|Simple Church | Growing|
|October 17, 2009|
Part 2 of 3 | October 18, 2009
Scroll down to view the video used during this week's message
Connecting. Growing. Serving. Say it out loud with me. Connecting Growing Serving.
We are smack in the middle of a three-week series where we are exploring the new vision that God has given our church. We are calling this series Simple Church because our vision is very, very simple. Connecting, Growing, Serving isnít complicated. And thatís exactly why we love it. Because it is Biblical, and yet it is so simple. If you were here last week, youíve probably memorized our vision by now. Thatís the point. Thatís why itís simple. Simple means memorable. And if we can all remember the vision, we can accomplish the vision.
Last week, we started by exploring the first step in our vision. Connecting. When someone walks in our church, our vision is to connect them to Jesus. We donít want to connect them to a cause, or an initiative, or a program. We want to connect them to Jesus. And we also want to begin a connection with our church. When you connect to Jesus, you have to also connect to His church. Itís a 2-for-1 package deal.
If you missed the message, you need to check it out on our website. That message was the foundation that the rest of our vision is built on. If we donít connect people to Jesus, then nothing else we say will make a dimeís worth of difference. So our vision starts with connecting.
But it doesnít stop there. We donít want people to just make an initial connection to Jesus. We want to facilitate a growing relationship with Jesus. Thatís where we are today. Weíre talking about growing. Weíve got a vision to help people grow in Christ and grow with others. This vision is going to blow you away. Hang onto something, because weíre ready to roll.
In this parable from Luke 8, Jesus tells us about four different kinds of soil. Each of these soils represents people who hear the Word of God. The Word of God is scattered like seed on all of us. What we do with the Word of God determines what kind of soil we are. Letís explore each of the four soils that Jesus told us about. You are going to see yourself in one of these four soils. The question is which one are you?
The first soil that Jesus tells us about is the soil on the path.
In verse 12 of Luke 8, Jesus said, ďThose along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.Ē (Luke 8:12, NIV)
The soil on the path is packed down so hard from people, animals, and cargo that it is impossible for the seed to penetrate the soil. Jesus says that this soil represents people who hear the word, but the devil comes and takes it away.
Matthew also records this parable in his gospel. He gives us one more critical clue about who the soil on the path represents.
ďWhen anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.Ē (Matthew 13:19, NIV)
The soil on the path represents people who hear the word of God but donít understand it. This is why we are so fiercely committed to our simple vision. Because if we try to do too muchÖif we try to have too many ministriesÖif we try to keep adding programsÖthings become confusing. People can totally miss what weíre all about.
And what happens when someone doesnít understand? The seed doesnít penetrate. It canít grow. That person is lost.
If youíre looking for a Biblical reason why weíre choosing to operate with such a simple vision, this is it. You donít need to look anywhere else.
The next soil that Jesus tells us about is the rocky soil. In verse 13, He said, ďThose on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.Ē (Luke 8:13, NIV)
This is the person who hears about Jesus, immediately accepts Him as their Savior, but never goes any further. This is the person who accepts Jesus based on mere emotion. ďThat song we sang really moved me. That sermon really inspired me. So Iím accepting Jesus.Ē
Now, it is great when something finally happens to cause you to cross the line of faith. Thatís amazing! But it canít stop at mere emotion. Emotions canít be trusted. Emotions come and go. And if youíre faith is based on emotion, then as your emotions come and go, so does your faith.
There are times when life doesnít feel good. When you get dealt a really bad hand and youíre not sure why. People with shallow, emotional faith canít withstand those seasons. Why does someone who claims to love Jesus bail on Him when life gets hard? Shallow, rocky soil. Their faith springs up immediately, but the root is so shallow that they canít weather a storm.
The third soil Jesus tells us about is the soil that is infested with thorns. ďThe seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by lifeís worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.Ē (Luke 8:14, NIV)
This is the person who claims Christ as their Savior and Lord, but as time goes on, their focus on Jesus begins to fade. Instead, they are consumed with ďlifeís worries, riches, and pleasures.Ē
Worry can eat you alive. You can become so focused on what might happen that you can lose sight of Jesus.
Riches can choke your faith because they can easily become your idol. You can sacrifice everything for your job, your checkbook, your house, your car, your clothes, your lifestyle.
Pleasures can take your focus off of Jesus. Itís not that God doesnít want us to experience pleasure. He has given us incredible things in our world to give us pleasure. But when my pleasure becomes more important than Godís pleasure, weíve got a problem.
These things can be thorny vines that grow up around us and slowly choke our faith to death.
Finally, Jesus tells us about good soil. In verse 15, He says, ďBut the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.Ē (Luke 8:15, NIV)
Look at the characteristics of this person. They begin with a noble and good heart. A heart that is honestly seeking after the truth. No agenda. No bias. Just a heart that honestly wants to find truth.
They hear the Word of God. But itís not a snap, emotional decision to follow Jesus because not only do they hear the Word, but they retain it. They study. They put in the time. And they persevere. Good times come. Hard times come. But through it all, they retain the Word and they persevere. Thatís how a crop is produced.
This parable forces us all to ask a question. Which soil am I? This is why Jesus was such a genius. He told a story about farming four different kinds of soils. Not 1,000. Not even a hundred. Just four. But one of these four soils represents every single one of us in this room today. Thatís amazing!
Which one are you?
The Amelia Church of Christ exists for this simple purposeÖconnecting, growing, serving. We have a God-given mission to connect people to God and to others. The primary place for that is in our Sunday morning services. Our purpose today is to connect you with God and to open up possibilities for you to connect to others.
The second step in our process is growing. In this parable, the seed is the Word of God. We connect to God through hearing and responding to His Word. Here at our church, that happens primarily on Sunday mornings. But that initial connection isnít the end of the road. There has to be something more. Something that allows us to take the Word and go further, go longer, and go deeper.
Thatís why, as part of our simple vision, we are launching a brand new ministry of small groups in our church.
Spiritual growth happens best in the context of a small group of people who are focused on growing in God together. And weíre going to give you the opportunity to do just that.
Small groups have been on our radar for a long time, but it was never something that we were ready to launchÖuntil now. The biggest reason we havenít pursued small groups is because God hadnít raised up a person to lead this ministry. If this new ministry is going to succeed, there has to be a passionate, capable person leading the way. God had never pinpointed who that was until now.
One of the most exciting parts of our new vision is a brand new opportunity to grow in God and grow with others through a small groups ministry. And God has shown us that the man to provide the vision and direction and leadership of this ministry is our very own Brian Morrissey. Weíre going to take some time in our service today to let you hear the incredible vision that God has laid on him for this new ministry of small groups.As most of you know, my name is Brian Morrissey and I have been the Youth and Worship Pastor of the Amelia Church of Christ for Seven and a half years. I came from San Diego, California, pursuing the call of God to go into full-time ministry for him and that required a lot of changes to be made in my life. I was a quality control manager at a car dealership and so ministry was something that was brand new for me.
I was raised in the church by my parents who taught me to honor God with my life above everything else, and so I jumped at the opportunity to devote my life to serving God in whatever capacity he has called me to serve in. God has called me to serve for the last seven and a half years as the Youth and Worship Minister of ACC.
As Mike said previously, our entire leadership team spent the first three months of this year discovering Godís vision for our church. Through much time and prayer, we all unanimously arrived at the following Simple Vision Ė Connecting, Growing, Serving. Last week, Mike explained the Connecting part of our vision and how we arrived at Connecting with God and Connecting with others. The way that we do that in this church is during our Sunday Morning Worship Services. We connect to God through worship and we connect with others through shared experience and time.
As the leaders began to talk through the tangible ideas of this vision, Connecting was the easiest piece of this puzzle. We already have a thriving, vibrant program that lives out the first part of our visionary process. However, as we began to talk about the next two steps in Growing and Serving, we realized that we needed to make some changes in the way we have been doing ministry in order to reach and involve the majority of people in our congregation.
In talking about how we could most effectively implement this step, we focused our attention on small groups. For those of you who donít know, small groups have been around for many years in the overall church and they are a very effective method of growth for most churches.
As our attention hovered around the concept of small groups, we began to discuss what they would look like, how they would run, and then we hit a snag. Who would oversee and administer them? Who would be in charge of rounding up individual facilitators to lead each group? Who would encourage people to participate in and be involved with small groups? We eventually landed on the fact that this ministry was simply to big and too important to our church and our vision for one volunteer to handle. As we continued our discussions, I began to feel God tugging at my heart to get my attention.
You see, I graduated from San Diego State University in 2001 with a degree in Music, but my emphasis was in Music Education. As a part of that degree program, I had to learn how to be a Teacher. Teaching has always been a passion for me. I love to see people ďget it.Ē I love to see the light-bulb go on and see people grow in understanding. I especially love it when people deepen their understanding about Jesus.
As God began to tug at my heart, I understood that he was reawakening my passion to see people grow. He laid a verse on my heart that is still stuck in my mind:
Proverbs 27:17 ďAs iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.Ē
I began to spend a lot of time in prayer with him. I went to my family members and I talked with them about where I felt God was leading me, and then one day in the office, I proposed it to Mike. As we sat there and batted the idea around, it became clear that God was leading me to an intersection in ministry where he needed me to do something else, and that something else was to develop a successful small groups program right here in this church.
And so, I began to dream. Anytime God ignites a passion within you, you canít stop thinking about it, and thatís where Iíve been for the better part of this year. I have eaten, lived, slept, and breathed small groups. God has lit a fire in me to see people grow and I want to do whatever I can to accomplish His will. Anytime God calls you to go, you go.
So I began to ask these questions: what do small groups look like? How many people should be in them? Should they be open groups or closed groups? Groups that are based upon where people live? Age ranges? Topical influences? Spiritual growth levels? All of these questions prompted me to begin researching what other churches were doing with their small groups program and what was working verses what wasnít.
Some of my thinking was challenged in this area, because I had preconceived ideas about what small groups should be and how they should be run. I had ideas about how long to run them and who should be in what small groups.
In the end, after researching over 18 different churches and 12 different small group structures, I have landed on what I believe will be the best scenario and layout of small groups that will produce the most growth in our church and our community.
Hereís the big idea. When we eventually launch small groups within the next year, we will target the entire congregation. Yes, you heard me correctly. We want 100% of this congregation to be involved in a small group in some capacity. Whether that means that you attend your group on Sunday mornings or whether itís a weeknight that your small group meets, we want everyone to be a part of our process and our vision and participate in a small group so that you can begin growing.
Our small groups are going to be based around a plethora of topics that you as individuals will be able to pick from. We will have an intensive sign-up month where everyone will sign-up for the small group of their choice and then our groups will run for a period of 10-14 weeks. After that, there will be a month-long break from small groups where you will be able to research the topics for the next semester of groups and then sign-up for another one and the process will begin again.
That means that you will be in different groups with different people fairly consistently. Thatís great because as we grow with God, we should be growing with each other. On the flip side of the coin, if you enjoy being in a group with some of your friends, you can all sign-up together for the next semesterís round of groups.
Our groups will also be discussion oriented. Each group will have a main facilitator, and an apprentice facilitator (notice I purposefully didnít use the word leader). They will be responsible for initiating and maintaining communication with their group members, as well as administering their group and its discussion and subject material. In short, these two will be responsible for facilitating the group meeting and discussion. Some topics may be more teaching oriented, and thereís nothing wrong with that, but we want to provide an atmosphere of discussion because everyone has a voice and an opinion, and right or wrong, thatís how we grow. We all discover the truth of scripture together that way and we can grow as we sharpen each other.
As the parable said earlier, we want individuals to produce a good crop out of the Word that they receive, but in order to grow, we have to provide the good soil for them to grow in.
In order to facilitate this massive project, I have put together a small groups team and we will be meeting soon to begin to till the soil for this ministry, as well as begin to firm up some dates and facilitator training sessions.
Hereís the crux of everything: if someone asked me to explain what small groups are at the Amelia Church of Christ in one sentence, I would tell them this: Our small groups are designed to help you grow with God and with others.
Bob Franquiz said that the major reason new believers fall through the cracks in churches is because most leaders donít care. ACC, that is not and will not be true of our church. Our church has developed an intentional plan to lead people from a decision to follow Jesus to becoming a disciple of Jesus. The greatest stewardship we are given is the stewardship of people. God has planted this vision in my heart and he has planted it deep and I cannot wait to see the first round of small groups get off the ground and going.
I am so excited about what God is going to do through this simple new ministry. And Iím so excited that this man is going to be leading us where God wants us to go.
Our leadership believes 100% in Brian. Heís been part of our church more than twice as long as I have. Heís been faithfully committed to our church for 7 Ĺ years. His godly character and integrity shines through everything he does. His love and vision for our church is incredibly strong.
But this does mean that some changes are going to be made on our staff. Brian is going to continue to be our worship minister. Heís not leading worship today because we wanted him to be able to give all his attention and focus to sharing his vision for small groups with us. But Brian is going to continue to lead us in worship every week here at Amelia.
But with the huge new responsibility of creating and growing a small groups ministry, Brian is going to be transitioning out of the youth ministry in our church. Itís not fair or reasonable to expect Brian to lead three different ministries, so the change we are making is that Brian will be leaving the youth ministry and he will become our Worship & Small Groups Minister.
This is an incredibly exciting move for us, but it also leaves a gaping hole in our youth ministry. But hereís the other side of the coin. We are going to hire a new, part-time student minister whose job will be to lead and grow our ministry to Jr./Sr. High students.
Itís going to be awesome! Iím going to let Brian fill you in on the rest of the details.
In talking about this change, we began to realize that we were going to need to make some adjustments to make this work and there are a couple of questions that we as staff regularly ask ourselves regarding changes. One: is this change going to be whatís best for the church? And Two: will more people be in the Kingdom as a result of this change?With the answers to these questions both being yes, we decided that this change was going to be for the best. So, with a heavy heart, I will transition out of the Youth Ministry. Now, that does break my heart because I dearly love each and every one of our students. I took some time last Sunday evening and explained to our students that this course of action is what is best for the church and itís actually whatís going to be in their best interests as well.
You see, they will now be able to have their very own staff member that is 100% dedicated to them and their ministry and to be quite honest, they deserve that. I remember two years ago, we sat down as a leadership team and declared that our children were an important area and they deserved a dynamite Childrenís Minister, and God has provided that and then some in Melanie who does a phenomenal job ministering to our kids.
Now, itís our student ministryís turn. These students absolutely deserve someone to come in and give them a dynamic love for Jesus so that they can grow and minister to an unbelieving generation.
So, does that mean that today, right now, Iím laying aside my youth ministry hat? No. It does not. As a matter of fact until we actually hire a new youth minister, nothing will change at all. I will continue to lead the programs and studies and keep regular communication with our students. I will still update the youth site and counsel these students if they have any spiritual issues.
And, once the new person is hired, there will be a gradual three to four month transition where I hand the youth ministry off. I will begin while that person watches and dreams their youth ministry up. Then that person will assist me as I still continue to lead. Two months in, I will then turn and assist the new youth minister as they begin to lead and then I will watch them lead and offer any last bits of council that I can think of.
This will give our students time to get to know the new youth minister and time to say goodbye to me. The other awesome thing is this, Iím not really going anywhere. I know for some of our juniors and seniors who have been with me for five or six years that I will always be their youth minister and while they may not cling to the new person as much as they did to me, they will still be able to come and talk with me. My door is still open to them.
This transition will be as smooth as it can and as I will be involved in the hiring process, I will be able to help locate someone who will really mesh well with our current and upcoming students.
The past seven and a half years have held wonderful moments and some I would like to but never will be able to forget, but I wouldnít trade any one of those memories, or any one of my students for the world. If I could leave my students with anything as I transition, it would be this:
ďDonít let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.Ē (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV)
God bless you guys and I look forward to the dawning of this new era for all of us as we all learn to grow with God and with each other!
How about that, church? Is this an exciting time at ACC or what?
This is huge for us. Iíll be very honest with you. We donít have the money to do this. Hiring another staff member is not in our budget. Thatís one reason that we have taken the better part of a year to pull the trigger on this. We had to make absolutely certain that this is where God is leading us. And we are absolutely positive that it is.
Even though we donít have all the money we need, our search for a new student minister begins tomorrow. We are going forward because we believe in God and we believe in you. We absolutely believe that our church will support this vision prayerfully and financially. And we believe that God is bigger than money.
Hereís the truthÖif itís Godís will, itís Godís bill. Itís going to require sacrifice on our part. Make no mistake about that. But we know that God will honor our leap of faith.
The reason we are doing thisÖthe reason Brianís role will be changingÖthe reason we are seeking a new staff memberÖitís all being done because weíre going to give you every opportunity we can to grow in Christ. To send your roots down deep. To produce fruit for His Kingdom.
Hereís the deal with all these soilsÖyou get to choose which soil represents your life. You get to pick. And weíre doing everything we can to give you the chance to become good soil. To not only have a faith that survives, but a faith that thrives.
Weíre taking a huge leap of faith for you. But Jesus took a huge leap of faith for us. The cross was an unimaginable leap of faith.
Give your life for a bunch of people who hate you, who have done everything they can to reject you, who would rather spit upon you than speak to youÖgo die for those people.
Are you telling me that Jesus didnít have His faith tested? We know from His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that He didnít want to do it. But Jesus went all in for you and for me. He took the leap of faith. He gave His life.
He gave His life, not only to give us eternal life, but to change our lives now. And thatís why our church takes our responsibility so seriously. We are responsible to help you grow deeper in your walk with Jesus. To help you know Him more. To help you experience Him in a deep, life-changing way. Thatís what the second step in our simple vision is all about. Itís going to be incredible!
But you canít experience the life change that Jesus wants for you if you donít know Him. If you havenít accepted His grace and forgiveness for your sins, you canít go any further. The new life that Jesus has for you begins at the cross. It begins with a Savior who gave up everything for you. And if you havenít given your life and your eternity to Him, you can today.
He went all in for you. Are you ready to go all in for Him?
Mike Edmisten & Brian Morrissey
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