On Sunday I had the chance to preach at the ministry I served at for years. Here’s my message on Luke 19:1-10.
Back to more Simple Smallgroups! Last time we finished the “Connecting” pattern. Today we start up our new pattern “Changing.” Changing is just the word Bill Search uses for spiritual growth/sanctification. So lets take a look at what this pattern is and how Lifegroups can help us change.
Pattern 2: Changing
So over the last few studies we have been taking an in depth look at the pattern Bill Search calls connecting and Soma calls community. Now we move on to the second pattern: Changing. Now we know that Changing (growing, becoming spiritually mature, etc.) is not the point. Encountering Christ is the point. As we encounter Christ and fall more in love with him we change, grow, become mature, etc. So lets take a look at the “Changing” pattern.
You Can Change! (But its not easy…)
All of you know how hard change can be. Whether its changing schools, changing jobs, moving, or getting married. Change is not easy. Sometimes we desperately avoid change but other times we really want to change. But that change doesn’t come about easily. Think back to your spiritual journey. Have there been things that you wanted to change? I’m sure there have been. There are certainly things in my own journey that I have wanted to change. In fact we are actually called to change. We are called to hear God and what he is calling us to change and join the journey with him as he changes us from the inside out…. But once again this is NOT easy.
Change…. It’s a process
We call change a lot of things…. Discipleship, transformation, spiritual formation. And if we want to get really technical and sound like a theology nerd we can call it sanctification. Whatever you want to call it though… there is one aim “to become more like Jesus.” Afterall this is what “Christian” means.
Since change is a core part of our Christian journey it seems natural that our Lifegroups will speak into this pattern in some way or another. For instance in a Lifegroup we might challenge one another to grow in knowledge and to put that knowledge into practice. We might point people to the Grace of God and speak truths into them. This too can lead to change. When we tell people that they are holy and dearly loved by God, that their sins are forgiven, that God is faithful, and that he hears their prayers internal change occurs. These are all steps and tools we have to help other Christians in our Lifegroups grow BUT change is a process. Usually it takes time. Sure there are times when people do a complete 180. I have seen this in groups! But the majority of the time it will be a slow gradual process that might not even be noticeable until you step back and take a bird’s eye view of the situation. So just as we talked about their being a continuum for connecting, its helpful to think of change along a continuum as well. With the ultimate goal being sanctification (which we know WILL NOT happen fully until the end of time where Jesus makes us perfect).
Knowledge ≠ Change
I don’t think that I really need to explain this too much but I will give it a shot. An increased level of knowledge does not equal change. You can know a ton and still not be spiritually mature. For instance there is this one guy, E.P. Sanders who is one of the most respected and influential biblical scholars today. He wrote a book several decades ago called Paul and Palestinian Judaism. This book revolutionized the field of biblical studies. It changed the way we looked at Judaism in Paul’s day. And ever since he wrote this book it has been impossible to write something scholarly about Paul without at least engaging with E.P. Sanders ideas. So hopefully you are getting the point. This guy has a lot of knowledge. However his spiritual walk is not so healthy…. In fact he refers to himself as a “secularized protestant.” (Sad.) On the other hand another thing we need to remember is that growing in knowledge also does not equal growing in spiritual maturity. So why does this matter? It matters because your Lifegroup is not primarily a place to come receive knowledge. Your Lifegroup should not digress into a discussion about predestination or the new perspective on Paul or the best interpretation of Revelation. That is not the point….
(Note: I am not saying that knowledge is unnecessary to spiritual growth. I firmly believe that God calls us to know more about him and his actions in the past through the Bible. God also calls us to know more about him and how he works in this world, through church history. God also calls us to know about him and what his people have said about him, through historical theology. All of these fields of study are extremely important because in studying them we have the potential of encountering the God that we worship. Personally I have had some of my greatest “God Times” reading theologians like N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, and Augustine.)
How can I help you change?
Or better yet, how can we help you change. A healthy group helps us grow spiritually. Bill Search in Simple Smallgroups list out three ways that Lifegroups help people change: 1-When we are honest, 2-when we apply Scriptures, and 3-when we listen to other believers.
- Honesty: If we want to become more like Jesus you have to be honest about where you are at. If we want to change a particular sin in our life we need to be able to talk about that sin, and you won’t talk about that sin unless you are honest with your group. If you want to grow you have to open up and share. If we live in a community of people who hides and covers up their faults, we won’t be able to help one another. So we should invite our fellow group members to be honest about who they really are and what things they are struggling with. However in being honest we must remember that we are working along a continuum. You cannot expect people to be completely open and honest the first week of Lifegroup. (If they are then there likely is something wrong with them. Either that or you have an EGR on your hands.) Nevertheless you should see growth in honesty as your group progresses.
- Applying Scriptures:A few weeks ago when I preached on Colossians 3:12-17 I said that “Out of our identity as God’s sons and daughters words of encouragement should flow to our fellow brothers and sisters.” We should be encouraging one another that in Christ we are holy and dearly loved. And we should be encouraging one another with the Word of Christ, which is the scriptures, the gospel, and the promised work of Jesus in our life. Sure it will involve exhorting one another to follow the commadments of Scripture, but above all we should “apply the scriptures” by reminding one another of the truths that scripture tells us about our position in Christ. I firmly believe that as we do this we will be more ready and willing to follow the commands of scripture. (Because doing flows from being!)
- Listening: “Listening to one another is one of the greatest ways we can help each other change.” Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you weren’t being heard? Like your feelings and your opinions didn’t matter? Like you were underappreciated or not appreciated at all? If you have ever felt that way you know how exhausting it can be. However you probably know that the opposite of those things can be very life giving and energizing. So listening and listening attentively can foster an environment that gives life rather than drains it. As your group listens to one another you can encourage one another and affirm (or correct) them. I think that most importantly, listening shows that we care, and when we know people care about our spiritual growth we are more likely to want to change.
Change – It’s a Continuum
Bill Search gives a great metaphor for the change continuum. He uses the metaphor of a bridge and says that “You’ve got to build the relational bridge strong enough to hold the weight of truth.” I believe he is right. Have you ever received a challenging word or a rebuke from someone you barely knew? How did you take it? Probably not so well. Now what if someone you knew loved and cared for you said those same things? Would that be radically different? I think so. What this shows is that if we are going to have the authority to speak into people’s lives and help them become more Christ-like then we need to build the relational bridge strong enough to handle the tension of confrontation and challenge. This begins with building the bridge between the leader and the members then building the bridge between all of the members of the group to one another. So in order to embark upon this journey of becoming more Christ-like we need to build strong relational bridges. There are also some other things we can be doing, but we will take a look at those next time.
Over the next few days I will be posting some thoughts on an issue facing the future of the church, namely the explosion of urban populations. I will start by taking a look at some of the issues brought up by the urban explosion, and I will conclude by reflecting upon how the Gospel addresses these issues.
Today we start out with a fictional account of a suburban Christian’s view of the city.
The Story: Looking Towards the City
The suburbs, it is all she has ever known. She had lived her whole life in the suburbs of Los Angeles. In fact she had lived in the same house and gone to the same church since she was born. The church she attended was known for being one of the largest and oldest churches in the San Fernando Valley, probably the largest suburb of Los Angeles. This church was as far from the city as it could possibly be; it was literally on top of a mountain, fifty feet from city limits. The majority of the congregants didn’t even come from the San Fernando Valley; most of them came from Simi Valley, a suburb of the San Fernando Valley. But all of this was perfectly fine with her; she had no desire to be near the city. She had everything she needed or wanted within a few minutes drive from her home. Wal-Mart was ten minutes away, the movie theaters were five minutes away, all her friends lived nearby, work was close, and best of all her church was only a fifteen minute drive from her house. In her eyes the city was a place of crime, violence, pollution, ugliness, congestion, and alienation; so she was glad to say away from it. Sometimes however, her attitude toward the city would change. At times she would feel what she described as compassion for it. This compassion often lead to action, in fact she went down to the city a few times to pass out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless people on skid row. She saw so many things wrong with the city, she believed that she was lucky because she didn’t have to live there. In her mind the city was a hellhole, and it needed rescuing. It was the church’s job to go save those people. Her attitude toward the city constantly vacillated; when she wasn’t feeling disgusted by the city she saw the city as an object of mission.
When she was in college she started dating a guy who went to her church, unlike her though he didn’t grow up in this church, in fact he didn’t even grow up in a white middle-class area of the valley. He grew up in another area of the valley; one of the most urbanized areas of this suburb, because of this he had a different perspective on the city. He worked at her church and was excited about urban ministry. Some of his favorite pastors worked in urban settings: Tim Keller worked in Manhattan, Tim Chaddick worked in Hollywood, Matt Carter worked in Austin, and Darrin Patrick worked in St. Louis. These guys were his heroes, they had holistic ministries among city dwellers, they were multi-cultural churches reaching the people from all walks of life. So when he heard Tim Keller speak on God’s urban mission at Lausanne 2010 he was brimming with joy. He couldn’t help but talk about this to her constantly. He was constantly telling her that the future of the church is in urban settings, that is just the way the world was headed. She struggled with this idea wondering if it were true. She loved God and she wanted to be wherever God was working, but was the future of the church really in cities?
The story above captures the thoughts and feelings of many non-city dwelling Christians in the U.S. In the eyes of suburbanites the city is a terrible place. Although no one would ever say this, many believe that God has left the cities; that could be the only explanation for their moral decay. However, these attitudes involve misconceptions of the city and what God is doing there. In this blog I hope to address an issue that the church will face in the future and give a missional plan to respond to that challenge. I will show that urbanization is one of the foremost issues facing the church in the next several decades. Urbanization, which can simply mean the growth of urban areas or “the process whereby people acquire material and non-material elements of culture, behavior patterns, and ideas that originate in or are distinctive of the city,” is the church’s most pressing issue in this century. As the church faces urbanization it will have to address several issues: 1)poverty and 2) cultural heterogeneity
In this blog I will begin by examining the context of urbanization. Here we will look at the issue of migration towards the city, and we will touch upon poverty and cultural heterogeneity. Then we will turn to the Scriptures and reflect upon the insights that are given to us through the reading of God’s word. Having done this we will be in a position to act in light of our new insights. In this portion of the blog I will recommend a course of action for addressing the issues of poverty and cultural heterogeneity. Finally, I will conclude by re-telling the story about this girl in light of the work we have done.