Gatherings on October 11

In light of the flooding this past week in our area, we wanted to give members of all of our churches an update on our plans for this coming Sunday, October 11.

Downtown

The auditorium and Kidtown facilities were completely unaffected, but there was a good bit of flooding in the basement, ruining most everything in the Connect Hall, restrooms, and overflow room. We've been working to have the basement drained and cleaned up, but since our restrooms are located down there, we will not be able to host Gatherings this Sunday.

Instead, we're encouraging everyone to gather in LifeGroups. Hear about what we're encouraging our LifeGroups to do with the time they would have been attending Gatherings on Sunday.

Two Notch

In light of the affected areas, we will not host Gatherings at Two Notch either. Find out what we're encouraging our Two Notch LifeGroups to do instead.

Lexington

Our Lexington facilities were largely unaffected by the flooding, so we will resume Gatherings at 10:00am as usual. Find out about Lexington Gatherings.

Give to Help #SCFloods Victims

As we've been spending time with victims of the South Carolina floods, we've noticed a few things. In general, there is no shortage of volunteers, food, or water. What is needed is some monetary assistance to help these families and individuals get back on their feet. For many of them, they were forced to evacuate their homes, leaving everything or most everything behind to be consumed by the flood.

As a church, we want to help provide for these families monetarily. Our plan is to get gift cards for as many families as we can so that they can get started rebuilding their lives.

Using the link below, you can give any amount to help provide these gift cards. 100% of donations will go towards helping these families recover from the disaster.

Help with Demolition & Restoration for #SCFloods Victims

Sign up below to assist with demo and restoration work in the Columbia area. Members of our church family are working with others to help people in their neighborhood recover and restore their homes. We are looking for anyone willing get dirty and help move furniture, rip up carpet, remove drywall, and the like.

Anyone is welcome to sign up.

Name *
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Which of our churches are you involved with?
If so, briefly describe the nature of your experience below.
Availability *
Check any days you are available to help.

Adopt-A-Family Affected by #SCFloods

Sign up to adopt a family that's been affected by the South Carolina floods. We are looking for people to: 

  • Build a relationship with the adopted family 
  • Take them out of the shelter at times and spend time together
  • Take them to stores to get things they need (we can provide financial assistance if needed )
Name *
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Financial Means *
Do you have the financial means to purchase supplies (when needed) for the adopted families?
Signing up For *
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Which of our churches are you involved with? *

How to Help Flood Victims

In the wake of the historic flood that hit our region, many of our members are wondering how they can help. We will be updating you guys as we learn more, but here are some ideas to start with:

  • Start with your LifeGroup. Make sure needs are met short term and long term. I've heard tons of stories of people opening homes, providing meals and clean water. This is beautiful and exactly what the church should be doing. Over the next few days people hit hard will have all sorts of needs...maybe clothes, furniture, temporary residence, toys for kids, etc. Let's be prepared to meet any needs in our church family that arise.
  • Check on your physical neighbors. Jesus called us to love our neighbors, which doesn't just mean the people who live nearby, but it certainly includes them. Make sure they are safe and taken care of.
  • Check our Facebook page. We've asked people to share needs there. If something is brought up that you can do, do it!
  • Feel no need to insta-brag. Jesus said we should practice our acts of kindness quietly, not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. That doesn't mean it has to be a secret. It just means our righteousness is secure and we have no need to self-promote. Don't turn your good deeds into a personal PR campaign.
  • Be on the lookout for serving opportunities through Day Mission Trips. We are currently working on some ways to organize our church family to specifically help those who were hit the hardest. Be on the lookout for more information.
  • Feel no need to panic about supplies and resources. If you're watching the news, it might be easy to believe that there are mile-long lines for food, shelter, and water. For the most part, that's not the case. Water is available at the Metropolitan Convention Center (among other places), and shelter is readily available at A.C. Flora (among other places). We are also hoping to partner with Red Cross to connect families in need of shelter with host families. Stay tuned for more details on that.
  • Be in it for the long haul. As many have mentioned, things will probably get worse before they get better. It's easy to chip in and help now, but in a few days, we'll need just as much man-power (if not more). Houses will need to be gutted and repaired, families will need help finding transitional housing, and people will need to be served and loved ongoingly. Helping may look a lot more like a marathon than a sprint.
  • Pray. Prayer is not wasted effort. Many have lost everything and we want to pray for God to comfort, to draw people to Himself in the midst of this tragedy, and to mobilize His church to meet needs of all kinds. Let's pray for our region. 
  • Give. We have set up a fund to help with immediate relief to families in the area. 100% of funds raised will go to helping families with food, water, and clothing needs. 

Following Jesus or Money?

Adam Gibson, the author of this post, is one of our vision team pastors and currently serves with our Two Notch church. For more information on our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

When a Job Requires a Move

Our very existence is about glorifying God. But how does that factor into how we pray through accepting a job that requires a move? What are the considerations you should make when deciding whether or not to move to a new place?

For most Americans, it’s simple. Is the move better for my career? Is there more money to be had with this move? Does the move make me more upwardly mobile? Is it a step up the career ladder? For many, the line of questioning seems to stop here.

Putting Career in its Place

For followers of Jesus, career aspirations are good things, but it becomes a problem when they become ultimate things. Far too many plan to uproot and move somewhere new in pursuit of career advancement without giving consideration to things that ought to carry even more weight.

A job is a job. A healthy church is family. Move wisely.

“As soon as we get there, our first priority will be to find a healthy church to plug into.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard those words spoken by a well-meaning person on the brink of moving.

What's Most Important?

How do you know if any healthy churches exist in that area? When I say church, I don’t mean a Sunday service that you find decent enough to merit your attendance. I mean the community of people you will immerse yourself and your family into. I mean the group upon which you will rely for support, help, encouragement, and rebuke. I mean the people you will share countless meals with while raising kids together, the people your kids will befriend and be shaped by. I mean the community you will walk alongside in representing the kingdom of God in the city. Your partners in mission.

It might very well be that making a move is the wise, faithful, God-honoring thing for you to do. But if you have vetted your new job while just assuming the spiritual/church/community components will work themselves out, then your thought process is flawed. Even if you end up making the correct decision, you’ve arrived there incorrectly.

Counting the Cost

In moving somewhere new, you will be leaving behind your network of relationships you have worked to cultivate. The people you know and are known by. People who have labored alongside you. People who have gone to war with you in prayer. People you have celebrated with, wept with, mourned with. People who know the particular ways in which you need to be pointed back to Jesus and his finished work. Leaders and pastors who have earned your trust and proven worthy of retaining it.

What is the cost of leaving this behind? What is the cost for your family? Have you considered how much effort will be required to start over with a new group of people? These are things that money cannot buy. These are more valuable than money or promotion. These are the things that make life vibrant and beautiful and bearable.

By all means, if you are called by God to move somewhere to be a part of creating or strengthening a healthy community of believers, go. But if you are moving only for the financial and career benefits without giving consideration to spiritual matters, count the cost.

Because following Jesus means sometimes you don't follow the money.

Authenticity or Slothfulness?

The author of this post is Kent Bateman, who serves as one of our pastors overseeing our communication department. For more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.


A Good Thing to Hate

My generation absolutely loves authenticity. So much. We hate anything that feels fake, superficial, or phony. We love authenticity almost to the point that if we feel a hint of cheesiness or fakeness, we dismiss it immediately. We think “if it feels fake, it’s probably wrong."

Jesus would support a lot of this thinking. He calls out the Pharisees for caring more about appearances than the heart (Matthew 23:25-28). But what we probably don’t realize is where loving authenticity can go wrong.

Where Authenticity Goes Wrong

Slothfulness in the Bible is sort of a synonym for laziness (Proverbs 6:6-11, 12:24, 13:4, 19:15, 19:24, 24:30-34, 26:14-15; Ecclesiastes 10:18; etc.). It's when we simply don't care about how things are done or doing them well. I think a lot of times we wander into slothfulness in the name of being authentic.

But slothfulness is not the same thing as authenticity.

  • Authenticity says “it’s not the end of the world if we mess up.” Slothfulness says “I don’t even care if we mess up." (Philippians 3:12-14)
  • Authenticity says “substance matters more than style.” Slothfulness says “style doesn’t matter at all."
  • Authenticity says “I can be honest about my weaknesses.” Slothfulness says “people better learn to deal with my weaknesses because I refuse to grow in them." (1 John 1:5-10)

In our relationship with Jesus:

  • Authenticity says “my identity isn't in how often I read the Bible.” Slothfulness says “reading my Bible doesn’t matter at all." (John 15:7)
  • Authenticity says "it's okay to not be okay." Slothfulness says "I have no interest in ever trying to be okay, because not being okay is easier." (Ephesians 4:20-24; 1 Peter 2:16)
  • Authenticity says "even my weak prayer life is acceptable to God through Jesus." Slothfulness says "I will not put in effort to improve my prayer life."

Glorious, Authentic Non-Slothfulness

I love how Paul talks about authenticity and slothfulness. In Romans 12, he mentions both in the same breath:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Romans 12:9-11 ESV

What’s interesting is that in the same passage, Paul instructs us to love genuinely (or authentically), but also that we aren’t to be slothful in zeal, but instead fervent (passionate) in spirit as we serve. So there is a way to continue to be authentic without being slothful. We want to aim for authenticity in how we serve, but never for slothfulness.

Our world needs Christians that do things passionately and authentically. Professionally and genuinely. Fervently and truthfully. The gospel enables us to do both. Because Jesus gives us his righteousness, we have no need to act like someone we're not. And because the Spirit indwells us, we have no reason to stay stuck where we are. Through the cross, Jesus invites us to live a life of glorious, authentic, non-slothfulness.

Luke: The King Commissions

On Good Friday, as Jesus breathed His last and spoke the words “into Your hands I commit my spirit”, the Christian movement looked as good as dead. Jesus’ closest friends and disciples had betrayed and abandoned Him in His hour of darkest need. Most of them were hiding in cowardly fear, terrified of the possibility that they might undergo the same torture He endured. Jesus’ public ministry had gathered massive crowds with tens of thousands of adoring fans and interested spectators. Now the visionary leader was dead, the adoring fans had scattered and only a handful of terrified, confused followers were left.

And yet, two millennia later, Jesus is the most famous, loved, followed, worshipped man who has ever walked the planet.

This historical anomaly happened largely because without them fully comprehending it, Jesus was preparing His disciples for years in what they would do after He left. In Luke 8, we begin to see Jesus’ shift the focus of His time and effort on training His disciples instead of doing the work of ministry. We see Him equipping, sending out and coaching His closest, most bought-in disciples in how to spread the good news of His kingdom.

As we study these middle chapters of Luke (8-14) in the upcoming months, we will learn from Jesus Himself not only how He ministered, but how He trained regular humans like us to carry the torch when He left. In the process, we will receive invaluable encouragement and instruction in how to become the kind of people that God works through regularly.

Jesus desires to work in you.

And He desires to work through you…

…In the lives of those He’s placed you around.

Jesus equipped, trained and shaped some terrified, unskilled, unprepared disciples into the leaders of the greatest movement the world has ever seen.

And He’s still doing it.

He’s still using ordinary sinful humans who have been and are being radically changed by His grace to work in the lives of other ordinary sinful humans all around them.

We’re excited for you to join us as we study Luke 8-14 and look at how Jesus the King commissions His people.

Who Was Luke?

A physician by profession, Luke plays both the role of investigator and reporter as he searches out eyewitness reports and reconstructs “an orderly account” of the truth of Jesus’ life, teaching and ministry.

Written about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Luke carries out his investigation in a very precise historical window. Many of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry are still alive but they won’t be for much longer. So Luke takes his opportunity to interview the eyewitnesses who are still alive and compiles both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Put together, Luke contributes more words, sentences and verses to the New Testament than any other author (although Paul wrote more books). Luke takes his time and uses lots of words, including many specific details and very helpful stories and illustrations.

Luke was a close friend of Paul, accompanying him on many of his travels. He was also an understudy and personal physician to Paul.

Luke’s Background

Luke himself was not a not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry but rather came to faith in Jesus as the early church preached the gospel of Jesus’ defeat of sin through His death and resurrection. He was also a Gentile from Antioch – not Jewish ethnically or religiously. He didn’t grow up in the temple and he wasn’t acquainted with the Old Testament scriptures or looking forward to a coming Messiah. Like many of you, Luke became a follower of Jesus as an adult and had lots of questions. This is very helpful because his inquisitive and skeptical mind seeks to answer many of those questions in his study and writing.

Along with coming to faith as an adult with a secular background, Luke is an extremely educated and intelligent man. As a doctor, he studied medicine and science. As a writer, his historical accuracy is sharp and his Greek is perfect. In a culture where less than one out of ten men were educated, Luke is highly educated and he uses all of his vast intellect to love Jesus, study Jesus and serve Jesus by writing books about Jesus.

Don't "Just Have Faith"

For those of you who are highly educated, skeptical and/or love science and medicine, Luke is a reminder that intellect is not an enemy of Jesus. Your mind, your questions and your education are all gifts given to you by God and they are intended to be used for Jesus as tools of mission to help others know and love Jesus.

Why Luke?


Everyone has to answer the big “meaning of life” questions: Who are we, and why are we here? What’s wrong with the world? What, if anything, can make it right? Who gets to define morality? Should I be moral? Why? Why should I be a good person? Why should anyone choose love instead of hate? How should I use and spend the short days I get to live on this planet?

Everyone has functional answers to these questions. And no matter what our answers are, they cannot be overtly proven or disproven. We all must thoughtfully investigate and draw our own conclusions.

Yet, we all tend to agree that better and worse answers to these questions exist. Most modern, secular Americans agree that it is better to work things out with your enemies as opposed to killing them. We tend to believe that it is good and right to care for the poor. Almost unanimously, we assume that all human beings have rights that should be fought for and protected. And all of these beliefs have to come from somewhere.

A Far Bigger Impact than We Think

Without even realizing it, many of our deepest held values come from the Christian movement started by Jesus.

Luc Ferry, French philosopher in his book A Brief History of Thought says, “The philosophy of human rights to which we subscribe today would never have established itself [apart from Christianity].” In other words, if Christianity never became the dominant western worldview, our thoughts on human rights would not exist as we know them.

In pre-Christian Europe, when the monks were propagating Christianity, all of the elites thought that loving your enemies and taking care of the poor was crazy. They said society would fall apart, because that’s not the way the world works. The talented and strong prevail. The winner takes all. The strong prey on the weak. The poor are born to suffer. Isn’t that how it has always worked? But the teaching of Christianity revolutionized pagan Europe by stressing the dignity of the person, the primacy of love, including toward enemies, and the care of the poor and orphans.

– Tim Keller, Encounters with Jesus

Human Rights...Says Who?

We all believe in human rights – in liberty and freedom – but we often don’t ask ourselves “Why?” The basic premise is contrary to the rule of the natural world where the strong eat the weak. So if it’s natural for the strong to eat the weak…and if we all got here through the natural, unguided process of evolution…why do we think it is wrong for a strong nation to eat a weaker nation? On what basis can we say that genocide – a strong ethnic group “eating” a weaker one — is wrong? If there is no God, then our views of justice are nothing more than opinions. And we suddenly have no basis to denounce injustice.

Unless there is a God, we have no right to tell anyone that our feelings or ideas are more valid than their feelings and ideas. Unless there is a God who created us in His personal image, then many of the values we cherish and assume are actually imaginary – wishful thinking with no foundation.

Yet we are sure that these values are not imaginary, that things like genocide are absolutely wrong and that people have rights regardless of their talent, gender, age, wealth or race. Late Yale law professor, Arthur Leff captured this self-defeating tension in our thoughts perfectly:

In the absence of God… each ethical and legal system… will be differentiated by the answer it chooses to one key question: who among us… ought to be able to declare ‘law’ that ought to be obeyed?... Either God exists or He does not, but if He does not, nothing and no one else can take His place… As things are now, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless: napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved. There is such a thing as evil… God help us.

– Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law”

Because we assume human rights are real and morality has a foundation, we owe it to ourselves to examine where these ideas came from. We owe it to ourselves to examine the school of thought where these beliefs originated – Christianity and its founder Jesus Christ.

Which Brings us to Luke

The gospel of Luke is a perfect opportunity to examine Jesus and the origins of His movement. In his opening lines, Luke declares his intention for compiling this biographical narrative about Jesus. He writes so that an educated and esteemed man, Theophilus (and all others privileged to read thereafter) would have “certainty” that Jesus not only spoke the true answers to life’s big questions, but that He was the answer.

Jesus doesn’t just have the answers. He is the answer to life’s biggest questions. In carefully looking at and considering Jesus, Luke says we can be certain we have found the truth. There is something about Jesus that sets Him apart from any other spiritual teacher, political leader, or revolutionary. There is something about Him that is different, significant and even otherworldly. His impact is so far reaching that many modern, secular minded Americans don’t even realize how many of the values we take for granted come from His teaching and His actions.

Part of this certainty comes from what theologians describe as Jesus’ “self-authenticating” truthfulness.

 Jesus, as He is revealed in the bible, has a glory – an excellence, a spiritual beauty – that can be seen as self-evidently true. It is like seeing the sun and knowing that it is light and not dark, or like tasting honey and knowing that it is sweet and not sour. There is no long chain of reasoning from premises to conclusions. There is a direct apprehension that this person is true and His glory is the glory of God.

– John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ

Our culture is growingly uncertain when it comes to the truth about Jesus. One of the biggest obstacles that people deal with is that they often think they already know all about Him. They often think they already know the answers that Jesus offers to the questions of life, and they have already deemed Jesus’ answers as unsatisfying, unworthy or wrong. Unfortunately it is quite common for these people to have a distorted or altogether false view of Jesus.

So we invite you to take an investigative look at the real Jesus. and join us as we study the good news according to Luke.

Context You Need to Know for Luke

In order to best understand Luke (and the Bible in general), we have to understand some of the cultural climate and factors of Luke’s world. His original audience would have read his words in context of these major cultural currents:

Family Matters

The Jewish people were a highly collectivist society. Unlike modern day America, their natural understanding was that the good of the group outweighed the good of the individual. They were very, very nationalistic and family oriented. Your family was where you received your identity. Your family determined where you lived. Your family determined what your occupation would be. And they even usually determined who you would marry. Nothing was more important than family loyalty. Jesus’ description of a new, more important spiritual family in Luke 8:19-21 and 14:25-27 was shocking. (About the equivalent of telling an American that the best way to be happy is to give up your independence and let someone else make all your decisions for you.)

Roman Occupation

The Israelites are at this time occupied and ruled by the Roman Empire. This means they are simultaneously not autonomous or self-governing because Rome has ultimate political jurisdiction, and also in some ways, they are left alone to do as they please. To fund their massive army, the Roman Empire levied heavy taxes on occupied nations including Israel. This is why the Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin condemn Jesus to die according to their law, but still have to ask permission from Pilate (Luke 22:66-23:5).

Awaiting a Messiah

God’s people had been given promises throughout their history that someone was coming to make right what was wrong in the world (Isaiah 9:2-7, Zechariah 9:9-10). Their general understanding was that this Messiah would be a political king who would lead them to national prominence and power. Specifically, they were looking for someone who would overthrow Roman occupation. They also anticipated that he would be preceded by a voice who would come in the spirit of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6). The events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist and his ministry filled many people with excitement that the Messiah – their hope of dignity, prosperity and freedom – was on his way.

The Herodian Influence

King Herod was a particularly terrible and corrupt King over Israel who represented Roman occupying power and oppression. Those who supported Herod were called Herodians. They were the cultural progressives of their time bringing unwanted change and significant moral shifts. They had a Greek perspective on sex, the body and truth. None of these things were welcomed by the Jewish ruling class. This could be roughly compared to the distaste conservatives had for MTV in the early 1990s.

Responses to Occupation

There were four primary responses to Roman occupation:

  1. Fight em’! Some Israelites believed they needed to stand up to the Romans like David stood up to Goliath. These were the zealots led by a group of assassins called the Sicarii. The most notable zealot in Luke is Peter, one of Jesus’ converted disciples, who still wants to fight at times (Luke 22:49-51).
  2. If you can’t beat em’, join em’! The Sadducees and other wealthy and prominent officials accepted much of the culture around them in a pragmatic play for power and prominence.
  3. Run away! Other groups including the Essenes and the Dead Sea groups removed themselves from society to go preserve their cultural purity and hang out with God in the woods.
  4. Bunker down! Responding to the Sadducees acceptance of culture and the perceived negative influence of the Herodians, many groups remained in Jerusalem but emphasized strict morality and piety. Most notably, this response is displayed consistently throughout Luke by the Pharisees.

Luke: Jesus & Suffering begins March 15

As we near the end of our What's Killing Me series Downtown and our Worthy series at Two Notch, we are preparing to resume our study of the book of Luke on March 15. Specifically, in the weeks leading up to Easter we'll be looking at the topic of suffering in Luke. We'll examine why suffering happens, the compassion of Jesus in our suffering, and the suffering in Jesus' own life.

Send us Your Questions

As always, we want this series to be as helpful as possible, and we know a lot of us have big questions when it comes to suffering. These questions may be intellectual (wrestling with the idea of why suffering happens), or personal (why specific suffering has occurred in your life and how to process it). Before and during the series, we'd love for you to send your questions about suffering to questions@midtowncolumbia.com. We'll take all these questions into consideration as we plan out the series, and maybe even have a week of live Q&A during the series.

Study with Your LifeGroup

We're also publishing pages to our Luke study binder to accompany the series. You can go ahead and grab the digital version of the pages now, and pick up the physical copy at our Gatherings beginning March 15.

Join us and Bring a Friend

This series has the potential to be immensely helpful for anyone wrestling with suffering or the idea of suffering. Don't miss a great opportunity to invite someone you're building relationship with to attend a Gathering with you from March 15-29.

Listen to Sermons

If you missed one of the sermons or want to send one to a friend, you can find the links below:

Downtown sermons

Two Notch sermons

Recommended Reading: Fiction Edition

In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting books that have been enjoyable to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Brandon Clements, who oversees our pastoral care and Recovery. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

Reading good fiction has long been one of my most healthy outlets as a person, and there are particular books that have been incredible spiritual encouragements to me. I would argue that the books that follow fall into the category of character-driven, likely-spiritually-encouraging fiction for believers. They are not necessarily thrillers (so don't approach them looking for The Hunger Games), but rich stories that echo the heart of God in some fashion or another.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Marilynne Robinson is probably my favorite novelist. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005 and is a moving story of an elderly preacher in rural Iowa going through his last years with his family. You probably won't read this book fast, but if you do finish it, I bet you'll enjoy it long after it is over. Robinson has a way of making words and characters sink into your bones that I am envious of.

Home by Marilynne Robinson I told you I loved her. This book is set in the same town and is a vague retelling of the prodigal son story. I think I like it even more than Gilead, if that's possible. Robinson also released another novel tied to the town of Gilead called Lila, but I haven't finished it yet.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger This book tore a whole through me when I first read it. It's a moving story of a father's love for his children, and it wraps up with one of the most beautiful and compelling metaphoric depictions of heaven I've ever seen outside of Scripture. I will never forget the end of this story.

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor Flannery O'Connor is known for dark Southern fiction with religious themes, and this novel by her certainly hits the mark. Here you will find a character (a traveling evangelist) whose reactions to his own brokenness will haunt you and challenge you to think about the ways in which you respond to the darkness inside of you. If you've never read Flannery O'Connor, be prepared for weird. But life is weird, amiright? I also have enjoyed many of her short stories that she is more widely known for.

I hope these get you started and if you check any of them out, I'd love to know what you think!

Recommended Reading: Adam Gibson

In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting two books that have been helpful to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Adam Gibson, who is one of our lead pastors. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

Reason for God by Tim Keller Keller deals first with the main objections that Westerners have with Christianity, then builds a case for Christian belief. I have never read a more helpful book when it comes to dealing with my own doubt, as well as being helpful in answering the common questions of friends who do not know Jesus. I try to read it at least once a year to stay fresh on its content.

When the Church Was a Family by Joseph Hellerman This book gives excellent scriptural insight into how category-shifting it was for a first century person to be told that Jesus intended for his followers to operate like they were family. It changed the way I read the Bible and has been profoundly influential in our church's philosophy, operating practices, and teaching.

Recommended Reading: Kent Bateman

In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting two books that have been helpful to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Kent Bateman, who oversees our communications. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges Often books that talk about living by grace say beautiful, theologically rich things, but fail to help us see what living by grace looks like on a day-to-day, rubber-hits-the-road basis. This book does a great job of doing both. If you're a new Christian and trying to figure out what in the world the Christian life looks like, or just always find yourself drifting towards works and legalism, this is a great book for you. It's been so helpful for me, I try to re-read it at least once a year.

Killjoys

by the Desiring God team

This one very much fits in with our

What's Killing Me

series. Each chapter tackles a different topic like pride, envy, anger, or lust. Each deadly sin is explained, helpfully diagnosed, analyzed, and then pointed back to the gospel for help fighting against it. I found the chapter on anger especially insightful. The guys at Desiring God do a great job with each one, and I think you'll find a lot of practical help fighting sin with this book. As if that weren't enough reason, it's also free in PDF, Mobi, and EPUB formats!

Recommended Reading: Brandon Clements

In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting two books that have been helpful to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Brandon Clements, who oversees our pastoral care and Recovery. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

A Praying Life by Paul Miller I've never read a more practical, helpful, and encouraging book on prayer than Miller's A Praying Life. One of the most helpful parts for me was that he addressed a lot of the reasons we tend not to pray as Christians--one of them being the cynicism that builds up in us when our prayers aren't answered the way we hoped they would be. It is an aggressively honest and pull-no-punches kind of book that was deeply encouraging to me.

Ultimately, it is the gospel applied to our prayer lives. We don't have to perform in prayer--we are freed by the perfect righteousness of Christ to bring our messy, half-hearted, and cynical prayers to the throne of God. If you've ever struggled with prayer (which is probably all of you), you should check it out.

The Big Story

 by Justin Buzzard

One of the things that tends to get lost in the everyday humdrum of life is the fact that we are a part of the biggest and most compelling story that has ever been told--the story of God and His work to redeem all of creation. This book helps you zoom out and see your life as it is--part of this grand story of God. It helps you see everything--work, family, hobbies, church involvement--from a much bigger and more helpful perspective. Your life is not just a series of random events, but a part of this giant and redeeming tapestry of a story that God is telling.

Recommended Reading: Jay Hendricks

jay
jay

In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting two books that have been helpful to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Jay Hendricks, who oversees our music, Gatherings, and production. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

With by Skye Jethani

While this book may not be mind-blowing on the theological terms, it was extremely helpful for correcting my perspective on God's relationship with us. I was around Christianity my entire life, however, I had wrongly shaped my view of who God was, and my role in our relationship. Skye Jethani helps give examples of our missteps when applying the gospel to our lives, and how we view our relationship with the Lord. Specifically, Jethani presents the gospel in a what that helped me realize that my role in life is not to live life "for God" or to get life "from God" but that reality is that I get to live life "With God," and thats the prize–that's the gospel.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien Potentially my favorite fiction book to read. There is something about the characters and the storyline that connect deeply with me, and draw me in every time I pick it up again. While the author historically dislikes much of the allegory that the readers try to tie into the story, the fact remains that there are beautiful glimpses of, broken humanity, our need for salvation from evil, and the gospel story throughout. As you read, don't feel the need to tie it all in a perfect bow back to the bible. Instead join the characters on this addictive story, that I personal feel like I'm actually a character in each time.

How to Empower People in Your Group

EricFreemon
EricFreemon

Eric Freeman, the author of this post, is a resident at Midtown Fellowship. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

At a recent LifeGroup leader meeting, we had a “choose your own adventure” time where we listened to insight from different pastors about things we might be dealing with in our groups and how to handle them. We received a ton of great feedback from these short and practical talks, and in case you missed any, we recorded them and will release them as a resource for you and your group! The first is about how to empower people in your group.

Leading a LifeGroup can sometimes feel like you are swimming alone in a sea of expectations, being battered by the waves of responsibility and duty to your group. There are so many details and intricacies to leading a LifeGroup that it can feel overwhelming when doing it all on your own.

In Exodus 18:13-23, Moses was confronted by his father-in-law for putting all the pressure to lead in every aspect on himself and almost burning himself out. There were people all around him with gifts from the Lord who, if equipped based on what they have been blessed with, could help share in the responsibility and accomplish the twofold goal of personal and community growth.

As leaders it is our goal to push those in our groups to grow and take ownership while the group as a whole grows. As Kent (one of our pastors) said,

"No one can do everything, but everyone can do something."

It is our job to get to know the folks in our group and learn what they’re good at so we can give them responsibilities that will help both them and our groups grow. Give it a listen to learn how!

HOW TO EMPOWER PEOPLE IN YOUR GROUP

What Makes LifeGroups Special?

adam
adam

Adam Gibson, the author of this post, serves as one of our pastors and elders on the vision team along with Allen Tipping. For more information about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

Most church small groups and classes will have some similar elements. Things like bible study and prayer are usually central. Hopefully bible application, confession, encouragement, and loving correction will also be included. All of these are elements that we have taught and implemented since we planted our church. I would argue that Scripture explicitly instructs us to incorporate all of them into our lives as believers, and that our growth as Christians will always be stunted without them.

On top of these crucial elements there are some additional ideas that, in my experience, make our vision for LifeGroups distinct. We try to lead our groups to have a goal of cultivating a community that enjoys one another and has a view towards welcoming others into it.

The Hard Work of Enjoying Others

We want our groups to put in the hard work of learning to actually enjoy one another. Some might ask, "why not just let biblical community happen naturally? Why does there need to be a formalized system (like LifeGroups) to make it happen?" While biblical community certainly can form naturally, it's been my experience that often this leads to fairly homogenous groups. We naturally gravitate towards people who look like us, think like us, talk like us, and do life like us. If we're not careful, this can mean that we never learn to love people who differ from us at all.

It is very easy to love the idea of biblical community. It is quite another thing to love the real people who are actually around you. Every day our fragmented, individualized society teaches us that if someone is different from me then I cannot meaningfully connect with them. Many American Christians have imported this idea into their view of the church and want to only share life with people they easily get along with.

A More Difficult and More Beautiful Picture

The biblical vision for the church stands in contrast to this however, and calls us to love the unlovely, the weak, the immature, the difficult...because this is how Jesus has loved us in our weakness and immaturity. We are to bear with the failings of the weak, welcome the immature, and love the real people around us, not just love the idea of community. In Christ, we are “family-fied.” We are united by something more powerful than anything that could separate us.

A gospel community should always have a view for enjoying the flawed humans who make it up, all the while welcoming others into it. We think this is the mission of the church. And when, fueled by God's Spirit, these things begin to come together, neighborhoods and cities begin to change.

Because of this, it is our expectation that your LifeGroup will be difficult at times. Learning to love people who are different than you will feel counterintuitive, and that's because it is. After all, we serve a God who came to earth, put on human flesh, and extended grace towards people who hated him, gossiped about him and eventually conspired to kill him. This should be our standard and our inspiration for our efforts to love and pursue those different than us.

Are you new to our church family and ready to join a LifeGroup? Get signed up here.

Adam is Joining Two Notch

Adam Gibson, the author of this post, is one of our pastors and serves on our vision team together with Allen Tipping. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

From the beginning, our church has had a passion to love and serve the city of Columbia. From the suburbs to the inner city, upper class to lower class, students, professionals, and families. When we say we care about our city, we mean everyone in our city.

A few years ago we began to put the pieces in place to plant a church in the inner-city Two Notch area of downtown Columbia. In January 2014, our Two Notch church began gathering weekly on Sunday afternoons to study the bible together, pray and share what God is up to in their LifeGroups throughout the week. Two Notch's Gatherings are often followed by a neighborhood block party, as a way of getting to know people and building relationships.

No One Should Have to Pay for the Gospel

An unfortunate reality is that in church world ministry often follows money, leaving the inner-city to fend for itself. This is one of the many reasons why I am so proud of our Two Notch church. To be honest, planting a church in a low-income area of our city is a bad business decision, but it’s a beautiful kingdom decision.

To help with this process, Midtown Fellowship became "a family of churches." Two Notch and our Downtown church continue to share as many resources as possible (business operations, website, Recovery ministry, LifeGroup resources, etc.), while remaining united in our vision of being Jesus-centered family on mission. Our hope in doing this is to have a sustainable way of assisting a very under-resourced area of our city.

Why I'm Joining Two Notch

As we operate as a family of churches, we not only get to share organizational resources, but people resources as well.

With that in mind, for the next four months or so I plan to help the leadership of Two Notch in whatever ways I can. I want to assist with leadership development and getting some systems in place that will allow the church to continue its ministry even more effectively. I will still fulfill my “city-wide” responsibilities, and my family and I will remain in our current LifeGroup and attend Downtown Gatherings on Sunday mornings. However, any preaching that I do will be with Two Notch, at the request of Ant Frederick, lead pastor of our Two Notch church.

I've always been blown away at the pastors God has raised up in our church family. Because of that, I'm happy to say that I won’t be missed at all Downtown.

I'd love it if you could join with me in praying that Jesus would make this a fruitful season as I serve and lead with Two Notch, and that God would use it to help more people in inner-city communities hear the gospel.