Redeeming the ‘Testimony Time’

Redeeming the ‘testimony time’ by Rehearsing the Grace of God

We need to redeem “the testimony time”. I know that sounds so pretentious, but it is something that we, at PAXnorth have been seeking to do in our young congregation.

Why, how, and some of the initial results.
Teaching through whole books of scripture as the focus of our Sunday Worship services has caused us to grow together as a community of disciples. It has given us a shared ‘language’ as we talk through the application of God’s Word in our discipleship groups. It has caused us to see the bigger threads of God’s instruction for both our redeeming and Christian living. It has also caused us to have a shared response of thanks giving, or appreciating of God’s grace.

This, shared thanksgiving, is becoming an important part of our collective worship response. So much so that we have begun to set aside the Sunday at the end of our sermon series, or when we shift into a new season (i.e. Easter or Christmas), as an entire Sunday to ‘Rehearse the Grace of God’.

The reasoning is simple, so we might make much of the grace of God at work in our lives both individually and corporately. Also that in rehearsing this corporately we might grow in our ability to speak and live out the Gospel together. Grow in our  “gospel fluency”
This reasoning drives the ‘how to’s’ of ‘testimony time.’ We instruct our congregation as they prepare to share – 1. You are the priesthood of believers. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit at work in us, together. 2. Save your sermon. Everyone has a sermon they would love to preach. This is not the time. Try it out on your spouse or roommates see how that goes, and get back to us. 3. You are not the hero of grace. Jesus is the hero. Tell us how the life, cross, burial, resurrection and new life united with Christ is being made real in your life by the work of Holy Spirit. How has God been using the truths of His Word, that we have been wrestling through in this series, to speak the Gospel into your life? 4.  There will be time for rehearsing both personally and corporately God’s grace. [Personally(see #3); Corporately- what have you seen God doing in us? Our church family is experiencing God’s grace at work, where? How? Is there words of encouragement to be shared, again, as it relates primarily to the Gospel work of Jesus, that we need to hear?]

A few initial results ?  Admittedly we have only done this twice in the last five months however we have seen some positive results. Apart from some of the obvious that sharing publicly brings us a sense of unity and encouragement along with getting to know our people a bit more, there is something else that is coming out of these times.

  •  Our people have begun to think through not simply what they share but how they share. It’s pretty typical in a church testimony time to hear a testimony that makes much of the ‘Sharer’ (either as the terrible prodigal or the righteous older brother) with a tag on of Jesus. Jesus usually plays the affirming roll while the Sharer plays the hero in the testimony. Understanding Christ as the hero of our story causes us to think through how we live out of a life united to Christ and walk in hope by faith in Christ in our everyday.
  • Our Church has begun to expect God to move in response to His word being preached. There is a growing alertness to what God is doing through His Word in our lives, both personal and corporate. So often we open God’s Word in private or public then walk away unmoved or unaffected. God’s Word spoken is always a pre-cursor to God’s work in our world. By rehearsing the grace of God in our life and church we are opening our eyes to this truth, if God is preparing His people through His Word it is for a work He is doing or about to do in/with us. Open your eyes!
  • Our Church is growing more sensitive to God’s Spirit speaking through the Church body. We are encouraging and making opportunity for the priesthood of believers in these worship services to pray for each other. Specifics needs for healing, freedom from addictions and oppression, grief and wisdom. Also giving opportunity to speak truth to the congregation or to the elders. (Works like this- if someone feels they have a word for the Church beyond encouragement they run it by one of our elders. This allows for the elders to discern if it’s something to be shared now or something we in leadership need to take and pray over on behalf of the church).

We are new and young at ‘rehearsing the grace of God’ in this way. It still feels a bit awkward and strained. It is proving to be an affective way of drawing our church to make much of the grace of God, for that we are excited.

Thanks for reading,

BRS

 

 

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Millennials, the Church and the mission of Family

I have seen a great load of studies, articles and critiques lately on Millennials  and the Church. Usually the article highlights a study that points to the reality that those between the ages of 35 and 13, who grew up in church ministries (kids programs, youth groups) are leaving churches and many leaving faith. Along with those studies are the articles that highlight how the modern-day evangelical church service with the latest music, hip-est preachers, and most gadgety of technologies are having little effect on attracting or re-attracting Millennials.

As an urban church planter/pastor in a University city, I share the angst. I don’t like the stark truth of many of these studies or the ‘church is failing’ tone that many of the articles have. Frankly, many of the offered solutions seem incredibly weak and just as gimmicky as the last wave of church growth offerings.

The church God used my family to plant is LAME! That’s not the name of the church it’s a descriptive. I preach long and directly out of the Bible, usually study through whole books. Our church has a directed liturgy which includes times of confession, quiet, a public time for questions and comments,  and weekly communion. Our worship is not flashy. Usually just one guitar, sometimes we have a keyboard or a second guitar. We sing theologically rich songs, many of the old hymns, and we actually ask our congregation to sing louder so we can hear each other sing gospel truths over each other. On top of this we meet at a 90plus year old cathedral style church that still has a load of stain glass windows. If you were to open up the ‘attractional church model dictionary’ and look under ‘lame’ you would probably read PAXnorth. You would think that our whole set up would act as Millennial-repellant. Why then has so many broken or disenfranchised believers and unbelieving skeptics between the ages of 35 to 18 identified us as their church? Why are they willing to make commitments such as going through six weeks of doctrinal studies before they can join a small group and six more weeks of study before you can become a member?

The missing mission of family in the church

One thing that I think we are grabbing hold of, something I understand that people in our culture, like millennials, are craving  because of its absence is family. Genuine family. In a narcissistic, consumer society one of the first victims of the ‘me-first’ life has been all that family was designed to bring. The help, the bearing of burden, the laughing together, the fighting together, the crying together, the loving and sharing together.

Family-C.jpgI want to suggest that maybe the church needs to begin to figure out to what degree we live out genuine Christ centred family as a means to grounding our missiology to the disenfranchised. The disenfranchised includes the next generation who will tire of whatever gimmicks the present generation comes up with to hold their attention.

Start with your theology of family
The family is God’s idea. Oh boy, I almost can hear the groans from the culture I live in everyday. I know it’s hard to hear those words if you believe that the family is just some social construct that happened because of sexual urges that produces either a wanted or unwanted inconvenience of a long-term relationship or a kid. Sadly the church reflects, by its divorce rate and broken families, a similar belief about family. I want you to know that for all the baggage that we have tied to the family there is a true, deep, lasting and needed beauty to family as God designed it. I don’t have the space here to lay out the theology of family (family as God designed it) but let me give you the keynote version:
Genesis 1 – God makes creation. He exclaims,”Oh you are good in your design, function and purpose” Psalm 19
Genesis 2– God makes man and woman. He declares words of righteousness over them, “You are very good.” The design, function, and purpose of humanity unfolds with the relationship that they enjoy with the Triune God. Made in the image of God to reflect the image of God. So they are given authority, creative work, and deep love for God and each other. This all reflects the glory of the God who made them.  But there is more….

Even though Genesis 3 happens, sin does not thwart the purposes of God. He still intends to use creation, marriage, family and a people together to show His glory.

Move to your missiology of family
   They were to fill and subdue the earth with family who were to image God. This expression of family under covenant love with God and each other is a great mystery of God. Ephesians 5 breaks wide the great mystery. The marriage of husband and wife as the powerful illustration of God’s commitment to pursue, woo, die for, serve and love a bride. Our marriages are supposed to be little expressions that speak loud the sacrificial love of Christ to our kids, a face to face reality of the Gospel lived out. Our families are supposed to be larger expressions of God’s grace at work that speak loud this sacrifical love to our neighbours.

Then Jesus, like he always does, takes it a step further with this statement, “Who is my mother or my brothers or sisters?! He who does my Father’s will in heaven.”  Matthew 12:48-50
 Our churches are supposed to be the billboards that identify to our longing city full of millennials, and others, that we have been so affected by the covenant love of God, conferred to us only by the death of His Son, that we live out the overflowing principles of Christ-like love in family. “And they shall know you by your love”-  is how Jesus sums this up.
The missiology of the Church is the family  of God overflowing in genuine Christ filled relationship into our cities for the purposes of God.

I think we are on to something here

It’s been 9 years of seeing our little church minister to many disenfranchised singles and young post grads, starving artists, streetlevel and a few families but I think we are starting to get it? Last year a group of roommates decided to start having a Sunday soup every second week. A place to invite those who are on the peripheral into the experience of family. So as they talk about God, their faith, their church family together. These ‘outsiders’ might get a taste, a glimpse of God’s purposes and love for His Bride. So that they might feel invited in. A young family mentioned to me last month that they have started asking at least one family over every second Thursday night. Purposely they are choosing those who might be perceived as ‘hard to hang out with’ or in some form of relationship crisis. In this way they will go through their family time of sharing food together, praying together (cause that’s what they do as a family), cleaning up together asking questions, offering help, having kids play with each other- so that they might demonstrate honestly the areas they are struggling and offer the solution of Christ-saturated lives that is causing them to mature and grow.

Church want to reach Millennials? Let me offer an OLD but missing illustration of God’s great grace to us. Make a shift back, as a means to go ahead, to a family that pours over in seriously following Christ and inviting others into  the mess that is your family. Churches STOP spending more money on your presentation and preach the ancient truths of God’s overflowing love into His people so much so that you will make every effort to be a genuine covenant family in Christ so that your homes would be invaded with those who others can’t stand to be around, or are disconnected from authentic love. Then offer them the love of Christ.

Thanks for reading,

BRS

Gasping for Revival

ol_fellar_bookCAUTION DO NOT READ THE BOOK OF ACTS

Four marks of authentic revival

  1. Sleepy Christians waking-up.
  2. A holy seriousness
    of sin.
  3. An insatiable appetite for the voice of God (His word), the ear of God (prayer), and to be in unity with His people (the Church).
  4. An affected reform in the culture that we live.

We have been studying the book of ACTS as a part of our worship services at PAXnorth. There is so much to learn from this historical account of how the Church post-Christ experienced the work of Christ, through the Holy Spirit and the fall-out in the disciples lives.  Four of those things are in the list above. We have just completed Chapter 4 (4 chapters six weeks… not bad).

I feel like Luke should have written a warning label though at the first of this book.
A fair warning to those who have been living sleepy Christian, sleepy church lives. A serious caution to those who say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” A word of disclaimer for the modern-day christian who basically feels they have 75-80% of life figured out and are happy that they can use Jesus, or His mission, or His church to top themselves up.

Luke should open this second book of his ongoing record of the words and works of Christ (Gospel of Luke being the first in the series) with:

DO NOT READ THIS BOOK IF YOU ARE ACCUSTOMED TO GOING TO JESUS TO TOP UP YOUR LIFE.
    The very narrative of the book of Acts flows out of  thesis paragraphs, like Acts 2:42-47, describing a church that refuses to be identified based on the things they own, their reputation in a hostile world, the grasping for and holding tightly to possessions, or the controlling of outcomes, schedules and programs. These are sadly the very things that often mark todays church.  Our churches are often filled on Sundays with those who are grasping for intimacy with God based upon the feel good high of a well executed worship service. At the same time, throughout the daily grind of the week, making a piecemeal identity out of the various idols that we surround ourselves with. What we own, how we look, how our kids look, how our kids act, what comforts we can obtain, what food we eat, what vacations we go on…etc, etc.
CAUTION! The book of Acts will confront the ‘keep Jesus to Sunday’s’, ‘fake it ’til I make it’ kind of Christian. The lives and sermons of the early Church will not allow us to go to Jesus for a spiritual high or for some sort of a tag-a-long blessing in hard times while we live disobedient or distracted lives. 

DONT READ ACTS IF YOU ARE LIVING A DISTRACTED LIFE! It will leave you gasping for revival!

Thanks for reading.