Community

How Does Your Community Share Meals?

“Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals.” – Tim Chester, A Meal With Jesus

Food is significant. Through food, Adam and Eve rebelled. Through food, God grows dependence in the Israelites in the dessert. And through food, Jesus holds up bread and wine during his last meal with his disciples—proclaiming the bread his body and the wine his blood. Food and drink transform into metaphors and tastes of the gospel.

In our efforts to go and make, we often forget that the very places we already inhabit are places that we have been sent with the good news of Jesus

Bread has an association with life that surpasses biblical imagery, but in Christ, it is the sufficient sacrifice. Wine too has gained traction, outside Christianity, as a sign of blessing, goodness, and often associated with blood. However, in Christ, wine becomes the image of blessing, goodness, justification, and cleansing that comes through Jesus’ suffering on our behalf. Jesus chooses a meal for us to remember the gospel. If the gospel forms a community, sharing this gospel feast ought to be as often as we get together. Jesus called us to remember him and his sacrifice for us through a meal. When we eat together, we commune around this truth.

Our Relationship with Eating

Humans have a unique connection with food. We depend on it to survive. We also turn to it for comfort and safety in overindulgence. Food, for some of us, becomes a medium for expressing our creativity, becoming art. Fundamentally, food reminds us of our need for something outside of ourselves. We have to take, receive, and eat to continue moving through this world. Meals are a daily reminder of our common need for God and his faithfulness to provide both physically and spiritually.

Communal Eating

In community, we regularly eat meals together instead of in isolation. At the table, we share our stories, we listen to one another, and we experience grace. The New Testament describes this act as "breaking bread" and invokes a giving and receiving of relationship in the most simple and unspoken of ways. The weekly communal meal is a spiritual discipline.

Through the meal, we engage one another as a family in Christ, and we engage Christ.

The communal meal begins through arrival or gathering. At this moment, everyone’s individual responsibilities, schedules, and to-do lists collide into an expression of community. The worries, struggles, fears, and happy news of each member comes rushing through the door. Your lives are hurried until this point. Your lives are physically separate until this moment. A weekly meal is more than logistics to work out but a spiritual discipline of being united. You are physically bound together by the table you gather around, the complete meal everyone shares in, and under the prayer recognizing God’s grace as you eat.

Through the meal, we engage one another as a family in Christ, and we engage Christ. The weekly meal is a fantastic space to grow in your love for one another. Let the conversations around the dinner table be focused and meaningful. Embrace this moment with honesty. As a leader, spark the conversation to be about more than the movies people watch and the latest sports scores.

Welcome Others to the Gospel Feast

Come, sinners, to the gospel feast; Let every soul be Jesus' guest. Ye need not one be left behind, For God hath bid all humankind. – Charles Wesley

We regularly sing this hymn at Bread&Wine. It is an anthem for us, and the church we aspire to be. A church that welcomes every soul as Jesus' guest into the most meaningful of tables. Our invitation to those in our city is not merely to dinner parties but into the family of God, into union with Christ. As we welcome the poor and powerless into our community meals and as we share the crucial nature of the elements of communion, we realize we are the sinners coming. We are the ones in need of his body and his blood. A community that secludes itself and its dinner table from the outside world will not only struggle to reach their neighbors but will fail to see their need for the Table.

Make Meals Meaningful

  • Ask each other how the week is going and expect long, honest answers.
  • Ask everyone a common question that will lead to deeper understanding of each other: What is your favorite summer memory from childhood? Or how do you prepare for the Christmas holidays?
  • Ask about how each person is processing the sermon from Sunday, or about the service that was done as a group the week before, circle back to past hardships people have shared.
  • Simple things to like what are you thankful for today. What was the hardest part of your day today?
  • You could also have a person or couple in the “spotlight” where they can share in more depth their story, current spot in life, and what they are going through with the community having the chance to pray for them.

Reflections

  • How does your community share meals?
  • How can you eat with glad and generous hearts?
  • How can you remember Christ as you eat?
  • How can the gospel become clearer as you share a meal with folks?
  • How often should you get together to share a meal during the week?
  • How does your community remember Jesus in these meals?
  • Most people eat twenty-one meals a week, how could anyone in your community share at least one of them with others?

Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised?Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities, and Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com.

Jesus Welcomed REAL Sinners. Do We?

In a very real sense, the work of Jesus is complete. When it comes to our standing as beloved, forgiven, delighted-in sons and daughters of God, “It is finished,” just as he said. His sinless life secured for us a new and irrevocable status—holy and blameless in God’s sight. His death fulfilled the requirements of God’s justice toward our sins. We are summoned by Scripture to make much of Jesus. It is stunning that Jesus makes much of us, too. Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and he died the death we should have died. Because of this, we are free. What a wonderful and humbling reality—God does not treat us as our sins deserve, because he has already treated Jesus as our sins deserve.

The work of Jesus continues in the world through Christians.

All this being true, there is still much work that Jesus intends to get done…through us.

Luke writes in Acts 1:1, “In the first book [the Gospel of Luke], O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Began to do and teach? How could there be more for Jesus to do than he what has already done?

That’s where we as Christ’s “ambassadors” come into the picture. We are now the chosen ones, sent into the world on his behalf, filled with his Spirit to represent him in the places where we live, work and play. The work of Jesus continues in the world through Christians.

Our calling is to labor in every way possible to model our ministry and message after his. We are to live as those who are “full of grace and truth” until our churches and ministries attract the types of people who were attracted to Jesus, and, by unfortunate necessity, draw criticism from the types of people who criticized him.

What does it mean to have a ministry atmosphere that is “full of grace” (John 1:14)?

Gandhi famously said:

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Gandhi admired Jesus but found it difficult to reconcile how the Christians in his life seemed to represent Jesus so poorly. In his mind, this is what kept him from becoming a follower of Jesus.

As Jesus’ ambassadors, we need to listen very carefully to statements like this one. We must carefully and lovingly examine the common barriers that stand between the real Jesus and people’s false impressions of him—impressions which, unfortunately, have been projected to a watching world by sincere yet misguided Christians. Let’s consider some of these barriers, shall we?

BARRIER #1: CONDEMNATION

Writer Philip Yancey often asks people he meets what they think about Christians. Sadly, the answer he hears most often from people is that Christians are judgmental, intolerant, and holier-than-thou.

When the September 11 terrorist attacks took place on the World Trade Center, one very well-known (and deeply misguided) Christian leader confirmed this stance by saying on national television:

If you are a homosexual, a member of the ACLU, in favor of abortion, or part of the People of the American Way, then I point my finger in your face and say you did this. You made this happen.

A Christian friend of mine who is an actor once invited a gay friend over to have dinner with him and his wife. Their guest soon realized (from the Bible on the coffee table) that they were Christians. He then said to my friend, “You are a Christian, and you actually like me?” This kind of story causes my heart to sink. Does it yours?

Are we serious about being Christ’s ambassadors in the world? Then we must humbly wrestle with, and fight with love to reverse, the idea that Christians are against people who don’t believe like we do.

Whether this impression is true or merely perceived, it is still our starting point in the minds of many non-Christian people. If we are not guilty ourselves, then we are at least guilty by association with believers who have misrepresented the biblical Jesus with harsh, abrasive, condemning or withdrawn attitudes. We must take personal responsibility, as far as it depends on us, to replace pictures of a false Jesus with pictures of the real Jesus—the Jesus who came full of grace and truth, and who even welcomed “sinners” and ate with them (Luke 15:1-2).

BARRIER #2: SEPARATION

I believe that Christians who want to separate themselves and their children from secular people, secular things, and secular ideas make a big mistake. Christ’s ambassadors must resist this “us against them” and often fear-based mindset. We must do everything in our power to become friends with as many non-Christians as we can—no conditions attached. This must be a central, core value of our lives and also our Christian communities.

Consider Jesus. It was only the religious proud who withdrew from Jesus, criticized him, took offense at him, and wished to rid the world of him. But what about the prostitutes, crooks, drunks, gluttons and sinners? These all wanted to be near to Jesus, and they wanted to hear what he had to say. And Jesus obliged gladly—so much so that he became guilty by association, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunk and a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

We know that these accusations of drunkenness and gluttony were false—Jesus was tempted in every way but without sin. But Jesus was unapologetically a friend to the least and the lost—to all who felt ostracized and belittled by the religious communities of his day.

Jesus was willing to offend strict religious people if that’s what it took to convince broken sinners that he loved them and had hope for them.

Are we?

Jesus was repulsive to religious insiders and a breath of fresh air to religious outsiders.

Are we?

BARRIER #3: SMUGNESS

There is a price to pay if we get serious about cultivating atmospheres that are full of grace. The more we begin to befriend the kinds of people that Jesus did, we will experience resistance and even rejection from “the faithful.” They may even be our fellow church members. It’s a simple fact. When we do the kinds of things that Jesus did and love in some of the ways that Jesus did, some will take offense at us. And they will tell themselves that their being offended is because of their love for God. But anytime someone is offended by kindness that resembles Jesus, our Lord says that this person, rather than acting out of love for God, is acting as a child of the devil (John 8:39-47). It is Satan, not God, who is the hater of kindness. It is Satan, not God, who is the accuser of the people that Jesus loves.

Consider Luke 7, where a woman described as “sinful” enters the home of Simon the religious Pharisee. In the name of love, and in the spirit of radical grace, Jesus receives with delight her very un-orthodox display of affection toward him. Jesus breaks with religious customs, allowing this ceremonially and morally unclean prostitute to touch his feet. He breaks with social customs also, receiving her as his disciple—putting a woman on equal footing with men in a very paternalistic, misogynistic society where women were seen as second class.

Most scandalous, however, is the way that Jesus even breaks with moral customs to demonstrate to this woman how dear she is to him. She lets down her hair, which was grounds for divorce in those days—a woman could do this only in the presence of her immediate family. She also touches him with the tools of her prostitute’s trade. He lets her anoint him with a prostitute’s perfume and kiss him with a prostitute’s lips!

Of course, we know the rest of the story—Jesus was shunned as a man of ill repute by the religious people at the sinner party. To these smug Pharisees, showing positive attention to this woman—whom they judged as a sinner not a child of God, as a thing not a person—was evidence of moral compromise.

This story has serious ramifications for those who wish to represent Jesus well in a modern context. We must come to terms with the fact that if Jesus were a 21st century American, he would not associate godliness with membership in a political party. He would not tell a lesbian she was “in sin” without also offering her a personal, no-strings-attached friendship. He would not talk about how smoking destroys God’s temple while simultaneously devouring his third piece of fried chicken at the church potluck. Jesus would not condemn adultery as being any worse than studying the Bible for the wrong reasons.

BARRIER #4: PRIDE

Becoming a friend of sinners begins with the understanding that we are much more like the “chief of sinners” than we are like Jesus Christ. Our approach with all people, no matter who they are or what their history, must assume the posture of “fellow beggars humbly telling others where to find the bread” (I got this magnificent quote from Steve Brown).

If we really want people to be impacted by the gospel and to enjoy the riches of God’s grace, they must first see in us the humility of those who have been, and continue to be, genuinely impacted by grace ourselves. Our humility must be authentic and not just an act. If we have never been brought low by God, we will approach other people from a high horse. And that is never any good for anybody.

Consider the Apostle Paul. He was not above humbling himself. In Romans 7 he gives us a window into his personal struggle with the sin of coveting—a sin nobody would see unless he told them—and the way that the gospel gave him hope in the face of his coveting. In 1 Timothy Paul identifies himself as the chief of all sinners. If we intend to reflect Jesus in our ministries and our messages, we need to get over our love for reputation and image. As the late Jack Miller once said, “Grace runs downhill.” We can only be drenched by grace toward the bottom of the hill.

And yet, how easy it can be to build our identities on how good we look—on being “model Christians” that people are supposed to admire because of how put-together we appear to be.But we must not do this. It is a trap and it will rob us of gospel power and effectiveness. If people around us are going to be changed by the grace of Jesus, they must witness the gospel working effectively in our lives—healing us of our sins and deepest wounds and fears. Changing us.

Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of Jesus Outside the Lines and Befriend (releases Oct, 2016).

Used with permission from ScottSauls.com, “Jesus Welcomed REAL Sinners. Do We?

Community Hunger

Broken families, broken relationships, and an epidemic of loneliness has created a ravenous hunger for community in this generation. But our flesh can seek our idea of community more than we seek Jesus. Our souls, it seems, are ready to settle for a sit-com style of friendship instead of striving for the spirit-led family of God purchased and created by his Son’s death and resurrection. In  Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the difference between spiritual community, true biblical unity, and emotional community.  He identifies the common sin of loving the idea of community that we have invented in our minds more than we really love the community.

Those who want more than what Christ has established between us do not want Christian community. They are looking for some extraordinary experiences of community that were denied them elsewhere. . . . Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial…Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.

6 Misunderstandings About Community

Our desire and attempts at filling our need for community has clouded our understanding of community itself. As I help folks start and grow gospel-centered communities in Portland, I have come to notice a consistent stream of misunderstandings and false expectations. Though we desire it, we have forgotten what it means to be the people of God in daily life. Here are the top six misunderstandings I have encountered as we have started communities throughout inner Portland.

1. Community Is Not “Everyone is My Best Friend”

If you have one intimate friend (usually a spouse) you are blessed.  Many people come into a church or small group with the expectation that everyone will be their best friend.  Those unrealistic expectations are selfish and harmful to community.  Come into community with one goal—to serve.

2. Community is Not A Spiritual/Morality Club 

You don’t pay membership dues to get into community. Jesus has already done that. It isn’t a group of generally moral people trying to do good for others. No, community is a made of people who were dead in their sin, but who God raised to new life with Christ. The good we do is with humility and an understanding of grace.

3. Community is Not A Book Club

Scripture is vital to Christian community. We devour the words of God and look to understand the character and actions of God in the Bible. But Christian community cannot be reduced to simply a reading and understanding of the Bible. Christian community practices and obeys Scripture. That happens in real life and in real time.

4. Community is Not A Meeting or Event.

You might find community present in a meeting or an organization but those things can never create it. Vibrant community happens when people invest in one another outside of formal gatherings. It is not a time, building, or place; it is a people, family, and movement. Don’t settle for a two hour meeting in a living room as “community.” Allow that meeting to spill over into daily life. Share meals, call one another, bless each other, and try to make disciples.

5. Community is Not Easy

In Matthew 10, as Jesus sent his disciples out to do his works, he didn’t say: “Now be nice to each other and you’ll see the sick healed and demons flee and hearts transformed.”  He said “Don’t go alone; be careful!  I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves, expect to be imprisoned, expect persecution, expect to stand before politicians and princes, expect to be rejected by brothers and fathers, expect strife, but stand firm to the end because my Father will give you everything you need!” (personal paraphrase).  Paul, Peter, and James all say we should expect it to be hard. Paul tells us that we will be tempted to blame each other but to remember, you’re fighting sin not each other (Eph 6).

If we want unity it won’t feel like unity most of the time. Often we will feel like we’re barely hanging on to each other. Real unity, real community comes at a great price. We surrender our “rights” for the sake of Christ and one another. We come together on a journey of dying to ourselves and living to Christ, and that is hard. Furthermore real community requires forgiveness, and reconciliation in a society that prefers to quit and ditch relationships as soon as we begin to hurt each other. In gospel-centered community, we rely on God’s grace, mercy, and love for us to confront the hurts and sin in each others’ lives. We forgive because God forgives. We reconcile because he made us agents of reconciliation. We love those in our community, because we are adopted brothers and sisters in Christ.

6. Community is Not “Everyone Gets Along”

If you ask most Christians what unity is their first response has to do with everyone getting along and just “loving each other.” But Jesus doesn’t root our unity in some feel-good idea of everyone getting along and being sweet to each other. Jesus roots our unity in himself, his Spirit and what God has done in all us. Our unity comes from our common Rescuer and Lord.

The Bible assumes we’ll have lots of conflict, so the Scriptures constantly remind us about the basis of our unity and gives us practical tools like repentance and forgiveness, for walking it out. Paul didn’t sit around and ask the Holy Spirit, “What esoteric thing do you want me to write about today?” Instead, Paul wrote to churches to respond to the things they were going through and frequently wrote about practical ways for these churches to keep pursuing unity. Many of Paul’s letters address very specific things attempting to divide the church.  Every one of Jesus’ messages to the churches in Revelation deals with something trying to divide them.

You show me a family that doesn’t fight and I’ll show you a family that is just coexisting or is under the rule of a tyrant. Healthy relationships are hard and there’s always conflict. We’re sinful, selfish human beings living in a sin-filled world. Our only hope in these conflicts is the gospel of grace.

7 Elements for Gospel-Centered Community

Gospel-centered communities are groups of people that love to include Jesus in everything they do. It never feels forced, but a meal with friends often drifts towards conversation about the person and life of Jesus. If community can be characterized by anything, it will be characterized by who Jesus is and what he has done for us. His life, work, and character is woven into the language and practice of every authentic expression of community. The good news of Jesus is what makes the community, builds it, and motivates it.

There are many signs that a community is built on the foundation of the gospel. As we labored to start multiple communities in Portland, the healthy and thriving ones always have these characteristics and qualities. These are not seven easy steps or a how-to. In fact, the how-to is to make the gospel central and to pray in dependance for God to do his work. These are the consistent elements I see expressed when communities are established in the gospel. They are also the seven elements that war against our own selfish desires for independence.

1. Generous Hospitality.

In Matthew 25 Jesus describes his spirit of hospitality, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.” Authentic community involves lots of food! It involves taking the time and space to incorporate others in your life. This is often found at the kitchen table and this is nothing new. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was often on his way to a meal, coming from a meal, or at a meal. Authentic communities are regularly sharing meals with one another and those outside the community. Their generous hospitality is noticeable from the outside and others desire it.

2. Influence Earned by Serving

You know you have found gospel-centered community when you find selfless giving and constant blessing toward each other and those outside the church. Jesus told us the world will know us by our “love for one another.” It’s true. When Jesus is the center, community is characterized by humble service to Jesus as Lord and King.

3. Accountable and Repentant

Community will bring everything into the light. By that I mean, we are honest with who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. It means the community will not let us live a lie or false identity. The Scriptures, truth of the gospel, and the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin and unbelief in gracious and merciful ways. In repentance, communities return to the gospel and are reminded of their identity in Christ.

4. Led by qualified leaders.

Christian community has leadership. The leaders carry the tremendous weight of caring for the believers, and equipping the body for service and mission. You will know you are in the community when the leaders are the servants among the community who are training and releasing everyone else into the world. They will be characterized by humility, hospitality, faithfulness, self-control, prayer, and belief in the gospel.

5. On Mission

Any expression of gospel-centered community will be on mission seeking the good of their neighborhood, nation, and globe. Make no mistake about it, the mission is making disciples. Jesus-centered community proclaims the hope and truth of the gospel to the lost and broken. The presence of Jesus Christ is the most attractive thing to the human heart—and the presence of Jesus is found in its most potent form in a group of people that love him and love each other well. This is what Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Community grows and multiplies. Gospel-centered communities send their best people out into new areas of mission and service. However, life is added to community, not subtracted. It has been like this from the very beginning. The command was to spread and be witnesses of Jesus from “Jerusalem to Samaria to Judea to the ends of the earth.” And it did. In a world without Twitter, YouTube, satellites, or pamphlets churches sprung up in houses and temples in three continents in only a few years. Your Jesus-centered community has the same potential and calling.

6. Active in Culture

Christian community will be in the public square where goods and ideas are exchanged. Their activity will be defined by love, grace, and truth. They will have jobs, create art, and seek the good of their city through social justice. They will do these things, not from a point of power and greed, but from a point of service and empowerment by the Spirit.

7. Diverse

It will be made up of rich and poor, men and women, young and old, black and white, immigrant and native, married and single. You will welcome everyone and you won’t be made up of “people like me” and “at my stage of life.” Instead you embrace those who are different from you. There will be no way to describe you other than to say, “Christian Community.” Christianity is unlike any other religion, even in its inception it was completely diverse. Up to that point in history religion was connected to race, status, and origin. In fact, your outside differences will tell the story of God’s work to create you into a people.

Story of Community

I met Mark (name changed) at a poker game. It was a mishmash of people and he was obviously nervous to be around so many new folks. He was an introvert like me and we connected. He was going to law school and was the smartest guy in the room. The next time we hung out, he was eating dinner at my house. Our missional community was getting together for a meal and sharing stories of what God had done in our lives. He had just heard the gospel from the guy who hosted the poker game and he was beginning to make sense of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The next day we shoveled fertilizer together at the elementary school as part of a neighborhood wide clean-up project. He wanted to know how to pray to Jesus. Mark was part of our community and began spending lots of life with us. I baptized him a year ago. As we spend time together and grew in understanding of the gospel, he shared that he came to our city as a refugee, not as a student. He was running from home and the destructive life he had there.  As he read the parable of the prodigal son, he couldn’t help but identify with him. “I messed so much stuff up,” he would say. At the age of twelve, he gave his life to drugs. It truly stole his life. No friends, no community, and ultimately his family gave up on him. Yet, at 26, Mark was a new man in Jesus. His words to our church before he was baptized, “Before Christ I was headed no where, I didn’t have any friends and did a bunch of bad stuff. Now I have a community and a life to live.” Three months later, he took an internship at an Indian reservation in another state seven hours away. He took a stack of books and planned to finish reading the Bible (he read two thirds of it in his first months following Jesus). We prayed for him and talked as often as we could and were planning on having several of the guys in the community taking a weekend trip to hang out with him.

At 11:00 pm on the fourth of July, we got a phone call from Mark. He was in trouble and we left immediately. It was the longest seven hour drive of our lives as we tried to piece together the short and chaotic phone calls we had with Mark in the early hours of the morning. We couldn’t figure out if he was in real danger or hallucinating. There was a stretch of four hours when we heard nothing from him. As we pulled into the town we found him surrounded by three police cars in a diner parking lot. He had spent the night outside running from terrifying and accusative hallucinations. He was barefoot and his pajamas were torn to pieces. His hands and feet were scarred and bleeding. But he was alive and he recognized us. The police allowed us to take him into our care. We cleaned him up, packed his bags, cleaned up his apartment, and brought him home. The coming days and weeks were hard, but he had a community around him who gave him a place to stay, took him to the hospital, fed him, and spoke the truth of resurrection to him. We paid his debts for him and cared for his heart. Mark’s words when he was baptized were true, “Before Christ I was headed no where, I didn’t have any friends and did a bunch of bad stuff. Now I have a community and a life to live.”

Love for the Church

If you are a leader, I pray you will be known for you love of the community of God and that you will excel at pointing to God’s love for it. Don’t allow cultural expectations and the idolatry of community to take your eyes of the gospel. Keep the gospel primary and never stray from it. Pursue community that is unashamedly centered on Jesus.

Brad Watson serves as a pastor of Bread & Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon. He is a board member of GCDiscipleship.com and co-author of Raised? and Called Together. His greatest passion is to encourage and equip leaders for the mission of making disciples. Twitter: @BradAWatson