The Flavors of Community

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By Bill Naron

Peer through this looking glass with me and take a look at the world. Do you see the hurt and confusion? People are searching for answers in the things this world has to offer, searching for happiness in earthly treasures. They are looking for fulfillment through any means possible. Life is hard in this world that is fallen and scarred by sin. It is easy to be discouraged, to give up hope, to just go with the flow, to give in to my selfish desires, and to seek my own will. After all, we are only human, right? I am only flesh and bone; how could I deny myself? I may go to church, but I am not dead.

This is the dilemma that we face as Christians, this is what we fight against. I have seen this happen to people I know, for example, when they forsake community and church altogether. They read their Bibles and they continue to try to live for Jesus, but it becomes very difficult. I believe that sometimes we tend to think that once we accept Jesus, things will be easy, and when they are not, it is easier to run away. We think, “Well, if this is going to be hard, that is not what I am signing up for! I do not want it to be difficult.” But is that what Jesus promised us? Nope. In fact, He says that in this life we will experience trouble, but He offers us hope, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). I believe that this is why community is so important for Christians.

In community, we can grow much more than on our own. As Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (27:17). I believe God uses the community to help grow us. See, as much as salvation and relationship with Christ happen on an individual level, I would argue that the vast majority of the process is community-driven. Be in fellowship, put yourself in proximity to others, as Martin and Brian both talked about a couple weeks ago. As a group, we are the light of the world, a city on a hill, a community of believers that possesses an amazing hope, refuge, and strength. This is something we should be sharing with the world, something that we should be living out.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and that if salt loses it saltiness, it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13). We are the church and we have a mission. It is not an individual mission that just one person is called to—this is a mission that we are called to as a community. We are called to be tangible examples of lives that have been transformed by the Gospel. Like a savory seasoning, we are a group of people who give the world something to grasp with their senses. This community that we create gives us a tool with which we can draw those from the outside in, to come alongside new believers and nonbelievers. We can create space to practice the gospel in a relational way.

I was not raised with a pressing emphasis on the Idea of community, but I have grown to love the implications of it. You can find reasons to not try or to get out of joining in with a group. But when I joined a men’s group about two years ago, it was the best thing that I ever did. I finally realized that I was not the only one struggling, that I was not alone. I finally experienced people carrying burdens together, and that is what we are called to do—to bear one another’s burdens. I would encourage you, if you have not found a community group, women’s group, or men’s group, to find one and get involved. If you cannot find one, then start one and bring your friends with you. Through community, we can be a catalyst for change; we can show the world what it means to walk through messy, hard times. We can live out the example of Jesus Christ. So, get involved and don’t walk life alone—that is not what we were meant to do.

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Investing in Community

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by Larry Short

I’ve enjoyed reading what Pastors Martin and Brian had to say in the last two Last Words, regarding proximity. Brian shared the week before last that investing in getting to know people and spending time with them has the power to help us defeat loneliness and disconnectedness, and also puts us in a better position to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the lives of those around us.

Then last week, Pastor Martin offered some very practical ways that we can develop stronger relational proximity to the people we are investing in.

Over the past few months I’ve been confronted with this truth, over and over again. It falls under the Galatians 6:7 principle:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

The truth is, relational connectedness requires investment investment of time, energy, and even risk. You may have to take a risk, put yourself out there, to be vulnerable. You will have to invest time with people! This all requires thoughtful energy and even prayer. Investing in people doesn’t guarantee connectedness; but you can’t connect with people without investing in them.

And here are two other closely-related investment principles we find in Scripture: First, reward follows investment. It’s not necessarily immediate; it usually requires patience.

And second, astute investment typically results in greater yield than the value of what you invested.

We see this second principle working both for good and for evil, don’t we? If you invest your time and energy in gossip, you will probably find yourself alienated and in conflict. You will reap dysfunction and unrest. If you invest in swindling others, you will reap these things and more, including possibly being in trouble with the law. Et cetera! When you invest in evil things, you reap the whirlwind.

But if you invest in good things (what the Bible calls “treasure in heaven”), we see the potential (biblically speaking) for reaping a whirlwind of good! If you invest in the lives of people – serving them, caring for them, telling them the truth, and developing connectedness which requires the investment of time, energy and risk – then there is the potential to reap a great blessing in both their lives and yours. (And even better, Christ’s bride, the Church, will be strengthened, and God will be glorified!)

I feel that one of the most significant things we as leaders at Elim can do for the people God has entrusted to us is to create the opportunity for the investment of time and relational energy that leads to proximity and connectedness to occur. One of the ways we do this is by investing in community group leaders: recruiting them, coaching and training them, praying for and supporting them as they seek to create groups where proximity and discipleship can work its magic.

This weekend during and after the worship service we are celebrating the Fall Kickoff of an entire slate of community groups. Some of these are ongoing, and others are new. We have a half dozen community groups of various flavors (mostly intergenerational but some targeted to specific groups such as young people or married couples), and also four men’s groups and three women’s groups.

As far as I am aware, all but two of these groups currently have space for, and are eager to enfold, newcomers! (And even those two which are currently “full,” groups led by the Paveys and the Waples, are inviting people to join a waiting list that should enable them in the near future to launch new groups.)

With 13 or more such groups in place, we should have more than enough space for every adult at Elim who desires to be a part of a group to find one she or he can feel good about joining. There should be no excuse for not investing in being meaningfully connected to your brothers and sisters in Christ here at Elim! (If you can think of one … please call me, and let’s talk!)

Be sure to tune in this weekend when our group leaders share more from the pulpit about the groups they are leading. Also, there will be a “Community Groups Fair” in the fellowship area, directly after the worship service, where you can learn more about groups and visit with group leaders and members.

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COMMUNITY GROUPS: A “Church Within a Church Within a Church”

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By Larry Short

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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Community Groups at ELIM: The Hands and Feet of Jesus

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By Larry Short

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

Fr. Nicolae Tanase of Valea Popului, Romania

Fr. Nicolae Tanase of Valea Popului, Romania.

I experienced something of an epiphany 20 years ago, when I traveled to Romania with a group of nine other World Vision staff on what was essentially a staff vision trip. There, high in the mountains above Bucharest, we spent the day in a community called Valea Plopului. This was no ordinary community. It was centered around the life and work of an Orthodox priest named Father Nicolae Tanase.

Fr. Tanase became a priest at a time when it was very difficult and unpopular to do so. Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, Communists, under the iron fist of a brutal dictator named Nicolae Ceauşescu, were in charge. They believed there was no God in Heaven and human children were nothing other than a commodity to be exploited for the purposes of the State. They encouraged people to have lots of children and made any kind of birth control illegal, and when parents could not afford to raise their children, the kids became wards of the state, where they were to be indoctrinated in Communist ways.

That was the vision, at any rate. The reality was that children were half-starved, and many were diseased and disabled. They were treated like cattle and often left to die, caged like animals in “cribs” with steel bars.

Because of this reality, abortion was rampant. This young, brave priest named Father Tanase, convinced that God was alive and wanted him to show compassion to suffering children, announced that unwanted children could instead be brought to his village in the mountains, where they would be adopted by loving parents and raised with the dignity of human beings created in the image of God.

This announcement didn’t sit kindly with the Communists. They attempted secretly to kill Fr. Tanase, but only succeeded in maiming him. (His huge, black beard covers most of the grisly scars of this event some 30 years ago.)

After Ceauşescu was deposed in 1990 and the Communists fell from power, Fr. Tanase accelerated his efforts. When we visited in 1997, dozens of children had been adopted by community members. They tended sheep and gardens, running hither and yon with joy through the hills. They were well-fed, healthy, and happy. And they knew Jesus loved them! The image that remained with me from that day is best characterized by the somewhat odd title: “Peter Pan goes to Sunday School.”

What does this have to do with community groups? As I reflected on what Father Tanase had done in Valea Plopului, it occurred to me that he hadn’t done it alone. He had a group of vibrant believers around him who were willing to sacrifice enormously to show the compassion of Christ to a hurting world. What an incredible testimony!

Elim has gotten small toeholds on this principle, through amazing efforts such as Freezing Nights, feeding the hungry at the Puyallup Armory, and more recently, our wonderful involvement in foster care ministry. But I believe God has far more in store for us.

And if compassionate outreach to the community and world around us is going to be effective and sustainable, I believe it will find itself envisioned and resourced from within the center of our community groups. Hence, principle six of our seven principles:

  1. The Community Ministry will seek to strategically equip and encourage groups not simply to be places of community and fellowship, but also to be the point of the spear for our church reaching out into the community and world around us. This will look very different for different groups at different times, but we will challenge each group leader to be interacting with his or her members with outward-reaching ministry in mind. We will ask them, “What is God placing upon your heart(s) to do to impact the world around us for Jesus?” We will encourage them to listen to God and work toward whatever vision He plants in their hearts. Perhaps not every group will be reaching out, but it should be an important value to do so and to support those groups that do.

I would like to encourage everyone in a Community Group to pray about a vision that God would implant for becoming His hands and feet to the community and world around us. This won’t look the same for every group. Some may focus on supporting foreign missionaries, and others may focus on feeding the hungry right here in our community. Some will have a heart for strategic evangelism initiatives, and others may have heart for supporting efforts to help children in our community and beyond. Who knows what God will do?

But I do know He wants us to do something. I look at Father Tanase and praise God for the way James 1:27 is being worked out in his small corner of the world:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

What will God accomplish through you and your group? Start praying NOW, and only time will tell!

P.S.: Where is Father Tanase’s ministry, 20 years later? The video below will blow your mind. I mentioned that when we were there, dozens of children were being cared for. Now that number is in the hundreds!

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Affinity vs. Diversity in Community Groups at ELIM

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By Larry Short

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

Many people (I among them) consider Elim’s very intergenerational nature one of our greatest strengths. Here we are, a 133-year-old church, but we have more than 70 children aged fifth grade and under in our midst! There are the older and wiser among us, but we also have lots of young families, singles, and college-/career-aged young adults.

We are also a church that exists in a fairly racially heterogenous area, and we embrace, enjoy, and benefit from fellowship with people of all different colors of skin and different walks of life. We have stay-at-home moms in addition to women who work outside the home. We have blue-collar and white-collar types and everything in between.

We are a fairly diverse bunch! You can see this diversity in the way different community groups form. We have affinity groups for women, for moms with young children, for men, and for young adults. We have had groups for retired people. We have groups that focus on young marrieds, and groups for other married couples.

When it comes to groups, there is a certain tension between affinity and diversity. There is a certain power in meeting together with people you share a life stage with, such as young adults. You enjoy the same types of things, and it is therefore easier to “live life in proximity.”

But there is also a power in diversity. We can benefit from exposure to people who are different than we are, in a variety of ways. We need to understand each other and hear each other’s stories. In particular, we need to be in relationship with and work to bridge any gulfs between young and old, black and white, male and female, blue-collar and white-collar, etc., if we are to effectively function together as a true Body of Christ.

Hence, our fifth principle of community ministry at Elim:

  1. One of Elim’s strengths is that it is intergenerational. A lot of wisdom and other benefits flow across age and life-stage boundaries. We believe this should be encouraged and maximized for the benefit of all. On the other hand, we also believe that some of the most effective groups revolve around life-stage affinity. Young parents with kids in diapers can definitely benefit in many ways from being in community with other young parents. If our Community Ministry is to be healthy, we need to figure out how to raise up and grow both types of groups as well as connect them to each other for maximum benefit.

Paul told the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Our identity as children of God in Christ Jesus supersedes all other more superficial diversities! And yet, those diversities are also the way He created us, and for a reason. Elsewhere, Paul urges younger women and younger men to look to older women and older men for wisdom and training.

We pray for two things for you: 1) that you have opportunity at Elim to meet people who are unlike you in various ways as well as benefit from getting to know their life stories and 2) that you have opportunity at Elim to gather together with others you share the affinity of life stage with, to be able to enjoy their company and share joys and sorrows as you walk this discipleship journey together.

The more effectively we can figure out how to do both things, simultaneously, the more effective a Body of Christ expression here on the corner of 94th and 128th in South Hill we will become!

Next time: We will talk about how community groups at Elim will be better equipped to reach out and minister to a hurting world around us!

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Effective Community Groups “Live Life in Proximity”

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By Larry Short

This is the fourth in a series of seven posts on guiding principles for Community Groups at Elim. To read all seven principles together, please click here.

This one is difficult . . . but inescapable. Our fourth principle is:

In the most effective groups, people “live life in proximity.” That means they spend a lot of time together. They get to know each other beneath the surface. An effective group is a lot like a village. They don’t simply come together for “yet another meeting” one, two, or four times a month; rather, they truly live their lives together, in many contexts beyond simply a regularly scheduled group meeting. They stay connected. That’s what creates community. We will encourage this among Elim groups.

For the past 15 years, Darlene and I have poured ourselves into Elim’s young adults group, known as “Pulse.” At times Pulse has had three events each week, so the bar is set quite high. In addition to our formal get-togethers, we’ve found many of our group members do things together with other group members outside of the normal group meetings. They have game nights and various adventures together. They go hiking. They simply hang out. And what we’ve discovered is that the more time we spend together, the better we are able to effectively enfold group members into the life of the church.

Our model for this is Christ’s interaction with His disciples. If you think about it, there are a lot of different ways He could have related to the disciples. He could have organized them into a loose association, a group that met together monthly (or perhaps even weekly) to discuss discipleship stuff.

But no! He chose to live life WITH His disciples—in proximity. Where he went, they went. They left their jobs behind. Their families went with them, or perhaps in some cases they even left homes and families behind. The three years they spent with the Messiah was an all-or-nothing commitment. In Luke 9:62, Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Now, that’s a pretty hard saying! But it was very important to Jesus for His disciples to be ALL IN. After all, ultimately, they would be asked to lay down their lives! Better get used to the idea of your life not being your own.

Frankly, the bar is often set way too low in many small groups. They may meet monthly or every other week. They may dismiss for the summer. Nothing is wrong with these things, inherently, but we intend to challenge groups at Elim to aspire to something higher. There is a certain power in being WITH other believers, in living life in proximity, and in experiencing life together

Please join us in prayer for Elim’s group leaders, as we meet this Sunday after worship to fellowship and share both joys and challenges. For more information, please email me at LarryShort at Gmail dot com.

Next in this series: The most effective Community Groups seek to be both intergenerational as well as focusing on life-stage affinity.

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