How We are Growing as a Church in Mansfield

CHURCH RENEWAL SEASON OF PRAYER AND ENGAGEMENT

Fall 2017

For the past several years our church plant has grown – in numbers and in what it means to be a healthy and missional community. But as we’ve grown, we haven’t kept up with helping everyone grow together. This is why we have set out to embark on a church-wide season of renewal through prayer and intentional engagement.

We are asking, collectively, as a church: What does it mean, practically, to follow Jesus and be transformed by Him in our everyday life, as well as our life together as a church – His people in His world? Over the next few weeks, we want you to set aside some time to pray, consider, and discuss with your family and friends in the church how you can participate, engage, and grow in the life and ministry of Christ Church Mansfield.

lightstock_190452_medium_user_3970569As members of Christ Church Mansfield we take the following vows from our Book of Church Order:

  1. Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His wrath, and without hope except for God’s sovereign love and mercy?
  2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
  3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will serve him with all that is in you, to forsake the world, to put to death your sinful nature, and to endeavor to live a godly life as a follower of Christ? 
  4. Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
  5. Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the church, and promise to pursue and preserve its purity and peace?

As a follower of Christ, and member of His church by faith and this church by association, I/we agree to take the next steps in committing our lives to God’s glory, man’s joy, and the mission of His church here at Christ Church Mansfield in the following ways: 

  • Receive, believe, and live out the gospel and cultivate daily habits of spiritual growth by spending time with God through reading, studying, memorizing, applying scripture and praying. (Personal and Vibrant Faith)
  • Grow as a disciple and follower of Jesus by connecting with God and His people in worship, growing in relational community, serving others in ministry, and helping others do the same in discipleship.  (Church Philosophy of Ministry and Discipleship Process)
  • Practice living a generous life motivated by the gospel and give financial support to the mission of God in and through Christ Church Mansfield through our tithes and offerings, in ordinary and extraordinary ways. (Sustainable and Sacrificial Support for the Mission of CCM).

How do these three commitments fit with our Membership Vows and culture as a gospel-centered church?

We will explore each of these commitments in subsequent posts. For now, let’s look at the first commitment.

On Having a Personal and Vibrant Faith

First, living a life of worship in devotion to God, characterized by ongoing repentance and faith based on the person and work of Jesus Christ in the gospel is the direct result and implication of the gospel for our lives. We are not saved by our works in any way, nor do we strengthen God’s love and resolve toward us by anything we do. But our good works and spiritual disciplines are the appropriate fruit and expression of gratitude for the love and grace we have received from Him in Jesus Christ.  Our Membership Vows 1-2 speak to our commitment to the personal profession of faith and possession of a life of faith. 

On Being a Gospel-Centered Christian (Christ follower; Disciple)

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” – 1 Peter 2:9

The essence of the Christian faith and what it means to be and live as a Christian is that we worship God alone, in community with His people, giving of ourselves in service to others, and reaching others with the transforming power of the gospel.

Our lives are characterized not by perfection, but by repentance and faith; humility, trust, and godly ambition; a growing desire to bring God glory and honor in our lives, as well as our communities, seeing His name and kingdom spread throughout the world.

To believe, or “have faith” is to transfer our functional trust from our own efforts of finding life, mercy, and forgiveness, to the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. The default mode of the human heart is to “go our own way” and “take matters into our own hands.” Faith in Christ means we go His way, on His terms, and in His power – not ours.

We need to remember this and repent daily as a way of life.  To repent is to simply admit that we often desire, and in fact live, as masters of our own fate, choosing to worship someone or something (creature/creation) other than God (Creator). We seek and savor “forbidden fruit” in the forms of our own autonomy, power, control, comfort, or approval, establishing our own “law” and “rule of life” instead of trusting in the “Word of God” that satisfies more than any bread. We repent of all these things we do or leave undone, and all the ways we make ourselves the center of the universe instead of God.

But as we turn away from sin and all the ways we give in to it, we also turn towards Christ in faith, receiving His mercy, forgiveness, and life by the Holy Spirit to live in “newness” of life – constantly dying to sin and living unto righteousness. In light of what He has done, has given us, and continues to be for us, sin quickly loses its power and control in our lives.

The great Puritan, circuit riding Presbyterian minister, Robert Murray McCheyene perhaps said it best: “For every one look you take of your sin, take ten looks upon Christ!”

This is the Christian life in a nutshell – to be obsessed with Jesus and the significance of Him for our life.

In light of the gospel, we are:

  • …creatures made in the image of God, ruined by sin, redeemed by the person and work of Jesus Christ, and actively hopeful about the ultimate renewal of all things. 
  • …. works in progress, holding on to grace for dear life, and bringing others along for the journey.
  • …worse off than we think but also more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. Therefore, we are to be loving and serving others because we’ve been loved and served by another Who is greater – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Practically this looks like several things:

  • Read, study, memorize, and apply the Bible. Pray and respond to God in repentance, and believe the Gospel (always and ongoing). (Here’s a good summary article to help!)
  • Love and serve others as you have the opportunity. Seek out these opportunities!  
  • Share with others what you have – Jesus, hope, faith, resources, etc.
  • Publicly professing my faith in baptism and/or confirming my faith in receiving communion.
  • Potentially joining the church as a Member.

Personal and Discussion Questions

  1. Where are you on your spiritual journey:
    • Have you trusted Christ with your life?
    • Have you confessed and repented of your sin as well as your “good works” that keep God at a distance from your life?
    • Are you growing in what it means to be a disciple/follower of Jesus Christ
  2. What helps you keep Christ at the center of your life?
  3. What new practice could help you to refocus your life on Christ?
  4. Who can you share your responses with and ask them to help you grow in having a personal and vibrant, growing faith in Christ?

 

Prayer

“O Lord Jesus, I thank and praise YOU for the life that You have given to me by Your wonderful grace and love. May I grow day by day to be more like You, full of compassion and kindness, grace and truth. Saturate my heart with Your love so that I may love You more with every fiber of my being. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for making to be more like Christ in all of life. Help me to reflect Your truth, beauty, and goodness, in thought, word, and deed. I ask that I may devote my time and heart to reflect on all You are and all You have done for me – so that You are magnified more and more in  and through my life.” Amen

Additional Resources

Daily Bible Study and Devotional reading: He Reads Truth and She Reads Truth

Daily Prayer and Devotional material: Heavenward by Scotty Smith

You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith (book)

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren (book)

Knowing God by J.I. Packer (book)

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CATECHISMS, THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT AND HABITS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

26281_Highlighting_BiblesAs a church, we will be utilizing a tool to help us cultivate habits of spiritual growth and theological development: The New City Catechism. To help us understand this tool and how we will be using it, I’ve put together this blog post answering three questions:

Why use a catechism?

In every age, it is important for the church to know and love God’s Word as it has been passed down and delivered to the saints throughout every generation. It’s all the more critical when the culture around the church is asking the question, “What is truth?” Catechisms help ground the church in the foundational and formative truths of Scripture in the form of focused study and dialogical discussion in a question and answer format.

Our goal as the church is to know and love God. We do that through knowing and loving His Word. Catechisms help us to first memorize and then meditate on those aspects of God’s Word that are foundational to understanding God and His ways. This then proves formative for shaping us as His people in His world.

Sinclair Ferguson writes in Faithful God an insightful observation about one difference between the modern and historic church:

Christians in an earlier generation rarely thought of writing books on guidance. There is a reason for that (just as there is a reason why so many of us today are drawn to books that will tell us how to find God’s will). Our forefathers in the faith were catechized, and they taught catechisms to their children. Often as much as half of the catechism would be devoted to an exposition of the answers to questions like the following:

Question: Where do we find God’s will?

Answer: In the Scriptures.

Question: Where in particular in the Scriptures?

Answer: In the Commandments that God has given to us.

Why were these questions and answers so important? Because these Christians understood that God’s law provides basic guidelines that cover the whole of life. Indeed, in the vast majority of instances, the answer to the question “What does God want me to do?” will be found by answering the question: “How does the law of God apply to this situation? What does the Lord require of me here in his word?”

In this way, catechisms help us to know, understand, and thoughtfully and confidently apply God’s Word to our particular life and situations. 

Take the first catechism as an example:

Q1: What is our only hope in life and death?

A1: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

In a world and age where we are faced with rival claims to our physical and spiritual lives (“You belong to the State.” “No, you belong to your own determinative will; pick your fate and spiritual preference.”), or threats to our person (“Your body is not your own, it belongs to your boy/girl friend, abusive person or threat to your well-being, etc.,” or “Your suffering and experience as a person of particular color is part of life and not my/our problem”), or a form of spirituality that says only the interior life/world matters (“Your mind is all there is”, “This world doesn’t matter”, etc), this question on its own affirms that our bodies, our lives, our skin, our flesh, as well as our minds, our hearts, our inner life not only matter but they are in fact rightfully God’s alone!

It’s an encapsulation of Scripture: 

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:7-8

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,” – Psalm 24:1

Everything we do or don’t do; everything that is done to/for us or against us is either an act of rebellion against God and deserving His just judgment, or a response of gratitude and worship to God because of His mercy, forgiveness, and love towards us in our Savior Jesus Christ. In Christ, we belong to God no matter what anyone else says or does.

Catechisms then are tools to help us know and love God and his Word as well as to help us apply it in timely ways in our lives.

Why the New City Catechism (NCC)?

The NCC is a modern catechism formed by the members of the Gospel Coalition. Some of it’s distinctives are that it is a simplified version of longer historic catechism namely the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms. In this way they serve as an introduction as well as a gateway or stepping stone to the other catechisms. It uses modern and simplified language to help communicate clearly the truths of Scripture that can be hard to sift through older and less common language of the historic catechisms.

Some of the features of the NCC also lend itself to easy use in simple family and personal devotional practices.

  • Full version and Children’s version
  • Scripture references for each questions and answer
  • Accompanying commentary in written and video formats
  • Scripted prayers in response to each catechism
  • Some even have accompanying songs or tunes to help assist in memorization

Our hope is that the NCC would be a useful tool to help introduce us to theological training by easily developing the habit of spiritual growth; specifically the habits of focused study of God’s word, prayer, along with memorization, meditation, discussion, and application of God’s word in our everyday lives.

 

How is this going to work for Christ Church Mansfield?

We will be incorporating the NCC into the two aspects of our life together: as a gathered church on Sundays and as scattered households throughout the week.

As a church

For the next year we will incorporate the NCC into our Confession of Faith segment of our weekly worship liturgy. The liturgy leader that day will provide some brief explanation of the specific truth highlighted in that week’s catechism question and response to better serve our understanding of the truth. Likewise, our children will be working through the same catechism questions in the Christ Church Kids Ministry environments (Infants, Pre-school, and Gospel Journey Elementary Ages).

As families/individuals

In addition to our Sunday worship gatherings, we envision and want to encourage each household – whether you’re a family or individual – to set aside some time each week to study and discuss that week’s catechism question. We recommend designating one meal each week as a “family and/or friends” meal where you sit down, eat together, and open up God’s Word and the NCC to work on memorizing and meditating on each question.

We will send out links and resources to the catechism each week in our Week In Review email (the WIRe) to help you lead in these family and friends discussions. You can also purchase the two physical resources to have in book format if you so choose; they are The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds and The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds. All of this material is available for Free in digital format, on their website and as downloadable apps for your phone or tablet.

 

26601_Family_Bible_StudyLinks to Resources

New City Catechism (NCC) web page and web app.

Youtube channel with video commentary on the NCC.

Tim Keller on Why We Should Catechize our Children (Gospel Coalition).

Promotional video of NCC in use as home and personal devotion practice.

Songs for the NCC (not complete yet, but a start).

Another Good Conference

This looks like it will be a really great conference.

Check it out here.

I will actually be helping and serving at this, so if you’re planning on coming, let me know.