Community Groups at Elim: The Hands and Feet of Jesus

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By Larry Short, Community Ministry Director

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, Community Ministry Director

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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Sabbatical

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By Dan Amos and Pastor Martin

As we engage in ministry there are ebbs and flows, seasons of work and seasons of rest — because, let’s face it, ministry is hard work. Elders are only allowed to serve in their role for six years, and then they must take a break for at least one year. Most of us will serve in a role within the body for a time and then step back for a time while another volunteer steps in to carry the load.

The periods of rest and renewal are more difficult for the full-time ministry worker, when times of professional growth have to be crammed into a 24/7 commitment. This is the practical basis for offering a sabbatical to our ministerial staff. We ask them to step back for a time and experience renewal in their relationship with the Father and pursue personal spiritual growth.

Jesus modeled this behavior during His public ministry by getting away from the crowds and concentrating on His relationship with the Father. Perhaps when He sent the disciples out to experience ministry on their own He experienced a longer period of spiritual refreshment.

The Elder Board began seriously pursuing the sabbatical model over the last couple of years. Our goal is to give our pastors this break every six years. Pastor Martin has been faithfully leading and shepherding us for 19 years without this opportunity. Pastor Brian has also been asked to begin planning for his own sabbatical next year.

We are asking Martin to take this break with specific professional and spiritual goals. We are convinced this is good for him and good for all of us at Elim. The Evangelical Free Church declares that taking sabbaticals is a “positive trend reflecting increased awareness of a series of work/rest cycles found in the scriptures. Observing them is a healthy practice that assures sustainability in ministry.”

Martin will be away from Elim from May 1 through July 31, 2013. Pastor Brian and others will fill the pulpit during this time. Brian will lead the staff and day-to-day ministries, while being supported by a host of people, including the Elders and all of us at Elim. We ask for your prayers for Martin and Kim as he is away from us and for the staff and Elders as they fill in.

Elim is experiencing a time of health and growth, and it is my prayer that we put into practice what Martin has modeled for us. We trust we will welcome him home in August healthier and stronger than when he left.

From Pastor Martin:

The big question is, what will I do on this sabbatical? In addition to getting some rest and some much appreciated “wind therapy,” I will go through some life coach training which deals with the integration of the spiritual, relational, professional, and personal dimensions of a person’s life. This training will be a benefit to my ongoing ministry at Elim as well as to other consulting opportunities that may cross my path in the future.

Second, I will seek out a pastoral prayer mentor. It has been my desire to deepen my prayer life and to better shepherd Elim toward becoming a “house of prayer.” There are a couple of opportunities that I will explore to find the person who will best equip me to fulfill this vision.

Third, I will visit some churches which have a clear strategy for discipleship. I want to continue to sharpen my strategic understanding for growing passionate, persevering followers of Jesus. This is our mandate; therefore, it must be our mission.

Fourth, I will immerse myself in reading the Gospel of Mark multiple times in preparation for preaching this Gospel beginning October 6.

One final question must be answered: “Do I plan on staying at Elim after I return from this sabbatical?” The answer is yes. I have no plans for leaving and have no intention of using this time to look for other ministry opportunities. Kim and I love this body and we look forward to having many more years of growing disciples at Elim.

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Assimilation

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by Cindy Waple

Assimilation:

The Difference Between Attending and Belonging

Assimilation may be a big word, but it simply means successfully integrating people into a new environment. For Elim, “assimilation” means welcoming newcomers with the love of Christ and providing a process to become active members of our community — where they can know God, grow with others in Christ and go and serve South Hill and beyond.

As the Strategic Planning Team discerned our five strategic objectives for the next 1-5 years (communication, assimilation, spiritual transformation, community, and holistic outreach), we affirmed the importance of making every visitor feel welcome and having a process in place where newcomers can move from simply attending Elim to actually belonging as vital, functioning members of our community. This process includes not just greeting, but following up with visitors; introducing them to leadership at Elim and providing opportunities to learn about Elim’s vision and mission; assessing spiritual gifting and strengths; helping them join small group communities where they can continue to grow in Christ; and facilitating them serving in ministries that are in line with their gifting and calling.

For visitors who have not received Christ, we want to provide every opportunity for them not just to hear the Gospel and learn about Christ, but also to experience His love and grace through the body at Elim.

Much of what happens around assimilation is already taking place within Elim: visitors are greeted and engaged by the leaders and members as well as invited to small groups, Bible studies, Pulse, etc. However, the assimilation ministry will provide an intentional process to engage visitors and newcomers, ensuring that every visitor receives a proper welcome.

Mark and Barb McCullough have graciously agreed to lead this important ministry and are looking for those who would like to join them as this ministry forms. If you feel called to this ministry we invite you to contact Mark and Barb.

We are excited about the assimilation ministry that is forming! However, it is important to note that each of us has a role to play. We all have the responsibility of welcoming visitors when we see them on Sunday morning, and reaching out to them, perhaps even inviting them to your small group or Bible study. As we share Christ’s love with newcomers and welcome them into the community at Elim, not only will we see lives touched and transformed by God’s Spirit, but we also will be transformed.

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