The Church: What Kind of Community are We to Be?

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“Group inclusion is a kind narcotic, and a probably more powerful narcotic than adrenaline.” So says author Sebastian Junger, discussing his recent book titled War following the lives of the men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team fighting in Afghanistan.  He may just be on to something.  He later writes.

“The feeling of being included in a group, where you are absolutely sure about your role and you’re absolutely sure about your relationship to everyone else and their role and you’re completely necessary to the functioning of that group and everyone in that group is necessary to you. There is a security to that, there is a sureness there is a kind of necessaryness that every person has where they don’t have to wonder really about what their worth is, what their value is.”

This holds true across any and every spectrum.  We all wear our badges of belonging in the form of stickers on our cars, clothes on our backs or laptops in our briefcases. There is truly no such a thing as a man being an island to himself.  We all carry with us a sense of belonging to a group that is much larger than just ourselves.  And we wear that badge proudly.  Even those who would shun stereotypes and labels can’t escape it.  They belong to the group that shuns stereotypes and labels!  They have there own brand of musical preferences (eclectic: Dolly Parton to Snoop Dog to Death Cab for Cutie) and clothing style (Bobo’s rejected from Art School).  They even have the same mantra (“I don’t like to be categorized/boxed in/etc”) and rituals – reveling at much alike they are and unlike everyone else.  Together they bond in their uniqueness.  

We all long to belong to a group that we can identify with – who we get and who gets us.

But that never happens perfectly.  There is always some point of tension or misunderstanding or worse yet, alienation and exclusion.  When that happens, we usually jump ship and go form another group or seek to belong someplace else.  This is a common practice today.  We see it in church world with the phenomenon of “church shopping/hopping.” We also see it in the political world with the newly formed “tea party” party.  Apparently the republicans are not conservative enough, so we need to branch off and form a separate group altogether.

But this is not community; its affinity.  Its surrounding oneself with only those people whom we get along well with, and who think and behave the ways we are most comfortable with.  It’s a form of tribalism – where we erect barriers in order to preserve our groups identity and place in the world by keeping others out.  

That need for community is meant to be fulfilled, at least temporarily and imperfectly, in the church. However, for those outside the church other forms of community serve to fill that void. Video gamers find community at the local video game store and act violently when their space and community is threatened [illustrations see below]. Others seek to fill the that void with work, or leisure, or perhaps online communities become a way to achieve that sense of belonging without the costly commitment that normally comes with community and fellowship.

Among Christians, there is always the temptation within us to either preserve or reject the church and its community. Either we feel as though we don’t need the community, or we feel as though we must protect the community from any outside forces and from any changes.

People reject the community of the church for all sorts of reasons, but one of the most common is that the church is full of sinners. Anne Rice, a famous author and Christian convert, recently reported that she was done with Christianity because she simply could not be “anti-gay,” “anti-feminist,” “anti-science” and “anti-Democrat” and that following Christ did not mean following his followers. The comments section of the website on which this announcement was made was full of supporters who echoed similar statements. According to many, you don’t need the church to be a Christian. Living in community with other Christians is difficult, for sure. There is no doubt that the church is full of sinners and that means that there will always be messiness and frustration when Christians seek to pursue real community with each other through the church. However, just as Christ does not abandon us because we are sinners, or obnoxious, ignorant, or prejudiced, we are not at liberty to abandon other Christians for similar reasons.

Other people become obsessed with preserving the community exactly as it is, and for them, this means being very unwelcoming to outsiders. There is a security and a conformability that is lost when communities reach out and invite others in. However, one of the very purposes of the church is to provide a place of security from which Christians can reach out and minister to those outside the community. Just as Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” (Phil. 2:6-7) so should we be willing to release our grasp on the security and comfort that we have in order to minister to others. Jesus was willing to be abandoned by the community of the Trinity for the sake of the world. 

But the gospel comes in and it challenges our methods for seeking community through tribalism and through radical individualism.  It brings together a group of people who have one overruling allegiance to all other allegiances – their relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see the gospel isn’t about being conservative or liberal, bohemian or bourgeois, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Mexican, man, woman, child, elderly, hip, traditional, old school, new school etc.

The gospel is the ultimate relativizer because it is the most radical community builder. 

The picture presented in Acts 2 is neither of Christians who shun community, nor of Christians who are so concerned with preserving their community that they aren’t willing to reach out and grow. The picture presented in Acts 2 is rather of a group of Christians who were absolutely committed to living together in harmony and unity, sharing all things, including their burdens, with one another. That commitment to radical community and fellowship was attractive in a way that the community continued to grow daily.  And this community was formed out of Jews and Greeks, old neighbors and new strangers, living in and out of each others houses and good graces.  Why?  Because Jesus – the One who was the Son of God – had given himself for these people.  “He emptied himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race.” The gospel forms a new humanity out of the old humanity.  It doesn’t just gather like-minded professionals or urban hipsters, or chic soccer moms or organ-and-choir-please church people.  It gathers sinning, broken and arrogant people and proclaims to them that there is another way to live.  And this new way finds its most significant meaning living life in and with the community of fellow redeemed people. 

We are called to that same radical community in which we are in each others lives, knowing each other’s problems and struggles, and sharing each other’s burdens. When we can live in community and fellowship with one another like that, then we will truly exemplify the unity and love of the Trinity, and God’s love for us. That sort of community is not only healthy to us and pleasing to God, but it is also attractive to the world. Your neighbors, co-workers, and family and friends are looking for a community like that. Many of them seek it out in organizations like the Lion’s Club, the Rotary Club, the Free Masons, the Soccer Club, the local bar of pub, the various different boards or committees they are on, or internet social sites. However, most such communities don’t offer all that a person needs. They aren’t full of people who will truly sacrifice and provide for them, who will love them and support them. That is the sort of community that people want to be a part of and it is the sort of community that the church is called to be.

What sort of community will you be a part of? One that is relativized by the gospel so you can give yourself away to others? Or one that seeks to build up it’s walls of tribalism and live cut off from others?

When Small Gifts are Significant – Give to our Church Planting Work and Share with your Friends

[To watch a video version, click here. Otherwise, enjoy the post below!]

When Small Gifts Make a Big Difference

I want to share a story of something that happened tonight. You see, we went out and saw our neighbors doing some yard work – moving rocks from the front to the back yard. We decided to all pitch in and help as a family. Maggie could pull some weeds, and I could do some of the heavy lifting of shoveling and transporting the rocks to the back yard.

But our little guys pitched in too. Alex, Jack and Luke each grabbed a rake or shovel from time to time and each contributed their part in the process. Here are some pictures.

Everyone with a gift pitching in

Everyone with a gift pitching in

No gift too small

Now, none of their “scoops” was as big as mine. But it would be wrong to judge their contribution as being less significant than mine. Their contribution, though smaller, was just as significant because it was part of a greater work, or end. We had to get the rocks from the front to the back, and every “small” scoop they contributed, was one less scoop I or someone else had to tackle.

Their contribution – though small – was significant.

This reminded me of a story in the Bible where Jesus went out and was teaching a group of people who had followed Him. After several hours, everyone started to get hungry, but no one had thought of a plan, let alone brought provisions to feed everyone who showed up – over 5,000 people in total. When Jesus asked His closest followers about a solution, their response was to simply tell the people to go elsewhere and find food. They had nothing. There was nothing they could do or provide that would have made a difference.

But there was someone – a little boy in fact –  in that crowd who heard what was going on and decided to step up to Jesus and offer what he had – five loaves of bread and couple of fish. It would have been the equivalent of an elementary school kids packed lunch from his Mom. But this kid was willing to offer his small gift to contribute to the need.

Then this is what happened:

“Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.” – John 6:11-13 (ESV)

What I witnessed tonight with my own kids reminded me of this simple, yet profound fact: there is no such thing as a small, insignificant gift when it’s put in the hands and in the service of Jesus. Because Jesus is the one who makes even small gifts significant.

Asking You to Respond

Which is why I want to ask each of you who are reading (or watching) this, to respond in two ways. You see, as some of you may already know, we have been in the process of raising funds for a church planting work in a growing city in the Fort Worth metro area, Mansfield, TX.  So far, we are at 33% of our 2 year financial goal. Now we are excited about that, and so thankful for everyone who has already jumped on board and contributed. But we still have a ways to go, and I leave for Mansfield this Saturday (May 31, 2014).

The first response I want to ask you to make is to give a small financial contribution to our church planting work in Mansfield, TX.

If every one of you who are my friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter or my blog, or a connection on LinkedIn, in my circle of Google+, or someone who received this because a mutual friends shared it with you, were to contribute a small one time donation of $50 (or a monthly donation of $4.17 for 12 months), we would reach our 2 year fund raising goal of $100,000. These funds will go to the operational budget of our church planting work.

Some of you may have already been thinking about supporting us, or perhaps you could support at a greater (or lesser) amount, and I want you to know that we would love to have you come on board at whatever amount you are comfortable with giving.

Please know that 100% of your donation will go to this work directly, and is considered a tax-deductible gift. To give, go to www.frontiermissionproject.com and choose the best option for you and your situation.

Now some of you who are my friends, followers or connections online, don’t share my same belief as a Christian, and you’re probably thinking, “Why should I get behind and support you planting a church?” I’m glad you asked, and I will be posting a second post (and video) explaining why I believe that even if you do not share my same belief as a Christian, or are skeptical, maybe even hurt by your experience of organized religion, that there is a legitimately good reason to support this kind of work. Watch for this tomorrow sometime.

The second response I want to ask you to make is to Like, Share, Retweet, and send this post (or video) to your own network of friends, followers and connections.

When you do, please give a quick word or two as to why you’re sharing it. It could be something as simple as, “Check out what my friend Chris Gensheer is doing and be a part of it. I just did!” or whatever else you may want to say. But it would be very helpful, and meaningful, to help spread the word about what we’re doing and give others the opportunity to jump on board.

A Truly Grassroots Crowdfunding Campaign

I also want to offer you all something in return for jumping on board and giving any donation you want to give to this work as a small token of my appreciation. Like any good crowd-funded campaign, I have a series of gifts, or offers, to give you for your partnership and participation in this work.

Any gift of any amount = Enrollment in our Ministry Updates and Prayer Newsletter, an opportunity to go out for coffee or some other drink whenever you’re in Mansfield (and I’m available to meet), and my undying love and gratitude.

Any gift of $50-$99 – A short essay (PDF) on the intersection of the Christian church and public good (original work of mine, to be completed by August 15, 2014), enrollment in our Ministry Updates and Prayer Newsletter, an opportunity to go out for coffee or some other drink whenever you’re in Mansfield (and I’m available to meet), and my undying love and gratitude.

Any gift of $100 or More – A small group Lenten devotional through the Gospel of Mark (original work of mine, to be completed by August 25, 2014), a short essay (PDF) on the intersection of the Christian church and public good (original work of mine, to be completed by August 25, 2014), enrollment in our Ministry Updates and Prayer Newsletter, an opportunity to go out for coffee or some other drink whenever you’re in Mansfield (and I’m available to meet), and my undying love and gratitude.

To receive these gifts, please email me at frontiermissionproject@gmail.com and let me know that you are jumping in and wanting to support this work and at what amount.

And please go and Like us on Facebook (and share with your friends), Follow us on Twitter (and RT please), and +1 on Google+ to stay up to date on what’s going on, receive informative and entertaining updates related to our work, and be part of our online community

Thanks guys. Now lets see what King Jesus can do when we entrust Him with our small gifts and look for Him to do significant things with each one!

Chris Gensheer is the Lead Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Mansfield, TX, a growing suburb of Fort Worth. Find out more about his vision for ministry in reproducing worshipping communities on mission and give your prayer and financial support to the work of Frontier Mission Project.

Be the Indigenous Prophet

Chris Gensheer:

This is a great blog on the need for having a localized understanding of your context for mission, instead of importing an understanding from other similar and close, or even different and far off places. Great read and well worth the time to check it out for yourself.

Originally posted on Gardens Don't Launch:

“A prophet,” said Jesus of Nazareth, after a not-too-encouraging trip to his old stomping grounds, “is not welcome in his hometown.” 

So we should heed his lesson and maintain our prophetic edge by speaking into new communities from a fresh, outsiders’ perspective. Right? 

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Well, John’s gospel also says that he came to Israel, and, for that matter, to the big bad world, and was met with plenty of incredulous dishonor in both. 

I think that most home town folks actually do want an indigenous prophet. They want someone who is, as someone once said, in that place, but not of that place, so they could be for that place. 

The longer I am in Rock Hill, SC, the less attracted I am to the missiological draw of global cities and their cosmic influence. But I am also less and less persuaded that philosophies and practices of ministry that are being…

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Why plant churches?

As some of you may know (and for those of you who don’t, please take this as my apologetic catch-up on all things related to the Gensheers and ministry update), we will be joining a church plant in progress as the new Lead Pastor, starting June 1, 2014 in Mansfield, TX. You can read about it here in its entirety.

Tim Keller

Tim Keller on Need for Church Planting

One question I get with plenty regularity is, “Why plant more churches? I mean, don’t we have enough, especially in the Bible Belt?”

I typically respond with a stat that shows maybe the Bible Belt, especially where we’re going in the greater Fort Worth part of the DFW metroplex, is not as “Christian” as we think. In 2010, only 54% of the nearly 1.8 million people living in Tarrant County espoused any religious affiliation whatsoever. In 2012, that number dropped to 52%. That’s just a little more than half, of almost 2 million people, who generally care enough about religion (of any kind, mind you) to respond on a survey asking about such things. The overwhelming worldview of Fort Worth is one that is largely self-centered – whatever works for me, myself, and I, suffices.

But here’s another great response from Tim Keller in his book Center Church on that question.

“Studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that if there is one church per ten thousand residents, approximately 1 percent of the population will be churchgoers. If this ratio goes to one church per one thousand residents, some 15 to 20 percent of the city’s population goes to church. If the number goes to one per five hundred residents, the number may approach 40 percent or more. The relationship of the number of churches to churchgoing people is exponential, not linear”. – Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (p. 362).

To get Keller’s book, Center Church, click here.

To find out more about Frontier Mission Project, check out our website, signup for updates and follow our social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram.

 

Practicing Resurrection in the Ordinariness of Life

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“Christian practice in matters of spiritual formation goes badly astray when it attempts to construct or organize ways of spirituality apart from the ordinariness of life.  And there is nothing more ordinary than a meal.  Abstract principles — the mainstay of so much of what is provided for us in contemporary church culture — do not originate in the biblical revelation…Breakfast and supper.  Fish and bread.  Their home in Emmaus and the beach in Galilee.  These provide the conditions and materials for formation-by-resurrection.”  – Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection (72)

The Resurrection Understanding of Things – “Just as”

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“Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat upon dying in the ground produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam’s fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the ‘bondage to decay’. More glorious than this beautiful earth, more glorious than the earthly Jerusalem, more glorious even than paradise will be the glory of the new Jerusalem, whose architect and builder is God himself.” – Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol 4, 720.

An All of Life Gospel Way to Live

How you view the world - is it all about me, or all about Him?

How you view the world – is it all about me, or all about Him?

Sometimes you just come across a great thought, or quote, and you realize why you’ve been reading that book for as long as you have.  We’re all that way.  We’re not affected by books as much as we are statements, or as John Piper might say, sentences.

Today, as I was reading a few verses for my personal devotional life and worship, I came across this note in the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible while reading Ephesians 6:1-4.  It had that effect of both encouraging and challenging me to live out the implications of the Gospel in my mundane, everyday life.  Here it is:

“There is no area of life too big or too mundane that the person and work of Christ cannot sanctify and empower it. The Christian gospel is not an ethereal formula unrelated to daily living. The gospel informs and transforms all of life.” – ESV Gospel Transformation Bible, on Ephesians 6:1-9

Friends, today, how will you let the gospel inform your experiences?

When you hit your highs of landing that deal, signing that contract, moving the ball down the court that one next step, seeing your kids treat each other with love and compassion?

Or when you hit your lows, and that client cancels their subscription, the contract goes back for review, you take two steps back in your business, your dryer decides to quit and you find yourself playing sibling referee in the never ending cage-fighting grudge match that is your kids’ interaction with each other?

Will you look to yourself and say, “I did this,” – for good and for bad, and take all the praise or the blame, whatever the case may be?

Will you look at your surrounding and say, “How can this be, why is this happening to me?” – for good or for bad, and resign yourself to living in a life without purpose, meaning or significance, just a mere collision of unintentional accidents?

Or will you look at who Jesus is and what He’s done – the perfect Son of God, who gave up perfection in the happy land of the Trinity to come seek, find and redeem you and me both by living the life we should have lived (but didn’t), and die the death we should have died (but now, we don’t have to!)?

Will you choose to look to Him who is orchestrating all events, circumstances and our very lives to the glorious crescendo of “all things new”? (cf. Revelation 21:5)

Which will it be?

Because only one is truly capable of transforming not just your perspective, but the way you live your life, deal with criticism, setbacks and negative circumstances, as well as praise, honor and forward momentum.

When your perspective is informed by the Gospel, you are able to take the pressure off of your performance (but not your responsibility to live your life in God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Spirit-enabled ways), and instead, focus on the One who comes to redeem and renew all things to Himself.

A gospel-centered way of looking at life is more informed by what Jesus has done and is doing than what I could have or should have done!

Just Want to Be Happy

Seems like a reasonable thing to say doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want to be happy?

But what if life is not about being happy?

What if the purpose of your job is not about your happiness?

What if the purpose of your marriage is not about your happiness?

What if the nature of your friendships is not about your happiness? 

What if the world keeps on spinning even when you’re not the center of it all?

Here’s what happens. If you live for your happiness alone, everything will spin out of control. 

No one will be good enough for you.

No job will be ever quite right enough for you.

No friend will ever be safe or true enough for you. 

Want to know why?

You.

You are the common denominator in all situations and scenarios when your happiness is the driving force and motivation for everything you do.

The reason why you are the problem is because neither you or I am capable of giving life, meaning, value and purpose – or in a word, happiness – all by ourselves.  

We are dependent upon others in every sense of the word. And when we force everything else exist for our needs, pleasure and happiness, we let them down.  

We are incapable of giving life to the same degree that we demand it.

What we need…

What the world needs now, more than ever, is someone that does not demand life, but gives it.

Who doesn’t force others to serve him, but who lives to serve others.

Who doesn’t ruin the lives of those around him because they aren’t meeting his needs, but who constantly pours himself out to fill the needs of others.

Where have I heard this before?

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45 (ESV)

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Great Resources on Gospel and Marriage (for cheap on Kindle)

Just saw two great books incorporating the Gospel and Marriage.

At the heart of both of them is the understanding that “I” am not the central orbiting reality of neither my life, nor my marriage. Once that concept sinks in, I can then reorient everything in my life and marriage around God – who He is and what He’s done (the gospel) – and discover more resources for forgiveness, patience, empathy and ultimately joy, than I could ever muster up on my own.

Both of these books have been an encouragement and challenge to me, and as is my usual habit, I like to share all good things with others.  If you don’t have them, check them out.

Enjoy!

Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make us Holy More than to Make us Happy?

Dave Harvey, When Sinners Say I Do?: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage