52 Weeks With Jesus

First Christian Church of Chicago is conducting a year long message series on Jesus. The goal of the series is to learn more about Jesus so that we can love him more. As we learn about him through Sunday messages, group encounters, daily Bible reading and other reading, we will become more intimately aware of who Jesus is and why he is worthy of our love.
 
The 52 Weeks With Jesus message series will build off of the book by the same name. Each chapter will provide daily reading for each week, as well as the study material for Sunday message and groups. The book is written by James Merritt. A free copy will be given to Sunday visitors as long as they last.


Coffeehouse Worship

Coffeehouse Worship is a worship environment built with 20 and 30 somethings in mind. This is not your parents and grandparents worship. No sitting in neat rows looking at the back of others heads.
 
Coffeehouse is a place of community … a place where worship and the word meet our connections with one another. Now that doesn’t mean that music and teaching are unimportant. It is important. It just isn’t the most important. But our defining point is giving people a place to connect and explore God together. 
 
We’ll deal with questions that this generation is asking, but have not found the church willing to answer. They will learn that asking spiritual questions is okay, and that struggling spiritually is normal.
 
But Coffeehouse will also include game night events, cookouts and movie nights.

 



Wednesday Night At The Movies

First Christian Church of Chicago is glad to present a second season of summer family movies for the Ashburn community free of charge. Movies will be presented on Wednesday, July 18, 25, and August 1. Here is this year’s line-up:
 
  • July 18 – Black Panther
  • July 25 – The Greatest Showman
  • August 1- I Can Only Imagine
 
Night at the Movies includes complimentary concessions … so bring your family and bring your friends for a free night of entertainment.


Why People Stop Coming To Church

Recently I came across this study by Thom Rainer on why Church members are participating in the gathering of the church less than they previously have.

Here are his findings:

THEY ARE MORE MOBILE. As people are more mobile, they have more places to be and demands to meet.

THEY ARE MORE AFFLUENT. As people have more wealth, they can provide more options for themselves.

THEY HAVE MORE OPTIONS. See above.

THEY CONSIDER CHURCH OPTIONAL. As other options increase, church participation becomes just another option. Besides the church can “outdo” what others offer.

THEY ARE NOT ACTIVE IN A SMALL GROUP. People who attend a small group are more likely to be engaged in the larger life of the church. Those who don’t, aren’t.

THEY HAVE NOT BEEN CHALLENGED. The church has dropped the bar instead of raising the level of expectations. People will inevitably fall to your lower level of expectation.

As I have taken time to think over this list there appeared to me to be a common thread (or three):

  • Either Christians have come to accept that Jesus does not value devotion and commitment to his Bride;
  • Or these members are choosing to reject Christ’s Bride (which can’t be taken will by the groom) by not valuing her as he does;
  • Or these members never made a real commitment to follow and serve Christ in the first place.

I reached that conclusion for this reason. Every reason for people attending church less regularly has to do with a decision to be a disciple with a lower level of commitment, a level at which being a part of the bride of Christ gets squeezed out  by other interests and engagements. What level does your commitment to Christ’s Bride settle? You can’t be more committed to Him than you are His Bride.

The church isn’t perfect, but it is the Bride of Christ.

 



Hospitality That Goes Deep

At FCC, we have a period of time between Worship Celebration and Connection Groups that we call “hospitality”. Hospitality entails serving punch and coffee, along with a selection of desserts or light snacks to our hungry post-worship crowd. Sometimes we are served what would even be called a light meal.

This environment is useful and needed, as well as valued and appreciated. It starts us on the road to hospitality as it provides us with a good time to interact with one another with the “Hi, how you doing ?” or “I’m glad to have the chance to meet you!” conversations before we move on to our connection environments.

Hospitality is a key virtue throughout the New Testament. We see it acted out repeatedly by Jesus in the gospels as he sat down for meals with saints and sinners. We see that repeated by the church in Acts. Hospitality is prominent in the imperatives of Romans 12.

Yet, I am forced to wonder if labeling this “hospitality” doesn’t also present a certain danger. Could it tempt us to accept a limited cultural definition of hospitality rather than embracing the richer and deeper New Testament expression?

However, the term hospitality in the New Testament represents much more than a time of refreshments.  A perception that limits hospitality to punch and coffee misses the richness of God’s intent.

Hospitality is opening one’s life and one’s home to others. It is inviting others to put their feet under your table, and engaging one another in deep, honest and vulnerable conversation. It is  about showing acceptance enjoyed around a meal where we can really get to know one another. That is what Jesus did for Zacchaeus when he invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner.

When I was young, I remember after church going to the home of another family, going out to eat with another family, or inviting a family to our home … and in each of those environments the church would be served as two families got to know one another.

What if we were to rediscover this deeper sense of hospitality by inviting others into our homes, by eating together with one another around our tables, and getting to know one another. Or maybe it isn’t even a meal or our homes, but it is a longer conversation over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. How might that enhance the ministry of the church?.

 



Togetherness

f Ephesians.

In the month of April we will begin a message series through the book of Ephesians.

This will be the third time we have had a teaching series through Ephesians in the 11 years I have served as the Senior Minister. After having preached through it at least two times prior to my ministry at First Christian Church of Chicago, you would think that I might havedeveloped a pretty good grasp of its content.

However, there was a simple, but very significant message that I had not noticed previously. Perhaps I had missed it because I too am very much a product of our culture of American individualism. As I looked at Scripture through those lenses, I often made a huge mistake in seeing the intended much and its proper audience.

Here is what I have discovered. The book of Ephesians is very much a letter to the church – not a church as a collection of INDIVIDUALS  — but the church as a COMMUNITY of individuals.

Here is the difference. A collection of individuals emphasize the personal message, as everything is read through the lenses of what it says, means, instructs, and encourages me. The emphasis on the individual becomes selfcentered and narcissistic.

However, as a community of individuals (emphasis on community), the emphasis moves from me to the community. I come to understand that being part of the church doesn’t mean I am a number in a larger set of numbers. Rather I am a functioning part of a body that needs my presence and participation to fully be what it was designed to be. Paul is not primarily concerned with the individual. His concern for the individual is only as part of the whole.

Here is the principle discovery I made: As I have read through Ephesians in preparation for the upcoming message series, I looked much closer at a word group that I have more or less skimmed over in the past. I did that because we all know what the word group in question means — or so I thought!

problem. Paul repeatedly uses “you” and “your”, not in a second

The word group in question is “you” and “your”. But here it is the not the second person singular sense, but a second person plural. If you were from the south, you might say “yall,” meaning everybody with you. Or you might even use the phrase “all yall all” meaning everybody in the group.

It is these usages that Paul employs in Ephesians. He wants us to see ourselves not as individuals, but a part of a larger body. He wants us to see ourselves in how we relate in community. He wants us to see ourselves in connection. He wants us to see ourselves as contributors toward the whole. He wants us to see ourselves as family, as common structure, as one.

How would your engagement with the church differ if you traded “you singular” for “you plural”? What would change if church was less about you and more about how you relate to others in the body?



Church Is Not Worship

When church becomes more about having a Sunday morning worship experience, believers cease to be the church, and their spiritual lives are ultimately harmed.

I am not sure how many of you reading this will agree with that statement. But it has repeatedly proven to be true.

Here is how it unfolds: As individual believers become primarily concerned that the Sunday worship environment “feed their spirit”, the goal of worship becomes a subjective experience. Did the worship music move me? Did the sermon feed me? Did I “feel” the presence of God’s spirit in worship? 

Do you see it? The Sunday morning worship experience becomes a selfabsorbed, selfserving model. I have to ask, “If we didn’t feel God’s presence does that mean he wasn’t there or that I wasn’t in tune?” And when I am no longer “feeling it”, it becomes easy for me to come less often, drop out all together, or go somewhere else in search of the allusive “feeling”.

But what makes the church the church is not its worship! We can experience music and message without going anywhere.

What makes the church the church is its fellowship!

A church is defined by its “one another” relationships within community … so it isn’t about me as much as it is about us. The church is not so much the place where I get filled up as it is the place where God uses me to help fill others. As we love, serve, grace, accept, forgive, encourage, correct, bear with, honor, and teach one another we are the church. That is why I often say that the most important time for our church is not necessarily the worship time, but the group life time where relationships are born and strengthened.

Yet we need to differentiate between being a “friendly church” and being the church. A “friendly church” is a church that is welcoming and glad to see one another on Sundays, and misses one another when people are absent. However, a “real church” develops relationships which reach beyond Sunday. A church invites and relishes opportunities to get together for prayer, for mutual service, or for just enjoying one another’s company. A “friendly church” is okay with Sunday interaction. A “real church” reaches out to engage with one another on other days of the week in order to build and strengthen deeper relationships.

We can only have these “real church” relationships when church people spend time with other church people. Are you ready to bring other believers into your life and family so we can be the church?



Church Isn’t A Worship Experience

When church becomes more about having a Sunday morning worship experience, believers cease to be the church, and their spiritual lives are ultimately harmed.

I am not sure how many of you reading this will agree with that statement. But it has repeatedly proven to be true.

Here is how it unfolds:

As individual believers become primarily concerned that the Sunday worship environment “feed their spirit”, the goal of worship becomes a subjective experience. Did the worship music move me? Did the sermon feed me? Did I “feel” the presence of God’s spirit in worship?

Do you see it? The Sunday morning worship experience becomes a self-absorbed, self-serving model.  I have to ask, “If we didn’t feel God’s presence does that mean he wasn’t there or that I wasn’t in tune?” And when I am no longer “feeling it”, it becomes easy for me to come less often, drop out all together, or go somewhere else in search of the allusive “feeling”.

But what makes the church the church is not its worship! We can experience music and message without going anywhere.

What makes the church the church is its fellowship!

A church is defined by its “one another” relationships within community … so it isn’t about me as much as it is about us. The church is not so much the place where I get filled up as it is the place where God uses me to help fill others.

As we love, serve, grace, accept, forgive, encourage, correct, bear with, honor, and teach one another we are the church. That is why I often say that the most important time for our church is not necessarily the worship time, but the group life time where relationships are born and strengthened.

Yet we need to differentiate between being a “friendly church” and being the church. A friendly church is a church that is welcoming and glad to see one another on Sundays, and misses one another when people are absent. However, a “real church” develops relationships which reach beyond Sunday. A church invites and relishes opportunities to get together for prayer, for mutual service, or for just enjoying one another’s company. A “friendly church” is okay with Sunday interaction. A “real church” reaches out to engage with one another on other days of the week in order to build and strengthen deeper relationships.

We can only have these “real church” relationships when church people spend time with other church people. Are you ready to bring other believers into your life and family so we can be the church?
 
— Pastor Steve

 



Letting the Laity Teach

Letting Laity Preach

Letting the Laity Teach
Letting the Laity TeachI have heard the question. It has risen to more than a whisper. “Why does Steve have so many Sunday’s when he doesn’t preach?”  Or we have the accompanying question, “Why are we having untrained church members preach? Don’t we want to show the best face possible when guests show up?”  (Have you seen my face? I’m not sure it is the best one we could show our guests!) Honestly, I hear your concerns.
 
Yet, there are real Biblical and practical reasons that the Elders have, from the beginning of my tenure as Senior Minister, supported sharing the preaching/teaching responsibilities with others in the congregation. Let me take a moment to explain those reasons.
 
As a principal ministry leader at FCC, my primary responsibility is not to do the work of ministry, but to equip God’s people for the work of ministry (Eph 4:13). Yes, I can equip as I do the preaching/teaching, however, I also do that as I equip others to use their gifts in that role. Believe me, it would be a lot easier for me to preach myself than to equip others. A lot of work goes into studying and teaching others text. Then I spend a significant amount of time coaching them on message preparation. I estimate it nearly doubles the amount of time it would take me to preach myself. But in training others, capacities are multiplied in a manner that wouldn’t be true if I did it all myself.
  
A second reason to allow others (including non-professionals) to teach the Sunday message is that it is good stewardship of the gifts that God has placed within our congregation.  If God has granted the church a number of people with teaching capabilities would it not rob them, as well as God, to not provide an outlet for them to develop and utilize those gifts. 
 
A third reason for having members teach relates to the guest question. Actually, when we have members teach guests show up in mass to hear the person teach.  The non-staff preachers bring with them an assortment of people who we would not see in worship with us on Sunday if it wasn’t for their family member or friend presenting the word on that Sunday. Having members preach is an act of evangelism that encourages the inviting of guests, guests who already have some connection with the church through the person teaching.
 
Finally, a final reason is that we are looking toward a time when it is quite possible that the Biblical church just may be pushed underground. If that is to ever happen, it is these trained non-professionals that will become the qualified teaching leadership for the underground church. We won’t have to rush to place ill-equipped leaders in positions of leadership in individual cells. We will have people who have been groomed to lead in the teaching ministry, and will be adequately equipped to share God’s word with depth and skill so that the church can be strong.
 
I hope this helps you understand why on 8-12 Sundays a year I “take a Sunday off” and let others lead in the ministry of teaching.
 
Let me close with this: Someone asked me if this means that just anyone can just get up on Sunday and teach. The answer to that is an absolute NO. The requirements for participation on the teaching team are extensive and demanding. Particularly, only those who prove their capacity to teach, and are willing to participate in extensive hours of training, equipping and preparation are added to the teaching team.

 

— Pastor Steve



Planning For Change

Undoubtedly you have heard the phrase, “Do what you’ve always done … you’ll always get the same results”, or the phrase’s idiot cousin, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

While over the last few years, we have not been adverse to change, we have also not been quick to change for the sake of change.

That hasn’t changed.

However, we will be changing some things up in order to seek some differing results as 2018 unfolds.

One change has already been implemented as we asked Ministry Team leaders to prepare budgets for each of their ministry teams. Never before have Ministry Team leaders been given the responsibility of financially planning for their own ministry.

That has caused a bump in our budget for 2018. All of the increase in the 2018 budget is attributable to the funding of the Ministry Teams. It is a bold step of faith.

We are also looking toward the implementation of some new ministries in the coming year. One of those is exploring the idea of a “coffeehouse worship” environment on Saturday evenings.

We have a growing number of FCC Chicago members who are unable to attend Sunday worship services regularly. We want to give them an opportunity to participate in worship.

However, we also want to offer a different kind of worship option that will increase the opportunity for us to reach a group that we are currently not reaching as effectively as we might. The younger generations have shown a higher receptivity to a coffeehouse environment for worship than a traditional service.

Planning is still in process, but we are looking at a soft launch for the Saturday coffeehouse worship sometime in the month of March. Be praying as we make preparations for this service.