Love one another. Consider others more important than yourself. Serve one another. Care for one another. Encourage one another. Teach one another. Edify one another.
Did you know that there’s an important precept underlying all of the instructions above? Yep. That precept is this: For those who follow Jesus Christ, other people are important.
My friends Paul are Laurel moved to the Congo last year. They are working with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and they’re currently working with several local languages. But, it seems they are learning much more than just languages. Last week, they published a post called “Convicting Language Lesson.”
Here’s how they described an important lesson they’re learning:
A few days ago, I was sitting in the office along with the Komo translators when suddenly one of them, Tony, stood up and walked brusquely across the room with a very determined look on his face. Then they all started laughing. After a minute or two, Amisi, the director asked me, “Do you understand what we are talking about?” When I said no, he began to explain a very interesting verb to me. In Komo, they have a word for going somewhere with such determination that you don’t even stop to greet people on the way. He said “You know, like you foreigners often do” . . . Ouch! It’s true, isn’t it? We are often more goal oriented than people oriented and it really sticks out in a culture like this. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty cool verb.
There’s not much left to say after that, is there?
The way we live… even the way we walk from place to place… demonstrates whether or not we think people are important.
I’ve been to a couple of places around the world that are not event oriented (like most people are here in the United States). I’ve learned so much from the people of these culture. Primarily, I’ve learned how to live in a way that shows that other people are important. I’ve learned to talk to people in a way that shows that I care more about what they have to say than what I plan to say next.
Of course, sometimes my old American habits come to the surface. But, I want to live – and even to walk – in a way that shows other people that they are important to me.
But, then, they have to actually be important to me first…
I’ve invited people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.
(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at alan[at]alanknox[dot]net.)
When you can’t find a church to belong to…
“I live in XXXX. Do you know any good home churches in my area?”
I often get emails like this, and here’s how I often respond:
“There are various tools that might help you discover a simple/organic church in your area, (I usually point them to the “find a church” feature on www.house2house.com) but I’d like you to pray about a different approach. You’ve been a believer for a number of years. Why don’t you start something? Work with those who don’t yet know the Lord or the unchurched—it’s much easier. We’d love to help you.”
Most Christians, especially those from a more traditional form of church background, assume the obvious way to start any kind of church is to invite a few Christians to their home for fellowship. As other believers join them and the group gets large enough, they will multiply out into two churches and so on.
This is not the best way for several reasons:
- The Christians will bring all their preconceived ideas about church with them. It will be more of a challenge to think in the fresh, out-of-the-box ways that simple/organic church requires. The temptation will be to do “Honey, I shrunk the
- It is more difficult to be missional. Existing believers tend to focus on the gathering. Many Christians don’t have non-believers within their sphere of influence.
- You are trying to create community where a natural one doesn’t exist. Yes, there is a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” with all other believers, but as you add people to a group, it will take time for people to share their everyday lives together
outside of meetings.
- Multiplication usually occurs very, very slowly.
It is far easier to make a disciple of someone who doesn’t yet know the Lord. In Luke 10, Jesus told his disciples to pray and look for a person of peace, someone out in the harvest (Luke 10:1-10). You can recognize them because not are they a person of influence (either good or bad), but they will also offer you hospitality. Work within their existing sphere of influence using their home as the base for what goes on. Use a pattern simple enough that within a few weeks they can lead it. As their family and friends find the Lord, multiplying churches is the natural result. Your ongoing job is
to mentor the person of peace.
- The problems and issues that come up are those of life, not theology or ecclesiology.
- Community already exists and their shared lives will continue outside of the meeting context.
- New disciples have a natural mission field all around them and evangelism follows spontaneously along relational lines.
- It’s easy to create a vision and expectation of multiplication.
In the book of Acts, there are only two people recorded who became believers as individuals—Paul and the Ethiopian eunuch. The rest all were part of a group—Cornelius and his household, Lydia and her household, the Philippian jailor and his household. Each of these was a person of peace.
Several years ago we started a church in some low income housing projects. God led us to pray for this particular area, and one day, as Tony (my husband) and I were prayer walking there, we were surprised by a heavy storm. Running to take shelter under a balcony we joined two Hispanic ladies sitting in lawn chairs, chatting together.
They asked us what we were doing there, and we told them we were praying for their area. Long story short, one of the ladies, Rosa, invited us into her home to pray for her family. God began answering prayer and soon we asked her if we could share Jesus with her family too.
Would it have been better for us to invite Rosa to the church that met in our home? I don’t think so. We would have extracted her from her environment and her family would probably never have come. But we met in her home, and it wasn’t long before there were 20-30 of us in her tiny apartment, nearly all brand new believers.
It’s time to put our theology into action. What might God do if we let him lead us into the harvest?
Four years ago, I worked with some brothers and sisters in Christ to put on a “conference” called “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology.” I put “conference” in quotes because it was different than anything I’ve ever been part of. But, that’s a different story. In the week leading up to that conference, I met a man named Art on Twitter. Art ended up coming to the conference, and we’ve been friends ever since. In fact, we now work together. After the conference, Art wrote me an email response that I published in a post called “The inadequacy of seminars and conferences.” I think Art shares some thoughts that would be good for all of us to consider.
We had a great time at the “Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology” seminar last weekend. However, seminars and conferences are inadequate for what the church needs. Why? Because spiritual teaching may include lecture and discussion, but it also must include example. Thus, we learn as much – if not more – from watching someone’s example as we learn from their words.
I “met” Art Mealer online during the week before the seminar. He attended our Saturday sessions and asked some very good questions. Then, he and I emailed back and forth Sunday. In one of his emails, he pointed out exactly why seminars and conferences alone are inadequate. (By the way, his email also explains why a Sunday sermon from someone that we don’t really know if also inadequate.)
I think you’ll enjoy Art’s email below.
I think the time was well used. The first two segments laid biblical groundwork in a non-confrontational way. Personally, I was most touched by your balance and gentleness on these issues. As to the panel time, I doubt most people knew what questions to ask, and just having your panel share from the heart about experiencing community as a family together was a wonderful way of being the epistles we are meant to be for all of us there. A clear and compelling picture emerged.
But this means of shedding light on who we are as the church is a bit like the “evangelist” who wins someone to Christ and then leaves, at least for some of those attending (what was it, 16 assemblies represented?). Perhaps this is the most important thing I’d like someday to talk to you about. You may already be headed in the direction God has burdened my heart, or you may see something altogether different. So, forgive me for what follows if I am out of turn.
There is a formula for change that states C=D x M x P; Change= Dissatisfaction with the present x Model for the future way of being x Process for getting there. I know this isn’t a biblical thing, but observing the world around us carefully–the world designed by God to reflect His truths and principles–can (if not trusted as “gospel”) give us light (in the way we know gravity works from observing it, not from the bible directly). Let me pose the problem in these terms.
Many Christians experience Dissatisfaction with the isolation of “Church” attendance and those suffocating traditions that do void the commands of us being the church together. Yesterday, you folks presented a good chunk of Model, letting the saints get a glimpse of how things could be if we took a more careful, open look at scripture. While you hinted at Process in the language you used (framing the whole matter under “Developing,” learning, walking in some confusion as things are worked out in every day, messier-than-blackboards life). But “Process” for other assemblies regarding the major transition you present, do you think it adequate to produce change?
In your assembly, isn’t it in seeing the modeling day by day, the close interactions with one another, the personal experiences that forge and reinforce a more biblical way of being together that is the Process through which the Spirit works? It isn’t lecture alone that produces obedience and transformation; it isn’t even learning. It is being shown how to by example that births new behaviors and values. It is being held a mirror by the faithful wounds of brothers and sisters so we can see where we are off balance. It is being in a place where we are safe, accepted, for all of our flaws, that we can let go of defenses and face the fear of taking off masks. The place where we can admit sin and find help. Where we can take root in Him. Outside of being present at the birth of new life, nothing is more precious than seeing another man or woman as they learn to humble themselves under the Spirit in this moment and that, and be transformed bit by bit into an image of the Son, pure love beginning to work in and through them.
The panel spoke of this with tears. But most saints know nothing of this.
I think the patterns we see in scripture about how the church developed and grew and was brought back on track when it got tangled in errors presents a function in the church that was designed to provide an up close Model of how we interact/think of/love one another but especially for that Process element of change. How often when you present this material do you hear, “How do we get from here to there?” Sure, a New Testament, the Holy Spirit, and a yellow Highlighter should, in theory, be enough. But God has invited us (more, given us the unimaginable privilege to serve Him, our fellow saints, and our fellow doomed human family) to participate in His work. I think God not only provided for transformation of the saints within an assembly that is healthy, but also to have a sort of “white blood cell” team to provide a way to heal the body that has fallen sick. It seems to me the NT demonstrates that design in the work of itinerants like Paul, Timothy, Titus, etc. Church planters not only plant new churches. Church planters provide a servant leadership team that comes alongside troubled assemblies and quietly “sets in order the things that are wanting” and “ordains elders” (developing biblical leadership).
What if, for example, it would not be out of character for the Spirit to call one or two or three of the families at Messiah (etc.) and make them available to spend two months or eight months (whatever time it turns out to be), living among another assembly as they help them make the transition from a faulty church attendance model to becoming the family of God together?
As I’ve mentioned a few times, we’re currently studying through Romans together with the church. We’ve had some great discussions so far, and I’ve learned alot and been encouraged and challenged by my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Romans is a very interesting letter to me. Paul had never visited Rome, and he knew (or knew about) only a few of the believers who were in Rome. Besides Colossians, this is the only letter that Paul wrote to believers in a city he had never visited.
And, even more interesting, Paul was planning to visit Rome. As Paul was on that trip to Rome, crossing the Mediterranean in the midst of a storm, do you think he wondered what kind of welcome he would receive? To be honest, I would wonder that. But, I don’t think Paul did. Why? Because he trusted God to take care of him regardless of what kind of welcome he received.
So, what kind of welcome did Paul receive when we reached Italy and Rome? This is what Luke records:
Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. (Acts 28:12-15 ESV)
So, apparently these brothers and sisters in Christ gave Paul a wonderful welcome – a welcome that strengthened him and caused him to praise God.
I love it when God “surprised” us with strangers who turn out to be brothers and sisters in Christ. The fellowship that follows is always special, even if it’s short.
I experienced that last Sunday during my first marathon. I was somewhere around the 18 mile mark (which is the farthest I had ever run before the marathon), and I was struggling. I run up on a man who I had seen before. For the first half of the marathon, we ran together in the same pace group. But, since the group was large, we had not talked with one another.
I fell back out of the group before him, but now I had caught up with him. I introduced myself, and he told me his name was John. It turns out that John was from New York and that he had come to Cary, NC just to run this marathon. He was having cramps in both legs, so he had to slow alot.
I asked John what he did for a living, and he told me that he was a lawyer for a charitable organization. I asked him which organization, and he explained that it was associated with a certain Christian organization and that they worked with underprivileged people in their area to provide housing.
Next, I asked John if he just worked for that organization or if he was part of the denomination too.
He response was enthusiastic: “Oh no! I’m a born again Christian!” I immediate replied, “Me too!”
For the next several minutes – and a couple of miles – we shared our testimonies with each other. John shared several very interesting stories including how God brought him out of a background of Santería.
Soon, John had to slow even more – his legs were cramping more than before. We thanked each other for the fellowship and thanked God for the fellowship and encouragement that he gave us through each other.
What about you? Has God ever encouraged you through a “stranger” who turned out to be a brother or sister in Christ?
I originally wrote the post “Imagine all the people” about six years ago. No, this post is not about a John Lennon song. This post is about thinking about people who are different than us. But, the post is not about changing people so that they’re more like us. It’s about learning to live with and love people who are different than us. Why would we want to do that? Because, according to Scripture, we are one family in Jesus Christ.
My family is studying Ephesians. Now, I know that some of you who know me well are laughing, because I LOVE to study Ephesians – it seems that I am ALWAYS studying Ephesians. Anyway, this is actually for a class assignment for which I have recruited my family to help.
We are supposed to read through Ephesians (and 1 Peter later) and answer the following question: “What do these texts say about faith as a way of life?”
As we were reading through chapter 2 of Ephesians, we noticed the emphasis on how God had created one new people from the Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:14-16). This new people was to live as a family (household) and citizens of a new kingdom (Eph 2:19). Again, in chapter 3, Paul says that when Jews and Gentiles lives as one people (the church) they demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God (Eph 3:10). Paul also reminds us again that we are one family named for God, such that God is the patriarch of the family (Eph 3:14-15). He then calls us to strength, knowledge, and love (Eph 3:16-19).
We discussed how difficult it is for us to live with and love people who are different from us. Certainly the Jews and Gentiles found this kind of life difficult. Yet, God expects us to live as a family and to love one another – and not just any family, but His family – and not just with people who are like us, but with all believers, even if they are very different from us. How do we do that?
So, we did a quick exercise that really helped me, and hopefully it helped them. Maybe it will help you as well. Here is the exercise: Think of someone who is completely different from you. Think about their race, ethnicity, education level, economic level, hygiene, clothing, housing, language, culture, etc. Picture that person in your mind, and ask yourself, “How can I possibly love that person and live together as family with that person.” Then, read the end of Ephesians 3 below:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)
Certainly this passages applies to more than our living together in love with those who are different from us. But, it does apply to this as well. Because of God’s power at work in us, He is able to love someone through us that we would never love on our own.
Miguel at “God Directed Deviations” has written a very interesting (and thought-provoking) post called “Do Christians have an obligation to pry into the lives of others?”
In his post, Miguel brings up instructions and statements in Scripture such as “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16) and “Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example” (Philippians 3:17).
These passages indicate a certain amount “transparency” or familiarity between brothers and sisters in Christ. But, does that mean that we are supposed to “pry” into one anothers’ lives?
Miguel makes a few interesting comments regarding this question (beginning with the point about identifying believers by their fruit):
Yes, I suppose that their just might be a place for fruit inspectors within the body of Christ. Might be…
But there’s a major flaw in some thinking here. People are not cans that need to be pried open to have their fruit inspected. Are they? Neither are they Tupperware containers of different opacities whereby others can examine their fruit in degrees of transparency. Fruit grows and should be visible. If it’s not visible yet, it seems presumptuous to pry someone open to see if there are any fruit inside so as to make judgments regarding their spiritual state.
There is certainly a level or purposed, or intentional transparency needed for others to grow.
Like Miguel, I believe this type of “transparency” is necessary for people to grow in maturity in Jesus Christ. But, also like Miguel, I think this transparency must be “intentional.” What does this mean?
Well, it means that we are not to pry into the lives of other people. What?!?! How will we know their fruit if we don’t pry? How will we “consider one another” (Hebrews 10:24) if we don’t pry?
It’s simple. You see, “pry” indicates that we’re going somewhere where we’re not invited or wanted. We’re using force to try to break into something that’s not open to us.
But, when we intentionally open ourselves to one another, there is no reason for prying. When we invite each other into our lives, we do not need to use force to understand what’s going on.
No, we don’t pry into the lives of other believers. Instead, we go where we’re invited. When people share their lives with us and when we share our lives with them – when we live together in community in Jesus Christ – there will be no reason to pry. We will understand the importance of having other people observe our way of life, and they will understand the important of having us observe their way of life.
But, if someone doesn’t share their life with you? Well, you can’t make them, and shouldn’t try. Encourage them? Yes. Show them by example? Yes. Explain the importance? Yes. Pry? No.
Instead of prying, we need mutual transparency with mutual concern and care for one another… no prying involved.
As I mentioned in my post “An Unexpected Journey with the Church,” I’m planning to get together with a group of believers in the Charlotte area in April to discuss how expectations often hinder us from finding fellowship in Christ with one another. Over the next few days, I’m planning to write about various expectations and how those expectations can affect our ability to find fellowship and share our lives with other brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve already written about how we don’t always find fellowship in expected locations, we don’t always build fellowship through expected activities, and we don’t always find fellowship with the expected people.
Regardless of what we expect in regards to fellowship, those expectations can hinder our ability to actually find and build fellowship. We can become disappointed when our expectations do not play out – even good expectations. And, we can miss opportunities for fellowship because we don’t expect to find fellowship in certain locations, through certain activities, or with certain people.
It really does work both ways. Both “positive” and “negative” expectations can hinder our ability to truly find fellowship.
But, we have to be honest with ourselves. We all have expectations. Even if we recognize the dangers related to these kinds of expectations (and other kinds of expectations), we will still have expectations.
Suggesting that we simply stop having expectations is not only impossible, but not always beneficial. Expectations can be good in many situations.
So, what do we do about it? How do we live with our expectations while not allowing those expectations to hinder our ability to find fellowship?
As we continue thinking about expectations, I’d like to ask a few questions:
1) What expectations do you have related to finding fellowship in Christ?
2) Do you take any steps to make sure that those expectations do not work to hinder fellowship? If so, what steps?
3) How can we help others find fellowship outside of their expectations?
Series on Expectations and Fellowship
As I mentioned in my post “An Unexpected Journey with the Church,” I’m planning to get together with a group of believers in the Charlotte area in April to discuss how expectations often hinder us from finding fellowship in Christ with one another. Over the next few days, I’m planning to write about various expectations and how those expectations can affect our ability to find fellowship and share our lives with other brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve already written about how we don’t always find fellowship in expected locations, and we don’t always build fellowship through expected activities.
But, what about people? Fellowship is all about people. So, how can expectations related to people negatively impact our ability to share our lives with one another and to find and build fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Expectations affect our ability to find fellowship when we only expect to find fellowship with certain people or we expect to never find fellowship with other people.
What kind of people? Well, things like church organizational membership, doctrinal beliefs, denominational association, and also things like educational level, employment status, financial rank, race and ethnicity, age, living conditions, etc. We can (even subconsciously) assume that some of those characteristics would limit (or even increase) our ability to find fellowship with someone (or some group).
Another limitation related to people is the time that we have to spend with them. While spending much time with someone is always beneficial toward fellowship, we should not discount our ability to find fellowship with someone because we only have a short amount of time to spend with them.
With some people, we expect to find fellowship, and when we don’t those expectations negatively affect our ability to find fellowship with others. With other people, we do not expect to find fellowship, and – obviously – those expectations negatively affect our ability to find fellowship with them – but also with other people.
So, what’s the answer? Well, being ready to share our live with anyone. Yes, that means that as we “approach” people for fellowship, many of those people will reject us. But, it’s not up to us to decide who will and who will not reject us. That’s between those people and God.
And, yes, I know that many people – many of my readers – have been hurt by people because of rejection and betrayal. Again, you cannot project that hurt onto other people and assume that others will treat you the same way. That’s also between those people and God.
Instead, it should be our goal to share our lives with anyone who God brings across our path – if they’re willing to accept that fellowship, of course.
Have you ever found fellowship with an unexpected person or group of people.
Series on Expectations and Fellowship
As I mentioned in my post “An Unexpected Journey with the Church,” I’m planning to get together with a group of believers in the Charlotte area in April to discuss how expectations often hinder us from finding fellowship in Christ with one another. Over the next few days, I’m planning to write about various expectations and how those expectations can affect our ability to find fellowship and share our lives with other brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve already written about how we don’t always find fellowship in expected locations.
In this post, I’d like for us to think about activities. Activities and fellowship can go hand-in-hand, but it’s also true that activities can often work as blinders to the real fellowship that’s available to us.
To begin with, when you think about fellowship, what activities do you think about? (Yes, I know that fellowship is not all about activities, but for this exercise, please think about activities that you associate with fellowship.)
When some believers think about fellowship, they immediately think about activities like Bible studies or prayer meetings. Others think about activities like sharing meals or a cup of coffee. Still other Christians think about fellowship in the context of serving others – maybe serving food, construction, etc.
And, to be honest, any of those activities can be beneficial in building or maintaining fellowship with others. Since fellowship is about sharing our life in Christ together, then any of those activities – and many, many other activities – allow us to share our lives with one another.
But, what happens if we expect to find fellowship through certain activities, but we struggle to get to know the people involved? What happens when we’re taking part in certain activities in which we do not expect to deepen our relationships with others? In each case, the expectations associated with those specific activities will affect our ability to find fellowship.
Perhaps we will be discouraged because we don’t find fellowship in those activities when we expect to, or perhaps we will miss opportunities for fellowship because we’re not taking part in activities that we associate with fellowship.
In either case, the basic problem is the same. We’re allowing the activities to work as a filter. Instead, we should see any activity as an opportunity – although not a guarantee – to build relationships with one another as we share our lives together. Obviously, some activities will be more likely to provide opportunities for fellowship while other activities will provide less opportunities for fellowship.
But, again, any activity can be an opportunity for fellowship… if we do not allow the activity to become the focus and if we do not allow the activity to distract us from the people around us.
Lately, I’ve been most surprised at the amount of fellowship and the deepening relationships that I’ve found while running… especially long distance runs.
What about you? What activities do you find are most conducive to fellowship? Have you ever found during unexpected activities?
Series on Expectations and Fellowship
Do you really care about people? You remember when Jesus said something about loving others (and then Paul, Peter, James, John, and others picked up on that theme in their writings)? Well, it seems kinda obvious, but you can’t love others if you don’t care about them.
A few days ago, Randy at “Bible Study Geek” (his subtitle ‘Nerd Groks Word’ always makes me smile) published a post called “People.” Although his post is about relationship problems, it really comes down to caring about people.
He wrote (in part):
You get close enough to someone and eventually you will disappoint him and he will disappoint you. The disappointment can be handled in several ways, but it will always be there and it will never go away. It will affect your relationship.
I have disappointed my wife so often that I’m embarrassed to still be alive. She–a woman of great grace–has forgiven me and she loves me with a hunka burning love. But in certain situations, she doesn’t quite trust me because I have proven that I am not totally trustworthy. Even if my record is good for the last several years, there is a certain level of distrust remaining. That’s my fault, not hers.
That’s just one example.
I have a long string of victims in my wake. Like a Palm Sunday tornado, I’ve left strong trees toppled along my path of destruction. I wish I could stand those trees back up, but I don’t know how.
Like Randy, we all have “left strong treest toppled along [our] path of destruction.” It’s true… all of us. And, of course, we’ve all been hurt as well. For some, the hurt goes deeper than others, but everyone has been hurt by someone else.
And, like I said, the hurt often (if not always) begins because we really don’t care about other people – or, at least, we care about them less than we care about ourselves.
Around the same time that I was thinking about this, a friend of mine left the following on Facebook:
About two weeks ago I determined to do the following: Be more present, interested, and attentive to others – and – to look at people as having a sign hung around their neck that says: Please listen to me and value me. I am already seeing this bear fruit in my life and believe me it does not just benefit the people with whom I interact with—it has benefitted me more than you can imagine. Can you think of the benefits that would come from interacting in such a way with people you come in contact with? How does it benefit others… how would it benefit you?
Do you see what he’s doing? He’s reminding himself that others are important. If we remember that other people are important, then we’ll begin to care about them.
Do you listen to people? Do you value them? How do you show it?
I think these are good questions to ask ourselves. But, for now, I’ll close with the questions that my friend asked on Facebook:
If you started looking at people as having a sign around their neck that says, “Please listen to me and value me,” what benefits would come from interacting with people in that way? How would it benefit other people? How would it benefit you?