Our Community

Oct. 16, 2016 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

Hebrews 10:19-26

Our five values are:

  • Bible and prayer: drink deeply like a tree (our logo)
  • Family and community: grow richly (like a tree)
  • Community and missions: share freely (like a tree)

Community is mentioned twice, because community both blesses those around us and it grows us in our faith. Today I want to talk about our community – about community within our church. We will talk about two things:

  • Priority of community: We will talk about why community is essential in our lives and in our church – the “why?” of community.
  • The Practice of Community: We’re going to see how we hope to do community here at Perry Creek Church – the “how?” of community.

It’s my real hope that as we talk about community today that maybe your view of church is going to be changed, if it needs to. Maybe you’ll see the importance of community and be ready to dive into it the way we hope to practice it here at Perry Creek Church.

VIEWS ON CHURCH

My views on church and community changed a lot when I was in Africa. Africa completely changed the way I view church. Africa changed the way I view a lot of things – like government – and racism – and what kinds of things are actually edible (termites are great!) But my time in Africa really changed my view of church.

Before I went to Africa, I viewed church kind of like this:

  • The main reason you went to church is because God told you to. It was on your checklist of things that good Christians do. If you wanted a gold star on your good Christian chart, you needed to go to church. When God tells you to do something, you need to do it.
  • When I talked about “going to church,” I always had in mind going to the big gathering: Sunday morning church. Because that was the one that really counted. That was like real church and the other things, like small groups – or Sunday school – or classes – were sort of add-ons. They were nice – but if you wanted to get that sticker on your chart – it was definitely the big gathering that mattered – that was real church.
  • A successful church was one with lots of extra stuff. The more programs a church had – the more times they had for you to be there – the more they were doing what a church was supposed to do.

So that was kind of the way I looked at Church. But when I lived in Africa, two things really shook that up:

The first was that we just could not do church in the sort of normal way that we do church here. You’ve heard me say before that the people we ministered to were persecuted: The War Vets took our 1st church building away, and then they burned our 2nd one down, so we had to go from house to house. But then also – it was really, really hard – to get fuel for your vehicle. There was just about none to be had and our church was almost two hours away from the city where we lived.

So we just couldn’t meet very often as a large group. And we couldn’t have all the programs and resources. We just didn’t have the band-width to do that. We were very simple.

And yet, we experienced real spiritual growth. Our church grew and our spiritual depth grew. That really caused me to ask myself what the church was supposed to be.

The second thing that happened in Africa is that I was teaching a class at the College on the Theology of the church where I studied – What does the Bible really say about the local church? How is it supposed to be structured? What is really supposed to happen when we do church? What is this all about? What is really supposed to go on in a church?

As I studied that topic, I came across a number of passages – 59 passages to be precise – that really troubled me. That blew my categories of what Church was supposed to be about. One of those passages is the passage that we are going to focus on today as we talk about this issues of community. Just to set the table for you – the writer has just finished a lengthy explanation of how Jesus is our High Priest and how he has offered himself to God on our behalf, so that we can stand before God without blame. He’s explained all that when he speaks these words (don’t seem about community):

Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:19-26

This passage talks about community and the need for it in the local church. It’s a passage that was written to struggling, disengaged Christians in the first century – some of whom may have been suffering persecution. Perhaps most important for our purposes today – this is a passage that is representative. It is a type of passage. The same type that those other 58 troubling verses were. A type of passage that says something about what the church is all about.

THE PRIORITY OF COMMUNITY

Community – close personal mutual relationships where there’s give and take and where we encourage each other in our faith – is absolutely essential if we are going to live out our faith in Christ. Community is essential—it has to be a priority. Some people will tell you that they don’t need a church – that their religion is a personal thing – that they can live out their Christian faith on their own. Don’t you believe it! The Bible never portrays it as desirable or even as possible that someone could live out their faith in isolation. We need community.

The writer starts this passage in versus 19-21 by telling us that Jesus has acted as High Priest for us – actually sacrificing himself to God on our behalf (that’s amazing!) – so that we can now stand in God’s presence. Since Jesus has done this, he gives us three commands:

First, draw near in faith: 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Second, hold fast in hope: 23. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Third, consider how to stir up – or provoke – love: 24. And let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Note that these three commands are the three primary Christian virtues – faith, hope and love. Draw near with Faith – hold fast in hope – consider how to stir up love.

Community – close personal mutual relationships where there’s give and take and where we encourage each other in our faith – is absolutely essential if we are going to live out our faith in Christ. Community is essential—it has to be a priority. Some people will tell you that they don’t need a church – that their religion is a personal thing – that they can live out their Christian faith on their own. Don’t you believe it! The Bible never portrays it as desirable or even as possible that someone could live out their faith in isolation. We need community.

The writer starts this passage in versus 19-21 by telling us that Jesus has acted as High Priest for us – actually sacrificing himself to God on our behalf (that’s amazing!) – so that we can now stand in God’s presence. Since Jesus has done this, he gives us three commands:

First, draw near in faith: 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Second, hold fast in hope: 23. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Third, consider how to stir up – or provoke – love: 24. And let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Note that these three commands are the three primary Christian virtues – faith, hope and love. Draw near with Faith – hold fast in hope – consider how to stir up love.


Provoke to Love

Let’s zoom in on that last one to see how this connects to the need for community.

The writer makes a really strange statement: “24. And let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works.”

“Stir one another up” is the English Standard Version translation here and is just about the mildest way that you can translate that! The New International Version says “consider how to spur one another on…” The New King James Version says “let us consider how to provoke one another to love.” And that is probably the most literal way to translate this “provoke one another to love.”

We don’t often see those words in that order “provoke to love.” It’s usually the opposite: they “love to provoke” – right? If you have children that are close to the same age, you understand that. The other day I pulled up at a stoplight behind a mini-van: I could see the silhouette of the kids in the window- And the one was going – and the other was going- and you know what was going on- right? “Stop touching me”- “I’m not touching you- I’m touching near you…” They love to provoke!

But the writer here says we are to do the opposite: We are to provoke one another to love and good works. We are to find ways to stimulate – to incite – to encourage – to even needle each other on – to love and good works.

Now let me ask you an important question: Why on earth would the writer say that? Why would he say “provoke one another to love and good works?” Here’s the reason:

Because sometimes…love and good works don’t just happen on their own. Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we don’t just love, and do the right thing on our own. Honestly, how many of you could love – on your own? Sometimes we need encouragement – we need stirring up – we need spurring on to love and good works.


Now how is that going to happen?

It happens by:   not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:25

It happens through community. It happens when we join together and live in community. That’s how we provoke one another to love. In fact, community is how we accomplish all three of these commands.

Obviously, we have to have community to love. If we don’t, it’s kind of like the sound of one hand clapping – kind of hard to love without other people.

We also have to have community to have faith: Community guides what we believe and encourages us to walk in faith.

We have to have community to hope – to hold fast to our hope. We need each other for that!

The other day when I heard that this building may have a new owner. I’m just going to be honest – it was kind of like a punch in the gut! Kelley and I were tired. We had just had to high-tail it home early from our vacation because of the hurricane. And I had just gotten word that my Dad had a blood clot in his lung. And we feel like God has specifically called us to this area at this time to plant a church. And then we hear that the building is under contract…

We were like “come on, Lord…” It was really hard at that moment to hold on to hope. So what do you think we did? We sequestered ourselves and suffered in silence. No! We called our team: The Jones’, Mailands, Browns, and Tharringtons… and we said “can you make some time? We need to pray together.” And we went from house to house meeting with each couple and praying together with them. And as we prayed together…we found our hope.

Now, why did we need to do that? And why did that work? Because we need each other. We need community. We need to gather together if we’re going to have faith, hope and love.

How many of you have had a moment where your love – or your hope – or maybe even your faith – was pushed to the limit? How many of you have had that moment in the last year? Well listen- why would you ever go through that alone? We would never want you to do that! Because we need community!

Christianity is a team sport. It was never designed to be something that we do alone. It’s something that we do together in so many ways. And it’s not just about faith, hope and love…


One Anothers

There are 59 passages in the New Testament that tell us to do things for one another. They are called the “one another” passages. They all use the same Greek word (allelon). There are not 59 different commands – some of them are repeated – but 59 times we are told to do something together – for one another.

“Love one another” is the most common. We are also told to serve one another- to accept one another – to forgive one another- to encourage one another- to prefer one another- to build one another up – to greet one another. The strangest one is right here – provoke one another! Some of you are saying “I’ve got one down!” There are all these “one another” passages in the New Testament.

What bothered me as I studied to teach my little “Theology of the Church” class: I saw all these descriptions of what the church was supposed to be, and they were “one another” – they were community – they were reciprocal – they were two directional. I realized that we can’t do many of these in big church when I’m talking to you on a Sunday morning.

They are reciprocal – they are two way – but in the large gathering, most of what occurs is one way. We can’t encourage one another – can’t bear the burdens of one another – can’t forgive one another – can’t serve one another – can’t provoke one another to love – while I’m doing all the talking. There’s only one way we can do those things 0 and that is when we are in a smaller group – talking our faith out with each other – and living in community.

This turned my thinking about the church upside down: All of a sudden, I realized that the point of going to church was not just going to church because God said to. It was not just so that I could get a star sticker on my “good Christian” chart…

One of the main points of church was doing these “one anothers.” I realized much of what needs to be done when the church gathers can only be done in a smaller group.

This turned my thinking upside down. Suddenly, it was almost like the small gathering where we do the “one anothers” was real church, and the big gathering was the one that was more sort of optional.

As I thought about it, I realized that we actually need each part. Each part – the sort of large gathering and the smaller group – brings something that we need:

  • Expertise: The large group charts the course. It provides the big strokes of who we are as a church. The ways we all want to move together, the joy of worshipping together, the moments where we all get to laugh, and cry, and celebrate together. And the large group provides what I would call “expertise.” Chances are – the person who’s up here speaking to the large group has some training and really knows their Bible. We need to hear teaching like that. But here’s the thing: this large group meeting is often low on application. Not in telling you there’s something you should do – but It’s low on the “one anothers.” You can’t wrestle with the details of how you personally live this out in a larger group.
  • Application: The small group may have less expertise – the leader probably hasn’t had formal theological training. And we don’t get the “bigness” of gathering and celebrating together like we do in big church. But there’s lots of application. The word really gets down into the details of our lives, and we can talk about the struggles of actually trying to live it out.

To be a healthy Christian, we need both components in our life. We need the large group gathering where we celebrate and learn together from good quality teaching. And we need that smaller place – that smaller group where we do real community. Where we live in relationship to each other – and pray for each other – and work out the complexities of our faith together – and put it into practice. We need that place where we do the “one anothers.” Each one of us needs that on some level if we are going to be a healthy Christian. We’ve got to have community.

THE PRACTICE OF COMMUNITY

Let me talk about something how we as a church would hope to live that out – how we hope to put this into practice. So let me give you a basic description of what we want to do – and then three characteristics that help put a picture in your mind of what it will be like.

The primary way that we hope to live out this call to live in community is through small groups. Small groups have been described a lot of different ways. I’ve heard people say everything from “our group meets once a month for ice cream, and almost never talk about Jesus…” To “we do 3 hours of hard core Bible study in the Greek – and you get dirty looks if you didn’t do your homework.” We want to do something in-between!

Probably the simplest way to explain what we want to do with our small groups – and it will take a while for this to soak in – you kind of have to chew on it for a while to really get it – is just to say this:

We don’t just want to be a church with a small group ministry. We want to be a church of small groups. We want that community that Hebrews 10 talks about. So our goal is for everyone in this church to attend worship AND to be a member of a small group. We want to be a church of small groups.


We want to be simple.

Meaning…that to the best of our ability, we don’t want to have a bunch of different programs to chase down. We’re not trying to start 15 different ministries in our church. You know, so much of the time, this is the way things get done in a church…and so you end up with this explosion of ministries…and the discipleship program becomes this fossil bed of things you started, but don’t really lean on any more…and that the church weighs itself down trying to keep things going…And it wears everybody down…the people that are trying to staff them…the people that are serving in them… Sometimes we can get so busy with church programs that we don’t have time to actually live as Christians out in the world.

But that was one of the things I learned in Africa…most of the time, we don’t actually need all the programs…if we will just be intentional about living out our faith. So to the best of our ability…we want to keep it simple: We want to have worship on Sunday…and we want to have small groups during the week. And the weekly schedule may vary from group to group: Some groups may want to meet every single week, week in and week out with no break. But other groups may change it up a little:

Zach Nelson from the Pillar Network is here today. H has a small group of young families. That’s a busy time of life: So what they do is this:

  • 1st week of the month…all the couples and kids meet in one place.
  • 2nd week…the men meet, and the wives take care of the kids at home.
  • 3rd week…the wives meet and the men take care of the kids.
  • 4th week…they take off

Maybe that will be your group schedule, maybe it won’t…but we really do want to keep our calendaring and our programming simple. And that doesn’t mean we won’t ever have other ministries…but small groups will take priority…we want to be simple.


We want to accomplish our values through our small groups

All these values that we are working through – Bible, Prayer, Family, Community, and Mission – that’s a lot to accomplish if you have separate programs for each one of them. But we don’t want to do that. Instead, we want to try and accomplish most of our values through our small groups.

Let me give you an example: Prayer. We want to be a church that is all about prayer…but because we want to be simple – we don’t want to have Sunday worship, and small groups, and a separate prayer service every week. So we want to accomplish prayer through our small groups. Now, we could just say “right – our small groups will pray” – but to be honest, in my experience – small groups are a great place to talk about prayer! Many small groups spend 15 minutes on prayer requests, and 45 seconds on actual prayer. So how do we accomplish prayer through small groups? Well – we think that every so often – maybe every time you have a 5th Sunday in a month – we will take a break from our regular small group format – and our groups will spend the whole time in prayer: Maybe sometimes we’ll gather as an entire church to fast (if we want) and pray in our small groups. But prayer will be accomplished through our small groups.

So the idea is that we accomplish our values through our small groups. So they are simple, we accomplish our values through them.


Our small groups are sermon-based

We want our small groups to start the majority of their small group discussion with the passage and the concepts of Sunday’s sermon. Maybe look at some other scripture passages or related topics, but mostly really talk about how the passage and the sermon plugs into our lives.

A lot of the churches and Pastors that are doing this really love this approach, because:

  • First, it’s easier on the small group leaders. Leaders don’t have to develop this massive Bible study from scratch. If you’re a real Bible hound, you can study more of the background and chase down more parallel passages. But if you’re more of a facilitator-shepherd, you just take good notes in the sermon and lead a thoughtful discussion of how the passage from the sermon plays out in our lives.
  • Secondly, it’s easier on members: If you’ve listened to the sermon and begun to think about how it should play out in your life…you’re ready for small group.
  • Thirdly – and this is the most important one (this is huge) – this approach teaches us to be more than just hearers of the word. James tells us to be doers of the words and not hearers only. We live in a society where we have access to all kinds of Bible teaching through radio, television, the internet and print. But sometimes we can develop a habit of listening to lots and lots of teaching – and doing nothing about it. This really teaches us that when we come to the word, we don’t just come expecting it to tickle our fancy. We expect it to change our lives.

Once you start applying Scripture to your life, you’ll never go back. It will change you for the better. That’s why we have a church: We’re here to learn – to grow, to apply – to provoke one another to love and good works. So that’s the way we want to live out our community – through a church of small groups.