Life In Community


Sermon Notes and Audio

Scripture Focus- Acts 2:41-47

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Few Americans today say they know their neighbors’ names, and far fewer report interacting with them on a daily basis. A recent report found that a third said they’ve never interacted with their neighbors. And only about 20 percent of Americans spent time regularly with the people living next to them. That’s a big drop from four decades ago, when a third of Americans hung out with their neighbors at least twice a week, and only a quarter reported no interaction at all.

Public Policy expert Marc Dunkelman noted, “There used to be this necessity to reach out and build bonds with people who lived nearby.” There was this sort of cohort effect, in which people … were more inclined in many cases to find security that existed in neighborhoods. They depended on one another much more.” Adapted from Linda Poon, “Why Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” City Lab/The Atlantic (8-19-15)

We know fewer people than ever before, and we are living in a disconnected society. Many people are lonely.  While society has been growing more and more prosperous and individualistic, and even connected, our real social connections have been dissolving.

Emily Esfahni Smith from The Atlantic describes the price for our social disconnection: “We volunteer less. We entertain guests at our homes less often. We are getting married less. We are having fewer children. And we have fewer and fewer close friends with whom we’d share the intimate details of our lives. We are denying our social nature, and paying a price for it. Over the same period of time that social isolation has increased, our levels of happiness have gone down, while rates of suicide and depression have multiplied. Emily Esfahani Smith, “Social Connection Makes a Better Brain,” The Atlantic, (10-29-13); submitted by Ted DeHaas

A 72-year-long secular study conducted at Harvard tracked what really makes human beings happy. The study’s longtime director, George Vaillant, when asked what has been learned, answered pointedly, “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

Scientists have discovered that this truth is even wired into our brains. Researcher Daniel Goleman summarizes it this way: “The most fundamental revelation of [the discipline of neurobiology is that] we are wired to connect. Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person.” Adapted from Glen Stanton, The Family Project (Focus on the Family, 2014), pgs. 299-300

This is not by accident. God designed and created us to live in community with Him and with others. Many people are lonely. That is not how God intended for us to live.

The Vision Statement of Cross Lanes Baptist Church:

“Growing God’s Forever Family” John 15:5

Worship- Small Group- Ministry- Mission

We have considered two aspects of Worship.

Worship is knowing God. Come to God through repentance and faith in Jesus. Walk with God through Prayer and the Word. Exalt God in congregational Worship.

Worship is making God known. We are to offer ourselves to God in service to Him in the world. We are to bear witness to the great salvation we have in Jesus. We are to worship with our lives as sacrifices of praise. Worship is living life for the glory of God in all things. We are a church that leads people to worship God.

The focus of this message is on the significance of Small Groups in the church.

Bible Fellowship is our primary Small Group Community that meets every Sunday year around, at 9:00am and 10:30am. Bible Fellowship Small Groups are about connecting people with God and with each other through Reaching, Teaching, and Ministering. These small groups are about building relationships that last beyond Sunday. Ministering. There are groups for all ages, and various life stages, beginning with infants all the way to Senior Adults as well as Special Needs. 

Let’s consider biblically what the church in community is intended to be. Our example is the early church in Jerusalem and the lives of the Christians who were a part of it. I don’t think we are intended to duplicate the way they did everything exactly. Yet we can learn much from them.

Following His resurrection, after Jesus ascended back into Heaven. The disciples assembled, about 120 of them, in the Upper Room to pray. The Day of Pentecost came, 50 days after the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit came just as Jesus had promised. The Apostle Peter stood on the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem and began to preach. The Bible says that about 3000 people were saved and baptized and the New Testament Church as we know it, was born.

The people had a God centered focus. A God centered focus is essential to living the Christian life together. V43 Fear came over everyone. “The conviction of sin that followed Peter’s preaching was no momentary panic, but filled the people with a lasting sense of awe. God was at work in them; they were witnessing the dawn of a new age.” F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 73.

The word fear indicates a respectful fear. It is recognizing the presence of God in His holiness and love. They were constantly worshiping God and doing so by living life in community.

As a church, our Small Group Ministry is organized around three essentials:

Essential #1 of Small Group Ministry

We want to reach people who need to know God, and grow in Him. (REACH)

 V42 . . .they devoted themselves to the fellowship.

 V44 Now all the believers were together. . .

 V46 They devoted themselves to meeting together. . .

Fellowship= koinonia, holding all things in common, partnership, or sharing. It is a word that is sometimes overused in Christian circles and may not mean as much as it should. There is a togetherness that is in focus here.

It is a spiritual fellowship- All who receive Jesus Christ come into fellowship with Him and with other believers. It is an eternal fellowship because we have eternal life together in Jesus. 1 John 1:3 Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. The most precious thing we share together is knowing God.

It is a devoted fellowship- There should be a constancy, purpose and resolve to our faith, and to life in community. It is impossible to be devoted to Christ and not be devoted to His Bride. Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, 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.

It is a blessed fellowship- v47 And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. God works through faithful people and evangelism flows from the life of a healthy church.

Each Bible Fellowship Small Group should be purposefully focused, and strategically organized, to reach people.

Essential #2 of Small Group Ministry

We want to teach people the Word of God. (TEACH)

 V42 they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching

The early church had thousands of new believers from various locations and backgrounds. It was a massive responsibility to ground these people in the faith. God’s church is to focus on teaching the Word of God in congregational worship, small group gatherings, and one on one discipleship. 1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Timothy 3:15 . . .the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.

Unfortunately, we live in a day when many in the church minimize or dismiss the importance of sound doctrine. Again and again the Bible emphasizes the significance of it.

2 Timothy 4:1-4 I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of His appearing and His Kingdom. Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.

There is great concern about the secular world’s rejection of the Bible, but there is a significant problem much closer to home- biblical illiteracy in the church.  Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.”

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.”

As a church, we want to be solidly rooted in the Word of God. The Bible is inerrant, infallible, and sufficient. You should have the expectation that when you come to a Worship or Small Group gathering of this church, you will hear from God’s Word. My goal as a preacher is to be faithful to the Word of God, consistent and bold in delivering it week in and week out, and trust the Holy Spirit to use it for God’s glory. Substance vs. Style

The goal is for it to be same in our Small Groups. The textbook is the Bible. We use curriculum as a thematic guide to focus us in the same direction, but the reality is the curriculum is only as strong as the Teacher is. Teachers, you have the responsibility to commit yourself to teaching the truth. That means you must prepare yourself. If you are skimming over material on Saturday night, and then offering a weak message, asking surface level questions, you are not faithfully fulfilling your duty. If you are cracking open a teacher’s quarterly and limping along, people will know it. They deserve better. James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. Dig into the Word of God, commit yourself to being prepared. When there are opportunities to be trained, and grow as a teacher, make the most of them.

We are to learn the Word. Apply yourself students. Just like your teacher shouldn’t get a pass for halfheartedly engaging in the Word, you don’t get a pass either. If you are not in the Word, learning it, you can’t grow from it.

We are to live the Word. The point of learning the Word is living the Word. What is God teaching you? How is He growing you?

Each Bible Fellowship Small Group should be a place where the Word of God is taught and learned.

Essential #3 of Small Group Ministry

Minister to people and care for the needs of one another.(MINISTER)

Many of the early believers had come to faith while visiting Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost and they stayed on in Jerusalem to begin their new life in Christ. I don’t think communal living is in view in this passage, but there was a voluntary and mutual sharing of life and resources. They shared freely of their resources to meet needs. 1 John 3:17 Whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

They shared in joy, sadness, victories, defeats, and operated as a well-functioning family does. Upon salvation, each believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit, sealed for the day of redemption, and gifted for service in the Body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial. V12 For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body- so also is Christ.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:12 that it is the calling and responsibility of the pastors to train the saints in the work of the ministry, to build up the body of Christ.

One of the primary ways we do this as a church is to organize you into Small Groups so the work of the ministry can be carried out. This includes caring for needs in the church. When God called me to this church many years ago now, I told the church, the pastoral staff cannot and will not do all of the ministry. There is nothing we are not willing to do in leading by example, but we are limited human beings. If all of the care ministry of this church rises and falls on the pastors, people will be sorely disappointed. So we mobilize people to serve one another. If you choose not to join yourself with a small group, the level of care and ministry you receive will be limited.

The proper functioning of a local body of believers is dependent on the faithfulness of the people, to exercise their spiritual gifts in the building up of the body and service to the world.

Ministry in the church includes commitment to the Great Commandment. Matthew 22:37 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . Love your neighbor as yourself.

Ministry in the church includes obedience to the Great Commission. Matthew 28:19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you, and remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Each Bible Fellowship Small Group should be a place where ministry is being mobilized and carried out.

A healthy church will praise and pray together and God will give us favor with people, for the glory of His name.

What are the expectations for our Small Group Ministry?

Get Connected- Find a place to belong. It is our hope and prayer that 100% of our people would find a place to belong.

Be Committed-

Leaders, you set the example, be committed. Prepare yourself, be on time, make it a priority to be a part of training and development opportunities (Meetings, Ministry Grid, Training Events) invest yourself in the people you serve. If you commit to serve in leadership, and then refuse to participate in these opportunities or take them seriously, you are saying one of two things- either you are too lazy to take the ministry seriously, or you think you have no room for improvement- neither are good options. We all can grow, we all need each other.

If you are a part of a Small Group, be committed. Attending once a month or twice a month is convenience not commitment. What if you went to work once a month, would you still have a job? How healthy would your family be if you stopped off at the house a couple of times a month? It is not different with a church family. Dependability and consistency makes a difference.

Some years ago, the famed newsman Walter Cronkite hosted a PBS documentary entitled Heroes of World War II. It is a look at the many American military officers who won the second great war through dedication, sacrifice, and bravery. In one scene, Cronkite described the battle Americans and Germans fought over territory near Bastogne, France.

“The U.S. forces in Bastogne were now surrounded by the Germans,” Cronkite said in voiceover narration. “But they held on.” Major Richard Winters, 101st Airborne, U.S. Army, comments: “We were seeing men break down due to mental strain and frostbite. Roughly 30 percent of the casualties at Bastogne were frostbite.”

Cronkite continued to narrate as more scenes of soldiers were shown: “The 101st defended Bastogne with dogged determination, even while supplies dwindled, munitions ran low, and morale began to slip.” Major Winters took over the narration from Cronkite: “The Germans were just a few miles from their home territory, so they had plenty of ammunition. And they’re shelling the heck out of you. And this is going on and on. So you’re not sure how long you’ll be around. But you’re not leaving until it’s done!” As more scenes are shown of warfare as Cronkite says: “On December 23, the skies cleared enough to supply badly needed supplies and ammunition to battered U.S. troops.”

Footage is shown of military airplanes dropping parachuted supplies. Major Winters continues: “A man who is in a unit like—we’ll say Company E—they take a lot of pride in [sticking close to each other]. They do not want to let their friends down. They want to do their part. And that’s beautiful. That bonding, that friendship—you have to see it, you have to live through it to appreciate the strength of it.”

Various scenes of soldiers helping wounded soldiers are shown. “And that’s what we had,” Winters continues. “That’s where we got the strength to go through it again and again. You’re not going to drop out because your friends are there. You’re going to stay there. Cold? Well, if you can take it, I can take it!” Soldiers marching through a winter storm in a forest are shown. “It’s the bonding of men. It keeps them together,” Winter says.

As the images of soldiers linger, Cronkite concludes: “And it was this bonding of brothers in combat that gave the men the strength to continue.”

(“Allies March to Arden”)