DNA 1: We Value Community

September 17, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor

Acts 2:42-47

This DNA Series is a three week reminder of Perry Creek Church’s core values, which reflect the heartbeat of our passions and priorities. The image of a tree helps us to remember our core values: a tree drinks deeply (Bible and Prayer), it grows richly (Family and Community, and it shares freely (Missions). Today we focus on the core value of Community.

Why community is important:  God calls us to community. The Bible assumes that we will not live alone, but in community: sheep need a flock, body parts need a body, children (of God) need a family. Acts 2:42-47 shows the early Church modeling community for Christians. Perry Creek Church chooses to do community through assigning all members to small groups, in which they are either actively participating or an adjunct member receiving communication & care.

Benefits of Gospel community:

  1. Community is where our teaching is lived out. In small groups we think, wrestle, and share about how God’s Word affects our lives. As we interact with God’s Word within ourselves and with others, we discover that it changes us, grows us, and spills over into action. Just as the early church “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching” (Acts 2:42), our small group communities are where our Sunday teachings (sermons) are lived out through discussion, sharing, application, and caring.
  2. Community is where we learn to love each other. By living in a committed community in small groups, we regularly experience loving each other as imperfect people created in God’s image, as we show up and openly share our thoughts and lives with each other. Even with EGR folks (extra grace required) in our groups, God gives grace for ALL to love and be loved, and to grow.  Just as the early Church community continually loved each other by sharing their “property and possessions” (Acts 2:44-46), we too are challenged to consider our possessions as resources with which we can serve and love each other…within our small groups and beyond.
  3. Community is compelling to others.  Just as the early church “added to their numbers daily those being saved” (Acts 2:47) who were drawn because the community showed such Godly qualities as faith, love & forgiveness, and sharing of possessions, we too will be attractive at our church for others (as interested, new, or maturing believers) to join us. Living in a believing community, loving and taking care of others in need, is a powerful witness to our faith.

Prayer: May we reach out in love and encouragement to others in our small group community, at Perry Creek Church, and the worldwide community of believers.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are your experiences with Christian “community”? small groups?
  2. What is the difference between Christian small groups and cliques?
  3. Have you seen any of the teachings from our church’s sermons actually lived out in your life or others because of your small group discussions?
  4. Have you ever considered your worldly possessions as resources to help others? How do you share them in community?
  5. Jesus said that the world would know His followers by their love. People show and receive love in many ways, e.g.: tangible gifts, appropriate physical touch, quality time spent with the person, acts of service (helping out), words of affirmation. In which area(s) might your small group love you personally the most? love our church? love the world?
  6. What specific ways can your small group show love to you, to each other, to our church, to the world?

Introduction

Today we are starting a new sermon series. It’s called “DNA,” and it’s a three week reminder of our Core Values. If you were here during Core Training last fall, we talked about our Church’s Core Values at length. If you’ve come later to our church – like since our launch on Palm Sunday – our values may be new to you. We thought we would do a short sermon series on our Core Values to review them for everyone, so we’re on the same footing and also to share some developments in the way we plan to carry our Core Values out this year.

Core Values are the things that really make us unique. They are the passions that drive us as a church and the priorities that we believe God has put on our hearts, so that we can be who he really wants us to be.

We have five Core Values at the Church at Perry Creek. If you’ll all stand up, I will show you how you can remember them all. Some of you may love this. Some of you this may not be your thing, but it will help you remember our values. It’s based on our logo, which is a tree. I want you to stand up and pretend you’re a tree bending in the wind. Just kidding. Think of a tree and the three things a tree does, and you can remember all of our core values.

  • The first thing a tree does is it drinks deeply. Some of you have certain trees in your lawn that drink deeply. They suck all the nutrients out of the soil. They are drinking deeply. We, as a church, want to drink deeply through our first two values: Bible and Prayer. When I say “drink deeply,” point at your ankles and say “Bible and Prayer.”
  • The second thing a tree does is it grows richly. It gets big and strong. We want to grow richly in our faith through Family and Community. When I say “grow richly,” point at your torso and say “Family and Community.”
  • The last thing a tree does is it shares freely. When I was a kid, my parents had an apple tree in our lawn. It was always sharing freely, dropping fruit which I would find with the lawn mower!
    We want to share freely through our last value of Missions. We want to share the gospel. We want to share our resources with those in need. When I say “share freely,” open your arms up – don’t whap your neighbor – but open your arms and say “Missions.”

Now let’s put it all together:

  • Drink Deeply
  • Grow Richly
  • Share Freely

Have a seat. Now one last thing. Just in case you whapped your neighbor in the face when I count to three, everybody turn to your right and shake hands with your neighbor. Ready? 1,2,3! That doesn’t work!

Those are our five values (Bible, Prayer, Family Community, Missions). I don’t know if they are the perfect values for any church, but they were prayerfully put together by our lead team for our church. They are the focus – really the heartbeat – of our church.

In this series, we are going to focus on the three values that we have sort of been developing the most. Next week, we are going to talk about Missions. We are going to commission some folks for a trip. We are going to share some exciting news about our Missions Policy and an upcoming Missions Team. The following week, John Maiden is going talk about Family and share some super-exciting news about our children’s ministry vision. You won’t want to miss that!

We’re going to start our series today, and we are going to start it with a value that every single one of us needs if we are going to grow richly in our faith and that is the value of Community.

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Acts 2:42-47. This is a great passage. It’s not necessarily about community, but it gives us an example of community. It is really the first description of Local Church Community in the Bible. It shows up right after the Apostle Peter preaches at Pentecost. I chose this passage, because it shows us two crucial things about this value of community:

  • It shows us why community is important.
  • It shows us three benefits that occur when we have gospel community in our church. We’re going to look at this passage today. As we look at it, my prayer is really three-fold:
  1. For those of you who are providing community – our small group leaders, I want you to be encouraged. Thank you so much for the work you do for the Kingdom. Today as we look at this passage, I hope you can see the importance of what you do!
  2. For those of you who are participating in community – for those who are engaged in small group life – I want you to really invest. I want you to see the benefits that community brings and lean into what your small group can provide for you.
  3. For those who have not found your way into a small group yet for whatever reason (and I know there are some good reasons), I hope you will choose to try a Small Group and see what a difference a loving community can make in your life.

That’s my prayer for us today. So let’s just read Acts 2:42-47 together Luke describes the early church this way:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
– Acts 2:42-47

I want to start today by talking about the importance of community. My first point is very simple:

We Need Community

By “we,” I mean Christians and, by community, I mean this: smaller groups where the communication is two-way (where there’s conversation unlike here), and where we share life physically, spiritually, and emotionally. We need that – every one of us. You need that to grow in your faith. We also need the big gathering like this where the teaching and worship are more formal and more thought out. We need smaller groups where we can discuss questions about our faith and where we are more known and where we do life together. Christians were made for community.

We see that here in Acts in this passage. Before we even get into any of the details of the passage, the first thing we see is that Christians need community. If you look at the story, as soon as the Church has converts it needs community. Let me explain what I mean. Acts 2:1-41, the first half of this chapter, is the story of the first Christian converts. Jesus returns to heaven. The Holy Spirit comes down and fills the Apostles. Peter preaches his first sermon and look how it ends up:

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
– Acts 2:42-47

Peter preaches and has 3,000 converts. That’s a pretty good first sermon! So these are the very first Christian converts. Then the very next verse is our passage where Luke describes Christians gathering in the temple, and in homes and doing life together. The message is simple: Christians need community.

Here in America, we live in a very individualistic culture. I don’t know if you know that, but our brothers and sisters from other cultures can tell you that we are very individualistic. Through modern technology – through internet and TV and radio – you can get all kinds of teaching and objective information about your faith. That has caused some people to say “I don’t really need the local church to be a good Christian. I can do it on my own or online.”

I don’t know if you read what Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, said the other day. He basically suggested that Facebook could replace church. Some people feel that way – like we don’t need face-to-face community.

Listen, we were never meant to live that way. You can’t do it on your own. Christians were made for community. The Bible never gives instructions for an individualistic Christian life. It has no interest in that. It always assumes we are going to live in community.

Think of some of the metaphors that the Bible uses to describe Christians:

  • We are called God’s sheep. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around sheep, but they are not individualistic animals. A sheep needs a flock!
  • We are called the members of the Body of Christ. We are literally body parts. I don’t know if you are an eyeball, or a hand, or an armpit, or what body part you are, but I do know this. Whatever part you are, you weren’t meant to live in isolation. You are part of a body! I talked to Beau Jones this week. Beau used to be an EMT, so I called him and asked “Did you ever have to transport any human body parts?” The first thing he said was “Why would you want to know that?” Then I told him it was for the sermon, and he said “Yeah, I did actually have to harvest and transport human organs for transplant recipients to save lives as an EMT. He told me how careful they had to be to move quickly and to protect that body part from damage and how they had to control the environment and keep it at just the right temperature. I asked him “Why? Why do they have to be so protective?” He said “because that body part was never meant to exist on its own.” It’s not natural. It was designed to be part of a functioning body. That’s the way you were designed. You were meant to operate and live out your faith in community with a body of believers.
  • So we’re called sheep. We’re called members. We’re also called Children of God. Again, children were meant to be raised in a family. Can a child survive outside a family? Yes, but that’s not the way God designed things. That’s called being an orphan. The point of all this is that we were made for community.

Now there are lots of different ways that churches do community. We’ve chosen, because of logistics and because of our philosophy, to do our community through small groups that meet in homes. If you’ve never been to a small group meeting, it’s simple. It’s just a time – about 90 minutes – where friends gather to pray for one another and talk about how to live out the sermon and the Bible passage for the week and really they just do life together. It’s simple. You don’t have to know your Bible forwards and backwards. You don’t have to pray out loud. It’s a great place to experience community.

We will happily help you find a small group if you would like help with that. Just talk to Kelley or myself or write your contact details and the words “Small Group” on a connection card and give it to someone. Best of all, stop at the information table. We’ve put together a sheet with the time and location of each small group. We’ll find one that works for you!

We have just recently put everyone who attends our church regularly under the care of a small group! I know not all of you are ready for a small group. Some of you have crazy schedules. Some of you actually live out of town. Some of you have other groups that you are heavily invested in.
That’s OK, but we want everyone here to be known and to know what’s going on at our church and to have a friend or two that they can go to if they have questions or need help. So we’ve put everyone under care of a small group.

So, the first point is that we were made for community. We can see that in the big-picture view of this passage. Now if we zoom into more the details of the passage we can actually see that the writer shows us some of the benefits of that community – some of the ways that community helps us and helps the church achieve its mission. There are several benefits in this passage, but I just want us to focus on tree today so:

Three Benefits of Community

1. Community is where our teaching is lived out

Now I don’t mean by that that small group is the only place where our teaching is lived out. Hopefully, the teaching of Scripture is being lived out and making a difference in just about every area of your life! Community is where we really begin to think and wrestle and talk about how God’s Word should affect our lives. That’s one benefit of community. It’s where our teaching begins to be lived out. We see this in the passage. Look at what Luke, the writer, tells us:

As the disciples gathered, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
– Acts 2:42

As these disciples gathered, they devoted themselves to all these things. Now grammatically if you were to look at the Greek of these verses, you would see that they actually devoted themselves to main things:

  1. To the Apostles’ teaching, and
  2. To fellowship which includes breaking of bread and prayer

Notice the first phrase: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching.” I think when I’ve read that in the past, I’ve just assumed that it meant they listened to the Apostles teaching, like they went to church and heard the sermon. The word “devoted themselves” is a stronger word than that. One scholar said it means “to persist obstinately in something!”

Luke gives us a great word picture of this verb later on in Acts in chapter 8. Luke tells us that Phillip went to Samaria, did some miracles and cast out demons. Then Luke tells us there was a magician or sorcerer there named Simon, who heard about the miracles. Luke Says he “devoted himself” to Phillip. Same word. In other words, he stuck to him. He followed him everywhere. He became this annoying sidekick, like Jar-Jar Binks or Scrappy Doo, because he wanted to figure out exactly how Phillip was doing these miracles.

The idea here is not just that these new believers went to the Temple and listened to the Apostles’ teaching, but rather that as they gathered in homes they gave themselves to the teaching. They devoted themselves to it. They applied it to their lives. They stuck with it.

Just like in this passage, much of the time, community is where that happens. I love the fact that our small groups are sermon-based – that they discuss the passage of the sermon. I love that! There are lots of reasons for that, but the main one is this: It teaches us to do something about the Word of God. It’s so easy to just come to church and sort of hear the sermon and just let it go in one ear and out the other. James talked about that. Remember in chapter 1 he says “Don’t just be hearers of the word, who deceive yourselves. Do what it says!” This thing is alive. It will change your life completely, if you let it. We should devote ourselves to it.

So much of the time, community – small group – is where that actually begins to happen. As we discuss the sermon, we begin to ask ourselves what this passage is really saying and how it should make a difference in our lives. It’s in community that we actually devote ourselves to God’s teaching. Community is where our teaching begins to be lived out.

I’ve got to say Monday of this week was a good day for me as a Pastor, because of three conversations that I had about our small groups:

  1. I talked to someone who had been out of town last Sunday morning and couldn’t be here for the sermon. As I was talking to him, he knew exactly what the sermon was about the very next day. I asked him “How do you know what I talked about?” He said “My small group discussed it!” and I thought “good deal!”
  2. I spoke to a small group leader who was so excited about one of the newer Christians in their group and how much she was changing, because of how the sermons and the small group worked together.
  3. I had someone email me a question, saying “Pastor John, were you saying that we could lose our salvation in your sermon?” I said “No, that was not what I was saying .” She said “OK, because that will probably come up in small group discussion.”

Can I tell you how happy that all made me as a Pastor? I love it! That’s what it’s all about! We are moving together through the word, even when people can’t be here on a Sunday morning. It’s changing our lives. People are paying close attention to the Word and asking how it lines up with what I teach.

You get so much more out of the word when you work through it in community. We want to drink deeply from the word of God.

  1. Community is where our teaching is lived out.
  2. Community is where we learn to love each other

When we look at this passage, we see that the early church really learned to love one another just like Jesus said to:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
– Acts 2:42

They were devoted, not just to teaching but to fellowship to being together to praying for one another to sharing a meal, and even the Lord’s table together as they met. Look at verses 44-46:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts
– Acts 2:44-46

What an incredible picture of community. They are sharing their possessions with one another. By the way, this isn’t communism. The sharing wasn’t forced. They didn’t just pool all their stuff together at once. Rather, people didn’t consider their possessions, just theirs to do whatever they wanted with them. They considered them resources with which they could love and help one another. So from time to time, they would sell their resources and help one another. It’s a beautiful thing!

They are opening their homes to one another meeting there. They are exercising true hospitality. They are using the good china – no paper plates. We’re talking cloth napkins and salad forks. Just kidding, but they really are sharing wholeheartedly. Luke says they ate together, literally with “glad and generous” hearts. Those who were served were truly glad. Those who were serving were truly generous. The Greek implies that they did this again and again and again.

What this is saying, is that through this community as they gathered in homes and pursued God’s word and honestly shared their needs and struggles they learned to love each other. Community is where we learn to love each other.

Can I tell you something that modern Christians need to know?

  •  You don’t learn to love each other by hopping from church to church to find the best programs.
  • You don’t learn to love each other through one act of generosity.
  • You don’t even learn to love each other by coming here regularly on Sunday morning. That’s great, but that’s not really how we learn to love each other. We can put on our happy faces on Sunday mornings.

There is only one way that we learn to love each other: By living in community. By being with each other week in and week out over time showing up, talking honestly with each other, and really sharing yourself So that your group knows what your best side looks like, but they also know what your worst side looks like. When they see that worst side (your weakness or your struggles or maybe your sin), they tell you that they are for you and that they love you anyway, not because you’re perfect – because you are made in God’s image, and Jesus died for you, and you are so valuable, and because Jesus has given them enough grace to share it with you, even when you are at your worst. That’s how you learn to love. We learn to love each other in community. Community requires commitment. There’s really no shortcut.

I know there are difficult people. In any small group, there are people who may be extra needy or difficult or rub you the wrong way. They’re there we call them EGR’s: Extra Grace Required! Every group has one. One of my best small group memories relates to EGR’s. You may remember a few years ago, when the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren came out. They had some campaigns to start small groups, using videos of him teaching. Kelley and I formed a group in our home in Zimbabwe. We had all kinds of people in that group. We had an EGR – a big EGR! She was actually a fellow missionary, but she was the EGR. (She was type-A and bossy and wanted things just her way), and everybody in the group knew she was the EGR! I thought SHE knew it, too.

Apparently, she didn’t because in one of our group sessions, while Rick Warren was teaching he said “Every group has an EGR.” He explained what that was. She actually spoke over the video and said to the whole group “That’s funny. I don’t think our group has one of those!” As if on cue, the very next words out of Rick Warren’s mouth were “If you are saying to yourself ‘I don’t think we have an EGR,’ YOU are the EGR!” Let me just say, there was no oxygen in that room after that at all! It was awkward.

She was a difficult person! But you know what? The missionaries on that field, under Doug Everswick’s leadership (whom some of you have met), really learned to love her. They knew that she had her difficult side. We’d all seen it. There were still times when she needed to be corrected. They had also seen her value. She was very responsible. She was great with details. She was generous. She was a great teacher – one of my best. As she was loved, she grew and softened.
She wasn’t ever easy, but she was valued and loved. Loving her changed her, and it changed us. Community is where we learn to love one another.

So, (1) community is where our teaching is lived out, (2) it’s where we learn to love one another. Now lastly:

3. Community is compelling to others

Luke gives us one more effect one more benefit that community has for us, and it’s that community is a powerful witness for our faith. True community is compelling to those who are not Christians.

Look at what Luke says in verse 47. This is after he has described the community of the early church. He has described how they gathered and gave themselves to the teaching of the word and to true fellowship. He has described how they opened their homes to one another and shared their possessions with one another and how they received their food with glad and generous hearts. Then, he says this about them:

They were praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
– Acts 2:47

The clear implication is that people were being added, that souls were being saved, that people were coming to faith in Christ as a result of the community, that they saw and experienced in the early church.

  • They saw the early church live out the gospel in community.
  • They saw them devote themselves to the teaching of the gospel.
  • They saw them love and forgive one another, because of the love and forgiveness they had found in the gospel.
  • They saw them share their earthly possessions, because they had true wealth in the gospel.
  • They saw the early church live out that gospel community, and it brought them to the gospel. This happened all over the Roman Empire.

You should read what ancient writers had to say about early Christians. They considered Christians to be atheists, because they didn’t worship the Roman pantheon. They didn’t really understand Christians, but they did take note of how they loved each other, how they took care of one another, how they shared their possessions. When the plague came to parts of the empire and Pagans were throwing their own infected family members out of their houses and into the streets,
Christians would care for them and feed them at great risk to themselves. Listen that’s how Christianity spread through the Roman empire and around the world. It spread through gospel community.

Community is compelling. Guys, that’s the church we want to be and in some ways, it’s the church that we are. I’ve shared with you once before, a text that one of our lead team members got from someone newer to our church, but it’s worth reading again. She says this: “And since we’re being honest here, I must say I’ve travelled quite a bit with the military, and have met so many people from all over the world throughout my life. But never have met such wonderful, beautiful people and souls with such contagious, positive energy until I found Perry Creek or rather until Perry Creek found me!”

That’s community! That is the Church that more and more we want to be. As we give ourselves to the Word in community and as we learn to truly love one another in community, we will become compelling to others. That’s why we value community.