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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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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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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Relationship

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By Chris Pace

Working with the youth group has taught me a vital bit of information: relationship is key! Everything relating to God has to do, in one way or another, with having a relationship with God. Everything! 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.” This makes sense because faith is the voice of love and hope is the accent of love. Love is the foundation of everything and relationship is the face of love. It is why the Creator created us; it is why the Israelites went through so many good and bad times; it is why Christ chose a group of men to join Him in His ministry; it is why Jesus taught the disciples what He did; it is why the Savior died on the tree; it’s why Jesus rose again; it is why Christ will come again.

God’s Word is His story about how He created us to have a relationship with Him, but we walked away. He made a temporary fix for being in a relationship with Him until the timing was perfect. Then He solved the problem that kept us from being together permanently, once and for all. That’s love! Love for His people. He longs to be with us again. Sounds like the God of relationships (a.k.a. love), to me.

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