We arranged the seating to have the speakers in the middle of the auditorium. We had about eight speakers, including two elders, myself included, and members of the church’s small groups and one of our teen ministers.
Our preacher, Shon Smith, interviewed each of us on various topics, all centered on loving each other. Here are my notes for my two questions —
Jay, the leadership has come to the conclusion that spiritual transformation is dependent on community. Why?
We’ve thought about the church’s vision in terms of programs and ministries and buildings and all the usual trappings of how people do church nowadays. But we decided that the key is being faithful to God. And faithfulness is not ultimately about marketing campaigns and cool worship services.
And for a while, we thought in terms of “missional” Christianity, that is, about being all about caring for those in need and seeking and saving the lost. And those are critically important parts of what it means to be Christ’s church. I don’t want to diminish those for even a moment.
But before we can be Jesus to the world, we have to be Jesus to each other.
(John 13:34-35 ESV) 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The key to being a disciple is not having a great prayer life or memorizing a lot of scriptures — although these are great things. Jesus said the real test of discipleship is whether we love one another — as Jesus loved us. That is, do we love one another sacrificially?
Then we read —
(Mat 28:19-1 ESV) 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The charge is to “make disciples.” And the test of whether we’ve done that is, at the core, do we teach people to love another as Jesus loves us?
(Phi 2:1-8 ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
To love as Jesus loves is to making yourself nothing and taking the form of a servant. It’s to count “others more significant than yourselves.”
Now, this is hardly new. We all know this. But we get so focused on other things that we often fail to get the basics right.
So we have this crazy vision for the church — that the University Church will be a place where everyone here has the heart of a servant and sees service to their fellow members as a privilege — a chance to be like Jesus.
Let me share a few thoughts about what this means in the life of the congregation —
• As great as it is to love the lost, our first duty is to the congregation. You see, we can’t make disciples unless we are disciples. And so we can’t be disciples unless the church lives together in sacrificial love.
• That means nothing here can be about me. We shouldn’t see the teen program, for example, as a great service the church leadership provides to our children. Rather, it’s a great place for us to serve one another by sacrificially helping people we love raise their children in Jesus together. The children’s program isn’t a great place to have others teach my children about Jesus. It’s a great place to sacrificially serve others by helping people we love bring their children up in the Lord.
• But this isn’t the usual “we need volunteers” pitch. It’s about what it means to be a Christian. It’s about the commitment we made when we were baptized. We were baptized into the body, and we became part of Christ’s body. And we don’t live to ourselves. And we serve Jesus by serving each other.
• Therefore, we don’t go to church to get friends. We go to church to be a friend. That is, friendship becomes a form of ministry. There can be no such thing as “I already have my friends,” as some have said. You weren’t added to the body so you’d have friends. You were added to the body so you could be a friend.
• And this quite naturally leads to hospitality. You can’t be a friend just in the church building. Real friends open their homes. And, yes, that means cleaning and cooking and all those things. But that’s a small sacrifice.
(1Pe 4:8-9 ESV) 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
• And that leads to community groups [what we call small groups]. What is a community group other than a way to be a friend and to show hospitality? And if we can’t sacrifice that much, we aren’t very much like Jesus.
You see: we have to love as Jesus loves. We have to love sacrificially. And that means we have to be open to making friends and offering hospitality. And community groups is a practical way to live out what it means to be like Jesus within the body.
Jay, when the family is not functioning well it really messes up the partnership between the church and the family? How can we do a better job of taking care of families?
I’ve been an elder for a several years now. And I’ve observed that families who are surrounded by friends within the church do much better when things get rough than families that aren’t.
Yes, the elders and staff can help struggling families, and we try, but it’s rarely enough. What helps far more is for the family in trouble to be surrounded by friends who are committed to the husband and wife and their children.
In fact, families surrounded with strong friendships usually find a way to make it work. Maybe it’s wise counsel from a girlfriend over a cup of coffee or friends taking care of the children while mom and dad spend some time working on their relationship. Maybe it’s just good friends modeling good behavior toward their own husbands and wives.
It doesn’t always work out, of course, but the odds of making it are much higher. I don’t know how many marriages have been rescued by small groups, but it’s a big number.
Five elders can’t pastor a church of 700 by themselves. And no number of elders will substitute for friends at church. We just need for everyone to be part of a network of friends who look out after each other and help each other — NOT for what they can get out of it, but as an opportunity to be like Jesus.