As Jesus called his disciples the first priority was that they might be with Him. He called 12 people to simply spend time with Him. They were invited to watch every aspect of His life and to learn from Him. They basically lived as an extended family and they functioned together with a common purpose. The Greek word is Oikos, which means households. We also see this in the early church, where discipleship and mission centered around households. This was very relational and dynamic, which allowed the church to thrive even in the middle of persecution and hardship. However in our western culture we have lost the sense of extended families and the desire to be together. We now live primarily as individuals and nuclear families – the result of this has been that loneliness and depression is widespread.
Many people are more stressed and busier than they have ever been and are barely keeping their heads above water as they try to advance their careers, raise children and seek to bring some sort of meaning in life.
However, surely as Christians in the middle of this, we have a remarkable opportunity to literally rebuild society by re-forming ‘extended family’, centering not on blood or ancestry – but on Jesus.
Over the next year my prayer is that we learn to recapture what it means to be together, with Jesus at the centre of everything we do.
1) For this to happen we need to live in his presence. Time with God through worship, prayer, scripture reading, teaching and giving thanks (UP). This ultimately stems out of a relationship that begins in Jesus. To have a deep longing for Him, to be captivated by Him and Him alone. As a new year begins I would like you to ask yourself ‘where do you find joy and satisfaction’. Is it in your work, family, sport, food, drink or church activity? Where do you turn when you are feeling down? If it is to anyone or anything other than Jesus – He is not your first joy. To be truly satisfied in Jesus begins and ends at the cross.The cross speaks of a love that goes beyond any other love, of grace and forgiveness that rescues the very worst and best of sinners. You need to understand that without Jesus you cannot know God, and without God you have no hope. When we really understand the magnitude of what it cost Jesus to suffer on the cross, His separation from His father as He carried your sin and faced God’s righteous anger. Yet, I worry that we have become blasé about it – and we cheapen grace and take His forgiveness for granted.
2) It is out of loving Jesus, really loving him – that we love one another. In fact in John 13:34-35 Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” To put it another way: Love for one another comes out of a love for God. This involves time with the other Christians to build a vibrant and caring community (IN). Yet there is a general trend across UK churches over many years to reflect the society in which we live rather than that which Jesus lived. What if this year we learnt to model a Jesus way of living – do life together, learn from each other, develop a culture of discipleship and live out God’s kingdom on earth. I think this begins by being friends together, eating together, creating time for one another. This city is full of people who feel isolated and alone – who long for connection and family life. The hope is that we can meet up about three times a month to have some food together and build a safe place where others will want to come and belong.
3) Jesus knew the importance of spending time with his Father and also with his disciples, but it never finishes there. They spent time with those who don’t know Jesus (OUT). So He sent them out – they were to go on mission – they were meant to produce. It is all about the good news of Jesus. We are going to establish missional community groups. The aim is to draw people into new life in Christ and these families we will call “Two:Fortytwo groups” based on the verse from Acts 2v42 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” It is all about making disciples of Jesus and seeing them transformed in community as they follow him.
C.S Lewis: The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose’.
So the proclamation of the gospel is essential. But we need to proclaim the full gospel which is more than just forgiveness of sins. If our gospel is reduced down to forgiveness of sin and a ticket to heaven we typically do not end up with disciples. We end up with vampire Christians, only interested in the blood of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, this is a part of the gospel and a very important part, but it is not the full gospel or a completely biblical picture.
The gospel of Jesus and the New Testament writers simply say the kingdom of God is available to everyone through trusting Jesus. It is a new life with Jesus right now, an invitation to participate now in the life of God and joining Him in what he is doing now on earth. Life under God’s rule is available to anyone who responds to God’s call, and we enter this life through trusting Jesus. That is the good news that Jesus and the apostles preached – which of course includes forgiveness of sin, but also so much more.
It is also the good news of Christ’s substitution – Paul writes saying that once we were dead in our sins. (He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. Col 2:13-14).
The sins we have committed have created a wall of separation between us and our heavenly father, who is also the judge. The substitution aspect of the gospel – where Jesus took our sin and we receive forgiveness and are brought into life giving covenant relationship with the father in heaven through the death and resurrection of Jesus – you are welcomed in with open arms as a member of his family. This is amazing news…
The gospel is a victory that Christ has won for us. It is freedom in Christ because of God’s victory over evil, satan and sin. All of the healing, redemption and victory that we will one day see in completeness in heaven has already begun on earth right now. Our challenge is to live in the freedom we proclaim and make sure that what we say is reflected in what we do.
Ultimately we want to draw people into life with Jesus – make disciples – not just conversion. That people become part of God’s family and have a role in the family’s mission.
Over the next few months I would like us to begin to put some rhythms into church life with the hope of forming missional communities. The Two:Fortytwo Groups will;
- be groups that are local expressions of Church which exist to see God’s kingdom come to their friends and neighbours.
- be groups which are lightweight low–maintenance mid-sized groups.
- look very different depending on their vision and missional context.
- be groups which have a strong value of doing life together, encouraging one another to meet up outside of our organised gatherings in more informal ways during the week. This reflects the 3 dimensions of life that we have mentioned and that Jesus himself lived by in both structured and spontaneous ways.
These 3 aspects come thorough establishing rhythms and routines that allow us to become extended family on mission together.
Rhythms that connect us UP in worship and prayer (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind soul and strength), and IN into deep community (Love your neighbour), but also OUT, centred on the great commandment and the great commission (Go and make disciples of all people groups).