Identity: Servants

by Element Christian Church
We are taking three weeks to look at the identities that we receive from God, and how that affects true Gospel Community.

THE CHURCH IS MADE UP OF JESUS' SERVANTS

We are servants of Jesus who serve Him by serving others around us.
Fully God–fully human, Jesus took on the posture of a servant. He gave His life, even unto death, so that others could experience salvation, peace and restoration. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves…” All those who follow Jesus are called to serve in the same humility. For us, this means joyfully submitting to Jesus as Lord. We do whatever He leads us to do, whenever He tells us and wherever He wants us to do it. (Matthew 20:25-28; 25:31-46; John 13:1-17; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:16)

We submit to Jesus as Lord.
If I believe the Gospel, I am being set free from slavery to false gods that keep me imprisoned, don’t satisfy me and eventually beat me to death. All of us are serving a master or many masters. The question isn’t “Am I a slave”,
but “To whom am I a slave?” When I believe and live out my gospel identity as a servant of Jesus, He is my master and He sets me free to live life as it should be lived. I now belong to Him as His servant and whatever I do, I do as unto Him.

We lead people to Jesus by living as servants displaying His rule and reign in our lives.
As the servants of Jesus we are a holy nation – a city within a city. We give a foretaste of what the eternal city will be like under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. Living as servants to the King who serve others as He served us, presents a tangible witness to Jesus’ Kingdom and to the power of the gospel to change us. We serve in such a way that it demands a Gospel explanation – lives that cannot be explained in any other way than by the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus.
If we don’t serve others as Jesus served us it is because we have forgotten how we have been served by Him, or we don’t really know Him in the first place (Matt 25:31-46).

We submit to Jesus as Lord and serve one another as though we are serving Jesus.

How is your service and sacrifice for Jesus unto others your spiritual act of worship?

Used with Permission by Soma Communities

Identity: Missionaries

by Element Christian Church
We are taking three weeks to look at the identities that we receive from God, and how that affects true Gospel Community.

THE CHURCH IS SENT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT TO BE MISSIONARIES

We are sent by the Spirit to restore all things to God through Jesus Christ.
God sent Jesus to Earth to take on human form and live within the culture. He worked, ate and interacted among the people; living in such a way that those around Him could see and experience what God was truly like. Jesus came so that all people, places, and things could be restored to a right relationship with God. In the same way, we believe we are missionaries sent by God’s Spirit into our culture to restore all things to God through Jesus. We live this out through community. (John 1:14; 20:21; Colossians 1:19)

We submit to the sending and leading of the Spirit.
After Jesus said to His disciples, “As the Father sent me I am sending you”, He breathed on them the Holy Spirit. Then, when He commissioned His disciples to be His witnesses, He told them to wait for power from  on high (Acts 1:8). He was referring to the Holy Spirit that the Father and Son would send (John 14:16; 16:7). Just as Jesus was sent by the Father, empowered and led by the Spirit, now we are sent as His missionaries by the same power and leading of the Spirit (Matt. 3:16-4:1). 

We are sent and empowered by the Spirit to share and show Jesus to others.
As missionaries we are sent to share the truth about God’s love for the world through the sending of His Son. The Spirit has been given to us so that we can know what is true of Jesus (Jn. 14:26; 16:12-15), live fruitful lives as evidence of the gospel’s power to change (Gal. 5:16-24), be empowered to share it boldly (Acts 4:23-31), and trust that He is the one who convicts the heart and gives new life (Jn. 3:4-8). All fruitful missionary work is a result of being people who are born of, filled with, and led by the Spirit. 

We submit to the Spirit as our Sender and Leader and are empowered to show and share Jesus to others.

Who is the Spirit sending you and your community to be a witness to?

Used with Permission by Soma Communities

Identity: Family

by Element Christian Church

We are taking three weeks to look at the identities that we receive from God, and how that affects true Gospel Community.

THE CHURCH IS MADE UP OF GOD’S CHOSEN FAMILY

We are children of God who live and care for each other as a family.
We are God’s chosen people – His family – set apart to live in such a way that the world would know what He is like. Through faith in Jesus we believe we are Children of God and brothers and sisters with each other. As God’s family we see it as our obligation to personally care for the needs of one another – both physically and spiritually. We disciple, nurture and hold each other accountable to Gospel life together. We do this through regularly gathering together for celebration, consistent involvement in each other’s lives and loving others in the path of our life like the Father loved us. (Genesis 12:1-3; John 1:12-13; Romans 12:10-16)

We worship God as Father.
We are God’s Children (John 1:11-13) who are adopted and fully accepted and loved apart from any good behavior. When I believe the Gospel I know I have a perfect Father who loves me and accepts me, not because of what I’ve done, but because of what Christ has done. This leads me to worship God as Father and obey His word because I love Him. I don’t obey God in order to be loved by Him. I obey God because He loved me while I was still His rebellious enemy. 

We show ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another.
As children of God we love one another as brothers and sisters. Jesus said this is the way the world will know that we are His disciples – by our love for one another. Paul said we were to be imitators of God as dearly loved children who love one another (Eph 5:1-2). The primary means by which we show the world what God is like and give tangible proof of the Gospel’s power to save is through our love for one another (John 13:35). If we don’t love one another, we show that we don’t know and love God (1 John 4:7-21)

We submit to God as our Father and love one another as brothers and sisters.

In light of being a family of God, how do you need to bring reconciliation, healing, and love to those in your Family?

Used with Permission by Soma Communities

Community Basics: Communication

by Element Christian Church
In an effort to better interact with the community in which I live in, I’ve started to compile a list of ways in which we can be in better communication with each other. I find often that different techniques have up-sides and down-sides, some aren’t quick enough, other people get left off lists inadvertently, and almost always no one has their feelings come through correctly. Here are some helpful ideas that might work for your community.

Email. A reliable, but not instant, way to communicate; another downfall is that emotion doesn’t carry over email and people tend to read their own emotion into communication rather than is actually meant. The challenge with email is, with so many different emails going, it can be hard to include everybody’s email address.  Some ways to help:
  • Create a contact group in your contacts with everyone in the group.
  • Create an email group using tools such as Google Groups. This handy tool can be set up to allow anybody in the group to email one address that blasts out and email to everybody else on the list. People can also unsubscribe themselves at any time. This email address would be something like “This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.”.
Texting. Group texts are great, there are limits to how many people can be in the group text at a time. It’s also hard for those without smartphones to participate. I highly recommend using an app/service called groupme.com. Within this texting app you can create multiple groups by simply adding phone numbers…AND they do not have to have a smartphone to participate as it works across all devices. You can send group texts, pictures, and create events; it also allows users to mute/silence conversations.

Facebook. Some Gospel Communities have a private Facebook group that works well. In this private forum they can share ideas, events, gatherings, prayer requests and as well as other matters everyone should be aware. Facebook groups are easy to add people and for people to remove themselves. The biggest challenge is for members who don’t use (or like to use) Facebook.

Contact list. If someone loves to make spreadsheets, their many times is nothing better. A spreadsheet can gather everyone’s information so it is easily shared; phone numbers, email addresses, birthdays and whatever other creative information everyone wants to share will be at your fingertips. Here is a sample you can fill in/disseminate to your community. Download template here.

Remember, there are up-sides and down-sides to all of these communication methods, but something is better than nothing. Most people seem to feel that we never have enough communication, so start now, because more communication is better than less.

5 Ways to Pray During Notes Night

by Michael Reed
The staff have conversations all of the time about Gospel Communities, one topic that comes up often is prayer. The conversations usually go something like this: “Prayer during notes night is taking up more and more time.” After some digging, I find that it is not actually prayer that is taking up a significant amount of time, but prayer requests. While working through the frustration I have found that the main complaint is that the same requests come up again and again. Everybody wants to share, but when it comes to prayer, only a much smaller percentage actually prays… to God.

Instead of seeing this as a negative, I believe it’s a great teaching/training opportunity. We need to be training the people in our lives about prayer. Below is a short list of ideas that will hopefully help you teach people how to pray.

  1. Modeling confession and repentance.The single most effect act you can do is model confession of sin and disbelief. Confession by itself is good, but not the whole picture; we must be the leaders of repentance. This entails confessing to both God and man and asking the Lord to help us turn away from sin.
     
  2. The “no prayer requests” prayer. I don’t really know what to call this, but the idea is that we are not going to take prayer requests in the group. Rather, we are going to open up the floor in prayer and encourage those with prayer requests/praises to talk directly to God about them. Some notes on this:
    • This does not mean that you can’t stop and ask more questions about someone’s prayer.
    • This doesn’t mean that you can have only one person pray for the request. There is much freedom in talking to God, and you can pray for someone else’s prayer after they have prayed for it.
    • Don’t be discouraged if there isn’t much participation early on; this can be very awkward at first and takes time for people to get into the habit.
    • Ask your group how they feel about praying to God out loud. For some, it’s an intimidating experience, we want to emphasize that our Gospel Communities are safe places to explore prayer without judgment.

      The goal throughout this approach is to spend the majority of our prayer time talking to God (vs. talking to each other) and encourage our members to go directly to God with their needs. 
       
  3. Dividing the group up. There are multiple ways to do this, but if your group is getting to be too large to all pray together every time, try breaking the group up into smaller groups to pray.
    • Have guys and girls split up for prayer. While you can do this anytime, it may be especially beneficial after a serious discussion (sin, sexuality, purity, etc.), or if you know that there is an issue going on that one would feel comfortable sharing only with members of the same sex. Both men and women can benefit from this time away from the opposite sex to share, but please do not let it be a complaining session about a spouse.
    • Another way to split the group for prayer would be half and half. This simple method forms two groups out of the larger.
    • Gather in groups of 3-4 where you already are, this breaks it up even further and allows people more time to share/pray.
       
  4. Praying in different times in weekly life. Spend time with others outside of Notes Night and prayer there. This isn’t to make every get together (like Superbowl Sunday) a spiritual prayer session, but this is where sharing a meal and getting to know other’s stories and struggles come into play. Encourage these kinds of meetings among the members of your group.
     
  5. Pray through a Common Prayer. Check out some liturgical prayers. Liturgy has been a staple of the church for a long time, but not something we do much today. Check out a book called “Common Prayer, A liturgy for ordinary radicals”… common prayers are community prayers that everyone participates in. I like what the book says in its introduction:

“Liturgy’s counterintuitive nature may feel a little culturally strange at first. It is weird enough in our culture just to get together to sing songs (unless you are going to a concert or playing Rock Band on the Wii). Singing and praying together can feel awkward, especially if it is not Thanksgiving or Christmas. But liturgy is meant to be an interruption. It disrupts our reality and refocuses it on God. It reshapes our perceptions and lives with new rhythms, new holy days, a whole new story.”

In what ways have you and your group prayed that you found beneficial and rewarding?
 

Thin Places

by Michael Reed
On Sunday Element hosted David & Holly Jauregui with us so they could share how they are involved with missional communities in San Diego. They shared their heart, some of what they do, and also a video in the short amount of time they had. If you missed the video we would encourage you to watch it here:
 

Meeting with the Jauregui’s led me to pick up a copy of Thin Places by Jon Huckins. At this point I have only read the back cover and introduction (yes, I’m a very slow reader). The back cover described a “Thin Place” like this:

“While praying for his community on the Island of Ioana, the Celtic monk St. Columba described his experience as a thin place – a location where heaven and earth seemed only thinly separated.
 
In the same way, God’s kingdom is being realized here on earth with stores of restoration and redemption. Our God moved into the neighborhood, seeking to invite us into his story of reconciliation, and commission us to missionally engage our neighborhoods with the good news of the kingdom.”

“God moved into the neighborhood” was the center of the conversation we had last Sunday afternoon with David & Holly. We looked at “Jesus as a neighbor.” Jesus lived in Capernaum for many years and there are story after story in the Bible that center around this town. It is also interesting to learn how small Capernaum is, Righetti High School is bigger than this town was, and Jesus lived there, as a neighbor.
 
This leads us to ask a pertinent question, “What kind of neighbor do you think Jesus was?” Do you think He always did large things for large crowds, or did He take time to do small things for just one person or a child? Did he know everybody’s name? What did He talk about? Did He spend more time inside or outside?
 
If you get a few moments, or next time you are reading through one of the Gospel accounts, start to jot down a list of everything that surrounds Capernaum or Galilee. It is important to think about not only what type of neighbor Jesus was, but also what type of neighbor Jesus is as He lives through you.
 
At Element we believe it is important to spend some time thinking about Jesus as a neighbor? Does this thought change our calling of what it means to be a neighbor on our streets? Can we live in a way that creates a “thin place?”
 
If you would like to know more about their ministry, what they are doing, and how you can help, you can contact them at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and/or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mission -> Community -> Gospel (Grace)

by Chris Reis
Our Gospel communities are currently going through the book “Called Together;” it is laid out in the progression of Gospel, Community, and Mission, but what does this look like to someone who lives outside of the of the Church (outside of the community of believers)?  We, who live in the community of believers, in the presences of the King of kings, must always remind ourselves of where we have come from.  Let me draw from the history of King David an event that shows what “Called Together” means to someone who was brought in from the outside.
 
The story starts with the death of King Saul (the first king of Israel).

 [1Sa 31:2-3, 6] 2 The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons and killed his sons, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua. 3 When the battle intensified against Saul,  the archers caught up with him and severely wounded him.  ... 6 So on that day, Saul died together with his three sons, his armor-bearer, and all his men.  (HCSB)

Because of Adam, our blood relative, we are all dead in our sins.  With the death of Saul and his sons itwas customary in those days for the king of a new dynasty to completely massacre anyone connected with the prior dynasty (kill the heir apparent who is first in line of succession to the throne).  We see David, when he becomes king, going against the principle of self-preservation and asks what he can do for the family of the former king.

[2Sa 4:4] 4 Saul's son Jonathan had a son whose feet were crippled. He was five years old when the report about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. The one who had nursed him picked him up and fled, but as she was hurrying to flee, he fell and became lame. His name was Mephibosheth.  (HCSB)

David does something that is very “missional” when he asks the following question:

[2Sa 9:1-4] 1 David asked, "Is there anyone remaining from Saul's family I can show kindness to because of Jonathan?" 2 There was a servant of Saul's family named Ziba. They summoned him to David, and the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" "I am your servant," he replied.  3 So the king asked, "Is there anyone left of Saul's family that I can show the kindness of God to?" Ziba said to the king, "There is still Jonathan's son who was injured in both feet."  4 The king asked him, "Where is he?" Ziba answered the king, "You'll find him in Lo-debar at the house of Machir son of Ammiel."  (HCSB)

The verses above happened many years after Mephibosheth was injured while being carried away by his nurse.  Between that time and this, Mephibosheth's uncle Ishbosheth, waged a bloody war against David for the throne of Israel.  David seeking to honor the memory of Jonathan, Saul’s son, asks the question “Is there anyone remaining from Saul's family I can show kindness to because of Jonathan?”  David, at some point may have considered that there was at least an outside chance that Mephibosheth might follow in his uncle’s footsteps and not his father’s, but instead of fearing this possibility, David, in love for the lost family member, trusts God and seeks out the lost son of Jonathan (the grandson of Saul). 
 
Mephibosheth, a young crippled man with a son of his own named Micahis hiding in Lo-debar, probably hoping to remain anonymous to King David.  What Mephiboshet doesn’t realize is that David wanted to lift him out of Lo-debar and bring him into “Community” with him in the house of the king.

 [2Sa 9:5-9, 11, 13] 5 So King David had him brought from the house of Machir son of Ammiel in Lo-debar.  6 Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, bowed down to the ground and paid homage. David said, "Mephibosheth!" "I am your servant," he replied.  7 "Don't be afraid," David said to him, "since I intend to show you kindness because of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul's fields, and you will always eat meals at my table."  8 Mephibosheth bowed down and said, "What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?"

Mephibosheth, like so many that are outside of the “community” of God, are leery and suspicious of our intent.  Do we look at these outsiders like a “dead dog” or is there love and concern in our eyes?  Are they a notch on our belt or a lost family member that needs to be brought into the community?

9 Then the king summoned Saul's attendant Ziba and said to him, "I have given to your master's grandson all that belonged to Saul and his family. ... 11 Ziba said to the king, "Your servant will do all my lord the king commands." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table just like one of the king's sons. ... 13 However, Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem because he always ate at the king's table. His feet had been injured.  (HCSB)

The king called the servant of Saul's family named Ziba and placed him in charge Saul’s estate.  But the most amazing part of this story is Mephibosheth is given a place at the table of David the king.  This is a beautiful picture of “grace” (the Gospel in action).  The scene closes with Mephibosheth sitting at David’s table like one of the king's sons with his injured feet coved by the loving grace of the king.  That is truly the purpose and picture of “Called Together,” reaching out, bringing in, and extending grace to all.

Lent Reflection: Old And New

by Michelle Gee
The old has passed away, the new has come…Team Gee has bought a house! Let me tell you, home ownership definitely has its perks over condo ownership. For instance, no more long treks out to the carport in the rain…uphill….both ways. No more questionable noises from our neighbors upstairs. No more inane laws from our power-hungry HOA. It’s been pretty exciting for us to discover new blessings in the midst of this transition. The downside, however? Boxes. ALL the boxes.
 
Jon and I try to live simply, and yet, I am amazed at the crap (am I allowed to say that on this blog?) we have accumulated over just a couple years of marriage. I mean, we found out we had Season 1 of Everybody Loves Raymond in our office—still in the original packaging. Neither one of us has ever seen the show. Neither one of us WANTS to see the show. How does this happen?!
 
This whole move has been such a great reminder of the need to stand back, take a deep breath or two, and assess the clutter—and not just in a physical sense. It’s been interesting to tangibly go through this process during the current sermon series at church, as we embrace conviction, repentance, and the resulting joy offered to us by Jesus. As co-heirs of the Kingdom (Romans 8:16-17), our lives have been completely uprooted and dramatically transformed. Such a change (similar to a new home) offers us the perspective to see what just doesn’t belong anymore. Sometimes, if we want to continue growing in our relationship with Jesus and our understanding of the Gospel, we need to let go of the crap, and understand that it pales in comparison to what is offered in Christ. Through repentance, we lay it at Jesus’ feet, and trust that He is enough for us.
 
This move has also underscored the importance of community in life. With all the disarray at home, it can be tempting to shield friends and family from the chaos, to wait for the day when we’re “completely” settled in, and then share our home with others. I think it’s easy to have this attitude toward life sometimes, “I’ll let others in once I’m cleaned up.” Scripture, however, tells us that we’re never finished, but as believers, enjoying God’s work in us through the process of sanctification: “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”—Philippians 1:6
 
If we wait until we are “complete” to enter into community, we miss out on the beauty of Gospel-centered community—community that sees the brokenness and “incompleteness” of our lives, yet acknowledges the unending hope found in Jesus. And sometimes, God happens to use those people we let in to speak into our lives, to tell us what shouldn’t have a place anymore. Through this process of Gospel living, done in community, discipleship happens—we become more like Jesus. When we remember who we are in light of the Gospel, we can enjoy growing together each day.

HALLOWEEN IS FOR MISSION

by Michael Reed
This week is Halloween, and like every year at Element we encourage you to see it as an opportunity to be missional to your neighbors (which means find a way to participate).
 

Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 
We call this the great commission. Jesus’ parting words to his early disciples (followers) after He conquered death and the grave. Read those words in light of Halloween, a holiday that celebrates death. The beauty of those words is that our Savior has conquered death by His resurrection…and then with All Authority in Heaven and on Earth, Jesus sends us, His disciples, out into the world to make more disciples. He promises that He is with us always, to the end of the age. If we believe this is true, then what can we fear from October 31st?
 
Sadly, what’s happened is we have gotten our premise all wrong, as Jesus never promised our comfort or safety. He never promised a carefree life, which is why He doesn’t call us to live as a bomb-shelter church – where we gather as a community of believers and bolt the doors behind us so nobody else can come in.
 
To be missional is simply a mindset of living your life as a missionary to a world that is in need of the Good News of the Gospel. We are called to be God’s ambassador and go out into the culture around us and make disciples who go out and make disciples who go out and make disciples. This means we need a heart for the lost, and willingness to share the gospel with those in our lives who need to hear it. It also means that we build relationships with those outside the church – that we create spaces to get to know people in our neighborhoods, places of work, our city.
 
Halloween is a fantastic night to start the process of getting to know your neighbors, and more importantly, letting your neighbors get to know you and your Gospel Community. This isn’t the night to hit them over the head with bible verses; it’s a night to participate in a cultural holiday in a redeemed way. It’s a night to show that there is something different about Christians, that you do care about your neighbors (because Jesus cared first), and that you don’t just want to pass out candy as an obligation, but you do want to take some time and talk.
 
But what do you do? I love this article: 12 simple ways to be Missional this Halloween. I would encourage you to read is written about each one of them, they are all fantastic ideas and might spark something more….
 
BE HOSPITBALE:

1.     Give out the best Candy.
2.     Think of the Parents.
3.     Be Present.
4.     Be Encouraging.
5.     Party.
6.     Learn The Stories <- Very important!

 
GO TO THEIR PLACE: Join what is happening

7.     Attend the party.
8.     Join the community.
9.     Head to the “Watering Holes”

 
BE PRAYERFUL: Ask the Spirit to lead, guide & work

10.    Pay Attention.
11.    Stay Dependent.
12.    Open Doors.

Remember, in the midst of having fun, herding your children, trying to stay warm or simply not wanting to participate at all: Jesus has all authority and we don’t have anything to be fear! 

 

What If…? Gospel Community Brainstorming! Part II

by Element Christian Church

So, How?

How can we share life together?

Eat together, play together, walk the dog together, celebrate together, relax together, paint the living room together, jog together, rejoice together, mourn together. Babysit for one another, serve one another, make time for one another, share your possessions with one another.

1 Thessalonians 2:8 “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.”

How can we share life intentionally for the gospel?

In the midst of sharing life: serve together, read the Bible together, pray together. Encourage one another, share one another’s burdens, teach one another, correct one another, accept service from one another, accept support from one another, pray for one another.

Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

How can we live on mission together?

In the midst of sharing life: Make new friends together, reach out together, learn how to share the gospel together, “understand the times” together, focus your time and efforts together, pray together, be hospitable together, be good neighbors together, challenge one another. Live radical, Christ-centered, counter-cultural lives together.

Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

All of life discipleship and all of life mission

Let your house be a blessing to God’s people and those who don’t yet know Him. Let your dinner table be a blessing to God’s people and those who don’t yet know Him. Let your hobbies be a blessing to God’s people and those who don’t yet know Him. Let your gifts and skills be a blessing to God’s people and those who don’t yet know Him. Let your favorite TV shows and sports games be a blessing to God’s people and those who don’t yet know Him. Let your prayers be a blessing to God’s people and those who don’t yet know Him. Let your lunch break be a blessing to God’s people and those who don’t yet know Him. Let your marriage or your singleness be a blessing to God’s people and those who don’t yet know Him. Let your time and priorities be a blessing to God’s people and those who don’t yet know Him…

You get the idea. Run with it!

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light!”

What If…? Gospel Community Brainstorming! Part I

by Will Flathers

We’ve explained the WHY of Gospel Communities; now let’s look at the HOW.

First and foremost, I don’t want to be too prescriptive here. In boy-meets-girl relationships there are no cookie-cutter instructions (Step 2: Tell your date “I love your dress”), but there are Biblical principles (“Do not stir up love until it pleases” SOS 8:4) and there is wisdom in applying those principles (Now is not be a good time to awaken love, because I don’t have a job). The same goes for Gospel Communities.

The challenge for each of our Gospel Communities is to wrestle with how we are going to live out the imperatives of the Gospel – how we can wisely apply the principles we’ve been looking at in previous discussions. The result will look different in every case, because every Gospel Community is facing a different situation and has different members bringing their unique mix of giftings, personalities, passions, and experiences to the table. That’s the beauty of it! But that’s also the difficulty of it. So with this post, I’m going to try to kick-start your imagination, not define it.

How can we share life together? How can we share life intentionally for the gospel? How can we live on mission together?

Let’s brainstorm a little.

What if you watched Top Gear together with a bunch of folks from your Gospel Community, rather than each on your own? What if you made a point to spend 10 minutes praying before starting the show? What if you invited a friend along too?

What if you made sure that nobody in your gospel community celebrated a holiday alone? What if you made sure that your neighbors never had to celebrate a holiday alone? What if you made a point to regularly celebrate together as a Gospel Community what God has done?

What if you invited someone from your Gospel Community over for dinner once a week? What if you admitted your struggles to them and ask for their prayer and support? What if you invited a neighbor over for dinner once a week? What if you did both at once?

What if your Gospel Community made a commitment to show love to those who our society seems to ignore? What if, when you throw a party, you invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind? What if your Gospel Community threw a party for precisely that reason?

What if you babysat the kids so someone in your Gospel Community could have a date night? What if you made a point to ask them beforehand how you can pray for their marriage? What if you did the same for a friend?

What if you help your coworker become friends with the whole Gospel Community? What if the first time your coworker visits Element, they already know lots of people from the friendships first built at a Gospel Community cookout, or movie night, or murder mystery night, or hike, or…?

What if you took into account your Gospel Community when you decide where to live, what hobbies to pick up, and what opportunities to pursue? What if you took into account the mission of your Gospel Community when you made those decisions? What if you joined a book club with some folks from your Gospel Community so you could meet new people? What if you bought an extra sofa for your living room, rather than a new phone?

What if you stopped by someone’s house on the way home from work for a quick chat? What if you help fold the laundry while you are talking? What if you point someone back to the Scriptures a little bit every day (while folding laundry), rather than wait until a crisis?

The Honeymoon is Over: Welcome to Gospel Ministry

What if your grocery bill goes up? What if you find it hard to love someone in your Gospel Community? What if your Gospel Community wants to focus in an area in which you have no interest? What if your Gospel Community finds out that you don’t have perfectly behaved kids and a perpetually clean house? What if someone newer in the faith rightly rebukes you? What if someone folds your laundry the wrong way? What if someone asks you a question that you don’t know? What if a friend turns their back on you because the gospel offended them? What if progress is slow and no one seems to be coming to faith? What if your group grows, and decides to plant a new Gospel Community? What if you have to say goodbye after nurturing such close friendships?

2 Timothy 2:8-13; “Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.

“This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him, we will also live with him.

If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.

If we deny him, he will deny us.

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful –  for he cannot deny who he is.”

Why Gospel Communities? Part II

by Will Flathers

In Part I we talked about What Gospel Communities Are, today we'll look at why Element takes this approach to community...

Why Does Element Take This Approach to Community?

1) Because community is important, and we want to put it into practice! Have you ever noticed how many times commands in The New Testament include the phrase “one another”? We are commanded to love one another, serve one another, be devoted to one another, accept one another, instruct one another, encourage one another, build each other up… and the list goes on and on. I counted 44 occurrences. Those commands are not optional extras – rather, they are fundamental to what looks like to live as God’s family – to bear the family resemblance of Jesus! They are the fruit of the Gospel at work in our lives. GC’s are an excellent context for us to put those commands into practice. Because all too often in larger groups and larger settings, “fellowship” gets downgraded to a shallow chat over coffee; “family” gets downgraded to a theoretical relationship we have with 200 other people we barely know; and the “one anothers” get applied to people we like, but tend to conveniently exclude people we don’t like or people who are not like us.

2) We want to give everyone the opportunity to use their God-given gifts for the good of the church and the good of the city. GC’s are small enough that everyone is a critical member. Your contributions to your GC are critical! Your input and involvement is vital for the health of the GC! Christian ministry is not just for professionals, or paid staff, or super-Christians; we may not all be gifted speakers or skilled theologians, but the Bible is clear that all believers have a role to play (Ephesians 4:1-16, 1 Peter 4).

3) We want to reach more people. With multiple GC’s, each with their own unique group dynamic and situation, we will be able to reach more diverse sets of people. When John glimpses the throne room of the Lamb, it is filled with people from every nation, tribe and language – a diverse crowd united around Jesus. Imagine if we had GC’s reaching young and old, rich and poor, influential and marginalized in Santa Maria. GC’s are a great way for people to see the body of Christ in action – people who may otherwise never walk into a church building. GC’s are a great way to for us to connect with folks who are new to Element.

4) Conviction. We believe this is how we are called to live as God’s people. This approach is not meant to be a condemnation of other ways of doing church. We are not saying this is the only way! Rather, we are trying to take the principles we see in the Bible and best apply them in our unique situation: Central Coast, California, 2011. We believe that the bar can and should be so raised. Challenging? Certainly. Impossible? Yes – except that we have a God who is gracious, patient, loving, forgiving, and in control, a God who is growing His church and building His kingdom, a God who calls us and equips us. And because of that, we can confidently follow wherever He leads.

In future posts we’ll dig a little deeper and give some ideas of what GC life might look like in practice. But I’ll close with this encouragement:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:8-11

Why Gospel Communities?

by Will Flathers

So far, we have discussed why community is so important (Part I & II). We saw how mankind reflects our Trinitarian God who is God-in-Community with Himself and who defines perfect community. We also looked at how community relates to the Gospel; how the Christian community is a tool the Spirit uses to grow us in Christ; and how the Christian community is Jesus’ persuasive witness in the world. Now we are going to look at how Gospel Communities fit into the picture.

What are Gospel Communities?

First, we need to define Gospel Communities. Gospel Communities (GC’s) are smaller groups of people (around 8 to 20) committed to each other and to the lost – their desire is to see the Gospel transform lives. Thus, GC’s open their lives to one another (Acts 2:42-46) and are inviting to those who do not know Jesus. GC’s are simply ordinary people doing ordinary things with a Gospel mindset, together.

It’s all in the name – communities of, by, and for the Gospel:

[list class="bullet-3"][li]GC’s are about people loving each other as family – because God has invited us into His family.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people serving together – because Jesus is our servant-Savior.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people learning together – because we are given the Spirit of truth.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about caring for each other – because God has richly supplied all our needs in Christ.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people submitting to one another – because Christ submitted to the Father.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people worshiping together – because of the cross and resurrection.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people welcoming others – because God welcomed us.[/li]

[li]GC’s are about people proclaiming the Gospel together – because Jesus first reached out to us and commissioned His church to do the same.[/li][/list]

Fundamentally, GC’s are all about seeing the Gospel advance deeper in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and impact our city. They are all about normal Christians (warts and all) living extraordinary lives together for the Gospel – lives that bring glory to God from believers and unbelievers alike.

Check back next week to see why Element takes this approach...

Why Community Matters Part II

by Will Flathers

We're looking at why the issue of community is so important for the church, so we can then explain how Gospel Communities fit into the the picture of Element. In Part I we discussed the Trinity and the Gospel.

Discipleship That’s Why Community Matters

Discipleship is a community project. We need each other to grow more like Christ. Christian community is the context were we can be “instruments in the redeemer’s hands” and “means of grace” to each other; the context were others can remind us of the gospel when we are prone to wander; the context where others can “speak the truth in love” into our lives (Eph 4:15).

Hebrews 3:13 warns us to “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” That’s the problem with sin – it is deceitful and seems so reasonable that we are often the last ones to notice it in our own lives. The author of Hebrews says we need to exhort one another daily. We need friends who are committed to our growth in godliness. Superficial, once-a-week relationships are not very helpful in spotting sin that creeps in. We need people who know us, our strengths, our weaknesses, our prayers, our history, our hopes. We need people who are emboldened and permitted to speak the truth to us in love.

Jesus shepherds His sheep (John 10, 1 Peter 2:25), and one way He does this is through appointed leaders, who are also shepherds and overseers of God’s flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). The role of church leaders is to shepherd, guard, take care of, and be an example to the flock, subordinate to Christ. But we, the congregation, also have responsibility for pastoral care. Paul used the same wording of ‘teaching and admonishing everyone’ of both his ministry as a pastor and of the congregation (Colossians 1:28, Romans 15:14). We are to mutually teach and admonish one another, just like Paul.

The bottom line is that trying to ‘go it alone’ is dangerous and foolish and wrong. Sin is blinding.

Mission That’s Why Community Matters

Finally, Christian community matters because it is critical to our mission of spreading the fame and name of Jesus.

Israel was called to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 18:18-19). They were called to be a distinctive nation – a priestly kingdom among nations (Exodus 19:6). The result? Worship from nations who didn’t yet know God: upon receiving the Law, Moses challenged the Israelites to “Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Chris Wright commented that “God’s message of redemption through Israel was not just verbal; it was visible and tangible. They, the medium, were themselves part of the message.”

Peter picks up the same language from Exodus when describing the church in 1 Peter 2:9-10, a priestly kingdom. And in a similar way, he shows that the life of the congregation invokes praise to God from those who don’t yet know God, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:24).

Jesus says that it is by our love for one another that all people will know that we are His disciples (John 13:35) – our love for one another reveals our true identity and the gospel that gives us that identity. Love does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in relationships.

Similarly, Jesus prays that we would have unity so that the world may believe that the Father has sent the Son. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23). It is our unity with one another that shows the world that Jesus is the real deal, the authentic, loving God. Again, unity does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in relationships. Francis Schaeffer concluded that: “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful. Christian community is the ultimate apologetic.”

People are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the message of the gospel. That’s not surprising, because when we reflect the Trinitarian community, we are showing the world the way things are meant to be, a glimpse of heaven.

Why Community Matters Part I

by Will Flathers

As you are probably aware, we have been strongly encouraging people to get involved with a Gospel Community. In order to help everyone get a better sense of why we are heading in this direction and what that might look like, we are going to start a series of semi-regular blog posts discussing Gospel Communities. So, the purpose of this post is to set the stage for following posts. We want to first explain why the issue of community is so important for the church, so we can then explain how Gospel Communities fit into the picture.

Trinity That’s Why Community Matters

The God of the Bible is clearly a relational God; throughout Scriptures, we see Him intimately and lovingly involved in the world. But contrary to what some religions teach, God did not create man to cure His loneliness. The one God is not a solitary individual, but a divine community. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) summarizes the doctrine of the Trinity by saying, “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.” One God, three equal persons. God is persons-in-relationship, existing in love from all eternity (John 17:24).

We are made in the image of the Trinitarian God (Genesis 1:26-27) One implication is that we are created for community; we too are relational beings. The only thing in the Garden of Eden that was not good was a solitary Adam. God forbade the Israelites to create an image of Him (Deuteronomy 4:15-24), for God Himself had already made an image of Himself in the world – humanity! That image was terribly marred in our rebellion, but God’s redeemed people are now His image in the world.

So the Trinity means that community matters, but it also shapes and defines our view of community. Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears write that “The Trinity is the first community and the ideal for all communities. That community alone has not been stained by the selfishness of sin. Therefore, in the diversity of God the Father, Son, and Spirit is perfect unity as one God communicates truthfully, loves unreservedly, lives connectedly, serves humbly, interacts peaceably, and serves selflessly. In a word, Trinity is the ideal community in every way.”

Gospel That’s Why Community Matters

We are made in the image of God, but sin has marred that image. The result of sin is enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy (Galatians 5:19-21)—those words all describe broken communities and broken relationships. In the very first book of the Bible, we see sin dividing mankind from God, husband from wife, brother from brother, family from family, and nation from nation. Sin brings racism, classism, war, murder, divorce. We often long for true community but never quite seem to attain it – it is a longing for something that was lost in the Fall, and ultimately a longing for the Trinitarian God.

But we know the good news! Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died. In doing so, Jesus brings reconciliation between God and man (Romans 5:1-11). Jesus brings reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, husband and wife, even nation and nation. The sin that separates us has been dealt with, once and for all time, at the cross. Jesus makes true community possible again.

Jesus is saving a community – not merely a collection of individuals. Jesus loves you individually and personally, but ultimately, He is about the business of saving a people – a new humanity, His Church – to whom and through whom He reveals His glory. Peter rejoices in that truth: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Our God is a God who creates people for community, and who also places people into community; our God is the God who “places the lonely in families” (Psalms 68:6), the God who ensures that widows, orphans, aliens and outcasts are cared for and welcomed (for example, James 1:27).

The New Creation is often described in communal terms: a glorious city; a wedding feast; a vast, diverse community worshipping Jesus. Heaven is more than just God and I; it is God and us. That is where all of history is heading – and that is good news for those who know Jesus! In the mean time and by God’s grace, we are called to reflect that heavenly, Trinitarian community together.

Tune in next week for part II