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Does The Local Church Really Matter?

Does The Local Church Really Matter?

We may only be at the beginning of a major health crisis. But it may not be for the reasons that first come to mind. This is what two Harvard researchers are saying in our cultural moment. Tyler VanderWeele, professor of Epidemiology and director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University and his associate director, Brendan Case, recently published an article entitled Empty Pews Are An American Health Crisis.  Noting the continuing decline in church attendance in our country, these two Harvard researchers point to a sizable body of research that speaks to how participation in a faith community strongly promotes health and wellness.  Here is what these researchers say. “…Americans’ growing disaffection with organized religion isn’t just bad news for churches; it also represents a public health crisis, one that has been largely ignored but the effects of which are likely to increase in coming years.”  The Harvard researchers offer this conclusion.  “Something about the communal religious experience seems to matter. Something powerful takes place there, something that enhances well being; and it is something very different than what comes from solitary spirituality.…The data are clear, going to church remains central to human flourishing.” 

A bold assertion about the importance of going to church coming from university professors and not from pastors or theologians may be surprising. However the idea that human flourishing and human belonging go hand in hand is anything but a new idea. The Bible tells us God designed the family and the local church to be the primary sustaining institutions for human flourishing. Jesus pointed to his called out community when he said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

Jesus makes the case that real faith not only rightly believes; it also deeply belongs. A primary metaphor of the local church in the New Testament is a body. The New Testament writers paint a beautiful picture of the body of Christ with its diversity, unity, interdependence and commitment to one another. As apprentices of Jesus our calling is not to just show up at church–that is an essential part–the goal is to truly belong to a local faith community. Martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer speaks of Christian faith as a belonging faith. “We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence. Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or its destruction. This is no mere theory; it is a spiritual reality” (Life Together, pg. 100). 

We are not only called to Christ; we are called to each other. We simply cannot grow to spiritual maturity, become whole, or truly flourish without embracing a belonging faith. While Sunday morning attendance is very important for a belonging faith, finding a smaller group of Christ Community brothers and sisters in Christ is also very important if we are truly going to flourish and help others flourish.

Do we have a small handful of other Christ Community members who we are doing life with? Are we taking the initiative to know others and be known by others, to share our stories more fully and truly? Who in our faith community knows our joys, hardships, heartaches, burdens, questions, doubts, dreams, and hopes? Who do we know is praying for us? Doing life together in spiritual community unleashes joy in our lives, but it can also be messy, hard and at times disillusioning. We are all broken with flaws and failings. We all look through a mirror dimly and we may see a good number of things differently. We must remember life together now in local church community is not the New Heavens and New Earth that await us in eternity. Embracing with both head and heart a daily kind of hopeful realism is the order of the day. As yoked apprentices walking in the Spirit, let us prayerfully exhibit sacrificial love, a ton of grace and lots of patience with our dear fellow brothers and sisters in our multi-site church family. Truly loving one another in word and deed forges a belonging faith and is the most compelling witness we have to a watching world. 

In this season of Advent let us not only thank God for the gift of the incarnate Son, but also the gift of our local church family. From both the realms of empirical research and biblical revelation we are reminded how much the church really matters in the world. If you have not yet truly embraced a belonging faith and made Christ Community your home, I would encourage you to do so. Reach out to one of our staff about some small group possibilities that are available at your campus. I also believe it is fair to conclude that one of the best ways to love your neighbor is to prayerfully invite them to join you at church. Advent would be a great time to take that loving step. 

 

 

   

 

 

 

   

 

Who Is Curt Thompson?

Who Is Curt Thompson?

“Who is Dallas Willard?” Those were the words expressed to me by a church member more than twenty years ago after I had announced with great enthusiasm that Dallas Willard had agreed to come to Christ Community for a weekend conference. However, I did understand the question being raised by a thoughtful congregant because Dr. Willard had yet to become a common name in most Christian circles.

I had read a good deal of Dallas Willard’s early writings on spiritual formation. I had also spent time with Dallas and sat under his teaching in a doctoral course. I was struck by his remarkable insight and the great importance of his teaching on spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines. I knew that Dallas Willard getting on a plane and coming to Kansas City to teach our congregation was a great gift. Those who would eventually meet and learn from Dallas Willard would also recognize what an extraordinary gift he was to our church family.

I have had several thoughtful members of Christ Community ask a similar question regarding Curt Thompson’s visit with us. “Who is Curt Thompson?” Curt Thompson is not yet a household name in Christian circles, but I believe his insightful voice in the area of spiritual formation and interpersonal neurobiology is really important. For the last several years, I have found his writings on spiritual formation, attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology to be extraordinary for disciples of Jesus who in the power of the Holy Spirit seek greater wholeness and Christlikeness of life.

Liz and I have had the joy of spending time with Curt and have found him to be a devoted apprentice of Jesus. As a practicing psychiatrist, Curt exhibits a deep heart of empathy and authenticity that is warm, welcoming and engaging. In God’s kindness and good providence, Curt is coming to Kansas City in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic when mental health experts are telling us of the greater need to pay attention to the mental health of those we love as well as our own.

God created us as integral relational beings, and our flourishing in community encompasses our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.

Our church family is truly being given a remarkable opportunity for growth and flourishing as apprentices of Jesus. If you have not yet signed up for our evening with Curt Thompson on Thursday, October 14, go register as seating will be limited. You can also watch the event on our livestream. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from such an important voice in our time, and please pray for our time together. I hope to see you in person or online October 14!

 

So What’s This Made to Flourish Thing?

So What’s This Made to Flourish Thing?

Whether you are new to Christ Community or have been a part of our church family for a long time, you may be wondering what Made To Flourish is all about and why it is so important to our mission. Made to Flourish is a catalytic national ministry focused on narrowing the perilous Sunday to Monday gap many pastors and churches have unwittingly embraced. When a pastor or a church fails to equip followers of Christ for their Monday callings the consequences are stark.  The worship of God is greatly hindered, spiritual formation is largely stunted, gospel incarnation is painfully shallow, gospel proclamation is muted at best, and love of neighbor is greatly weakened. To be faithful to Jesus’ Kingdom Gospel whole-life-disciple-making mission, God’s new covenant people must be equipped for their everyday lives, a big part of which is their paid and unpaid work.  Of course Sunday matters, but so does Monday.

In accomplishing this God-honoring mission of whole-life discipleship, we believe the local church matters a great deal and that pastoral leadership is crucial. When pastors flourish, congregations flourish, and when congregations flourish, communities flourish. The New Testament reminds us that the local church is at the heart of God’s redemptive kingdom work in the world. The mission of Made to Flourish is to empower pastors and their churches to integrate faith, work, and economic wisdom for the flourishing of their communities. Our heartfelt hope and prayerful passion is a renewal of pastoral leadership and whole life disciple-making churches across our nation.

So why is Made To Flourish so important to our mission at Christ Community? Although Made To Flourish is a separate non-profit organization, it is inseparable from our mission. Made to Flourish is our primary national mission. From the very inception of Christ Community, now over thirty years ago, we have prayed for a spiritual awakening in our needy nation.  That national and cultural need is even greater today. Through the eyes of bold faith we have asked and continue to ask God to allow our church to play a quiet, catalytic role in renewing the church across our nation. Six years ago, in a partnership with the Kern Family Foundation located in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Christ Community played a key role in birthing Made to Flourish. While the Kern Family Foundation made available the necessary financial resources, as a church family we provided much of the intellectual, cultural, and leadership capital necessary to move Made To Flourish from an entrepreneurial concept to a national network. In these first six years the Lord has given us great favor, and as a church family we are a vital part of a growing whole-life discipleship movement that is multiplying disciples who are influencing our communities, our nation, and our world for Christ.

Let me give you a brief snapshot of the present national footprint of Made to Flourish. If you have not gone to the Made To Flourish website, I would very much encourage you to do so. I would also encourage you to look at our short True and Good video that captures the heart of our Made to Flourish mission. 

TRUE and GOOD VIDEO >

By missional design and with synergy, I divide my time serving both as president of Made to Flourish and as a senior pastor of Christ Community.  Our national Made To Flourish staff team now includes 18 gifted and experienced national team members. We have a network presence in 23 cities with 41 city network pastoral leaders. Presently there are about 4000 pastors in our network.  We are training a new generation of pastors through our 24 local church-based pastoral residency programs. We hope to add six more pastoral residencies this year.

In these first six years, Made to Flourish has developed many excellent equipping resources including books, videos, and our award-winning Common Good magazine. We work closely with other like-minded organizations across our country, and we host a yearly Common Good conference which will be online and available Friday, October 1, 2021. I encourage you to sign up and take advantage of this remarkable resource.

COMMON GOOD CONFERENCE > 

Every now and then, I hear people refer to Made to Flourish as Tom’s thing, but let me remind each one of us who are part of the Christ Community family, it is not Tom’s thing, it is our thing.  Actually, Made to Flourish is really God’s thing. He brought it into existence, and it is for His glory and praise. What all God has in mind for Made To Flourish I do not know, but I do believe that for such a time as this in our culture and our nation, Made To Flourish is sovereignly positioned to have a growing, positive impact.  So please stay informed about what God is doing through Made to Flourish and hold our Made To Flourish board, staff, and mission in your prayers.  We have seen God do amazing things so far, and there are sizable challenges and great opportunities in the days, months, and years ahead.

Should We Return To Normalcy?

Should We Return To Normalcy?

After having our lives so disrupted with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are experiencing a sense of relief and joyful exhilaration in returning to a more normal life. It is great to be gathering with friends again, worshiping in person with our church family and enjoying fun vacation traveling. But should we return to pre-pandemic normalcy? While not minimizing the great pain, loss and lingering negative impacts of the pandemic, by simply returning to pre-pandemic normalcy we may miss a golden opportunity. Could the rugged pandemic terrain of testing, trials, disruption and difficulties actually be an unusual grace gift to us? 

As the Apostle James opens his inspired epistle, he frames the trials and difficulties that come into our lives as a gift. In The Message, Eugene Peterson beautifully  paraphrases James’ words. 

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4) 

Reflecting on the Apostle James’ words, I would like to suggest the COVID-19 pandemic has given each of us at least three amazing gifts.

First, we have been given a grace gift of needed insight into the true state of our spiritual formation. Eugene Peterson describes our faith life being forced into the open and showing its true colors. I have often said that many people (including me) have not been their best selves during the pandemic. While I believe that is a true observation, I also believe there is more we must honestly say. The pandemic crucible has not only amplified our weaknesses, it has, like a mirror, also revealed the true colors of our lack of spiritual and virtue formation. A pastor friend of mine made the comment that the pandemic had uncomfortably revealed to him his heart idols as well as his glaring lack of Christ-like character. The pandemic pried open a revealing window into our inner worlds. What grace gift of needed insight into your life have you been given? What needs greater attention in your inner world? 

Secondly, we have been given a grace gift prodding us to make needed changes in our daily lives. Eugene Peterson reminds us not to prematurely jump back into well-worn ruts of the status quo. For many of us, the pre-pandemic frenzied pace of our overly scheduled, distracted lives was detrimental to our spiritual growth, our relationships, our workplaces, our faith community and our Sabbath rest. Rather than jump immediately back into the unhealthy lifestyles many of us were living before the pandemic, how might we rearrange our priorities and carve out new rhythms that are more God-honoring, spiritually formative, relationally deepening and integrally whole? For many of us our work dynamics have significantly changed and this gives us a unique opportunity to evaluate our workplace patterns, sustainability and effectiveness. A member of our church family whose work had led him to do too much traveling said to me, Tom, I am reevaluating the whole business travel thing. I am going to use video technology more and travel less.”  What grace gift for needed change have you been given? What lifestyle changes do you need to make? 

Third, we have been given a grace gift catalyzing needed growth in our lives. In his paraphrase Eugene Peterson encourages each one of us to let the trials, testing difficulties, and disruptions of a pandemic lead us down the path of increasing growth and maturity. The pandemic has been a time of pruning and while pruning is often painful, it is purposeful. Pruning offers new growth, renewed hope and greater flourishing. Eugene Peterson paraphrases the Apostle Paul’s wise and hopeful words. 

“There is more to come. We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.”  (Romans 5:3-4)  

What pruning needs to take place for new growth in your life? 

In many ways, the pandemic has been a gift; a gift that brings needed insight, needed change and needed growth. Instead of returning to normalcy, let’s embrace lifestyles that lead to greater relational intimacy, deeper spiritual formation, wiser work patterns and greater human flourishing. A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste.  

 

 

 

Why Are You a Christian?

Why Are You a Christian?

A few years ago, Dr. Peter Berger, the preeminent sociologist of our time, came to Christ Community for a conversation about religious faith. After eloquently expressing the formidable plausibility challenges of faith in our late modern western world, Dr. Berger was asked if he considered himself a Christian and if so why? This more personal question seemed to take the towering intellect and prestigious academic by surprise. Dr. Berger paused for a moment, then pensively looked up and said, I do consider myself a Christian. Another thoughtful question emerged. Dr. Berger, Why are you a Christian?” Dr. Berger then pointed out his belief that something occurred over 2000 years ago on Easter morning that cannot be explained away, something that had spoken hope into his life and to the world. For Dr. Berger, an empty tomb is what made all the difference. 

As a faith community on Easter morning we once again peer into the empty tomb and hear the Gospel writers hope-filled words, He is not here, He is risen!

Do we grasp with heart and mind the massive significance of those words? As we prepare to celebrate Easter, let us be reminded that we are Christians because we truly believe there was an empty tomb. The Apostle Paul banked his entire life on the bedrock truth of Jesus‘ bodily resurrection. For Paul, the very crescendo of the Gospel was “the fact Christ has been raised from the dead…. (1 Corinthians 15:20) Peering into the empty tomb of our Lord and Savior who conquered death makes all the difference in our lives and our world. Not only does the empty tomb point to our own resurrection from the dead and a joy-filled eternity with our risen Lord, it also speaks loudly to the importance and meaning of the vocations of our present daily lives. 

Writing to the local church at Corinth, Paul concludes his masterpiece chapter on the bodily resurrection with an exhortation of living the resurrection life in our daily work. Paul concludes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) As we prepare to celebrate the glorious good news of Easter, may our hearts be filled with a renewed hope that there is life beyond the grave, that as image bearers of the one true God, we are never ceasing spiritual beings with a grand eternal destiny in the New Heavens and New Earth.  Let us also be reminded that our lives here and now in this small moment we call time, really matter. Peering into the empty tomb, may we hear and heed the words of the Apostle Paul encouraging us to live resurrection lives each and every day wherever God has called us to serve. Paul writes to the local church at Colossae, Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24) Resurrection hope not only greets us at the grave, but also on Monday when we enter our paid and non-paid workplaces.