Results tagged “Christian service” from Reformation21 Blog

To Nurture a Community

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One year I made a resolution to get my hands dirty and grow potted plants on my back porch. It was my first foray into all things botanical.

I went to the garden section of my local Home Depot and selected a variety of pots, an assortment of flowers and herbs, a giant bag of potting soil, and all the necessary accoutrements. Back at home, I carefully installed each plant in its new home, watered them, and placed them proudly on my new potting shelf. I stood back and mentally checked my New Year's resolution as done.

That first week or so, I checked in on my plants and watered them from time to time but before long, I forgot about them. And you can easily surmise what happened: They all died.

I didn't water them regularly. I didn't pay attention to which ones needed direct sun and which did not. I didn't bother to notice when they needed transplanting into something bigger. I didn't care for or nurture them.

The same can happen with relationships in the church.

Community in the Church

As believers, we know we are united to our brothers and sisters in the faith through the blood of Christ (see John 17:20-23). We know we are all family. And many of us desire to have vibrant relationships with our siblings in Christ. We long to have a close community where we meet one another's needs, walk beside one another in sufferings, and spur one another on in the faith.

But too often, we expect those relationships to thrive solely on the few minutes of fellowship time between Sunday school and worship. Like watering a plant intermittently, we expect relationships to grow with minimal time and attention. We consider our "How was your week?" to be the foundation of Christian community. We may talk about our summer travels, the latest illness our child picked up, or the annoying thing our boss did, but seldom do we share about our real struggles, needs, and heartaches. Rarely does anyone know what our lives are like behind the painted-on smiles and stories of how busy our week was. 

The book of Acts describes what the early church was like:

"And they devoted themselves to the apostle's 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 the their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:42-47).

These early Christians didn't just shake hands and greet one another one morning a week. They shared what they had with each other. They ate together. They knew one another. They lived out the gospel together. They did life together.

And so should we.

Developing Community in the Church

How can we develop such community in the church? How do we get to the point where we "love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor...Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality...Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep?" (Romans 12:10, 13, 15). How do know one another well enough that we can "encourage one another and build one another up...admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all?" (1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14).

Invest time and effort: My half-hearted attempt at developing a green thumb failed due to lack of intention. I failed to invest time and effort into it. I failed to nurture my plants to life. Just like those plants, relationships require time and effort. We have to invest in our relationships with one another in the church in order for them to grow and thrive. This often means spending time together outside of church. It means inviting one another over to our homes for a meal. It means meeting with one another for coffee. It means praying with and for one another. It means studying the word together and urging one another on to live out its truths in our lives. It means serving one another in practical ways. It means checking in with one another. It means doing living life together.

Today, let's commit to doing something at least once a week with someone else in our church family. Who will that be?

Look out for new people: One of the most neglected people in the church are those who are new. If a church has been around for decade or more, many of the existing church members already have connections with one another and they don't have margin to add more friendships. While they may be friendly to new church members, they likely won't make room for them in their lives. Instead, be on the lookout for new people. Make margin for them. Include them. Though they may not have the history with you that others in the church have, start making that history today.

Today, let's challenge ourselves to meet one new family each Sunday. Let's step outside our comfort zones and expand our circles.

Include the Marginalized: New people aren't the only ones neglected in the church, so too are the marginalized. Often families take priority in church life. But what about those who are single, the elderly, or the widowed? How can we include them in church community? Families can invite the single and widowed to join them for meals and holidays. Youth can visit the elderly and do chores for them. Small groups and Bible studies can intentionally mix age groups together. We can look for ways to use the gifts of the elderly in church life.

Today, let's look for ways to include those who are often left on the sidelines of church life.

Set an Example: Community starts at the top. When the leadership of the church takes it seriously, the rest of the church fill follow. When opening up our home and lives to one another is the expected way and rhythm of church life--when the leadership sets an example and regularly connects with the members of the church outside of Sunday worship--the church membership will do likewise. Encourage everyone who serves in church leadership to make an effort to know the members of the church, to invite them into their homes, to connect with their lives.

Today, let's live out community by setting an example for others to follow.

We are brothers and sisters in Christ. May we live our lives connected to one another. May we make the effort today to nurture and cultivate relationships in the church.

 

Christina Fox is a graduate of Covenant College and received her Master's in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She serves on the national women's ministry team of the PCA and is the editor of enCourage. Christina is a conference and retreat speaker and writes for a number of Christian ministries including TGC and Ligonier. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish. You can find her atwww.christinafox.com.

Ministering to Felt Needs

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There was this nice, new family who was visiting your church for the past month or so. But you haven't seen them now for a couple weeks, and so you ask someone who was more connected with them: "What happened to the Jones family?"

"Oh," your friend responds, "they didn't feel our church was meeting their needs."

You exchange eye rolls, and the conversation moves on.

Now, I don't know the Jones family, but in another sense, I do. Because I'm the Jones family. And you're the Jones family. I don't mean that in some sort of pantheistic, or V for Vendetta revolution kind of way, but in the way that makes us a little slower to roll our eyes at a family leaving (or joining) a church for that reason. First we should understand what these felt needs are, and then distinguish the category into which they fall. Are the felt needs something that:

  1. Our church should meet, but doesn't
  2. Our church would like to meet, but can't (usually for reasons of size and resources)
  3. Our church does not want to meet, and therefore will never meet

If we examine the reasons by these categories, we will probably find most people falling into the first two. In Reformed circles though, because we are allergic to the phrase "felt needs", we automatically place many people hungry for those to be met into the third category. Then we will happily reclaim them once they have matured in their appetite for "solid food".

There is good reason behind this visceral reaction against ministering to felt needs. We want to affirm the primacy of the glory of God, which, as fallen human beings, seldom cracks the top five on our list of felt needs. So instead we strive to show people that we have misaligned desires, and that in order to flourish fully, the Lord Jesus Christ must take the throne at the center of our desires, and we must work with His Spirit to subordinate all of our other felt needs, channeling them towards knowing and enjoying Christ.

But what we miss in that above declaration is the little motivational phrase: "in order to flourish fully." That's a felt need. We dare not set up the Christian life as a set of doctrines and imperatives abstracted from the "why" of fulfilling our purpose as human beings. The truth is we all seek Christ in order to satisfy felt needs, the most basic one being our need for relationship with God. Jesus was not shy about satisfying even the crassest of felt needs as a pointer to the fact that Christ has come to satisfy our deepest, most eternal needs.

When large crowds gathered to hear Jesus preach (Matthew 14,15), he did not scoff at them because, by the end, they were less interested in redemptive history than getting some bread and fish. Jesus was continually healing people of diseases, and casting out demons. He did warn people not to stop or be content with seeking for that superficial level of satisfaction, but he urged them to go on to want more, to want not just water to quench thirst, but to have the source of thirst-quenching inside of you. The fact that Jesus and His church meet simple, low level felt needs is not an obstacle, but a pointer towards Jesus' capacity to meet the deeper needs we are less aware of.

Let's take two extreme examples to see how we can affirm "wrong" felt needs people attempt to satisfy when they come to worship.

1) Entertainment. We do not want worship to be entertainment, right? But is it wrong if someone is entertained by a worship service? What are the underlying desires which cause people to seek out more banal entertainment outlets? Is there any good desire God has placed within the human heart which entertainment satisfies, and which therefore points to God? People want to be part of something engaging, exciting, relatable, and which takes them out of themselves. Are we so sure we want none of that in worship?

2) Chore. We never want worship to feel like a chore, right? We don't want people simply showing up to church because they think they have to, do we? Or is there anything underlying someone's desire to do something as a chore, which we can affirm as good in how we relate to God? Is there any sense of obligation or duty which we owe to God, or of doing something we know is good and right, and helpful, even when we don't always feel like it in that moment?

Felt needs can serve as a starting block, or even guideposts along our life, as we see how Christ provides the answers to the things we care about the most, not necessarily because we've latched onto the absolute best things, but because all things are in Him and through Him. (Rom 11:36). 


Justin Poythress is the Assistant Pastor of Student Ministry at Christ Community Church in Carmel, IN.