Monday, January 17, 2011

Biblical Guided Community v. Gospel Centered Community

Ok, so it’s a new year, and over the last year my bloggishness has lacked in frequency.  I don’t make resolutions, but I do plan on more blogtivity, so bare with me.

Over the last couple years God has really been working the importance of gospel community into my heart and mind, but it’s only been this past year that I’ve REALLY got to see it played out.  Over the past year I’ve been fortunate enough to see this group of young adults (that I was blessed to lead within Element Church’s college/20 somethings ministry called theSHIFT) form this community of believers where the accepting & fulfilling love of Jesus Christ was actually experienced and lived out. 

Never before had I had the opportunity to be part of a group that lived and experienced life together, but these people did.  They shared in each other’s successes and failures, in love and anger, gain and loss…they lived life, together, across the entire spectrum.  Now, I’m not typically a formula person, but I’ve been so taken by what I got to be a part of that I have spent the last year trying to figure out the nexus between biblically guided community and gospel centered community.  Before I get too much into it, I think it’s worth mentioning that community IS church and church IS community.  At least that’s how it’s meant to be.  They are synonymous with each other.

I first got to see the building of genuine community in this young men’s group that was intended to be a Men’s Accountability Group for theSHIFT.  The group was called Iron Sharpens Iron, or ISI.  As I began to see community develop within theSHIFT, I was able to look back at ISI and see a pattern forming.  It wasn’t a program, but a process and although not completely identical, it had an air of similarity.  Genuine community within a group can’t be forced.  It only happens as the Holy Spirit draws the group together toward Christ.  Here’s the process that I saw take place each time:  Fellowship  à  Seeking  à  Accountability  à  Sacrifice

I really felt like this process is what the Holy Spirit was leading me toward and had been leading theSHIFT toward for a long time.  But, I had to have some biblical basis for it.  So where do you turn in the Bible when you need to read about community?  Acts, of course.  Here is what Acts 2:42-27 says:

42All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity 47all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Here is how I feel like it breaks down:

Fellowship:  This is the building connections within the group and identifying commonalities with other believers and with the members of the community.  In verse 42 it says, All the believers devoted to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), 46 & 47 says, They met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  This step is vital to the building of community.  Fellowship with others believers AND fellowship with Christ is what draws you to wanting more for yourself, but also for the group as a community.

Seeking:  Like I said, two parts that can happen separate or simultaneously.  The first is the seeking of the knowledge of God and purpose of God for the group.  This typically comes in the form of studying and discussing God’s word.  Whether it be in a discussion about personal devotionals, Bible studies, or listening to the teaching of His word, the point is that the community is seeking to know more ABOUT God and what he requires from the group.  Verse 42 says, all the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.
The second part is the seeking of the presence of God.  This typically comes in the form of corporate worship and prayer.  As the community seeks to grow closer to each other and God, they are drawn by the Holy Spirit to spend time in worship together, singing God’s praises, calling out to Him and lifting up prayer.  Verse 42 says, all the believers devoted to prayer.  Verse 46 & 47 say, they worshiped together at the Temple each day…all the while praising God.

Accountability:  This is a difficult for a lot of people, but as the Holy Spirit leads you into communion with Christ and draws the community together toward God, the need to be accountable to the leading of the Holy Spirit, to those above you, those beside you and to the group itself becomes something you cannot deny.  You may try to skirt it from time to time, but ultimately if you want what God wants, you give in. Verse 44 says, all the believers met together in one place.  I think this was intentional.  Not only did meeting together in one place bring them unity, but it allowed for an atmosphere where everyone was present before everyone and ultimately would have to answer to the each other.  This does not mean that everyone in the group has to have complete personal knowledge of your life, but someone in the group should and the whole of your life should ultimately be transparent to everyone else.

Sacrifice:  This is the hardest part for most.  Sacrifice is not only the giving of yourself to the group, but also giving as a group to others.  This may mean time, money, property, could be anything.  Verse 45 says, they sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. And verse 46 says, they shared their meals with great joy AND GENEROSITY Here’s the thing though, sacrifice is awesome, but without the goal being to bring the lost into fellowship with the group and ultimately with Jesus, it’s useless.  Verse 47 ends with, “and each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”  This was the result of the believers allowing Christ to invade their community and become the center of it.

I wanted to run through how I’ve seen this play out in theSHIFT over the last couple years, but it’s already too long, so I’ll post that in the next couple days.  Here’s the bottom line…

It is easy to get trapped in biblical guided community.  You can read God’s word, pick out the stuff that tells you what community should look like and model your group after it.  You can get together with friends, eat and drink, study, pray & sing worship songs together, meet all the time for accountability, even serve in the local soup kitchen together, but to what purpose.  To know each other better?  To secure your seat in heaven?  To pat each other on the back for how well you’ve beaten your struggles and temptations?  All the while people living next door are desperate for community and are headed for hell.  

Or you can allow the Holy Spirit to draw the group toward God, centered on Christ.  This will pull you out of your comfort zone.  You can and should do all that other stuff, but it has to culminate in the sending out of people from the smaller community into THE community to build fellowship with those in need of it.  This is what brings others into the greater community called The Church.  This is the seeking of the lost that Jesus was talking about.  If your group is focused on the lost being found and brought home, then your group is a Gospel centered community.

In Him,