‘Community’ Review: Your Bible Study Ain’t Right Yet

Community groups (small groups) are not easy to execute successfully. Most churches tackle them incorrectly, like they are just another program or a once-a-week Bible study without much depth. Brad House has written Community, an amazing book outlining how not to do small groups and much more on how to do them in a way that keeps Christ the center of everything. Best of all, the book is barely 200 pages long, meaning you can easily finish it in a week or so and still take away great and godly wisdom on how community groups function in light of the Gospel.

How do you stay in the Gospel when practically talking about groups of people? Moreover, how do you even define a broad term like “community?” Luckily, House simplifies this by anchoring the definition of community primarily in 1 Peter 2:9-10. He revisits that passage as he underscores different issues within a community all throughout the book.

The author points readers into a new direction for small groups unlike most people have experienced before, a direction that requires organization, discipline, and authentic repentance. He spends good length outlining what both leaders and simple laymen need to repent of in a community; how else will people grow if they don’t repent of the sin directly in the way first? I feel that many Christian, practical books call for new methods in various fields but fail to talk about repenting of specific and relevant sins there.

In dealing with depending on the Lord to defeat sin that clouds true community, House also beats the drum on mission and how integral it is for Christians in small groups to passionately grasp it in their lives and neighborhoods. This is one of the heartbeats of the Gospel that can’t be missed (of course none can be missed). He also comprehensively covers what sorts of events and projects community groups can undertake in their neighborhoods, what a true small group leader looks like, and how churches should rally their groups together in an organized way without making them just another church event. Instead, the venue Christians should use to live out the Gospel each week should be their small groups.

The honesty in this book is powerful. House calls on leaders to take time to research the needs of the areas where small groups meet and readily admits that differing groups will reach out to places differently based on demographic factors. Also, he’s not afraid to name the sins that disqualify leaders and community groups from being effective for Christ. He provides statistics to reveal just how much the church has failed with community in recent years, and he displays many graphs and charts to visually lay out what he is saying. While the material is not complex at all, lazy leaders and readers should probably stay away from this one.

Another evident feature of the book is resources. At many points while reading leaders will wonder how in the world they will be able to integrate everything House is saying into their own communities, but he literally acknowledges that hurdle and generously gives a plethora of tips and valuable methods along the way (not to mention there is plenty of extra content at the back of the book to assist leaders further). Towards the end of the book he tells the story of community at Mars Hill and takes the time to talk about the lessons they’ve used for leaders and community groups over the years. It is humbling to see just how much House has poured what the Mars Hill team has learned and tried with community into this book. In short, there is plenty of inspiration here to help any leader brainstorm and seek the Holy Spirit in nurturing true community where they’re at.

The one thing I will say is that Community is pointed at a specific audience. I believe the best audience for this one is higher-up pastors, elders, and small group leaders (I say this being a community group leader of three years and a first-year CG coach). But even if the standard layperson purchases this, the impressive blending of practicality, theology, and motivation will not be easily missed. To be honest, this is one of my favorite books I was able to read in 2011. Thank you so much for this, Brad House. I have walked away from this book with so much insight that I’ve already been able to pass down to my leaders. It’s already making an impact.

Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support

 

 

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Just a Bunch of Hands and Feet

There are a lot of misconceptions about church. Especially among Christians.

It’s not a place to gain acceptance or reputation.

It’s not a place to sleep. As tempting as it might seem.

It’s not a place to justify and feel better about what you did the night before.

It’s not a place to feel “Christian.”

It’s not a place where you go because ‘that’s what you’re supposed to do.’

It’s not a place you don’t wake up to go to because you’re sick (Sadly, my case this morning).

Then what is the church?

I like to define the church as a place where believers come together and learn about Jesus Christ, grow in relationship with him and fellow believers through  a loving community, and go from to serve the community and preach the Gospel. And by “church” in this post I am usually referring to the ‘church building’ or wherever you go on Saturday/Sunday rather than the Biblical understanding of the actual body of believers, which is definitely not just a place. (I forgot to specify that when I originally posted this).

It’s important to understand that at the heart of the church is Jesus Christ. Not people. The Gospel is of utmost importance, not the attendance numbers.

And the last part of my definition of church is absolutely crucial, though telling others about Jesus is what Christians forget most often. Churches can become so focused on events and programs and sermon series’ that they lose focus on some of their Savior’s final, earthly words. Jesus told his disciples to go make more disciples in every part of the world (Matthew 28:16-20).

Forgetting this last part is probably why many churches die out after a number of years. It becomes a clique, and no outreach is done (or very little). Let’s be honest here — who wants to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey with the same folks year after year?

By being Christians, we should be aiming to be Christ’s disciples. Do you consider him your teacher, and you his student? As a Christian, as a student of Jesus, we should be trying to look more and more like him every day (Ephesians 4:15). What exactly did his ministry look like? He spent most of his time telling people about the Gospel and loving them for who they were, regardless of status, income, and appearance. And people were drawn to him, because of who he is and what he said.

Why is this the one area we Americans usually neglect? We’d rather read books and feel good about ourselves. We’d rather go to church and say “hello” to our one-day-a-week friends (or hang out exclusively with a select few every week). Yet there are plenty of people in your area of life that have never been told the Gospel. There’s still homeless people who could use some food, and there’s broken lives that need true love. There’s even one-day-a-week friends who are going through something terrible and need advice, prayer, and comfort! I know that I need to be reminded of this a lot. And I can’t help but think — what is a loving community that doesn’t welcome new people in or help the people within? Learn, grow, go. If any one of those three are off, the church is not really being the church. If one falls, the other two will follow suit.

Because of our sin, as churchgoers we tend to really focus on only one of the three attributes above and sometimes idolize it. Maybe we become obsessed with the preaching/pastor. Maybe we love our community so much that we feel insecure when things change. Sometimes we can even idolize outreach to the point of legalism. That’s why Jesus is the core of the church.

We are his hands and feet as parts of his body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), but if he’s not the center then it seems like we are just a bunch of hands and feet scattered all over the place. “Thing” from the Adam’s Family comes to mind. When love Jesus with all of our soul and tell others about him, people will be drawn to him and not to us. That’s what church is all about.

Are you connected to your church? Do you have any great outreach stories or just anything cool from your community of believers? Please, share!

Engaging Culture

It seems to me that a large majority of people view the Bible to be about as interesting as Moby Dick. I think a good chunk of the people in that majority call themselves Christians – Gasp!!

The Barna Group released a new study about six large patterns in Christianity in America. The two I am focusing on here said that we Christians are “less outreach oriented” and “our influence on culture is largely invisible.” This is not good. What would Jesus say? Rather, what is he saying (and are you listening?). Why aren’t we reaching our homeland for the Kingdom?

In terms of outreach and community, I have seen Christians fall in to two extremes. Again, these are extremes. The first type of Christian gets deeply involved in church or Christian organizations. They really connect with the people in their community groups (Bible studies), they go to church often, and they spend a lot of time with the Christians in their life. Beyond that, there’s not much else. These Christians don’t make much effort to seek unbelievers to befriend, and they don’t really do much outreach or tell others about their faith.

The second type of Christian is not nearly as involved in church or ministry as the first type, but they do have a good number of friends who are unbelievers. Don’t get me wrong; these guys and gals go to church, probably even consistently. While they probably don’t go to church events, they might join a community group. They usually are willing to talk about God and share their faith with their unbelieving friends and acquaintances, but there is rarely an invitation to church or a community group.

The first type stays within the Christian bubble, and the second type stays in their personal bubble outside the Christian bubble.What’s the common pattern here? Both extremes stay in their comfort zones and don’t fulfill the Great Commission. Now the healthy thing to do as a Christian is to find the balance between the two extremes, but when we aren’t trusting in Jesus our sin pushes us to one end or the other.

When our heart is in the right place, what should we be doing? Engaging culture. Sadly, as the Barna study reveals, we don’t even know what we’re doing. At the surface this can get a little sticky. Recall Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,…” It’s important to realize that conforming to culture and engaging culture are not the same thing. Let’s look at an example from the Guy who got everything right, Jesus.

Matthew 6:2 – [Jesus said] “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Jesus is extremely smart. Look at the word, “hypocrite.” We get it from the Greek, literally “hypokrite.” However, the context we have for it today was not the same in Jesus’s day. Back then, a “hypokrite” was a term used to describe an actor on stage. That’s right. Theatre. Now Jesus’s audiences were not Greeks, who loved theatre. They were Jews, but by this point in history the Roman Empire (Israel included) had been hellenized with Greek culture, resulting in a lot of Greek traditions mixing with different ones. One of those Greek traditions was a love for theatre.

So just as an actor acts out a character that is not their genuine personality, so a “hypokrite” acts out a godliness that is not in their heart, their true self. This was the point of what Jesus was saying. He obviously got the point across, given that the Pharisees were quite angry with him after the Sermon on the Mount. It’s cool because no one really used “hypokrite” in the deceptive, negative sense before. And what’s admirable is that Jesus engaged culture enough to know what was relevant to his audience, and he used that to spread the truth. And look at the influence!

This is a perfect example of how we should be engaging the people in our culture when we tell the Gospel. Jesus did not conform to culture by becoming obsessed with art and theatre and other norms for society back then. He appreciated theatre for what it was, and strategically contextualized it for God’s purposes so that others could understand better. Awesome! What does this look like in modern society?

Do you have an iPhone? Sweet (if not, I don’t either. Just go with me). Don’t conform to your iPhone and neglect your friends family because your face is glued to it like it’s a dream-flavored Hot Pocket. Instead, use it when you need to, and download a Bible app. When you are telling some friends or co-workers about Jesus, engage them by pulling up a verse on your iPhone to show them. Culturally relevant? Yes. Cheesy? Perhaps. Effective? I guarantee it.

That’s just one of the massive number of examples. Don’t forget that if we have a true relationship with Jesus, the desire of our heart will be to follow him and tell others about him (John 14:15). Don’t fall into the lie of entitlement so prevalent in secular culture. We have an obligation of loving others.

Now my honest opinion is that most of us Christians enjoy sitting at Starbucks, enjoy Apple products, and usually know what’s popular/going on (if not, you might want to head to Digg.com and read up on some articles). In short, I think most of us are pretty cultured. We just need to get off our butts and engage others for Jesus. If we don’t tell others about the Gospel, that’s pretty selfish. Not only that, but how would others know? Here’s a random food for thought: Instincts aside, if God never spoke to Adam and Eve, what would life look like? Afterall, Jesus did say we live on God’s Word (Matthew 4:4).

Oh, and sorry if you are a Moby Dick fan.