Sunday, October 14, 2018

Saturate Groups | We Can't Do It Alone: Why We Commit to Practice-Based Transformational Communities w/ Shauna & Aaron Niequist

How do we spur one another on toward remembering the Gospel, being faithful in learning from the Word and the Spirit, and being sent on Jesus' mission to redeem and restore together when intentional, consistent training can be trying, difficult, and test our perseverance?

To strengthen Emmaus City's City Group participants to gather and go together in new missional communities to love our city, we are jumping into Saturate groups this fall that will go through the Saturate Field Guide for the next 2+ months.

Eight weeks is a long commitment – and this is a lot of new material with a lot of soul searching in a concentrated amount of time – but Saturate Groups' journeys, both individually and communally, can also be a bit fun when we let down our defenses and look for Spirit-fueled surprises in unexpected moments along the way. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship is famous for the title, but in his introduction he writes, “ ... Discipleship means joy. ... ”

... If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer these questions we shall have to go to Him, for only He knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow Him, knows the journey's end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy. ... 

So how do we press on when we are saturated by the Saturate Field Guide in all that God is teaching us as our Father, Rabbi, Savior, and Friend? I think a story about Shauna Niequist that her husband, Aaron, shares in his book, The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning, provides a good comparison – instead of "non-runners," perhaps we fit into categories of "rare-readers" or "short-term only participants" or "timid practicers" – that can help us continue to push in to this concentrated time of focus, determination, and yes, a bit of fun, together that can produce practice-based faith in Jesus to make disciples as we participate in the Spirit-filled seeking of His Kingdom in our city.

And then, to close this post, I wanted to include how Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, in her powerful book, Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose Through Intentional Discipleship, complements the Saturate content by providing foundational commitments and theological foundations that are necessary for transformation along the good, purposeful road of discipleship with Jesus together.

Enjoy. :)

We Can't Do It Alone: Practice-Based Transformational Communities by Shauna and Aaron Niequist

A few years ago, my wife, Shauna, signed up for the Chicago Marathon. It was surprising because Shauna would be the first to declare herself "a passionate nonrunner." But she took the challenge and joined the World Vision running team. Nine months later, she ran 26.2 miles and conquered one of her life goals.

How did she move from being a passionate nonrunner to being someone who could finish the Chicago Marathon? She had the benefit of: 

+ a compelling vision, 
+ a clear plan, and 
+ a group of fellow runners.

Her vision to finish the marathon  both to achieve such a feat to raise money for clean water for kids, in partnership with World Vision  compelled her to rearrange her life around this difficult challenge. Without a compelling goal, there is no way she could have sustained such a high level of training for nine months. 

She also had a concrete plan. Many people throughout history have trained for marathons, and their collected wisdom offers a training schedule with a route to run every day. A passionate vision to run can get you on the trail, but only a time-tested plan can channel your passion toward constructive, lasting results. A vision without a plan begins with a bang but often fizzles out. Or it leads to injury.

Finally, Shauna had the support of a team of fellow runners. Every Saturday morning, the World Vision group met to do its "big run" together. Shauna told me later that not even one time did she wake up on a Saturday morning with a desire to run  and if it had been solely up to her, she probably would have hit the snooze button. But she knew her teammates would be there. She didn't want to let them down, and more importantly, she loved the connection with others who had committed to doing something difficult. The vision propelled her into a wise plan that was sustained in community.

Friends, this may be the most succinct way to describe a practice-based life: it is 

+ a Kingdom vision (going with Christ for the sake of the world) that propels us into 
+ a wise plan (spiritual practices that form a rule of life) that can be 
+ sustained only in community.

A small group often has to do with only belonging or only learning. We desire either a place to be known or a place to study the Scriptures. Both of these desires are good and needed. The problem is, I don't believe that either desire should be the goal of a community. The goal should be learning to be sent together with Christ for the sake of the world. This involves putting Jesus's words into practice. The goal should be obeying Jesus's words after we study them. 

Imagine joining a marathon runners' group that met once a week to talk about what it takes to train for a marathon but didn't run together. You'd share life updates, but the question of "How did your running go last week?" would come up only occasionally. That's because for this group, training for the big race is not the goal. Belonging to a running group is the goal.

I don't oppose belonging or learning, of course. I need to belong and to learn in deep and visceral ways. But they are the means to the end, never the end. One of my friends, Mindy Caliguire, often remarks, "Just because you are meeting with others doesn't mean you are in a transformational community." And the goal of any group (or church or life) is to be transformed into Christlikeness for the sake of the world. Being in community is a matter of life or death spiritually. But when the how gets disconnected from the why, it can lose the plot and lose the power. So with the why clearly in view, let us roll up our sleeves to explore the how of community. How do people form a practice-based community when gathered in a living room or around a dining-room table? They practice the way of Christ together, and they encourage one another to practice this way all week. The community is both means and a beautiful benefit, but we never mistake it for the highest goal. When we gather with a clear vision to learn how to be sent with Christ together, we then begin to discover the transformational power of the Holy Spirit.

+ Aaron Niequist, The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning

We Can't Do It Alone: 6 Foundational Commitments of Transformational Communities by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

| 1 | Presence: Being present with God and present in community with other disciples is essential for our spiritual transformation.

| 2 | Discipline: Cultivating spiritual disciplines helps us recognize our spiritual poverty and desperate need for God.

| 3 | Mission: Understanding God's Kingdom mission gives us an urgency and intentionality to run our own spiritual race and to invite others to win on the journey of following Christ. 

| 4 | Community: Committing to safe and trusting relationships provides encouragement, accountability, and support. 

| 5 | Relationships: Transformation requires that we embrace people as God does and welcome diverse relationships that reflect true unity in the body of Christ.

| 6 | Love: Transformative discipleship is a continuous sacrificial and selfless act of love that shapes our character, clarifies our spiritual gifts, and affirms our purpose and calling.

The good news is that whether you are leading, following, or learning, God has provided relationships to help you live with Christ in view, with the power of the Holy Spirit inside you, and with great hope and anticipation for your future. The question is will you purpose to (1) evaluate your spiritual condition, (2) consider your commitment to God's Kingdom work, and (3) prioritize making disciples?

+ Natasha Sistrunk RobinsonMentor for Life: Finding Purpose Through Intentional Discipleship

Please pray with me that Jesus will use this saturated time together with the Saturate Field Guide to make us laborers:

+ who participate in this 2-month Saturate plan to shape Kingdom visions sustained by transformational communities, and 
+ who become sent disciplemakers with City Groups who go with Jesus to love and serve people in our city.

Next post: Saturate Groups | Multiply: A Disciplemaker's Privilege & Joy

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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