Community Groups at Elim: A “Church Within a Church Within a Church”

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director

This is the final installment in a seven-part series on principles guiding community life at Elim. To read all seven principles in one document, click here.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Inception, this concept may sound familiar. In the movie, there are sleuths (Leonardo DiCaprio plays the lead sleuth here) who are experts at entering people’s dream states to try to extract important information from them. It gets more than a little twisted when they have to take it down two or more levels, creating a dream state within a dream state, within a dream state. Which gives rise to all kinds of adventuresome challenges for returning to the “real world” . . . if there is such a thing!

(How’s that for a one-paragraph movie review? I dare you to try sleeping through this movie.)

At any rate, to some extent community groups and the way they function within the Body of Christ remind me of the premise of this movie. First, we all know that a Body of Believers such as the one you find here at Elim is merely a “church within a Church.” Ultimately, everyone who calls Christ Lord is a member of the same Body, the Body of Christ. Elim is only one local manifestation, a church within a Church.

I’ve found that the most effective community groups function as little “churches” within a church (such as Elim), within the Church (the Body of Christ). That is, many of the things that we are blessed by and bless others with, as a result of being members of the Body of Christ, happen well within the context of community groups.

I was reflecting on this last night while sitting around the fire pit in Bob Walsh’s backyard with a group of Elim men at one of our Men’s Conversations. We ate great food together. We worshipped together. We prayed together. Then Isaac McKenzie led us in a discussion that quickly got down to the nitty-gritty of how we live lives as men devoted to Christ together, in the context of relationships with other men (Pauls, Timothies, Barnabases—more on that here). There was honest discussion, and we encouraged one another onward in our journeys as fathers, husbands, men, and followers of Jesus.

I was encouraged to hear how the lives of so many men were being impacted by what was happening in small groups they were a part of at Elim, formal or informal!

During this weekend’s sermon, we will be looking at James 1:22-27, which begins with the simple and very direct admonition: “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” God is implanting His Word in us. Often, we will receive it and say “Amen,” but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of daily life, we then “forget” to implement what we have learned and proclaimed. James tells us that professed faith is not authentic faith unless it is lived out in lives of God-directed action.

And community groups are an ideal place where we can safely “stir up one another to love and good works,” as Hebrews 10:24 exhorts us.

In this seventh and final principle in this series for life in community groups, I see the following three ways community groups help fulfill this “church within a church within the Church” mandate:

  • Small groups are often the place where a believer’s spiritual giftsfirst float to the surface. In the community ministry, we will work with group leaders to hone a process for helping their group members discover and use their spiritual gifts effectively to minister to others. Use your small group to exercise the “one anothers” of Scripture with your brothers and sisters in Christ!
  • Groups play an incredibly important part of the prayer life of the Church.This ministry will exhort, support, and encourage a vital prayer life within small groups.
  • Small groups are the place where the best care and shepherding In a traditional church model, the “professional” pastors are responsible to visit the sick and bereaved. But when tragedy strikes someone who is involved in a small group, many times the best care comes directly from other group members who are in community with that person. We will work with group leaders to help them develop as wise and caring shepherds of the little flocks God has entrusted to them.

Our prayer for you as we close out this series is that if you are not yet involved in a community group here at Elim, you won’t hesitate to jump in! Many new groups traditionally get rolling in September as school begins, so watch for an announcement of groups that are meeting, and don’t hesitate to contact a group leader to ask questions and express interest. (If you need help getting started, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line at LarryShort@gmail.com!)

Also, if you are already involved in a community group at Elim as a leader, an apprentice leader, or as a member in any other leadership role, know that we are praying for you and desire to come alongside you in this challenging task. You are a “little pastor” to whom God has given responsibility to shepherd and care for a portion of His flock. We exhort you to spend daily time on your knees before Him, seeking a godly vision for your group and asking for His help in making a real difference in the lives of the people He has entrusted to you.

Thank you for reading this series, and I pray you all will have a blessed and renewing summer as you grow in your walk with Jesus!

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Molar or Pinkie Toe?

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By Nate Champneys

I was driving down the street the other day following another car, and I watched the driver roll down their window and throw a bag of fast food trash out in the street. It really bothered me. But I had to ask the question, “Why does this bother me the way it does?” The reality is that this person’s littering doesn’t really affect me when it comes to my day-to-day life. Technically, it’s probably none of my business. But the thought that ran through my head was, “Why would you want to deface your own street?” To me, the problem goes much deeper than some litter on the ground. When I see graffiti along the side of the road, I view it as a much deeper problem than an ugly (or sometimes beautiful) mark on a fence or building. Somewhere along the way, many of us stopped thinking of America as our country and started thinking of it as “someone else’s” country, and it has created many problems. Where there is no ownership in something, there is no reason for a person to take pride in that thing, and therefore there is no reason to care for that thing. It is a sad reality.

The problem is that this very same attitude has also crept into the church. As a pastor, I have a front-row seat to observe this phenomenon. I see it when something is broken or run-down and someone asks, “When is somebody going to fix that ______?” Or somebody says, “We need to buy a new ______. This one is really run-down.” Or, “The chairs in the sanctuary are so dirty, someone really ought to clean them.” But many times we get sucked into this way of thinking. If your bedroom is a mess, you never make the comment, “Somebody needs to clean this up.” You understand that it’s your bedroom and so it’s your problem. Now don’t get me wrong, there are so many people who step up without being asked and take ownership. But somewhere along the way, many people have started to view the church as, “The church I attend,” instead of viewing it as, “My church home.”

The reality is that no one person owns our building. No one person is in charge. We are a “congregation-run church.” If you are a member, you are a part owner. The grounds outside: it’s your lawn. The kitchen sink inside: it’s your sink. But it goes further. The Wednesday night Awana program: it’s your program. The women’s Bible study: it’s your study. The community group you attend: it’s not the community group you attend, it’s your community group. Elim is your church. If it’s not yours, whose is it? Is it Pastor Martin’s? Mine? Brian’s? Ultimately, it is Jesus’ church, but He has created us in Him to “be the church.” We all may have different roles in the body, but we are still created to function within the body.

Really, our job as pastors is to empower people to serve Christ and His body, however God designed them to do it. A few weeks back, Bryan Anderson came to me and said, “Nate, would you mind if I took a look at the drinking fountain?” It had been broken all summer because of a leak. I said, “Would I mind?! Are you kidding me!? Absolutely!” It brings me so much joy to see people take ownership of this family that we call Elim and serve her. Obviously not everyone can fix a drinking fountain, but Bryan was offering himself to Christ in the way Jesus designed him to function.

My question to you is, what is your function? Every body part has a reason for existing, a purpose that only it can fulfill. Trust me, Jesus did not make any of us to be useless. I may be a left molar, and you may be a right pinkie. But in any case, we all have a function and exist as part of a whole. Paul tells us in Romans 12, “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” What a beautiful picture.

My hope in writing this is for it to be not a guilt trip for you, but permission to function as Jesus created you to be. For you to unashamedly, passionately serve Elim (and the global Church beyond) in the way Jesus created you to serve. To be the best lung, or kidney, or pinkie toe (or whatever role he created you for) in the body of Christ that you can be!

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship … For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Romans 12:1, 4-6

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Faith-Sustaining Words

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By Beau Leaman

Hebrews 3:12-14
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Before Ashley and I joined Elim, we definitely had a strong desire to be involved in a church body. We had moved from Southern California to Washington trusting that God would move and open the doors we needed Him to open right away. Yet through the refining process we ended up not making Elim our home until about one year into our marriage. Our plans never worked out the way we wanted them to, but praise God that His plans are greater than ours.

I wanted to talk a little about the benefits of community and what it’s done in my life and my marriage. There are a couple of questions I’m going to run through, and hopefully it helps.

1) How has joining a community benefited your marriage?

Our marriage has been directly impacted by our joining Elim and being involved with the Body of Christ. It has impacted our marriage because we come freely to worship our God and have fellowship with His sons and daughters. It has benefited our marriage because we realize our depravity at an even greater level, thus urging a more powerful push to love our God with everything.

2) How has joining a community strengthened your relationship with your God?

Paul wanted so desperately to be with his Savior, but one thing that always caused him joy here on earth was the fellowship of the saints. I have found this to be true in my life as well as in the lives of so many of the brethren at Elim. Life is not meant to be alone. There have been countless times where truth has been spoken into my life, and it was not easy truth. This truth, humble and meek, has pointed me and the giver toward Christ. Your best friend speaks the most truth in your life, and for me those best friends have been several people within the Body of Christ.

Being in community is a powerful thing. Whether you’re single, soon to be wed, or married, there is a Spirit-driven calling that burns within our hearts to be with others. As Hebrews 3:12-14 points out, whether it involves encouragement, accountability, truth, confession, or prayer, the Body of Christ is here to edify, exhort, and promote endurance until the day of Jesus Christ.

What does community with a body of believers look like to you? Is it inconvenient? Would you rather be nowhere else? Does it ease conscience on a Sunday morning? Does it bring you joy? Does it edify? Does it harden your heart? Do you see a Trinitarian community played out? Does it build and encourage you? Does it involve selfish gain?

I have shared a piece of what the Body of Christ has accomplished in my life and the direct impact it has had with my God. What does the Body mean for you?

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Clubs

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by Mike Hellum

There was recently an article about Augusta National Country Club coming under attack for its policy of men-only. They should’ve seen it coming. If the boys of Little Rascals took heat 80 years ago when they formed the “He-man Womun Haters” club then it was only a matter of time for Augusta. But I digress. I started thinking about the whole exclusivity thing and what it means to belong to a club. Clubs bring benefits, or nobody would join them, but they also limit your freedom. There are certain rules that come with belonging to any club. We expect that.

I suppose there are (at least) a couple of reasons why clubs have rules. First, when you belong to a club, your behavior affects other members. No doubt the dress code at Augusta prohibits golfing in a mankini. We’re all grateful for that one. Sports teams typically have curfews because athletes who have been out all night don’t perform at their highest level; the whole team suffers. Or if you’re out late and your name is Tiger, you’ve got even bigger problems. The list could go on, but you get the idea.

Second, as a member of that club you are also a representative of the club. Outsiders naturally form opinions based on what they know about that entity. I have a rather positive impression about motorcycle riders, because I know some that I like and I don’t know any Hell’s Angels. What about Christians? Somebody once said, “There are five gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Christian; most will never read the first four.” If I’m all others know about Christianity, I hope they have a positive impression of it.

Like a club, Christianity has its own identification marks and behaviors. Jesus said so when he identified how people will recognize us (by our love — John 13:35). So what about when the church asks people to maintain certain standards of behavior? We’ve all heard people say, “They can’t tell me how to live!” If someone’s an outsider, the complaint is fair — I can’t expect them to live by the same code I do. G. K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. ”If it is a higher standard — and it is — why would an outsider want to be bound by it? On the other hand, if one identifies themselves as an insider, a different dynamic is in play. The insiders are bound together in a common cause and a common identification for a common good. It’s what it means to be in community — thus, we lay down our individual interests for the benefit of everyone else. It’s what Christ modeled for us (see Phil. 2, esp. vv. 1-4), and commanded us to model to the world. And with this “club,” the cost of admission is an investment that reaps infinite dividends.

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Grace, grace, incredible grace

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by Dan Amos

A few years ago, I was walking to church and passed by a small classical Greek-type statue thrown from a vehicle. I kept walking but the statue’s head caught my attention and I had to turn around and pick it up. I had been thinking about the direction life seemed to be taking and the debris of a replica statue from a failed civilization was something I couldn’t just pass by. It was a year or so later that I was given the opportunity to take an extended, unpaid vacation. I felt my change coming; surely that civilization felt change coming, too.

Now, I feel the change at Elim as we grow in numbers. Things are different and that can be unsettling. There are more new people than I can get to know. I think it is great that there are so many people coming together to worship and work out our faith together in community, but the social side of me wants to get to know everyone and I can’t. (Read more about church growth stress.)

I also sense issues percolating beneath the surface that need to be addressed. The difficulty is they often don’t appear until someone is frustrated to the point of giving up. This is where we can help each other cope with the change. The first step to resolving an issue is in knowing the issue exists. Tell someone who can make a change or point you to that person.

But the most important thing is grace, lots and lots of grace, both given and received. In the “Love and Respect” seminar, the speaker asserts in most cases our spouse is “a good-willed person” and good-willed people can still try one’s patience. As we grow and change, most of our frustrations are going to be caused by good-willed people and with communication and grace we’ll get through this and thrive. I am always thankful for the grace extended to me by my Elim family. It is desperately needed!

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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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