Aug 302012
 

community fishing 2I don’t think we get evangelism quite right in our churches. We tend to think of evangelism as something that evangelists do. They love telling people about Jesus, they seem to be quite good at it so we tend to let them get on with it. If we do have somebody who shows an interest we often wait until the next outreach Sunday and invite them to come along to listen to our evangelist speaker. Or we wait for the next Alpha course to begin and pack our interested friend off to have a meal and discussion with another evangelist. I am not knocking evangelists – they do a fantastic job! No, if this is your mentality then I’m knocking you! This mentality is basic laziness. (And before you get indignant, I include myself among the lazy ones!).

I think there is a better way. You won’t be surprised to learn (especially if you have been following this series) that the most effective way to reach people is through community. We still need evangelists but if you think of a community as an arrow, evangelists are the sharp arrow point, but the body of the arrow is made up of the rest of the community working together to reach souls for Jesus.

Let’s remind ourselves what the great commission is:

“…Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age…” (Matthew 28 v 18-20).

This command is for every Christian. It is our privilege to be involved in Gods mission and He has equipped us with everything we need. I believe that every one of us should be able to lead somebody to Christ and be able to present the gospel (see my previous post on ‘giving the gospel’). As it says in 1 Peter 3 v 15 “… Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”. I am not saying we should all be evangelists, rather that we should not negate our responsibility. On the other hand however evangelists are very effective at winning souls, so working in partnership as ‘fishing in community’ we will all be even more effective.

Ok, it’s that time in my blog when I produce another list. I find it much easier to gather my thoughts in bullet points and so in no particular order I’ve gathered a few thoughts about how we can reach our friends and families through community:

  • By praying together. We need to start praying for each others’ friends, families or co-workers. In this way as they are introduced into your community you will be more eager to meet and get to know them because you already have an interest in them.
  • There is no pressure. Jesus wins people, we just introduce them to Him and tell them how great He is. Easy!!
  • We need to be adaptable. The apostle Paul said “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9 v 22). Reaching out to people means meeting them where they are at.
  • There is huge power in testimony or telling your story. In a community we already know each others’ stories, so if we meet somebody with a similar story we can introduce them. (For instance somebody you meet may be struggling with an illness and somebody in your community has already been through the same thing – this can give hope and encouragement and create a real connection).
  • It is really important that people see we are ‘normal’. People have all sorts of strange misconceptions about what Christians are like. When they step into our communities they should see great friendship, interaction and a genuine love and respect among us.
  • It makes a huge difference to the world when they see Christians loving each other with genuine care and concern “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133 v 1). Every person needs good community, it is what God has put into each one of us and He wants His church to model what it should be like.
  • People are not trophies. We need to genuinely love them whether they respond or not. They will see through any shallowness.
  • Throw a party! Jesus loved going to parties and loving people, so much so that the religious people called him a drunkard and a glutton! (Matthew 11 v 19).

Let’s get out into our communities and get involved in the great commission. There is a wonderful sense of security and comfort in doing it together, and joining in the great celebration of heaven when even one sinner repents. Let’s go for it!!

 August 30, 2012  Posted by at 9:03 pm Community, The gospel No Responses »
Aug 222012
 

worship togetherThe bible is a very large book with many themes, but its underlying message is that God created us to have a relationship with Him. God reveals himself as a loving Father who has brought us into his family. Throughout the bible we see expressions of this fact, starting with God calling Abraham and through him the people of Israel, culminating in the wonderful end-time gathering of a multitude of people from every tribe, tongue and nation coming together as God’s family before God’s throne in glorious worship. It says in 1 Peter 2 v 9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…”

We can enjoy wonderful times of intimate worship with God on our own, but we must also remember that we have been designed to worship God together in community. There is no higher calling than to come together as God’s family (the church) and worship God together, experiencing the intimacy and the awesome privilege of what we have been brought into. The most common translation of ‘church’ in the New Testament is from the Greek word ‘Ekklesia’ meaning ‘gathered assembly of God’s people’.

We probably all know this in theory, however when it comes to putting it into practice we can often think of better things to do than attend a time of worship together in our communities. I have already mentioned Hebrews 10 v 25 in at least a couple of my previous posts: “…not to give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing…” Not worshipping together is a habit we can very easily get into. As we desire to grow in our Christian walk and our love for Jesus, let us commit to the design that God initiated and meet as a community together to worship, read God’s word, break bread and pray.

I would like to end with a few thoughts as we consider what we do when we gather together:

  • We come together to build one another up and encourage each other. The bible verse that God has blessed you with this week may be just the verse that someone else needs to hear. Your unique gifts and talents will also bless others just as their gifts bless you. It’s good to personally seek God before attending a meeting and ask him for a contribution that you can bring. Don’t just turn up passively hoping that God will speak.
  • We reflect on the grace of God as we celebrate together and recognise what an amazing thing God has done in each one of our lives.
  • We experience God’s forgiveness as we come before Him without accusation, free to come into his presence because of what Jesus has done. As we realise what God has done for us, we can much more easily forgive others for the wrongs they have done to us.
  • We break bread together, again remembering what Jesus has done through his own sacrifice, allowing us to be united with the Father and to enjoy fellowship with those around us.
  • We remember that we are a family together regardless of background, colour or culture, drawn together before the Father of us all.
  • We are reminded of where we once were, where we are now and of our glorious destiny to come. We are all at different stages of the journey but God has promised to not let us go, continuing to work on us and with us. In the words of that great old hymn “…’tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home”.
  • Corporate prayer as we come together is very powerful. We can achieve great victories as we seek God’s will and agree in prayer together, giving a unified ‘amen’ as we believe God to work in our lives and in the lives of those around us and beyond.
 August 22, 2012  Posted by at 8:19 pm Uncategorized 2 Responses »
Aug 122012
 

Fellowship 1This is now my fourth blog in my series on Christian Community. I hope you are finding it useful and that it has inspired you to think about how you can get more involved with the Christian community you are part of, or indeed if you are not in one, to take the plunge and plug yourself in somewhere. Don’t look for somewhere perfect- it doesn’t exist. Look for somewhere you can serve and grow.

During my study of this subject I came across a couple of chapters in Rick Warrens book “The Purpose driven life” which I have found very useful. He shares 9 characteristics of biblical fellowship which I have listed below, adding my own comments and further scripture references:

  • Authenticity – Authentic fellowship is ‘hearts on your sleeves’ honesty. It goes beyond the surface level to a genuine opening up of feelings, doubts and weaknesses. It says to each other “I need your help and I’m prepared to be real with you to get it.”But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1 v 7-8).
  • Mutuality – This where a community develops the art of giving and receiving, those great verses of ‘one-anothering’ as mentioned in a previous post; each one depending upon each other; all of us having something to contribute “…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:25). Also “…that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”. (Romans 1:12). You are not responsible for everyone in your community, but you are responsible to them.
  • Sympathy – Sympathy is not just giving advice or offering a little pat on the back and some nice words, but entering into and sharing someone else’s pain. It’s carrying each other’s burdens. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”. (Galatians 6:2). Sympathy meets two fundamental human needs; the need to be understood and the need to have your feelings validated. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12).
  • Mercy – Community should be a place of grace. It happens when mercy wins over justice. We all need to give and receive mercy because we have all made mistakes and continue to make mistakes. You cannot have true fellowship without forgiveness and if we don’t have forgiveness, bitterness and resentment will destroy true community. God’s mercy towards us is the motivation for us to be merciful to each other. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13).
  • Honesty – We need to care enough to speak into each others’ lives. It is not loving to let people continue in their sin without lovingly correcting them. Ephesians 4 verse 15 talks about ‘speaking the truth in love’. It also says in Galatians 6 verse 1 “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently”. Real fellowship depends on frankness. We grow closer by facing and resolving our differences. “Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favour, rather than one who has a flattering tongue.” (Proverbs 28 v 23). There is a way to rebuke lovingly which is set out very nicely in 1 Timothy 5 v 1-2 “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
  • Humility – Pride builds walls, humility builds bridges. The bible exhorts us to clothe ourselves with humility or God will oppose us. (1 Peter 5 v 5). That’s a scary thought! Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.
  • Courtesy – Being in community we need to be courteous to one another, respecting our differences, being considerate of each others’ feelings and being patient. We are a family and we belong to each other. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves”. (Romans 12 v 10). It’s a loving thing to take time to discover each others’ histories and see where we are coming from.
  • Confidentiality – Our community needs to be safe and we need to trust each other. Trust allows people to open up and share their deepest hurts, needs and mistakes. This means no gossip-God hates it!! (Proverbs 6). What is said in the group, stays in the group.
  • Frequency – To build fellowship you need to invest time to meet regularly. True relationships take time as trust is built up. I have already quoted previously the command to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10 v 25). When we do meet, true fellowship is found not just when we talk to each other but when we take the time to actually listen to what others are saying. It means meeting together even when we don’t feel like it. Many are the times I have considered not going to a meeting because I haven’t felt like it, but I am nearly always blessed when I do.

If you are already in a community, why not get together with the other members and see if you can agree to make a commitment to improving each one of these 9 characteristics. You will be glad that you do!

 August 12, 2012  Posted by at 2:51 pm Uncategorized 5 Responses »
Aug 012012
 

loving fellowshipIn my last blog we looked at the word “koinonia”, signifying a sense of community, fellowship, sharing together and the very important concept of ‘one-anothering’. I finished the last blog with the verse “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13 v 34-35). Love is central to Christianity and our fellowship together. The bible says “The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Galatians 5 v 14).

This may be an obvious statement but we cannot practice community and show love on our own; we need other people. The bible says; And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10 v 24-25).

Meeting with other Christians is not always easy. People can be irritating, imperfect, frustrating and frankly quite annoying. It seems that Jesus delights to put people in our communities who ‘rub us up the wrong way’. This is actually a GOOD thing!! It enables us to grow in faith and character and is a means of sanctification (being made more like Jesus). We are in danger of becoming self-absorbed if left on our own. Being with other Christians means we are forced to consider each other and often have to do things we don’t necessarily want to. It may be extremely irritating but this is in God’s great plan to smooth off our rough edges.

So now assuming we are actually meeting together (some even fall at this first hurdle!); how can we serve one another?

I have mentioned in a previous blog that God has given each one of us gifts that we are to use in order to help one another. These can be spiritual: words of knowledge and wisdom; teaching; healing; even leading worship. But we also have practical gifts of service, helps and encouragement. We all have at least one of these gifts and nobody (except Jesus) has all of them, so every time we meet together we all have something to contribute for the benefit of everyone.

Let’s look at a super practical example. When Liz and I got married, the church community helped us on our wedding day in many different ways; by preparing and serving food, doing music and PA, setting out the rooms; a myriad of jobs that mostly we didn’t even pay for. We enjoyed the benefits of belonging to a community – we had gladly served at many weddings before ours, now it was our turn to be blessed. A few years later we were blessed again as our children were born and we received delicious meals from our wonderful community to help us through those difficult early days of parenthood. We would have missed out on all these blessings if we had not been part of a community into which we were also contributing.

There are many creative ways in which you can be a blessing to your community: Look for a need and find a way to meet it (this may involve asking others). A favourite phrase of ours that shapes the way Liz and I minister is from Ecclesiastes 9 v 10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” I say “phrase” because the rest of the verse is somewhat depressing, (and it may be taken slightly out of context), but hopefully the sentiment is understood!

In all of our serving and caring for one another, without even noticing it, we are being a witness to the world. We are like pieces of a puzzle; when we are connected to the other pieces the world will say “wow, what a beautiful picture”, but they will only see this picture when all the pieces are fitted in together!

I would love to have your comments on ways you have been blessed in the church community or how you have been involved with blessing others. It would be great too, to have some of your ideas of ways we can contribute to our community.

 August 1, 2012  Posted by at 7:00 am Uncategorized 4 Responses »