Month: March 2014

Community Group Discussion Questions for March 30, 2014

UntitledWhen our Community Groups get together, one of the things they do is to talk through the sermon form that weekend, with a goal of application and life transformation. Today, Pastor Craig talked about “Developing a Culture of Peace” from Matthew 5:9. Below are the discussion questions Community Group leaders will use. We’d encourage you to use these to: 1) prepare for Community Group; or 2) discuss with your family or friends if you’re unable to make it to Community Group.

Introductory Question

  • How do people typically respond to conflict? (Peace-Fakers; Peace-Breakers; Peace-Makers) How have you seen each of these in action?

Reflection Questions

  • Read the passage together…Why does Jesus call peacemakers “blessed”?
  • How has God made peace with us? Why is that starting point for our own attempts at peacemaking?

Application Questions

  • What does the Cross of Jesus teach us about peacemaking?
  • Of those lessons from the Cross, which is most helpful to you in your own peacemaking?

Prayer

  • We have all failed to be peacemakers at times in our lives. Receive God’s grace and mercy and his lavish forgiveness. Praise him for this gift!
  • Pray for those areas in your life where peacemaking is necessary.
  • Pray that Mercy Hill will be characterized by a culture of peace.
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Why You Should Consider Becoming a Member

Pastor Adam Sinnett, a good friend as well as a Pastoral Advisor for Mercy Hill Church recently posted this helpful blog for his church on the rationale & benefits of membership in a local church….

Every Christian is called by God to be passionately committed to a specific local church. Yet, when it comes to the Christian life, the church’s importance is often overlooked, minimized or misunderstood. Have you ever stopped to ask, “What is the church? What is God’s purpose for the church? What is church membership all about? Is that some sort of legalism or power-grab by the leadership? Is it essential or optional? Is membership a matter of obedience to Jesus Christ or a matter of personal preference?”

If you would like to learn more about the biblical rationale behind church membership, and I hope you do, I encourage you to continue reading:

Q: How does Jesus feel about the church?

The truth is that the local church is central to God’s glorious purposes in the world – and we get to be part of that. The church is not one option among many options for followers of Jesus; it is the option. Jesus died and gave himself up, for the church (Eph 5:25; Jn 3:16-17). Jesus is the head of the church (Eph 1:22-23; 5:23; Col 1:8). Jesus cleanses, nourishes and cherishes the church (Eph 5:27,29). Jesus promises to build his church (Mt 16:18). Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of the church (Heb 3:1). Jesus lives to make intercession for the church (Heb 7:25). All of history is marching toward the day when Jesus will be with His church (Rev 19:6ff). Clearly, Jesus loves the church. If we love what Jesus loves, we too will love His church. But, you might ask, “Can’t I be part of Jesus’ church without being committed to a specific local church?” That’s a good question.

Q: Can I be part of Jesus’ church without being committed to a specific local church?

Jesus’s church is both visible (as we see it imperfectly) and invisible (as God sees it perfectly), universal (worldwide) and local (particular context). Many Christians wrongly believe the only thing that matters is belonging to the invisible and universal church (i.e. the worldwide body of true believers). Therefore, being intentionally committed to a local church is often viewed as being of little importance.  This goes against the emphasis that the Bible places on the local church. The term “church” is used 109 times in the NT and 93 of those are clear references to the local church. Only 16 signify the universal church. In other words, the overwhelming majority of references to the church in the NT refer to a specific, local, living and loving group of people who are committed to Christ and one another. The local church is the outward manifestation of the universal church in a specific local context. We demonstrate that we are committed part of the universal church through our commitment to the local church.

Q: What are some biblical evidences of church membership?

#1 Metaphors for the church. There are a host of metaphors the Bible uses to explain the relationship of Jesus to his people, and Jesus’ people to Jesus – bride, flock, branches, building, crops, harvest, priesthood, house and more. The majority of these metaphors highlight that our relationship to Jesus is not merely individual, but corporate. Four metaphors seem to be central: citizensbodytemple and family. These images couldn’t merely be used to describe the universal church as it is impossible to be “family” or part of the same “body” with people you’re not in direct proximity to. Nor could these metaphors be used to describe a loose collection of isolated individuals that happen to gather once a week. God chose these particular metaphors to describe a brand new people that are vitally and organically committed to one another by nature of their faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, church membership represents the commitment to live out our corporate identity in Christ as citizens, the body of Christ, the living temple of God, and the adopted family of God, with other followers of Jesus, in a local context.

#2 Jesus loves the church. So should we. (Eph 5:25-27). Church membership is a way to say, “I love the local church (i.e. people) and I’m going to demonstrate that by committing myself to these people for whom Jesus died and rose from the grave.” Church membership is a way of saying with our lives, “I’m committed to what Jesus is committed to – his people.”

#3 The first Christians corporately identify themselves as “churches”. (Acts 8:1; 11:22,26; 12:1,5; 14:27; 15:3,4). If you look closely, there are no examples of Christians in the Bible that lived separately from the local church. Church membership is a way so saying with our lives “I understand that essential to following Jesus is belonging to a specific, local family (or church) of Jesus.”

#4 The first Christians were “added” to the church. (Acts 2:14,47). In other words, these new Christians did not merely become isolated Jesus-followers or choose a small group of fellow Christians to hang out with, but they were added to a people – the church. Church membership represents being “added” to a particular local church.

#5 An intentional record was kept. (Acts 1;15; 2:41; 4:4). The early church seemed to be keeping track of those that demonstrated faith in Jesus Christ – likely for the purposes of planning and care (cf Acts 6). There is biblical evidence that the early church kept a list of widows (1Tim 5:9). If there were lists of widows it is very reasonable to conclude there were also lists of those who belonged to the church. Church membership is counting yourselves among those that belong to God’s people, in Christ, in a local context.

#6 Common commitment and mutual dependence. (Acts 2:42-47). From the beginning those in the church were committed to and mutually dependent on one another. It is evident that the church was not just random collection of isolated individuals who happened to gather once or twice a week. Church membership is demonstrating your common commitment to and mutual dependence on other followers of Christ in the context of a local church.

#7 Pastors/leaders are responsible for specific “sheep”. (1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28). These verses tell us that the pastors/leaders knew who they were responsible for (i.e. the “flock”) and who they were to give an account for before Jesus Christ (Heb 13:17). In order to give an account, the pastors must know who they are accountable for. Clearly, this cannot mean that pastors/leaders are responsible for everyone, but only those who are part of their “flock”. Church membership allows the pastors to know who they are ultimately responsible for.

#8 Christians are responsible to follow specific pastors/leaders. (Heb 13:17; 1 Tim 5:17). Just as pastors and leaders must know who they are responsible for, the church must know who they are to follow, emulate and who honor to. By becoming a member of a local church you are placing yourself under the watch and care of specific leaders who have been given the task of shepherding your soul. Without becoming a member of a local church it is impossible to actually obey these verses.

#9 Church discipline infers church membership. (1Cor 5:13; Titus 3:10; 1 Jn 2:19; Mt 18:15-20). In each case above, an individual is living in stubborn, unrepentant sin and thus removed from among God’s people. The question this raises, “How can someone be removed from the church who has not first belonged to it?” Answer. They can’t. You can’t put someone out of the church if they have never officially been part of the church.

#10 The Apostle Paul planted churches not isolated Christians. (Acts 14:23; 15:41; 16:5). Throughout the book of Acts the Apostle Paul’s aim was to plant churches, not merely convert isolated, independent individuals. We see this not only during his three missionary journeys, but also in his epistles which comprise the bulk of our New Testament – written in church (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Corinthians, Thessalonians, etc). Church membership is an acknowledgement that God’s primary plan for the spread of the gospel is through the planting of local church-planting-churches.

#11 God gives spiritual gifts to followers of Jesus for the upbuilding of the church. (Rom 12:3-8; 1Cor 12:4-31). On two occasions the Apostle Paul addresses the great reality that God gifts individual followers of Jesus in order to build up the church. Now some of these gifts benefit the universal church (e.g. apostleship), but the vast majority are given by God to be used for the benefit of the local church (serving, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, mercy, etc). “For the body does not consist of one member but of many…if all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (1Cor 12:14,19-20). Church membership is a way of saying, “I belong to this particular body and commit to exercising my God-given gifts here for its up-building and flourishing, alongside others who are doing the same.”

Summary

When you take all of this together, it becomes very clear that we are saved, in Christ, to be a living, loving, local people who are committed to Christ and one another. When you choose Jesus, you choose Jesus’ people too. If we’re to love what Jesus loves, we must love the church (universal and local), which he loved to the point of death on a cross. If we’re to be committed to what Jesus is committed to, we must be committed to the church – not merely in an abstract I’m-part-of-the-universal-church-sense, but in the sense that I belong to a real, flesh-and-blood, imperfect, local community of fellow believers. We demonstrate our common allegiance to Jesus and his people be becoming members of a specific local church, thus church membership.

Covenant Membership

“A changed heart equals changed relationships.” I have used this phrase many times over the years. This past Sunday we unpacked Romans 12:9-21 to give illustration to this truth. We saw there Paul’s exhortation to genuine love between brothers and sisters in the family of God. I closed our time by briefly connecting that to covenant membership in the church.

Standing behind membership in the life of the church, are two important things we must understand…

  • The Gospel changes our hearts. Through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, God takes our heart of stone (unbelief) and replaces it with a heart of flesh (belief). This new heart of flesh is able to have faith. This new heart has new desires; it has changed priorities; it has new loves.
  • Gospel-gripped hearts produce Gospel-shaped relationships. A heart changed by God produces a change in the way we live with each other. This is true for all of our relationships, but especially true for our relationships with other followers of Jesus. That is the context of Romans 12:9-21.

So, as I think about membership in the church, it is fundamentally thinking about a tool to help us live rightly together as brothers and sisters – a place for us to see our changed hearts express themselves in changed relationships.

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Listen to the sermon, Covenant Membership (an application of Romans 12:9-21).

Community Group Discussion Questions for March 23, 2014

UntitledWhen our Community Groups get together, one of the things they do is to talk through the sermon form that weekend, with a goal of application and life transformation. Today, Pastor Craig talked about on “Covenant Membership” from Romans 12:9-21. Below are the discussion questions Community Group leaders will use. We’d encourage you to use these to: 1) prepare for Community Group; or 2) discuss with your family or friends if you’re unable to make it to Community Group.

Introductory Question

  • Why church membership? Do you think it’s good, bad, indifferent?

Reflection Questions

  • Read Romans 12:9-21…How would you define “genuine love”?
  • Discover together the examples of genuine love that Paul gives in the passage. What are they?

Application Questions

  • As you think through the ways “genuine love” for one another is defined and explained in the passage, discuss which of these is a particular challenge for you and why.
  • Also discuss ways you personally can grow in faithfulness to thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that reflect a heart that has been gripped by the Gospel?

Prayer

  • Pray that, by God’s grace, membership at Mercy Hill will help us to be more and more faithful to thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that are consistent with the Gospel – that are good for each other and that bring glory to God. Pray for one another.

Why a New Church?

Since the beginning of the church age, God has been advancing his kingdom through the expansion of the local church. From the time of Paul to the 21st century, our call has been to go, preach the gospel, and build God’s church. In fact, some have argued that, “the single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches” (C. Peter Wagner). Therefore, it is our belief that planting new churches is not an option, but an imperative and an urgent task that the church is called to engage in.

Thus, we desire to plant a new church in West Chicago, Illinois that exists to bring glory to God and affect gospel change by gathering God’s people and growing them to be like Jesus. Our earnest hope is that this new church, founded in a spirit of grace, will be a God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-led, prayer-saturated, gospel-advancing, truth-driven, theologically-sound, disciple-making, love-showing, hope-giving, justice-pursuing, holistically-minded, needs-meeting, mercy-overflowing, and compassion-filled church.

Keeping Prayer Central : Updates & Encouragements

prayer_large-960x350At Mercy Hill, we are passionate to see prayer be the central engine that drives all we do. We’ve said that we want our prayer to be faith-filled, dependence-motivated, faithfully-practiced, both formal and spontaneous. This is truly a church born out of prayer, and so far sustained by prayer.

To keep that moving forward and to increase in faithfulness to be a prayer-driven church, we’re moving into a season of increased prayer together.

  • We now have 5 Community Groups that are meeting. Prayer will be a key component of each of them. Most of our “corporate” times of prayer will happen in our groups.
  • Our weekly prayer time (G.A.P. “Gather and Pray”) on Thursdays has been wonderful. With Community Groups up and running, we will begin to transition the G.A.P. times.
    • For March-May, we’ll meet twice a month for G.A.P. (March 27; April 10; April 24; May 8; and May 22). Details for each will be in the weekly Mercy Hill e-mail.
    • Beginning in June, we’ll start meeting once a month for G.A.P. – making it a much bigger time together (think: food, singing, and prayer)! The summer dates are tentatively set for June 12; July 10; and August 14.
  • We will have a time to pray together before Sunday worship starting on March 30. It will be at the school beginning at 9:15am.

We want to pray humble, confident prayers to the Father, in the name of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let this quote adapted from The Valley of Vision, spur us on…

“Help us not only to desire small things but with holy boldness to desire great things for your people, for ourselves that we might all live to show Your glory!”

Godly Leaderdship

imagesThe local church is the primary means God has set in place for the accomplishing of the mission to make disciples. Because of this, who leads the church, and how they lead is a huge issue. It is huge because it will shape how faithful the church is to glorify God; how faithful she will be in having a Gospel presence in her communities; how faithful she will be in her Gospel proclamation. We desire to build foundations for a strong, healthy future. Thus, our summary statement on leadership…

We believe in a plurality and equality of biblically qualified elders who, under the leadership of Christ our Head, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, seek to honor the Lord in the leading of a congregationally engaged church. We believe that the New Testament teaches that the role of elder and the role of pastor are one and the same. Therefore, all elders are pastors and all pastors are elders. We also believe in the crucial role of biblically qualified, servant hearted, task-oriented deacons. The New Testament describes the qualifications for pastors/elders and for deacons. Those qualifications involve behavior, character, knowledge, spirituality, and abilities – both instinctive and learned (see 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; Acts 6:1-7).

Our humble, earnest prayer is that God would raise up, in Mercy Hill, leaders for his church who will radiate holy, humble, Scripture-shaped, God-centered, Christ-submitted, Spirit-dependent lives.

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We have a very intentional desire in regards to preparing men for eldership in the life of the church. If you’d like to see our “Elder (Pastor) Mentoring Process” send a note requesting that document to mercyhill.info@gmail.com. We’d be glad to send it to you.

We Value Humble, Merciful, Boldness

indexThis past Sunday, we continued to walk through a series on our 12 values. (You can find the full listing here.) Dictionary.com defines a value as ”A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable.” Thinking in this vein, the values we have are an attempt to reflect our priorities, what’s important to us; and in addition, to reflect what we desire to become, what will characterize us a local body of Jesus followers.

We talked about “character” values…those related to the nature of how we will be doing what we do; the spirit which we hope will characterize us…Boldness; Mercy; & Humility.

Boldness. We serve the sovereign, mighty God who has called us to be strong and courageous in him: Joshua 1:9…”Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This charge to be strong and courageous would be overwhelming were it not for the promises: “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you…” (v. 5); and “…the LORD your God is with you wherever you go…” (v. 9).

Therefore, we want to boldly dream big dreams and take daring risks that can only succeed if God’s Spirit is actively involved and his blessings are poured out on us. We want to step back and say, “No way! It’s so clear that the Spirit of God led, empowered, and blessed this!” He supplies strength and boldness, so that in all things he gets the glory!

Mercy. We will understand that we are recipients of God’s mercy, grace, and love! Psalm 23:6…“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” Ephesians 2:4-5…”But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—“ 1 Peter 1:3…”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

Because of that, every interaction that we have as servants of God needs to be bathed in God’s mercy and God’s love: Matthew 5:7…”Blessed are the merciful…” All teaching, discipleship, outreach and even correction must be made, as fallible human beings…in light of God’s mercy as extended to us, flowing out of that mercy in acts mercy, love and concern for the individual.

Humility. Our God humbles the proud and exalts the humble: Matthew 23:12…”Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” James 4:6…”God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humility begins with seeing ourselves rightly. We want to be men and women who humbly recognize our own sin and desperate need for God’s grace and mercy through Christ. And from that humble, gracious place, be people who show grace and mercy to those God places in our lives – considering them and their interests as more important than our own.

Our boldness will be a mercy showing boldness, done in a spirit of God-dependent, other-oriented humility.

Consider this example: Let’s say you see or learn of a need in the life of a friend…

  • Boldly go after meeting that need because you know that God has boldly pursued you with his steadfast love, redeeming mercy and saving grace, and because you know that he will strengthen you in your boldness – He will be glorified in your boldness!
  • Show mercy in the meeting of that need – you are giving someone something they have not earned from you because you understand what mercy means for a desperate person and you long to be like your merciful Father – in your showing mercy, God will be glorified!
  • Be humble as you serve to meet the need – remembering that the person you are serving is no different than you. They need to feel that you are not doing it because you feel yourself superior, but because you are a servant, like your Savior – your genuine humility will deflect glory form yourself and allow God to be glorified!

We Value Simplicity & Clarity of Mission

indexThis past Sunday, we continued to walk through a series on our 12 values. (You can find the full listing here.) Dictionary.com defines a value as ”A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable.” Thinking in this vein, the values we have are an attempt to reflect our priorities, what’s important to us; and in addition, to reflect what we desire to become, what will characterize us a local body of Jesus followers.

A couple of our values point to a strong desire to stay focused on our primary purpose – so we value simplicity and clarity of mission.

Mission. The mission of God is to make disciples. We want to see as many people as possible experience the sin-cleansing, shame-removing, life-changing, world-altering power of the Gospel. Our tendency os to want this place to look and feel like us. Yet, we exist to share the Gospel and our lives with those who live and work in our communities and around the world. Therefore, we will be a culturally engaged, disciple-making, church-planting church that seeks to see the Gospel spread locally and globally.

Simplicity. We believe that being what God wants the church to be does not have to be complicated, and yet so often, churches we complicate the main goal of making disciples. We value simplicity of structure and programming to free us up to focus on faithfully making disciples – staying on target with our mission. We envision much of our discipleship relationships flowing from Community Groups; or the simple act of calling someone up, going out for coffee, getting to know each other, building into each others life.