14 The Lost Art of Friendship

We all go about our days, and we simply do the things that we do. I know that’s the ultimate nothing statement, but I mean it when I say it. I don’t think many of us set up our lives like a chessboard, where we strategize who we’ll become close friends with, how we’ll spend all of our time, who we’ll take the time to get to know, and so forth. For most of us, we get involved with various things, and those patterns of involvement shape the kinds of interactions and friendships we’ll have.

Without question, we pick our spouses, and usually within that we make conscious decisions about how many kids we’ll have. So to a certain extent we make choices about what our family makeup is going to entail. But even then, there are a lot of factors outside of our control. And we also make a lot of choices that help to determine our careers. But even then, who our actual coworkers are, what sorts of work-related interactions we have, those kinds of things largely just end up being what they end up being.

I say all of this because I see a trend in Christian circles. A lot of our decisions place us within Christian circles. We go to church on Sunday mornings. We attend Bible studies or social gatherings with church people. And it’s natural that many (or most, or in some cases all!) of our friendships are with church friends. That’s not inherently evil. But we ought to ask ourselves what that does to us.

As our church has been making conscious shifts to develop a more missional lifestyle, many people are realizing their lack of meaningful relationships with non-church people. How do you reach out to someone you don’t know? And more fundamentally than that, I’m seeing that some people are struggling to know where to begin in building relationships along these lines.

I actually think this is bigger than a Christian problem. I think it happens in many areas of society. We just have a hard time relating to people who see the world differently than we do. “Us versus Them” is a real problem in many sectors. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christian/non-Christian, Republican/Democrat, Millennial/Boomer, White Collar/Blue Collar, Married/Single, or whatever, we tend to make distinctions, and we tend to stay within the worlds that make us comfortable.

For example, I see a real tendency amongst people who have younger children to get completely swallowed up in that world. That’s not a bad thing, and to some extent it’s unavoidable. But I sometimes see these married-with-young-children folks struggling to interact with single people, or with couples who don’t have kids. It often turns into the singles feeling alienated—they’re made to feel different or inadequate, and in many churches, this becomes a demographic that feels like it doesn’t belong. I don’t think there’s anything malicious going on; I think it’s just a symptom of us losing the art of making friends whose experience of the world differs significantly from our own.

At times we’re repulsed by people who are different than us. For example, I know of good homeschool kids (please believe that I’m not trying to bash or pick on homeschooling here) who join sports teams and maybe for the first time in their lives they’re exposed to kids who use saltier language. It’s legitimately different than what they’re used to, and it can be alienating. These kids have to make a choice: do I keep my distance or work to develop friendships here? Can I just work together with these kids on the court and then just go my way once the game ends, or is there some basis for a meaningful friendship here? I don’t blame a kid for being overwhelmed by this. This may never be their primary pool for friendship. But do you see how impoverishing it is to believe that there is no opportunity for friendship here?

We will all acknowledge that there are significant disagreements between Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians. But would any of us say that you can’t have a meaningful relationship with someone who doesn’t agree with all of your political views? Similarly, there are real belief differences between Christians, Muslims, and Atheists. But would we really claim that these disagreements should render friendship impossible? I hope not.

I believe we need to work to recover the lost art of making and maintaining friendships with people who are different than us.

I’ve heard some missional church leaders talk about “the f-bomb test.” All they’re getting at is they want their church leaders to be okay with hearing salty language. If you’re going to flip out when you hear someone cuss, then you’re definitely not ready to maintain a friendship with someone whose language sensibilities are different than your own. I understand why a churchgoing person wouldn’t want to throw out coarse language. But is a relational deal-breaker for you if a person uses off color language? The same thing goes for so many lifestyle areas: drinking, political alignment, sexual practices, etc. Can you be real friends with someone who is different than you?

I think it comes down to this: are you willing to let go of your right to be offended? Paul makes an argument kind of like this in a couple of places, such as Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 6–9. Much of his argument is about choosing not to offend “the weaker brother.” In other words, don’t offend someone unnecessarily. But in 1 Corinthians 9, he says he has some rights (specifically, being married and also making a living from his ministry) that he chooses to forego for the sake of his ministry. “We endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (v. 15). And he famously adds that he has “become all things to all people” for the sake of the gospel (vv. 22–23). Sure, you’re going to find some things offensive. But do you want to cling to your right to take offense, or are you willing to allow yourself to be offended for the sake of the gospel. Paul calls on Christians in 1 Corinthians 6 to allow themselves to be wronged or defrauded rather than sue one another because that hinders the gospel. Maybe he’d call on you to allow yourself to hear a cussword or dirty joke or something?

I’m not just talking about gritting your teeth and pushing through a handful of conversations so you can “earn the right” to share the gospel with someone. I’m really and truly talking about relationships. Can you value that person—different though they may be in significant ways—as a person? Can you imagine the possibility that you could learn from them, be encouraged by them, and find some value in your common humanity? Are you willing to acknowledge the image of God in that person and to allow God to enrich your life through someone who is different in many ways?

If the answer is no, then you’re not ready to be missional. If the answer is no, your only path forward is to sit in a church pew and wait for someone to sober up, clean up, and walk through the church doors. But if you’re at a point where you can see the dignity and value and beauty in a person who is unlike you, then you can meet them where they’re at. You’ll find that you need to figure out how to handle some crass topics of conversations and how to graciously disagree on a heated issue or two. But you’ll also find that God is working in places you might not expect.

Only when we recover the lost art of friendship will be able to step out of our bubbles and watch God work as we’ve never seen before.

Mark Beuving
13 Incarnation

One of the most surprising verses in the Bible comes in the transition from the Old Testament to the New. John begins his gospel by talking about "The Word." The Word, he says, was "in the beginning" (a clear reference to Genesis 1:1), and he explains that the Word is actually God himself. So far so good for most of his original readers. John uses the term "logos" for "Word." John's gentile readers would have been familiar with this term from Greek philosophy as an underlying principle that gives order to the world around us. And John's Jewish readers would have been familiar with major Jewish thinkers, such as Philo, using terms like logos to describe Yahweh, the God of Israel, albeit in somewhat philosophical language. For the ancient Israelites, God certainly was the ordering force behind everything that existed, since he was the creator of all.

But as soon as John draws his readers in around the concept of God as "the Word," he makes a shocking statement: "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).

No one would have been ready for this.

For the Greeks, the Word was not a personal being. And for the Israelites, God had certainly promised to come to his people, but "taking on flesh" would have been going too far.

And yet that is the central claim of Christianity: God came to the human beings he created by becoming a human being himself. And thus we are introduced to Jesus, who is God in the flesh, God with us (which is precisely what the name Immanuel means).

We refer to this shocking miracle (which has now become so familiar) as "The Incarnation." This is when God "enfleshed" himself. When he not only moved into the human neighborhood, but did so as a human.

Now, all of that is Theology (in a capitol T sense), and it's wonderful and inspiring. But too often, we interact with powerful truths like this only in textbooks, and we fail to consider the implications for our daily lives. With the incarnation, God was doing two primary things (and here I'll begin drawing on Alan Hirsch's book The Forgotten Ways):

(1) He was identifying with us as human beings, and
(2) He was revealing himself to human beings.

Hebrews emphasizes Jesus' identity as a high priest, but it insists that he's not an out-of-touch, elitist, playing-it-aloof sort of high priest (you know the type). Instead, Jesus has entered fully into our humanity. He's a great high priest precisely because he can identify with our experience of being human in this broken world. So Jesus taking on flesh was more than a CEO of a major corporation visiting a specific franchise to solve a problem, as in Undercover Boss. Rather, Jesus came to enter into the problem, to befriend the afflicted, to really and truly be one of us. If we're going through it, he's going through it. If we're rejoicing, he's rejoicing. When there's a neighborhood party, Jesus is there, because he's an actual part of the neighborhood. No parachuting in, no consulting. He's just one of us.

That's what it means for Jesus to identify with human beings through the incarnation.

The other side of the coin is that in the Incarnation Jesus was revealing God to us. Again, it's one thing to learn about God in a textbooky way. But Jesus offers us something different. Hebrews begins by saying that God had spoken to his people for ages and generations through the prophets. But recently, he has spoken to us in his Son. This is significant. He had spoken words through messengers, but with the incarnation, he spoke in a different language: personhood. Sonship. This is another aspect of Jesus being the Word. He spoke words, yes, but he also was The Word. Jesus in his body, incarnated, was the message that God was communicating to us.

So everywhere Jesus went, he was this physical statement of: “This is what God looks like when he lives as a human. This is what God says when he stands before these specific people in this specific situation. This is how God responds when he is treated in this specific way.” Jesus took everything we had ever known about God and embodied it. Made it situation-specific. In this way, everyone alive at that time got to see and encounter God in a new, highly personal way.

So what could this mean for us? If we're going to be followers of Jesus, it means that we will be incarnational people. Jesus took on flesh, and so must we. Now, we were all born with flesh, so that part is already taken care of. But just as God came to live amongst us, so our desire to show other people the love of God will require us to live amongst others. Happily, we already to live in the midst of a larger community.

Often, however, I get the sense that we Christians begrudgingly live in the midst of a larger community. That we'd prefer to live on the church grounds, like a massive dorm/parsonage. But that's just not how this works. When Jesus prayed for his disciple—knowing that he'd be leaving them to continue his mission without his physical presence—he specifically said, "I do not ask that you take them out of the world" (John 17:15). He wants us here. In the midst of everything and everyone. Incarnating.

Because of this, we look at our situatedness with new eyes. We are where we are for a reason. We get the opportunity of identifying with our friends, neighbors, and coworkers. We are literally one of them.

The other aspect of incarnation holds true for us as well: We get the chance to reveal God to the people around us. To stand in a specific place, as a specific person, amongst specific people in specific situations and say, "This is what God looks like here, now." Of course, only Jesus is God. But we are given the privilege and responsibility of bearing his image.

Imagine if your coworkers had the opportunity to literally work with Jesus. What would they see? What would they learn? How would they be drawn to him and transformed by him? In a real sense, this is what incarnational living is meant to do. What if your neighbors could live next door to Jesus? How would they feel blessed and loved and cared for and empowered? That's what incarnation is all about.

This is obviously an impossible calling. But Jesus died to make the impossible possible. And he placed his very Spirit within us to empower us for the impossible. We'll fail, but his grace is sufficient. So as we live and move and exist in our divinely orchestrated situations, may we always ask what Jesus would do if he were in our situation. Because that, after all, is the whole point of being a follower of Christ.

Mark Beuving
12 Salesman Evangelism

As my wife browsed the female half of J. Crew, I stood by the stroller on the male half and tried to distract my daughters from the boredom of shopping. (They’re still young enough to know that shopping is the worst.)

When a salesman asked me if I needed anything, I politely told him that we were fine. My then two-year-old daughter used to be a clothing store sticker thief, and while she worked to attach a “Men’s Slim Fit” sticker on the stroller wheel, the salesman bent down and made a comment about her learning to change tires already. I lamely replied that you have to start teaching them young.

We stood there awkwardly for a while as he tried to think of some other small-talkish thing to say. He finally asked if there was another member of our “party,” and I told him we were waiting for my wife. He suggested that I look around in the meantime, and I told him that I had already done a walk-through. He stood there for a few long moments, looking as though he was on the verge of saying something, then simply told me to let him know if I needed anything and walked off.

Because I’m a pastor, this brief exchange made me think about our approach to evangelism. This sincere salesman had a job to do: he had been hired to get me to buy something. And he probably did everything right. He took an interest in my family, made a quick attempt to befriend me, then took the first opportunity to point my attention to the goods he was selling. Textbook sales strategy.

If you’ve ever had a front door, you’ve probably had someone try to “evangelize” you like this. If you’ve been part of a church for a while, you’ve likely done this or been challenged to do this.

Most of us have a vague sense that we must first “earn the right” to share the gospel with someone, but we are still in a vicious hurry to finish the transaction. So we make a quick attempt to befriend people on the spot. We don’t take the time to really get to know the person—to find out what drives them, what their dreams or fears are, what they love and hate, etc.—we are usually happy to settle for the “awkward acquaintance” stage.

With that groundwork laid, we take the first opportunity to show them the goods we are selling. Usually this opportunity doesn’t present itself, so we force it. We rush it. We get the message out there and hope they will respond. Textbook sales strategy.

I am convinced that the church in general has adopted a salesman’s approach to evangelism. The gospel does carry a built-in urgency that compels us to reach out to the people around us, even if they aren’t banging down our doors in search of the truth. But this isn’t what it means to follow Jesus. I’m sure there are times when it makes sense to share what you know to be true with someone who is basically a stranger. But I don’t believe that should be our default.

If we’re in an almighty rush to convert someone, then our conversation is about an agenda that we set, and an outcome toward which we are pushing. And that’s not a relationship. Pretending to care about a person so you can preach to them is not loving.

So what should we do instead? It’s simple. Love people. Don’t pretend to love them. Don’t adopt a slow game where you do relationship-like things to “earn the right” to speak to a person. Stop thinking of people as potential converts and simply love them. Here’s what we need to meditate on: God already loves everyone you’ll ever meet. He loves them even if they never join a church. And we should as well.

Every person is valuable, dignified, and intriguing simply because they are made by God—in his image, no less!—and loved by him. Every time we invest in a relationship with a person, we are doing what we were created to do. And if we truly love the people around us, we will get to know them better. If we’re not jockeying for an opportunity to deliver a sales pitch, then we are free to learn, to bless, and to be blessed. And once we have a real, meaningful relationship, we might just find that the gospel has a powerful role to play in that relationship.

What if that J. Crew salesman could have gotten to know me better? What if I had just shared with him that I was irritated because I have never been able to find clothing that works for the office as well as a dinner out? That I was just dying for an outfit that presented me as an intelligent professional who wasn’t stuffy? Our conversation could have taken a beautiful turn for both of us: “Well, I think I’ve got just the thing you’re looking for…”

Of course, a J. Crew salesman doesn’t have the opportunity to get to know his customers very well. But we do. We work with people at least 40 hours every week. We live next door to people for years and years. We frequent the same restaurants and coffee shops week after week. What if we got to know those people so well that we knew what they loved? What they were afraid of? What really matters to them in life? What if we could discern what they were really looking for in life and were involved enough to see when the fleeting things they have been trying to find fulfillment in let them down? What if they were our actual friends, people we truly and deeply loved and appreciated and enjoyed?

That’s when evangelism moves beyond sales strategies. That’s when we see formulas and pitches for the anemic work-arounds they are. That’s when we get to bring the gospel to bear on a person’s life in a beautiful way. This is what the gospel was meant to do. The healing and redemption that Jesus offers is the true answer for every problem anyone has ever faced. We cheapen it when we turn it into a sales pitch.

Don’t demean the gospel by tossing it out there like a cheap product you’re trying to get some sucker to buy. Allow it to change your life. And while it’s changing your life, deeply invest in the people around you. Ultimately, the gospel is about relationship. It’s about a God who loves us deeply, who longs to be with us, and who invites us to know and enjoy him. It’s about a God who doesn’t wait for us to get our acts together, but who comes and seeks us out. A God who came and died to ensure that nothing could separate us from him. That’s what a deep relationship looks like. And that is what we are invited to enter into, to be shaped by, and to share with anyone who will listen.

 

Mark Beuving
11 A Counterintuitive Way to Destroy Community

Christian community is compelling. It’s difficult, yes, but there’s really nothing like having a group of people around you who care deeply about who you are, what you need, who you’re becoming, etc. There’s nothing like having people who know what you’re wrestling with, who understand what you’re good at, who always have your back no matter what. We experience this depth of relationship here and there in our lives, but I’d argue that it comes most freely and naturally in the context of the church. After all, this is where we join together because we are redeemed by Jesus. Jesus joins us together in a way that nothing else can do. Without question, the church is the one place where this type of community occurs supernaturally.

Anyone that has been around the church for any amount of time knows about this ideal of true, loving community. And that’s great. But it can be problematic. Here’s why.

In his wonderful little book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns against those who fixate on a dream version of “community.” They talk about it, think about it, dream about it. “Community” is a big deal to them, so it’s something they often emphasize. But Bonhoeffer warns that this dream often inhibits real, situation-specific, instantiated community. In this quote, Bonhoeffer uses the term “wish dream” to cover this idealized, dream-land version of community:

“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

I’ll use an example to illustrate this. I taught for ten years at Eternity Bible College in Southern California. Every year, we would start a new cohort of students through what we called our Foundations curriculum. With this group, we would ultimately spend 2.5 years of meeting weekly to discuss every topic imaginable. During that time, we would read a total of 7,500 pages. It was crazy. As you can imagine, we grew very close to each other during this time. The students would come out more as family than as fellow students.

But each time we began a new cohort, the new students also had some familiarity with the graduating cohort. They saw how tight-knit the group was, how they functioned like a family. So when they started their cohort, they wanted to be like that. They entered with that idealized version of community. But in reality, they found themselves sitting in college classes with a bunch of strangers. They wanted to live together as a family, but they didn’t know each other at all. So they were invariably disappointed at not having the same deep connections that the others had.

In each case, it took some time before each new cohort of students was able to let go of their dreams of what a community should look like, and actually begin to love and care for and engage with the real people in the cohort. Once they let go of the idealized version of community, they were able to pursue real people. The result in almost every case was a deep, loving community. But to get there, they had to lay the dream aside and begin loving real people. Bonhoeffer also warns:

“The Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases. Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”

If we are going to have any success in joining together for the sake of the Gospel, we’re going to have to let go of our expectations about what a perfect community looks like. We don’t have any perfect groups in our church. Nor do we have any perfect people. So let go of your idealized version of this—there is no room for romanticism here—and start paying attention to the very real, very flawed people that God has placed around you. The only path to true community is to love those people in real, everyday, tangible ways.

Similarly, if we’re going to be able to invite our friends, neighbors, and coworkers into a loving Gospel-saturated community, then we need to let go of our ideals for what that process looks like. If you want your neighbors to get a taste of who Jesus is and what life with him looks like, then you’ll have to see them for who they are, love them for who they are, and build a relationship on that basis. It won’t help to wish you had a more friendly neighborhood, or neighbors whose interests or ages are closer to yours, or neighbors who are more spiritual or more chatty, etc. You only get the neighbors you have. So love them. Let go of the ideals and find ways to love and bless.

Until we’re ready to lay down the dream-versions of community that we foster, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and failure. But if we can let go of these romantic notions, then we can begin to love real people. And if we do, we might be pleased to discover that we are a part of a loving, compelling community of people.

Mark Beuving
Practical Meal Tips for Large Gatherings

Food is important for missional living. Seriously. It's not that you can't pursue God's mission without eating with someone, but the concept of sharing a meal shares so much with the concept of reaching out to another person. We all eat 21 meals each week. We could share a handful of those meals with anyone. Sitting down for a meal is a great way to share the goodness of life and the details of your specific lives with another person. It's a celebratory act that puts us face to face with other people in a level environment. 

And as we gather with our church family and with our friends and neighbors, food can serve the same purpose in that larger setting. In our social gatherings, we're starting with meal and inviting people to be blessed by the food itself and by the shared interactions we experience during that meal.

But sharing a meal in these settings means preparing a whole lot of food. And the world of large-meal-preparation is likely unfamiliar to you. So our own Christina Walton, who has years and years of experience in hosting meals for small (and not so small) group gatherings, has created a site where she shares recipes, ideas, and tips for hosting large gatherings over a meal. If you find yourself hosting such a gathering, you'll probably want to check this site:

Access Christina's helpful meal tips for large gatherings here.

Mark Beuving
10 Gospel Community Core Team Training #4 (Oct 1, 2017)

This week we’re giving you the fourth and final week of our Gospel Community Core Team training. We covered a few different concepts in this week’s training. This brought our training for our Core Teams to a close—at least in terms of in-person meetings on a large scale, and we left that training to go start our Gospel Communities. From here, the bulk of our training takes place on this Sending Space blog.

To begin our training, Christina Walton talked about the practical side of hosting larger groups. Christina and her husband Drew have been hosting small groups at Creekside for years, so she shares a lot of tips that she’s gleaned over the years from making people feel at home in larger gatherings. After that, Ryan MacDiarmid talked about the concept of “liminality” and communitas, which he borrows from Alan Hirsch. And finally, Sarah Finn, who did her Master’s degree in anthropology, shared the concept of “othering,” which is a process by which we differentiate people from ourselves and draw boundaries as we attempt to identify our selves.

With this training session, we closed out our training for Creekside’s launch of our Gospel Communities. This was actually a very significant night for Creekside Church, because with this final training meeting, all of the planning and strategizing and training came to its climax, and we entered a new phase where these once-theoretical groups now became reality. Guaranteed, these communities will experience problems. The reality of a thing never looks identical to the theory that gave rise to it. But our prayer is that our Leaders and our Core Teams now have enough training to navigate the problems that will arise and to make wise decisions for the direction their groups will take; making these decisions in light of the mission.

Mark Beuving
09 Gospel Community Core Team Training #3 (Sep 24, 2017)

In this post, we’re giving you the third week of our Gospel Community Core Team training. We continue to give our leaders a sense of the overall values and culture that we want to see these communities embody. Rather than just handing out an informational sheet, meeting for four weeks in this way gives us a chance to let the overall game plan and values sink in. We’ve also been giving these Core Teams time week by week to discuss how these principles and this mission will take shape in their specific group.

In this training you’ll hear Ryan MacDiarmid explain some values that shape the culture of these groups. After that, I'll explain what “Sacred Space” looks like.

Mark Beuving
08 Gospel Community Core Team Training #2 (Sep 17, 2017)

In this post you'll find the audio from our most recent training event. This was now our second training event for our Gospel Community Core Teams at Creekside. Our goal in training our Core Teams prior to launching our groups is to make sure we’re all on the same page, and to ensure that the culture of these groups is shaped around the mission. It’s one thing to go to an existing church small group and say, “Make sure you’re reaching out to people around you.” But without shifting the culture, that group will most likely stay pretty close to the way things have always been. So we’re doing intentional, prolonged training to ensure that we all develop the same heart, that we’re all moving in the same direction, and the culture that takes shape as we meet together and invite others in fits our overall goal.

In this recording, you’ll hear Ryan MacDiarmid talking about the “Gospel” in the Gospel Communities. He’ll explain why we chose that name and what it means for the Gospel to permeate these communities. He’ll also cast a vision for what it means to be “successful” in a Gospel Community.

Mark Beuving
07 Gospel Community Core Team Training #1 (Sep 10, 2017)

In this post, you will find the audio from our most recent training event. If you look back over the previous four posts, you’ll find the recordings from our Gospel Community Leader training events. To give you some context, these training events were held in Ryan MacDiarmid’s home. So each of these recordings were made as Ryan or other leaders addressed a living room filled with somewhere between 50 and 70 leaders for our Gospel Communities.

With this episode, we’re transitioning to the first of four training events we’re doing with our Gospel Community Core Teams. Each set of Gospel Community Leaders recruited their own Core Team. These are the people who are committed and on board to ensure that the Community takes shape and embodies the culture that we’re aiming for. Each Core Team differs in size, but to give you a sense of the context, these recordings are made in our Worship Center, with thirteen teams gathered around tables. For this first event, we had somewhere around 150 Leaders and Core Team members present.

In this training audio, you’ll hear me bringing our Core Team members up to speed on what Gospel Communities entail, how they function, and what we’re hoping to accomplish with this structural shift in Creekside. In many ways, this is a great place to start if you’re new to the world of Creekside Gospel Communities. You may also want to go back to previous episodes to get the bigger picture, but this should give you a good introduction to the whole concept.

Mark Beuving
06 Gospel Community Leader Training #4 (Aug 27, 2017)
 

Above is a recording of our fourth training event with the leaders of our Gospel Communities.

In this training audio, you’ll hear three separate sections. First Ryan MacDiarmid will share a few more values that we want to shape our community gatherings.

First, the importance of not hiding Jesus, or to put it positively, making sure that Jesus is a big enough part of our lives that he naturally comes into our conversations. We’re not trying to turn Jesus into a sales pitch, but if he is affecting our lives, then that should come out before too long in any conversation we have.

The second value is that we need to be willing to try something different. We have a tendency to get stuck in the way we do things, but if we want to see something happen in our church that is different from what we’ve experienced before, we’re going to have to try something new.

Third, there’s always room. Our communities are never closed, even if we have to plant new groups to make room.

And the fourth value is that we need to insist on multiplying. We can’t be satisfied with keeping our groups static. So a value from the very beginning is that these groups will grow and plant new groups as time goes on.

After Ryan, you’ll hear from one of our elders, Drew Walton, as he talks about small group culture. And then at the end, Ryan comes back to explain some more details on the three “spaces” we’re using to shape our interactions and on the overall structure of our Gospel Communities.

 
Mark Beuving
05 Gospel Community Leader Training #3 (Aug 20, 2017)
 

This is the recording of our third training event with the leaders of our Gospel Communities.

At this point, we have our leaders thinking and praying through who they’re going to recruit for their core team. We’re also encouraging our leaders to think through how they’re going to shape their meetings together. In many ways, what their meetings look like will flow out of who they recruit to be part of their core team, since these teams set the tone for how the group functions and feels.

In this training audio, you’ll hear us referring to the core teams and to the culture of the meetings. The training meeting progressed in three parts. First, you’ll hear me sharing two more core values for these groups. Specifically, I explain the concept that it’s okay not to be okay, and also that no one can do this alone. After that, you’ll hear Daniel Lowndes share the concept of APEST, which is an acronym taken from Alan Hirsch  and Mike Breen that describes the makeup of God’s church. The acronym is for Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers, which is all pulled out of Ephesians 4. And then after Daniel, you’ll hear Katie MacDiarmid getting into something of the practical logistics of shaping a gathering. Katie explains the importance of both structure and flexibility.

As you listen, you’ll hear us drilling down into more specific and more practical aspects of what our Gospel Communities will look like

 
Mark Beuving
04 Gospel Community Leader Training #2 (Aug 13, 2017)
 

The recording linked in this post is from our second training night for our Gospel Community Leaders. For those of you who could use some context, these are the training meetings that Creekside Church is using to bring our leaders up to speed on our Gospel Communities. We are working through a shift from a more traditional small group model—which we have called Life Groups, and before that Growth Groups—to a missional model, where it’s less about huddling together and more about working side by side to pursue the mission that God has given us in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and anywhere else that God places us. So these meetings are meant to retrain our leaders away from an inside-of-the-box approach to small groups and toward developing missional living and outreach in our community.

In this meeting, Pastor Ryan talks about three more core values: (1) adopting a celebratory mood, (2) seeing every disciple become a disciple maker, and (3) the concept of incarnational ministry, where we don’t wait for people to come to us, and instead we go to them and embody the love of Jesus in that context.

Ryan also explores our first two "rhythms" from our BLESS acronym: Bless (blessing the people around us) and Listen (listening to the voice of the Spirit and to the people God has placed in our lives). 

 
Mark Beuving
03 Gospel Community Leader Training #1 (Aug 6, 2017)
 

Most of these posts are shorter thoughts aimed at giving our leaders some motivation and insight for living missionally. This post, however, offers a recording of our latest leader training event. This is a weekly training meeting for our Gospel Community leaders to help us restructure our church around the mission. What you’ll hear is Ryan MacDiarmid sharing our heart for these Gospel Communities, and he’ll focus on three core values that we want to see shape the life of these groups: simplicity & reproducibility, grace & freedom, and love.

These training events will be longer than most of our podcasts, but we want you to be able to hear what went on in these meetings.

 
Mark Beuving
02 Community on the Frontier
 

I want to take this post in two stages. First, I want to tell you an old, familiar story. Then, I want to teach you some missiology jargon so that you can glean the concepts and quickly discard the jargon.

First the story. In the book of Acts, we find the disciples of the risen Jesus gathered together, unsure of what they ought to do. Jesus had told them to wait for the Spirit of God to clothe them in power. Wait for this, he said, and then you will show the world who I really am.

So they waited. They prayed, begging God to work, to show them what to do. And then God did something they could not have expected.

The Spirit of God came upon them, leading them to speak in languages they didn't know, and together they preached the world's most successful sermon, with thousands of people choosing that day to follow Jesus.

But that was just the beginning. They went everywhere, speaking boldly in the name of Jesus. They were opposed, imprisoned, and beaten. But they didn't care. They were in this together, and they had been sent out by a man who had conquered death, so they ventured out into a hostile world, let the chips fall where they may. They preached, they healed, they worshiped, and they served.

And it's in these early stages of the church that we learn about their shared life together:

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42–46)

These are some of the most compelling verses in Scripture. We long for this type of community. Though many of us tend to isolate ourselves, deep down we all long to be known and accepted. To have people with whom we have "all things in common." People who open their tables to us, people who will have our backs, who would sell something they love to meet our needs. Isn't that what we're really looking for in our churches? This kind of authentic community is basically the holy grail of church life.

Hit pause on that for a minute. Now I want to feed you some jargon that you can quickly forget. In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch draws on the anthropology work of Victor Turner to draw out some important insights about authentic community. Turner gives us two (unnecessarily esoteric) terms: liminality and communitas.

Liminality he defines as "the situation where people find themselves in an in-between, marginal state in relation to the surrounding society, a place that could involve significant danger and disorientation, but not necessarily so" (163).  It's the reality of being on the move, on the fringes. If you're sticking with the status quo, you're not experiencing liminality. But when you step out to make some changes, to do something that few have tried, that's liminality.

And here's a key point: pursuing a mission necessarily leads you to experience liminality. It's as we strive for a goal that we get ourselves into uncharted territory, that we find ourselves at odds with prevailing norms, that we experience the kind of discomfort that comes with challenging yourself.

Turner's other term is communitas. Why not just call it community? Honestly, he should. Just add a modifier: true community. He defines it this way:

True community "happens in situations where individuals are driven to find one another through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition, and marginalization. It involves intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging brought about by having to rely on one another in order to survive" (163).

Can you see where this is headed? Turner is saying that true community comes within the context of liminality. In other words, we really connect with each other as we set out in pursuit of a common mission.

It's time to tie the threads together here.

True community is a byproduct of mission. It's as we challenge ourselves, stepping out into discomfort for the sake of a mission that we truly grow close to one another.

This is precisely what was happening with the early church. We want to emulate their closeness and care for one another, so we gather in groups and hope that this happens. Often, we discover that if our sole purpose is to try to grow close to another, community is elusive. It's hard to band together around an unimpressive goal. "Let's enjoy being together" runs out of gas pretty quickly.

But if we pursue the goal of the early Christians—to show the world around us the love of Jesus—then we will naturally connect with each other. Working side by side provides a relational glue that can't be manufactured any other way.

So don't set out to create tight-knit community.

Set out, instead, in pursuit of God's mission. Throw yourself into the task of showing the love of Jesus, of making disciples. If you do this, you'll quickly realize that you need the help of other believers. And when this happens, you'll take a moment to stop and think and realize that you've developed profound friendships. We think we want to grow closer to people in leisure and comfort, but what we're really longing for is the kind of community that only materializes on the frontier.

 
Mark Beuving
01 If You Build It, Many Won't Come
 

In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch says that in his home country of Australia, research has shown that between 10% and 15% of people are attracted to the contemporary church model. This means buildings, services, and programs. It means that the church stands as a central hub. This is the way most of us have experienced church. 

Hirsch refers to this as the attractional model of church. In this model, we create exciting and “attractive” programs and services so that people will be compelled to come to us. Think of a Billy Graham crusade. They put on these huge stadium events, and Graham’s preaching and the other elements were a big enough draw to bring people into the stadium. Once they were there, they could hear the gospel and respond. And the results were huge!

This approach really derives from our Western consumeristic mentality. Advertisers know that if their products are going to sell, they need to show the public how great their products are. So you sell the products, you make them enticing, and then people come into the store. 

The church has adopted this approach on a massive scale in the Western world. We believe we have the most valuable “product” in the world, and we are set on ensuring that everyone sees it as such. So far so good. But our model is taken straight from the shopping mall. We bank everything on creating an inviting, comfortable space, and we provide goods and services that people can “consume.” Did you like the service? Was the pastor’s preaching interesting? Did the music entertain you and/or draw you in? Did you feel welcomed?

None of these elements are bad, but somewhere along the line, we stopped going to the people around us, and we put all of our efforts into convincing them to come to us. Build better events. Send out more colorful mailers. Promote it on social media. Make it free! Make it fun! Promise them deep content that will also make them laugh! Be sure you deliver on the production value so they’ll come again! 

This is just how ministry is done in America. And the results have been pretty impressive. But now let’s revisit Alan Hirsch’s research. They found that only 10-15% of Australians are still drawn in by this approach. 10-15%! Which means that you could still have a “successful” church in Australia, but that it would have no positive impact on 85-90% of the population.

Now, this is not Australia. Hirsch points to research showing that in America, around 40% are still attracted to the contemporary church model. That’s way better than Australia, and we could be very happy with our healthy, successful churches. But what about that 60%? What about the majority of our friends, neighbors, and coworkers upon whom this approach to church will not be effective? Are we really okay with missing 60% of our population.

Consider, by contrast, the approach of Jesus. He said that his entire mission was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He wasn’t content to sit back and wait for people to come to him, he went after them. He came to us! And thank God that he did! 

Hirsch calls this the missional approach to church. The attractional model is all about getting people into the building or programs, and then working with them there. But the missional model is all about stepping outside of the church building and really living our lives outside of the walls of the church. It means befriending people, building real relationships—not just for the sake of converting them, but for the sake of loving them and valuing them as human beings made in the image of God. 

If the church were simply a building, then people have to come to the church. But because the church is actually people, the church can go to the people! And this is exactly how God designed the church to function.

If you were somehow able to start with a blank slate, and all you did was read the New Testament, my guess is that you’d be shocked to then turn to the 21st century church in America. You’d probably think, “Wow, they read the New Testament and decided to put it into practice like this?!” And that’s always our challenge: to read the Scriptures, to saturate ourselves in God’s mission, and then to step into our daily lives and respond. 

Too often, the forms of church we’ve inherited inhibit us from pursuing the mission. Shouldn’t we rather reshape our church structures and our daily lives to enhance the mission? 

That’s our goal, and it’s the reason we’ve put together this blog. 

 
Mark Beuving