In Columbia as in Heaven

The STEWARD Finance Tool

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For Christians, stewardship means managing and leveraging our resources to advance Jesus’s kingdom. God desires that we steward well all that He has entrusted to us. This includes our time, talent and treasure. STEWARD helps us consider our treasure. It is about getting financially healthy so that we can live generously. 

S – Start Your Journey to Financial Health (Step 1)

·       Start giving if not currently tithing. - Give to Downtown, Lexington, or Two Notch.

·         Start saving $1,000.

T – Take Ownership (Step 2)

·         Build a budget. You can use the Simple Budget Calculator or the Budget Template tool.

·         Once you’ve established a budget, consider using a money management tool like to following sites/apps to keep track of where your money goes. (Personal Capital, Mint, Acorn, Every Dollar.)

·         Check your credit report.

·         Insure against financial disaster (home/renters, health, life, disability, etc.).

·         Pay off debts (except mortgage). You can use the Debt Snowball tool found here.

E – Expect the Unexpected (Step 3)

·         Save three to six months of living expenses in an emergency fund. 

W – Watch the Clock (Step 4)

·         Invest 15 percent gross income toward retirement.

A – Advance Your Financial Health (Step 5)

·         Increase your giving percentage.

·         Save for college.

·         Identify other 5 to 10-year financial goals (home, car, vacation, etc.).

R – Reside Debt-free (Step 6)

·         Pay off your mortgage.

D – Determine How God Wants to Use Your Financial Health (Step 7)

·         Go where God calls you to go. Give to what and where God calls you to give.

What are your next steps?

What’s your plan for others to hold you accountable?

Why Do We Ask Members to Give 10 Percent?

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In the Old Testament, tithing - the giving of a tenth of what someone owned - was part of God’s 611 commands that His people would follow. This was, in part, to follow the example made by their leaders (Gen 14:19-20, Gen 28:20-22) and to support the ministry of the Levites (Lev 27:30–34, Num 18:21, Num 18:26, Deut 12:5-6). On top of the tithe, the Israelites were also expected to give to religious festivals as a way of acknowledging God’s generosity and abundance (Deut 14:22) as well as to give to anyone in need as an act of worship (Lev 25:35-37, Deut 15:7-8, Deut 14:28-29, Ps 41:1-3, 119:36, Prov 11:24-25, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9). One scholar estimated after tithing, giving to their religious festivals, and giving to those in need, the average Israelite gave upwards of 20%.

Tithing isn’t required for New Testament believers in the same way it was for Old Testament believers since we are no longer under the law, however, the principle of generosity is still in place. Generosity, as in the Old Testament, is seen as an act of worship, to support those in ministry, to fund the ministry of the church, and to give to those in need (Matt 6:19-21, 10:42, Luke 6:37-38, 21:1-4, Acts 20:32-35, 2 Cor 8:12-15, 9:6-8, 1 John 3:16-18, 1 Tim 6:17-19).

While there’s no exact number in the Bible to follow as the Israelites did with the 10% tithe, followers of Jesus are still called to give sacrificially because Jesus sacrificially gave Himself for us.

This is what we’re striving for in our covenant practices - to be a compelling people that look like Jesus in everything we do. So the question becomes: How do we know what that looks like? What steps can we agree to do together to practice obedience? What markers or guidelines can we set in place to help each other look more like Jesus?

For our church, giving 10% is the agreed-upon starting point to gauge our generosity. (We often say that 10% is the floor, not the ceiling.) It’s not required to be a Christian, and we’re not required by any law, but it is one of the many diagnostics we use to help lead one another in being a generous people.

Having this tangible marker for a biblical principle is similar to the other covenant practices we commit to doing together. For example, we want people to be in deeply-connected Jesus-centered relationships; a marker for this is to commit to a LifeGroup. We want people to be sacrificially giving their lives away for Jesus; a marker is to serve on Sundays. You won’t see “get into a LifeGroup” or “sign up for a Sunday role” as a requirement or law for New Testament believers, but they are tangible agreed-upon markers of biblical principles that we are called to obey. Similarly, you won’t see “give 10%” for the New Testament believer, but the principle of generosity is found throughout.

Why do we make this a priority of ours? Jesus puts it bluntly in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In the words of Jesus, following Him requires an aligning of our hearts - and that includes our finances. When we give, we find ourselves literally and spiritually more invested in the things of God than we were before. We are naturally more inclined to care about God’s mission because we are moving our finances that way.

Therefore, we see 10% as the starting point not as “I have to,” but as “I get to.” We get to give back to the mission of God. We get to financially help those in need. We get to create resources for people to be equipped. We get to partner with non-profit organizations all over the city. We get to teach middle and high schoolers about Jesus every week. We get to coach up new parents on how to follow Jesus and love their kids. We get to provide pizza to college students who may not know Jesus. We get to keep the lights on each Sunday so people have a space to gather and worship together. 

Through our committing to give 10%, we get to see our city look more like Heaven each day through our generosity.

Their Story/Your Story/The Story Mission Tool

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Click here to go to a downloadable/printable version of this tool.

Everyone has a story. Past, Present, Future.

Beginning, Middle, End.

We all come from somewhere and we’re all are going somewhere. We’re all dealing with life somewhere in the middle right now. The art of learning someone’s story, and sharing your story are essential to building rich friendships as we live on mission. The following tool is one simple way to go about learning these skills. It provides a series of questions in the framework of Past, Present, Future.

DISCLAIMERS:

  • Don’t think about any of this as a rigid one-size fits all formula, so much as guardrails to help you get started and troubleshoot as you go.

  • This is not intended to be a one-time, one-shot conversation.

  • Learning their story and sharing your story could take weeks, months or an entire season. This tool is intended to be used over time as you get to know someone in the context of a real, mutual, loving relationship.

Start by listing some friends and neighbors who don’t know Jesus. Keep them in mind as you work through the rest of the tool.

PART 1: THE PAST

We all come from somewhere. Somewhere that includes a physical place (or places), a family of origin and a series of personal experiences. Everyone’s past provides the context for their entire story. So getting to know someone requires getting to know their backstory. And inviting someone into your life requires sharing yours.

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PART 2: THE PRESENT

Regardless of our backstories, we all find ourselves right here and now… dealing with life. Some of us are doing that pretty well, others are really struggling. But how they are dealing with life, and how we deal with life give us a lot of opportunities to share the truth and hope of Jesus.

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PART 3: THE FUTURE

In the midst of dealing with our lives, all of us have certain beliefs about what is broken in this world and what would fix it. We all have dreams and hopes about what “the good life” would look like if we ever got there. Tapping into these hopes and dreams helps us get to know people and see places where they have false hopes outside of Jesus.

PART 4: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

As we get to know their story and share our story, we are always looking for ways we can share Jesus’ story through our story and apply it into their story

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Is your Rhythm Set Up for Mission?

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Outside of regular LifeGroup time, we encourage groups to have a less structured time that can be more natural to invite friends into. This could be anything from a monthly game night, to lunch after Sunday gatherings, to going to a bar for trivia, to playing in a softball league together.

Rhythms help accomplish two purposes. First, they become something everyone in the LifeGroup can do together. Families naturally make memories and do life together. Second, rhythms can act as a front door to people who are brand-new to Jesus or church. In an ever-increasing secular culture, inviting a friend to a Sunday Gathering may seem intimidating, but they’re far more likely to come to a game night or trivia. The good news is, your LifeGroup doesn’t have to choose between doing something together or being missional. Effective rhythms accomplish both.

Use the questions below to evaluate your rhythms and where your LifeGroup can grow.

Are new people coming into your rhythms regularly?

If new people are not coming around to your rhythms try planning rhythms with particular names and faces in mind. What are some activities the people you are building with would enjoy doing? Are your rhythms consistent enough to where you can constantly invite them even if they can’t attend for a week or do? 

Are your rhythms accessible to Non-Christians?

To a new person, a large group of strangers all doing a deep dive into the Bible or a book study might be a tough sell to someone just trying to dip their feet in.  Think about what your LifeGroup does regularly for rhythms and ask, “Would someone who doesn’t know Jesus be comfortable participating with you and your group?” 

Is your LifeGroup equipped for the next steps?

If/when non-Christians come around rhythms, what then? What conversation do you need to have with them? What do those conversations look like? Is everyone in LifeGroup on the same page and equipped to have those conversations even if they’re not the “point person”? Take some time with your LifeGroup to sync up and equip one another. Remember, being on mission is a team sport.

Does the whole group prioritize rhythms?

Rhythm participation can look different for LifeGroups depending on your season of life. But over a long enough period of time, everyone in the LifeGroup should make rhythms a regular part of their life. Check-in with those who haven’t been able to come for a while and make sure they are doing okay. Narrate the importance of rhythms and why it’s good for them to attend. Is there anyway the LifeGroup can help so that they can participate (i.e. help shuttle a child to a baseball game, find childcare for them, look at their schedule and help them budget their time)?

Is your group in a season to invite new people?

While we generally want to always invite new people in, there are times when LifeGroups may not be in an open season to do this. If you think this is your group, ask your LifeGroup leaders, “Are we in a place to be inviting more people in or not?” Some of these factors may be the group is already too large and the priority needs to be caring for one another and begin to discuss multiplying. Perhaps many in the group are experiencing care issues (grief, trauma, etc) and the best thing for the group is to use that time to care for one another for a season. Perhaps your group has flooded with new people and the main priority is to welcome and onboard them. Whatever the case may be, we want to make sure this is an open conversation with LifeGroup so everyone’s on the same page. (Quick plug: consider using the LifeGroup (re)BootCamp if you need to do a culture reset or if your LifeGroup just multiplied.)

If after some reflection, you are wanting to change the way your group plans rhythms, there are some important things to consider. Check-in with your Lifegroup leader or if you are the leader, check in with your group. Ask how they have been feeling about the effectiveness of rhythms and see if they agree. Go back to the basics and remember why we do rhythms and why they are good for us. So feel free to try some new ideas! 

Currently, how effective are you rhythms?

If your rhythms aren’t as effective as they can be, what are some practical next steps?


Understanding Idolatry

In LifeGroups we practice confessing sin to one another as prescribed in James 5:16 and 1 John 1:5-10. One aspect of confessing sin is through the lens of idolatry. While we may not bow down and worship carved statues, idolatry can mean anything that you worship outside of Jesus to find identity and purpose. A modern idol could be romance, a career, a family, or your personal freedom.

To press this further, there’s a difference between “surface idols” and “deep idols.” A surface idol looks at the external motivation while the deep idol refers to the inward motivation - the sin beneath the sin. We want to be a culture that confesses both - surface and deep idols - to see ourselves more clearly and allow for deeper healing to take place.

Surface Idols – The noticeable sin patterns in your life including thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, etc. These are things that give meaning, hope and purpose to your life other than God. This is what people most regularly confess.

Deep Idols – What is your motivation for sin? Why do you run to those specific surface idols? What are you looking for? Four common deep idols: power, approval, comfort, and control

Below is a helpful diagnostic to determine what deep idols are most prevalent in your life.

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Here’s how Jesus speaks into each one of those deep idols. (Also consider using the resource, “Go-to Verses for Gospel Fluency”)

Comfort - Our relationship with Jesus provides never-ending, security, peace, and rest. 

Control - We were never in control anyway, but we serve a God who has sovereign rule over the universe.  In the moment the world looked the most out of control - the death of the Son of God on a cross - God was most in control, working his plan of salvation that he had carried through the ages. 

Approval - We have all the approval we will ever need in Christ. Through Jesus’ work on our behalf we are eternally approved of by the God of all Creation who pours out the love, favor, and acceptance owed to Jesus onto us. 

Power - God has unqualified, limitless power. We no longer have to seek power as we are able to find all the power we’ll ever need in him. We no longer have to exert our will or dominance over others.

What recent surface idols do you need to confess to God and one another?

What deep idol do you see most at work underneath your surface idol(s)? How have you seen that play out?

Go-to Verses for Gospel Fluency

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As a church, we strive to make confession and repentance a regular practice - where the culture of LifeGroup is marked by honesty, vulnerability, and reminding each other of Jesus’ righteousness. Having “Gospel Fluency” is how we remind ourselves of Jesus’ work on our behalf. When we confess sin, we want to be quick to offer one another good news before we offer good advice.

Below are some go-to verses for offering good news to others with a brief explanation of how you might apply these verses to yourself or someone in your LifeGroup.

Matthew 3:16-17

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; [17] and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

When God sees you, He sees the righteousness of His Son Jesus and not your sin.

John 19:28-30

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [29] A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. [30] When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 

Jesus has paid for all your sin past, present, future. You’re no longer condemned.

Romans 8:1

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

Through Jesus, you don’t need to condemn yourself over your sin.

Ephesians 1:4-7

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. [7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

Before time began, God saw you, loved you and chose you.

Ephesians 2:1-10

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

God saved you because of who you believed not because of what you’ve done or will ever do.

2 Corinthians 5:21

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

Jesus took on all your sin to give you all His righteousness.

Colossians 1:21-22

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [22] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him 

Jesus already makes you holy and is in-process of making your experience this more.

Colossians 2:13-14

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 

All your sin was nailed with Jesus on the Cross.

Titus 3:3-7

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 

Based on what Jesus has done, not anything you do, you are a child of God.

Hebrews 4:16

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

Because of what Jesus has done, you can approach God with confidence no matter what.

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

God invites you to confess sin often so you can experience more of God’s forgiveness.

1 John 2:1

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. [2] He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 

Jesus is your defender and paid for all your sin.

Which verses stick out most to you? Consider committing those verses to memory.

Who is someone you can “Gospel up” this week in your LifeGroup with one of these verse?

Accountability Questions to Ask Yourself

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Because of Jesus we are fully known and fully loved. Through confessing and repenting of sin both to God and others often, we experience a deeper fellowship with Jesus and one another (1 John 1:6-7).

As a church, we strive to make this a regular practice - where the culture of LifeGroup is marked by honesty, vulnerability, and reminding each other of Jesus’ righteousness.

If you don’t know where to start on confessing sin, take some time to look through the questions below. Mark the ones that initially stand out to you. After reading through the list a couple more times, look at the questions that you marked. Choose from the marked questions 7-8 that most deeply impact you. Then, send those questions to the people in your LifeGroup (of the same gender), asking them to keep you accountable and check-in with you regularly.

1. Did I cover up any sins today so that no one will know and think that everything will be okay?

2. When is the last time I confessed my specific sins to God and to my spouse?

3. Did I imply that my skill or experience was enough to do the task or to engage with people without the Lord’s help?

4. Did I think about another person or images of other people while in the bedroom with my spouse?

5. Am I thinking about sinful actions or replaying evil in my mind today?

6. Did I exaggerate or create fictitious events/stories to make a point, as if trying to help God get His point across by lying?

7. Have I lusted or inappropriately visualized another person in any way that has not been confessed to both God and my spouse?

8. What sin is most likely crouching at my door and desiring to have me next?

9. Am I normally on time to meetings, responding to email or personal commitments?  Or did someone need to remind or prompt me?

10. Define specifically what being ‘Emotionally Compromised’ means to you in a marriage relationship.   Create possible scenarios with people in your life with your spouse where it would be clearly broken.  Do we both have a clear understanding of these boundaries?

11. Did I return calls and emails quickly to show respect?

12. Am I talking and listening to God as I do things?

13. When was the last time I earnestly asked the Holy Spirit to show me my sin so that I could confess and repent of it?

14. Do I prayerfully ask God where my ‘free’ time should go or do I just do what I want without considering God?

15. When was the last time I really worshiped God without being distracted?

16. Am I leading with words only, or are my actions leading along with them?

17. What are my Sabbath beliefs and am I regularly practicing it?

18. Are there any recurring sin struggles in our marriage that I’ve been fearful to tell our LifeGroup?

19. Are there any resentments I have towards the church?

20. Are there any resentments I have towards someone in the church?

21. Are there any resentments I have towards my spouse or other family members?

22. What are some unhealthy things I’ve done in the last 5 years to ‘escape’ from responsibility, fears, or pressure? Have I done any of them recently?

23. Are there any specific people at Midtown that I fear or are intimidated by?

24. Who of the opposite sex have you regularly been in personal contact with? Use your technology to help (phone/PC, emails, chat, message history, game chat lines, meetings of any kind).  Discuss each one with your spouse. Consider giving permission to your spouse and other accountability partners to ask you more specific questions about them.

25. What were the last few things that made me cry? When was that?

26. Have I gotten ‘buzzed’ with alcohol in the past 6 months? Am I fearful of setting boundaries with alcohol, or do I fear missing out?

27. Have I fantasized about another person that you’ve seen, watched or read about that has not been confessed to God and my spouse?

29. Do I have any private email addresses that my spouse doesn’t know about?

30. Could I hand over my phone to my spouse and show them all my browsing history of chats, texts, email, etc. without fear?

31.  How do I practically define gossip when talking to my spouse?  What about when talking to someone other than my spouse?

32. What are the names of non-Christians that I am praying for regularly and actively building with?

33. What kind of things/people restore me? What kind of things/people drain me?

34. At the end of a week, how do I define success?

35. Where are different areas I feel misunderstood or not respected and by whom?

36. How many months has it been since I was away two full nights without kids and without any work responsibilities?

37. If I had an unexpected $10,000, what would I do what with it?

38. What things in the last week helped me spiritually grow the most?

39. Do I ‘hate’ any routine activities that must get done each week or month?

40. What are indicators that my relationship with God is thriving?

41. What are the indicators that my relationship with God is stale or dry?

42. How often do I reflect and talk about the ‘wins’ of what God is doing in my family and church family?

43. What are 2-3 of my top frustrations in the past month?

44. What are 3 things people have done for me over the past few years that truly loved me in a unique way?

45. (Did this list prompt other questions someone might ask me? What were they?)

What are the 7-8 questions that you want your accountability partners/LifeGroup to ask you?

Who will you ask to regularly check-in with you to ask these questions? Schedule those times in your calendar.


Our Preaching Philosophy

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Have you ever heard a good sermon? What about a bad sermon?

Just by answering that question you revealed you have a value system regarding preaching. But where did you get your value system? Is your value system based on Scripture, what people have told you, or your personal preferences?

The bigger questions we need to ask are: What is the point of preaching? Who is preaching primarily for, Christians or non-Christians? Is there a preaching style that the Bible indicates we should follow? 

In Titus 2, Paul unpacks a philosophy of preaching and teaching to pastor Titus. He addresses the content of teaching (v.1), specific application of that teaching (vv.2-10), and the aim of teaching (vv.11-12).

Titus 2:1
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

The content of our teaching is sound doctrine. We want to be faithful to the Bible, making sure we are theologically accurate in how we handle a text.

Titus 2:2-10
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,  and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,  and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

Notice in vv.2-10 how practical Paul is. He wants Titus to teach in order to give specific help and instruction for his people.

Titus 2:11-12
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age...

In vv.11-12 Paul says the fuel of teaching is marked by grace—grace that saves and trains us to say no to sin and follow Jesus. Emphasizing grace in our teaching empowers us over time to be a people who are  marked by godliness. This means:

1. Preaching grace does not make sin safe, it makes makes sinners safe. 

The author of Pilgrims Progress, John Bunyan, was in prison for preaching the gospel of God’s unmerited grace toward sinners. His opponents argued that when the fear of punishment was removed, people would do whatever they wanted. Bunyan replied, “If people really see that Christ has removed the fear of punishment from them by taking it into himself, they won’t do whatever they want, they’ll do whatever He wants.”

Grace trains and fuels us to holiness which means we bring up Jesus often. The English pastor Charles Spurgeon once said:

“The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” 

So in preaching grace, we talk about Christ.

Now this is the theme of sound preaching, not necessarily every single sermon. You can fail to teach the Bible by neglecting to preach Christ crucified but you can also fail to teach the Bible by not being practical and calling people to obedience. All of that depends entirely on the passage of Scripture we’re teaching.

Paul continues:

Titus 2:13-14
...waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

So while grace saves and trains us, according to v.13, grace also helps us persevere. This means by God’s grace, we’re trying to help people make it to heaven. All of our sound doctrine and correct teaching is a means to an end. The end is that Jesus has a people for himself who are zealous for good works. 

2. Preaching is a means to an end.

So if the effect over time is not a people who belong to Jesus eager for good works, then the preaching is not “what accords with sound doctrine.” It’s not good preaching. Preaching is not an end in itself. The goal is to have people eager for good works not pastors with good sermons. If we don’t, then something is wrong. 

Look back at Titus 2:

Titus 2:12
...training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.

“Training” means we are playing the long game and people do not get trained overnight. It’s a long slow process. One sermon is probably not going to shape your life, but a few hundred sermons will. 

We aren’t worried about one sermon being amazing. We are worried about hundreds of sermons having a slow, shaping effect on peoples’ lives 

At the same time, many tend to think “good sermons” are defined by gaining new information and insight but the Bible tends to highlight our need for remembering what we already know. Peter echoes this in 2 Peter 1:

2 Peter 1:12 
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 

Peter reminds them, (even though they already know), of the truth they have in Jesus. But in our consumerist Western mindset it’s too easy to equate new “deep” information as what’s most important in preaching and teaching. In another New Testament letter, Paul expresses the same idea to pastor Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

He says Scripture is profitable—it’s useful and helpful. Our aim in preaching is to be helpful—to help us love God and love our neighbor and to help us become complete, or mature, equipped for every good work.  It’s a means to an end. 

Scripture and God’s Spirit working through Scripture are what provides the help. We don’t just give motivational speeches and opinions when we teach. We teach the Bible because that is what empowers us to live godly lives.

This leads us to the question, do we do expository preaching? Yes, depending on how you define it. Expository technically means to explain and interpret. If it just means unpacking Scripture, drawing out what its meaning, and then how we can live it out, then yes. That’s our game plan. But if by expository you mean preaching should only be line-by-line, verse-by-verse through the Bible...then that’s a preference. Nowhere does the Bible say that’s the rule. Now, is that our preference in preaching? Yes. But it’s a preference. 

We use Scripture to actually teach, reprove, correct and train. This means information and insight alone is insufficient. 

Richard Baxter
God commands us to be as plain as we can, that we may inform the ignorant; and as convincing and serious as we are able, that we may melt and change their hardened hearts. But pride stands by and contradicts all, and produces its toys and silly trifles. It pollutes rather than polishes; and, under pretense of praiseworthy ornaments, dishonors our sermons with childish gauds: as if a prince were to be decked in the habit of a stage-player, or a painted fool. It persuades us to paint the window that it may dim the light of Scripture: and to speak to our people that which they cannot understand...Cannot you ministers speak soberly and moderately?

We want for our words to be understandable. We don’t primarily come up with content for non-Christians, we are mostly talking to Christians because they are who make up the church. We aren’t called to do Sunday evangelism rallies every week. We are called to equip the saints for good works. But we do want for our language to be common and understandable so that it can be helpful for both old and new people at our church.


3. The aim of preaching is dictated by Scripture but the style is not. 

Style is not dictated by Scripture. Some prefer going straight through books of the Bible (and that’s our preference too!) but the Bible doesn't tell us to only teach that way. There is no example in Scripture of a time of teaching where someone did this and/or tells us to teach like this.

Other teachers prefer picking topics and really digging in on what the Bible has to say about that particular topic.

Both are helpful in accomplishing the goal of having a people who belong to Jesus and are zealous for good works. We find that going through books of the Bible helps people learn to read the Bible for themselves and brings up issues we wouldn’t have picked to discuss. We find that picking topics allows us to drill in on specific issues in a way that we would not be able to do if we were also trying to make our way through a book of the Bible that brings up many different issues.

We try to balance both because we preach with the end in mind: a people zealous for good works.

It’s fine to have preferences so long as you don’t moralize yours and try to claim people are wrong for failing to do it your way. The Bible says what the aim is, but it does not say what the style should be. 

Lastly, Paul tells Timothy how he is to teach - 

1 Timothy 4:1
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

He says the same thing to pastor Titus - 

Titus 2:15
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

4. Preaching comes with authority

Preaching from the Bible should come with an authority. It is a delegated authority from God anchored to Scripture, but it is an authority. So we call people to repent. We correct. We rebuke. We encourage. We confront misunderstandings. We proclaim the good news as fact because Scripture has inherent power and authority within it.

G.K. Chesterton
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition and settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.

So we don’t teach around issues, we speak with confidence. God has spoken so everyone needs to listen. God has spoken so it doesn’t matter what we think. God has spoken so your feelings are not ultimate. We speak with authority as we teach Scripture. 

Our philosophy here also includes how we hear and respond.

James 1:22
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

When we hear God’s word taught and inserted into our lives, we respond. We don’t argue, we don’t dismiss, we don’t defend. Instead we worship, we confess, we repent, we obey. Afterall, God’s love language is obedience (John 14:15).

Pastor and author, Richard Baxter, uses the term “sermon tasters” to describe people who critique the quality of a sermon. Sermon tasters have no eye for their own application and obedience, like people who taste wine but spit it out. Now do we want to grow in our preaching and get feedback? Of course. Do we want to hear from others if they have questions about our teaching that may have not been clear? Absolutely. But our goal is to submit to the authority of God’s word as it’s taught. We’re not here to critique presentation style or nitpick word choices. We’re here to listen from God as He speaks through His word and then do it. 


The One Anothers

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Fifty-nine times in the New Testament we see ‘one another’ statements given to followers of Jesus. When compiled together, its overwhelming to see just how integrated and deeply-connected our lives are supposed to be with each other. Two things we can learn as we look at the “one another” commands:

1. The Christian life isn’t meant to be done alone.

These commands imply relationship. This is radically different from the culture of freedom and autonomy that we’re swimming in. Where our culture values a life centered around “me” - the way of Jesus means dying to self to lift others up. Such meaningful, transformative community only happens via commitment. You will never experience the depth of relationship or the transformative power of God’s Spirit-filled community if you choose to be one foot in and one foot out. It means to look at this group and say, “I’m in no matter what. This group and these people are my priority now. Their needs are my needs.”

2. Life in community is messy

Truly meaningful relationships require sacrifice - time, energy, etc. Oftentimes, people can be hard to love and yet Jesus says it’s absolutely worth it. When we push through the hardships and sacrifices that come with knowing others, we reach an end in ourselves and allow the Spirit to use us. When we are willing to step into the messiness that is community, we show just how amazing the way of Jesus is. 

Just envision how beautiful it would be to see a community practicing these commands regularly:

1. “...Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)

2. “...Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)

3. “...Love one another...” (John 13:34)

4. “...Love one another...” (John 13:34)

5. “...If you have love for one another...” (John 13:35)

6. “...Love one another...” (John 15:12)

7. “...Love one another” (John 15:17)

8. “Love one another with brotherly affection...” (Romans 12:10)

9. “...Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)

10. “Live in harmony with one another...” (Romans 12:16)

11. “...Love each other...” (Romans 13:8)

12. “...Let us not pass judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)

13. “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you...” (Romans 15:7)

14. “...Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)

15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss...” (Romans 16:16)

16. “...When you come together to eat, wait for one another.” (1 Corinthians 11:33)

17. “...Have the same care for one another.” (1 Corinthians 12:25)

18. “...Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (1 Corinthians 16:20)

19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (2 Corinthians 13:12)

20. “...Through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

21. “If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:15)

22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26)

23. “Bear one another’s burdens...” (Galatians 6:2)

24. “...Bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

25. “Be kind to one another...” (Ephesians 4:32)

26. “...Forgiving one another...” (Ephesians 4:32)

27. “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)

28. “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

29. “...In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

30. “Do not lie to each other...” (Colossians 3:9)

31. “Bearing with each other...” (Colossians 3:13)

32. “...Forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you...” (Colossians 3:13)

33. “Teaching...[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)

34. “...Admonishing one another...” (Colossians 3:16)

35. “...Abound in love for one another and for all...” (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

36. “...Love one another.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9)

37. “...Encourage one another...” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

38. “...Encourage one another...” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

39. “...Build one another up...” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

40. “Exhort one another every day...” (Hebrews 3:13)

41. “...Stir up one another toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)

42. “...Encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)

43. “...Do not speak evil against one another.” (James 4:11)

44. “Do not grumble against one another...” (James 5:9)

45. “Confess your sins to one another...” (James 5:16)

46. “...Pray for one another.” (James 5:16)

47. “...Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)

48. “...Have compassion for one another...” (1 Peter 3:8) “

49. “...Loving one another earnestly...” (1 Peter 4:8)

50. “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9)

51. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another...” (1 Peter 4:10)

52. “...Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another...” (1 Peter 5:5)

53. “Greet one another with the kiss of love.” (1 Peter 5:14)

54. “...Love one another.” (1 John 3:11)

55. “...Love one another.” (1 John 3:23)

56. “...Love one another.” (1 John 4:7)

57. “...Love one another.” (1 John 4:11)

58. “...Love one another.” (1 John 4:12)

59. “...Love one another.” (2 John 1:5)


Are you living the Christian life primarily in community? Why or why not?


As you read the “one another” commands, which of these do you need to put into practice this week?

How to Encourage Someone

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“..exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Hebrews 3:13

Biblical encouragement is a command that we see throughout the bible.  Because of sin, life is hard and we can lose sight of our hope and our calling.  We can be quick to forget the promises of God and Satan is committed to seeing that we do.  We are called to encourage others so that we do not grow ‘hardened by the deceitfulness of sin’.

What does encouragement look like?  

  1.  Its different from a compliment

    It’s is not telling someone they throw a great party or that you love their shirt. Compliments are nice, and you should still do that.  But biblical encouragement is meant to push people into a deeper relationship with Jesus. It is meant to remind us of the gospel and the promises of God.  In the midst of trials, It is meant to bring hope where it has been lost. It reminds us of our worth and identity, and it gives us courage to do the things we are called to do.  It lets us know where our giftedness lies and the ways the Lord specifically wants to use us.

  2. Its specific.   

    Telling a pastor ‘I loved your sermon today’ is great, but to take something specific that was said and to tell them how it was impactful to you is likely more meaningful.  Here are some specific ways that you might encourage a person.

    1. “Here is how God has used you…”

    2. “Here is how I see God at work in you…”

    3. “Here is what God has promised you…”

  3. Its meant to be done daily.   

    We don’t save encouragement for a big moment or wait until something truly remarkable has happened in a person’s life.  Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us we are to encourage daily! When we are in community with others, we get the privilege of seeing growth in one another. We see a person’s strengths and gifts that the Lord is using to build up the body.  We know what it’s like for life’s circumstances to get us down and we know the need to be reminded of the good news. And in all this we have the opportunity to lift up a person in the day to day when we can easily lose sight of what we are called to.   

Pray that God can grow us in the discipline of encouragement and that we would desire to build up those around us.  Pray for specific people to encourage in intentional and specific ways. And then just do it! Trust that since we are commanded to encourage, God can and will grow you in this.  It may feel awkward initially but it will become more natural with practice, and then those around you will be more prepared to go live life for the kingdom because of your encouragement.  

What keeps you from encouraging people regularly?

Who’s someone that you can encourage today?

See also: “A Blueprint for Biblical Encouragement” from our Personal Liturgy series


The 5 Stages of Community (Or, Why the Unicorn Must Die)

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We all come into relationships with expectations and dreams of what it will be. But if we aren’t careful, our ideas about what our community should be can destroy what it actually is.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together, expresses the dangers of such thinking. “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

In other words, if you internally look at the community God has given you with judgment, critique, and cynicism, then you've created a fantasy version of community - a unicorn if you will - that's keeping you from loving the people God has placed you around. If we ever want to experience true community then our unicorns must die.

Now it’s not wrong necessarily to have some expectations, but we need to have the right ones grounded in Scripture. A helpful diagnostic tool to uncover yours is The Cycle of Community. This tool shows how all communities and relationships go through five different stages. 

Stage 1 - Honeymoon

  • In stage 1, everything is brand new and shiny. You just moved here and all you have in common with these people is Jesus and an address… but it’s something and it’s more than what you had! 

  • People in stage 1 say, “Everything is great! We hung out five times this week! I haven’t been a part of anything like this before!”

Stage 2 - Apathy

  • In stage 2, the honeymoon phase wears off and you begin to realize how normal people are. Things feel routine and less exciting. You start to settle in and get bored.

  • LifeGroup conversations in this stage feel less passionate, “How’s it going?” “Fine.” “I’m struggling with the same old thing but whatever.”

Stage 3 - The Rough Patch

  • Stage 3 can be marked by conflict, frustration, or even fear of frustration. When things normalize with others the real you, with all its issues, starts to come out. Also at this stage people can begin to clash with others over preferences, not necessarily sin issues, but preferences like parenting styles or your season of life.

  • People in stage 3 say things like, “This person always talks about the same stuff over and over again,” or “This person is really annoying,” or “This person is wrong and needs to get confronted.”

Stage 4 - Acceptance

  • Stage 4 is when you realize, for better or worse, that these are the people God has placed around you. You see that everyone is an Image Bearer of God that brings their unique perspective and giftings to help you and others be more like Jesus even with their flaws and annoyances. 

  • People in stage 4 say, “Oh yeah, this person can be annoying and they make everyone feel listened to and valued.” “This person shares the same thing over and over again and they are always willing to help someone in need at a moment's notice.”

Stage 5 - Re-engagement

  • In stage 5, we press back into vulnerability and accountability - not with all the idealism of early on but with genuine love and understanding. This means conflict resolution and hard conversations happen not out of frustration but out of deep love and respect for one another.

In the cycle of community, it’s important to note that this is not a “one and done” journey. Oftentimes this is a cycle that you go through over and over again. 

The truth is most people bail right around stage 3, The Rough Patch. Right when you get to that place of frustration, clashing of preferences, and say things like, “This doesn’t work for my schedule,”  or “So and so is in a different stage of life,” or “This is getting too intimate and I don’t trust these people,” or, “Can you believe they said that” - most people bail. 

Which is right before Jesus actually starts to do the really good stuff in your soul. 

Now we’re not saying when you join a LifeGroup you join for life, but we are saying that generally, the people who stay grow and those that don’t won’t. 

Because here’s the real expectation you should have: practicing biblical community - practicing church family - will be hard. It will not be easy. It will demand things of you. It will infringe upon your time. It will cause you to have conversations you don’t want to. It will challenge your comfort. It will exhaust you. It will feel fruitless at times.

But, it’s worth it. 

  • What stage in the cycle do you view your community?

  • What next steps can you take to pursue health?

This resource is adapted from the sermon, “Jesus’ Call to Community” by Bridgetown Church. You can listen to the sermon here.

Are we Changing our Covenant Practices?

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In our series, In Columbia as it is in Heaven, we want to be compelling people for Jesus - a people who follow his teachings and his practices. And if you’re a Missionary Member of our church, you may have noticed the wording of our covenant practices has changed since the start of the series. So why the change? Why now?

In short, our covenant practices shape us into the type of people we want to become. And when we looked at our original covenant practices, we noticed they didn’t include how they change us. So while our covenant practices are not changing, the recent rewrite provides a snapshot of how they shape us into becoming compelling people for Jesus.

Below you’ll find the updated covenant practices with the older practice below.

Abiding in Jesus connects us to Him as the source of life as He produces fruit in us. Therefore, I commit to the consistent disciplines of meditating on God’s Word and prayer.

Old version: I am committed to abiding with Christ by the consistent disciplines of meditation on God’s Word and prayer. 

Community offers us the invitation and challenge to be more like Jesus as we grow in faith together. Therefore, I commit to actively and intentionally be in a LifeGroup so that I am a part of a community that follows Jesus together.

Old version: I will actively and intentionally work to be deeply connected to others in the Midtown family. I will be part of a LifeGroup to ensure that I have people around me who love Jesus and love me. 

Confession of sin to God and others exposes areas of guilt, shame, and brokenness in our lives. Repentance turns us from sin to Jesus’ love so that we obey Him through the power of the Spirit. Therefore, I commit to confession and repentance, fully expecting and welcoming correction from church family.

Old version: Confession and repentance will noticeably mark my life. I fully expect to be confronted and corrected as God allows other members of the family and my LifeGroup to see sin in my life. 

Mission brings the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth through communities of Jesus-centered followers marked by faith, hope, and love. Therefore, I commit to hospitality and sharing my faith through everything I do by the power of the Spirit.

Old version: I will live on mission with my LifeGroup, seeking to always point to Jesus with my lifestyle, generosity, relationships, and words by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Generosity is giving to God's mission and learning to trust Him more than our wealth. Therefore, I commit to give 10% to the mission of Jesus through Midtown as a starting point for generosity.

Old version: I will practice and grow in generosity by giving financially to the mission of Jesus in Columbia and the world. I commit to giving 10% to the mission of Jesus through Midtown as a starting point for generosity. 

Serving is a way God works through us to love others. Therefore, I commit to using my Spirit-empowered giftedness to serve our church according to my season of life.

Old version: I will eagerly use my giftedness to serve our church according to my season of life.

Our Gatherings on Sunday shape us into a people marked by listening to God’s Word and responding in prayer, worship, generosity, and mission within our Spirit-filled community. Therefore, I commit to prioritizing Sunday Gathering participation.

Old version: I will prioritize regular Sunday Gathering participation as part of my ongoing spiritual formation. 

How to Study the Bible with Others

So much of becoming a compelling person for Jesus happens within the context of community. This means our spiritual disciplines are happening both on our own and with others, including meditating on God’s Word. 

The following is a variation of how to study the Bible on your own, (which you can find here). Next to each portion, you’ll find a recommended allotment of time. This totals up to one hour.

As you walk through this, pick a group leader to keep track of the time for each section. Have your group leader read each section out loud to guide the group.

Read the passage

5 minutes total

As you read through the passage, make a note of anything that pops out to you or raises a question. Try not to get fixated on one phrase or verse, just make a note of it. After reading through the passage once, read through the passage once or twice more, this time thinking about what stands out in this passage and what impression it leaves on you. Reading out loud can be helpful too, as it can help us understand what we’re reading and help us process each verse of the passage.

Reflect

20 minutes total

Now that you’ve read the passage through multiple times, take time to reflect on what you’ve just read, using either a journal or a note-taking app that you can read again in the future. 

Write out the passage in your own words and include any observations you have - 10 minutes

Such questions you can ask are:

  • What does this passage reveal to us about God?

  • What does this passage reveal to us about people?

Write any applications - 10 minutes

Such application questions you can ask are:

  • What’s this passage calling me to do today?

  • What’s this passage calling me to pray for today?

Respond

35 minutes total

After reflecting on the passage, it’s time to respond. Every part of Scripture is inspired by God Himself, and a message so perfect and powerful demands a response from us. 

What observations and applications did everyone write down? - 10 minutes

Spend some time praying out loud for our application. - 10 minutes

How else can we be praying for one another? Let’s spend some time praying out loud for each other now. - 7 minutes

Who are the people we’re building with and praying for? Let’s spend some time praying out loud for them now, asking the Spirit to work in us and through us - 8 minutes

3 Ways to be on Mission at the Gathering

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We are called to live out the beautiful picture of living on mission with God. He designed us to find joy and contentment as we sacrifice to put others first. We envision a community built on lovingly using your spiritual gifts to engage with others on Sunday. Here are three ways you can be missional at the Gathering:

1. Place Missional Margin on your time 

Look around the Gathering next Sunday. How many people have you not seen before? It is always someone’s first time and new guests tend to arrive early. So when they do, we want to warmly welcome them in. So consider placing “missional margin” around your time by showing up 10-15 minutes early to the Gathering and staying 10-15 minutes after to engage with new guests. 

2. Pass the Peace

While this might be challenging for you, Pass the Peace can be crucial to a first-time guest at the Gathering. It is an opportunity to help new folks feel invited, expected, and welcomed into our family. My first time at Midtown, I was invited to a cookout that day by some people I had never met who are now friends. I felt cared for and sought out because these people opened up their lives and home to make a difference in a new person’s life. 

Here are some questions you can have ready so you aren’t caught off guard when you Pass the Peace:

“How long have you been coming to Midtown?”

If they are new, ask them if they know anyone who attends or if they’re in a LifeGroup.

“Do you know many people here already?”

If they don’t, invite them out to lunch and/or get their phone number!

“What brought you to Columbia?”

A lot of first-time guests are also new to our city. If so, ask what brought them Columbia and what they think about the city so far.

“Are you involved in a LifeGroup?”

If they aren’t, see if they are a good fit for yours or someone else’s you know. Help them get connected! 

“What are you doing after the Gathering today?”

Inviting first-time guests into your Sunday plans can make a huge impact on them. If they’ve already got plans, grab their number and invite them to hang out sometime.

3. Serve

Jesus makes it clear that following Him means we serve others (Mark 10:45, Philippians 2:1-10). And serving becomes another avenue to be missional - whether it’s welcoming first-time guests on Parking Team or Host Team, helping with technical logistics on Production Team, or greeting families and teaching kids at Kidtown.

To sign up to serve or learn more, visit the link that corresponds to the church you attend below:

Midtown - Downtown

Midtown - Two Notch

Midtown - Lexington

  • What keeps you from being on mission at a Gathering?

  • What next steps can you take to be on mission at a Gathering?