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.
Preaching books are a dime a dozen. Its really hard to find a preaching book that either says something unique or says something important in a unique way. So I don’t have much confidence in preaching books – especially books that give you X number of ways to be a better preacher or books that promise to make you a better preacher. Such books are often filled with superficial pieces of advice or don’t really work. So when I saw Mary Hulst’s book: A Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by Sunday I couldn’t help but be super skeptical. Nevertheless, I picked it up, thinking, what the heck, if I get one helpful idea from this book it will be worth reading it. In all honesty – I didn’t get one helpful idea from this book – I got so much more. In fact, as I’ve said before on my twitter account, this is officially one of my new favorite books about preaching.
Why am I so enamored with this book? It probably has to do with the fact that its not like your typical 10 Ways to do X or 7 Simple Steps to Y or 4.8 Habits of people Who Z. This book is filled with substance, it is at the same time theologically informed and practical. You know its not like your typical X number of ways to do Q kind of preaching books when the author says the best way to make your preaching better is to make it biblical! So many of the “simple ways” books are so consumeristic and seeker-pleasing, but this book begins by saying the most compelling thing our preaching can do is to be Biblical! What a surprise!
The second thing Hulst says we can do to make our preaching better is to stop telling people what do to – and to start telling them what God has already done, i.e. make your preaching full of grace. Don’t say stuff like:
- If your relationship with God really is important to you, you will make a commitment to talk to him every day.
- If you want to take discipleship to the next level, you will join a service team.
- Isn’t it time you start investing your money into eternity?
Instead your preaching ought to change from “this is what you need to do” to “this is what we get to do” language. Our callings are a grace given to us, “so preach grace. Preach it often and preach it well, and watch how God gets to work.” (65)
One of the most helpful practical chapter is her chapter on “Compelling Preaching.” In this chapter she addresses the preachers problems of having too much information and lacking a well defined (oral) structure in our sermon. She suggests (reminding me of Andy Stanley) that we should be able to articulate our entire sermon in one sentence. Or as I like to say – the main idea of your sermon should be tweetable. To do that we need to get clear on what the bid idea of our sermon is. Once we do that the points in the sermon should illimuate the one big idea. She suggest that “to give our sermons clarity we need to do that hard work of picking one idea and letting the rest, for now, stay in our study.” Easier said than done! Nevertheless this is crucial to good preaching.
There is plenty of other great things which I could say about this book, but I don’t want to rob you of the opportunity of discovering these things on your own. So I will just stop here….Let me just say one more thing.
I rarely tell people – you need to go out and buy this book. However, this is one of those books that I feel like all preachers need to buy. I haven’t really found a preaching book that is so practical and at the same time so theologically informed. Because it is theological and practical, A Little Handbook for Preachers is my new go to book for handing to new preachers.
Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.
I have spent all week studying the book of James – getting ready for a new series at Soma. As I have been reading James 2 I have been struck by the gravity of his injunction against favoritism.
Essentially James says, if you are believers in Jesus Christ don’t show favoritism. Period. He gives us some examples of how favoritism plays out in the church. Basically, a rich guy wearing gold rings and flowing robes comes in and everybody pays him close attention, people flock to greet him.
A poor guy comes in and people make him sit on the floor, or stand in the back of the room. The problem with this (there are a few problems that James mentions) is that in doing this believers have become “judges.” Essentially they are saying – X is what makes you a valuable person, X justifies your existence & you have X. The thing is though that their “X” is not God’s X. It’s a radically different X.
According to James, and he thinks they should already know this, God has choosen the poor (the not X’s) to inherit the kingdom. They have things backwards. They have bought into the world’s way of seeing things.
Roman culture says you are a “have” if you “have” money, land, prestige, fancy clothes, etc. King Jesus though says you are a “have” once you recognize that you are a “have not.” To say otherwise is to deny the fact that the gospel is for those who are poor in spirit.
Anyway… I’m really interested in what makes you valuable today, because the truth is, if somebody walked in wearing a gold ring and flowing robes into our services aka if somebody came in looking like Liberace most people are going to stay away from that dude. I guess what I’m really thinking about is….
What do we consider “cultural capital?”
According to sociologists “cultural capital” is very similar to “economic capital” – it consists of things we posses that are exchanged for goods, resources, and/or power. If you have “economic capital,” i.e. money, you exchange that for food, education, electricity, etc. If you have cultural capital, you “exchange” or “reveal” those things and get some sort of cultural good i.e. favor, prestige, status, friends, followers, gifts.
When talking about “cultural capital” sociologists will tend to classify it into three categories:
- Embodied – that is properties one possesses. This would include your language (formal or slang), your physical looks, race or even gender. All these things are used/revealed/exchanged for cultural goods.
- Objectified – the physical objects one owns. This includes the type of car you drive, the type of clothes you wear (or don’t wear), the gadgets you own, etc. Just like all other cultural capital, possession of these things (and the public display of them) give you cultural goods. Those might include special treatment at the store, by the opposite sex, or even in the marketplace.
- Institutionalized – these are markers accorded to a person according to one’s position in some sort of institutional system. For example, within the education system degrees count as cultural capital. Within the workforce, one’s position (intern vs. ceo) count as cultural capital.
In all honesty, most young adults and college students could care less about “institutionalized cultural capital,” but embodied and objectified cultural capital matter a lot. And that is just as true among Christians and non-Christians.
Christians will certainly value some things non-Christians wont. For instance knowing the Bible will give you cultural capital, experience on mission trips will give you capital, speaking Christianese, or not-cursing will probably give you capital. There are certain identity markers that we Christians (sadly) have that are used to assign cultural value to some and not to others. However things aren’t that straightforward. Although we would repudiate certain things – like looks giving one cultural capital, fashion giving one cultural capital, etc. – the truth is that things just aren’t that simple. Most of the things that non-Christians consider valuable are the same things non-Christians consider valuable. At times these things are at odds with the gospel but they are too subtle for us to notice.
The Church is always at risk of embracing anti-kingdom cultural values. Some are obvious, but most are subtle.
So what contributes to what counts as cultural capital within any one particular culture? How do people come to learn what is worth something and what isn’t? Is it simply because somebody told us once that some thing is valuable and some other thing is not? I don’t think so. To believe that we are shaped to value some things and not value others simply by means of propositional knowledge is to deny the fact that we are embodied beings. More on that, and how we are shaped to value some things as “cultural capital,” next time.
At its very core discipleship is a relational activity. Ultimately is about being faithful to God’s call to love the people around you. Its about loving these people enough to help them see how God is moving in their lives and help them get to where God wants them to be. Discipleship cannot happen outside of a relationship. It is not simply transferring information, rather discipleship is relational.
Watch: “The Heart of A Disciple Maker” by Francis Chan & David Platt
At Soma discipleship is our focus. Yes discipleship is a complicated word (or at least we make it a complicated word), but it really boils down to helping people become more like Jesus. That is the goal of discipleship, help people become more like Jesus. When discipling “leaders” our goal is to help develop leaders who look and lead like Jesus.
So what’s the reason we do discipleship? Is the reason that we do it simply because it is something we were commanded to do? By no means! We don’t simply do it because we are told to do it. The truth is God doesn’t simply care about external outward actions/appearances/religious activities. If he did then the Pharisees would be the heroes of the faith! So I’m not going to tell you “Man Up and do it! Its required!” Rather I want to tell you that if you have the right heart discipleship will be an overflow of your heart.
If you read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 you quickly ome to realize that even the most impressive sacrificial actions are worthless if they are not empowerd by love. So ask yourself:
“Am I the type of person who could teach someone without loving them?”
I know I certainly am. I often find myself getting caught up with work and school. I often find myself going through the motions without loving others. I just disciple people because I “have to.” But that isn’t what Discipleship is about…. it isn’t simply about eaching people useful in (though you should). It isn’t simply about raising up new leaders (though you should). Its ultimately about loving on people. Its about being faithful to God’s call to love on the people around you.
Discipleship is about loving people enough to help them see their need for God and to see their need love and obey God in any context he has placed them.
When you are loving people, and disciplining others to become like Jesus you are gloryfing God and helping others to glorify God… and that is ultimately what life is all about.
Discuss: How Discipleship is a Relational Activity – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (Questions are from Multiply)
- Up to this point, would you say that your desire to make disciples has been motivated by love? Why or Why not?
- Take some time to consider your existing relationships, especially your discipleship relationships. Describe your love for the people God has placed in your life. What evidence can you point to that shows that you love the people around you?
- In addition to praying fervently, what practical steps can you take to increase your love for people?
Okay I know that the last “article”/post/lesson (what do I even call these things!) was pretty long…. I’m sorry, but I had to set down the groundwork before we could start building upon it. Anyway today’s article is going to be a lot shorter, I promise!
So last time we took a look at Bill Search’s three patterns for small groups, however we didn’t rely too much on the Bible (that’s a bad thing). So today we will take a look at the classic small group verse/story from Acts 2. If you have ever been in a Lifegroup or have led one then you know what this is all about, but its super important so lets take a look at that, then lets go ahead and take a look at how God has used small group gatherings throughout the history of the church to advance his kingdom.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV)
So here is the context: Peter has just preached a killer message on the gospel. And this isn’t just a 4-spiritual laws sermon or a version of the Romans Road. No this is the gospel as rooted in the story of Israel. Peter says that what Jesus did on the cross is the climax of all that Israel had been waiting for, all the promises that God made to them all their hopes and dreams are finally fulfilled in Jesus. And now because God has exalted Jesus through the resurrection God’s promised Holy Spirit is poured out on his people. All we have to do is repent, be baptized and confess Jesus as Lord and all of our sins will be forgiven and we will receive the Spirit of God. Now I don’t think that this was the only thing that Peter said, I can’t imagine him giving a 30 second speech and 3000 people get saved, surely there is more but this is the stuff that Luke decided to include when writing Acts. This story is so cool and gets me pumped for preaching the gospel but preaching the gospel creates a problem: what do you do with these new believers? What did Peter do with these 3000 new believers? That’s like a church the size of Rocky Peak springing up in 5 minutes, how do you handle that? Do you create some sort of program to handle these people? Maybe; but I think the early church was smarter than that. They allowed these believers to develop organic communities based around the life, teaching, and presence of Jesus. These organic communities are what we today would call Life Groups.
Breaking Down Acts 2:42-47
Looking at this passage we see these new believers drawn into a community. This new community was a family with new traditions, new patterns, and a new way of looking at the world. This new community of faith displayed three patterns (which we have already talked about):
1-A relational pattern: they gathered in homes and shared meals.
2-A growth pattern: they talked about and lived out the teachings of Jesus
3-A missional pattern: they increased
Lets take a quick look at each one of these patterns.
The Relational Pattern
Luke uses the word “fellowship.” This isn’t just friendship and this isn’t just a potluck. This is real life commitment to one another. Fellowship was often used to describe the kind of committed care that takes place in marriage. This was family. As a family they did certain things, just like any other family would; they had their own little quirks/traditions/values. These families gathered and broke bread. No they didn’t just sit around and ate bread, they likely had dinner together and at some point within this meal they had communion. They sat and remembered what Jesus had done for them. They would likely tell stories about Jesus, the same stories we get in the Gospels. So basically they were doing life together, they were pursuing Jesus together. On a side note, we need to remember that these fellowship meals weren’t exactly like the kind of meals we have for our Lifegroup socials. The majority of Christians were poor, really poor. So for many these meals were the only meal they would get. They were the place in which the larger community cared for them and met their physical needs (Acts 6). Thus the fellowship is more than just spiritual or physical, its holistic.
The Growth Pattern
Look at the passage again. This group of believers was not only committed to community, they were also committed to growing in Christ. Remember they didn’t have the New Testament as we have it so they relied upon the Apostle’s teaching to learn about Jesus. So they were devoted to Jesus’ words as delivered by the Apostles. But this devotion to Jesus was more than just learning for the sake of learning. They learned to live out the truth of Jesus’ work and words. As a community they gave to the poor. You can tell that this community took Jesus’ words seriously because Jesus is constantly teaching about loving others and caring for the poor. They put Jesus words into action. Thus we see that God really was changing their heart and making them more like Jesus.
The Missional Pattern
As a result of their devotion to Christ and to one another God increased their numbers. The changed lives and the deep community became attractive to those outside of this faith community. God used this community to draw people back to himself. This community was not turned inward they had an outward gaze. As they cultivated their own relationship with Jesus they were propelled outward towards the lost. This community began to reach out to their friends, families, and neighbors to tell them about what Jesus had done. They were missional.
A Very Brief History of Small Groups
I’m not sure if anyone has ever written a book on the history of small groups, but I’m sure they could because the Church has always thrived in small group settings. Looking back to the medieval church we come to realize that monastery’s were basically small groups. They were small groups of men who devoted their entire lives to pursuing Jesus. Although we might think of monasteries as inwardly focused homes of self-righteous monks the reality is that these monks don’t really get credit for how much they cared about their surrounding communities. It is well attested that these monasteries were actually centers of mission and culture for their surrounding communities.
Passing through the middle ages we see an upsurge in small group gatherings. In the 1700’s John Wesley developed a small group structure. Wesley realized that a weekly sermon was not enough to disciple believers so he began to use classes and groups to help people connect and grow. These groups required high levels of commitment and accountability, but they paid off and the Methodist church movement was born. The Methodist church was vital to the growth of Christianity in America. If it weren’t for the Methodist’s commitment to preaching the gospel in the frontiers of America, who knows where America would be at today.
The use of small groups is not limited to the western Church. The church in Africa, Asia, and Latin America very closely resembles the church of the first few centuries. In the global south (the third world) churches often refer to these groups as “cell-groups.” In Latin America, Catholics call them “base ecclesial communities.” These BEC’s were known for taking care of poor communities around them. Whatever you want to call them God uses these small groups help believers mature in him, and draw the lost back to himself.
Wrapping Things Up
So we have taken a look at a Biblical model for small groups and we have seen that the Church has always had small gatherings revolving around these three patterns. Small groups work. They are effective. The church has been doing them for thousands of years. Lives change. Missionary movements are birthed. So the question is, “are we living out these patterns in our own Lifegroups?” Do we have a growth pattern? A relational pattern? A missional pattern?
This is my heart I want to see churches and Soma do Lifegroups well. Why? Because God uses communities like these to expand his kingdom. The strongest communities throughout history did not merely have an inward focus they also had an outward focus. As they looked away from themselves a funny thing happened, they ended up growing more than if they had focused on growth. This is an axiomatic truth that holds true for individuals and communities: God uses mission to grown individuals and communities. As individuals and communities focus on God’s mission he grows them so that they might be effective in bringing him glory. So lets focus on proclaiming Jesus inside and outside of our Lifegroups and the rest will follow.
Simple Small Groups: Three Simple Patterns
So recently I started to read this new book by a small groups pastor out in Kentucky. He started out as a skeptic about small groups but now he has fully bought into them. Naturally I wanted to see what he thought was so great about them so I ordered the book on Amazon (it was only $3!) and I started to read it. What I realized while reading is that most small group books say the same thing over and over and over and over…. However that doesn’t mean that these books aren’t good. It just means that everyone is coming to realize the same things about small groups. So I wanted to take the next couple of weeks and share what I have learned from Bill Search’s book Simple Small Groups. Over the next few weeks I will be pointing out some stuff that I thought was important in this book. So lucky you! You get to reap the benefits of me reading this book! You get all the good stuff without any of the hard work!
Bill’s book revolves around 3 C’s. Personally I don’t like the C’s but I think he is on to something good. The 3 C’s are: Connect, Change, Cultivate. He says that all good small groups will have these three elements or patterns. So lets go ahead and take a quick look at each of these patterns and draw out how we can be thinking about our own Lifegroups in terms of these three patterns.
We all know that connecting is an important part of smallgroups. Connection is how community happens. For a Lifegroup to develop meaningful community connection must happen. Usually members of Lifegroups start out as casual acquaintances. Luckily at Soma we don’t have to worry about creating acquaintances, that naturally happens through our Sunday night meetings and our hangouts after Soma. (I’m thinking the intern house…) Eventually those acquaintances become friends. Once this happens we see the group move from “hanging out in smallgroup” to “hanging out outside of smallgroup.” Not everyone makes it to this stage, but that’s okay! Finally some groups move from being a group of friends to being a family. Not every group makes this shift, but that’s okay! Intimacy is not required for groups to experience meaningful connection.
Bill says that changing is “the spiritual and relational renovation that transforms us into the likeness of Christ.” Changing is not merely learning, not is it simply behavior modification. Its becoming more Christ-like through the Spirit’s work using scripture, the preached word of God, prayer, spiritual disciplines and community. Basically for Bill its about our growth.
This is probably the “C” that I like the least. It sounds so strange to me and it doesn’t seem to communicate what he wants it to communicate. Anyway Cultivating “is the missional lifestyle.” Its wholistic, its not simply evangelism or simply service. Its living out your faith outwardly, with your whole being. He says that “When a group is cultivating they are developing an outward focus that engages their hearts into action.” This is an important pattern, and its possibly one of the most difficult patterns to do well. However as “cultivating” becomes important to us each follower realizes that they have been called to make an impact for the kingdom in the world around them. As they realize their call they will begin to step out in faith and use the gifts that God has given them.
The 3 C’s at Soma
So hopefully by now some of these patterns are beginning to resonate with you. You might be thinking to yourself… “yeah I wish our group did that more or did that better.” Or maybe you are thinking “yeah we are pretty balanced with all three of these.” Both of those places are good places to be at.
Also you might be thinking: “these sound very familiar.” Well they should sound VERY familiar, after all these three are super similar to our vision for Lifegroups at Soma. In case you forgot our vision for Lifegroups is:
1-We come to encounter Christ
2-We desire to connect with and minister to one another as the Spirit Leads us
3-We desire to be missional and expand God’s Kingdom
Yes, these are our three C’s! A long time ago Dairek and I preached a series on our vision for smallgroup and we shaped it around three C’s as well:
1-Communion with Christ
3-Comissioned with the gospel
So the point is that we already had these patterns! That is why this book is so useful; it helps us examine where we are at with them and how we can grow in them. So for the rest of these “articles” you can translate for yourself: Change=Encounter Christ, Connect=Community, Culitvate=Missional. So lets take a super quick look at Soma’s three patterns.
We Come to Encounter Christ
This is the heartbeat of our groups. Without Jesus in the middle our groups are nothing but self-help groups. We are no better than AA or the Rotary club. We encounter Christ in our worship, in our communion times, in our discussion of the sermon, in our prayer times for eachother. Christ is the focus of all we do and he should permeate all of our actions in group. As Lifegroup leaders we must constantly remind our group that we are here to encounter Christ and grown in him through our encounters.
On a side note, encountering Christ is not something we do as individuals. We also encounter Christ through others. As we see Jesus change the lives of others we see how good Jesus is and we are transformed as well! So encountering Christ is not something that we do “together as individuals” we do it as a group!
We Desire to Connect With and Minister to one Another as the Spirit Leads Us
The Holy Spirit is the agent through which community is built up. (1 Cor 12:12-25). Ephesians 2:21-22 says that the community of believers is joined together and rises to become a temple of the Lord. Paul tells us that we are being built together as God’s dwelling place by his Spirit. Thus the Spirit is interested in us growing in unity. So building community is more than just facilitating hang out times or creating meaningful memories. As leaders we build community by giving the Holy Spirit space to create community. This means that we create space for the members of our Lifegroup to minister to one another as the Spirit guides us. This might mean leaving time open form encouragement and prayer, or it might mean creating space to pray for God to heal someone in the group.
We Desire to be Missional and Expand God’s Kingdom
This is probably the most unnatural to us in our Lifegroups, but its one of the most key components of biblical Christianity. God calls us all to be on mission, but as I have said before in sermons: our most effective witness is not what we say as individuals but how we live as communities. We desire that our communities (Lifegroups) be places where the love of Christ is lived out for eachother and for others. Christ’s love is so attractive to unbelievers! But we need to create opportunities for non-believers to see Christ’s love in our community! Also we need to be proactive about inviting non-Christians in to our communities. I know its hard! But as we see God begin to bring people to himself something happens in us. Our faith grows and our excitement for the kingdom to expand increases!
Wrapping things up
Okay so we have talked A LOT about a bunch of different things. Keep these three patterns in mind as we move forward in the next few weeks. Next time we will take a look at what Biblical Lifegroups look like. Have a great week!