From: Philippians 1:25
On: September 2, 2012 evening service
By: Sean Higgins
Or, Taking That Left Turn in Albuquerque
As you probably know, this is a talk about some changes to our Life to Life group trellis for the upcoming year. Those of you who went to a L2L group last week already heard various forms of the announcement and my job is to work through it from the corporate level, answer a few questions that have been raised, and remind us of the goal of the whole thing.
From the beginning of Trinity Evangel Church, we knew that we wanted to go east (this is an illustration). In fact, let’s say that we wanted to go to Boston (if were in in Boston, we could have said we wanted to go to Seattle, that’s what makes it an illustration). We wanted to go to Boston and so we started heading east. As the elders have said all along, we don’t have a master plan with every turn mapped out, but we know the general direction. We figured that course adjustments would be required along the way and we hoped that we could make minor route refinements rather than have to go all the way back home because we forgot something important.
We also stated from the beginning that our primary emphasis would be people, not programs. We love the vine (the people) and we would only add trellis (programs) to the extent that we through trellis would help the vine thrive. One of the trellis pieces we put in place was our Life to Life groups. By this point, we’ve had over a year to watch the groups, each one different from the others, and one that’s gone into indefinite hibernation. We’ve provided some direction/vision for the groups without adding too many requirements. Each of the elders has rotated around and visited each group. We’ve had almost monthly meetings with the men who lead the groups. And, in general, there have been many great things that we want to encourage. There have also been some weaknesses and challenges that we’re excited to address.
Again, the goal has always been the same: get to Boston. As the elders have considered the course over the last couple months, and especially as we headed toward our L2L leaders’ retreat a few weeks ago, we determined that while we think we’re still headed east, we need to make a left turn in Albuquerque (thanks, Bugs Bunny.)
Any time you take a trip there’s bound to be some bumpy spots, not to mention ditches on both sides of the road. The only way to avoid those is to stay at home. But that’s not an option. God does not leave us where He finds us, nor does He immediately take us to heaven. He builds His church and purifies His bride in process, so that means that He’s changing us on the move. On one hand, that’s alright because it’s easier to steer a semi-truck that’s moving than one sitting still. That said, it’s harder to make repairs if you’re going 90 miles per hour.
One of our challenges is that we have some co-leading partners who aren’t always partnering well. That’s okay and it isn’t okay. God knits a people for Himself and part of what makes His work so glorious is that the people He starts with are not alike. That said, a measure of like-mindedness is important in order to lead in the same direction.
The theme of our leaders’ retreat was “striving side by side” from Philippians 1:27. We explicitly talked about increasing our togetherness as a group, not only by being together, but by identifying and working on the lack of togetherness. And at our leaders’ retreat, when the co-leaders had opportunity to spend time talking together and working to identify the greatest challenges in their groups, most of the groups felt that lack of connectedness and teamwork among the co-leaders themselves was part of the problem. Concern of the dynamic was expressed before we proposed any changes.
Another challenge in L2L groups is that not everyone who attends (not to mention those who don’t attend) agrees on the turns, and maybe not even the direction. Again, by itself that’s just part of the process. But obviously that’s going to be tougher if the leaders themselves aren’t clear, or at least aren’t working on it.
Another challenge is that many of the people involved in L2L groups, and certainly all the leaders, are responsible people who are spinning multiple plates. We totally believe that adding more “meetings” won’t solve the problems and, in fact, may create different ones.
A final challenge to mention is that not only do we need more likemindedness, it also seems that many people need more encouragement. It may be work, family, or ministry drains, but it’s easy to get discouraged, to feel ineffective, or maybe even to fell unnecessary and so be tempted to give up. If that occurs on the leadership level, then those who are discouraged are going to have a difficult time pouring encouragement into others who are discouraged. I can’t give you any money for gas if I’m broke.
So as elders we thought about ways that we could provide more intentional pouring in, more regular and, hopefully, stronger encouragement, as well as more group specific equipping while not taking up every night of the week. Instead of adding new trellis, we want to take down a couple of existing pieces and reattach them in a different direction.
I know some people cringe when they hear “change,” or at least they think they hate it. You may be better able to handle this if I used a different word. If we were making change for change’s sake, that’d be questionable. But if we’re making changes to get to Boston better, then is that kind of “change” so bad? There are only two trellis pieces to address.
It has been great, all of us agree, to visit all the different groups and rotate around. I don’t think anything was foolish about that approach, especially as the church and as the L2L groups were getting started so that all the elders could be exposed to all the people in a different context. That said, we ended up adding to the inconsistency of attenders. It’s tough to build momentum when you’re not sure who’s going to show up week to week. Different individuals, elders included, add different ingredients to the soup. Hopefully we didn’t ruin any soup, but it seems that we could be more strategic.
This year we’re going to make a group our home. As of now, Jim has committed to the Bowers/van der Beken group, Dave has committed to the Herrington/Ratzlaff/Rothenberger group, I’ve committed to the Bone/Hoeglund group, and Jonathan (our AEIOU, an elder in observation for you) has committed to the Mills/Weinberg group.
We are not coming in to take over or to micro manage, though in some cases the leaders may want us to demonstrate something by example. Instead, we’re committing to be intentional resources of encouragement to the leaders and the groups, as well as now exposing even more of our lives, the good and bad.
Plus, we elders have a surprising amount of likemindedness in direction and usually when it’s time to make a turn. It’s surprising for any plurality, especially with our different personalities, interests, and giftedness. It’s a supernatural unity that we hope to spread more purposefully. That’s part of shepherding.
It’s been interesting to hear some of the questions or hesitations about this, such as, Why did that elder decide to go with that group? It’s easy, we have a Magic 8 Ball. No, we have a special elder Bible with extra verses. No, we talked about previous relationships and group dynamics and who would be better suited to help and night of the week and then we prayed about it for a week, had some more discussion, and decided to give it a shot. I think we used wisdom, and yet we’re not claiming that God told us to do it this way.
Here’s what it will look like [hand out calendars]. Scheduled L2L group meetings will now be every first and third weeks of the month. (Fridays will follow the Wednesday lead for sake of a consistent church calendar, which affects the first Fridays in November, February, March, and August). Because of how the weeks fall, there is only one change, occurring the third week of November due to Thanksgiving; we’ve moved that L2L group to the fourth week of November. Otherwise, you can predict whether the group is meeting based on the first/third formula. Now you also have a calendar, maybe put it on the fridge. It will also be on the church website calendar, and we’ll continue to put information in the Lord’s day bulletin every Sunday.
On the second Wednesday of each month we’re adding a leaders’ meeting. We have been meeting with all of the men on first Saturdays already, most months of the previous year. We’ll continue to do that, but it’s not enough, so now we’ll add wives into the mix for that second Wednesday get-together. Since three of the four groups already meet during that time, it seemed easy to keep that slot.
We will eat together and then have an hour or so to pray and talk and encourage one another. In other words, we are not taking the week off, and we are not asking you to do something that we aren’t willing to do. The first mark of a maturing church is leaders who are godly and growing. Leaders, by definition, set the stage and show the way. We cannot expect the church to be more passionate and purposeful in making disciples than we are (the 4th mark of a maturing church). We cannot cultivate distance families and community somewhere else first (the 8th mark of a maturing church). We won’t encourage others if our encouragement bucket is empty. We won’t get everyone going in the same direction if we don’t know the destination.
That leaves 2nd and 4th, and occasional 5th weeks with nothing scheduled for current L2L attenders, no trellis. What will you do?
Before I answer that, maybe you wonder how and/or when we came to make the decision to change and why these changes? It all goes back to Boston. I’ve said a few times that we want to go to Boston. Obviously that’s an illustration, but you may ask, an illustration of what? Great question.
There are many ways to describe “Boston.” My life as a talking head involves a lot of time trying to figure out how to say basically the same thing in a fresh way. So here goes for now. What we want for everyone at TEC is to have a life. We want you to have eternal life (be saved, go to heaven when you die), we want you to have abundant life (enjoy God in the sanctification process now), to have life in Christ.
In other words, we want more than for you to have notebooks filled with Bible study notes about life and about Jesus. We want more for you than for you to have meetings at Starbucks where you talk about a book. Put another way, a map is a helpful thing to have on a trip. You need the right map, to know how to read maps, and to recognize road signs that associate with the map. Maybe you have access to a Global Positioning System (GPS). But collecting maps, reading maps, buying new equipment and sitting around your kitchen table is not the point.
That’s why we don’t call our mid-week trellis “Bible Study.” The name, “Life to Life,” includes the idea. It isn’t “Life to Two-Hour-Weekly Meeting.” Yes, there is a balance. Some trellis helps the vine group better. But the point is still the life of the vine.
So what can you do, what can your family do, with the weeks that don’t have something scheduled for you? You can start by using the same two hours you usually spend sharing your life, your house, your food, your kids’ ball game, your favorite restaurant, with someone else.
It isn’t meant to be a “free for whatever” night but a “free for use” night. We get that Trinity Family Fellowship Sundays are perhaps in disuse. We don’t believe that that is a reason to stop them, instead, it’s a reason to train people how to use them.
It’s okay if you’re not sure where to start. The L2L leaders will help. Multiple groups are going to tag team the 4th and 5th Wednesdays to have “personal” L2L meals, where all the leaders’ families share with one other family. Others are planning to use the unscheduled Wednesdays/Fridays for service events. The elders and the L2L leaders are going to take the lead, help out, and follow up. We’re not going to sit out.
We’ll probably make list of possibilities, but remember, the point is life, not checking off a different list. Also remember, it doesn’t need to be a church-wide event for it to be maximally effective.
It’ll be messy and great, even if it takes a while for the greatness to get to you. Along the way, you may realize that more than the trellis, you need to change.
I’ll finish with a fear of mine, something that many of us fight and should keep fighting. I read it in a book last week, the idea of sheepwalking. It’s a great word, especially for church people, who go about their religious lives asleep, or at least without thinking.
When we sheepwalk we get comfortable complaining about the rut, or complaining about too much trellis or too little trellis or changing trellis when what we’re really trying to avoid is personal change.
Sheepwalkers don’t want to have a life because it may expose areas in which we need to grow. It’s easier to sheep-walk then it is to walk as a sheep after Christ. But if we don’t then we are either saying that we’ve arrived at Christlikeness ahead of schedule or that we don’t care about it. That’s not life.
Having a life is less safe for the status quo of your soul. Your soul will be much more cozy snuggling up to books and podcasts and free Internet truth-resources. Those things are good, but they can’t replace crossing paths with people who know you well enough to sharpen you.
It’s one thing to not know what life looks like, it’s another thing to know what it looks like and not want it. Willful immaturity is not okay.
Paul wrote to the Philippians:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:21–26 ESV)
He knew it was better for him to stay for two reasons: their 1) progress of faith, and 2) joy of faith. In other words, he wanted them to grow in faith and enjoy living by faith.
We can’t stop thinking about how to help one another develop believing and gladness. The trellis redeployment is so that more of the flock can have this sort of life.