A few weeks back I gave a sermon at our church on one aspect of our church’s vision. As with any sermon you can’t say everything all the time. So, in order to help flesh out that sermon I decided to follow it up with a few blog posts. If you didn’t get a chance to hear that sermon, you can listen to it here, or download it here (Feb. 12, 2012).
By way of a quick, big picture recap of our church’s vision, the simple shape of a triangle visually captures who we are becoming as a church. In the life and ministry of Jesus we see that there are three consistent dimensions of the way He lived. 1) Jesus focused up. He consistently and constantly was connected to the Father in order to gain wisdom on where he should go, with whom he should engage, how he should focus his time. 2) Jesus invited others in. He invited different groups of people into his life at varying degrees of intimacy. A quick examination of his life shows that he had the 3 (Peter, James and John), the 12 (the original group of apostles), the 72 (as referenced in Luke 10), and the 120 (as referenced in Acts 1). 3) Jesus reached out. All throughout his ministry when crowds would gather to hear him preach he often took time to care for their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. As a church, we are asking the question what does it look like to consistently and constantly live in these three dimensions.
Where I want to go in this post, and the few to follow, is to ask the question, “What does it look like to do this via groups of people who are living in ‘extended family’ like units that are spread all through our community?” I realize that this may be a new concept for people, so I figured I would use my own attempts at this to help flesh it out.
Currently Becky and I are journeying through life with a handful of other families. With kids included there are about 14 people in all, we would like to see it get up to about 25. We have made the decision that as a group we are going to intentionally share life together, just like an extended family would share life together. This means we are regularly in each others lives, weekly and sometimes daily. We are in each others homes. We are watching each others kids. We are going out to do fun things together, and we are engaged in ministry together.
Currently every other Saturday we have committed to getting together for lunch. We try to have lunch out and about in the community, usually at a local park. The picture above is our most recent Saturday lunch. It was too cold to be outside so we met at our house. Everyone brought their own lunch and we enjoyed being together doing things that a family would do together. Our kids played together. Our dogs played together. We sat around and told stories about our lives and the things that happened to us this past week.
As we share in life together we are continually asking the question, “What does it look like for us as a group to do UP-IN-OUT?” And I think asking this question is what significantly distinguishes an Extended Family Unit from a small group. Most small groups are IN focused, maybe UP as well, but in my experience mostly IN, and are primarily focused on bible study. They also have the tendency to be exclusive. We think the ideal group size is 8, maybe 10. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for studying the bible. I do it all the time both individually and in community. But, when we limit our group to 8-10 and only focus on bible study we are prevented from reaching OUT. We are scared that if we bring more people in, they could ruin this “good thing that we’ve got going.”
But as a group we are seeking something more holistic, something more inclusive, something that encompasses and intersects with all of life, not just one night of our week. Why you ask? Because when I read the book of Acts this is what I see. I am struck by Acts 2:42-47, Acts 4:32-35, and Acts 5:42. In these passages the first group of believers met daily in the Temple courts to worship together (Acts 2:46, UP). They met daily from house to house and everyone’s needs were met. (Acts 4:34, 5:42, IN). And lastly, people were being added to their number daily (2:47, OUT).
We don’t have a formula. It’s not a program. It’s life. We believe that people are hungry for family like community and are hungry for divine encounters. We believe that you can’t truly experience divine encounters apart from community. So as an extended family, our hope is that as we live life together as a community, OUT in the community, we will be able to connect people to Jesus by sharing with them His life at work in us.