Interact Magazine 1997
Volume 8 Number 1
It is said that ‘Scepticism is the guardian against naivety.’ Therefore, it was with a healthy dose of scepticism that I headed for Sydney’s Darling Harbour Centre, to hear Bill Hybels address over 2000 people at the ‘Building a Biblical Community Conference’.
After all, just how relevant could Bill Hybels be to my situation? The Willow Creek Community Church which he pastors sees over 16,000 people gather each week. Wattle Grove Baptist Church is a ‘church plant’ where an attendance of more than 70 people is considered a good week. Hybels has 20+ years of experience and a large staff to work with. I have a grand total of 2 years pastoral experience with no other full-time staff. Willow Creek posted a $1,000,000 budget surplus last year, which they gave to the poor. At Wattle Grove we struggle to maintain a three-figure weekly budget. Hybels is currently the spiritual mentor for President Bill Clinton. Sometimes it seems to me that the limit of my influence is completing the customer evaluation form at Sizzler. If you were to place the Willow Creek Church alongside Wattle Grove Baptist Church the contrasts would be astounding.
So just how relevant could this guy be? The answer, I soon discovered, was ‘VERY’. While the differences between our two churches may be great, I was confronted at the conference with five key biblical principles, regardless of size or situation. The importance of the One.
Typically, within society today, the individual is overlooked. To banks we are numbers rather than individual people. Statisticians group us together along demographic and economic lines. Individual tastes are done away with in the name of mass production – ‘one size fits all’. yet by contrast how does the Kingdom of God grow? Whether it be a ‘church plant’ in Australia or ‘mega-church’ in the USA, the Kingdom grows one life at a time. The individual, while often forgotten in society, is of inestimable value to God.
In Luke 15, Jesus provides three powerful illustrations that lost people matter to God, as Hybels constantly impressed upon us. I Jesus’ first illustration we are confronted with a shepherd who loses one of his sheep. At first glance this might not appear to be too much of a problem; after all, he still has ninety-nine others. On the basis of statistics, he’s doing a reasonable job – he’s achieved a 99% success rate.
Who could possibly blame the shepherd if he called it a day after bringing almost all of the flock into the fold? Let’s face it, sheep are pretty stupid. But for the Good Shepherd, 99% is not a pass mark. Jesus cares deeply for the individual. His heart is profoundly burdened for the one who has strayed from Him. So He seeks out the lost sheep and eventually returns it safely to the fold. we read at the conclusion of the illustration that there is rejoicing in heaven itself over the individual who returns to God’s fold.
Consider Jesus’ story of the lost coin. It appears that one-tenth of the woman’s life savings has suddenly disappeared. The silver coin, equivalent to one day’s wage, was of great importance to this person who had so little. So like the shepherd, she too seeks out that which is of great value – again reflecting the heart of Jesus for the lost.
Perhaps the most intimate picture of all is given when Jesus speaks of a man losing his son. It seems that Jesus ‘lifts the stakes’ on the value of the individual when He portrays the father running to his child, kissing him and reinstating him as a son.
I’ll never forget snorkelling as a young boy with my father on Lord Howe Island. Whilst on holidays, Dad and I would often explore different beaches and caves, being enchanted by the amazing diversity and colour of the reefs. However our love of the sea almost ended in disaster on one fateful dive. After snorkelling for some time, Dad and I were separated by a sudden wind squall that hit the beach and caused waves to break all around us. We lost sight of one another for a long period and my father started to despair of ever seeing me alive again as the surf was so strong. He began to search underwater, hoping that perchance he might see my body and bring it to shore. After an agonising period of time we eventually found one another and headed in to shore together. I will never forget the emotion in my father’s eyes and voice when we reached the beach. The son he thought was dead was alive!
I never questioned my father’s love for me, but that day on the beach I was given a glimpse of just how deep it really is. If that is how much an earthly father cares for his son, how much more does our heavenly Father care for each one outside the Kingdom? God’s Kingdom increases one by one as we forge relationships with those who don’t know Christ, as we share our faith or invite them to venues where we know the gospel will be faithfully preached, and as they as individuals respond to Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Whether you’re a mega-church or a micro-church the principles is the same – there is great importance in the one!
The Importance of Biblical Community
How many times have you sat through a Sunday service and ‘done church’? You’ve mouthed the words of the songs, but not really worshipped. For the last part you’ve followed the person praying. The message was interesting, but your mind was occupied with other pressing issues. Finally you shook hands with people at the door, engaged in some ‘surface-level’ conversation and went home, church finished for another week. Is this all there is to church, or are we habitually missing something? Hybels reminded us that the church in Acts 2 was a dynamic. life-changing, effervescent community that transcended an hour on Sunday to impact the whole of life. For the believers in Acts 2, ‘church’ didn’t stop the moment they walked out of the Temple gates because there was heart-felt devotion there – devotion to teaching, the fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. In Acts 2:44 we read, ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common.’ May I draw your attention to the ten characteristics of a biblical community of which Hybels spoke. While all of them are important, I was greatly challenged by number 6 and 7 which state that members of a biblical community are dedicated to loving relationships which permeate every aspect of church life and believe that lives are change in small groups. Doing ‘church’ on a Sunday is not an adequate substitute for devoted, loving relationships, regardless of the size of the fellowship you belong to. This does not mean that we swamp people with fellowship activities so that their calendar is bulging. It simply means that the relationships we have with one another do not end on Sunday and do not remain at a surface level.
Like Willow Creek, we have found that small groups are an ideal venue to facilitate loving biblical community. I am currently a member of a small group which has met for the past two years. Over that period I’ve watched the group move from surface level relationships to loving biblical community as we have become more vulnerable and open with one another. Earlier this year our group gained new members and these folk too have become very much part of the group. At Wattle Grove Baptist Church we’ve become so convinced of the value of building biblical community through small groups that when we took on two students from the Baptist Theological College their primary area of ministry was commencing and facilitating small groups. Some years ago Coco-Cola ran an advertising campaign which said, ‘You Can’t Beat the Real Thing’. Whether you are a part of a mega-church or a micro-church the same is true of biblical community – you can’t beat the real thing.
The Importance of Excellence
In 1982 Peters and Waterman released their best-selling book ‘In Search of Excellence’. After examining many of America’s best-run companies they distilled their research into eight basic findings and the rest, as they say, is history. Many companies sought to adopt Peters and Waterman’s findings into their own business practice and resolved to pursue excellence in their products or services. In the 1990’s their philosophy has continued under another name in the business arena. ‘World’s Best Practice’ has become the catchcry in many companies as they continue to pursue excellence in all aspects of planning and operation.
The concept of excellence, whilst newly discovered in the business world, has been a part of our biblical heritage for thousands of years. Hybels brought a timely reminder to the conference participants of God’s requirement in the Old Testament that any animal sacrificed to Him was to be the very best in the flock or herd. Blemished animals were not an option as far as God was concerned. He deserved and required the very best. When turning to the New Testament we see the theme of excellence continue. Writing to the Philippian church Paul says, ‘…if any thing is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things’ (Phil.4:8). The reason for thinking this way is given in the next verse: to ‘put it into practice’. Excellence in life and ministry is not an option for God’s people; it’s an imperative.
Francis Schaeffer once said, ‘Because of our mediocrity, we Christians all too often provide the excuse the world is looking for to ignore the truth of Christianity.’ If the world around us is pursuing excellence, how much more should the people of God! It is easy to sit back and look at a church the size of Willow Creek and say, ‘Sure it’s easy for them to pursue excellence – they can afford to be picky; they’ve got a multi-million dollar budget and a larger staff than many Australian businesses.’ As I’ve reflected and sough to lead the church at Wattle Grove in the pursuit of excellence with limited resources, limited people and limited talents, I’ve learned some important lessons that stand true regardless of size.
Excellence does not mean perfection. It means doing the best with what you have, using your limited resources wisely.
Excellence takes work. It requires a person’s or team’s best effort.
Excellence breeds excellence. When people see excellence modelled they aspire to it.
Excellence means attention to details.
The Importance of Giftedness
James is a friend of mine who had attended a church for many years. He was well respected both inside and outside the church as a man of integrity, particularly in his field of business. Some years back he was offered a place on the eldership of the church he was attending. It was explained that because he had attended the church for quite some time, he was being ‘promoted’ to the role of elder. But James felt very uneasy about the ‘promotion’. He felt that while he was gifted in the areas of teaching, mercy and helping others, he wasn’t gifted in the area of leadership. Nor did he agree that eldership should be considered a promotion in status. Increasing pressure was placed on him by the church until, with few options available, he left it. Fortunately, he began attending another local church which was genuinely interested in the way the Holy Spirit had gifted him. In time he began teaching classes on financial stewardship, using the gifts God had given him to convey both biblical principles and skills he had picked up in the business world. Both Christians and non-Christians attend his classes and God has used his ministry in a great way. He used his gifts for the common good.
Hybels gave a timely reminder to the conference that it seemed strange within the church that often we revert to Old Covenant thinking rather than living in the grace and fullness of the New. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was given sporadically to various people at various times. For example, we observe in the book of Judges that at certain times the Spirit came upon Gideon (6:34), Jephthah (11:29), and Samson (13:25). Yet the Spirit’s continued abiding presence did not appear to be the norm for every member of Israel.
When we move into the New Testament, however, we see that one of the hallmarks of the early church was the lasting presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer. In fact when Peter addressed the crowd after Pentecost he declared that Joel’s prophecy of God pouring out His Spirit on all people had now been fulfilled. God’s Spirit was now available in an abiding way to all people, rather than in the sporadic way seen in the Old Testament. Later, the apostle Paul stated that a key role of the Holy Spirit is to bestow spiritual gifts, certain special abilities which He gives to each Christian for the common good of the body of Christ (1 Cor.12:7). We’re each called to discover, develop and deploy these gifts. To minister in areas outside of one’s giftedness can be one of the most frustrating endeavours any Christian can embark upon. Yet by contrast, when followers of Jesus Christ are using the gifts with which the Spirit has endowed them, in a ministry which suits those gifts, there is a sense of empowering, purpose and meaning which is difficult to describe. The use of spiritual gifts was considered vital within the early church and is equally important in today’s churches.
The Importance of Leadership
I will always remember the reaction of my boss when I tendered my resignation from work to commence theological training. Bob was a great leader in the company, well respected by management and staff alike as a person who got the job done. When I told him that I was resigning to attend seminary with a view to pastoral ministry his response was, ‘You’ve really got your work cut out for you there, Craig.’ When I asked him to explain what he meant he said, ‘Around here people do what I ask them to do, because if they don’t they’ll either be demoted or fired. But you can’t do that as a pastor because the congregation doesn’t work for you. You have to lead by motivation and setting an example. I’m glad it’s you and not me.’ His comment made me realise how important it is for Christian leaders to know they are called of God and to be committed to godliness.
During one session of the conference Hybels said, ‘The local church is the most leadership-intensive group in society.’ By that he did not mean that it was the most autocratic or dictatorial. He later went on to comment that while leadership is crucial to the church it leads by relationship, influence and service. Biblical leadership is not a function of length of service, or number of degrees held. It has more to do with quality of character and giftedness.
As with all the gifts, leadership needs to be developed and nurtured. I feel greatly blessed to have had youth leaders who caught this vision. Throughout each year, our leadership team was given opportunity to utilise our gifts of leadership in ever-increasing ways. Initially we had someone ‘holding our hand’ as we led for the first time. But as our gifts were developed and as confidence grew, our youth leaders progressively released us into more and more stretching leadership roles. It is no surprise to see many of us actively involved in positive Christian leadership ministry today. Whether it be in a youth group or a church, leadership and its development is vitally important.
While I may have gone to the conference as a sceptic, I left it with a number of very practical principles and tools for ministry, which I trust will aid many of us as we endeavour to involve ourselves in building biblical communities.
10 Characteristics of a Biblical Community
It’s members …
value gifted teaching from the Bible.
are convinced that lost people matter to God.
pursue cultural relevancy and pure doctrine.
desire that Christians manifest authenticity and that they continue to grow.
seek to be a unified community of servants, each using their gifts.
are dedicated to loving relationships which permeate every aspect of church life.
believe that lives are changed in small groups.
are led by those with leadership gifts.
see full devotion to Christ and His cause as the norm.
Rev Craig Corkill is pastor of the Wattle Grove Baptist Church, NSW.
© Rev Craig Corkill (1 March 1997)