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The Spiritual Art of Navel-Gazing

The Spiritual Art of Navel-Gazing

Although it isn’t a common colloquial phrase in contemporary culture, navel-gazing is something we ought to consider bringing back as a practice of spiritual formation. That may sound rather odd to our modern ears, given that we commonly associate this phrase with self-absorption and self-centeredness. If someone is labeled as a navel-gazer they are considered to be guilty of being consumed with their own thoughts, preferences, desires, and concerns without any regard for others. Oddly enough, the original meaning of this phrase had the exact opposite idea in mind.

 

The ancient Greeks practiced the art of navel-gazing, which they called omphaloskepsis. And no, I did not just bang my hands on the keyboard to produce that word. It is an actual term in Greek that literally means navel examination. But it wasn’t about entertaining thoughts of one’s self. On the contrary, the practice of navel-gazing was a way to contemplate and reflect upon the divine. 

 

In his book Curiosities of Medical Experience, the 19th century British army surgeon John G. Millingen described the Greek practice of navel-gazing in this way. He said the Greeks “…fancied that they experienced celestial joys when gazing on their umbilical region, in converse with the deity.” It was believed that concentrated reflection on the navel would induce deep communion with the divine. Building upon this strange ancient practice, Kelly Kapic has this to say in his outstanding book You’re Only Human.

 

“The belly button” Kapic suggests, “has a profound theological importance. It is our body’s way of reminding us that we are not self-made people. We are not separate islands. We are not merely rugged individuals. Instead we are inevitably and necessarily bound together with others. It has been so from the beginning and will always be. Each of us is someone’s child whether we know their names or not. All of us owe our existence not simply to God but to other human creatures.”

 

If we just pause to consider this for a moment it actually makes a great deal of sense. What is our belly button? It is evidence of the fact that our lives are derivative. It is the anatomical reminder that our very existence is wholly tied to and predicated upon the existence of another. And that person’s existence is predicated upon the existence of another, and so on. This pattern of life should then naturally lead us to wonder and explore the source and beginning of all life, namely God.

 

When we properly practice the discipline of navel-gazing, it should forge within us a godly gratitude that recognizes all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do is given to us from God. Or to put it conversely, it should form a holy humility that admits there is no such thing as a purely self-made person. There are two places in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church that captures these truths perfectly. 

 

1 Corinthians 15:10

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 

 

Notice that Paul is not denying his agency and responsibility to work and fulfill his calling. However, he does so with a keen awareness that every ability, skill, and resource he possesses is ultimately traced back to the provisional hand of God. Similarly, he declares these words in chapter 4 regarding our need to refrain from arrogance and boasting.

 

1 Corinthians 4:7

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 

 

These words from Paul express a similar sentiment that is often repeated in the book of Deuteronomy by God to His covenant people.

 

Deuteronomy 8:17–18

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 

 

This is a timely word for us because we live in and contribute to a culture that celebrates things like independence, individualism, and ambition. Those aren’t inherently poisonous things, but when they become paramount values they can end up eclipsing God’s gracious provision in our lives. When this happens it can lead us to conclude it is our power and the might of our hands that have produced all of our successes.

 

Referring back to the work of Kapic, he not only warns us of this, but also shows us how futile it is to fully know ourselves and seek the good life with such an independent and individualistic mindset.

 

“Any attempt to live as my own center shows that I need others to understand myself and I need them even more to be a healthy and thriving human creature. This is how God made us. Because we have our being in relation and not apart from it, knowing one’s self rightly can only occur in the context of being known, of being in relationships, of being loved. The self alone, the isolated ego, is a contradiction in terms. Pursuing that contradiction leads not to life giving knowledge but to suffocating loneliness and unending self doubt.” 

 

When we slow down enough to consider the sermon that God is preaching to us through our belly buttons (which is admittedly the strangest sentence I have ever written) it should cause us to see and savor the beauty of His design for our lives. Not just in the way we are deeply connected to God, but also to one another. 

 

Again, Kapic has a helpful word for us on this matter.

 

“Once we start to ponder it, we realize that our whole lives, from our food to our shelter, from our health to our incomes, all of it involves the interdependence of human beings. Why? Because we are finite creatures. And the gift of these relationships with God, others, and even the earth is meant to provide the matrix for self understanding, giving our lives meaning and purpose no matter what our socioeconomic status. Ironically only when I stop thinking of myself as chiefly an isolated center of consciousness and begin to consider my identity in terms of my relationships to others can I start to see clearly who I am.”

 

We live in an age where the false narrative of the self-made person is the heroic tale we want our lives to tell, and where the vain value of independent individualism is contributing to our increasingly lonely world. God wants to free us from these destructive ways of thinking and living by directing our hearts toward Him who is the giver of every good gift. 

 

Do you want to see the hand of God at work in your life? Start by looking at your belly button.

Are We Building the Altar?

Are We Building the Altar?

In 1 Kings 18 we find one of the most dramatic Old Testament accounts. Elijah, the prophet of the one true God of Israel, challenges the prophets of the Canaanite god, Baal, to a contest to demonstrate whose God is real. 

 

The terms of the contest were simple. The prophets of Baal and Elijah would each prepare an altar and each would sacrifice a bull on the altar. But neither would set a fire on the altar. Instead, each would call on the name of their god and whichever god answered with fire, that god was the true God.

 

Tim Keller in his recent article “The Decline and Renewal of the American Church: Part 3 — The Path to Renewal” points out that many Christians have seen this Old Testament account as a helpful metaphor for how God brings about renewal in the church. Keller defines a revival or renewal this way: “Revivals are periods of great spiritual awakening and growth. In revivals, ‘sleepy’ and lukewarm Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and many skeptical non-believers are drawn to faith.”

 

Only God can bring the “fire of renewal.” Human technique and effort alone cannot produce renewal. Nor can the church compel or manipulate the means or timing of God’s work. However, this does not mean there is nothing we can do as we long for a fresh work of God in our lives, churches, and culture. We can build the altar. As noted by Keller,  “Christians looking for revival, they are ‘building the altar,’ praying that God will use their efforts to bring a fire of renewal with a movement of his Spirit.” 

 

In the first two installments of his four-part series of articles, Keller gives an account of the decline of both mainline and evangelical Christianity. Both articles are lengthy and nuanced and well worth careful reading. Keller’s point in both articles is summed up this way: 

 

Virtually everyone agrees that something is radically wrong with the church. Inside, there is more polarization and conflict than ever, with all factions agreeing (for different reasons) that the church is in deep trouble. Outside the church, journalists, sociologists, and all other observers either bemoan or celebrate the church’s decline numerically, institutionally, and in influence.

 

While the church is always in need of reforming and refining, it seems like this moment in American Christianity is in need of something more than refining. This seems to be a moment when something like renewal or revival is needed.

 

Over 30 years ago Christ Community was founded with the longing and prayer that this local church would be a catalyst for spiritual renewal in Kansas City. That longing and prayer still endures today.  

 

How can Christ Community build the altar?

Keller suggests three altar-building practices. 

 

Recovery of the gospel

It is all too easy for pastors and congregation members alike to functionally forget the radical good news of grace. This is the news that in Jesus we are completely known and loved — not because of anything we have done — but because of what Jesus has done for us. 

 

Theologian Kelly Kapic in his wonderful book You’re Only Human invites his readers to consider two questions. First, do you believe God loves you? He suggests that most Christians would say of course, God loves me. But then he poses a second question: does God like you? How would you respond? He writes: 

 

Have you ever felt that your parents or spouse or your God loved you, and yet wondered if they actually liked you? Love is so loaded with obligations and duty that it often loses all emotive force, all sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Like can remind us of an aspect of God’s love we can all too easily forget. Forgetting God’s delight and joy in us stunts our ability to enjoy God’s love. Forgiveness, as beautiful and crucial as it is, is not enough unless it is understood to come from love and lead back to love. Unless we understand the gospel in terms of God’s fierce delight in us — not merely a wiping away of prior offenses. Unless we understand God’s battle for us as a dramatic, personal rescue and not merely a cold forensic process, we have ignored most of the Scriptures as well as the needs of the human condition.

 

It is this understanding of gospel love and grace that is the keystone in the rebuilding of the altar.

 

Corporate prayer

The second altar-building practice is corporate prayer. While private individual prayer is vital, a quick survey of the history of renewal moments shows a common thread: Christians gathering together to pray for God to work and move.

 

As we seek the renewal of our churches and communities, prayer is critical. And not just corporate prayer within Christ Community but with other like-minded Christians and churches, especially across racial and socio-economic dividing lines. 

 

Creativity

Finally, altar-building is marked by creativity. No two renewal moments have looked exactly the same. Building the altar isn’t a matter of simply trying to reproduce the methods from previous moments. It is about looking for fresh insights into this particular moment, discerning how the Spirit is working. A fantastic resource for understanding this cultural moment and sparking creativity is Mark Sayers book Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture. Get a copy and read it with a group of other believers.

 

Conclusion

In the story of 1 Kings 18, not only does Elijah build the altar but he saturates it with water. The more soaked the altar is, the more dramatic the demonstration of God’s work and word. As we approach deeply contentious election seasons in 2022 and 2024, and face violence, war, and economic challenges in our nation and world, it is obvious; no mere human can light the fire. 

 

But we trust the resurrected King Jesus who, when He had ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven, sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in Acts 2 appeared as flames of fire above the heads of those gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

This is my prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray, we ask, we plead: do it again! For your glory and our good, make yourself known to us, renew us, heal us. Make us faithful to build the altar. We trust you and your timing for the fire. Amen.

Where Are You Headed?

Where Are You Headed?

Do you remember that first drive alone after getting your driver’s license? The freedom to go anywhere. Instead of asking for a ride or checking the bus schedule, you could just crank down those windows and hit the open road cranking your music at your volume. It was everything your teenage self dreamed of finally come true. 

I was 16. This was before TikTok, Instagram, and even Facebook. It was the day of AOL and IM. Before everyone had a computer in their pocket. It was the day of CDs, $1.25 a gallon gasoline, and cellphones were only as common as pagers for teenagers. And in a single parent household, there was no way I was getting a cellphone. 

 

I had a dark blue Ford tempo that shook when you hit 65 mph, but all I could see was freedom on those four worn out tires. I hopped in for my first drive with my license still warm from being printed earlier in the day. 

 

My heart was pumping and I couldn’t help smiling when I drove around the first corner. I was on my own. Where should I go for the first drive? Downtown! So I made my way to the highway and felt the Ford Tempo shaking to Metallica like it was in a mosh pit.

 

Then it happened. I realized I had no idea how to get downtown. Some of you may remember that a GPS was for people with money, and I had none. So I found myself taking what I came to find out was the wrong exit and got utterly lost amidst what felt like a maze of off ramps and on ramps. 

 

Simultaneously, people lovingly honked encouraging beeps at me and pointed my gaze to the heavens with their longest finger to remind me where to find my hope. Who knew drivers were so kind to us beginners? 

 

I finally pulled over and took a breath. I wasn’t sure where to go next until I saw one sign I recognized: Main Street. I remembered someone at some point telling me that Main Street always ran north/south. So if I could get to Main Street then I could get to a street I recognized and just take that home. But even that was more confusing than I anticipated. What I thought was an exit to Main Street was an exit that eventually would turn into Main Street. 

 

After a series of twists and turns, I finally made it to…Main Street! Then I had to get to a road I recognized. Then home. 

 

Needless to say, I never made it to downtown that day, but because I could read the signs around me, I did, thirty minutes later, make it home. 

 

Where are you headed? 

There are plenty of times in life when we feel like our inexperienced teenage selves behind the wheel of life. As someone wise once said, “We’re rookies our whole lives.” Where do you feel that today? Or maybe a better question, where do you NOT feel that way? 

 

The longer we’re in the driver seat, the more we ask, “Where am I headed again?” We wonder what we’re looking for in life in the first place. In the midst of the everyday, we can wrestle with where we feel most alive. We all want to know we’re on our way to something real, genuinely good, and beautiful. But do you know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there? How do you know that where you hope to go is where you’ll end up or even for that matter, where you want to end up? 

 

We live in a world with more access to more guiding resources than ever before. This truly is the information age. In the words of Ecclesiastes, “Of making many books there is no end….” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). To be clear, there is a lot of great advice and coaching available, and I’ve personally sought out as much as possible. 

 

Signs of Life

But with so many options pointing in a myriad of directions, what’s astounding is how far Jesus goes to give us clear signs of life. 

 

The Gospel writer John, who knew Jesus personally, often calls these pockets of Jesus’ surprising, life-giving work “signs.” Throughout the retelling of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, all of it is pointing us to the life Jesus has in Himself (John 5:26) and how that same life He has is made available to us (John 3:16) now and forever. 

 

We don’t have to spend our lives driving in circles or anxiously switching lanes. Rather, we can follow the signs of life that point to Jesus and so find life in/through/by Him. 

 

Join Us

So no matter where you find yourself, we hope you join us as we continue walking through John’s brilliant eyewitness testimony of the life He found in Jesus. 

 

If you’re traveling, stay connected with us online. If you’re here, join us in person, and if you want to go deeper in studying this life found only in Jesus, join us at theFormed.life for 15 minutes every day. For we know it’s not just about the destination but also about who we are becoming on the journey. 

 

Where are you headed? You don’t have to go it alone. Join us on the journey to life and life abundant…now. 

The Holy Spirit Points Me Back, Even When I’ve Lost My Way

The Holy Spirit Points Me Back, Even When I’ve Lost My Way

I’m a runaway. When I accepted Christ at the age of thirteen, I recall the pastor celebrating my decision and describing its impact on my life. He spoke of how my heart would long to hear from God. The pastor told me that I would seek God in the Scriptures and that my kindness, forgiveness, and thoughtfulness would reflect Jesus. The pastor’s words should have given me confidence and hope about my relationship with God.

 

However, his words fueled me to fear disappointing God and meeting His expectations. I was not trained in spiritual disciplines, and my faith was immature. Sunday school stories made God feel angry and judgmental to me. As I entered the baptism waters before our congregation, I tried to put all of my worry behind me and clung to the promises the pastor described. I had barely made it through the car ride home after church when bickering and frustration with my siblings bubbled into anger that burst from me. Immediately, I was so full of shame and grief over not pleasing Jesus that I ran away. Ran away from my family. Ran away from God. Ran away from believing there was anyone who could guide me. 

 

This was the first of many times I would run away from my faith because I felt alone, lost without understanding spiritual disciplines, and lacking guidance to draw me home to the Father.

 

The twist and turns of the human heart are filled with our ancestors’ amnesia for forgetting our God knows our hearts and paths. His plan is for the Spirit to help us, intercede for us, and bring us back to the Father.

 

Never Alone

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” John 14:16

 

We are never alone. The world applauds autonomy, but God designed us for dependence. Maturing followers of Christ must be aware of modeling dependence on God when we put on display seeking God with the Spirit in prayer, the study of Scriptures, handling our emotions around disappointments, or supporting others. We can counter the world’s celebration of being self-reliant and independent, where Satan can stir up glory in our minds and greed in our hearts. 

 

Jesus knew his apostles and followers were anxious to be left alone. So he spoke the words of John 14:16 as a promise that through the Spirit, we have a helper and guide on God’s narrow path.

 

Word Warrior

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

 

When we lose our way, we can also lose the words to describe what is occurring in our hearts and minds. Romans 8 is a powerful reminder that the Spirit intercedes where our words and emotions fail. We can find it hard to process our feelings and frustrations into words. The Spirit takes the raw groanings of our hearts and emotions and communicates to God on our behalf. I’ve learned to create stillness before God by repeating aloud, “Be still and know I am God.” I focus on my breathing and drop one word from the phrase each time I repeat it until only the word “Be” is left. Then I sit and let the Spirit comfort and speak to me.

 

Abba Father

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

 

The Spirit leads us to move toward God, our perfect Father. We know we have arrived at the destination at the end of most paths because there will be a home, park, marker, or person who lets you know you made it.  

 

The first time I ran away, I recall crying so hard that sobs caught in my throat. Words couldn’t escape, and my mind raced with distorted thoughts of being unlovable, unseen, and unworthy. I was messy, dusty, tear-stained, and worn out from imagining God’s disappointment when I knocked on the door of the house at the end of the road. 

 

The Spirit never left me in my sadness. Instead, it directed my feet to a path that my mind didn’t recognize until the door opened. Blinded by the sun and eyes almost swollen shut from crying, I was welcomed inside, invited to sit, and given a cup of water to refresh me. A cool washcloth softly wiped away my tears as my grandma whispered, “Child, you have walked a long way.” My grandma comforted me, listened to me, and prayed for me in the minutes that followed. Then, I was surprised as my mother came through the door with a suitcase and sat in the chair across from me. I could not have anticipated what happened next.

 

She laid the suitcase down, opened the locks, and revealed clothing packed for her and me. She knelt before me and took my hand, saying, “Wherever you go, I go too. I have been searching for you and love you. We can continue on this path together or go home.” 

 

Home. The work of the Spirit can feel so mysterious, but reflecting on this memory, I see the beauty of God in the person of the Spirit. A faith journey toward God is through the power of the Spirit, who is always with me. The Helper guides me toward God, whether the path is through valleys or on mountain peaks. And Abba Father receives the prodigal wanderer at the end of the journey.

Is Reconciliation Possible? A Lesson from Africa

Is Reconciliation Possible? A Lesson from Africa

On December 26, 2021, one of my personal heroes passed away. Desmond Tutu was the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and he died at the age of 90. Tutu led the church through a time of intense suffering, and also led the way in offering reconciliation and forgiveness.

Tutu was a leader of the church in South Africa during the time of apartheid, which means “apart-hood” or “separateness.” Apartheid was essentially a racial caste system with the white South African minority at the top and the black South African majority at the bottom. Land was stolen from black South Africans, cities were segregated into rich and poor based on skin color, and the system was enforced through state-sponsored violence, in particular by a brutal secret police force. The system lasted from the late 1940s until the early 1990s.

When the apartheid system fell and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, South Africa was faced with the problem of how to deal with their past. One option would be to hunt down all the perpetrators: those who had upheld the system by passing unjust laws and overseeing sham trials, and those who committed violent acts in order to enforce it. This option was rejected because it would likely hinder reconciliation, and potentially continue a never-ending cycle of retribution.

Another option was to simply move on. To proclaim amnesty for the perpetrators and get on with life under a new and better political system. But this option was also unsavory: it would provide no accountability, no justice for the victims, no repairing of what had been broken.

South African leaders settled on a third option. They formed what was called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and Desmond Tutu was tabbed to lead it. The goal of the TRC was to uncover truth and foster reconciliation and forgiveness. All perpetrators of apartheid violence, even those who had committed the most heinous acts, were given two options: make a full confession of your crimes before the Commission and receive amnesty, or be liable to criminal charges if they were eventually uncovered.

There was one more important element for those who chose to confess their crimes before the TRC. The confession would be televised live across the country, and families of the victims would be invited to attend in person. In order to be forgiven in the eyes of the new political regime, the truth had to be publicly proclaimed.

When I think about the unfolding war in Ukraine, about the challenges here in the United States that have to do with increasingly clashing worldviews, or how to move forward from the various injustices that mark our own history, I see the principles behind the TRC as an intriguing model.

This is not to say that the TRC fixed all the problems in South Africa. Or that it would be realistic to set up the same kind of commission in the United States. I’m not offering a solution to the problems that plague our country. But I do want to spark our imagination. For reconciliation to happen, the truth must come out. Reconciliation involves both confession and forgiveness. It involves examining ourselves and confessing the role that we have played. And what’s so interesting about the TRC is the role that the church played.

Desmond Tutu was picked to lead the TRC in part because a proper theology, a right understanding of both God and humans, was needed to pursue the work of reconciliation and forgiveness. Hear him describe the role of theology in the work of the TRC:

 

So frequently we in the commission were quite appalled at the depth of depravity to which human beings could sink and we would, most of us, say that those who committed such dastardly deeds were monstrous because the deeds were monstrous. But theology prevents us from doing this. Theology reminded me that, however diabolical the act, it did not turn the perpetrator into a demon. We had to distinguish between the deed and the perpetrator, between the sinner and the sin….  If, however, they were dismissed as being monsters they could not by definition engage in a process that was so deeply personal as that of forgiveness and reconciliation…. 

 

I realized how each of us has the capacity for the most awful evil – every one of us. None of us could predict that if we had been subjected to the same influences, the same conditioning, we would not have turned out like these perpetrators. This is not to condone or excuse what they did. It is to be filled more and more with the compassion of God, looking on and weeping that one of His beloved had come to such a sad pass. We have to say to ourselves with deep feeling, not with a cheap pietism, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

 

And mercifully and wonderfully, as I listened to the stories of victims I marveled at their magnanimity, that after so much suffering, instead of lusting for revenge, they had this extraordinary willingness to forgive….This is a moral universe, which means that, despite all the evidence that seems to be to the contrary, there is no way that evil and injustice and oppression and lies can have the last word. For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy, and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.

 

 Those who had strutted about arrogantly in the days of apartheid, dealing out death and injustice… had never imagined in their wildest dreams that their involvement in machinations and abominations hatched out in secret would ever see the light of day…. Now it was all coming out, not as wild speculation or untested allegations. No, it was gushing forth from the mouths of perpetrators themselves… Those ghastly and macabre secrets might have remained hidden except that this is a moral universe and truth will out.


And the victory was for all of us, black and white together – the rainbow people of God.”  (Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, 83-87)


The work of reconciliation is costly. It is costly for perpetrators, because it means confessing the truth about what we’ve done, and the harm that we have caused. And it is costly for the victims, because it means revoking our claim on justice and retribution. Oftentimes what is lost can never be replaced.

But we follow a Messiah who bore an inconceivable cost to reconcile us to himself. Who, while hanging on the cross in great physical agony, asked for his Father to forgive those committing the greatest act of injustice of all time (Luke 23:34). 

The Apostle Paul tells us that we who trust Jesus are now agents of his reconciliation in the world (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). May we learn from the humility and creativity of Desmond Tutu and our South African brothers and sisters in Christ as we go about that work in our world today.

The Foolishness of Forgiveness

The Foolishness of Forgiveness

I love a good payback story. I don’t know what that says about me, but it’s true. And before you start judging me, you judgy judger, you know that you feel a level of satisfaction when you see someone get pulled over just moments after they cut you off in traffic.

But why are we so drawn to payback? I think it’s because payback is so natural and hard wired into us. It’s why Shakespeare penned these famous words in The Merchant of Venice…

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” 

I think payback feels so natural precisely because forgiveness feels so unnatural. You don’t have to teach a child how to retaliate. You do have to teach a child how to forgive. And that’s because forgiveness feels foolish. But even if that’s how we feel about forgiveness, it’s always the right choice. 

The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is a prime example of the pain and power of forgiveness. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and essentially left him for dead. Joseph grew to power in Egypt and was later reunited with his brothers. But as you can imagine, he wasn’t sure if he could fully forgive and return to a relationship with the very people that wished him dead.

Genesis 42:7–8

Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them…but they did not recognize him.

As you see in the story, Joseph deals with significant inner turmoil as he wrestles through the decision of whether or not to forgive. Finally, the story culminates with Joseph no longer being able to hold the past against his brothers.

Genesis 45:1–3

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him….And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?”

At the end of the day, Joseph’s desire to forgive his brothers won out over his desire to hold their sin against them. Joseph made the right decision, not just because forgiveness is always the right thing to do, but because it spared him from greater pain and heartache. That may sound backwards. Wouldn’t forgiving someone actually be more painful?

The truth of the matter is that in our attempts to hurt the one who has hurt us by refusing to forgive them, we actually end up hurting ourselves. And that’s because unforgiveness in our hearts slowly ferments inside us and turns into the sour wine of bitterness. Eventually it eats away at us on the inside. 

Withholding forgiveness is like holding your breath, hoping that the other person will pass out. We think that we are getting even with the person by withholding forgiveness, but in the end we will find that it produces a self-inflicted wound. When we withhold forgiveness from someone, we think we are building one prison cell, but we really end up building two. And we are in one of them.

We imprison ourselves with our refusal to forgive because we allow the bitterness to fester inside of us. We also allow our self righteousness to convince us that “I would never do what they did to me.”  The unforgiving person is quick to see others as more heinous and themselves as more virtuous.

Croatian theologian Miraslov Volf offers these stinging words for us.

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and myself from the community of sinners.” -Miraslov Volf (Exclusion and Embrace)

So we’ve seen what happens when we don’t forgive. What happens when we do forgive? Returning to the story of Joseph, when we see his outburst of emotion we almost get the sense that he can’t wait to forgive his brothers. He has to release this emotion that has been built up for the last 22 years!

In this sense, forgiveness is like a great pressure release valve that ends up being a blessing to the forgiver, not just to the forgiven. Just as withholding forgiveness ends up building two prisons, extending forgiveness ends up setting two prisoners free. 

So what does it take to forgive? 

  • Behold the greatness of God

Joseph was able to embrace his brothers in forgiveness because he knew that while they intended a great evil against him, God was at work through it all to accomplish a greater good. Joseph believed that God was the one who sovereignly orchestrated this whole story in order to bring about greater good for many people. 

Genesis 45:5-8

…for God sent me before you to preserve life…And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth…So it was not you who sent me here, but God.

A small view of God diminishes our ability to forgive. A big view of God increases our ability to forgive. If you find that the wrong done against you is too great to forgive, then it’s quite possible that God is not great enough in your life.

  • Trust in the justice of God

When we fail to trust that God will right all wrongs, we feel like we can’t forgive because this person will just get away with it. If there is no judge sitting on the bench of the courtroom of the universe, then forgiveness truly becomes a foolish act of letting people off the hook. Because if God won’t punish evil, then someone has to.

Violence and revenge have their way in our world when we fail to believe that God will set the world to rights. But when we trust that God is just, then we can forgive those who wrong us because we trust that the judge of all the earth will do what is right.

  • Rest in the forgiveness of God

The best way to know how to forgive is to know how forgiven you are. The reason that you and I struggle to be a forgiving people is because we struggle to believe that we are a forgiven people.

One of my favorite examples is related in Luke 7, when Jesus has an encounter with a woman who quite likely is a prostitute. She arrived at the home where Jesus was dining with many religious leaders, and began to wash Jesus’ feet with perfume. The religious leaders grumbled and complained about this because she was such a great sinner. But then Jesus so beautifully and powerfully flips the script on them and shows them that it is precisely because she knows how great a sinner she is that makes her worthy of love and forgiveness.

Luke 7:47

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 

There is a direct correlation between our ability to forgive and our understanding of our own forgiveness. The power to forgive comes from the power of being forgiven. 

If we claim that the sins committed against us are unforgivable, then we are in that moment revealing how little we think of our own sin and how little we think of God’s forgiveness toward us. But when we understand the depth of God’s forgiveness toward us in Christ, then there will never be a wrong so egregious committed against us that we can’t forgive.

Do you want to be a forgiving person? Then become a forgiven person. Forgiveness feels foolish but it’s always the right choice. Praise be to God that Jesus made the right choice for us. 

Nurturing a Healthy Church Culture – Part 2

Nurturing a Healthy Church Culture – Part 2

To read Part 1 of this blog click here. What follows is a further explanation of our staff culture, taken directly from our new staff orientation materials, Cultural Habits: A Staff Devotional for Christ Community. 

 

We Expect God

 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Matthew 28:18-20

We have been called to take part in a seemingly impossible mission. In the face of satanic opposition, human rebellion, addiction, injustice of so many varieties, everyday human limitations and even our own enduring doubts, Jesus says “Go and make disciples.”

What hope do we have that we might actually be able to carry out this mission? The only reason Jesus gives that this is not an utterly hopeless mission is that the Almighty Son of God is here with us. He who is trustworthy has promised His presence.

And not just sometimes. Always. I love the word always. It leaves no room for exceptions. He’s always there watching over us, going before us, and guarding behind us.

Since God is always with us, then as we stack chairs or order print materials,He’s there. When we meet with that struggling couple, teenager, or coworker, He’s there. He’s working, mending, revealing, and moving. When we are organizing volunteers, He’s there. When we are preparing sermons, lessons, meeting agendas, or orientation material, He’s there. Whenever __________ feels hopeless or insurmountable, He’s there.

Always.

But do we expect Him? When is the last time you expected God to intervene?

 “He answered your prayer!”

It was early on in my pastoral role, and I had just met a guy who had been on the job hunt for about nine months. Over coffee, he shared his frustrations of emailing company after company and gaining little to no traction. I did what I could. I listened, and we prayed.

A couple of days went by, and on a Thursday morning, I spent some time in prayer for his job prospects. Transparently, there are times that I wrestle with whether my prayers matter at all. But I promised this gentleman that I would pray. So I did. And I texted him not long after that I was indeed praying for him. Then came his text response, “He answered your prayer! I got the job.”

 

I wasn’t expecting that. Really, it’s painful to admit, but I wasn’t expecting God. And years later, that gentleman is still working in the same place and still attending Christ Community. He’s reminded me often of that day, the day God surprised us both. And we’ll never forget it.

At Christ Community, we want to be a place where we aren’t surprised by God, but a place that expects God. A place that prays with anticipation. A place that works at our various responsibilities and callings, knowing He is watching over us and intimately engaged with us. A place that takes bold steps of faith, not because of how great we are, but because of how great our God is.

So whatever position you hold at Christ Community, let’s anticipate our God who is with us to do the impossible through us. Indeed, let us expect God.

However, we can’t just muscle up this sort of expectant perspective. It must be trained by the Spirit. Here are two helpful steps to cultivate this kind of expectation:

Hear God. Ask God to speak to you in His Word daily. If we come to God’s word asking for God to speak to us, and we experience His Spirit meeting us there, it trains us that God does indeed engage us right where we are.

Remember. Journal, write down, store, and share the stories of God’s intervention. Whether it’s an answer to a prayer request or a clear moment when God went before you in your work, write it down in a notebook or even on a random piece of paper and then keep it in a place for regular review. But don’t stop there. Share with one of your colleagues at Christ Community what God has done. Seeing the surprise on other’s faces will encourage both of your hearts.

We long to be a church expecting God. He’s here,

We believe, God help us in our unbelief.

 

We Stay Yoked

 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I never tire of meditating on the paradox of the yoke.

On the one hand, the image of the yoke is one of work. Plowing a field in the heat of summer, side by side with a master. The yoke brings with it the expectation that my life should produce the fruit of the one to whom I am yoked. We all come to work wanting to produce, to accomplish, to serve the mission of Jesus.

On the other hand, before Jesus ever asks anything of us—to serve Him, His Church, His mission—He offers us rest. Gentleness. A burden that is light.

How can both be true?!? Or, in the words of Frederick Dale Bruner:

 

A yoke is a work instrument. Thus when Jesus offers a yoke he offers what we might think tired workers need last. They need a mattress or vacation, not a yoke. …But Jesus realizes the most restful gift he can give to the tired is a new way to carry life, a fresh way to bear responsibilities.

A church and its staff should embody a culture that is both hard-working and at rest. Both productive and content in our callings. Longing, yet restful souls. 

The way we do that is by staying yoked to Jesus. We recognize that before Jesus ever asks anything of us, He offers us rest. For our physical bodies. For our spiritual lives. We believe Jesus wants us to experience the fullness of life, physical health, spiritual vitality, and emotional health. We do not work for a church, we work on ourselves—yoked to Jesus. A Jesus who does not load on us burdens of unrealistic expectations, demand that we are everywhere, with everyone, at every time. No, Jesus just wants us yoked to Him.

To experience this rest, we must enter His yoke. We do not just wait and hope for Jesus’ promise of rest. We enter His yoke by following the same practices that marked His life. We practice the Sabbath (take a day each week away from our work). We take time to get to a quiet place to pray. We remember that our physical bodies are a part of our spirituality. We fast and celebrate, rest and exercise. These spiritual disciplines give us the framework of the “…new way to carry life…” We practice the disciplines as the way to enter the easy yoke of Jesus, so that we can thrive as whole people as we serve the church and care for our families and friends.

Then, from that place of soul restfulness, we go to serve His church, with Him, alongside Him, for Him, secure in His kindness towards us.

How restful are you in your work? How light is your burden when you put your hand to the plow to go to work? How peaceful is your soul in the midst of your work?

Do not forget. Jesus does not burden you with unrealistic expectations. His burden is light. His yoke is mercy. Forgiveness. Grace. Peace. That is why His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

 

We take the mission seriously, not ourselves

 

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

1 Peter 5:5-7 

I honestly can’t think of a more miserable person on Christ Community’s team than the person who can’t laugh at themselves. And I’m not talking about a little smirk and chuckle. I mean a full-on belly laugh, tears down your face, laughing at yourself in a meeting kind of thing. Maybe this is weird to say, but it is one of my favorite things about serving with this church.

We don’t do this because we are being silly. It is our constant reminder that while we work hard on our God-given corporate mission and take that mission seriously, we never take ourselves too seriously. It is truly a way we “humble ourselves,” as Peter put it, before an all-powerful and good God who doesn’t need us to accomplish anything, but lovingly invites and empowers us anyway. We do it because we are confident that while we are deeply loved and cherished by God, by His people, and by one another, we are replaceable. Humans come and go. The mission of God stays the same. This should not strike us as belittling or discouraging. It is a profoundly humbling and freeing truth we cling to! 

Of course, a humble view of ourselves isn’t the only way we practice this habit. We work hard to make things better, seeking out honest, but loving, feedback, because we aren’t striving for our glory or reputation. We want the mission to thrive for His glory! We only say “me” and “my” when we are owning our mistakes or failures. We only say “we” and “our” when we celebrate our good ideas and successes. We do our best, together, to follow God’s lead as He has revealed it in His Word, never projecting our visions or goals onto Him for our own agenda. No job, task, problem, or person, is “too small” or “too big” for our attention. We take our basin and towel and serve as Jesus taught us.

We aren’t perfect at any of this, mind you, so that is why we need to be able to laugh at ourselves. But with God’s help, this is part of the culture we try to build. We have a wonderful, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, mission from God. It is of utmost and eternal importance.That mission is as serious as serious gets! But we want to be humble enough to know that sometimes God does His best work despite our weakness, our frailty, our sin, and our half-baked ideas. That fact brings a smile to my face. How about you?

 

We remember names

 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” 

Isaiah 43:1

Remembering names is not simply about knowledge, but love. I might remember where you live, when you graduated from high school, what your greatest childhood fear was, and how allergic you are to tree nuts. But none of that will have any real impact on you if I can’t remember your name. A person’s name carries great importance. Names aren’t just utilitarian titles that help us categorize one another in our memories. Names convey a sense of worth, value, and identity. That is why remembering names is a keystone habit that we believe cultivates a culture of compassion, empathy, and grace.

There is something powerful that happens when you are talking to a stranger at the park about the weather and then you finally get to a point where you exchange names. Just as a child enters the world and is given a name because she has worth, there is something about learning a person’s name that causes their worth to be birthed within your mind and heart at that very moment.

At Christ Community, we value the habit of remembering names because we believe it is a catalyst for creating a caring family. We live in an increasingly impersonal world where we are known less and less and where we know others less and less. The church may very well be one of the last institutions and communities where people can truly be known, seen, heard, and loved in very personal and dignifying ways. And it all starts with remembering names.

This habit is not just the irreducible minimum of love. It can be an ignition switch that begins the good work of seeing and treating people with the God-given dignity they possess as image-bearers. It is the launching pad of hospitality and vulnerability. It is a small yet profound way of telling someone you care for them and you see them in the beauty of their humanity, despite their brokenness.

So let’s make every effort to learn and remember the names of our co-workers. Let’s see those we work alongside as people to be known and loved before we see them as anything else. Maybe that means reorienting the relational category of our staff team to be more like family. What if we treated each other like cousins, not just co-workers? But don’t stop there. As we think about Sunday mornings, try to implement practices and tools to remember the names of people you meet at church. Put this habit into practice everywhere you interact with humans. Keep a note on your phone with the names of people you meet in your neighborhood, the gym, your kid’s school, your archery class, wherever. Personalize the people and places where there is so much impersonal interaction. Remember the name of your server at a restaurant. Refer to the customer service rep on the phone by his name. Learn the name of your mail carrier. Odds are his mother didn’t name him Buckaroo.

When we remember names and make it a central part of who we are as a church, we will not only find ourselves growing in love toward others, but if done well and with great intentionality, it will be reciprocal and cyclical. Love begets love. And when we love people by name we find ourselves emulating the very God who has shared His name with us and has called us by name.

 

We are better together

 

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it…. Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Genesis 2:15, 18 CSB 

You were never meant to work alone.

Is that the first thing that comes to your mind when you read Genesis 2:18? It was not the first thing that came to my mind for much of my life. I thought about humans needing community. I thought about the reality that Adam, by himself, couldn’t fill the land with other humans.

But when you read verse 18 in the context of verse 15, you see first and foremost that what the first human is incapable of doing alone is the WORK of working and watching over the garden.

The triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is Relationship and Community from all eternity, did not design you to work alone. In the beauty and mystery of the tri-unity of God, all three persons of the Trinity participate in the work of creation, redemption, and new creation. As creatures made in the image of this triune God, we are designed to work together.

Whether designing graphics, meeting with students, editing copy, writing sermons, recruiting volunteers, fixing broken toilets, or fixing broken spreadsheets, you and I were never meant to work alone. We are better together. That isn’t just a platitude. It is an inescapable, unavoidable truth woven into the very fabric of reality.

Being better together looks like valuing teamwork and collaboration even when it feels like it is slowing us down— and it will almost always feel like it is slowing us down— because usually it is. But we believe the result will be better. Why? Because we all bring different perspectives, gifts, experiences, insights, and backgrounds. We are impoverished as an organization when we neglect or diminish the ethnic and gender diversity God has created —for His glory and our good. We were never meant to work alone.

Being better together looks like choosing trust rather than suspicion when there is a gap in the facts. We work from a foundation of trust. When something goes wrong, when our expectations aren’t met, we choose to believe the best about our co-workers rather than the worst. Why? Because suspicion divides and isolates us, and we were never meant to work alone.

Being better together doesn’t mean that we never need time for deep, focused work as individuals. Far from it! In fact, that sort of work is vital to meaningful collaboration. But it means that even those times of deep, focused, individual work are in the service of what we are doing together.

Being better together means we’d rather go down with the ship together than escape on a lifeboat by ourselves. Why? Because we aren’t just committed to the mission or progress or efficiency or getting things done, we are committed to each other.

And we were never meant to work alone. 

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

“I have loved watching my heart soften toward the individuals that I have been praying for, and how often I’ve been thinking of them and noticing things about them. Much more intentional interactions!” – Linda

 

Spending 90 days praying for others to come to know Jesus was an amazing time together as a church. Over the course of these 13 weeks, close to 400 different people across all five campuses texted me about their experiences witnessing and praying for others. I was blessed to hear so many people, just like Linda, share how praying each day for the same people shifted their perspective toward them. It is surprising (though it really shouldn’t be) how many opportunities for greater connection with others arise when you intentionally and regularly pray for them. I was even more deeply encouraged when I heard about perseverance through the challenges people faced in their witnessing.

 

A handful of people let me know that one of their nine made a decision to follow Jesus during these 90 days. Beyond these, so many more had their nine make significant movement toward God. Some of their nine reached out with spiritual questions for the first time. Others reached out while facing significant life difficulties and asked for prayer. Some of their nine decided to visit church with them. Others saw their relationship with their nine deepen in new ways. There are so many more powerful stories that you can read about on theformed.life/e90

 

But if you’re like me, as soon as these 90 days finished, you wondered what’s next.

 

Was this just a cool 90 day challenge? One more project to mark ‘done’ and move on? No, from the beginning of our team’s planning process, we hoped e90 would be a catalyst for continued growth in prayer and personal evangelism for our church. Though this initiative is done, we continue to be a caring family of multiplying disciples, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. Here are four ways you can continue to grow in this even after e90.

 

Keep Praying

 

Just because the 90 days are over does not mean you need to stop praying intentionally and specifically for others to come to know Jesus! This season hopefully started a habit that remains with you well after it officially finishes. Consider how you can keep praying regularly for others. Think about how much movement you’ve seen in yourself and in them over 90 days. How much more could happen through the rest of the year? Maybe your list of nine grew to fifteen. Keep praying for your fifteen! Perhaps there are just two people from your nine God has highlighted to you these past few months. Keep praying for those two!

 

Pray Together

One of the best parts of e90 was that this was something we did together as a whole church. It reminded me that I’m not alone in witnessing to others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group decided to keep praying for others specifically to come to faith as a part of your regular prayer time? What if you and just one other person committed to praying together for your lists? You could do a short phone call once a week and pray together. Or you could exchange names and pray for their list in addition to yours. This would encourage you to stay consistent in praying for others.

 

Learn Together

 

Another awesome part of e90 was how praying and witnessing motivated greater learning about the gospel and how to practically share it with others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group, or just you and one friend picked a book about evangelism to read together? In addition to discussing what you’re learning from reading, you can also debrief how you’re practicing those things as well. If you don’t know where to start, two of my favorite books on evangelism are The Sacrament of Evangelism by Jerry Root, and Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman.

 

Keep Inviting

 

Lastly, we can continue to grow in personal evangelism beyond e90 by continuing to invite others. Continue to invite them to hang out with you in a relaxed setting with other believers, to read one of the gospels from the Bible together, to come to church with you, to hear your story of what God has done in your life, to consider what following Jesus might look like. Not every invitation will be responded to with an enthusiastic “Yes!” but that does not mean we’ve failed. Even small invitations and planting seeds over time can be used by God to draw others to Him.

 

I encourage you to keep praying, keep learning, keep inviting, and do all these together with other believers. And I hope I continue hearing how God is working through it all to reach others with His love for His glory.

 

 Nurturing a Healthy Church Culture – Part 1

 Nurturing a Healthy Church Culture – Part 1

My heart breaks with story after story of church meltdowns. As a follower of Jesus and an active churchgoer, it makes me sad and angry, embarrassed and even ashamed. As a pastor it humbles me, and if I’m honest, it scares me. The weight of such stewardship in the light of so many failures feels almost crushing. 

There are too many stories of churches, pastors, and church leaders who make terrible mistakes with sex, money, or power. Too many examples of those who burn out, walk away, or despair. The fallout and pain to congregation members and the damage done to Jesus’ reputation is almost too much to bear. We know His bride, the church, can be anything but beautiful at times, and every institution has to reckon with its own sinfulness. But how do we learn from the failures?

Christ Community is NOT a perfect church. We are nowhere near immune to the disease of sin that can so easily infect any group of people. Nor would we ever want to sit on our high horses wagging our fingers at those who have very clearly messed up. We also don’t want to be guilty of those same mistakes or arrogantly believe it could never happen to us.

We want to be different. 

This is not a statement of pride but rather an earnest prayer that God would protect us and that He would continue to show us tangible ways to foster that protection within our church culture. 

These things include appropriate checks and balances between staff, elders, and congregation. It includes our clear reporting structure, system of annual 360 reviews, and built-in accountability and camaraderie as a multisite church. We could and should talk about our annual financial audit or our partnership with the outside institution Red Flag Reporting. All of it matters and all of it helps.

But none of it is ultimately effective unless there is a healthy institutional culture.

There is no set of systems, policies, handbooks, or bylaws that matter as much as a healthy culture. I’m not minimizing those other things—they are important and we spend a lot of time sharpening those areas. But none of those things will ultimately succeed in the midst of an unhealthy culture or unhealthy staff. So we spend a lot of time thinking about culture.

In fact, a few years ago we began a quest to identify the healthy aspects of Christ Community’s staff culture, not so we could pat ourselves on the back, but rather so that we could do whatever we can to preserve the good parts, and abandon the bad. We wanted to identify the things that are really hard to name—the hidden, often unseen realities, that make us tick. The things that are true now that we always want to be true, and become even more so in the future. The kind of stuff we want every staff person, in any place in the organization, as well our elders, congregant leaders, and volunteers to whole-heartedly embrace. What follows is a summary of years of work and countless conversations throughout every level of our organization.

We call them our cultural habits. 

They describe the kinds of people we try to hire and recruit. They are the things that we work really hard to reinforce and celebrate through our all staff gatherings, new staff orientations, and ongoing reviews. 

In fact, what follows is the content taken directly from some of our new staff orientation materials. That means these words were not written for you, although we hope and pray they help foster a healthy ecosystem that deeply enriches you and your experience of this church family. 

We hope that by sharing these things with you it will increase your confidence in your church, even while acknowledging that we often fail to live up to these ideals. We hope that by giving you this window into our inner-workings as an organization, you see this as an invitation to join us in reinforcing a healthy culture, and as an opportunity to keep us accountable whenever we fall short.

This blog is part 1 of 2. Part 1 is an overview of why we believe this is so important and Part 2 consists of further reflection on our cultural habits. Thank you for taking the time to read, and thank you for taking the time to nurture a healthy culture with us.

Cultural Habits: A Staff Devotional for Christ Community

 

I love Christ Community. I have loved this church as a congregation member and as a pastor, and while she is far from perfect, there is something beautiful here worth cultivating. I think of her a bit like a tree.

In Jeremiah 17:7-8 we read: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” What an incredible picture of God’s people—we want that to be true of us too!

As long as I can remember, I have been amazed by trees. And when I find a good one—one that stands out—I can’t help but notice its beauty, wonder about its history, and its strength. I recognize it wasn’t created in an instant and want to preserve it and somehow increase its beauty.

Like a tree, Christ Community is years in the making, and we all now play an important part in sustaining her. While she belongs to God, and only He can make her grow, it is our privilege to cultivate her as best we can.

What follows is our attempt at a “gardening” manual, meant to provide a snapshot into the inner workings of our church, how all the various parts fit together, and the important role each of us plays. To get to the core of it, we have summarized this into these questions about Christ Community that must be answered: Why, What, How, and Who.

 

The Why of Christ Community

 

Christ Community exists because we believe the local church as God designed it is the hope of the world. This big WHY is built upon our five Core Values:

Cross: We believe the finished work of Christ on the cross makes it possible to enter the life we were designed to live.

Yoke: We believe we become the people God designed us to be when we are in the yoke of Christ.

Bible: We believe the Bible reveals God’s design for all of life.

Church: We believe the primary context in which we are to experience the life God designed is the local church.

City: We believe we are designed to give ourselves away in our neighborhoods, city, and world.

 

The What of Christ Community

 

In order to bring hope to our world, Christ Community has a mission that has been with us from the beginning.
We desire to be a caring family of multiplying disciples, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ.

This statement can be summarized with these key multiplyings:

Multiplying Churches | Multiplying Disciples | Multiplying Leaders

 

The How of Christ Community

 

At Christ Community we believe this mission can be accomplished by equipping our congregation to apply our core values to their “Monday” (everyday) lives. These applied values make up what we call the “marks” of a disciple. We believe a growing disciple of Jesus: 

  1. Takes up their CROSS
  2. Puts on the YOKE
  3. Builds their life on the BIBLE
  4. Loves the CHURCH

Seeks the good of the CITY by

  1. Giving themselves away
  2. Sharing the gospel in word and deed
  3. Working diligently for the flourishing of all

 

The Who of Christ Community

 

At Christ Community we couldn’t accomplish our WHY, WHAT, or HOW without our WHO: our staff, volunteers, and congregation members. More important than any strategy are the cultural habits our people embody that fuel this mission. We summarize them like this:

We expect God. We stay yoked.

We take the mission seriously, not ourselves.

We remember names.

We are better together.

We are so convinced of the importance of healthy staff culture that we want to unpack what these five statements mean to us. None of us embody these perfectly, and we all fail at each of them from time to time, but these are the habits that have shaped us over the decades. These are the habits we strive to cultivate.

Go back to the metaphor of the tree. If Christ Community is a tree, these cultural habits—the WHO of Christ Community—are the conditions that enable this tree to flourish. Only God can make her grow, but these are the seasons, the soil, the sunshine, the amount of rain and nutrients that have led to health, beauty, and fruitfulness over the years. Our cultural habits are often the secret ingredients to our flourishing.

These habits are so important to us that we believe they are absolutely necessary for every staff member in every role. They are not optional. We can’t pick four out of five or start working on some of them later. All five are essential to flourishing at Christ Community —for the church to flourish and for the staff team to flourish.


As a result, we want to recruit and serve alongside people who embrace them. We want to train, coach, and equip ourselves to grow in them. We want to celebrate successes and provide accountability as we learn to embrace them more and more.

In short, we want to cultivate this tree, and that takes each of us.

We’ll take a closer look at each of these cultural habits in Part 2 of this blog.