The True Measure of Greatness

Dear Jesus of Nazareth,

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff’s opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee, place personal interests above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel it our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and particularly Simon the Zealot have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale. Thaddaeus is definitely sensitive, but he wants to make everyone happy.

On of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

Greatness starts with a heart hopelessly in love with God. That is the true measure of greatness!

Source: “The Apostle” by Gene A. Getz, pg 3-4

Rethinking the Small Group Focus

Small groups within a church are clearly a great way to develop disciples. Within these groups are great opportunities to grow intimate relationships with other believers. These growing relationships can demonstrate the love, compassion, support, and encouragement found within the body of Christ. However, these attributes will not be seen or experienced by those needing Christ unless our small groups invite those without Christ to become a part of the group.

As a small group family grows closer, fears can begin to arise about bringing others into the group. The end result is a small group that is organized to meet “our need” for friendship, spiritual growth, encouragement, and support. These are not bad in themselves; however, when we limit them to “our group” then we have become a private club, not Christ-followers seeking to make disciples. Disciples should focus on personal growth, but a growth which equips them to be better disciple makers.

Logan Gentry shines a bright light on the need of small groups to get past their fears of growing in his post, “Community on Mission with Depth of Intimacy.”

Gentry writes:

 Small groups have become a staple in the American church as a way of cultivating friendships, developing community, and encouraging spiritual formation. Pastors and other small group leaders often cite Acts 2:42-47 as the model for such community devoted to God and devoted to one another through shared time, resources, and space. But there is growing sentiment for small groups to fulfill the rest of that passage—God adding to their numbers daily—by extending the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers.

We love to study the Scriptures and discuss the glorious truth of the gospel with one another, and we enjoy spending time with fellow believers. Yet we’re often fearful and uneasy about what will happen if we invite people who do not believe as we do into these environments. What will happen to our intimacy? What will happen to our deep community?

I worried about the same things when church leaders first asked me to transition my community group toward an outreach focus. Now, as a pastor seeking to foster community, I’m encouraging others to transition their groups, and they’re reacting with the same skepticism. One particularly apprehensive community group pushed back hard during a couple tense lunches. They feared the destruction of their friendships and community developed over the last three years as a closed group. This community group was the reason they stayed at our church—even stayed in our city.

We all desire to be known in community, to have friendships with people we trust and enjoy. We long for a community like the one described in Romans 12:15 that rejoices when we rejoice and grieves when we grieve. But what if intimacy and community isn’t the end goal of small groups?

When Jesus Blew Up the Small Group Model

While most small groups aim to develop and maintain Christian community, Christ himself built a community around him that reflected a different goal. The group aimed to exalt God among believers and non-believers alike. They sought to spread worship and enjoyment of God above all things.

As I read the Scriptures alongside books like Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch, and others, I began to discover what the community groups I led were missing. Our community wasn’t a failure, but it was incomplete. Community had become an end to our mission rather than the context for it. We had embraced the blessings and transformation of the gospel as a community, but we did not seek to extend these benefits to others. I came to realize we needed to radically redefine our purpose for small groups.

We often seek to develop intimacy through conversation, confession, and prayer within a small group that grows together with time and trust. Burt actually, we tend to form our lasting friendships through shared experiences, shared time, and shared mission. This insight reflects what we see in Scripture with Jesus and his disciples along with the early church. Luke 10 show us Jesus opening up and sharing his compassionate mission with his disciples. They celebrate together when the disciples return from mission. The relationship between mission and community extends throughout the book of Acts.

In my own life, as my community has taken a concern for the people in my life who I desire to know Christ and follow him with their lives, our relationships have gone deeper. Our conversations no longer center on the surface level of catching up on activities since we’ve last seen one another. When they ask about the things I love the most (God and people), I feel more cared for and connected, because these friends reveal that they know my heart and share my compassion and mission for others.

The same thing happened in our church’s community groups that initially resisted change. Over the first year of the transition, they began opening their community and inviting co-workers, neighbors, and even their doorman. Their community began to grow to beyond capacity. Six months later, during a training meeting, another community group leader expressed the same concern about destroying community by expanding the group. I asked one of the other leaders to answer. “We were expecting it to hurt our friendships,” he said, “but it was the exact opposite.”

This moment felt almost scripted, but it was joyful to see the truths of Scripture and the promises of God lived out in our midst. It was a powerful celebration of God’s work as we fought through the fears and apprehensions to value the gospel of Jesus Christ more than our conception of community.

How Does This Work Out?

Practically, this shift does not require the community to sacrifice their conversation, confession, or prayer together, but it may realign the context and focus. Often we seek to cram Bible study, discussion, confession, and prayer into a two-hour block on a weeknight, which usually means one of them gets sacrificed (often prayer because we this time will lead to drawn-out requests).

Instead, we may develop gender-specific, Christ-centered accountability groups outside our regularly scheduled small group meeting. This may seem like an additional burden, but it’s part of approaching your regular life with more intentionality. I’ve often heard it said that you don’t have to do different things, but do things differently. Jeff Vanderstelt of Soma Communities describes this as living ordinary life with gospel intentionality.

Many small groups have only a façade of intimacy because they do not help members reach friends and neighbors they want to know Christ. A small group that reflects the focus of the Acts community to love God, one another, and others becomes a community on mission with depth of intimacy.

Thriving In Storms of Persecution

Have you ever had a time in your life when it seems wave after wave of oppression, affliction, and persecution are crashing around you? Have you ever felt as though the relentless waves of torment have drained you of strength? Are you fearful that the next wave may be the one that sweeps you out to sea with no hope of ever finding yourself safe on shore again?

If we do not take the proper precautions as Christians, it is easy to find ourselves floundering in a sea of spiritual uncertainty.  We struggle to stay grounded as the waves hammer against us.

In Acts 5:12-42, we will learn a few lessons on Thriving in Storms of Persecution. Please join us at Living Oaks Baptist Church Sunday, January 15, at 10:45 a.m. as we study to become better equipped to endure the storms of life.

Consumerism’s Affect on Christianity

“Consumerism’s Affect on Christianity?” What in the world does that even mean?  I know that’s what some of you are thinking.  Merriam-Webster defines consumerism as, “the promotion of the consumer’s interests.” In other words, it is putting out a product that creates a desire within the consumer which in turn leads them to purchase or be drawn to specific merchandise. We see it all the time with commercials or bill boards. Companies are trying to get us to spend our money on their product.  They want us to think that this will make our lives better. “It is all about you!  Have it your way. You deserve the best.  You work hard for your money; do something special for you.”

Consumerism has made its way into every aspect of life.  If you’re not happy in your marriage, don’t worry about your commitment—just get out and find someone better.  If you don’t think you are ready for a baby or that you’re not going to be a very good parent, just have an abortion. We live in a world where it is all about “Me!” Whatever is best for me is what I should pursue.  I deserve to have my best life now, and anything that gets in my way needs to be removed.

Graceway MediaSadly, consumerism has made its way into the church. The church doesn’t have the ministry we like, so instead of helping start the ministry we go to another church where it already exists.  We don’t like the type of music the church sings, so we go find a style we prefer–traditional, contemporary, blended, or even country and western!

Consumerism’s effect on the church has been devastating.  Church, or better yet Christianity, is no longer about being crucified with Christ, sacrificing, or putting others ahead of yourself.  It has become, “If you don’t entertain me and meet my needs then I will find another church.” On any given Sunday there are thousands of people changing churches like stations on the radio because their needs or desires were not being met.

For many, church has become just like going to the movies in that we expect to be entertained. Where did we ever get the idea church is about our entertainment? When a group of Christians gather together it is to be in worship of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When we gather, we have an audience of one—JESUS! It not about making sure the music, the decorations, the pastor, the sermon, the version of the Bible, or anything else is entertaining or making us feel better about ourselves.  It is all about worship.  The Bible study and sermon should equip you to emulate Christ, do the work of ministry, and reveal sin.  Church is not for your entertainment!

In their book “Renovation of the ChurchKent Carlson and Mike Lueken talk about taking a church from being all about entertainment to focusing on making disciples. Here are a couple of quotes from the book:

  • “Every  aspect of the time we spend together in the worshiping Christian community influences the kind of people we are becoming.” In other  words, our worship services will form us into a certain kind of person.   If our worship services are centered on the story of God, we will  be assisted in becoming men and women whose lives are more deeply  rooted in God. If our worship services are centered around our personal tastes, needs and desires, they will become merely another  place that props up our inherent self-absorption.” (Kindle location 1673-75).
  • “The cultivation of consumer spirituality is  the antithesis of a sacrificial, “deny yourself” congregation. A  consumer church is an antichrist church” (Kindle location 755).
  • “When we place our sincerity and wholeheartedness at the center of our worship, the content of our worship will  drift toward how well we are doing with our wholehearted worship.  The danger is that worship will gradually become a performance.  Rather than being centered on the story of God, worship is centered  on the intensity of our sincerity and devotion” (Kindle location 1719).
  • “Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their  leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance. Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them. Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject. But when we are  securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it  will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without  being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative” (Kindle location 1829).

Clearly this book is not a call to entertainment, but developing a heart that longs to worship God in every aspect of our life. Worship services should be about worshipping God, delivering His message no matter how uncomfortable or unpopular, and to equip the saints to be grounded in truth and do the work of ministry.

I would challenge you to read this book and examine your motives for attending church.