Effective Community Groups “Live Life in Proximity”

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director

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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Where’s the Speaker?

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By Brian Sharpe

I am the son of a pastor. My dad had a church of 50 to 100 people until I was 16. I remember one Sunday morning when I was younger, when on the way to church my parents told me that they were having the speaker over for lunch after church. I remember thinking that was odd. When we arrived at church I went directly to the sound speakers that were set up in the sanctuary and I started trying to open them. I thought to myself, “There is no way a person can fit in this speaker. How does this all work?” Well, I went to Sunday school and then to church. I saw who was speaking. It wasn’t my dad, it was someone else. Then when I got home and sat at the dinner table the guy who was speaking was sitting at my table.

That is when it hit me. The speaker my parents were talking about wasn’t the sound speaker, but the preacher who was bringing the message.

I was thinking about that story a couple weeks ago when Martin and I were talking about the lost art of hospitality. My parents seemed to always have people over for meals. I also had a friend named Chad, and I would go over to his house all the time. I would not call and texting didn’t exist, so they had no clue I was coming, but I was always there. He would do the same with me. We knew everything about each other. We knew the good and the bad because we were with each other all the time. His parents were hospitable to me.

Hospitality is defined as the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. When I think of hospitality in our culture, it takes an intentional decision to have people over. It is not part of who we are as a culture anymore. The quick drop-in is seen as rude by some people. The last-minute call to come over is met with, “I am just too tired,” or, “I have other things planned.” The intentional set-a-date-and-time is met with full calendars and months between visits. We need to change our schedules to leave room for others. I would suggest that we need to make room for others and be the first to invite others over for dinner, coffee, games, or just a time to sit and chat on the deck.

Loneliness is all over our culture. It is all over our church. Loneliness is tied to health failure, whereas companionship leads to longer lives. We were created by God for others. Who are those others outside of your family that you are meeting with outside of a church program? This last week I was tired and my sleep schedule was all out of whack because of the day of prayer and some meetings the next day. I was tired and not really wanting to do anything in the evening because I wanted to go to bed, but we had scheduled a time with some friends. I didn’t want to reschedule because we had not gotten time as a couple with each other in a long time. So I pushed through — and it was awesome! It was so life giving. We had a great time. I needed that time. We all need time.

Who are you making time for in your home? Who are you getting nachos with late at night just to talk life? Who are you having over to play games? Who is as lonely as you and is just waiting for some time with someone else? We need to rediscover the lost are of hospitality … which, in all reality, is the lost art of being friends and being friendly.

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Hiding in Plain Sight

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By Dan Amos

“I’m fine. How are you?” How often do I hide behind that response? Sometimes I give it because the truth is too complicated, it would take too long to give. Other times I just don’t feel like talking or the truth is something I don’t want to share with that person or at that time. I suppose I’m comfortable with that. The danger comes when I tell everyone “fine” and don’t let anyone know who I am.

Perpetual hiding flies in the face of our mission, vision, and purpose as a church body. Our church family is to be an oasis, a place outside of the facelessness of the world, a place where we can be safe to share who we are. It’s to be an oasis for renewal with God and one another. God has structured his Church in the context of community, interdependent on each other for growth and support. And we certainly can’t be about the one-anothers of Scripture if we hide who we are.

Our vision is to build disciples. Discipleship is a personal experience shared in community. There are teachers and leaders and there are disciples. Everyone in Elim should be learning from someone. Even our senior pastor has relationships where he lets people in to the grittiness of his life. Actually Pastor Martin is a tremendous example for me of a humble servant leader who battles well by being honest and open with trusted and appropriate people on the details and with all of us on the big picture of his life.

Lastly, our purpose is to Know God, Grow Together, and Go and Serve. We can’t grow together if we’re a bunch of superficial strangers and our service is hindered if we stay hidden to each other.

It is scary to let people in. And we have to learn to share in appropriate ways and appropriate settings. There are people I can and do let in and amazingly enough they don’t run screaming from the room or laugh at me or think less of me. I have a long ways to go, but an authentic relationship is worth so much more than a fake one. And that is one of the reasons why I love Elim so much. You are a gift from God to me.

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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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For purpose and fellowship

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by Jeff Foerster

The Father sent the Son (Jn. 3:17). Jesus sent the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit sends us (Acts 1:8). “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit …” (Matthew 28:19). “… you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).

This may at first sound like simple delegation. Upon taking a closer look I think we will see much more than that. God, who is Himself perfect and relationally complete, is inviting us into a deep intimacy of purpose and fellowship concerning His greatest desire for humanity: spreading the good news of restored relationship through Jesus Christ.

I am amazed that God includes us in His most important action item: communicating His love to each person. He does not keep this for Himself as the common phrase of prideful man recommends, “If you want it done right, you gotta do it yourself.” Instead we each are given the privilege of being fellow workers with God (I Co 3:9).

Designed and formed in God’s image we are made to be relational beings. We are at our best when we follow the promptings of the Spirit. It is then that we are in participation, and fellowship with, the very God that exists in relationship within the Trinity.

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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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