PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3
One of the aspects of Redeemer Fellowship's elder-candidacy process is that of informal continued education. Every elder has gone through a year long process of reading, writing, and shadowing. They are not just thrown into eldership but given the opportunity to grow, ask questions, and learn. I am thankful for the privilege of being mentored by them and to have them speak into my life.
Currently I am reading The Church by Edward P. Clowney. His work has helped many churches reaffirm and focus on a proper understanding of the doctrine of the church. He encourages churches to move away from marketing and growth strategies to regain the nature and mission of the church. The church, according to Clowney, is called to serve God in three ways: directly in worship; the saints in nurture; the world in witness.
Serve the Saints in Nurture
This is seen in our weekly smaller gatherings. At Redeemer, we would call this the environment of The Table. These gatherings (community groups, discipleship groups, informal fellowship) occur during the week and leans more inward than outward in terms of the people involved. This is often the context in which individuals are personally investing in each other, carrying out many of those “one another” commands in the New Testament. Clowney writes that the "goal of the triune nurture of the church is found in God himself. It is to know the Lord, to do the Lord's will, and to be like the Lord."
When we come together in our smaller gatherings our goal is not simply to regurgitate information that has been passed down or acquired over the years. Our goal is to know God personally. Clowney describes this as a "saving faith." A belief that trusts in the promises of God and in who God is and what God has done to restore fellowship with his children. He writes:
Faith begins with the truth of God that replaces the darkness of error, faith assents to that truth, in contrast to the illusions of unbelief that rests on error; saving faith commits itself to the true God in trust that replaces idolatry of unbelief. This trust defines faith, for the demons know the facts to be true - and shudder.
So our gatherings are not merely to know about God, but God himself. We are called to know him and trust him. Our small groups encourage us to grow in a real knowledge (trust/faith) in him. We "speak the gospel" to each other and challenge each other to abandon sin and cling to Christ. When unbelief rears its head in the lives our of brothers and sisters, we loving come along side and remind them of the hope we have in Christ.
We all know those people that talk a big game but never follow through. Or worst, those people that proclaim one thing but live another. Each of these scenarios annoy me. I am especially annoyed because I know I operate in each of these ways quite often. Often I talk a big game or encourage others to live lives of gospel-centeredness yet live my far off. As James writes:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25 ESV)
As we gather to encourage one another to be nurtured as one grows in knowing God, we encourage each other to obey God's will. It is hard. Very hard. My natural inclination is to disobey God and do what I want when I want. In many ways it would be so much easier (and admittedly entertaining) to go along with the values and priorities of the world. Yet we are called to obey God. His statures are worse and life giving. He provides for his children (like any good parent) boundaries for their good and protection.
In our smaller gatherings we come together and grow in knowing the Lord and obeying the Lord. Together, we learn what it means to be more Christ-like, to each other and to the world (next post). Clooney writes:
Nurture in Christ is not a self-improvement program to build self-esteem. The esteem we cherish is not self-esteem, but our Father's esteem, extended to us not because we deserved it or earned it, but because in love he claimed us. True, we were made in his image, but like the prodigal, we had forfeited all the rights of sonship. The Father's amazing grace claimed us while we were without hope and without God in the world. God loved us enough to give his Son for us, and he loves us still. Nurture is rooted in our position in Christ. Without hope there cannot be growth; without a new identity there is nothing to hope for.
We have been given a new life. A life categorized by Holy Spirit dependency. The Spirit leads and guides. Our minds are being renewed, our hearts are being softened, our identity is found in Christ. As we grow in knowing God and obeying God, we grow in being like him. To be like Jesus, then, Clowney writes, "is to follow in the way of the cross, in the life of sacrificial love." In our gatherings we learn what it means to serve each other, to serve our community, to serve our Lord. We lay down our lives in love.