I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,

You might have received this via our regular church email, but I wanted to make sure everyone got it. Today is Ash Wednesday.  It is a day of profound meaning in the Christian calendar.  It has been part of our Christian tradition since the 5th century. Its observance connects and identifies us with Christians of all ages. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent — the six-week period preceding Easter. Two points are especially important on Ash Wednesday: first, we confront our own mortality; and second, we confess again our need of the atoning work of Christ through his death on the cross.

In the Old Testament those who repented of their sin would often throw ashes on their head and/or clothe their body in sackcloth as a sign of their repentance.  Another Biblical custom often associated with repentance was fasting (giving something up for a spiritual purpose.) Repentance and fasting are two distinctives of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is the beginning of PREPARATION for the greater celebration of Easter.  We no longer sit in sackcloth and ashes, but we still recognize our brokenness caused by sin as we prepare to CELEBRATE the resurrection of our Lord and Savior!  The period of time we call Lent leads up to Holy Week (beginning with Palm Sunday) and points us to the ultimate celebration of Easter, which, for those who are born again, is the most significant day on the calendar!

Traditionally on Ash Wednesday many Christians have the “imposition of ashes” on the forehead (in the sign of the cross) as a TESTIMONY and a sign or symbol of MOURNING and repentance. The use of ashes reminds us that our God is a “consuming fire” and calls us to personal examination and openness before Him that he might cleanse us from our sin. It expresses willingness to engage in authentic repentance for anything the Spirit may reveal in us as displeasing to God.  It is, finally, a call to reconciliation with God and others. The Scripture calls us to repentance, reconciliation, and renewal.  It challenges us to search our hearts. It confronts every tendency we have to rely on our own righteousness.

Many people during Lent choose a type of fast (i.e. giving up entire meals or certain foods — soda, sweets, caffeine, etc. – or refraining from certain usual activities — TV, radio, etc.) and replacing them with intentional (and/or intensified) spiritual practices (prayer, Bible reading, etc.).  This is to remind us of Christ and His sacrifice and to help us focus more fully on Him.  We then break our fast on Easter to celebrate the risen Savior.  Ash Wednesday should involve sober reflection, self-examination and spiritual redirection, reminding us that no one is free from sin other than through the grace of God in Christ, but in him we are free indeed!

Tonight at 7:00 we are having an Ash Wednesday service led by our teens. I hope you can join us. But, either way, I’d like to make this invitation: Please prayerfully consider how God might lead you in these days of Lent. Would it be appropriate for you to fast? Are there spiritual practices God would have you put into place during this season? If so, I would invite you to share those decisions with a pastor, friend, confidant, or small group for encouragement and accountability.

I’ll be praying for you – and for all of us – that God will make this journey to Easter a time of growth and change as we create extra space in our lives and invite him to work in us.

 

Grace and peace,

Joel



I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,
 

Here’s a word worth considering from Craig Groeschel’s book, Divine Direction,

We forget that we are not made to be spiritual consumers. God has called us to be spiritual contributors. And the church does not exist for us. We are the church, and we exist for the world.          

When my mind shifts from being a spiritual consumer — it’s all about me, what I want, what I get, what I prefer — to becoming a spiritual contributor, everything changes. I am here to serve God and to love people. I exist to make a difference. God created me to be a blessing to others. “My food is to do his will and finish the work he sent me to do.” When we stop just serving because it’s the right thing to do and instead start seeing ourselves as servants, that’s the moment when we die a bit more to ourselves and Christ is free to live through us to bless others.

 Here’s a fun assignment: ask yourself, “Am I more of a consumer or a contributor?” If you are a Christ follower, hopefully you are a valuable part of a life-giving church. When you think about church, how would you rate yourself? Do you drop your kids off in the nursery (without ever serving there), eat a free donut or drink a free cup of coffee, sit in a seat that someone else paid for, enjoy the service, then pick up your kids and go home? If so, you’re a consumer.   

On the other hand, do you use your gifts to make a difference? Do you invite people to your church? Do you pray faithfully? Do you tithe consistently? And do you serve passionately? Then you’re more of a contributor.

Not only is God calling us to serve in his church, he’s also calling us to serve as his church. Don’t miss this important distinction. Yes, we have the honor of serving other believers inside the church … But our most important ministry doesn’t happen inside the church. It happens as we are the church, shining his light into a dark world desperate for his goodness.

 

Praying for us as we live out what it means to be the church.

Joel



I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,

 

It’s more than a meeting!

 Our church board meets monthly and one (1) of the things we do when we’re together is “church business.” We review monthly reports from the pastors and our treasurer. We discuss issues in the life of the church. Right now, we’re working on our developing conversation with the architectural firm, Mantel Teter, and all it’s implications. But “church business” is only one (1) of the things we do.

 

 Our church board has been elected to give spiritual leadership to the congregation. “Spiritual leadership” does not in any way imply leadership in the “impractical” affairs of the church (I’m not even sure there are any “impractical affairs”). Rather, it speaks to the particular kind/quality of leadership that’s exercised – spiritual leadership – leadership that is grounded in and grows out of an authentic and growing relationship with Jesus.

 

 That’s why, another thing we do when we’re together is, seek to deepen our relationship with Jesus and grow in our understanding of Christ-centered, spiritual leadership. Currently, to aid in that process we’ve been working our way through Pastor Wayne Cordeiro’s book, The Divine Mentor. In some ways, Cordeiro’s book is Discipleship 101 but sometimes it’s really helpful to go back to the basics.

 

 The Divine Mentor is encouraging us to take seriously the challenge of sitting regularly under the tutelage of the spiritual mentors introduced in the Bible – people like Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, etc. – and, of course, Jesus. It’s also introducing us to a method for structuring that time with the mentors (time in God’s word) with the acronym S.O.A.P. (Scripture. Observation. Application. Prayer.)

 

 I won’t take time to tease the SOAP structure out here and now (although it is a worthwhile conversation) but what I really want to say is, as we discussed Ch. 7 of our book in our last meeting, things got real. One of our board members in particular spoke with deep conviction and passion about how this book has given them new tools and helped them find a renewed love for sitting with Jesus and being mentored in the way of discipleship. And others joined in the conversation in such a way as to help me believe, “These people aren’t just ‘church-goers.’ They’re genuinely seeking to know Christ and have his life formed in them. Nor are they just board members. They are genuinely seeking to be spiritual leaders in the life of the church.”

 

 I suppose someone might read this and respond, “Duh. What else would church board members be/do?” Well, unfortunately, it’s not always this way. But I’m very thankful we are being led by a team of people that seem to be serious about living and leading into our vision of “together becoming, and inviting others to become, authentic followers of Christ.”

 

Encouraged,

 Joel

 

 



I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,

Our Community Engagement ministry expresses itself in a variety of ways. Last weekend (actually for three weekends in a row) we had some people from GC that put their work gloves and/or paint clothes on to do a fixer-upper project at an elderly man’s house. He doesn’t attend GC, but he lives alone and is no longer able to keep up with many of his home maintenance needs, so we volunteered to help him out. Perhaps you saw some of the pictures on our Grace Community Facebook page. If not, here are a couple to illustrate some of the before and after.
 
 
 

Well, that was last week. This week we’re seeking to “engage our community” an entirely different way (and not officially through our Community Engagement Ministry, but through our Children’s Ministry!) And, this week, instead of us going to the community, we’re inviting the community to come to us – for a Trunk or Treat!!!

If tradition holds, and if the weather cooperates, we’ll have hundreds of kids from the community (MANY of whom do not belong to GC) here on our campus for a couple hours of Halloween fun. But hopefully you know by now that the event is not about Halloween or candy. It’s about loving on kids and their families and building bridges of love and friendship between GC and the people of our surrounding area!

So, that’s why we’re “Calling all GCers” to help make this event a HUGE success – by inviting, dressing up and/or decorating your trunk, giving out candy, helping setting up, helping cleaning up, etc., etc. (if you need info about volunteering, contact margaret@grace-community.net) — because it’s not about Halloween or candy, it’s about “being the church.”

Hope you’re planning to help make it happen!!!!

It’s going to be a real TREAT!!!!

Joel



I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,

The past couple weeks have been very tough weeks marked by significant loss for several of our people. David Hoover lost his mom. Darla Walker lost her dad. Millie Anderson lost her sister. Karen Finney lost her mom. And even though none of these deaths would be labeled as wildly “premature” – most of these individuals had lived a good number of years – it’s NEVER easy to lose someone you love. Our hearts go out to each of these grieving families. Please know you are in our prayers.

I can’t always attend every family members’ funeral of those connected to our congregation, but I show up when I can because, as I’ve said so often through the years, and believe with all my heart, “showing up matters.” Fortunately, it worked out for Linda and me to attend the visitation and/or funeral for three out of the four (the three that were local), but the waaaaay bigger deal to me was seeing other fellow-GCers at these various funerals. For instance, this past Monday, at Karen Finney’s mom’s funeral – Karen’s mom was not from here, so she didn’t have a lot of friends here. Consequently, it wasn’t a huge crowd at her funeral. It was mostly family and a few friends but — as I looked around, I saw Karen’s Grow Group well represented. Karen happens to participate in an all-female Grow Group (which probably increases her chances of being cared for in meaningful ways) and they didn’t disappoint. She bragged on how they contacted her, encouraged her, prayed for her and were there for her.

And, just in case you’re wondering, that’s not called “being a girl”; it’s called “being the church.”

I know, generally speaking, ladies tend to be more nurturing and, perhaps, tend to express care and compassion more naturally. But being present in each other’s lives, showing up, expressing care and concern, supporting and praying for each other isn’t about gender; it’s about having the heart of Jesus formed in us and living into what it means to “be the church.”

So, thank you, specifically, to all those who took time to intentionally “be the church” toward these families over the past couple weeks. May your tribe increase! And may the heart of Jesus be formed in each of us more and more and more!

 

Praying for those grieving,

Joel

 

PS – It’s a REALLY good thing to be part of a Grow Group!!!!!

PPS – Showing up really does matter!!!! SO, show up as much as you’re able.

 

 



I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,

 It’s been an emotional roller-coaster ride for sure, but I can’t even begin to express our overwhelming gratefulness for the many ways you have “been the church” to us over the past couple of months. Your encouraging words, your many prayers, your visits at the hospital, the messages on social media, the meals, your questions of concern – all of your expressions of care – have lightened our load and encouraged our hearts.

 

 Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!!!

 

 We’re so deeply thankful for each of you! Thanks for “being the church!”

 

 

Joel (and Linda)



I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,

I’m pondering this question concerning us, so I thought I’d write it down and send it out.

Who has the final authority in our lives? If our will is contrary to the will of God, who wins? If our wisdom runs contrary to the wisdom of God’s word, whose wisdom trumps (sorry if “trump” is a bad word for you. You’re welcome, if it is a good word. 😊)? If our way intersects perpendicularly (crossways) with the way of Jesus, do we change directions or wave (or perhaps try not to make eye-contact) and keep going?

“Being the church” means following the will, the wisdom and the way of Christ. And, God, by his great grace, has made available the means necessary to give our hearts the inclination and the power to desire and choose the will, way, and wisdom of Christ. This “means” is the Holy Spirit of God who longs to fill us, cleanse our hearts (allowing us to desire one thing above all other things) and empower us to follow Jesus – to genuinely “be the church.”

Just wondering, have you said “Yes!” to God’s invitation to surrender your whole heart to the Lordship (the unrivaled leadership) of Jesus and be filled with his Holy Spirit that you might “be the church” (his people) as God intends?

It really is the way to life that’s really life.

 

Just pondering,

Joel



I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,
 
We use this space to talk about what it means, not to be a people that “go to church,” but to be a people that live out what it means (and what Jesus had in mind) to “be the church.”
 
Well, Pastor Margaret, our Pastor of Children’s Ministries, painted a pretty clear picture of what it looks like in her most recent monthly report to the church board:
 
The job no one wanted…
Last August, our preteens (5/6 grade) started prepping and planning toward a partnership with Olathe Westside and Freemont Nebraska churches for a 4-day/3-night mission trip.

  • 34 students and sponsors combined
  • GC served as the host church (aka, sleep, eat and training headquarters)
  • Mornings we offered VBS for resident children at My Father’s House
  • Afternoons we partnered with Lawrence First, disaster relief from the recent tornadoes

Although there are many great stories, I would like to share one.

LFC connected us with a nearby neighborhood hit hard by the tornado. There we met homeowner, Terri. Day 1 she explained she really needed was someone to walk her property to pick up twigs, branches, shingles, small pieces of glass and insulation. Until that was done, she could not safely mow the lawn or even walk in certain places. Our students went right to work walking the property and picking up and sorting bags (literally) of debris. Day 2 she was excited to tell us, because of your hard work yesterday, I was able to mow last night—for the first time since the tornado! Then, with tears in her eyes she said, there have been many adults show up with chainsaws and pick-up trucks and this has been so helpful. But every time I mentioned the need to clean this giant yard, it seems to go unheard. You kids need to know, you have taken on the job no one else wanted. I cannot begin to thank you enough!” 

I am so proud of their work, their attitudes and the posture of their servant heart.
 
Pastor M
 
This story reminds me of all kinds of things Jesus said – and did – but it also serves as a very clear illustration and demonstration of what it looks like to “be the church.”
 
Thanks, kids, for leading the way!!!
 
Learning from younger Christ-followers,
 
Joel



I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,
 

You have truly “been the church” to us during the past week with all your expressions of love, care and support and we can’t thank you enough.

 

Humbled and grateful,

Joel



I Quit Going to Church

Dear Church,

This past Sunday night we had (I think) 23 people in our family room. We invited a couple of Grow Groups (that were both partially represented) and several other people (not currently connected to a Grow Group). The intention was just to hang out, eat dessert and get to know each other better. I think we accomplished all three objectives.

During the course of conversation, one of the couples who are new the Grace Community asked me about our Grow Groups – “How do they work?” “What are they all about?” It was my great privilege to answer them.

First, I gave them the logistical answers: ideally they’re groups of 8-14 people, they meet weekly in homes on various nights of the week for approximately 90 minutes, they’re built basically on affinity/relationships (not assigned by geography, etc.), their primary purpose is to promote growth (thus the name “Grow Groups”) – growth in relationship with God, growth in connection with each other, growth in knowledge of God’s word, etc.

Then I got to give them the less logistical, but more important answer: “Grow Groups are where ‘church’ can really happen! Sunday morning has a vitally important place in our lives, but meeting regularly with a small group of like-minded Christ-followers who know our name, know our hopes, dreams, hurts and struggles, know when we’re missing, pray with and for us, help care for us during tough times (I.E. show up at the hospital, bring meals during recovery, show up at funerals, grieve with us during times of loss, etc.), celebrate with us during good times, encourage us, hold us accountable, cheer for us and give us a place/opportunity to offer the same blessings in their lives. That’s what Grow Groups are all about!!!

In other words, it’s a place to truly BE the church.

Are they always convenient? No. Is every meeting like going to Disneyland? Hardly. Do I recommend them them? Abso-stinkin-lutely!!!!! Grow Groups can play an irreplaceable role of spiritual formation in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we gather regularly.

 If you have not yet found a group, please let us know. We’d love to help you get connected!!!

 

Thoroughly convinced,
 
Joel