The Planting of Redemption Church

This blog post is a personal update to share what’s going on with the Deeter family and how you can best pray for us in the months to come. In the twist of God’s strange and wonderful providence, Kaitlyn and I have become church planters. This news is surprising to us as it may be for some of you!

A couple months ago, I announced my resignation at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Wilson, NC. My resignation there was unexpected and unplanned. Beginning in November of 2017, a strong and public divide revealed itself over my leadership in the congregation. The issues of disagreement were over substantial matters of doctrine and ministry philosophy. When it became clear to myself and other leaders in the congregation that reconciliation in the body seemed to no longer be an option, we decided together that it would be in the best interest of everyone for me to depart. These last few months have been painful as we left a church we dearly loved. However, in the midst of bitter sorrow, God was working things for our good.

After my resignation, Kaitlyn and I began to pray about next steps. We looked towards other ministry positions and began to seek the Lord’s will together. During this time several brothers who came out of Forest Hills over this disagreement, had a burden to gather those planning to leaving Forest Hills and pray about what the Lord was leading them to do next. Soon, they became burdened to see a new church emerge in the community of Wilson that modeled important doctrinal distinctives, such as expositional preaching, regenerate church membership, a plurality of elders, and a centrality of Christ in the work of evangelism and discipleship. They began meeting on Sunday nights for prayer and study.

During this time, another like-minded church, Christ Community Church, was preparing to dissolve. They were a church strongly committed to the Scriptures and faithfully taught by their pastors. However, as they sensed the Lord’s leading to dissolve, they decided to join in this new church plant and gift their resources and assets to this new work that was beginning to form.

All of this has led to the decision to plant Redemption Church in Wilson, NC. The leadership of this new church asked me to stay, plant, and pastor Redemption Church. After much prayer and counsel from other pastors and churches, we sense that this is indeed what the Lord is leading us to do. It is with great joy that we announce that the Deeter family will remain in Wilson, this wonderful city that we have called home. We still feel a burden to reach this community with the gospel, and we are excited to continue that work through the planting of Redemption Church.

We continue to have a great love for Forest Hills, and we pray for God’s blessing on that congregation and for great fruit in their ministry to the community. As painful as our departure has been, we believe that through it, it is God’s good will to birth a new church to be an additional witness to this community.

Yesterday morning, on Easter Sunday, we met for the first time for corporate worship. Much to our surprise there were 96 of us eager and excited to see a new church begin in the city of Wilson. We plan to take the summer and meet together as we formulate and cast the vision for Redemption Church. We hope to covenant and constitute together in August, when we will publicly launch to the community. Rather than just jumping in and immediately starting a church, we want to be diligent in laying a solid foundation for unity that will last for the years to come.

Each Sunday we will meet at 10 AM for a time of fellowship and worship will begin at 10:30 AM. On Sunday nights, we will be meeting at 5 PM to pray and discuss the vision for Redemption Church. We are currently meeting at Toe to Toe Dance studio on Airport Blvd; however, with the size of people and the number of children, we have already outgrown that space!

If you are interested in being a part of Redemption Church, feel free to come join us on Sundays or privately message me.

As the darkness of this secular age settles in on our country, our state, and our city, we need more churches who can burn brightly as lights set upon a hill. We need more churches and new churches who are consumed by zeal for the glory of God and burdened for the souls of their city. We are planting Redemption church because we are a people consumed by the love of Christ and compelled by the love of Christ to reach Wilson for the glory of King Jesus. We covenant together and establish this church because we believe that there are souls in this city that Christ Jesus has set apart for himself that God has uniquely called us to reach. We plant not for us, but for the glory of Christ and for the lost men and women we have yet to meet. We plant so that we might be witnesses, clothed in power from on high to be faithful, sacrificial, and obedient heralds to the life-altering truth that Christ is risen! Join us in prayer that Redemption Church will be a testimony to the resurrected power of Christ and that he would cause us to bear much fruit for the glory of King Jesus.

You can check out the website for Redemption Church at Redemption.church

Passing the Baton at Forest Hills

At the conclusion of our centennial celebration, I couldn't help but be filled with joy. Seeing so many faithful saints return produced great thanksgiving in my heart. In many ways, I'm still humbled that God has called me to shepherd a church like Forest Hills. I've developed a profound appreciation for the legacy and heritage of Forest Hills over the years. As I thought about this weekend, I knew it would be special. In some ways this weekend symbolized a passing of the torch, the handing off of the baton to me and my generation of believers. IMG_0901

As I stood on stage and introduced James Herron, our oldest living senior pastor, I couldn't help but be thankful for men like him whom God used mightily for his Kingdom. Yet, in his sermon this Sunday, he cautioned about making too much of the past, but charged us as a congregation to move forward into a new century. Nostalgia is a wonderful, powerful sensation, but too much of it will drug you as you become gloomy about the present and pessimistic about the future. Ironically, we never realize we were living in the good ol' days, until those days are gone. By the grace of God, we tend to forget about the dark days, as our memory preserves the bright spots.

Yet, nostalgia cannot hinder God's work in the present and his vision for the future. The work is not yet over. The Great Commission lies before us, and lost souls need to hear the Gospel of Jesus. In our nostalgia, we cannot run our race backwards. This is the tension of churches with such great history like Forest Hills. We must simultaneously give thanks and honor those who have come before, and at the same time run with our eyes on the finish line, not on the starting line. Indeed, that's what those who came before us desire. Who runs a relay race, takes the baton from his teammate, then turns around and backtracks towards the starting point? Our teammates want us to move forward, not backward. We must sprint towards Christ, not to an idolized vision of the past.

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Over the weekend, I've felt that tension within my own soul. My gratitude for my forebears, the faithful shepherds of this church who've come before me, cannot adequately be expressed in words. They have preserved the apostolic Gospel, preaching Christ now in our church for a century. In an overwhelming and monumental way, that mantle has now fallen on my shoulders. By the calling of God, I now stand with the baton of the Gospel in my hand, charged to lead these wonderful people into the next century.

As I think about my own shortcomings as a leader and inadequacies as a pastor, the responsibility can be overwhelming. Yet, press on in the race we must. We must preserve the integrity of the Gospel and innovate new methods of reaching a new generation in a drastically new American culture. As a result, change is afoot in Forest Hills Baptist Church. Ministry strategy and programs have been and will continue to shift over the next several years around our vision to treasure Christ, equip believers, and send disciples for the glory of God.

As we run our race, may we not falter in our steps, but press on towards Christ, prepared and ready to pass off the baton to the next generation. May we not break the chain of faithful saints who came before, and may the great relay race of the saints, that has continued at Forest Hills now for 100 years, continue in our church till Christ returns for us.

Celebrating a Century at Forest Hills Baptist Church

Forest Hills Baptist Church will be celebrating 100 years of ministry this weekend. What follows is a letter I wrote to mark the occasion that will be published in the program for the weekend. If you are in the Wilson, NC area, we'd love to have you come join us! A complete schedule is below! Cetennial Invitation

Welcome to the centennial celebration of Forest Hills Baptist Church! Today we celebrate God’s faithfulness and our rich heritage as a church family. As we gather this weekend in worship, we must recognize that we stand on the shoulders of spiritual giants—men and women who sacrificed, gave, and served because they loved the Lord and loved his church. The faithful generations who came before us believed with great conviction that Jesus is the son of God and the savior of the world. As we proudly gather this weekend, we can declare with great confidence that though much has changed over the last 100 years, the gospel we proclaim has not. For we too stand on the firm conviction that Jesus is the redeemer king, who washes us with his blood and unites us to God.

We must continue to guard the precious deposit entrusted to us and pass the baton of the Gospel to the next generation. This relay race of faith has gone on now for two millennia and for a century now at Forest Hills. We stand in this grand tradition that today we honor, commemorate, and celebrate.

To our members, former staff, and guests, we thank you for attending this centennial celebration. I know that God has used the ministry of Forest Hills in your life. Some of you came to know Jesus through the ministries of this church. God has been so gracious to use and preserve this church for a century now. Though Forest Hills belongs to no member and no generation, but belongs to Christ Jesus himself, who purchased us by his blood. He has formed us into his people and called us on mission for him.

As we stand at the end of one century and the beginning of another, we know that the work of our founders has yet to be completed. For there are thousands in our city and millions across the world who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Until Christ comes again, we must continually proclaim the good news of Christ’s kingdom to the lost and dying world. Though the world looks very different today and our church would be unrecognizable to those founding members in 1916, we cling to the same Gospel truths and partake of the same Great Commission work. As the previous century of our church sets, a new century dawns. Our church today has articulated our vision to treasure Christ, equip believers, and send disciples for the glory of God. May God expand our efforts and grow our ministry, bringing glory to his own name. God has glorified himself greatly through us in the last century, may he do so even mightier in the century to come.

In Christ alone,

Rev. Justin Deeter

Senior Pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church

Three Key Passages on Community in the Church

Yesterday, I announced to my church about our move to community groups this upcoming fall. For us, community groups will be multi-generational, home-based, sermon-discussion, small groups. Our leadership team has been working very hard preparing for this move, and if you are curious your an read more about it on our church website. Today, I thought I would share with you three key scriptures that have led our church to make community groups an essential component of our discipleship strategy at Forest Hills. lightstock_31957_small_joe_woolworth-1140x760

1. Hebrews 10:19-25

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:19–25, ESV)

This passage teaches us that community protects us from wandering. Because of the Gospel of Jesus, we have confidence that we have been cleansed by his blood and washed with pure water. We can now enter into God’s presence through the work of our great high priest, Jesus. Yet, now we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” Temptation comes and attempts to waver our faith. Every day we are bombarded by demonic lies tempting us to abandon Christ for worldly treasures. Then the writer tells us the best defense from falling away from the faith. That defense is community. We are called to stir up on another to good works. We are brothers and sisters in arms, in the trenches of the Christian life together. So, we should not neglect meeting together. We must intentionally surround ourselves with the community of the church so that we can receive and give ministry one to another. This means that you have a God-given responsibility to make sure that the person sitting in the pew next to you makes it to the finish line. We must meet together, encourage one another, and stir up one another to obedience to Christ until the day of his returning draws near.

2. Ephesians 4:11-16

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, ESV)

This passage teaches us the aim of community, which is building up one another in love. Paul describes how leaders of the church, including the pastor-teacher, equip the body of Christ for the work of ministry. As the body is equipped, it grows into maturity, no longer tossed to and fro by the world. So the body is an organism, held together and joined, and when each part is working properly, the entire body grows itself up in love.

This means that you have an important roll to play in the maturity of the person in the pew next to you. God calls you to minister to them, build them up in love, speaking the truth to them, and growing them in love. This work of equipping does not just take place by the pastors (though they do lead the way), but the entire body builds itself up in love. Every church member covenants together to build one another up.

3. Acts 2:42-47

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42–47, ESV)

This passage shows us the power of this simplistic but supernatural community. What does Gospel-centered, spirit-driven community look like? Look to this passage. We see the church devoting themselves to the teaching of the word, the breaking of bread and prayers. The people lived in close, intimate proximity with one another. They gave of themselves and they even gave of their financial resources. Each day they gathered together, they ate together in their homes worshiping the Lord. What was the result of this sort of community? Explosive, Gospel growth. “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Community is more than just being in the same room, but its life on life, intimate, personal, vulnerable ministry to one another. This means you share laughs, you share tears, you share your burdens, you share your soul with one another.

The Deadly Grip of Wealth in the Church

We live in a prosperous society. We pull out expensive smart phones out of our pockets. We eat out at expensive restaurants and dress in the latest designer clothing. Though the poor remain among us in America, we remain the richest nation in the history of the world. Yet, our affluence grows like kudzu around our necks, choking the spiritual life out of us. Wealth and prosperity can have spirit numbing effects, masking our spiritual hunger and inoculating us with comfort. Just like in the dystopian novel Brave New World, we take our daily dose of soma to vaccinate ourselves from asking the big questions of life. One hundred dollar bills in the shape of a heart isolated on white background The love of money

Jesus speaks so frequently about money for a reason. Though money is morally neutral, we ourselves are bound in the shackles of sin. Because of our propensity to sin, Paul tells Timothy that, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evils" (1 Tim 6:10). Indeed it is, and we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where our capitalistic ideals drill a love of money deep into the recesses of our hearts. Our greed and materialism often goes unnoticed, because everyone else around us runs the same rat race.

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The recent lottery fever illustrates our deep love for money and our desire for more. With the recent 1 billion Powerball lottery, Americans went nuts. Sadly, even many Christians proudly posted $20 plus worth of lottery tickets hoping to strike the jackpot. Even after they've already announced the winners, Facebook users are now sharing images of the winners in a vain attempt to gain some of their cash. We think that more money will solve all our problems and we've convinced ourselves that our greatest need is economic, not spiritual. Our affluence, wealth, and desire for more  not only corrodes our spiritual lives, but also the spiritual vitality of our churches.

Affluence in the Church

Recently I was teaching through the history of the Christian church to my congregation. We looked at the book of Acts and saw the urgency and generosity of the early church. Their community was remarkably simple, but unusually beautiful. The first century church, marked by their dependence on the Holy Spirit, spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The church did not possess multi-million dollar facilities, charter buses, or expense media technology. Rather, their community consisted of submission to the apostles teaching, prayer, and worship. Yet, day by day the Spirit added to their number.

As I was teaching about the early church, many wiser members began to speak, contributing to the discussion. One lady commented on how wealth in the church can distract from the churches mission. Then an eighty-year-old member, who has attended since a babe, commented on the incredible simplicity of the early decades of our church. The budget was thin, buildings were small, and each day the church was required to depend on God for survival. Yet, over the decades the church grew into an upper class institution filled with multiple programs and activities, bigger budgets and bigger buildings. The urgency and dependency on God in those early decades waned as the church became comfortable in their own routine and traditions. As the conversation continued among the crowd, many voiced their affirmation of our analysis. Affluence had highjacked our church.

Restoring Urgency and Dependency

I have a feeling my church is not a lone. Rather wealth has assumed prerogative in our local churches. We've settled for maintaining the institution rather than advancing the mission. Driven by our prosperity and desire for comfort, we would rather cling to our affluential chains and comfortable traditions, than be set free by the Spirit's power. The local church should be characterized as a community of urgency and dependency. We must urgently declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world, and we must do so depending on the Holy Spirit's power. Over the decades, in the comfort of our prosperity, urgency wanes and we grew independent. After all, who needs to depend on God when you have a few hundred-thousand dollars in the bank?

So what is the solution do the kudzu of affluence that has engulfed our congregations? Repentance. We must repent of our lethargy and turn away from our apathy. We must repent of our self-reliance and fall on our knees to beg the Spirit for his life-giving power. So I write this to sound an alarm to a great danger within our lives and our churches. The problem is not our wealth per se. I am not advocating that we all should take a vow of poverty, because the problem ultimately lies within our heart. Yet, many of us are unaware that our prosperity is choking our spiritual lives. Let us repent, lest we betray our Lord for a bag of silver and go to potter's field to hang ourselves with the rope of affluence.

6 Tips for Millennial Pastors in Established Churches

I'm a young pastor.  Trust me. You don't have to tell me. I get told that every time I step into a hospital room or a funeral home. Although young pastors are not all that unusual anymore, it is unusual for a pastor in his twenties to be pastoring an established and predominantly older church.  Some how, God willed it for me to become the Pastor at Forest Hills Baptist Church.  I'm not sure if the church was crazy, but they called a young, inexperienced, guy like me to shepherd them.  I've been at my church for almost four years now – 2 years as a Student pastor, 1 year as the interim Senior Pastor, and another year as the permanent Senior Pastor.  Over the course of these past few years I've learned a lot about my self and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way.  My church has been so gracious to me as I learn and grow as a man of God and as a shepherd. I'm observing a generational passing of the baton in most churches right now.  The aging boomers are starting to retire and the millennial pastors are getting their first opportunity to lead established churches. Although many established churches are hesitant or afraid to hire any pastor under 40, more churches are open to having a younger pastor.  Being a younger pastor has its own unique sets of challenges (some of which I might outline in a future post), but for now I want to provide some council to any young pastors in establish churches.  For what it is worth, these are some things I've been learning slowly and sometimes painfully.

1. Lead with the Bible

This is absolutely essential.  As a young pastor there isn't a ton of life experience to pull from and you have little to no relational authority.  Sure you might be the Senior Pastor, but when your younger than everyone in the room, that positional authority doesn't seem to go very far.  Thankfully, the authority of the pastoral position is not tied to age but to Scripture. The authority of the pastor is not his experience but God's word.  As you lead your people, make sure you hold out the word of life through preaching, in meetings, in hospital rooms, at funerals, and any other place you might find yourself among your people.  The pastor (young or old) should always be pointing his people to follow Jesus, not him.  When leading any sort of change or initiative, you should demonstrate thoroughly from the Bible why it is necessary to go that direction. Convince your people that as they follow you, you are following Jesus.  This happens by centering your leadership on the teaching of God's word.

2. Demonstrate Humility

A lot of younger pastors get themselves in trouble because they are about as humble as Kayne West. They think they have church figured out. If only everyone would follow their plan, their ideas, and do what they say, everything would be fine.  Not only is this arrogant, it's idiotic. The painful lesson I learn each day is that just when I think I have ministry figured out, I find out I don't. Listen to criticism. Be teachable.  Demonstrate humility.  No body wants to follow a know-it-all. If you lead your people under compulsion you will not only loose any credibility to do anything meaningful and lasting in that church, but chances are you'll get asked to go elsewhere.

3. Adapt to the Culture

Contextualization is one of those buzz words out there right now.  From church planters to missionaries, everyone is thinking through how we can communicate the unchanging gospel in a constantly changing culture.  When the culture we find ourselves doing ministry is traditional, nobody throws out the importance of contextualization.  Many of the established churches are formal, traditional, and resistant to change.  Many young pastors make the mistake of ignoring the current culture of their church and forcing cultural change on the church before they are ready.  Adapt your methods to the people God has given you to shepherd.  To adapt to the culture, you must know the culture of your church.  This means you must pay attention and learn your people.

I'm not a big fan of the coat and tie. In fact, I can't stand wearing a tie. Every time I put one on it feels like I'm putting on a noose.  Yet I wear one every Sunday morning at my church to preach.  Why? I'm adapting to the culture of my people.  I do not want the fact that I'm not wearing a tie to hinder the preaching of the word of God.  I'm contextualizing to the people God has given me, reaching them where they are to teach them and instruct them. If this means that wearing a coat and tie allows them to hear the Gospel clearly, than it is no sacrifice.  This is a simplistic illustration but the point is made. Meet your people where they are,and slowly implement cultural change.  Then after many years of careful teaching maybe the tie can come off. (I'm hoping!)

4. Be Patient

Patience doesn't come naturally to anyone, especially young men. It is easy to come into an established church as their pastor thinking that the reform and revitalization they need will happen in six months.  It won't.  Leading change in established churches can be a painfully slow process over the course of many years and sometimes even decades.  It is like turning around an ocean liner. It can take a while to get on course.

Young pastors, do not let your eagerness get the best of you.  Do not lead too fast or too far in front of your people that you loose them.  The wise shepherd knows his sheep. He can sense when they are tired or worn out from the journey.  He can tell when he needs to slow down or when he can speed up.

5. Don't Be Afraid to Lead

On the flip side, you must lead. It is easy to go into an established church and get comfortable.  The salary is nice, the routine is predictable, and no one is going to get mad at you if you just keep every thing the same.  I see many pastors who are so afraid to lead that they just sit there and feed off the sheep. Pastor you are not called to feed off the sheep.  Ezekiel 34 has some pretty strong words for shepherds who do that. Rather, we are called to lead them.  Yes, we must be patient, but if you are not moving them to greater health and a deeper love for Jesus and their community than you are failing them as a pastor. Sure leadership can be painful and yes the sheep might bite back, but this is the call of ministry.

6. Love Your People

Your church is not a project to be fixed, but a people to be loved. Spend the first few years of your ministry just loving your people well.  Get to know them. Go out to eat with them. Pray with them.  Love them. It is so easy for young ambitious pastors to loose sight of this.  Not only by loving your people will you serve them well, but you will also gain relational credibility and buy-in to lead in more significant endeavors later down the line.

Great Failures are Covered by a Great Savior

As you lead an established church as a millennial pastor it will be challenging.  It can be painful, frustrating, and heart breaking.  Along the way you will experience some major leadership failures, yet despite our failures we have a great savior.  As we lean in on Jesus, and ask him to help us love our people, he will give us wisdom to shepherd wisely.  Millennial pastors do not need to abandon established churches just because it may be difficult.  As one myself, I'm excited about seeing other millennial pastors begin to take seriously the call to lead established churches, and I'm excited to see what our great Savior is going to do through young pastors.

Are you a young pastor in an established church? If so, share with us some things you have learned in your ministry context on social media or below in the comments!

6 Ways You Can Create Authentic Community in Your Church

The church is not a building or an event, but a people. The Church is the called out people of God, a holy community made up of redeemed sinners. Unfortunately often the emphasis of church is on the Sunday event or the building itself and not on the community. In many churches it is not hard to show up incognito, hide out in the back, and leave as soon as the service is over all the while remaining completely unknown. It is possible to go to church without participating in the community of the church. For those who do seek to build relationships with other church members, often those relationships are on the superficial level. We may talk about the weather, how our favorite college football team performed over the weekend, or some hobby interest, but rarely to we break through the brick wall of superficiality. Isn’t biblical community more than this?

We wall tend to long for authentic community. We want it. We need it. Yet, a culture of authentic community in the church can be hard to foster. There is the great pressure to present your life as an ideal Christian, so we hide our struggles and slap on our plastic smiles. The pressure to have it all together has turned the church into an actors guild perfecting their religious masks. But play acting is the death of authentic Christian Community. When vulnerability is replaced by a hypocritical masquerade the church is lost. The church is to be a bastion of hope for redeemed sinners not an elitist ivory tower for the self-righteous. The church is made up of self-confessed sinners who have been made righteous in Christ Jesus. If any people on the planet should have the freedom to be authentic, it should be Christians. For their sin has been covered by the blood of the lamb.

So how can you help create a culture of authentic community in your church? How can you help build meaningful relationships with other Christians for the mutual building up of the body? Let me share with you six ways.

1. Be Intentional

Go deeper through perceptive questions. Rather than a quick “Hello! Pretty cold weather today”, ask questions that encourage people to open up. “How have things been going this week?” or “How is your mom who has been fighting cancer?” or “What can I be praying of you this upcoming week?” or “What has God been teaching you recently through His word?” Ask questions that allow you to dig deeper that creates opportunity to encourage and remind one another of the Gospel and its implications.

2. Be Hospitable

Find opportunities to invite others into the rhythm of your life. If you are running to the store, invite someone to go along with you. If you are making a delicious apple pie for dinner, invite someone over to enjoy it with you. Invite people into the routine of your life, all the while being intentional in your conversations, going deeper together in your relationship with Jesus Christ.

3. Be Available

Community cannot be manufactured through planning. Sometimes there may be a friend who needs you to drop what your doing an pray with them. There may be a crisis such as a death in the family that they need your support. Someone may have had a terrible day at work and they need a friend to talk to that night sharing their sorrows. If we are going to foster community in our lives and in our churches we must learn to be less busy. We must learn to not so over schedule ourselves that we don’t have time to be available for those who need us. Intentionally leave time open and unscheduled so you can drop what your doing and be there for others.

4. Be Teachable

Some people seem to think they have it all together. You start talking about an issue, and they seem to have it all figured out. Yet, in genuine Gospel-community everyone should take a posture of humility and teachability. We have a lot to learn from one another and others may be able to see blind spots that we are missing. If we come across as unteachable and prideful, than community will be non-existent. Go to others for advise or counsel. Ask others how they would handle the situation your facing. Not only will your conversations be richer, but God may teach you something through your brother or sister that you might not have known had you keep yapping your mouth.

5. Be Forgiving

When we enter into deep and authentic relationships with other believers, we leave ourselves exposed to be hurt. Often times other people may say something that deeply wounds us. When those times happen it is vital that we be quick to offer forgiveness. We we sit an allow others offenses to fester, the poison of bitterness creeps into our hearts, eating away at our soul. So when others hurt you be quick to forgive and quick to seek reconciliation.

6. Be Vulnerable

You have to be willing to let down your guard and open up. It is scary, its risky, its terrifying, yet essential for Gospel community. Be courageous enough to let people see the real you. Share with a sister in Christ about a struggle you are facing. Be aggressive in asking for prayer from a good friend. Share the struggles of your heart or encourage another with a difficult lesson God has taught you in the past. When we let down our guard and are vulnerable with one another, authentic community is the result.

May these six things help you as you seek to foster authentic community in your life and in the life of your church. May we as Christians not settle for anything less than authentic, honest, and vulnerable community. May we be so bold as to find our identity and worth in Christ that the fear of man that so often hinders true community be put to death. As we throw our religious masks to their graves we will find the joy of that wonderful community of grace with which God has gifted us, the local church.

What other things would you encourage others to find authentic community? What does community look like in your relationships and in your church?

Pragmatism vs the Power of God

One of my greatest temptations is to begin to rely on pragmatism rather than on the power of God. In a day and age where efficiency and productivity are virtues, it is difficult to resist the cultural pleasure to begin to make pragmatism a god. Yet, the Christian must resist this impulse to rely on ourselves. God has freed us from the chains of self-sufficiency. To be a Christian is to be dependent upon God in everything. Yet the beast of pragmatism begins to sneak in our lives without our knowing. What does true dependence on God look like? Well lets look at three areas together: our sanctification, our work, and our church.

Dependent on God in Our Sanctification

What does pragmatism look like in the Christian life? Well it turns spiritual things into mechanical things. It takes the things of God and turns them into the things of man. If we are pragmatic in our personal spiritual lives we try to force spiritual growth by attending a conferences, reading a book, listening to a sermon, etc. Though there are nothing wrong with either of those things, in fact they can be powerful tools for spiritual growth. The mistake in our thinking comes when we begin to think that those activities are causative, meaning that they within themselves created growth and maturity. When we begin to adopt a pragmatic attitude in our personal spiritual lives we become content to grow in godliness apart from God’s help, as if there could be such growth!

In our personal spiritual life we are totally and wholly dependent upon God. He is the one who brings growth and conforms us to the image of Christ. We see this so clearly in Philippians 2:12–13 as Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. Paul commands us to work in our sanctification. We must be disciplined in scripture reading. We must prioritize time in prayer. We might even choose to go to a conference or two. We work out our salvation into our daily lives like kneading yeast into dough. We want our new life in Christ to permeate into all of who we are. Yet, Paul says that in actuality as we are working it is God working in us through our works! In other words, our spiritual activity may seem to be causing our growth, it is actually the power of God working through our activity. God is not only the one justifies us but also sanctifies us. It all comes by his grace through faith.

When we adopt a pragmatism in our spiritual lives it breads within us a pharisaical mindset. In pride we become self-sufficient relying on our own strength and power to cause fruit to grow in our life. Yet it is God who gets all the credit! He is the one who is going to finish what he started in our lives (Phil 1:5). Therefore to try to grow in our personal spiritual lives apart from Christ is not only foolish, it is impossible. Do not let a spiritual pragmatism breed within your spirit a prideful self sufficiency. Be dependent on God.

Dependent on God in Our Work

Pragmatism takes place regularly in our day to day activities. We wake up to a buzzing alarm, put our wobbly feet on the floor, and hit the ground running with an impossible daily to-do list. I believe busyness is killing our spiritual vitality. In our busyness we spend all our energy working towards our own goals. Despite the convenience of modern technology, we seem to keep getting busier and keep getting more stressed. As a result a whole genre of literature has arrived to help us manage more and be more efficient in our work and in our lives.

For many Christians, the paralyzing demands of busyness stifle spiritual growth and spiritual fruitfulness. Rather than relying more on God in our times of busyness, we rely more on our selves. We become more self-sufficient in our productivity system and our tightly scheduled calendars. Rather than spending more time in God’s presence, we spend less and devout the extra time to the office. One of the ways we have seen this is with the extreme lack of prayerlessness in our lives.

John Piper writes, “Prayer is the translation into a thousand different words of a single sentence: ‘Apart from me (Christ) you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).” How right he is. Prayer is an expression of dependence. It fights within the mechanical pragmatic impulse we all have. To many prayer seems to be a waste of time. How can I spend an hour of prayer in the morning when I have so much to do? Yet busyness should not lead us to pray less, rather it should lead us to pray more. The great reformer Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” What is he teaching us in that statement? That prayer is not a waste of time, but prayer makes us more effective. We are dependent in all our lives on the very power of God. We must get on our knees and ask for his help. In our work and in our busyness, we need his power if we hope to be fruitful and truly productive.

Don’t let the pragmatic demands of efficiency keep you from relying on God for everything. Apart from him you can do nothing. Get on your knees and beg for his enabling strength and power.

Dependent on God in the Church

I cannot write about pragmatism and not address the pragmatism that is in the Church. If pragmatism has been harmful to our personal lives, it has been death to many churches. Many churches have placed more confidence in 21st century business practices than they have in the Spirit of God. We find ourselves creating program after program, meeting after meeting, activity after activity in order to fabricate a work of God. We live in a day and age with manipulative alter calls all to just increase baptismal numbers. Under the mantra of being a successful church we bring the ugly beast of pragmatism into the spirit-dependent people of God.

For many churches if the Spirit of God stopped working today, things would continue as usual tomorrow. What shame this is! If anyone should understand their dependence on the power of God’s spirit to save and grow, it should be the people of God. After all, each and everyone of us in Christ have experience the enabling power of God in our salvation. We know that it is only by grace we have been saved. Yet, the pragmatic impulse continues to breed great activity, but little prayer.

If church leaders would only get on their knees quicker before picking up the next book on church trends the Kingdom of God would be better for it. It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is no help at all! (John 6:63) Pragmatism is depending on the flesh rather than depending on the Spirit.

Pragmatism vs the Power of God

Christians are to be a dependent people. We don’t pull ourselves up by our boot straps and make things happen in our lives. We need God. We are poor in Spirit. We are broken. May God put to death all self-sufficiency in our lives and make us wholly dependent on Christ! How miserable it is to receive the Gospel, the power of God for salvation for all who believe, and exchange it for a power of our own making. Confess your dependence upon God this day. Fall on your knees in prayer and ask him to work in your life, in your work, and in your church. Ask, seek, knock. Persist and ask to see more of his glory. Pray to see more of his face and for his work to be evident. Wrestle with him till he blesses you. Those sort of desperate, longing, dependent prayers are just the sort of prayers that God loves to answer. May God get us to the point where we trade in a powerless pragmatism in exchange for His powerful Spirit.

 

How to Foster a Culture of Vulnerability in Your Church

Vulnerability is frightening. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being exposed in our sin or confessing it to others.  We feel the pressure to hide our true selves, even from the church.  There is nothing worse than encountering a fake. Yet, as we look around our churches there are many who force smiles and hide their struggles behind a religious mask.  Many feel a fear of being judged in the church, and think the church as the last place in the world to find forgiveness and grace.

  • Shouldn’t the church be the most grace filled place in the world because we believe that their was a savior who was judged in our place?
  • Doesn’t the Gospel free us to be authentic and vulnerable with each other?
  • How can we remove the religious masks of our congregations and encourage them to be vulnerable and authentic
  • How can we create a culture of grace within our churches where it is ok to struggle with sin and fight for joy in sorrow?

As a pastor these questions plague me, because I want my people to be vulnerable with where they are.  I don’t want them to fear that if they share their struggles or doubts that they will be gossiped about or out casted. I want to create a culture so saturated in the grace of Jesus Christ where each member is bearing the burdens of others. After all, we are all pilgrims seeking Christ together.

Maybe you are a pastor or a church leader and you want to develop this sort of culture within your congregation, how do we do this? How to we encourage a foster of vulnerability?

1. Know, Preach, and Counsel with the Gospel

One of the reasons a culture of hiding develops in a church is because the Gospel ceases to become central in all the ministries of the church.  When the Gospel is taken for granted or even lost, the religious game begins to happen. People begin to feel a need to conceal their sin, less they are thought less of. We take our fig leaves and begin to cover up our nakedness and hide from our creator and his body, the church. We need to integrate the Gospel in everything we do from our children’s ministry to our preaching. We must remind ourselves daily what Christ has done for us.

How does the Gospel free us to be vulnerable with one another? Because the Gospel tells us that we are far more wicked than we ever thought, but at the same time we are more loved that we ever dreamed to hope. We aren’t ok, in our sin we might be able to impress others with religious games, but we are certainly not impressing God. Our self-righteousness is offensive to him.  This means that nobody takes your sin as seriously as God. Before him, left to yourself you are under his righteous judgement.  We are exposed our religious fig leaves do not hide anything from God.

Yet, at the same time we are loved with an unbreakable and never-ending love. God showed us his love by sending Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin. It doesn’t matter how terrible our past or how detestable our actions, Jesus has paid for it all. In love, God has reached in your filth and washed you white as snow.  This happens totally by the grace of God.  As a result, the love God has for his children will not be taken away though we struggle with sin and doubts. Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? Who is going to snatch you from his hand?

Because we are secured in the mighty hand of God, it frees us to be vulnerable to with one another.  The true preaching of the Gospel begins to develop a culture of vulnerability, because the Gospel teaches us that we are broken and in need of repair. So in your ministries and in your teaching, center it on the Gospel.  Remind people the horrors of their sin and point them to the merciful savior whose Spirit makes our adoption secure. As a result we are free to be honest and vulnerable to those around us, because when we are justified before God why would the opinions of mere men concern us?

2. Share Your Own Struggles

One of the best ways to foster a culture of vulnerability is to begin to model it yourself as a leader.  Lead by example sharing your struggles with sin – your fight against pride, your struggle for obedience, your grasping for joy in sorrow. Many people put pastors and other church leaders on a pedestal.  Many think that they do not struggle with sin or with following Christ.  When we begin to drop down our own religious masks and begin to share how the Gospel helps us in our struggle, it will encourage others to do the same.

3. Create Small Groups that Foster Biblical Community

People need to have an environment to share their struggles. They need to have a community that come around them to voice their heartaches and ask for prayer.  They need accountability that asks tough questions, while at the same time pointing each other to the hope and identity we have in Christ.

How your church does this can vary widely. This can happen in a sunday school class, small groups, or one on one discipleship.  What these groups need to foster is a community of grace that encourages each other to follow Christ.  When people have friends and relationships who know them and who love them, it makes it easier to be vulnerable, confess sins, and share our struggles.

4. Get out of the Christian Bubble

Many churches are completely stuck in the Christian bubble and they have forgotten what the real world out there is like.  There are a lot of hurting people out in the world who need hope.  When a church begins to reach out to those far from Christ, the messiness of people's lives will begin to be met face to face.

Over the course of my life I’ve led two different youth groups.  One was with a wild group of kids far from God knowing little about the church or Christianity.  The second was a group of kids who were largely raised in the church.  Which one do you think was easier to foster biblical community? The first one by far. Why? Well because they had no problem sharing their struggles.  It would come out in Bible study publicly that a girl would struggle with cutting or that a guy was sleeping with his girl friend.  These kids were lost and apart from Christ, but nobody was hiding anything.  It was all out in the open, and made it much easier to share and apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many of those students came to know Christ over the years and the vulnerability that those students begin with continue to this day in their Christian fellowship.

When you begin to reach out to people who are hurting outside of the church, it begins to foster a culture of vulnerability within the church.  The secretiveness of sin is brought into the light of the Gospel.

 5. Pray for the Spirit to Work

Finally, we must remember that whatever our strategies or methods, we are dependent upon the revival and renewal of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our people.  You simply cannot make people be vulnerable.  You cannot make them take off their religious masks. You simple preach the Scriptures and the grace of God until the Spirit works.

Labor for a culture of vulnerability and seek to create a church of grace, but at the end pray the Holy Spirit will bring this about through the faithful teaching of His word.  God is faithful, and the Gospel still has the power to transform people's lives.  A truly vulnerable and Christian community cannot be fabricated but must be birthed by the Spirit’s power.

By God’s grace, may our churches become a place where it is ok to hurt and struggle. May the church be a group of broken, poverty-stricken sinners who have found hope, joy, and salvation in Jesus Christ.  I hope these five things encourage you as you seek to create a culture of grace and vulnerability in your church.

 Does your church have a culture of grace and vulnerability? If so, how would you encourage us to foster this sort of culture? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.