Community

by Peter Swann

There is no secret to it: authentic community is not always easy, but it sure is worth it.

When Hope started, it was our sincere desire to see authentic community become the norm. Raw, candid, honest community, the type that takes courage and intentionality. But it’s not easy to nurture. It takes people who love Jesus more than they love themselves, and people who are willing to be all in.

It also takes covenant. That’s the key to it all. It’s a group of people covenanting together – holding each other accountable, encouraging each other, and hanging in the trenches together. There’s just something different about a community in covenant.

When nurturing an authentic community like that, everyone has to buy in. It never works if only some go for it. Everyone has to be all in… that’s how covenant works, and that’s how authentic community gets built out.

It takes a while to build out that type of community, but I realized how much God has blessed us in this about two weeks ago. I was hanging with a long-time friend of mine, sharing the deepest struggle of my heart right now. I was wide open on my shortcomings, my fears, and my trials. I badly wanted his prayers and accountability.

My friend turned to me and promised his support, but immediately encouraged me to also share with at least one other guy. He wanted to make sure that I had at least two friends who could journey with me on it. The thought was wise, mature, and godly. It’s exactly what I should have done.

Except, as I reflected on it, I knew I didn’t have to find that guy. And that’s because I already had that guy. In fact, I had about fifteen other guys. With our elders, staff, leadership team, and home group, I was well covered, and phenomenally blessed.

Community like that is a gift. It’s an absolute gift. We cherish that community. We protect that community. We fight for that community.

As everyone gets to know each other, as community goes deeper, that raw, authentic community produces transformation. Discipleship best happens when everything is on the table, and it takes that type of community to get it all on the table. As a rule, the degree to which we are changed will directly correlate to the degree to which we are raw, candid, and honest. So…

There is no secret to it: authentic community isn’t always easy, but it sure is worth it.

 

Digging Deep

For all of us on the journey with Christ, there is a tension that dominates our lives. We live in the “already but not yet,” seeing some of the glories of the Kingdom of God while walking in a sin-soaked world. We have tasted of the heavenly, yet are surrounded by the worldly.

Our tension is embodied in our… 

  • Strain in daily living yet joy in Jesus
  • Function in the ordinary yet longing for the extraordinary
  • Grip on control yet hunger for pure surrender

It’s the latter that most defines us. We are a gripped people. Control is our friend, but not a good one. Jesus wants us to release it, but we are co-dependent. We can’t seem to find freedom.

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God Sings

I often make up spontaneous songs about my daughters. I just can’t help it. It’s probably a daily occurrence. My love for those precious little girls is often inadequately expressed in anything other than spontaneous singing. I express my delight in my little girls with lyric and melody. It’s my natural instinct.

When I dated my wife, I wrote her a half dozen love songs as I rejoiced in the amazing, beautiful creation she is and celebrated my love for her.

When we really love someone, it often produces songs in our hearts that overflow through our lungs and out of our mouths. There’s just something about singing that expresses what mere words are not always able to do. Singing is a conduit for expressing emotion. Feeling. Love. Affection.

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Coming in, Going out

by Peter Swann

If a church is getting its job done, that church should be a launching pad, not a landing place.

This truth is uncomfortable for some of us, grating us a consumer-oriented approach to church. That’s the “come on in, customize your experience, and stay here forever” type of church. It is, however, quite different from the “come on in, get discipled and built up, and head on out” type of church. One is significantly influenced by our Western culture… the other driven by the book of Acts.

A consumer orientation toward church leads us to seek to customize our church experience. We prefer options and like to feel comfortable. A book of Acts church is much more dangerous. It doesn’t allow for as customizable an experience, and presses on raw places. What’s more, it doesn’t let us get settled.

The bottom line fact is that most of the world does not know Jesus. And that won’t change if we all stay in our churches. Transformation will only come when church becomes a launching pad, not a landing place.

This happens locally, even as we reflect on how strategic or intentional we are in having nonbelievers into our home. Why is it that many of us fill our free time hanging with believers and never with nonbelievers? That’s a landing place approach to church, not a launching pad approach.

Or when did we last reflect intentionally on if God was calling us to be an overseas missionary? It’s a scary prayer to pray, but certainly a launching pad prayer to pray.

The thing about the book of Acts is that that type of church probably wouldn’t be very popular today. It’s far too offensively-minded, far too obsessed with those who do not yet know Christ. It’s a church constantly looking at sending people out to their city and out to their world.

I’m so fired up about what God has done at Hope, however, the battle continues for our culture is deeply ingrained in us. We must constantly war against a landing place mentality, begging God for the same passion and same yearning that dominated the book of Acts. It may not be popular, and it will at times be uncomfortable, but it’s more than worth it for our King.

In this end, church is a dangerous place to be. You come in knowing you may not be around long. You’ll certainly be called to live out your faith in your city, but you may easily be called to head out overseas. If we’re like the books of Acts, that’s how it ought to be.

Why?

Because the church is the ultimate launching pad for the Kingdom.

Discipling On The Go

by Peter Swann

As our Lord was about to ascend from this earth, His last words were on discipleship. The command to make disciples of all people was His Great Commission to His followers. Discipleship is to be a core element to our being.

Yet few of us are discipled and as a result, few know how to disciple others. We often leave the business of transformation to the church, hoping that perhaps Sunday services or Bible studies will transform lives. The truth is that typically nothing brings about as much change as small group discipleship.

As a general rule, the smaller the group, the more that transformation will occur. The better the transparency, the more that transformation will occur. And the more the intentionality, the more that transformation will occur.

This is why small groups are vital. This is also why one-on-one relationships are critical. Jesus’ model of discipleship remains our model of discipleship, teaching the masses but going especially deep with a small group around each of us.

What Jesus also modeled was discipleship on the go. These days, most of our discipleship conversations are about formal discipleship relationships. Those are certainly to be highly affirmed and esteemed and nurtured. Yet much of Jesus’ discipleship happened in passing, perhaps in the way He related to someone or handled a situation. In everything that He did, He modeled for those around Him.

Each person that we meet each day is an opportunity for us to disciple. We can exemplify how to love and how to care and how to gently speak truth and how to encourage. As we minister, we also disciple. We can look for opportunities to turn someone’s weaknesses into strengths, in the process growing them as a disciple – and modeling for them how to turn others into greater disciples. Discipleship opportunities abound for each of us each day.

Perhaps this is nowhere more clear than in our prayers. As we pray with others, our prayers are an opportunity for discipleship. What we pray, how we pray, when we pray… our interaction with our Father is a profound model for other believers around us. I’m not sure that there is any greater discipleship tool than praying together.

So, in formal and informal ways, each day we are called to be disciple-makers. We’re intentional about nurturing the formal, but also daily looking for the informal. And we don’t have to look far to contribute to the fulfillment of Christ’s last command. What a joy and gift it is that discipleship opportunities each day are right before us.