Circles & Rows
Recently in our Sunday worship we have emphasized the need for both the small group and the large group in Christian community. This year at Bethel Church we are seeking to better understand and grow in that Biblical pattern. Why do both the small and large group matter?
Andy Stanley said: “You can’t do in rows, what you can in circles.”
There is something about meeting regularly in a small group of believers that Sunday worship cannot accomplish. In small groups we find intimate community where we can share our joys, struggles, doubts, and hopes. Each believer has a high sense of ownership because leadership in worship, studying the Scriptures, and prayer is shared together. When someone has a baby, gets surgery, gets a promotion, or loses a loved one – the smaller community is there to be their primary support and point them to Jesus. Whether in times of satisfaction or want, the small group is steady and consistent. When someone is young in the faith, the small group provides a unique opportunity to learn from intentional community.
While it is true that the small group might be the place where our discipleship hits closest to home, the large group is also essential. In Sunday worship we come together as small groups, families, and individuals. We rub shoulders with others along the path. We celebrate what God is doing in our midst, lift up His Name, witness baptism, take the Lord’s Supper, and become equipped & challenged through the preaching of God’s Word.
Without Sunday worship, a small group is an island. Without small groups, Sunday worship is just an event. We need both. It is Biblical to be engaged in both.
Are you primarily Sunday-oriented and today is the day you sign up for a small group too? Is the small group your sweet-spot but today God is calling you to commit to regular Sunday engagement? I’d love to chat with you.
THE WAY FORWARD (Part 2)
Our mission as a church is “Becoming like Christ and sharing Him with others.” Put in terms of this year’s theme, this means we want to go both “deep and wide”—“deep” by growing in our relationship with Christ and “wide” by reaching out and including others.
Last week I talked about the goals we have set to go “wide” as a church. (We want to see ten people reached for Christ and be enfolded into the church.) This week I want to talk about the goals we have set to go “deep” together.
One thing that makes for a unified (therefore, “deep”) church is a crystal clear vision and a shared commitment to that vision. So, this year we plan to express our mission and values more memorably than in the past, underscore these things in multiple ways, and publicize these visionary statements regularly. To accomplish the latter, we will propose a new logo that captures the essence of our vision, refresh our back wall with our updated statements, and roll out a new bulletin format that will contain our mission, vision, and values as a regular feature.
Pastor Ryan will be especially responsible for two of our goals: Maximize our small groups for disciple-making, and create a discipleship pathway that has everyone moving toward deeper Christ likeness. He has already invested heavily in each of these.
In regard to small groups, Pastor Ryan is supporting existing small groups, while calling new groups to become “house churches”—that is, small, home based, New Testament-like expressions of the church. In regard to the discipleship pathway, Ryan, I, and others have already developed growth strategies for “not-yet,” and new Christians. We are working on new ways to guide older, more mature believers into growth.
The Reveal survey has found that, when it comes to growth individually or together as a church, there is nothing that compares with being steeped in the Bible. So, we also will make a concerted effort to embed the Bible in everything. Also, we plan to highlight our council leaders’ spiritual practices so that these growing believers can model for us all what growth looks like.
I wish I could detail for you every goal we have that is aimed at taking us deeper in faith, but that is not possible. As the year unfolds, you will hear more about the individual initiatives we have undertaken.
The most important thing, though, is not the goals we have made but the growth itself. Each of us needs to be growing closer to, and more grounded in, Christ. Let’s pray for that and invest ourselves in that.--Pastor Tom
THE WAY FORWARD
In an earlier Pastor’s Corner I said we have exciting hopes and plans for this year. This week and next I’d like to tell you about some of the things that are causing my heart to leap.
Many of our goals are centered on outreach and discipleship. We have set the prayerful goal of seeing ten people come to faith in Jesus Christ, and embark on a path of discipleship to Jesus, this year. Since we have not seen ten people come to Christ at Bethel in recent memory, this may seem like a big goal. How do we plan to do it?
· The Alpha program is an important first step. I have been warmed to hear from many Bethel members who have taken a leap of faith and have asked a friend to attend Alpha. In this next week we will learn what the final numbers of participants will be.
· Each member of ministry has adopted a prayerful goal to see at least a couple of people come to faith and discipleship through their ministries.
· I will be meeting with all of the ministry leaders who draw significant numbers of people from outside of the church. Together we will strategize as to how their program attendees can be more effectively linked to Christ and to the church.
· We have begun to note church guests who are exploring faith. All guests who fill out a connect card receive a welcome letter, but we are making a concerted effort to make sure our repeat visitors who are exploring faith have someone in Bethel to come alongside them. In this way, no one who is thirsty for God will fall through the cracks but will receive encouragement to take their next steps toward faith and growth.
· We are developing our “discipleship” path that will allow people to identify their next step of growth whether they are not yet believers or are committed, growing Disciples of Christ.
· Pastor Ryan is organizing “house churches” and coaching their leaders. These “small groups on steroids” each have a goal to see nonbelieving friends added to the group.
Of course a major outreach goal is the church plant proposal that is being studied right now. God willing, that will result in fruitful witness beyond what we have ever seen.
Only God’s Spirit can make our plans for outreach succeed. However, God has told us in His Word that He is eager and willing to reward our faithful steps of obedience. As we pray and step out in faith, I believe we will see the lost being found and the found growing in faith. I see a lot of people doing that. That is why I have such hope! --Pastor Tom
DEEP AND WIDE
If you were in church a couple of Sunday’s ago, then you saw Rob and Anne Koning’s skit in which they mentioned the theme for this year’s small groups kickoff: “Deep and Wide.” This is not only the theme for small groups, it is also the theme for our whole year as a church.
The “deep” in “Deep and Wide” refers to going deeper in our faith both personally and together as a church. The word “wide” refers to sharing the Good News with others so that the church grows numerically. Growing deep and wide is how the church is meant to work—all the time, everywhere.
This Sunday we kick off a series of sermons based on the book of Acts which is all about growing deeper and wider. No book in the Bible challenges us to go both deep and wide the way the book of Acts does. It documents the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the dynamic spread of the Gospel around the world. Each chapter of the book seems to say “there is much, much more yet to be experienced in your walk with Christ. Come deeper and let your light shine brighter.”
My prayer and expectation is that we will grow deeper and wider as the Holy Spirit makes that Acts-realities alive in our lives. And I trust our growth won’t stop at the end of the series, but that we will continue growing deeper and wider with each passing month.
Embrace the adventure. Pray that we will not miss anything that the Holy Spirit wants to give us this year. I’m looking forward to what God will do among us! –Pastor Tom
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’
How has your summer gone? I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you are like most of the people I’ve spoken with, you are probably feeling like it zoomed by at the speed of light. Many consider this weekend the unofficial end of summer—one last chance to relax before we begin the normal fall-through-spring routine.
Along with the nostalgia that comes from saying “goodbye” to summer, I hope you are feeling some excitement, as well. As the calendar turns from August to September, it is good a time to look forward. That is happening around the church office. You can feel a quickening of the pace as the staff make their plans for the upcoming year of ministry.
We have many, many exciting things coming up in the year ahead, and I look forward to telling you all about them in the coming weeks. For now I just want to say that I am looking forward to another year of being a church family together. Summer is a fun experience, but, for me, it is kind of a scattered experience that make me miss connecting, serving, and just being together as a church.
This year we will enjoy friendships, Bible studies, worship services, laughing and playing together, and doing a lot of other things side-by-side to further God’s Kingdom. I’m excited about that, and I’m glad to be on this journey with you. –Pastor Tom
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