lifegroup

What is a Covenant?

So far, when I have been talking with coaches and LifeGroup leaders about writing a covenant, there always seems to be some hesitation, if not direct pushback. From what I can tell, most of the resistance is to the word covenant. It evokes some weightiness and seriousness or it just feels weird.  So I wanted to help us better understand what we are asking from groups and why we would even choose the word covenant.

We chose the word covenant to describe our LifeGroup relationships because it is very different than many of the relationships we are accustomed to having. Most of our current relationships are contractual in nature, meaning our relationships revolve around an exchange of goods or services. In a contractual relationship, the goal is to get the most for the least and overall, the relationship is secondary to this exchanging of goods.

The materialistic and consumerist culture we live in is a breeding ground for contractual relationships and we drift toward treating most, if not all relationships based on the mindset of getting the most benefit for the least effort. Having a contractual disposition is detrimental to the health of our LifeGroups. LifeGroups that have contractual relationships become “me groups,” centered around appeasing my wants and my perceived needs.

A covenant relationship is just the opposite. The primary focus is not on what I can get and how cheap can I get it; the primary focus of a covenant is defining the relationship between parties and the focus is mostly on what I give rather than what I get. It is a commitment to one another. The two best examples of covenants that we are most familiar with is the Jesus’ Covenant with us and the marriage covenant. With both of these covenants, the centerpiece of the agreement is defining the relationship and then out of the relationship flows action, responsibilities and commitments.

So simply put, a LifeGroup Covenant is a LifeGroup DTR (short for "determine the relationship"). We want to define the relationship and out of this relationship will flow our responsibilities and actions toward one another.

So here are the 2 basics of a covenant:

  1. Who are we/who do we want to be? We as a LifeGroup want to be a Jesus-centered family on mission. That simple. We want to as a group all agree with and commit to this.
  2. How are we going to do our being? If we agree to be a Jesus-centered family on mission, what does that look like practically? In our culture and context we are hoping this means that groups are committing to the 3 basic rhythms: Gather together, Grow together and Go together.

So let me connect some dots for you. This campaign ends with a covenant and the focus of the covenant is to define the relationship and how we plan to live out our relationship. We are a Jesus-centered family on mission and we live this out through our rhythms. Our hope and desire is that the outcome of this campaign will be all of our LifeGroups being Jesus-centered family on mission through rhythms.

How to Write a Covenant

  1. Read Chapter 11 in Grassroots Kingdom and explain the covenant as a DTR for your group.
  2. Homework: each person should read and pray through the template on their own, then submit their thoughts and ideas to the group leader.
  3. The group leader should compile all ideas and bring them to Group Time to discuss. (As you take notes, you can use this blank electronic version of the Covenant Template if that's helpful.) The group should discuss each point and work toward an agreement.
  4. Once in agreement, celebrate your covenant with communion.
  5. Finally, submit your final covenant here by filling in the relevant fields. Once submitted, you will get a beautiful, filled out PDF of your covenant to share with your LifeGroup.

As always, ask your coach if you have any questions about the covenant process, and share your group's covenant with them when it is finalized.

Why Gather Together?

Hebrews 10:25 (HCSB):
...not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Acts 2:42 (HCSB):
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.

Acts 20:7 (ESV):
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

More than Preaching & Music

Many Christians have no meaningful vision for why the church gathers. We tend to think of Sundays as merely preaching and music.

Church gatherings, as with many spiritual things, have the surface dimension that we see, and then there is stuff that is behind the surface. If all we see is music and sermons and frustrated parents who spent the whole morning just trying to get the kids into clothes and arrive on time, then we have to wonder if it is worth it.

A church gathering is not just a time of listening to a lecture and singing songs that connect us to God. It is meant to be more than that. It is meant to be a formational environment with depth that goes beyond what meets the eye.

It’s not just a sermon. It’s an act of refuting the story imposed upon the people of God six days a week by orienting and reorienting ourselves around the story of grace.

We aren’t just singing songs, but people who are vastly different than one another – mothers and father, young and old, men and women, black and white, rich and poor – are joining their many voices into one voice and declaring something together. We are gathering in a local place to remember that one day, all tribes and tongues will gather together and sing with one voice to Jesus.

We aren’t just coming together to receive spiritual goods and services. We are involved in a rhythm that informs our lives about what we value. It shapes us. It involves us. It reminds us.

Like a Family Meal

It’s not only the content we receive every week that is so formative; it’s the act of being together and making God’s family our priority. It’s similar to a family that gathers every evening for a meal. The value is not just in the food or the specifics of conversation. The act of coming together repeatedly is a demonstration of love and commitment.

It is a formative act to prioritize gathering with the greater church body. It reinforces in us the ultimate importance of what God is doing on the earth.

Where Preference Goes to Die

A Sunday gathering is an experience specifically organized against the idolatry of personal preference. Our participation is good, not just because God says to do it — although that’s reason enough — but because it is abundantly good for us to hear our singular voice be lost in sea of other voices, all singing the same true things about our God. We like the sound of our own voices far too much, and the subtle reminder that we exist, as a community, for God is much needed. Church gatherings, properly understood, take our “selfie” tendencies and redirect the lens of our lives to the God who rightly deserves the focus. We set our preferences aside to come together as one family, marveling in how our differences can be reconciled through the cross of Christ.

Consistently gathering together confronts and stunts our spiritual autonomy and individualism.

Do it Together

We want LifeGroups to make participating in a Sunday Gathering together a weekly rhythm as a way to reinforce the value of coming together as God’s people. It’s a way to see one another, worship together, potentially serve together or go out to eat together afterwards.

Gathering participation is a means of grace into your life. Don’t forfeit it.

What Are Rhythms?

A Problem Named Netflix

About six months into marriage, my wife and I spotted a problem. The problem was named Netflix. We realized that instead of spending quality time with each other, we were spending most of our time staring at our TV. So we came up with a solution. “Starting now,” we said, “we’re going to spend way more quality time with each other.” Three months after our decision, we had another problem: nothing had changed. This happened primarily because we’re sinfully lazy, but also because we had no concrete method to accompany our solution. Just saying “we’re going to spend more time together,” wasn’t enough.

Similarly, a lot of us say things like “I want our LifeGroup to really become family with one another,” but often struggle to put concrete steps around that idea. And as a result, we often don’t see much growth.

Not Rules, but Help

Rhythms are designed to help out with that. They’re not rules that we add to the bible (that’s what the folks in Galatians got in trouble for); they’re simply some suggested concrete steps to help actualize your plan of helping your LifeGroup be a Jesus-centered family on mission together.

The rhythms we’ve detailed in the Grassroots Kingdom book are as follows:

  • Gather together. Attend a Sunday Gathering together with your LifeGroup. This is something you all are doing already (hopefully), so it’s not an addition to your schedule–just an opportunity to do it together. Some LifeGroups may even want to serve together at the Gathering and/or grab a meal together afterwards.
  • Grow together. This is the intentional time of training once-a-week where your LifeGroup catches up with each other, discusses the sermon, confesses to one another, and prays together.
  • Go together. Since the goal of LifeGroup is to represent Jesus and be on mission, it’s helpful to have a more neutral place that will be non-threatening to outsiders. Some people you build relationships with may be uncomfortable attending a Gathering or coming to your house to talk about the bible, but would be totally comfortable grabbing dinner or a drink with your LifeGroup.

More to Come

Over the next few days, we’re going to unpack each of these rhythms in more detail, but in the meantime, try not to be overwhelmed. The goal is not so much to add more things to your schedule as it is to help all of us reorient and refocus our schedules in a way that leverages it all for the kingdom of God. And if the bible is true (which it is), it’s all worth it.

Happy/Sad: Thoughts from a Multiplying LifeGroup

Last Wednesday night my LifeGroup got together for our last meeting before we multiplied and formed two new LifeGroups. We grilled some delicious burgers, did our normal 30-60 minutes of goofing around, and then all circled up. We wanted to celebrate all that Jesus had done in our LifeGroup over the past year or so. It was truly amazing…

  • One guy talked about beginning LifeGroup with the thought that he was "getting his stuff together" and "getting right with God," and ended up discovering more about grace than he ever knew existed.
  • Two couples new to Columbia talked about the difficulties of being married and not knowing anyone outside of their family. LifeGroup helped them not only develop friendships, but meaningful relationships who helped them work through marriage issues.
  • One of our single girls said how much she loved getting a front-row seat to observe what Jesus-centered marriages looked like. She explained how incredible that was and how welcomed she felt as a single girl in a mostly-married LifeGroup.
  • One couple (that has only been around for a couple months) talked about being overwhelmed at first, but then amazed by the amount of honesty in our LifeGroup. They quickly realized that this was a safe place for them to be honest as well.
  • One couple talked about how it had been a rough year with some major health issues, and how Jesus had used our LifeGroup to serve them by doing everyday things for them like cleaning their house and setting up a schedule to bring them dinner once a week.
  • One guy talked about how Jesus has continued to redeem his broken view of family through our LifeGroup becoming his family.
  • I talked about the pressures of feeling like I needed to be a saint since I'm a pastor. I shared how comforting and humbling it was to have a group of guys who I could confess anything to, and they wouldn't look at me any differently because of it.
  • And one girl, when trying to put into words how LifeGroup had been over the past year, finally said "I think 'life-changing' is the best way to say it."

In the midst of all this, I felt myself getting sad. I was sad because these relationships had become so important to me over the past year, and I couldn't imagine half of them being in a different LifeGroup. We had gotten so close, and I didn't want that to change.

But then I got really happy. For a lot of reasons… 

  • Because there are more guys out there who will go from "getting his act together" to discovering grace.
  • Because there are more couples who will go from feeling like they have no friends in Columbia to having meaningful relationships where they can work through issues in their marriage.
  • Because there are more single girls who will get to have front-row seats to Jesus-centered marriages.
  • Because there are more couples who will be overwhelmed, and then amazed by how vulnerable they can be with other people.
  • Because there are more couples struggling that will get to have a LifeGroup clean their house and cook them dinner.
  • Because there are more guys who will have Jesus redeem their broken view of family through LifeGroup.
  • Because I will still need a group of guys who I can confess anything to, and they won't look at me any differently.
  • Because more people will have their life changed through Jesus-centered communities.

Kids and LifeGroups | Pt. 2

We encourage all LifeGroups to adopt weekly and monthly rhythms to ensure that we are doing life together. Rhythms are intentionally doing things together with regularity and gospel intentionality. Rhythms are practical ways we are going to be involved in one another’s lives. We encourage groups to start with three basic intentional rhythms: 1) Gather Together—attend a gathering together, 2) Grow Together—group time for intentional training, and 3) Go Together—a social gathering in a non-threatening environment to invite people into your community. So how do we involve our kids these basic rhythms?

Gather Together:

Ideally the group chooses one of the Gatherings to attend together. Of course, kids should attend Kidtown while adults attend the Gathering. We also encourage groups to plan to eat or hang out before or after the Gathering. This mealtime is a great time to involve kid-friendly discussion about the sermon and Kidtown materials. In addition to the questions from the Kidtown Homelinks, here are some of the questions I ask my three-year-old:

  • How was Kidtown?
  • What friends were there? Who were your teachers?
  • What did Mr. Bailey talk about today?
  • Is there anyone from Kidtown that we can pray for this week?

Grow Together:

LifeGroups are more than a once-a-week meeting, but we do highly value our group time and every group should commit to a regular weekly meeting for this purpose. Group time is focused on intentional training to push each other toward Jesus. A typical group time will involve four elements: catching up on life, discussing the sermon, reviewing the group’s mission and rhythms and engaging the heart through confession and prayer.

Because of the intentionality and focus needed during group time, this is not the best environment to be supervising kids. We encourage every group to talk about childcare for group time and to come up with a group plan. This is a group discussion, not just a families-with-kids discussion, because it is a group issue. Childcare options can vary because each group needs to make a plan that works best for them. Listed below are five examples of how different groups have handled childcare during group time:

  • Group A: Everyone arranges childcare for their own families, unless it is a baby (babies usually mean under 1, still nursing, and/or not able to walk). Babies are welcome at group time, and any given week there are one to five babies present during our group time.
  • Group B: Families in a group pitch in to hire a babysitter to keep the kids during group time. Depending on the number of kids and the size of the home the group meets in, this could happen at the same house as group time or at a nearby group member’s home.
  • Group C: Two or three adults from the group rotate pouring into kids while the rest of the group has intentional time. The group could eat a meal together, and then the adults watching the kids could take them upstairs to hang out. This would give everyone time with each other’s kids, and also give single people and couples without kids opportunities to disciple kids in a way that they would not have otherwise.
  • Group D: 1st week: All together—bring your kids and let’s party. 2nd week: Women take the kids and hang out at someone’s house, a restaurant or a park, and the guys prioritize to be there that week for intentional group time (flexible for the women: if they need to miss a week this is the one to miss). 3rd week: Reverse roles from the 2nd week. 4th week: Get two people from within the group (on a rotating basis) to keep the kids while the group has an intentional time all together (or people can get their own childcare if they so desire).
  • Group E: The older kids in the group (including a few middle or high school students) view it as their responsibility to watch and take care of the younger kids while the adults meet.

Go Together:

We want groups to be on mission together and build relationships with people who do not know Jesus. This rhythm (called a Third Place) is a social gathering in a non-threatening environment where we can be family in front of others. This rhythm should be a welcoming environment to invite people into community.

For my group, we tend to have missional rhythms that involve kids and some that do not. If you are planning ways to involve your kids on mission here are two good questions to ask: “What are my children already doing?” and “How can I involve my community in those activities?” Here are a couple of the missional, social rhythms that our group uses to involve kids:

  • Many of the women in our group get together with other moms during the week to hang out and eat a meal. This is a great environment to invite new mothers and kids into.
  • We host cookouts at our homes, and we have even done one at the local park. Having a cookout outdoors is a great way for all of us to be in one spot with all the kids and still have room to invite more families.
  • We eat three times a day every day, so we try our best to use meals as an opportunity for mission by inviting both members of our LifeGroup and people we are building with to join us for dinner. In fact, this is such a rhythm in my family that I recently had this conversation with my three-year-old Zoe as we are sitting down for family dinner:

Zoe: “Who’s eating with us?” 
Me: “Oh. No one tonight. It’s just us as a family.”
Zoe: “But, Dad, I want to see friends.”

This is a simple conversation, and I think two quick conclusions can be drawn. One, I have a very social daughter. Two, Zoe is recognizing a pattern. We do life with other people and seek to practice hospitality as Scripture commands us. We eat with people and plan ways to hang out with people. She is seeing the value we as a family put on community and mission and, by God’s grace, it will impact her for the rest of her life.

Learning how to do life on mission together with our children and involve them in our communities is essential. Neglecting this will be to the detriment of our families, our church and those around us. So let’s disciple our kids together, as a family, and in doing so put the gospel on display for everyone around us.

HOW TO LOVE DIFFICULT PEOPLE

Difficult People Exist

Think of 5 difficult people in your life.

Now take a second and question…

What are some of the characteristics that make them difficult? What is your normal response? Do you think your response is biblical?

The truth, whether we like it or not, is that difficult people exist. Why? Because we live in a fallen and broken world, full of fallen and broken people (Rom. 5:12). People are looking to idols to satisfy their longings. They are starving for acceptance, approval, and satisfaction.

Everyone is Difficult

We become difficult when we do not find our acceptance, approval and satisfaction in Jesus. We look for it in other ways and we will use or crush people to get what we want.

So what does this mean? You guessed it, everyone is difficult. And by everyone I mean… everyone. You, me, your pastor, your BFF, and even your favorite barista. Everyone. Because of the sinful state of our flesh, we automatically run to idols instead of Jesus (Rom. 3:10-12).

Jesus Loves Difficult People

The good news is, you are difficult and defiant and Jesus loves you.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

-1 John 4:10

We are not loved by God because we deserve it or because we have earned it. It is by his grace, in spite of our difficulties and our sin. We are loved because He is our Father, though all of us are sinful, prideful, and arrogant. You are so difficult that it cost Jesus his life. The gospel assaults our self-righteous perspective.

Love Begets Love

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 

-1 John 4:9, 11

We are called to love others in that same manor we are loved by God. Not with a “this sucks but I’ll do it anyway” mindset, but with the love of Jesus Christ.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 

-1 John 3:16

Loving others as Jesus loved means giving to people what they need, when they need it, no matter the cost to us. When we love like Jesus, we die to ourselves. Sacrificial love is putting another’s needs above our own (yes, even the needs of difficult people).

So how do you love difficult people? Take yourself out of the equation. It’s much more about showing the love of Jesus to others than it is about harnessing your skill to work with difficult people.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 

-Philippians 2:1-4