There are few things in life I dislike more than watermelon, chalkboard screeching, and performance feedback. I can decline the watermelon, and whiteboards have pretty much replaced chalkboards, but they keep making new ways to do feedback. At work, it’s a semiannual recurrence, whether I want it or not.
But, there’s a reason for it. Without feedback, we tend to not improve. While I’m pretty sure I have a good grasp on my world, I’m continually shown that there are other perspectives on things and lots of stuff to which I am just totally oblivious.
As a body, we at Elim are committed to making disciples—passionate followers of Jesus who seek to know God, grow together in Christ, and go and serve South Hill and beyond. We have a staff, a building, a budget, and people—so how are we doing? We can ask ourselves or a few and see part of the picture. But to really know, we need to get feedback from as many as possible.
Feedback isn’t just a general question about how you are doing personally, or how we are doing as a body. It’s more specific, and a team has put together some questions designed to make each of us think and give useful feedback. The answers to these questions will help assess our progress in the following:
Worshipping our Father
Maturing in our faith
Connecting as disciples in community
Reaching out to our unsaved neighbors and friends
Community groups and Bible studies are being asked to work through questions on these four areas. Regular attenders who are not currently in one of these groups will be asked to meet with a small group of others to give feedback. Someone will take notes, and all the notes will be collected and reviewed and studied for themes and things to work on. The idea is to keep moving forward as disciples. Complacency is not an option.
On another note, Tom Chase just finished six years as an elder and is taking his constitutionally-required break from that service. For the last few years he has been the vice-chairman of the board, and last year he led us as the chairman. He served sacrificially and with passion. He did not seek the position, but he humbly accepted it, to our great benefit. Thank you, Tom; and thank you, Corrie, for enabling him to serve so well!
Image courtesy University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
The other night, my wife and I began talking, and not just small talk. We were talking about the topic of service. I know, so typical, let’s talk about service the week going into Thanksgiving. Well, give me just a few moments to be super cliché. So, back to my wife (Sam) and my discussion, which went super late into the night. We talked about what it may look like to begin to try to infuse attitudes of service into the fabric of our family. So, wouldn’t you know that after this conversation my biblical character calendar would be talking about hospitality/service, and I would stumble upon a story in one of my favorite blogs about a family who began serving together. I just have not been able to stop thinking about this topic!
Mark 10:45 (KJV) says, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” It says that Jesus Himself came to this earth to minister, or serve. He did not need to be served, but was sent to us to serve us people who were not worthy, people who were undeserving. He came to meet us in the place that we were in, no matter where that was. This makes me think of how every morning I drive down Portland Avenue, and it comes to a point where the road goes under an overpass of I-5. At this point, at any given point in time, there are numerous homeless people, and it just seems that more and more are filling the area day after day.
As a passionate follower of Jesus who desires to grow and change to be more and more like my Father and less like the world, I believe we must pull back the curtains and examine our hearts. I get the hindrances; there is just not enough time—we have soccer, piano, violin, and the list go on. Maybe we just do not feel called to do so, it is not in our ability, or maybe we feel it poses a lot of risk and danger. But Jesus Himself says that even He did not come to be served but to serve. And 1 Peter 4:10 says that with the gifts we received we should serve others.
If I am a passionate follower of Jesus, serving those around me is my calling, serving those in need is in my abilities, meeting people where they are at and serving and giving is something that is commanded of me! For Sam and me, the discussion has been, What would be a practical application of serving and a way that we can speak this core piece of the gospel to those around us? I believe that this is what needs to be done, especially if you have a family with small children. Find simple, practical things that can be done, such as making up care bags to keep in your car to give to those in need as you cross paths with them.
The next thing that was a huge epiphany for me was that I need to be willing to help and give to anyone who expresses a need, not expecting anything in return. It means that homeless guy on the side of the road. It does not matter what he does with what I give him; what matters is my heart in giving it to him. We are called to give and to serve and to not worry about receiving thanks or about whether they are really in need of it or not. Jesus served us, and we did not do anything to deserve it, and by that He set the example for how we are to serve.
In Matthew it talks about the Father separating the sheep from the goats in the end; He says to the sheep that when He was hungry, they fed Him, and when He was naked, they clothed Him, and when He was a stranger, they took Him in. To the goats He says to depart away from Him, for they did not do these things. And when the righteous asked when they had seen Him in these states, He said that what was done to the least of his brothers was done also to Him.
The challenge I see before us is this: if we view people through the eyes of a loving and caring Savior, then whatever service we do unto them, we are also doing unto Him, out of obedience to Him, and out of an abundance of love for our Father. So, the question is, Are we going to be sheep or are we going to be goats?
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.
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!
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.
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:
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!
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:
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!
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to “Your God reigns!” Isa. 52:7
If our mission statement were only the first two lines, which we’ve covered in this space the last three weeks … KNOW God, GROW together in Christ … as important as those are, it would be woefully incomplete. We would be ignoring the purpose which God has created us to achieve! This coming weekend Pastor Martin is preaching on the following portion of the Lord’s prayer: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
It’s clear from Christ’s final instructions in Matthew 28 that “going and making disciples” is ultimately how God will fulfill this prayer of Christ’s. Without disciples making disciples in each generation, the Kingdom will decline rather than advance.
As the Strategy Team was crafting this new vision statement, we debated many different words that we could have chosen for the third line of the statement. Here is why we chose the words we did:
GO – We cannot simply sit on our duffs in our comfy church, waiting for potential disciples to come to us. That’s never been how it works in God’s economy. He’s always moved His Church outward … into Jerusalem (the community around us), (neighboring regions outside our comfort zone), and then, ultimately, to the uttermost ends of the earth – WAY outside our comfort zone! “Going” is about taking action: using our feet and moving out. We must be both strategic and urgent about how we are going to move into our community and beyond. At Elim, one key way we do that is through our Outreach and Missions team, led by Dr. Cal Kierum, and through the teams they support. We as a church really need to ramp up our involvement in these teams! If you can’t find a team that fits what you feel God is calling you to do … start one! And if you feel God calling you to be more involved in shaping the growth of this ministry, talk to Cal about serving on the leadership team.
SERVE – In recent Christian history there has been much emphasis placed on proclamation. But proclamation is just one part of Christ’s strategy. Christ was sent to the earth, humbling Himself, as a suffering servant. He modeled and demonstrated servanthood as the primary way we should express God’s love for the people around us. We have focused on the word “serve” in our vision statement not to say that there should not also be proclamation (for telling the truth to someone who needs and is prepared to hear it is indeed serving them), but to recognize that service is the key way that we will build relationships in our community and beyond, and win a hearing for the Gospel, raising questions (such as, “Why do you love like this?”) to which Jesus alone is the answer.
SOUTH HILL and BEYOND – The holistic nature of our target audience is reflected in this statement. We are to bear witness both locally and globally, just as the first Christians were called to do the same. We continue to wholeheartedly embrace foreign missions, while recognizing the need to also focus on our community. For years churches have made it “too easy” for themselves by visualizing missions only as something that happens “over yonder.” We could live whatever way we wanted to in our communities (not seeking to know or serve our neighbors) because we comforted ourselves in the fact that we were paying professionals to reach the Pygmies in Africa. But the truth is that our next-door neighbors (not to mention the people who live in tent cities all around us) need Jesus just as badly as the Pygmies do … and we are responsible to be reaching out to our neighbors even as we are supporting efforts to spread the Gospel in fertile soils throughout the rest of the world.This third part of our vision statement is the hardest, because it is ultimately the end goal. Christianity is always one generation away from extinction, and may also be one generation (or less!) away from Christ’s imminent return. We don’t want to be caught sleeping when He comes! And because it is the hardest, it will require the most prayer. The need for “more and better” prayer, both personal and corporate, is the single largest gaping hole in our church uncovered by the Reveal survey. If we fail to become the praying people that Christ is calling us to become, we will fail to achieve the purpose to which He has called us. For the truth is that we cannot, in our own strength, “Go and serve.” We need His power, His leading, His passion … and these things come only through prayer.
God is calling us to faithfulfulness … faithfulness in knowing Him, in growing together in Christ, and in going and serving, South Hill and beyond. Will we respond to His call?