Communication

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By Larry Short

Have you ever wondered why John 1 refers to Jesus Christ as “The Word?” That’s a very unusual way to describe Someone, when you think about it.

I suspect that in calling Christ “The Word,” John is giving us an important clue as to the nature of God. He is telling us that it is in God’s nature to reveal, to express Himself to His creation, to communicate. Christ is the “image of the invisible God.” As we gaze upon Jesus, we come to understand what God is like. He is God’s expression or communication of His nature to us.

Communication is extremely important to our lives, to our survival, to our health and happiness. Through communication we experience the world around us and come to understand our purpose.

As the Strategy Team was considering how to move our church toward the vision God has for us, we recognized the important role that accurate, timely, and compelling communication would play in achieving our goals. Hence effective communication became the first of five key objectives we decided would require focus in our five-year plan.

In order to identify and achieve key SMART goals within the first year, we have formed a team comprised of our webmaster, Dan Amos, our associate pastor, Brian Sharpe, our church secretary, Julie Pace, and myself. This team has begun meeting and working on a number of SMART goals, including:

  • Devising and conducting a survey of our membership to better understand how effective our current communications efforts are, and how we could develop more effective communications efforts.
  • Evaluate and enhance our church’s web presence (including homepage and Facebook) to communicate more effectively.
  • Evaluate other forms of communication, such as our email newsletter, pulpit and audiovisual communications, printed brochures, and signage.
  • Explore new avenues of communication made possible by recent technologies (such as text messaging and social networking platforms).

What is a SMART goal? It is one that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Ministry leaders will be setting SMART goals for each of the five objective areas: Communication, Assimilation, Community, Spiritual Transformation, and Holistic Outreach.

In upcoming Last Words, we will dig into each of the remaining four objectives separately. So, if you are interested in how “assimilation” will make a lasting impact on the life of our church, tune in next week!

In the meantime, I want to leave you with two thoughts about effective communication:

  1. It is redundant. Different types of communication affects different people differently. In our church the pulpit is a key tool of effective communication. But we employ other forms of communication as well to support the message we are seeking to communicate. We encourage you to avail yourself of all the tools we are seeking to create in order to communicate effectively.
  2. It is two-way. Accurate communication depends on willingness to both give and receive feedback. Without feedback, we might assume we’ve communicated something well; but the person to whom we have “communicated” has no idea what we’ve been trying to convey. Please bless those who lead the various ministries at our church by providing them with constructive and timely feedback.

We’d love to hear your feedback about the direction that our church is going, about our vision and strategy. What questions do you have? How is God working the “KNOW, GROW, GO” vision into your life? Please share your thoughts on email or talk with any elder.

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GO and serve, South Hill and beyond!

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By Larry Short

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to “Your God reigns!” Isa. 52:7

If our mission statement were only the first two lines, which we’ve covered in this space the last three weeks … KNOW God, GROW together in Christ … as important as those are, it would be woefully incomplete. We would be ignoring the purpose which God has created us to achieve! This coming weekend Pastor Martin is preaching on the following portion of the Lord’s prayer: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

It’s clear from Christ’s final instructions in Matthew 28 that “going and making disciples” is ultimately how God will fulfill this prayer of Christ’s. Without disciples making disciples in each generation, the Kingdom will decline rather than advance.

As the Strategy Team was crafting this new vision statement, we debated many different words that we could have chosen for the third line of the statement. Here is why we chose the words we did:

GO – We cannot simply sit on our duffs in our comfy church, waiting for potential disciples to come to us. That’s never been how it works in God’s economy. He’s always moved His Church outward … into Jerusalem (the community around us), (neighboring regions outside our comfort zone), and then, ultimately, to the uttermost ends of the earth – WAY outside our comfort zone! “Going” is about taking action: using our feet and moving out. We must be both strategic and urgent about how we are going to move into our community and beyond. At Elim, one key way we do that is through our Outreach and Missions team, led by Dr. Cal Kierum, and through the teams they support. We as a church really need to ramp up our involvement in these teams! If you can’t find a team that fits what you feel God is calling you to do … start one! And if you feel God calling you to be more involved in shaping the growth of this ministry, talk to Cal about serving on the leadership team.

SERVE – In recent Christian history there has been much emphasis placed on proclamation. But proclamation is just one part of Christ’s strategy. Christ was sent to the earth, humbling Himself, as a suffering servant. He modeled and demonstrated servanthood as the primary way we should express God’s love for the people around us. We have focused on the word “serve” in our vision statement not to say that there should not also be proclamation (for telling the truth to someone who needs and is prepared to hear it is indeed serving them), but to recognize that service is the key way that we will build relationships in our community and beyond, and win a hearing for the Gospel, raising questions (such as, “Why do you love like this?”) to which Jesus alone is the answer.

SOUTH HILL and BEYOND – The holistic nature of our target audience is reflected in this statement. We are to bear witness both locally and globally, just as the first Christians were called to do the same. We continue to wholeheartedly embrace foreign missions, while recognizing the need to also focus on our community. For years churches have made it “too easy” for themselves by visualizing missions only as something that happens “over yonder.” We could live whatever way we wanted to in our communities (not seeking to know or serve our neighbors) because we comforted ourselves in the fact that we were paying professionals to reach the Pygmies in Africa. But the truth is that our next-door neighbors (not to mention the people who live in tent cities all around us) need Jesus just as badly as the Pygmies do … and we are responsible to be reaching out to our neighbors even as we are supporting efforts to spread the Gospel in fertile soils throughout the rest of the world.This third part of our vision statement is the hardest, because it is ultimately the end goal. Christianity is always one generation away from extinction, and may also be one generation (or less!) away from Christ’s imminent return. We don’t want to be caught sleeping when He comes! And because it is the hardest, it will require the most prayer. The need for “more and better” prayer, both personal and corporate, is the single largest gaping hole in our church uncovered by the Reveal survey. If we fail to become the praying people that Christ is calling us to become, we will fail to achieve the purpose to which He has called us. For the truth is that we cannot, in our own strength, “Go and serve.” We need His power, His leading, His passion … and these things come only through prayer.

God is calling us to faithfulfulness … faithfulness in knowing Him, in growing together in Christ, and in going and serving, South Hill and beyond. Will we respond to His call?

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GROWING together in Christ – Part 2

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By Larry Short

At Elim, affinity groups and community groups are the primary place where we practice the “one anothers” of Scripture and walk together to hold each other accountable to become more like Jesus. Moving people into healthy groups and mentoring relationships is key to achieving the second part of our vision: “Grow Together in Christ.”

Last week we focused on what it means to grow “Together.” This week, we look more at the nature of growth itself, and especially what it means to grow IN CHRIST. And yes, once again we are offering a special treat to everyone who clicks the following link, reads this week’s Last Word in its entirety, and follows the specific instructions you find therein. Enjoy!

Growing together in Christ will occur, to some extent, on weekend worship services and in class-like child and adult education contexts. But at Elim we’ve discovered that Sunday morning is not enough! This growth will occur most effectively in the context of affinity groups or community groups … smaller groupings of like-minded individuals from within our Body who commit themselves to gathering together regularly to pursue a deeper and healthier Body Life commitment to growth in Christ. It is in a dozen such groups in this church (and I am including, in addition to community groups, affinity groups such as the M&Ms, YAMs, women’s Bible study, MOPS, etc.) where the real growth, the practical application, occurs. Where people know each other more intimately, submitting themselves to the leadership of their shepherd-teacher(s) as they seek to work out together what it really means to become more like Jesus, our Master Shepherd-Teacher.

We are blessed to have a majority, more than 60%, of our attending church members and friends involved in such groups. But we also recognize that the remaining 40% are missing out on a key component that will heighten your chances of “finishing well” in this Christian race. As we as a church embrace our vision statement of “Know God, Grow together in Christ, Go and serve South Hill and Beyond,” we will be thinking carefully not just about those three components, but the all-important transitions between them. If weekend worship services are where we come together to know God better, we will also be using them to encourage you to take the next step and transition into a community or affinity group where you can really begin “growing together in Christ.”

And we recognize that not everyone will find a group where they feel they completely “fit.” Perhaps you work evenings, and can’t find a group that doesn’t meet in the evenings. Or perhaps you have struggled all your life, due to the fact that you are left-handed or double-jointed or talk in a funny voice. What should you do?

Here’s an idea: Start one! We want to be very intentional about raising up and training new group leaders, and we would love to work with you on creating a group to help facilitate growth together in Christ for people who may be just like you (left-handed, double-jointed, funny voice talkers with evening jobs).

Without groups of people who are committed to walking the Christian life together, our strategy as a church will never be successful. We need each other! And most of all, we need Christ, which is the final and most important part of this second line in our vision statement: “Grow together IN CHRIST.” For Christ did not launch out on His earthly, heavenly-Kingdom-building ministry alone, but surrounded himself with a concentric team of God-seekers, in order to walk the journey together with them. Not only did He have a large following of disciples (estimated at about 500 during his earthly ministry), and a smaller team of 12 apostles, but even a smaller yet and more tightly-knit inner team of 3 disciples, to whom He entrusted His most intimate and amazing moments and experiences (such as the Transfiguration).

Which speaks to mentoring, another key part of “growing together in Christ,” wherein smaller groups of 2 or 3 individuals work to establish and hold each other accountable for spiritual growth, and learn from each other … but, alas and alack, we are out of time and space! (Of course, we have enough space to provide you with another email link for Martin … CLICK HERE to submit an email with “DOUBLE YUMM!” in the title, then be sure to claim your prize on Sunday!)

So, the last word of this Last Word is: If you are not yet in an affinity group or community group or mentoring relationship at Elim, we offer you two choices: 1) Get in one! 2) Start one! The status quo is unacceptable. We must be growing together in Christ before we can hope to do what He is calling us to do … GO and serve, South Hill and beyond! Tune in next week, for more on that.

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Growing TOGETHER in Christ – Part 1

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By Larry Short

At Elim, affinity groups and community groups are the primary place where we practice the “one anothers” of Scripture and walk together to hold each other accountable to become more like Jesus. Moving people into healthy groups and mentoring relationships is key to achieving the second part of our vision: “Grow Together in Christ.”

When we were first married, Darlene and I lived in a small condominium in Southern California. We had very thin walls so we got to know our neighbors well. Nathan, our first child, was born while we lived there, and he was a screamer. I felt very sorry for our neighbor to the east, whose bedroom shared a wall with our nursery.

When our baby was crying, her strategy was to turn her TV set up to a louder volume to drown out the noise. Which is partly how we became aware that she enjoyed listening to a number of big-haired evangelists who were broadcasting their services for the benefit of all the pagans.

When we asked, our neighbor informed us that she did not bother attending worship at any of the fine gatherings in our community. Instead, she pointed to her TV set. “That’s my church,” she said.

Do you ever wonder why we bother to gather TOGETHER as believers? Why Scripture admonishes us, “Forsake not the assembly of the saints?” After all, we have God’s Word. Everything we need to know is right there. And in this modern age, with internet, radio and TV broadcasting, we have plenty of other ways to connect with teaching, worship, etc. Why bother joining a body of believers and assembling with them regularly? What’s to be gained?

For that matter, if God reveals Himself through nature, as well as His Word, why not seek out a monastic life of seclusion, taking your Bible and your favorite worship tape and seeking God each week on the beach or on the slopes of Mt. Rainier?

Scripture refers to Jesus’ Church as “The Body of Christ.” Singular. At Elim, we recognize fully that we are just one small part of a larger Body. Not only is it a worldwide Body, with millions of fellowships meeting together in hundreds of countries, it extends (both directions) throughout time. The author of Hebrews tells us we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” believers who have been translated to glory after “winning the race.” Christ has one Body, and we are all in it, together with them. We also bear a significant responsibility to the believers of the future, those who are yet to come, to keep alive the flame and fan it so that it is burning brightly when they join the fold. (So that we, too, may one day be in that great “cloud of witnesses.”)

Like the Body of Christ, the human body has discrete subunits. There are various limbs, structures, and organs that have different functions, contributing to the health of the whole. And even within each organ, there are billions and billions of discrete cells. And even within each cell, there are further discrete components.

But one thing that marks a healthy, functioning Body is connection. I don’t know about you, but the different parts of my body spend a lot of time together! Those cells all work hard to performing their respective functions as an interdependent part of the whole. Blood cells flood muscle cells with oxygen and other nutrients, which in turn take their signals from nerves to pull against tendons and bones and other muscles in just the right way and sequence for me to type these words. All these different components depend fully on each other for health and survival.

Sure, individual cells may die, and the Body goes on. You can even remove a kidney and survive … but how many of us want to? If everything is working together as it should, we really like to keep all our parts intact. (I kind of like having two kidneys, personally.)

The second part of our vision statement says: “GROW together in Christ.” Growth is another phenomenon that marks a healthy body.

But what kind of growth are we talking about? Is growth simply an expansion in numbers, the addition of cells? There are times in every body life when this is important, and certainly it is vital to build muscle and exercise our brain capacity and replace cells that are dying. But as we all know, growth can also be dysfunctional. Obesity and resulting diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are in epidemic proportions here in the U.S. Another form of uncontrolled or inappropriate growth is cancer, and next to heart disease it is a primary killer.

There’s another kind of growth, and it’s the qualitative kind of growth we should experience as we mature. We all should be gaining and practicing skills, eating healthy, learning more, taking our vitamins, exercising, and growing in health and happiness and contentment and peace and wisdom. It is the qualitative as opposed to the quantitative side of growth.

While “GROW Together in Christ” does not ignore the quantitative side — yes, as a healthy church we will probably be adding numbers as we reach out and serve those around us and invite others in to partake in this Christian life with us — the qualitative side is what we are most concerned about. As believers, are we being transformed into the image of the Christ we follow? Are we making real, measurable progress in our spiritual health? And are we doing it together — a dynamic we frequently refer to as “Body Life,” wherein we are admonishing, exhorting, and challenging one another (in the positive sense, iron sharpening iron); stimulating one another to love and good deeds; exercising our spiritual gifts in interdependent trust and mutual submission to one another?

This sort of a Body Life dynamic cannot be created by a TV program or a website. Facebook in all its glory is no substitute for the local church, for the real-life interactions in which we see Christ in each other and grow toward what we see.

Next week: What sort of growth are we talking about? Is this just all about increasing our numbers? Tune in for another treat. Oh, and to everyone who has gotten this far and emails Pastor Martin to tell him so, we are bringing a special treat for you this Sunday: One of Tomina’s ultra-delicious cinnamon rolls! All you have to do is click here to email Pastor Martin with this single word in the subject line: YUMM!

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Knowing God

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By Larry Short

Our new vision statement has three parts:

KNOW God,

GROW together in Christ,

GO and serve, South Hill and beyond

In these next few editions of “The Last Word,” we’re going to look at our new vision statement, and how it (and the strategy which will guide our efforts over the next 1 – 3 – 5 years) has been informed by the “Reveal” survey instrument which we took a year ago this month.

The first part of our vision statement (“KNOW God”), which we will focus on this week, sounds incredibly simple. Our vision is to KNOW God. Sounds like a good, very basic goal for a church, right?

But in reality, I think this part of the vision statement is one of those things that truly is much deeper than it appears at first glance. We often act as if we think that “knowing God” is simply a matter of “knowing more about God” … or perhaps, put another way, believing specific truths about God. But Scripture assures us that when it comes to believing truths about God, that is not the whole story. James 2:19 says: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” Believing that there is One God is a fundamental tenet of Judaeo-Christian faith (Deut. 6:4). It’s a good thing to believe there is one God. But it’s not the whole thing. Believing God is One is not the same thing as knowing God.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 says:

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.”

Truly knowing God is not a philosophical knowing … it is a relational knowing. Many people may know about my wife, that she is a wise and wonderful woman. But they do not know her in the way that I know her, in that unique covenant love relationship that we have as husband and wife. When we truly know God, He also knows us. We understand His character. We seek His desires. We seek and respond in obedience to His leading. We allow Him to change our lives.

For us here at Elim, the primary tool for knowing God is our weekend worship service. In it we submit ourselves to God, saying to Him, “We want to know You!” All the elements of this service … worship, teaching, tithing, prayer … fit together for the purpose of helping us to know God better, to deepen our relationship to Him.

We consider this FUNDAMENTAL. That means, it’s the first thing that we do, the most important thing, before all else. Knowing God must lie at the foundation of everything else that we do: of growing together in Christ, and of going and serving, South Hill and beyond. If we do not first know God, we should not proceed with those other worthy goals. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200!

Please allow me to challenge you today. Can you say in all honesty, “I know God!” I don’t mean, do you know everything there is to know about God? None of us do, none of us ever will. We do not have the capacity. We will spend eternity exploring the delights of God’s character, and will never tire of it. What I mean is this: When you stand before Christ at the final judgment, what will He say to you? Will He say to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt. 25:34)? Or rather, will he say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” For, ultimately, knowing God is being known by God. It is a two-way relationship.

Because knowing God is a relationship, this also means we MUST be willing to invest in the relationship in order to see it grow. The Reveal survey says we are very weak in such important spiritual practices as daily Bible reading (only 21%), prayer to seek guidance (31%) and confess sins (29%), and reflection on Scripture (a mere 17%). If only one out of five of us is seeking to hear from God daily, can we truly say we are growing in our knowledge of God? I would challenge us to greater fervency and passion in our pursuit of knowing God! Such effort should not be confused with good works; rather, it is a demonstration of a sincere faith. Hebrews 11:6 nails it on the head:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Reveal also revealed some other interesting things about us as a congregation. It revealed that we know much ABOUT God. We embrace the right doctrines. For instance, 97% of respondents embrace the doctrine of the Trinity. However, this percentage seems to decrease as you start moving the knowledge from head to heart. For instance, only 71% of respondents placed high value on the statement, “God is personal.” Only 66% placed high value on the statement, “Christ is first.” Only 64% expressed value and understanding of their identity in Christ.

Reveal showed us that we need to make the important transition from being primarily a “head” church, to a “heart” church as well. Knowing God is not simply knowing doctrine, not simply knowing about Him. Knowing God is having a personal and life-changing redemptive experience with the Creator of the universe.

This is our primary vision for the members of this church, that we would know God and be known by Him. If there is some way that we as staff, ministry leaders, pastors, and elders can help you in your journey toward knowing God more fully, please talk with us today and let us know what that is. We promise that we will drop everything to help you make this vision become a reality in your life!

NEXT WEEK: Growing together in Christ. What role do small groups play in our church? How can we grow together in our common identity as believers, children of God, who are committed to Christ’s will for our church and our lives and who are growing into that commitment on a daily basis? How will we transition believers from worship services, where they are getting to know God, into small groups, where they are growing together in Christ?

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