Archives For Community

“I really miss the songs.” -Ex Church of Christ gay man talking on HBO Documentary about Leaving Church

“Wherever Two or Three are gathered, I will be with them.” -Jesus

1001863_665425030137520_597380408_n

I’m on study break for the month of July, but while I’m away I want to try and keep keep up with what is going on at Highland. Specifically, with the sermon series that Highland is going through.

This past Sunday Ben Siburt preached a great sermon on why church, the gathering of God’s people, is a sacred thing. Which is not something we talk about that much. Many of us grew up in homes where going to church was a given, we didn’t just go on Sunday mornings, we went every time the doors where open. In fact, that became a common saying to describe our family. It was the way we delinated between us and the pagan Sunday only crowd.

And then, we reacted to that legalistic view of checking off our God card. God didn’t care about us showing up to a particular building during a particular hour of the week, right?

_____

At the church I serve, there are several senior saints who are caring for their spouses in various stages of bad health. Some of them are dealing with some of the most tragic of diseases like Alzheimer’s, and yet these people show up every week to sing and pray and take communion with other saints and sinners who have gathered together. In a church the size of Highland, I don’t get to talk to everyone every Sunday, but I always try to talk to them.

Not just for their sake, but for mine.

Because I knew what it took for them to get here. I know that for them Sunday morning started a few hours earlier than it did for me. In order to get there on time, they had a thousand more things to accomplish before they could head out the door. But they do it, not out of some legalistic sense of earning God’s favor.

They do it because this is one of the most tangible way’s to experience God’s favor.

One of my favorite guys at Highland is caring for his wife through a particularly painful illness. And each time he comes in late, and has to leave early, but when I asked him if he would be interested in someone bringing communion to them, he told me, “No. I need to be there to shake some Christians hands.”

Which is an interested way to say that.

The Image Of God In Others

C.S. Lewis once said it this way:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Think about what he’s saying here. the people that we rush past the rest of the week, are on their way to becoming something more or less than they are now. And this is a reality that we are mostly blind to.

Except, sometimes at Church.

Orthodox Christians have, for over a thousand years, referred to the Assembly of God’s people as a Sacrament. That means it is something that God uses to infuse the sacred into the world.

That’s why my friend comes to church. He is watching his wife slip away slowly and surely, and he needs to be reminded of the presence of God in a world where it might not feel He’s that present. He needs to shake some Christian’s hands.

Every day, he is watching himself and his bride of many decades, become less. He needs to be reminded that ultimately they are on their way to becoming more.

Continue Reading...

inspireality-navy This month Inspi(re)altiy is dedicated for churches/ministers who are wanting to develop vision. I’ve asked my good preaching friend Steve Cloer to give some practical advice for what it means for a local church to develop a vision.

Steve is an incredible leader and preacher who works with the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth.  A couple of years ago, Steve and I were having lunch together and I asked him how ministry was going, and his eyes lit up talking about the new local medical clinic they were starting in their property. He’s passionate about serving the neighborhood, and just being a good local church. If you are interested in being a part of a church that serves the community than here’s some great practical advice on how to do it.

Meet my friend Steve:

A minister’s job is to be active and discerning in three spheres: God’s word, God’s people, and God’s world.  Alan Roxburgh suggests the image of a poet as a metaphor for a preacher.  A minister is called to discern all three spheres and weave together a vision based on what God has said, what the congregation is gifted to do, and what the world’s brokenness demands.  While this all sounds good, the practical problem is that ministers often get held up in the first two spheres, they never get to the third.  With sermons to write, lessons to prepare, the sick members to visit, and the hurting members to counsel, often there is not enough week left to actually get outside of the walls of the church building to spend time in God’s world.  Yet this is crucial.

If the church is going to be the instrument of God’s redemptive presence in a location, someone must be exploring that location, venturing out to see what is God is doing within the neighborhood.  I believe the preacher has that responsibility.

I have seen many examples of churches that were disconnected from its surrounding community.  My family was on a trip a couple of years ago and we decided to stop for worship services in a small, rural town off the Interstate.  I knew there was a congregation in this town, but I was unsure where it was.  To save time (and an argument), we stopped in a gas station to see where the location of the building was.  I asked one attendant if they knew where the Church of Christ was located.  She did not.  She asked a few others in the store: they did not either.  So they picked up the phone book to look for the address.  When she found it, she remarked, “Oh, that is right down the street!”  She was right.  Less than a half-mile away was the building, but no one in that store knew anything about it.  The adage of “If our church closed our doors, would anyone in the community care?” comes to mind.

Lesslie Newbigin suggests that the Spirit’s work in the world is the prevenient work of the kingdom of God.  There are occasions in Scripture where the Spirit is pointing the church out into the world in directions they were never thinking.  Acts 10 and 16 are great examples.  Peter never suspected to be in Cornelius’s house (a Gentile).  Paul never thought he would be taking a ship ride to Macedonia.  But the Spirit was pointing the way.  The Spirit is not just located within the church building.  It is in the house of the Gentile.  It is in Macedonia.  It is in the neighborhood.  The question is will we take the time to step out of our “church realm” to see what God is doing and seek to join Him?

But how does one do this?  Let me offer some practical suggestions on how a preacher can venture into this third realm, discerning the Spirit’s work in the world and the opportunities to be a blessing to the community.

First, take the position of a learner.  Focus in on the immediate neighborhood surrounding your church building.  Then decide you will learn as much as you can about that area.  A preacher told me one time about a visit with Ray Bakke in Chicago.  Bakke took him and his colleagues around to see the city.  He “exegeted” Chicago for them and afterwards, the preacher remarked that after learning what he did about the city, he was ready to minister there.  It is hard to be a blessing in a location, if one does not know the location.  Take some time every week to do just that: get a tour of nearby hospitals, meet up with business leaders, see if the city has a guided tour, visit colleges and talk to administrators, meet with school principals.  You will be surprised how impressed these leaders will be that a preacher cares to learn about what they do and their city.

Second, find some kind of neighborhood organization that you can be a part of.  Typically, in every city there are different organizations that seek to bless, build, or revitalize the city.  It could be a civic club, a neighborhood association, a business group, or something else.  A good rule of thumb I use is if I am only the minister present in this organization, then I am probably in the right place (obviously this principle does not always apply!).  But I am a part of two neighborhood revitalization groups.  Routinely, I am the only minister present along with bankers, real estate investors, business owners, residents, and other leaders.  Immediately respect for our church went up because they could see we were interested in the neighborhood.  But also, through these avenues, partnerships have been created to bless our community.  Regularly, businesses contribute to various compassionate ministries of our church.  Neighbors have volunteered in some of our ministries.  I was asked to sit on a board of a development fund to help low-income areas.  The list goes on and on.  At one meeting, I was telling one person about an upcoming ministry outreach to the area our church was doing, and he committed on the spot to give me a significant amount of money to help the cause.  When the neighborhood finds out the church cares, they will join with the church in accomplishing God’s vision for the city.

Finally, beware of demographics.  Often when someone thinks about getting to know their neighborhood, they immediately think of doing a demographic survey of the area.  There are different groups that will help do this for a fee.  I have done this.  The results are sitting in my office collecting dust.  Numbers can help provide an overview of the area, but they are not as powerful as narratives.  It is far more motivating to mention in your sermon about the middle school nearby that you visited where 90% of the children are low-income and many come from unchurched homes.  Or to tell about the conversation that you had with a community leader who desperately desires justice in the neighborhood but is unsure how to make it happen.  Or to describe the apartment complex that you visited in the neighborhood where a single mother has no bed, no food, and no hope.  These stories help the congregation not only get a picture of the neighborhood, but it stirs their heart to join God in His mission within the neighborhood.

A minister cannot be all things to all people.  He cannot know everything about the Bible, counsel every member, or help everyone in the neighborhood.  Boundaries are critical, especially in this third sphere.  But if a minister can bridge the three areas, God’s word, God’s people, and God’s world, and be able to articulate the intersections to the congregations, then, as Roxburgh suggests, the poet comes forth and the preacher is able to lead the congregation to discern how they might be the instrument of God’s redemption in that neighborhood.

On October 16, 2012

A Graceless World

Andy Stanley says that the greatest casualty in most of our churches is grace. It’s hard to extend grace to people who don’t seem to need it, and it’s really hard to admit you will need it when you don’t think you will receive it. I don’t believe that everyone is entitled to their own pet sin, or that we can’t say certain behaviors are wrong. But what I am saying is that we need to create communities, we need to create worlds, where no matter what, whoever you are, we accept you.

Continue Reading...
On October 9, 2012

The Sin We Shouldn’t Judge

A lot of times we judge others out of a failure to understand and accept the Gospel in our own lives. We judge like God is the angry bear we are running away from, we don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than the next guy. A lot of times we judge as if God grades on the curve. As if God is running a beauty pageant.

Continue Reading...
On September 23, 2012

A Generous Confrontation

I know that there are plenty of stories about Christians coming to other Christians with a spirit of condemnation and smug self-rigteousness. I’ve had it happen to me, and I bet you have too. But don’t use the abuse of something good to write off it’s use in healthy ways. And I think that’s why Jesus gives some of his most practical straight forward teaching on how to do this. He wants us to be generous with how we confront.

Continue Reading...
On September 18, 2012

The Symphony of Grace

For anyone who is about to confront someone, I think it’s important to remember that in every single instance in the Gospels when Jesus is approached by a religious person and a sinner. The sinner connects to him and the religious person doesn’t. Because if you are confronting a brother or sister out of a sense of entitlement or pride, chances are you aren’t the right person to talk to them. Because there’s a chance you might not understand the Gospel.

Continue Reading...
On September 11, 2012

Everyday Restoration Movements

One of the ways Paul talks about church discipline is to gently restore. I like that phrase. The word gently is actually a word for meekness, and this is the part I think we Christians miss the most. We approach these difficult conversations with ultimatums and power plays and, all too often, quite a bit of self-righteousness. But for Paul, the way we confront might actually be a sin.

Continue Reading...
On September 4, 2012

A People of Maybe

At the heart of Christian Theology is what we call sin. It is the human condition, and a huge chunk of it is our incredible capacity to deceive ourselves and be totally unaware of it. We can be incredibly arrogant, prideful, smug creatures who are capable of both great harm and great good. And that’s why we need both community and humility.

Continue Reading...
On August 28, 2012

The Agony of Judgment

Almost everytime I see a brother or sister who is doing something that I think they are going to regret in the long run, I have a kind of internal dialogue. Should I tell them, should I just be present to help them pick up the pieces when they crash? Should I lovingly confront, or just do damage control after the fact? And the reason that I sometimes don’t approach them is because I am terrified. There have been times that I was about to talk to someone and started having a near panic attack. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Continue Reading...
On August 15, 2012

After The Smoke Clears

A few years ago, I sat down with someone who I loved a whole lot, they knew I loved them, and they loved me. We had been friends for years, we had laughed, cried and lived life together. But over the course of the past few weeks and months I had noticed that my friend had been making choices that were becoming more and more destructive and refusing to take responsibility for the outcomes. He was headed down a path that almost everyone who loved him knew was going somewhere toxic…the only problem was he couldn’t see it.

Continue Reading...