Results tagged “fellowship” 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.

Something is terribly wrong when professing Christians do not identify with the church and love being a part of her. Something is wrong when professing Christians fail to be passionate about every aspect of the church and long to invest themselves in her, taking all that the church represents and does to heart. Listen, for example, to the way Paul instructs the Ephesians: "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).

I fell in love with the church the moment I was converted as a freshman in college in 1971. Having never attended any church until then, I discovered a community that was, to me, like a family: caring, loving, and nourishing. The church I found was able to tell me that I was wrong about some things without driving me away. I knew that I was loved. The church showed me acts of kindness and fellowship that I recall with affection to this day. I was introduced to expository preaching from the start - a style of preaching that puts the Bible above the personality and idiosyncrasies of the preacher. I discovered communal prayer times, and joyful singing, all of which have been the mainstay of my Christian life ever since. True, I have had my share of worship wars, when Christians disagree over important things and sometimes trivial things; but for all that, I have taken delight in her rituals of song and sacrament, prayer and proclamation, more times than I can relate. I love the church. I fully endorse Calvin's way of putting it (and the shadow of Cyprian that lies behind it): "For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels" (Inst. 4.1.4). In the church, I have discovered saints and angels (though not, as far as I know, real angels). I have witnessed deeds of extraordinary kindness done to myself and to others, and I have been the beneficiary of kindnesses done to me by those who remained anonymous.

Yes, there is a dark side to the church as there is to all things in this fallen world. The church is not perfect. It has her share of malcontents and killjoys, her energy-sapping attention-getters and despondent hearts. Adullam's cave has nothing on some churches I have seen, but none of this robs me of my love for the church. Even at her most eccentric - the King James Version's rendition of 1 Peter 2:9 as "ye are ... a peculiar people" is painfully accurate, if quaint -- she is still Christ's body. "Love me, love my church" is what Jesus seems to say in the Bible. I would not have it any other way. Would you?


*This post is a modification of a post originally published at Ref21 in September of 2009. 

When You Say You'll Pray...

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Have you ever gotten a request from a fellow brother or sister in Christ asking for immediate prayer? Perhaps he is facing a temptation for which he needs help resisting. Or maybe she is feeling overcome by grief or sorrow and is desperate for peace. It might be that your friend has a need and is seeking the Lord's provision.

We often respond to such requests in the affirmative. We may even say "I'll pray for you"--as a common and almost automatic response we give without even thinking. But then we go on our way and forget the request altogether. But saying such things without actually praying about the person's need is worthless. Meaningless. And does more harm than good.

Perhaps the problem is that we fail to grasp the power of prayer; rather, we've forgotten the power of the One to whom we pray.

The Power of God in Prayer

The Apostle Paul wrote several prayers in his letters to various churches. These prayers are a treasure trove of insight into the practice of prayer. Paul prayed for each of the churches he ministered to and asked them to pray for him and his ministry as well.

In Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus, he shared two prayers for the church: Ephesians 1:15-19 and 3:14-19. In both of these prayers, Paul focused on the power of God. He wanted the Ephesian church to know God's power toward them: "and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:19-20). In Paul's second prayer, he asked God to strengthen the Ephesians "with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Ephesians 3:16).

The same power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power at work in us as believers. It is the same power that brought us from death to life in Christ. It is the same power that united us to Christ through faith. It is the same power that resides within us, teaching, training, correcting, and encouraging us. And it is the same power that will change and transform us into the image of Christ, until the day when our faith becomes sight.

When we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we pray to the God of all power. Perhaps this is why Paul ends Ephesians 3 with this benediction, "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (vv. 20-21).

Immediate Prayer

This is why we ought to be quick to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. As adopted children of the Father, we are united to Christ and one another. We pray to the same Father on behalf of our siblings in Christ. And we can come before our almighty God with our prayers and petitions, knowing that he hears us. Not only does he hear us, but he uses our prayers to carry out his will in this world.

To act on a prayer request immediately takes not only an understanding of the power of God at work in our prayers, but it also takes intentionality. It takes a willingness, desire, and discipline to follow through. So how can we practically respond to immediate prayer requests?

  • Once we receive the request, we can pause whatever we were doing and pray for the person's need.
  • We can keep a prayer journal where we keep a list of prayer needs. When we receive a new request, we add it to the list and spend time in prayer about that need. We can also mark when a prayer was answered.
  • We can write the request on a sticky note and post it where we are most likely to see it, so that whenever we see it, we pray for that need. The note could be posted on our computer, on the car dashboard, on the bathroom mirror, at the kitchen sink.
  • We can set a reminder on our phone to remind us to pray for the need.
  • There are prayer apps we can use to keep track of prayers, as well as the answers to those prayers.

Whatever method we employ, the important thing is that we serve our brothers and sisters in Christ through prayer. We also need to let our friends know we are indeed praying for them and even follow up to learn how the Lord is answering our prayers. What an encouragement that will be to their faith! And perhaps, like Paul, we can even share with them the specifics of our prayers on our friend's behalf.

"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light" (Colossians 1:9-12).


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 Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish and Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms. You can find her atwww.christinafox.com.

How to Discourage Your Minister in the New Year

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I recently had someone come to see me who was struggling in their church. In all honesty it would have been hard to be more depressed by what they had to say. I had very little sympathy with their complaints and told them if they wanted affirmation I was the wrong man to whom they should come. However, on account of their coming to me, I want to give you 6 ways to discourage your minister in the New Year:

1. Attend Worship Services irregularly and be unreliable - Maybe attend 2 out of 4 services, sometimes 3 out of 4, but make sure it's irregular. Nothing depresses ministers like people not being in church. The other thing to do is, when you're asked about it, be defensive, clearly show to the person who's asking that you're ok and it's no big deal; the church should be grateful you are there at all. If you're asked to do something, or are on a rota, try to pull out as late as possible or even just not show up.

2. Grumble, moan and complain. - This is an obvious one but when you speak to people about church make them aware how unhappy you are, how unfriendly folk are, how the church isn't focussed on you and people like you, that you don't get much out of the preaching, songs are not good, nobody cares and throw in 'It's not just me that feels like this'. Compare and contrast with other churches who do things better, preferably bigger churches that have more resources.

3. Focus on minutiae of church life. - Chairs, coffee, timings of meeting, musicians, service schedules, publicity.

4. Speak to others in the congregation but not the leadership - This way word gets back to the leadership through others, 'Some people are saying...' ordinarily this is normally one person but nobody likes to name names so they will instead couch it in the plural.

5. When you come to worship, try to arrive late and leave as soon as possible. - It's really difficult to catch folk who come late and leave immediately after the service. By doing this you're not giving people the opportunity to speak into your life but it does allow you to use the 'No one really speaks to me' line.

6. Take things personally. - If there's an invitation that you didn't get, a notice that was given that was poorly worded, an email that didn't mention you, a thanks that was given by someone in church leadership that overlooked you, a joke that you didn't appreciate, someone who didn't get to speak to you on a particular Sunday - make sure you take these as a personal slight and hold on to it.


On the positive side of this have a watch of Ligon Duncan - How to encourage your Pastor.