ChurchETHOS

Spiritual Discipline

Posted in christian habits, discipleship, spiritual disciplines by Nathan Creitz on September 23, 2009

a-prayer-for-times-like-theseSpiritual discipline doesn’t sound very exciting. Many Christians shy away from the disciplines because it sounds like work at best and legalism at worst. However, spiritual discipline is simply a name for the spiritual habits that a true follower of Jesus forms as he or she becomes more like Him. We want to follow Jesus and we know that He meditated on Scripture, spent time in prayer, and shared the Gospel with others, just to name a few. There are other disciplines that we can glean from the Bible that are important to consider as well.

But for the most part, these disciplines go neglected by the majority of church attenders. Does that make their Christianity suspect? No, it probably means that no one helped them to see the positive aspect of a disciplined life of faith. When we form regular habits, we need accountability. It’s the same thing when we form spiritual habits.

As a child I learned that I needed to brush my teeth, make my bed, not eat dirt, etc. No one would think my parents unfair or cruel for making me obey. Those were habits that my parents helped me form when I was a child. The disciplines are habits and we need help forming them in our lives. Not too many people have the inherent motivation to form a strong habit for themselves. As a child we had our parents help in showing us the habits that needed to be formed and the habits that needed to be broken. In our spiritual habits, we have the Body of Christ to help us but it takes initiative and responsibility on our part to come alongside immature believers and help them move toward spiritual maturity.

Pastors play a large role in equipping the saints and part of the equipping process should be the formation and spiritual growth of new believers. In order to be effective at fostering a Biblical understanding of the disciplines, the church leaders should first of all teach about them in a positive way. Secondly, leaders should model the disciplines and coach others in the process. Third, we should encourage accountability and fellowship in the Body so that there is a consistent venue for people to talk about their progress or lack thereof in a safe and open setting. Finally, we need to talk about the perils of not engaging in the disciplines. Dallas Willard talks about the cost of NONdiscipleship (rather than Bonhoeffer’s ‘Cost of Discipleship’). When we reject the foundational habits and activities of the Bible, we forsake the abundant life that Jesus has promised us.

So, we need to talk about spiritual disciplines, model them, hold people accountable to do them, and contrast the difference between a disciplined and an undisciplined spiritual life so that people can understand that these are not legalistic endeavors, but that they are helpful and fulfilling as we diligently follow our Master.

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A Gathering Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, fellowship by Nathan Creitz on May 6, 2009

img_2299What should Christians be doing when we gather together?

There are all sorts of people who want to know the answer to that question:
– Non-Christians who are wondering if there’s anything to this following Jesus business.
– Ex-Christians who are leaving the church because their time with other Christians seemed like a waste.
– Christians who are sitting in seats looking at the back of people’s heads wondering if there’s more to the Christian life.
– Pastors who are scratching their heads wondering what happened to all the people.

I’m sure there are others demanding answers and I understand where each of these groups is coming from. There are also other questions that we should be asking: How often should Christians get together? Where should we meet together? How long should we be meeting together? Who should lead our times together? Should anyone be leading anything?

The operative word in all of these questions is “should”. (You thought it was going to be “together” didn’t you?) We all know something is wrong. We all know there’s something missing. Something needs to change! What is it? What is it that should be? Doesn’t the Bible talk about Christian fellowship, brotherly love, you know, all those “one anothers”? We are missing the mark in our interdependence and interconnectedness with one another and something should be done about it.

So, what should Christians be doing when we get together?

We should be Loving one another

If there is someone in your church fellowship that you refuse to talk to then YOU have a problem. I don’t care what he or she did, if you know there is a wedge between the two of you then you are being disobedient to God if you aren’t attempting to reconcile with them.

If something comes between me and my wife I don’t give her the silent treatment indefinitely…we work it out. There are too many people who refuse to worship with other Christians because they’ve got a problem with someone else in the body. That is a big problem.

Colossians 3:14 says, “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.” The “above all” refers to the short list of things we should be putting on as Christians: hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, etc. Those are the sorts of things we express to one another because of our love. Love wraps all those other gifts into a beautiful package that can be given away daily to our church family.

We should be Praying for one another

Praying for one another sounds easy doesn’t it? I think most Christians know that when we get together somebody needs to pray. I hate when I’m asked to pray simply because I’m ordained. Like I have some special connection with God that no one else has. We think the Model Prayer in Matthew 6 goes something like this:

Our Father who art in heaven,
bless Tom’s half-sister Ethel.
And for my toenail
that’s now ingrown
it hurts as it has all day.
Give us today our daily desires
and be with all people
as all people have need of prayers from us.
For yours is the ability
and the responsibility
to take care of us forever. Amen.

Okay, I kind of feel bad for being sarcastic about the way we sometimes spend our prayer time in our church gatherings…I’m over it.

We have to stop spending all of our prayer time praying for those twice removed from us. God’s desire is that we pray for His kingdom and glory. That’s priority one! Praise him, exalt him, ask him to use you to advance his kingdom, etc. A close second to that is praying for one another. Open up! Share what God is doing in your life. What spiritual challenges are you facing? Where are you being tempted? Finally, after you’ve spent 98% of the time praying for God’s glory and for one another, now if it’s important to ask for prayer for Tom’s half-sister Ethel, then I guess you are free to do so.

Praying for Ethel is safe because it doesn’t expose our inner turmoil. We might actually have to admit that we don’t have everything together. That’s hard, but we aren’t truly praying for one another if we’re only praying through a laundry list of people and problems who aren’t sitting in the room at the moment.

Be an adult and share!

We should be Caring for one another

To care for one another means we have to know one another on a deep enough level to know each other’s needs. A Christian should always be asking this question: What needs am I uniquely positioned by God to meet today?

picture-13Maybe you are meant to meet the needs of your spouse or children, your neighbor, your friend, your pastor, or your student. Maybe you have the ability to meet a financial need. Maybe you have the blessing of time that you can give to someone. Maybe you are able to listen or teach or advise or encourage or give joy or build or share or volunteer or sing or cook or hold a hand or repair or provide a shoulder. Find a need. Meet a need.

We should be Trusting one another

My friend Mark recently gave me a point to ponder. He asked, “Have you ever thought about how Jesus got the disciples to trust one another?” We had been talking about how at least two of the disciples had political views of hatred towards the Romans and then there was Matthew who had sold out his fellow Jews to work for the Romans – collecting taxes no less.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole lot of glimpses at the interpersonal relationships of the disciples other than the arguments they got into and the times Jesus had to correct their foolishness. Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? Regardless of our political or cultural or generational outlook, we need to learn how to trust one another. It takes time, it takes vulnerability, it takes effort, it takes Colossians 3:12-17, it takes a lot but it’s worth everything we put into it.

We should be Challenging one another

I’ll give you another sentence from Colossians 3: “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (v. 15) I also love Hebrews 10:24-25, which says, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other…”

picture-3So, our meetings are characterized by encouragement, concern for one another, prompting each other to love and good works, and consistency according to the writer of Hebrews. The first verse from Paul to the Christians in Colossae says we are to teach and admonish one another, which is how the “Word of Christ” becomes richly indwelt among us. This includes a sermon that a pastor might give to everyone but it also includes a timely word, rebuke, encouragement, or advice between two or three friends.

Conclusion: A Vision for the Church

So how long and how often should we gather together? Where should we be meeting? When? The answer is, wherever and whenever and as long and as often as it takes to truly and deeply connect with each other as described above.

If you think you can accomplish all of the above in only one hour a week, or if you think you should be getting all of the above in only one hour a week, then you don’t understand what it means to follow Jesus. However, that doesn’t mean an hour or two with a large gathering of people isn’t important – far from it.

Imagine groups of three or four or ten or eleven or however many Christians coming together throughout the week praying and caring and trusting one another deeply, consistently, faithfully. They call each other when they are having a crisis. They can’t wait to share good news with their small group of fellow believers. They connect with each other often because they love each other. They’ve become family.

Now, when all these interconnected groups of loving, caring, praying people gather together with other small groups of loving, caring, praying people there is really a cause for celebration. They don’t just show up for a Sunday song and sermon, they are expecting God to challenge them and move them and change them. The “Sunday service” is valuable because people who are sharing the experience of fellowship are coming together to lift up their voices and worship God…together.

There are too many people throwing away the one hour Sunday service because it is meaningless and lifeless to them. They never realized they were supposed to live a life of discipleship beyond 12PM on Sunday. The answer isn’t to give up on that one hour, the answer is to give a few more hours and commit yourself to fellowship with other believers.

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You can also find this post at smallgrouptrader.com.

ChurchETHOS Link Love

Posted in christian habits by Nathan Creitz on April 14, 2009

Today I thought I would check through the stats of ChurchETHOS to determine what is of most interest to my readers and who is sending me the most visitors. Listing my top 10 posts for the past month will not only give a good indication of what has been interesting to you, but it will also give a good indication of what this blog is about. Hopefully, listing my top referrers will also give my reader a sense of other people who like my content and I hope you will visit their pages and subscribe to their feeds.

In fact, if you haven’t done so already, please subscribe to my feed now so you don’t miss any of the action!

Top 10 Posts from the past month

1. One God, Two Gods, Three Gods, No God is a post I wrote to show the dangers of believing that all religions are equally true and valid. In fact, all religions cannot be true because they make competing and contradictory truth claims. There cannot be one God while at the same time there are two or more gods, while at the same time there are no gods.

2. My Top Concerns for the Local Church is my most recent post and is probably the best representation this past month of what ChurchETHOS is all about. In this post I explore the most difficult and pervasive problems of the church.

3. Why I Chose the HCSB Over the ESV is both an apologetic for the use of the Holman Christian Standard version of the Bible but it also expresses my frustration with the obvious bias towards the ESV for the following main reasons: 1. The ESV has a theological slant towards the Reformed tradition and 2. Paul and Apollos (I mean Piper and Driscoll) use the ESV.

4. HCSB vs. ESV Update reflects the new data that puts the HCSB as the second most popular version of the Bible up from 6th most popular when I wrote “Why I Chose the HCSB Over the ESV”. In fact, the rise in sales is due to it’s readability (like the NIV), it’s accuracy (like the NASB and ESV), and from the attention it has received from blogs and viral marketing from HCSB users who recognize it’s readability and accuracy.

5. The Trinity Lives in a Shack? This is my reaction to the fictional book by William Paul Young called  “The Shack”. This book explores the Trinity from an unorthodox and harmful perspective. I felt like this was worthy to talk about on my blog because it reveals the habit of some Christians to derive their theology from fiction (or even nonfiction) rather than from the Bible.

6. Did Jesus Claim to be God? This is a theological and exegetical post based primarily on John’s view of the deity of Christ. The implications? Since Jesus claimed to be God, He can’t be respected as merely a great prophet or teacher. He either is the Son of God, or He is a liar and everything He has said must be distrusted. (Or he’s a lunatic but that doesn’t really fit with everything else He did does it?)

7. Tithing Ethos: The Habit of Giving in the Church is a post exploring the theological truths of stewardship. Tithing today is more of a minimum standard and we need to increase our understanding of what God requires of ALL of the resources, time, money, etc. that He has entrusted to us.

8. About – Well, I’m happy that some of you want to know about the author of ChurchETHOS. Please feel free to comment and introduce yourselves. I really want this blog to be more of a dialogue that is not only helpful to me in sounding out my own thoughts on the church, God, culture, etc. but also helpful to you and is a place where you can explore these topics as well.

9. The Case for Community is a theology of fellowship. This post explores from Biblical perspective how Christians are meant to live together. I would say this and “My Top Concerns for the Local Church” above are best representative of what ChurchETHOS is about.

10. What is ChurchETHOS? – Okay, maybe this post is MOST representative of what my blog is about simply because that’s the purpose of the post.

** Bonus Post from the Archives – My Top Ten Christian Books isn’t in the top ten for the past month but it is historically a pretty popular post that you might be interested in if you enjoy this blog.

Top Referrers to ChurchETHOS

I want to give some link love to those people who have sent visitors my way. As I mentioned above, I think this will also give you a sense of the people who enjoy ChurchETHOS. Thanks for sending people my way!

1. Tim Challies from challies.com

2. Matt Privett from themattrix.com

3. Tim Fenton from theefaulted.blogspot.com

4. Joseph McBee from josephmcbee.wordpress.com

5. Bobby Grow from theologyofbobby.wordpress.com

** Honorable Mention – Breezy Neon from breezyneon.wordpress.com

Note: These wonderful people are being mentioned here because they have either linked to me on their sidebar or in a conversation from one of their posts. If I do a recap post like this in the future I would love to share with you some of the limelight. Simply post to my blog or to a specific post and I will also do my best to send some visitors your way.

The Case for Community

Posted in christian habits, community, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on January 23, 2009

Recently I was asked by my pastor to start a new small group. Our group has grown to about 16 people and that gets to be too intimidating for some people to share. This has led me to reflect on the question “Why community?” This has certainly been a question I have visited before, as small groups were the building blocks of my previous church. But I thought I would take things I’ve learned in the past and merge those with what God is teaching me at present and give a concise but thorough Case for Community.

Biblical Foundations for Community

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus encourages His disciples to make disciples. Paul echoes that commission when he writes to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). As we are making disciples helpful to be reminded of Jesus’ prayer for us as disciples and disciple-makers in John 17:21 “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You send Me.”

In thinking about this prayer, Francis Schaeffer writes, “we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.” Gilbert Bilezikian says, “According to that prayer, the most convincing proof of the truth of the gospel is the perceptible oneness of his followers.” Without love and unity the world will disbelieve. On the other hand, it is our love and our unity that enables the world to understand and receive the Truth. Jesus’ prayer is the one we should be praying for ourselves and for those we are discipling that we would be one. Colossians 3:14 reminds us that “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.”

“May They All Be One”

So, the goal of our discipleship should be unity – unity with God, and unity with each other. But how do we get there? Ephesians 4 gives a great answer. Verses 12 and 13 tell us that the leadership of the church is a gift from God “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” Step one, train the saints to do the ministry! Does it even seem feasible for one man to do all the hospital visits, to people he hardly knows, on time he hardly has? Instead, the members of the church should be mobilized to care for the sick, reach out to the lost, feed the hungry, and care for the spiritual needs of their neighbors and friends. The leaders are mobilizers and it should be all of the body serving one another and those outside the faith.

Step two is spiritual maturity. Notice that this step follows service and ministry. We don’t wait until we are seminary trained to begin our ministry. It is precisely that service that we perform with and for one another that develops our maturity. We don’t grow in isolation. We need community! It’s within the community that our faith is formed. Our relationship with God is personal but it’s not private.

I have discovered that I have no problem reading my Bible and praying daily when I know a friend who is in need, or when I have a stimulating discussion about God’s Word, or hear a challenge to the faith that I’ve never heard before. These interactions with others is what fuels my relationship with God. It is my connection to people that reinforces my connection with God. If I hadn’t had that discussion I might not be interested to see what God has to say on the topic. If my friend weren’t in need, maybe I would be spending less time in prayer. You get the idea. Close, spiritual, open, and honest friendships within the family of faith are vital to my personal walk with God.

The Cost of Community

It’s hard to be unified with someone you only see once a week. Especially if you are staring at the back of his head from the pew behind him. In fact, it’s quite easy to have a disagreement with such a person and never resolve the issue because there’s no reason to resolve it. You can just stop talking. But, if you are serving together in ministry, if you are helping him and he is helping you grow stronger in faith, then you are unified. It is this unity that is so essential to the mission of the church. Without this unity that is brought on by serving together and growing together, the world is hopelessly lost. The world needs us to be the family they never had. They need us to love one another.

But we need one another too. We were created for community but that doesn’t mean it comes easy (or even naturally). Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” We need to be together regularly if we are to show one another the care that is necessary to promote love and ministry. Do we want to be followers of Jesus? Do we want to make disciples, as He commanded us? Then we will regularly meet together because of our love and our concern for one another. I know I won’t grow in my relationship with God in isolation, but that means my brother or sister won’t either.

To be a disciple is to be in community. In order to make disciples, we need to encourage them to be in community. To change the world we need to invest in community. As the church, we are the final apologetic and it’s because of community. Jesus is only going to make one more appearance and that will be to call His Church home. Until then, we have a definite commission, and a definite course of action: As disciples, we are called to live in community with one another. This is achieved as we get together regularly and care for one another and serve together and grow together and show the world that we are disciples because of our love for one another. We need this! They need this! No longer can we simply come to a building once a week and expect that to be enough. In fact, we can’t merely come to a small group Bible study for a couple of hours per week and expect that to be enough. We are a family and a family is a huge time commitment. So let’s be disciples and not just complacent Christians. It’s messy and scary and you might just have to open up and share your life with someone, but don’t all the good things in life cost something?

Related Post: Naming Your Small Group Ministry ::  Subscribe ::

Making Disciples in a Bookstore

Posted in christian thought, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on December 10, 2008

images-stained-glass-calling-the-fishermen-tm1Recently I was in a Christian bookstore and I asked an employee if I could see their books on making disciples.

You know that feeling when you are shocked by something you were also expecting? Like you’re surprised but not surprised all at the same time?

That’s how I felt when the employee said he would have to ask the manager. I kept the look of surprise / not surprise off my face when the manager thought for a minute as we wandered aimlessly through the rows of books, and he was telling me they didn’t have a section on discipleship and he would have to think about where I might find something on discipleship. The perplexed look of surprise / not surprise started to surface on my face when he went to look it up on the computer and came back with no results.

I probably wasn’t going to buy anything, I just wanted to see if there’s anything new and interesting. I like to see who is writing about discipleship today and see what they are saying. To the bookstore’s credit, they did have a few books on the subject after I dug through the “spirituality” section and the “pastoral counseling” section. I guess I was surprised because as followers of Jesus we have been commanded to “Go and make disciples”. The Bible is clearly our best guide for that process, but with all the books on prayer and Christian living and world missions and biographies etc. we can’t find a dusty corner of a lonely shelf to place a few books on the matter of making disciples?

On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised. Other than some biographies of a few people who have done discipleship well, a few books that focus on the matter, and a few other books that have a section about it, discipleship is not fun to talk about. Discipleship involves commitment. Most churchgoers are content to attend a weekly service, place a twenty dollar bill in the plate once a month, and try not to snicker at the bad jokes told at work each day (that’s “witnessing” in their opinion). Discipleship is so much more. Discipleship is what Jesus called us to. Discipleship is obedience. Discipleship is discipline but it’s messy at the same time.

Our churches have such a screwed up idea of what discipleship is meant to be that we’ve got to start thinking about it, praying about it, writing about it, speaking about it, and DOING IT! People are led astray by church leaders who think discipleship is another class to attend. Instead, discipleship is living, breathing, and being family together with other believers. It should involve a mentor-type figure through a one-on-one relationship but it definitely involves the community. The community (characterized by words like “small”, “intimate”, “missional”, etc.) disciples the person. They live life together. They get in each others lives. The community confronts, encourages, exhorts, prophecies, and serves the disciple. The community plays together, serves together, suffers together, prays together, and lives together.

These are the kinds of things that aren’t being talked about by the church. It is definitely important to think about how to be missional, but what happens when we’ve unlocked the culture code and God gives new believers to the church? Stick them in a class? Guilt trip them when they don’t make it to the church service because if they don’t get that feeding then they are going to starve the rest of the week? If they were being discipled then the leaders of the weekly worship gathering wouldn’t have so much pressure placed on them to perform.

What is discipleship? What church leaders today are the most effective at calling the church to discipleship? What are the best books, young and old, to read about making disciples?

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