I have been in Huntsville all day with my friend and church planter David Kaufmann at an Acts 29 Network Conference called “Gospel Communities on Mission”. The main them of the conference is either how to begin a Gospel Community or how to move your church’s small group ministry from a cluster of glorified Bible Studies to communities of disciples that are highly committed to the Gospel, mission, and ministry. The high light so far for me today has been a breakout session discussion with Paul Whaley and Mark Sellars called “Doing Missional Communities in the South”.
Paul is the lead pastor of Summit Crossing Church and Mark is the Gospel Communities pastor there as well. Both are southern boys trying to practice the Gospel life and Community in a land full of churches, the churched, and large proportions of de-churched people. They spoke about the disconnect in southern people who often profess faith but do not have a life that matches their profession. This disconnect is one I have often ran into as I minister, to youth especially, in Nashville, Tn. Why is there such a disconnect? What is it that we in the south are missing about the Gospel. Well, they outlined three Gospel pieces that are extremely important for the church to really get a hold of, if we are going to be what God has called and equipped us to be.
The first word they used is family. Now, the word family is a word that can cause a lot of tension and disagreement in and of itself. After all the word family is not a pleasant word for those that suffered under abuse and mistreatment in their original family unit. For others the word family means we spend every evening together, go on vacations together, and generally do stuff together. Groups of people with a various views and feelings about family think and project very different things when they hear the word family. Yet, we are the family of God. We are the sons and daughters of God. We can, and do, as Christians, call one another brother and sister because we are all adopted now and of the household of God. So what does Gospel family look like, feel like, act like toward one another and the world outside? How does the Gospel inform our new relationship as the family of God.
First, it connects us in an involuntary relationship. We didn’t get to choose our earthly brothers, sisters, parents, family, and we don’t get to chose those people in our spiritual household either. We are brothers and sisters. It’s that simple. Second, also like our earthly family unit we live together, do stuff together, share our time, resources, etc. If you don’t have a relationship with someone you really don’t like you are probably not living out the truth of becoming an expression of a Gospel family. You are probably choosing your relationships and associations based on likes, interests, age, and preferences. Third, and definitely not third in it’s importance. We forgive each other. We who have been loved, blessed, and forgiven so much, having experienced this beautiful Gospel of forgiveness and grace learn to extend that forgiveness to others, especially to other forgiven ones. Establishing Gospel Communities that are oriented around the principle of being an expression of the household of God is one of the most important contributors to the next word that was used in the session.
The second word they talked through was the word discipleship. The Gospel comes along, we believe it, and if we are truly converted we become disciples of Jesus, otherwise known as followers of Jesus. But we are not lone followers, God did not call us to individualism but into a community of disciples, again a family. In order to make disciples we need a few tools. We need the Word, the Spirit, and people, that’s right………..we need each other. It is the reason family was the first word. When we read the Word together we are sharpened. When we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another we are strengthened. When we are corrected by one another we are disciplined and encouraged if done through us by Spirit of God in humility. As we walk together, we are trained in every aspect of the Gospel if our hearts are submitted to Christ and one another in humility.
The third word is unavoidable if we truly learn to live not as individual American nuclear family units with 2.5 children, privacy fences, and venetian blinds. When a community of disciples, submitted to Christ and one another, is engaged by and in the Gospel of Jesus together, the third word begins to come natural or rather super-natural. The third word is mission. Having experienced Christ and found freedom in submission to His Kingly reign over our lives, we then find the power, because of His indwelling presence in our hearts, enabling us to submit to others. It creates a home or a household of God where we can live out the Gospel of forgiveness and mercy with each other. This is an intoxicating witness that both changes us, and draws others in to our family of disciples. How are disciples drawn into our of family disciples? Because the Gospel creates in us a desire to tell others what we have found in Christ and serve others the way Christ served us. We become missional.
You cannot truly be a family of God and not be given to the discipleship process. We cannot be committed to family and discipleship and not be committed to mission. If we are stagnating as a gathering of the church or as a Missional Community then one or more elements are missing, and we are probably gathering together around something other than the Gospel. People in churches are going to gather around something, it is inevitable. The only question is, “Are they gathering around Jesus or something else.”
Finally, don’t confuse these words with a new set of actions to be obeyed. These are not things we become through works, they are things we are because of Christ and His Gospel. We already are the family of God. We already are disciples. We already are missionaries. The key is not to work our way into being a church or missional community that pleases God. He is perfectly satisfied by Christ and that is the Gospel. These are things we simple are, just surrender to the already flowing stream of life that is proceeding from the Throne of God.
Below is a word picture to help us see how the three words discussed correspond to the three persons of the Trinity in function and order.
Father Son Holy Spirit
Family Disciple Mission
All this sounds just a bit over whelming doesn’t it. But if you have been a believer for very long, you probably have a strong desire to want it………..to experience this, if only just a taste. Here are some helpful hints for getting started.
Make becoming a part of a Gospel Community a faith essential not a mere piece. Small groups for example are generally seeing community as a piece of Christianity not essential to it.
Prayer for some like-minded people to pursue the Gospel with you.
Allow the process of Gospel Subtraction to begin to take place. Examine your life prayerfully for things that you are doing, that don’t really need to be done, at least by you. Allow the Gospel to search your heart for marginal areas to eliminate.
Obey the Spirit and create margin (axe something out) in your life for doing some very simple things, like one Saturday a month invite your neighbors over to play games or just eat dinner and chat.
Here are some reading suggestions for those who are interested,
Gospel Centered Life by Bob Thune
You Can Change by Tim Chester
Launching Missional Communities by Mike Breen