An Identity of Love
TEACHER TO TEACHER
This is the last lesson in our Faith Foundations study series. It contains four “big ideas.”
First, we describe Casas as a Kingdom church whose primary mission is to expand the Kingdom. Other American churches have different missions. For example, some churches are committed to a primary mission associated with political activism aimed at reversing the decline of a society that is becoming progressively immoral. Others may have a goal of being a Christian safe haven for believers and their families. These churches want to be a fortress standing against the evils of the outside world.
We next discuss the big idea of Casas’ Calling or Purpose and discover that our uniquely expressed calling is an expression of three driving values that, to one degree or another, have influenced the direction of our church since her inception.
The third big idea concerns the simple, easy-to-understand process that we use to fulfill God’s calling for us. Here we discover that three words summarize the process: inspire, include, and invite. Of course, many things that are simple at one level have not-so-obvious complexities at other levels. You probably will be relieved to know that we avoid the complexities and stick to the essential, simple concepts.
Our final big idea deals with how our “closing the gap” process incorporates the basic tenets of our relational theology. For example, you will discover how we seek to minister in our worship services so that we address humanity’s needs associated with both aloneness (Gen. 2) and fallenness (Gen. 3). Similarly, you will see how our Bible Fellowships provide each disciple with opportunities to practice living a lifestyle of service and making disciples.
You probably are aware that teachers can teach to entertain, to instruct, to motivate into action, or to inspire. This lesson calls for you to inspire. This lesson is not about change. Instead, it is about who Casas is in the present. Help your Bible Fellowship celebrate what God calls us to as His Body and what He is doing in our midst.
Finally, I want to remind you that the best teachers adjust their lesson plans to the needs of their students. The recommended lesson plan for this lesson is easily adaptable. You may want to change the introductory (anticipatory) set and the application exercise. You may choose to spend more time on one teaching step and less time on another. Adjust to suit the needs of your group while remaining faithful to the key teaching points.
The truths and principles contained in this series lie at the heart of who we are as God’s people in this place at this time. I trust that God has blessed you, both as you have prepared and as you have taught. Thank you for your faithfulness in helping the people of Casas maintain an identity of love before one another and before their near ones.
Beloved, remember Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”
The church of Jesus Christ is not a building where people come together for a religious service, but it is a gathering of people who come together in order to worship God and to build each other by mutual faith and strength. — Donald Grey Barnhouse
We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians. — Francis Schaeffer
We are neither made nor redeemed for self-sufficient aloneness. — J. I. Packer
No church is obedient that is not evangelistic. — John Blanchard
I teach “Discovering Casas,” the orientation seminar for new members. During the opening exercise I ask participants to pretend that they are secular, non-believing people and, from that perspective, complete the following sentence: “Most Christian churches are full of people who _____________________.” The answers are predictable. The following are on the “short list” of those usually offered:
- Most Christian churches are full of people who are hypocrites.
- Most Christian churches are full of people who are always judging others.
- Most Christian churches are full of people who think they are better than every one else.
- Most Christian churches are full of people who do not accept people who are not like them.
- Most Christian churches are full of people who care only about themselves.
- Most Christian churches are full of people who are out of touch with reality.
- Most Christian churches are full of people who want to impose their religion and values on others.
The central point of the exercise is that secular, non-believing people do not hold Christian churches in high esteem. Contrarily, they view Christians and their churches as irrelevant and, in some cases, harmful to culture. Many churches seem to have abandoned their role as a people of “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13-16). Too many are perceived no longer as a people of love (John 13:34-35), causing them to seem irrelevant to the very people we are trying to reach.
THREE CATEGORIES OF CHURCHES
Recent research indicates that most Christian churches in America can by grouped into one of three categories.5 Churches in the first group believe their primary mission is to reform the ills of our society. In some cases, these churches champion social change that empowers the poor and underprivileged. Others politically advocate for values they consider threatened by eroding societal norms. In some cases, this group correlates America to Old Testament Israel and equates the role of the Church as that of a prophet who boldly points out the sins of Israel and calls her to repentance.
A second category of churches serves to provide a somewhat cloistered environment for the congregation, creating a safe haven or “fortress” from the decaying moral and ethical influences of contemporary society. Churches of this kind seek to evangelize but often demand that new believers quickly conform to behaviors embraced by the larger group. In this way, everyone knows what to expect from everyone else and feels sheltered from the influence of inappropriate moral/ethical behavior.
Churches that place a high value on expanding the Kingdom by reaching nonbelievers and unchurched Christians with the Gospel of Christ comprise the final group. Other values may also drive the direction of churches in this group, but evangelism always remains the primary focus or “driving value” of the church.
Today, Casas falls into the third category —highly focused on the mission of expanding the Kingdom. Some of the essential characteristics of the first two categories are present in Casas’ organizational culture. However, the primary driving value of evangelism identifies Casas as a Kingdom-expanding church. We are “on mission” to reach the lost, both locally and globally. Two additional driving values bring balance and completeness to the primary evangelism value: spiritual growth and biblical community. All three values serve to shape who we are as a local people of God.
Most of Casas’ teachers are very familiar with Casas’ Calling or Purpose Statement: “Through the Sunday Morning Experience (SMX), helping people close the gap between their present spiritual reality and the life promised in Scripture.” The phrase present spiritual reality serves as the beginning point of a spiritual journey for each individual. That may be a place of unbelief for one and the milestone of spiritual young adulthood for another. Therefore, our calling encompasses both evangelism of the unconvinced and discipleship of the believer.
OUR “CLOSING THE GAP” PROCESS
Casas’ leadership decided upon our “closing the gap” process through persevering prayer and long, reasoned deliberation that resulted in a deep conviction that it is what God desires for Casas at this juncture in our history. You will discover that the process is a simple flow of ministry that is easy to understand. In fact, we summarize it with three words: inspire, include, and invite. The inspire stage is associated with Casas’ worship service, while the include stage is associated with Adult Bible Fellowships. The synergy of these two process elements makes up what we refer to as the Sunday Morning Experience (SMX).
The “closing the gap” process helps us maintain a committed focus on our driving values, so that extraneous “good things” do not distract us from carrying out what God has called us to do. Look at the diagram below. It represents in graphic form how our church functions. Notice that rather than being linear, it depicts a continuous flow of ministry.