Category Archives: Community

Reflection on: Why We Are Going From Small Groups to Sunday School by Jim Davis

The points that Jim Davis presents are well worth considering. While I understand the intent of small groups and see them as historically sound, from Zinzendorf to Wesley, I believe that the points that Davis presents here are dead on where many churches have dropped the ball: Biblical knowledge, Developing of Teaching Gifts, Deeper Community, Cultural Engagement, and fulfilling the Role of the Chruch.

1) Biblical Knowledge – Do a quick search on Biblical Illiteracy and more than 71,000 results come up. The first three listed are “The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches“, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem” and “The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy.” It is recognized across the board that Biblical Illiteracy is a problem in the church today. Davis presents why the small group model is often not enough to counter this.

2) Developing of Teaching Gifts – Romans 12:6 – 8 tells us “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” While small groups have a reason for existing, they do not allow the opportunity for those with teaching gifts to truly exercise and develop them.

3) Deeper Community – As Davis states, this one seems counter intuitive. Most churches will tell you that one of the purposes of small groups is to develop community.  Yet while it can produce relationships within the group, there are two clear negatives that seem to arise. First is that these relationships need to be organic to truly grow, yet most small groups are artificial in their development, put together by the church leadership. Second, when these relationships do flourish, it is very easy to not become a community of the church, but little communities (or cliques) within the church.

4) Cultural Engagement – Here is the purpose of gathering on Sunday morning. Ephesians 4:11 – 13 tells us, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Sunday morning is the time to “equip his people for works or service.” Here God’s people come together to learn, to fellowship, to be built up, so that they can, in turn, take Christ to the world. Yes, small groups can prepare members for this, but too often it is just a time to gather with their group of friends, thinking inward and not outward.

5) Fulfilling the Role of the Church – This is a natural follow-up to the previous point. The role of the church is to teach and build-up the body for service. It is not to entertain or to, as Davis puts it, play matchmaker. When the church fulfills its God given role, we may just find that what the small groups have tried to manufacture, God will grow organically.

Final Thoughts

Am I saying that this will solve everything? Am I giving a guarantee that what Davis has presented is indeed the answer to any challenges in the church? Of course not. No one can do this, and I certainly do not have all the answers. Yet I believe that we need to be open to honestly evaluate our current practices. Are we doing them because it has become what everyone else is doing? Is our current model truly accomplishing what we intend it to do?

Is there a place for small group? Yes. But are small groups the miracle answer that many have come to believe? No. Whether we choose to use small groups or not, I think Davis’ point of the importance of Sunday School can not be dismissed.

Grace Applied

This fall we are going to do something that will seem crazy to many. We are going from a small group model to a Sunday school model (under a different name). Most church growth material over the past 20 years would advise against this move. We are a young, growing contemporary church. Why would we make that change? Here are five reasons.*

To Grow in Biblical Knowledge

The average committed evangelical today goes to church twice a month. Many churches don’t have an evening service so that means two times a month people are being taught the Bible. Couldn’t they just open a book? Yes, but most don’t.

Small groups are rarely times of Bible teaching, but Sunday school is. Small group leaders prepare for about 10 minutes while Sunday school teachers study and prepare all week. Beginning Sept. 10th, we will replace discussion groups about the sermons (which tend…

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BSA Continues Down The Road

 

The headline of the article says it all, “Boy Scouts president calls for end of ban on gay adults. . .” It is a journey that began, for many, long ago. A journey that was presented to the eyes of the rest of the world in 2013 when a vote was taken at the BSA National Conference to allow boys, under 18, who identify at gay to be members. It was a first major step down the road. Last week, BSA President, Robert Gates, spoke to those assembled at the 2015 BSA National Conference. In his address he proposed that the time is at hand to take the next step down the road.

I would be lying if I said I did not see this coming. In fact when the vote was taken in 2013 I gave it five years, at most, until the ban on gay leaders  was lifted. Now I am not saying that I had some great insight, I am sure there were many others who made similar predictions. My point is that the first step taken down that road two years ago should have been obvious and here we are about to take another step down this road. But in the end, I am afraid that it is not the road to the glorious destination it is trumpeted to be.  It is rather, a road that leads away from the foundations upon which scouting was built, and the values I hold as a bible believing Christian.

Now I could go down the road that argument leads to and find myself going back and forth with those who disagree with my position, those who feel this decision is the greatest things to ever come out of scouting. But experience has taught me that such arguments accomplish very little. If people do not come from a common starting place, then the ends seldom converge. Instead, I choose to state my position by addressing three quotes from Dr. Gates speech.

The first quote has to do with how we respond to the society in which we live. Dr. Gates says that as a result of “the social, political and judicial changes taking place in our country . . . the status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.” In other words, our society has changed so much that we are out of step with it and need to change if we want to continue to exist. Now this is a response to challenges, but is it a good response.  What this is telling me is that if things get hard, then you just give in.  Is this really the lesson we want to teach out children? That when things get tough you just give up. If this is really a justification for suggesting the change I find it cowardly and shameful.  For an organization that holds honor at such a high level, what honor is there is just giving up? What strength is found in going with the crowd? What virtue is found in trading in long held values?

True honor would be found in standing strong in the beliefs held from the beginning, beliefs that have guided the BSA for over 100 years.  I find far greater respect for those who will stand firm for their beliefs and values in the face of ridicule and hardship, even if it means the eventual demise of the organization, than I do in those who change their foundational beliefs simply to survive.

I’m going to be honest, there comes a time when all social movements (when it boils down to it the BSA is a social movement, that is to say it is intended to build up society) reach a point when they must decide, are they going to be true to their foundations even if everything says it will lead to its demise or compromise simply to survive. It is the far more noble action to stand for your values in the face of opposition than to surrender your beliefs to appease others.

The second quote concerns the position BSA policy puts boys into relating to their church. Dr. Gates says, “As a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject, thus placing Scouting between a boy and his church.” This argument is fallacious in that the exact same argument can be given from the other perspective. By changing the policy to allow for homosexual involvement we embrace a policy that more than a few of our church sponsors reject, thus placing Scouting between a boy and his church.  Based on the poor logic of this statement, I will forego any further discussion of it.

It is the third statement that concerns me most, as a Bible believing, evangelical Christian.  Dr. Gates states, “Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country. The country is changing. . .” Yes, he is correct. You would have to blind to not realize this fact.  But change is not always a good things or for the better. Worse yet, change simply for the sake of change can often be worse than maintaining the status quo. But this is a different discussion.

There is something for more significant about this statement that struck me the moment I heard it. “Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country. The country is changing. . .” I had no more that heard this quote when without thinking, I finished it by saying “but God doesn’t.” God does not change. Any person who calls themselves a Christian must accept this fact, God does not change. Why not? Because a god who changes is not a god in whom faith can be placed. If you do not know that tomorrow God will be the same as he is today, then how can you trust that his salvation will last.

But I can remain confident that God does not change.  In Malachi 3:6  God declares, “I the LORD do not change.” James 1:17 tells us that He is “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Psalm 33:11 tells us, “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” And Hebrews 13:8 tells us “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” No, God does not change! 

Because He does not change, I can place my faith in Him. This is why Psalm 18:2 declares, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Because He does not change, I can be confident in His word. A word that tells me that a homosexual life style is contrary to God’s teaching.

God’s teachings are repeated over and over through the Bible. In Leviticus 18:22 God told the nation of Israel, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” In I Corinthians 6:9 – 10 homosexuality is grouped with  other sins like, “idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers.” And Romans 1:26 – 27 clearly presents it as unnatural.  Now again, we can get caught up in the discussion of how these are to be understood, but I believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God and that God’s Word is true. In light of this, I can stand strong in the values presented in the long held BSA policy with confidence because, God does not change.

This same God, whom many of us have followed in the BSA for over 100 years, does not change. Therefore, to change our position based on an ever fluctuating societal view versus the position of an unchanging God, is at best foolishness and at worst, a direct a affront to the righteousness of God Himself.

Please understand the point I am trying to communicate. My opposition is not out of hatred, for this same God has taught me the need to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. (Mark 12:31) It is not out of fear that our children will be “preyed” upon, such thinking is unfounded and ludicrous. It is out of my commitment to the first point of the scout law, duty to God.

As I consider the implications of this address, I am left to wonder the true motive behind Dr. Gates’ remarks. If it is out of compassion for those who feel excluded, I share his heart, but must remain faithful to my duty to God. If it is out of fear of loosing membership from being out of step with society, I understand, but must remain faithful to my duty to God. If it is for any other reason, I must still remain faithful to my duty to God.

And so, as the BSA continues its journey, step by step, down the road they have chosen, I see it as only a matter of time until their path and the path of many more will go their separate ways.

 

 

It’s How You Play The Game

baseball-glove-bat

It was six months ago that everyone from the Chicago area was glued to their televisions, watching the Little League World Series. Why? Because one of the their own, Jackie Robinson West was playing. This amazing team went on to win the National Championship. Though they would later loose the World Championship game, they returned to Chicago with all the pomp and circumstance due a championship team. There is no question in anyone’s minds that these young men are incredible baseball players.

Fast forward 6 months and this team has had its Championship title stripped from it. It is not the result of any action that the boys took, but of the district leadership who expanded their boundaries into other district without league authorization, for the purpose of recruiting specific players. If you are unaware of these events, you can find it at ESPN.com.

Now again, let me be clear that the the young men on this team are phenomenal players and the stripping of their title has nothing to do with their performance, but the activities of those behind the scenes. I am not here to take sides in this issue. I have my thoughts on the case but that is a separate discussion. My problem is the reprehensible and unconscionable response of people to these events.

Rather than accepting the decision of the proper authorities, we find protest and attacks on those who simply try to uphold the rules. What is more, it is not enough to simply disagree with the decision, instead those who would call themselves leaders cry out that an injustice has been done, and for the most vile of reasons. And if this is not enough, the individual who first raised the questions has received death threats. Again, I am not going to get caught up here in the pointing fingers and claims of what was the right thing to do or why the issue was brought up, but I do have one issue to raise. What lesson is being taught to these young men and another young people who observe the events?

Does the response of so many really teach the lessons that should learned from this? Do they learn that when rules are broken, there are consequence? Do they learn that the consequences of actions do no simply effect the people behind the actions (in this case the district administration) but impacts those who unknowingly broke rules (those boys who were from out of the district) and those who are completely innocent (those boys who met all the requirements to play)? Do they learn to take responsibility for actions taken? Do they learn to lay the responsibility where it belongs? My answer is no! They do not.

What they do learn is that when something goes wrong, it must be someone else’s fault, as demonstrated in the accusations that it is simply an attack on them for reasons that have nothing to do with baseball. They learn that when you gain from doing something wrong, it should not be taken away from you as long as you did not do it knowingly as evidences in the claim that the boys should not loose their title despite the fact that the rules were broken (punish the adults, not the boys), after all intent is what is important. They learn that winning is all that matters, and rules take a back seat as evidences in the declarations that they are still champions in the eyes of the people of Chicago. They learn that if you complain and yell loud enough, it makes you right, even if you are wrong.

No, I feel for the loss that these young men have experienced, but the decision of Little League International is just. Maybe it is time we stopped pandering to base emotions and started using events to teach the importance of fair play. Maybe it is time we stopped glorifying visceral reactions and stopped to objectively examine a situation. Maybe we need to teach that actions have consequences. Maybe we need to remember what we were so often taught as children, “It’s not whether you win or loose, it’s how you play the game.”

I’ll Fly Away

image

Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).
I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)
I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)
I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

Words and Music by Albert E. Brumley, 1929

 


I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
Psalm 55:6

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16 – 17

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as also I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ
Colossians 2:16- 17

Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Psalm 90:10

So with you: Now is your time of grief but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
John 16:22


 

Children all over have found themselves in the same place every year. Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for the excitement and joy that will come with Christmas morning and the gifts that will be found under the tree.

But it is not as simple as waiting for the excitement of that morning, because these same children have been told that “he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake,” Santa Claus can see their behavior and it will have a direct impact on what they receive for Christmas.

So we find children behaving well and getting along with their siblings. We see them doing extra chores and helping out at home. In short, they are facing the the work of today, hoping for the joy to come on Christmas morning.

This is the theme behind, “I’ll Fly Away.” Brumley writes, “One glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away.” Just like the child waiting for Christmas has an end goal in sight, so we who have put our faith in Jesus Christ can can face the struggles of today knowing that there is an end target. This is not simply an escapist dream as some have proposed, but rather a reminder that whatever comes our way, it is temporary, giving us the strength to face it.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 17, Paul tells us, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” The fact is we all face troubles in our lives that are more than we can handle on our own, but our focus is not on them but the promises of God. Our hope of the end day, however does not have us living simply in the future, but giving us the strength to live today.

But even when everything seems to be going right it is a dim reflection of what is to be. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that “for we see now in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. . .” No. we look not at the shadows that darken our vision, but forward to the day “when the shadows of this life have gone.” Because Paul tells us that “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:16- 17)

No, we do not look at hide away living in the future that has not yet come. Rather, we live today with the strength we find in what is to come. It is because of this that we can sing, “Just a few more weary days and then, I’ll fly away; To a land where joy shall never end, I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).”

 

 

Read more about “I’ll Fly Away.”

It’s Not Just a Right, It’s Not Just a Privilege, It’s a Responsibility – Voting

On this election day, I decided to re-post a blog I originally wrote prior to the 2008 election.

Brian Olson - Christian Speaker, Bible Teacher and Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

There are many traditions and rules around elections that most of us do not understand. Did you know that the Democratic donkey was originally used as an attack on Andrew Jackson, the Democratic candidate in the 1828 election. Did you know that the Republican elephant was taken from a passing reference in an 1874 cartoon in Harper’s Weekly. Did you know that the elections were set in November because this allowed the harvest to be completed, freeing the mostly agrarian society to vote. Did you know that Tuesday was chosen because Monday was not considered reasonable since it would require many people to begin travel on Sunday, conflicting with Sunday worship. Did you know that the first Tuesday, after the first Monday was chosen to avoid November 1 because 1) it was All Saints Day and 2) many business owners did their books on the fist of the month.

These…

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Bobby Jindal Sues U.S. Dept. of Education Over Common Core

The Common Core State Standard for our schools is here.  While on the surface a minimum standard that a students should seem to be able to live up to seems like a good idea, there is a deeper problem when you look more closely.  The following blog comes from caffeinatedthoughts.com where much more information can be found on the subject.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Dept. of Education for pushing the Common Core State Standards and assessments on states.

via Bobby Jindal Sues U.S. Dept. of Education Over Common Core.

Overstaying Our Welcome

Proverbs 25:17 NIV

“Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house— too much of you, and they will hate you.”

It seems an odd proverb, but we have all been there. We have experienced people who overstay their welcome. That person who just seems to always be there. Perhaps sometimes we are those people. But our parent advise still stands, “Don’t overstay your welcome.” because as Benjamin Franklin said, “Fish and houseguests smell after three days.”

But why would this be included in the Bible. Doesn’t God call us to be involved in one another’s lives? Doesn’t the Bible tell us to show hospitality? Of course it does. Jesus spoke of those who invited strangers in as doing it to him when he gave the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. The writer of Hebrews tells us that through hospitality some have entertained angels. (Hebrews 13:2) This is how we are to be involved in one another’s lives. Then how does this fit?

After some thought, I have been struck by three clear situations where this happens. The first example comes from a friends experience.  She was friends with someone for years. As the years went on, her friend would need help here or there, and she would readily extend the needed help. After some time the request slowly would become more demanding both financially and time-consuming. She would still do what she could, but was not able to help with everything her friend wanted as she would try to explain, usually to no avail. Finally it seemed that she would only be contacted by her friend when something was needed, and that seemed the constant situation. It made things worse that her friend did not seem to make any effort to accomplish things on her own or to seem to turn to anyone else. Eventually she just found herself run down, frustrated and resenting her friend. She would not answer the phone when the caller ID said it was her friend. She went out of her way too avoid her friend. Her friend had overstayed her welcome.

For the second and third situations I reference the television show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” In the show we have our title character, Ray Barone, living with his wife and children. Across the street lives his parents and his older brother. Now at initial view this seems convenient, but as the story plays out we begin to see it is not such a wonderful idea. You see, his family does not understand the concept of boundaries. Every time Ray and his wife, Debra, turn around his family is there. It is in the characters of his father and mother that we find the second and third examples of those who overstay their welcome.

In the first of these two cases, it was not unusual for the family to come down stairs or to come home and find Ray’s father, Frank, sitting on the couch watching TV and eating something he found in the refrigerator. You see Frank simply viewed their house as an extension of his own. If he was frustrated at home with something he could let himself into their house as though it was simply going into another room in his own house.  He made himself at home without any consideration of Ray and Debra.

The second of these two cases is demonstrated in his Mother, Marie, who simply believes that she always knows what is best for everyone else. We always find her showing Debra how to really be a good wife and mother. It may be comments about how clean (or unclean) she believes her house to be. It may be critiques of Debra’s cooking. Other times she openly shares her advise and disapproval on how Ray or Debra are raising the children.  She feels that her advise and input is always needed and wanted.  In each of these we have people who have made themselves so comfortable at the other persons house that they have overstayed their welcome.

So we have three types of people who set foot in their neighbor’s house one too many times.  The first being the person who is always needy.  The second being the person who treats everyone else’s belongings as their own.  The third being the person who always thinks they know best and insist on sharing their advise with others.

So what Solomon is telling us in this proverb is that we are not to behave this way.  That is to say, we are not to drive others to hate us by overstaying our welcome.  So why is this found in the Bible.  First, it is simply good advise.  If people hate you, they certainly aren’t going to be there if you genuinely need help.

But the message to believers goes beyond this.  We are Christ witnesses in this world.  But what good is a witness if no one wants to be around them.  So we read this proverb along with 1 Peter 2:12 where we read, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” You see what others think of us as believers will reflect on what we believe.  If we have become someone who is hated, then can we really be surprised when people have no time for what we believe.  Overstaying our welcome undermines our witness.

So the proverb is a lesson to each of us, but before I leave, I need to be reminded that this proverb is not a license for me to simply dismiss people because they overstay their welcome.  While we are reminded to not overstay our welcome with others, we are called to show patience with others, including those who may overstay their welcome with us.

Brian Olson is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ having worked with both youth and adults.