Jesus and His Church
In this series, we are trying to catch a fresh glimpse of what Jesus actually had in mind when he said, “I will build my church” (Matt.16:17-19). Does the church today reflect Jesus’ intentions? There are so many different expressions and forms of church around the world today. Which one is the right one or the best one? As we look through the Book of Acts, the story of the early church, we start to see that the church that Jesus is building is: “a community of Christ-followers empowered by the Spirit to participate in God’s mission in the world.” Any time you have that happening, you have a true representation of the church of Jesus Christ, imperfect though it may be. Let’s celebrate the diversity! It takes different churches to reach the different people in our world.A Community
When the church began it functioned as a community of people doing life together (Acts 2:42-47). The church that Jesus is building is not something you ‘go to’ (a building or an event) but something you are a ‘part of’ (a community or a family). Being a follower of Jesus Christ involves a relationship with God AND with a new family of brothers and sisters in Christ. How does this happen practically and what does this look like from day-to-day and week-to week? Let’s face it, CityLife is a BIG family of over 8000 people who are a part of our church now and we have weekend church gatherings in a variety of locations and at different times. How does ‘community’ work in our size church? Well, obviously, you can’t know everyone or be close to everyone, but each one of us can be close to some. A large church is a bit like an extended family – there are lots of relatives and people to connect with from time to time but we also need our own close-knit family of people to do life together with.
One of the first things we all need to understand is that coming to a large church gathering like this, is only ONE part of church life. It is an important part but it is definitely not the only part. Celebration meetings provide an ideal opportunity for prayer, worship, teaching, an understanding of our vision and overall direction as a church, as well as some brief fellowship before and after the meeting. However, there are some BIG limitations of a large event such as this. You can’t build close friendships or relationships. Each person can’t receive individual care. Each person can’t contribute significantly. Finally, there is no accountability for what we do with what we hear. What can we do about this and how can you experience a real sense of community here at CityLife Church?
- Begin Building Friendships.
Close community doesn’t just happen. It has to be cultivated and nurtured intentionally. One of the great things about a large church is that there are so many opportunities to make friends! Each of us has various circles of friendship. Jesus did too. As we reach out to make more and more acquaintances, we have the potential to develop some close friendships. Notice that the first believers at the church in Jerusalem started spending time with each other – over meals and in their homes (see Acts 2:42-47). Church is a great place to make some lifelong friends with similar values and life direction as you. Our friends have a big influence; that’s why choosing our friends wisely is so important.
- Serve on a Ministry Team.
Another excellent way to build friendships and develop a sense of community is to serve alongside someone else in a common cause or ministry. In fact, in the early church, everyone was seen as having spiritual gifts to use and a contribution to make (1 Peter 4:10-11). We believe the same today! You can serve casually and informally, of course, but you can also consider getting involved in a specific ministry within the church. There are so many different areas of opportunity. Join the team!
- Become a Part of a LifeGroup.
It is interesting to note that we know very little about the programs or ministries of the church in the first century. However, we do know that they had two types of meetings – large gatherings in the public temple area and small gatherings in homes (see Acts 2:42-47; 5:42; 20:20). CityLife is committed to those same two types of gatherings – large and small. A LifeGroup provides a unique environment for care, discipleship, ministry, and outreach.
- Become a Partner of the Church.
One other point of connection is church partnership. Yes, the church is a spiritual entity but because we do activities such as own land and buildings, employ staff, run community programs, and send mission workers overseas, we also have a legal entity – an incorporated association. By becoming a partner, you can help provide appropriate financial accountability, as well as assist us with major decisions, such as the appointment of new Elders and/or a new Senior Minister, as appropriate. Good governance is an important aspect for all groups that have an organizational component. It is especially so for a church, because we are called to be an example of integrity to the world around us.
As a community we are also called to be ‘Christ-followers’ or ‘disciples’. The church is a community of people gathering together but also devoted to living their lives as Jesus would in the world. Becoming a Christian places you in a new family but it also puts your life under new leadership – under King Jesus! The goal of every disciple is to be like their master so the goal of every Christian is to be like Jesus. This takes place over a period of time and is a journey of spiritual growth.
Spiritual growth is a process and it is also a partnership between God and us (Phil.2:12-13). We are to ‘work out’ our salvation as God ‘works in’ us by His Spirit. Spiritual growth or godliness is a result of spiritual ‘training’ not of merely ‘trying’ hard to be like Jesus (see 1 Tim.4:7-8). We have to be intentionally serious about learning from Jesus how to live our lives. It really is possible to be “like Jesus” ... IF we are willing to engage in the kinds of activities that Jesus did to draw upon the power of His Father. We need to develop “spiritual practices” that help us be positioned to receive God’s transforming grace on a regular basis.
Spiritual practices includes activities such as: celebration, prayer, the Bible, fellowship, serving, solitude, silence, fasting, sacrifice, and secrecy [See the sermon notes on The Normal Christian Life part 5 & part 6 for a more in-depth overview of these practices] These practices are not a way to earn favour with God. They exist for our sake, not God’s. They have value only as they help us to change and grow. They are a “means of grace”. They are activities that we engage in to open ourselves up to God’s transforming power. Also, these practices are not a measure of spirituality. The true indicator of spiritual maturity is growth in the ability to love God and people. The real issue is what kind of people we are becoming NOT the exercises or spiritual practices we may be engaging in. Practices such as reading the Bible and praying are important – not because they prove how spiritual we are – but because God can use them to lead us into life.Sample Discussion Questions
- Discuss the church as being a ‘community’. What does that look like? How does that work out practically in our lives day-by-day and week-by-week? What things could we as a LifeGroup do to experience a greater sense of community this year?
- How does serving together enhance a sense of community? Have those who are volunteers in various ministries share their experience(s). What ministry project could the LifeGroup take on together this year?
- Discuss ‘partnership’. What are some of the benefits of the church having an open partnership (some large churches have just a small group of leaders as their ‘partners’ or ‘members’)? What are some reasons why individuals may not want to become a partner of the church?
- Discuss discipleship and becoming like Jesus. How does that happen practically? What part must God play that we can’t do ourselves? What things can we do to position ourselves to grow more spiritually? What experiences or practices do you think have caused the most growth in your own life?
- Discuss the above list of ‘spiritual practices’. Which one or ones have you found the most helpful and life-transforming? Which ones have been the hardest or least helpful to you? How can we as a LifeGroup help each other to grow in Christ more this year?