Being Church: Community

Being Church

Author: Gareth Russell Date: Sunday, January 10, 2016 Campus:

Being Church: Community
Grand Union Vineyard Church
Sunday 10th January 2015

Today as we sit in our seats in these rows, we are with church. We are not at a church, we are witha church. Church is not the building, or even the activities of our output, church is the people we are sat next to. Over the next couple weeks we are going to explore what it means to be church and how we can help grow in ourselves and grow those around us.

We are going to focus on a few different aspects of what it means to be church this week and next, but today our focus is on the importance and what it means to live in community.

In the Bible the church is described as “the bride of Christ”. The relationship between a bride and groom, between a husband and wife can be one of the closest, most intense and most important in anyone’s life.

What God is saying here is that the church, His people, you and I are His most cherished relationship.

There are very few things that give us more focused and undiluted perspective than death. It may be we know that we are dying and it may be we are hours, days, or weeks away from passing on from this earth.

In those moments, I have seen and I have heard many people who have given incredible insight into what really matters in life when they are faced with death.

Steve Jobs, who was the CEO of Apple and invented the iPhone, the iPod, iTunes and influenced much of how we as a society consume information and music today, he said these words just before he died…

“I have come to the pinnacle of success in business. In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success. However, apart from work, I have little joy. Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed. At this time, lying on the hospital bed and remembering all my life, I realise that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud, have become insignificant with my imminent death….God has made us one way, we can feel the love in the heart of each of us, and not illusions built by fame or money, like I made in my life, I cannot take them with me. I can only take with me the memories that were strengthened by love. This is the true wealth that will follow you; will accompany you, he will give strength and light to go ahead…Material things lost can be found. But one thing you can never find when you lose: life. Whatever stage of life where we are right now, at the end we will have to face the day when the curtain falls. Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends...Treat everyone well and stay friendly with your neighbours.”

A good friend of mine, Tom Harmer, is an incredible film maker. He is hugely talented. Last year, he discovered that his Dad was going to die. His lungs became harder and harder to the point where he found it very difficult to breathe.

A few days before Christmas, Tom’s Dad died.

Earlier in December, Tom travelled to his Dad’s house and filmed him, asking him for memories, thoughts, and what he really felt was important in life. 

On Monday, Tom buried his father and the posted a video. Here is what his Dad had to say.

[Play Tom’s Dad video]

Two men. World’s apart. Both facing death. Both with the same perspective.

Material wealth, nice houses, nice cars, healthy bank balances….in the end, they don’t matter.

What matters in life is people. What matters in life is relationships. It is in building relationships where we find our value, where we find hope, where we find love.

Relationships matter. We were built for community.

Medical doctor Atul Gawande describes a study of nearly 150 U.S. naval aviators who returned from imprisonment in Vietnam:

“Some prisoners whose only social contact was a food tray shoved through a slot became catatonic or developed autistic features. … Still others had panic attacks or became extraordinarily aggressive. These symptoms suggest neurological damage. Neuroimaging studies confirm that isolation creates the same level of activity in the brain as does physical distress; the neural signs ofsocial pain look a lot like the signals created by physical pain. Even months after they were released, MRIs of prisoners of war in the former Yugoslavia showed the gravest neurological damage in those prisoners who had been locked in solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic head injury.”

Physiologically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually - we need to be around others and in relationship with them.

On a Sunday morning, when we meet together, it’s almost impossible to build real lasting relationships.

This is why we have Union Groups. Small groups, who meet in people’s homes across the city to build relationship, pray together and go together on a journey of faith.

Not everyone in this church is part of a Union Group yet, but this is the year I would like that to change.

As a church, we do try to keep the schedule simple. We don’t want to fill the diary every night witha different activity, because if we really want to go out into the world and share the love of Christ, we need to have time to build those relationships.

If we are only surrounded by Christians, we are not doing our job.

So there are two asks we have for each person who calls this church home: come on a Sunday to be refilled, energised, focused, and to worship God; and then come to Union Group to build relationship, pray together, encourage accountability and grow in your relationship with God.

We don’t ask these things to fill a rota, we ask these things because we believe they are vital elements to each of us individually coming to know God in a deeper and more real way.

Eugene Peterson says, “There can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life, apart from an immersion in, and embrace of, community. I am not myself by myself.”

We need community in order to grow. We need community in order to understand. We need community in order to share our burdens. We need community to feel love.

In community, those who have no understanding of God can be encouraged and equipped to begina relationship with him. In community those who are at the end of their tether, who feel hopeless and who feel helpless, can be loved, supported, and encouraged.

In community we can explore the word of God together, we can get our heads around some of the difficulties of the Bible, we can see with greater clarity what God is saying and who God is.

In community we can pray together, we can stand with one another, we can have faith for one another - even when we don’t feel we have faith enough ourselves.

In community we can understand more about ourselves, our own personalities, our own character - we can be shaped and refined - we can become more like Jesus.

This is why Union Groups are so vital to who we are as a church.

If we can meet together, pray together, study together, share together, we will then grow together. We will be a powerful force. We will be what God intended us to be.

The power of these groups comes when trust has been built. For those of you who are scared about being in a smaller group environment and what you might be asked or forced to do….don’t worry!

We understand that in order for us to build relationship, we must first build trust. We must earn the right to encourage and, when necessary, challenge.

Union Groups are a great opportunity to weekly meet with other folks and to, over time, build that trust.

If you have been a part of a group and you didn’t really enjoy it and you have stopped going to any group, let me encourage you to go somewhere else.

Often we will initially encourage you to go to a particular group - either because they have capacity or because they are close by geographically, but you don’t have to stay there.

If you are not settled, try another group. It’s important you can connect with people - that might take time, so make sure you give it time but feel free to try a few groups before you settle.

Once you do settle, and once trust has been built it is then so important that we are real and that we are vulnerable with one another.

In this church, there is no place for pride. We are not interested in looking good at face value but struggling inside. The only way a church can be a potent force is if we recognise our weaknesses and fears and find people with whom we can be vulnerable about those weaknesses and fears. Only then can those people support you, pray for you and encourage you….and only then can the power of those weaknesses and fears be broken.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Often in church and outside of church we try to put on a good face. We try to make it look like we have it all together.

Here is the truth: no one has got it all together. Every person in this room struggles with something. But when we are honest about those things, when as Paul says we “boast all the more gladly about our weaknesses”, then we will see all the more, Christ’s strength working through us.

You see, the beauty of these Union Groups is that when you are real about your struggles, when you are vulnerable about your fears and when you are honest about your weaknesses, you are surrounded by people who feel the same, who can relate, some who have already been down that same path, but every single one of them knows that their job is not to judge but to love.

That is one of the things I love about the story of Job. Everything in his life had been destroyed: his livelihood, his family, his health, his dignity. Everything had been stripped of him, and eventually he gets a little angry with God, he questions God, he asks why he should have been the target for all this - even though he had been such a good man.

His friends start to tell him that he is wrong. That he shouldn’t question God. That he must have done something wrong in order to have brought this upon himself.

They gave the religious response. But God doesn’t want religion, he wants relationship. He wants us to be real with Him and us to be real with each other.

So when we share in our groups, we share in an environment of love and not judgement, an environment of welcome and not piousness, an environment of listening and not easy answers.

I love that we are a church who can be real with one another, I value the deep relationships that have been born out of regularly meeting and walking the journey together.

Union Groups are the heart of our church. We are not a church WITH small groups, we are a church OF small groups.

Sundays are the refuelling point. They are the pit stop on the formula one track. The pit stop is simply to give us the focus, the energy and the motivation to do what we are really meant to be doing…living. Building relationships. Sharing the love of Christ and extending the Kingdom of God.

In Acts 2:42-47, it describes what the first ever church looked like….it says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions togive to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” 

What would it look like for our Union Groups to take a leaf out of the early church and show extravagant generosity to those in need, those who are lonely, those who are fearful?

What would it look like for our Union Groups to explore the miraculous and supernatural power of the Holy Spirit working through us to bless one another and to bless our communities.

Simply put…we will grow, we know God more deeply than we ever have, and He will add to our number every day. I don’t know about you but I would like a piece of that action.

This month we are starting two new Union Groups, but we also have space in some of the current groups. So this morning, if you are not part of a Union Group, can I encourage you to sign your name and email at the back today and get plugged in?

If you have been part of a group, but for whatever reason are not currently, please can I encourage you to do the same?

I cannot stress how important it is for the vision God has given us that we are committed to building deep relationships and weekly praying, worshiping, and studying His word together.

If we do this, 2016 will be a year we will never forget. 


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