I Feel Disconnected From Meaningful Relationships In The Church

One of the things I deeply desire is to see people build meaningful relationships within the church where I pastor. Hopefully by now we all realize that church is much more than a Sunday morning event. Church consists of people who are deeply committed to Christ and to one another. So what are some practical steps you can take to build deep relationships in the church?

You Must Recognize Your Need For Relationships

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8 we read this from the apostle Paul, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Paul knew that being a part of the church involved sharing his life with others. It does not matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert. The bottom-line is that we all need brothers and sisters in the church to love, challenge, and encourage us.

You Will Need To Re-prioritize Your Busy Life

“Busyness is like sin: kill it, or it will be killing you.” -Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem

Busyness is one of the main barriers when it comes to building deep relationships in the church. What we can’t do is keep the status quo, running at full speed with no margin, and then expect to add in meaningful relationships. Most likely you are going to have to stop doing something you are currently doing so that you have time to build relationships.

Why not stop right now and ask the question, what do I need to stop doing so that I can get to know people in my church on a deeper level?

You Should Join A Life Group

Maybe your church calls it something else (Small Groups, Missional Communities, Gospel Communities, Cell Groups, Home Groups, etc.). Life Groups are geared to help people develop relationships with the express purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. You might argue by saying that you can build relationships without joining a Life Group. My question for you is this, how is that working for you? I believe it is helpful to make the commitment to being a part of a group on a regular basis.

You Must Be Willing To Deal With The Discomfort Of Getting To Know People That Are Different Than You

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience(s) when it comes to building relationships in the church. Perhaps you joined a Life Group before and it did not go the way you hoped. When you think about Jesus’ Life Group (his disciples) you are quickly reminded of how incredibly dysfunctional they were. Think about how many times Peter said something that offended Thomas (or one of the other disciples). Think about the Sons of Zebedee asking to be the greatest and granted the privilege of sitting at the right hand of Jesus in heaven. Talk about hurting the feelings of others. It was their love for God and for each other that kept them together even in the middle of disagreements and relational challenges.

You Should Invite People Over For Meals

Here is something I have noticed over my many years of leading Life Groups. It’s possible for the Life Group to begin to feel like just another weekly meeting. You get together to study, pray and eat some food and then live life on your own for the rest of the week. To keep your Life Group from feeling like a meeting I would suggest you begin having people over for meals, or meet them for breakfast or lunch. These little steps will go along way when it comes to helping us develop meaningful relationships in the church.

I Don’t Need The Church To Be A Christian

“I don’t need the church to be a Christian.”

“The church is filled with hypocrites, that’s why I don’t attend.”

“I’ve been hurt by the church, that’s why I stay away from it.”

“All I need is Jesus.”

“I love Jesus but not the church.”

It is not uncommon for me to hear comments like these. Hey, I get it. I grew up as a pastor’s kid (PK). Probably better than most I know how easily it is to get hurt or offended by others in the church. As a teen I still painfully remember my father being voted out of a church. Ponder this for a moment. Our whole family needed to attend the congregational meeting where they were going to vote so that we had a chance of my father keeping his job. It didn’t help. My dad lost his job over petty issues and I have family members to this day who have stayed away from God because of the trauma that occurred in the church. In fact, it was painful moments like these as a child that led me to say to myself that I would never go into ministry. Surprise, surprise. So, yes, I fully understand what it’s like dealing with negative emotions when it comes to the church.

I am preaching through the book of Philippians and I love it. I love Paul’s spiritual intensity and his love for Christ/others. So this week I opened up Philippians 4:1 and read this:

“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”

At first I just cruised past this verse, but then I came back to it and started meditating on it.  Stop for a moment and reflect on the way that Paul is talking about the church at Philippi:

  • They are his brothers and sisters. Paul knows that these are not just people he worships with on Sunday. These are dear friends in the Lord. They are family.
  • He loves them and longs for them. This longing means that Paul had a deep desire to be with them.
  • They are his joy and his crown. Paul’s joy, first and foremost, is found in Christ. The entire book of Philippians makes that clear. But Paul also finds joy in knowing that these Christians are doing well and growing in their faith. Paul uses the metaphor of a crown to communicate the fact that he sees the church as a precious treasure.
  • And finally he refers to them as his beloved. Paul is leaving no doubt regarding just how deeply he loves the Christians at Philippi.

Where did Paul get this kind of love for others? Why are his emotions so strong for this local church? The answer is that Paul had a deep love for Jesus Christ and from this overflowed a deep love for Jesus’ family.

friends1Paul reminds us in a very powerful way that God is not calling us just into community with Him, but the moment we are saved we are also brought into community with his other sons and daughters. We can’t say that we love Jesus and at the same time reject his bride (the church). Are you struggling when it comes to finding a church where you can make deep relationships? My hope and prayer for you is that Paul’s love for Christ and others will inspire you see the church as your ‘beloved.’

The Most Important Thing You Bring To Your Small Group/Missional Community

One of the convictions that unites the GCM Collective in South Jersey is the conviction that a person cannot become a fully-formed disciple of Jesus without being in a gospel-centered community on mission.

The key to this statement, as I understand it, is the phrase “fully-formed”. Sure, a person can experience some measure of spiritual growth as a disciple apart from a community devoted to Jesus’ mission of making disciples. But a fully-formed disciple is one who is learning to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19).

Since so many of Jesus’ commands require community (such as, “Love one another,” or “forgive one another,” or, “Get the log out of your eye before you examine the speck in your brother’s eye”), then to be fully obedient to Jesus, we need community. And since He also commands that we go into all nations preaching the gospel, baptizing new believers and teaching them to obey all He has commanded, and living a life that commends Him to a hostile world, then a disciple who isn’t devoted to that mission surely cannot be considered “fully-formed.”

So I think it’s helpful to say that a disciple cannot be fully-formed apart from being in a gospel-centered community which is on mission together to make disciples of Jesus. In all the talk about the importance of community and mission, though, I wonder if something very important and seemingly-obvious gets neglected. So when I talk to others about the need for gospel-centered community on mission, one thing I like to stress is:

A gospel-centered community on mission will experience true discipleship only to the degree that the individual Christians who make up that community are personally experiencing vital, soul-enriching communion with God on their own.

As vital as deep community is to healthy discipleship, discipleship won’t happen just by “doing life” together, engaging in everyday rhythms. Throw some unbelievers in the mix, and it doesn’t automatically become mission. If the Christians in this community aren’t personally experiencing fellowship with God, there will be no Christ to bring into those everyday rhythms. And if there’s no Christ, then surely there is no discipleship. As disciples of Jesus, the life we now live is a life of faith in Christ (Galatians 2:20), and that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

We walk the path of discipleship in the same way that we initially get onto that path: through faith in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7). If we’re not hearing from Him, as He is revealed in the Word, then we won’t be growing, nor will we be able to help anyone else to grow, which is what discipleship is all about: growing up into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ so that every single aspect of life is joyfully submitted to His rule and reign. And that happens as we speak the truth (i.e., biblical truth, especially gospel truth) in love to one another (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

So if there is no intake of truth, then there surely will be no speaking of truth to others, and thus no true mission will actually happen. But when we are experiencing vital, soul-enriching, communion with God, hearing from Him with faith, then discipleship is as simple as sharing with others what God is saying to us personally.

For instance, in re-reading Tim Chester’s wonderful book You Can Change, I was struck by a simple statement Chester made in ministering to a man who was dealing with panic attacks: “Not what if, but what is, and what is, is that God is in control.” I was struck by this, because the absence of peace in my life (a confidence and rest in the wisdom and control and goodness of God, rather than my own) was something the Spirit had been pressing on me in recent weeks.

I seized upon this statement, and tried to make it more specific by inserting particular biblical truths to convey, “what is”. Not “What if?”, but “What is?” And what is, is that:

• The LORD, who is my good shepherd, is pursuing me with goodness and mercy today, and all the days of my life (Psalm 23:1, 6)
• God rejoices to do me good with all of His heart and all of His soul (Jeremiah 32:40-41)
• Jesus, who loved me and gave Himself for me, is even now upholding the universe by the word of His power (Galatians 2:20, Hebrews 1:3)
• My present sufferings aren’t worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to me as an heir of God, and a co-heir with Jesus Christ Himself (Romans 8:17-18)

You get the idea. In the past few weeks since reading this, I am experiencing the transforming power of the Spirit, bringing me back to liberating truths of who God is and what He has promised me because of Jesus. And inevitably, as I do life with other believers, I am sharing with them what God has been showing me, telling them about the “What if/What is” lesson I am learning, and telling them the specific truths and promises that He is using to set me free from fear, anxiety, discouragement, etc. In doing that, I am taking my experience of growth and using it to engage in the discipleship of others. I am speaking truth in love to others, because I am hearing truth from my God, Savior, Shepherd, King and Redeemer.

That is, as I understand it, the mission I’m called to: seek the Lord with everything in me, marinate my soul in the rich truths of God’s Word, and then share with others (both believer and unbeliever) what God is showing to me as I commune with Him.

So, yes, you cannot faithfully obey everything Jesus has commanded (and thus, be a fully-formed disciple of Jesus) without involvement in a gospel-centered community on mission. Know this, and live this; don’t deceive yourself into thinking you’re a healthy disciple of Jesus just because you know a lot of truth about Him. But know this as well: you can’t contribute to the health of a gospel-centered community on mission if you’re not personally seeking fellowship and communion with God in your own life.

As you do that – as the Creator of heaven and earth meets you day after day and speaks to you from the pages of Scripture – share that experience with others who you’re doing life with, and you’ll be living out His mission of making disciples. The mission of disciple-making is more than this; but it’s surely not less.

This was a guest post by Larry Lazarus; pastor at Joy Community Fellowship in Pitman, New Jersey.

Book Review: “Difference Makers: An Action Guide For Jesus Followers” by Scott Boren

photo“Difference Makers” by Scott Boren is a book written to encourage and challenge followers of Jesus Christ to make a difference for the kingdom of God in everyday, ordinary life. The book is written so that the reader can focus on one chapter per day. After you have done your reading you are encouraged to spend time prayerfully considering what God is saying to you through his Word.  Here are a few themes of the book that stood out to me:

Making a difference in everyday life: “Most difference makers have more in common with George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life) than the heroes of the Avengers. They are ordinary people who make real differences in the small stuff of life, through the unseen actions that don’t appear significant and most often go unnoticed. They connect with neighbors and meet little needs. They befriend a homeless person and allow him to shower in their home from time to time. They tutor a child who needs extra help. However, the superhero trap invades our thinking. We assume that we have to do something big and noticeable to fix the world in order to make a difference. The call of the hero is the call to stand alone, to stand above the crowd, and to depend on one’s own resources to change what’s wrong. I always assumed that the real difference makers came in the form of preachers, foreign missionaries, and those who moved into the inner city to work with the impoverished. While I see no problem with taking on public roles that result in high-profile influence, we need to break the hero mentality and look at the ways God works in the world.” P.26-27

Emphasis on community: “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” (1 Pet. 2:9). The ‘you’ in this sentence is plural. It is not talking about ‘you’ as an individual. It is about who you are as part of a new nationality, a new citizenship, a new way of living. We are chosen to be part of this people, who are priests to the world together…Difference makers are part of a difference-making society. If you want to serve people at a homeless shelter, then go with a friend or go as a small group. If you want to mentor a child at a local elementary school, find someone with a similar longing and go together. If you want to invest in a family in need, then work with a few other people. Don’t think about what you can do. Think about what God wants to do through a group of his people.” P. 62, 64

Importance of prayer: “God fights for us in ways we can’t, don’t, or won’t. Making a difference is rooted in the action of God, who never stops coming against the lies we so easily believe. The mission of God’s people is to put themselves on the line between the revelation of God’s love and those in need of that love. We put ourselves in this place through prayer. We see the war for what it is. We know that we cannot make things right without tapping into what we cannot see. For a neighbor experiencing domestic violence, we pray. For a co-worker who’s angry with God, we pray. For a family down the street who cannot afford to feed their kids, we pray. We pray not as an alternative to doing something, we pray so that we might have the power to step in with more than good ideas or what we think they need. We pray so that we might act in God’s power and make a difference beyond logical answers.” P. 139-140

Another great quote about prayer is found on page 120, “Prayer opens the door for entry into mission.” What a great reminder for all of us who want to get out there and start making things happen. We need to patiently wait upon the Lord so that we are operating in the power of the Spirit.

Challenging the consumer mentality: “No church is perfect, but that’s not the point. We often miss out on what God is doing through the church because we expect it to be exciting and stimulating. We expect it to meet our needs, and then we go about our normal lives. Of course, that is the pattern of our culture. We participate in very little that fails to meet our needs or entertain us. It is impossible not to carry this mentality into the church. We consume church. Unless we confront this life of consumption, we will never grow up to practice a life that makes a difference. We will move from place to place and fail to stay put long enough with a specific group of people in a specific place to be a specific colony of heaven. Making a difference requires a mentality of investment, not one of consumption. As long as we consume church-in whatever our preferred form-we will miss out on the experience of being God’s colony in a country of death. Being part of a church requires us to stay put, to contribute, to work through difficulties, and to love others even when it would be easier to leave.”

A gospel focus: I am undeniably a gospel junky. Which means I immediately want to know if the author of any Christian book is keeping the gospel central to everything they write. Without the gospel we end up with good advice, no power when it comes to spiritual transformation.  So I was happy to notice that Chapters 22-28 are really all about abiding in Jesus Christ, not merely as an individual, but as a community of believers. The emphasis on the gospel is critical because the idea of sending people out to live as difference makers without abiding in Jesus is a frightening thought.

A good and challenging book that really functions as a devotional that you would read everyday and pray over. I recommend it!

Interview With Mark Sellers About The Gospel, Community, And Living on Mission

Question: Tell us a little about yourself, your family and your role at Summit Crossing Community Church.

I am a native southern boy. I was born and raised in Mississippi and have now been in North Alabama for 13 years. I am a preacher’s kid and have been raised in the church world. Unlike many of my fellow PKs I grew up loving the church! My father is an amazing pastor and lover of the Father’s bride and his own bride and family. I have been married for 13 years to my amazing bride, Staci (also a native southern girl) and have two precious children: Andrew (6) and Ava (16 months). I was a part of the core team (4 families) that planted Summit Crossing Community Church 10 years ago. My official title at SC3 is “Community Life Pastor”. It’s my job to give both vision/ direction and execution to our missional communities. So I am responsible for discipling and equipping MC leaders, getting folks in the general church body connected, and overseeing the multiplication of the MC movement in our city. I also oversee our membership process and reaching out to new folks in our community. So basically, I get to hang out and eat with a lot of folks! Best job ever.

Question: What is your definition of a Missional Community?

In a sentence, a missional community is the family of God’s missionaries on the mission of making disciples who make disciples. We do this quite simply as we go, doing life together, seeing every moment in life through a gospel lens.

Question: What does it mean to be fluent in the gospel and why is this so critical for the spiritual health of every believer?

To be fluent literally means to be able to write or speak something with ease. Practically, to be fluent means that something is a natural part of you. It flows out subconsciously, without thought. To be fluent in gospel means that the gospel is a natural part of us, both literally and practically. So not only are we able to speak it without much thought, but we are also able to apply it without much conscious thought. So we speak it, we think it, we apply it when we make decisions, when we interact with situations and people, its natural! Why is this critical? Look, we are in a battle, both personally and corporately. And its the same battle that our original ancestors fought in the garden: our ways versus God’s ways. He has given us Himself and in that He has given us everything. But apart from both the purpose and power of the gospel, we are completely unable to choose anything other than ourselves. We must know the truth of the gospel and must apply its truth to our lives and to our communities to be healthy people and healthy communities. The world will not encourage or empower this. Our only hope is found in the gospel and the gospel is the answer for life period.

Question: Loving our neighbors in practical ways can be quite a challenge for people who do not all live in the same neighborhood. What does it look like for the MCs at Summit Crossing to be on mission?

When we transitioned to MCs, we really pushed folks to all unify around an adopted mission. It looked good and sounded good on paper, but it really frustrated many of our groups. That kind of mission is really easy (or I should say easier) for groups that are contained within 1-2 neighborhoods. But it was very difficult and frustrating for groups that were regionally connected but not defined by 1-2 neighborhoods. What we realized was that we were in danger of establishing a “missional legalism” that would take us away from Jesus’ simple words in His commission to us. It was subtle, but it was present. So we took a step back and encouraged our communities to consider asking these questions: “How are we making disciples both personally and corporately, and how does this community encourage and equip us for both?”

So we really want our MCs not to “rate” themselves on whether they are unified around A mission but to ask whether they are unified around THE mission. One of our MCs is localized in a suburban community but is spread out across many subdivisions. They were one of our “frustrated” groups that couldn’t unify around a particular mission. They began to break into smaller discipleship groups based on geography and relationship and found that each of these groups were much more effective in not only discipling each other but in making disciples within their other spheres of influence. So two times a month they all gather to share and celebrate the grace of God in their personal lives and in their missions. So at that gathering there is not only encouragement but the opportunity to partner with others in mission. The rest of the month these smaller groups meet and do life together to make disciples.

Our MC originally started as a neighborhood MC and it was really easy to be on mission in our neighborhood. We experienced a lot of traction early on but grew outside the boundaries of our neighborhoods. Our group was also very diverse and so it was even hard being on mission in our neighborhood with so many different walks of life. So we began to discuss where God was giving us favor or traction with people on mission. This led to some of us really giving time and energy to a rec team that involved a few of our group children. This led to the whole group being able to be a blessing to two families that we met through this rec league. One of the families has now since joined us and is getting to see what a gospel family looks like. Other parts of our group have been able to penetrate the artistic community and many of us have been able to join in with them on mission. Not all of us but a few of us! One of our girls got engaged and our group was able to help plan and execute her wedding which was a blessing to their extended family. So all of us didn’t do everything, but we all have had the opportunity to engage where God has given us personal traction with the help of our MC. And my family has been able to help others in our community do the same thing. So there’s no pressure to do it all, but there’s the freedom to follow the Spirit to engage with others as they live the mission. It’s actually fun and its a delight, not a duty!

Question: What do people study in your MCs?

Most of our groups study the same texts that we are preaching through in our corporate gatherings. Right now, that’s Romans (pray for us!). We have these groups answer 5 basic questions about the text each week that center around observation, interpretation, and gospel application. It is our hope that our people learn to be self-feeders! Many groups are actually studying ahead of what we are preaching so that they hit it before it’s preached. This allows them to hit the text fresh and be led by the Spirit and not just the preacher. A few of our groups do other book studies or other things like The Story of God or Gospel Parenting, etc. Anything outside of the sermon discussion must be approved by the church elders.

Question: How do you train your MC leaders?

Our training is really a two tier approach. On a large scale corporate approach, we offer quarterly workshops for all leaders and apprentices across all three campuses. This is a really big deal for us. We feed them all breakfast, take care of their kids, and give each family a free resource (not free to us usually!) along with the training that we do. In short not only do we try to equip and encourage them, but we try to bless their socks off too. The training generally has four sessions that revolve around these four components:

1. Evidence of God’s Grace (sharing MC stories)

2. Vision Training (one of our 5 community essentials or 4 rhythms)

3. Practical Training (gospel fluency through counsel training or the like)

4. Collective Prayer Time (both for the leaders and for their MCs; divided up geographically)

Our leaders love this and we almost always have every community represented at these events. They are led both by elders and MC leaders, but always by practitioners! On a small scale, our 3 campuses are divided into 9 geographic regions that we call collectives. Each collective has elders and deacons present that oversee individual coaching, accountability, encouragement,and equipping amongst the collective leaders. So the workshops are our air war and the collectives are our ground war for training.

Mark is also on the Executive Team for GCM Collective.

Welcome!

I have been blogging for a number of years over at Missional in Suburbia (recently shut down that site). I love talking about the mission of God in a suburban context, but it’s definitely time to branch out a bit. On this new site topics will include the gospel in everyday life, messy community, the mission of God, my love affair with books, and last but not least upside down leadership–I am saying goodbye to a non-biblical leadership that pretends to have it all together. Make no mistake about it, this blog functions as therapy for me and through it I hope you are blessed and encouraged.