yet, Gospel-listeners must be diligent actors or the sum-total of their Christian maturity will be sermon-tasting. One of the greatest apologetics that we have to show the power and reality of King Jesus is the compassionate treatment of one-another in his name. Jesus said it this way, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

So, there is our mandate, our new commandment. Be around one another in such a way that people who haven’t met Jesus yet can clearly see him. And the best place to do that is in the place where you are who you are the most — your home.

Frankly, people will taste more of what it means to be a Christian through our homes and how we live our lives than in a formal church meeting. Are our doors open? Do we allow our homes to be the church so that people can meet Jesus? If we live with closed doors, then the preaching we hear will turn into information-passing because people will never be able to experience the reality of the church as they can’t see it being lived before them.

Can you see the sad cycle? Pastors who preach with closed windows point the finger at the people with closed doors who have come to expect pastors to teach comfortable, closed-up messages — and thousands of people neither hear nor see the King of all while we blink at each other.

So, if I open my window, then you open your door.  Deal?

With love,  Portiere Rob

Stir the Beans – Pray Together

Sherlock Holmes “had his man” and was just about to reveal to Watson who the culprit was when he froze, literally. My wife paused the YouTube movie and exclaimed, “Hold that thought, I gotta’ stir the beans.” The delicious perfume of what proved to be a high-octane, bean soup was wafting from our kitchen through the city. One minute longer, and the aroma would have ceased to be a pleasing perfume. Are you catching my drift? In every good minestra, you have to stir the beanseven when murder hangs in the balance!

When cooking-up church life together, it holds true that we will neither have mission nor discipleship without prayer. Prayer is missional and to be missional means praying. Discipleship is also soaked in prayer.

Serenissima Prayer Wheel InitiativeFrom the above illustration, it follows that sitting beans are burnt beans. So, my challenge is simply mix-it-up and release the flavors. Whether in triads or small teams or through prayer initiatives as a corporate body, strive to practice various and creative times of communal prayer. Try to pray as much with others as you do alone.

Right now at Serenissima, our ministry is holding one of our annual prayer initiatives. It’s called The 10 Days of Prayer (more info here) and lasts until the 27th of May. Basically, we as a church body cover the clock in prayer; 24 hours each day for 10 days. We do this by having people volunteer to pray for 1 specific hour of their choosing for each day. We also provide a prayer guide which is full of requests and helps for prayer.

This has been a fabulous way to stir-up prayer in our midst! Yes, it’s important to pray on our own, continuously (1 Thess. 5:17). However, we really turn the heat up in our devotion when we are in a group of 30-50 people, all on mission, passing the prayer baton hour-by-hour, and sharing our insights and experiences. To put it simply, our church — our holy minestrone — needs this right now.

Why, it’s elementary, my dear Watson — stir the beans!

hours for prayer

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.

Hardwired for Small Groups

Globe_culture_making

Here’s a quote pulled right out of a good book that I’d recommend by Andy Crouch called Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling:

“Anthropologists speculate, in fact that we are hardwired for small groups–that human beings are simply designed to operate in a village, even if that village exists in the midst of a vast metropolis or on computer servers that host a million other villages simultaneously…

…every cultural innovation, no matter how far-reaching its consequences, is based on personal relationships and personal commitment. Culture making is hard. It simply doesn’t happen without the deep investment of absolutely and relatively small groups of people. In culture making, size matters — in reverse. Only a small group can sustain the attention, energy and perseverance to create something that genuinely moves the horizons of possibility…To create a new cultural good, a small group is essential. And yet the almost uncanny thing about culture making is that a small group is enough.”

— pages 242-243

In this closing section of his book, Crouch shares the genius behind the model that Jesus utilized of gathering the groups of 3, 12, and 120. I couldn’t help but think of the role that this pattern plays when it comes to the development of the church and its always-new, redeemed culture of a city-on-a-hill. Crouch makes some brilliant insights in the book, and if you’d like a copy, you just need to click on the picture of the globe in this post to order one.

The Meeting Fixation

Circleofchairs
I recently posted about thepulpit fixationwhere churches practice the great majority of their ministry from the pulpit — to the exclusion of operational Christian community. In this post, my thought goes to another ministry extreme that we’ve encountered among small groups. That tendency is to say that as long as we have “small or home group meetings” all of the ministry is being done through those meeting times. And that leads us to this important point: what we have is a meeting fixation to the exclusion of life lived together in Christian community.

The benefit of small group meetings is that they are another opportunity along-the-way of missional community life that is lived all week long. The default tendency is to put all of the emphasis onto the event of the meeting and to load all of the ministry into a 2-3 hour block of time together. NO, beware of doing that. Jesus is the King, not an event or program we’re running.

Again, the small, gospel community meeting at a home is meant to give people a friendly, family-time with Jesus. We can think of it as a rally point within the week that intentionally eats and shares both the Word and life together. Another way to say this is that a small group meeting is one of the numerous ways that we share life together throughout the week — not the only way. A meeting can richly assist our relationships to grow more deeply, but it is too short to have the necessary face-to-face and foot-washing time that spiritual friendships really need. Our friendships and Christian communities need the Bible coursing through them in a thousand different ways.

Family Minestra

Ciao!


When one of my friends in our ministry saw that I was starting this blog, she wrote and exclaimed, “LOVE it. So great- can’t wait for you to spill your beans on the screen. 🙂 ”    Well said. What might look like good soup to me, in reality, is probably just a mess of spilled beans on the screen. I’m still encouraged, however, because I know there’s at least one who doesn’t mind me spilling beans.


So, let’s start cooking (or spilling) here through Holy Minestrone. Thanks for reading and please feel free to reply or comment. Cooking with friends makes the kitchen really enjoyable. Just ask my wife — I keep her company while she does the cooking all the time.


Family Minestra (soup)


I wanted to share a quote that stuck with me since the time I read it in 1996. The church is the family of God, and the family is the church of God. It is a simple thought with a depth of truth. The author was speaking about how Jesus is a real person and if we have his mind, it will impact our church structures. Here is a little more of the author’s context:


Church structure must be compatible with this personal emphasis. Structures should bring people face-to-face with Jesus Christ as responsible persons…Obviously, this will require a proper accent on one-to-one relationships in the Christian community…a whole glorious web of believer-to-believer relationships…small groups are necessary to provide opportunity and stimulus for such relationships… [And] In a sense, the Christian home is one of the structures of the church. In God’s intent, the church is the family of God and the family is the church of God. We must rethink the family on the basis of the biblical understanding of the Body of Christ. [H. Snyder, Radical Renewal, p. 112]


I’ve never heard Christian believers say, “I just want to be deeply connected and involved in a lousy church.” No. The opposite is true. We all say, “I want to be in a great church!” But often, we get the program confused with the mission. So, what’s the secret ingredient to being a part of a great church?


Christian community begins at home. Great churches are made through redeemed homes. If a home is passionate about Jesus, his presence fills that family and makes it his church. Really, the one, must-have ingredient of any church is the magnified presence of Jesus. And, if Jesus can be encountered like that in your home, the front door of your house becomes the front door of his church. I think Jesus even claims to be the Door to where we family (John 10:7,9).


The redeemed, Jesus-filled family — there’s just no other recipe like it on Earth.

 

Upcoming: a book recommendation & more beans on the screen.