Sunday, June 7, 2020

Connecting People around the Word

Last week I wrote about the purpose of the church. The church I am currently serving says it like this, “We exist to glorify God by sharing the gospel, teaching the Word of God, and fellowshipping with each other.” Sharing, teaching, and fellowshipping ̶ there are a lot of ways to do that, but the primary way that we want to accomplish our mission is by connecting people around the Word of God.

That statement has two key elements, connecting people and the Word of God, but there are at least three implications. The first is that church is not about individuals, it is about the body. When I serve communion I will often say, “As we pass the bread, take it and eat it between you and God because being a Christian is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” But when I pass the cup I will often say something like this, “Being a Christian is not about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a corporate relationship with his Body, so please hold the cup and we will drink it together.” It is an idea I borrowed from a friend, but I like it. In my experience, we have placed so much emphasis on the personal relationship aspect of Christianity that we have lost the importance and value of the Body. In the Bible you rarely find believers functioning or worshipping alone. Body life is important.

Second, evangelism is accomplished through relationship. People want to be connected. People are looking for meaningful relationships. If this Covid 19 isolation has done nothing else, it has highlighted the importance of connection. Acts 2:47 says of the early church, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” People were drawn to faith in Christ as they observed those first believers living in community, caring for one another, and talking about their new faith. The Church Growth movement developed a perspective that church should be a comfortable place for unbelievers so that they can come and hear the Gospel. I think that may have been a useful strategy once, but I believe that as our culture has significantly shifted the strategy needs to change. People are looking for someone who actually cares about them. They are looking for relationship. As we connect with pre-believers and invite them into our circles to think and talk about the Word of God they are drawn to Christ. I believe that today more than ever, evangelism is about relationship.

Third, discipleship is done corporately around the Word of God. There is an excellent discipleship guide called One on One Discipleship. But I think it misses the point. Jesus discipleship was almost always done in a small group, not one on one. It is rare to see Jesus having a private conversation with one of his disciples. There are almost always at least three of them together, if not all twelve or more. I believe that there are appropriate times for one-on-one conversations, but much effective discipleship happens when small groups of three to twelve are talking about the Scriptures together. The discipler is the guide, but much of the growth comes from two things. It comes for the questions others ask. It comes from the answers others give.

Some time ago I went through training for small group dialogue teaching. The question was raised: What if someone gives a wrong answer to a question, or says something that is bad theology? It was fascinating to watch the answer to that question develop. The “teacher” often did not have to correct the wrong thinking because someone else in the group would address it. There is something about discipleship in groups that we have missed with our emphasis of one-on-one.

Connecting people is important. The Church is a body, not disconnected parts. Evangelism and discipleship are often more effective when done in relationship and community. So, we exist to glorify God by sharing, teaching, and fellowshipping, and we do that by connecting people around the Word of God. Who is God calling you to connect with this week?

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