The second primary value that we have chosen to place at the heart of our community culture is the grace and virtue of Hope. We believe that "hope floats" both our personal lives and our relationships, especially when we encounter inevitable trials. Beyond this, we believe that hope is an essential precursor to faith, love and joy. We believe that hope is a wondrous grace from God that is only sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we also view hope as a virtue that can be cultivated and built. One of our first goals as pastors is to train our community members in the skills of building hope. In scripture, hope is not a weak and flabby wishful thinking. Rather, it is a joyful anticipation and a confident expectation that our great and good God is always doing good things and that there is reason to expect that our future will somehow be better than our past.
We believe that God originally designed and created us to be hope-beings and that the first coming of Christ has provided all the more reasons for us to have hope in this life as well as for the age to come. We believe that God is looking and longing for His sons and daughters to join Him in an general agreement of hope that He will yet do more amazing things to restore the cities and nations of our world through the application of the life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He already is the true King of all kings and He holds true solutions to human dilemmas that He wants to reveal to the world through His people...a host of ordinary people filled with Divine hope and wisdom influencing their various spheres of human life.
God is good and will do good things today, tomorrow, this year, next year and in the years ahead. He wants us to agree with Him because, if we do, then He is more free to use us to be ushers of that hope to the world in practical ways. Though possessing a strong hope, we will be eager and ready for His Spirit to work through us. The alternative is to live in a hopeless despair that is so contrary to the reality of Christ being risen from the dead and alive in our world! So, we have rather chosen to be a "good news" community.
As I am outlining some of the primary values of our community of faith, I should hasten to speak about how we view believers, churches and ministries beyond us and our relationship to them. This addresses a vitally important element of our ethos. We believe that the Body of Christ across our city and the nations is essentially one. We absolutely love and serve true Jesus people everywhere we find them! Indeed, we seek to love all people...even our "enemies". Though there are not insignificant differences between how authentic Jesus-lovers hold, express and live out our common faith, along with our differences regarding "non-essential" doctrines and practices, we promote a sense of loving and respecting believers, groups and movements that are not associated with our community. We encourage those associated with us to reach out, partner with, serve and support other groups of Jesus followers. We do not draw "hard lines" or "high walls" between the organizations in our hearts or minds. I think we should create a "permeable membrane" around our organizations that our respective members can pass through as they are personally led by the Lord. We have very good friends and spiritual leaders in Christ across our city and nation whom we honor and bless. We are confident that our specific approach to being and building a community in Christ is not going to be a good fit for every believer. There are many excellent churches and ministries in our city that are able to meet genuine needs that we cannot meet...especially in these early phases of our journey together. We simply appeal for the liberty to create the kind of culture around our group that we think will accelerate and maximize the spiritual growth and fruitfulness of the people whom God has joined to us.
As we pray for the unity of the Body of Christ and often grieve over our painful divisions, I often think of this part of the "high-priestly" prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
There are many things to be said about this part of Jesus' prayer, but several points stand out to me. 1) Jesus is actually praying for you and me, for we are among those who have believed "through their word" - the words of His first apostles. 2) He prays for us to experience such a degree of union with Him and His Father that "the world may believe" in the reality of Jesus. This is a prayer God intends to answer in this age rather than a future age of some kind. The people in the world around us will receive their best opportunity to believe when we enter, enjoy and manifest a true and powerful union with the Trinity and usher the presence and wisdom of the living Christ into our given sphere of influence. 3) It is when we experience and walk in the glory of God that Christ shares with us, that we are drawn into greater union with God that then leads to greater unity with our fellow believers. Glory leads to Union and Union leads to Unity.
Through our 40+ years of church leadership, Terri and I never felt as though we "fully fit" into the spiritual cultures into which we entered. We adapted ourselves to serve them and sought with all our hearts to help them and our beloved fellow leaders to be successful in our stated visions and missions. In the late summer of 2014, we started to feel the freedom and divine guidance to dream about forming a new community "from scratch". We came to understand through our many years of experience what we didn't want church life to be like. But then, we began to proactively imagine what we did want church life to be like. As we prayed and pondered, we decided to form this new experimental Jesus community around a set of central values more than a predetermined corporate vision and mission. (More on that in a future post!)
The first value we have posited is the ADORATION of God. In our view, adoring God is not centered on personal daily "quiet times", public musical worship services, hearing sermons or attending corporate prayer gatherings, though we may highly value such things. Adoration extends far and deeply beyond acts of piety and periodic assemblies into all of life. It is essentially a realization that Jesus himself was and is the ultimate fulfillment of the "temple of God" and all that this implies for knowing God's immediate presence in our human existence. One of these implications is that every Christ-follower is organically connected to the risen Christ and so becomes a living, breathing and mobile "temple" of the Holy Spirit...24/7/365. By this, all of life becomes sacred and even our "mundane" or "ordinary" activities and responsibilities...along with our robust enjoyment of God-ordained simple earthly pleasures...are translated into profound and mighty acts of worship. (Indeed, there is no space for Gnostic notions of spirituality in this vision of abundant life!) We live by faith that such a thing can really be...and is...true, acceptable and pleasing to God! "In him we live and move and have our being!"
As a naturally/supernatural by-product, to now live "in the flesh" is clearly seen to be alien to our new identity as beloved sons and daughters. Sins lose their appeal and are exposed as stupid, unnecessary, distracting and terribly unsatisfying. Who wants to wear old, dirty, smelly and tattered clothes when a whole new up-to-date wardrobe is now hanging in our closets? This is why and how the apostles of Jesus taught us to assertively and simply put off the old self and joyfully put on the new Spirit-empowered self.
Living in adoration of God is like having a basic operating system (adoration) running in the background on our computer hardware at all times that provides an essential environment for other software programs (our earthly activities) to be activated and utilized efficiently. There is a way to "pray without ceasing" if we can see Immanuel ("God with us") in all of life as we engage in the full range of our earthly occupations. Adoring Him then, in this light, becomes our delightful preoccupation.
By traveling these "paths of life", we begin to joyfully anticipate and experience a genuine interactive friendship with the Trinity in real time. We perceive the greatness and goodness of God in every life situation, despite the realism of evil. We live a life of authentic gratitude and share in the good confession of the Messiah himself. King David prophesied of him (and himself and us, by extension) in Acts 2:25-28 -
I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.
In the last quarter of 2014, Terri and I founded a new relationally-based church of Christ followers in Kansas City. We call it New Hope Community. We have intentionally left off the word "church" from the name, because we think it is redundant. In our culture, "community" effectively captures the essence of the Greek word for church, ekklesia, in our view. We have been seeking some fresh ways of being and becoming an expression of the Body of Christ...though we are reaching back to incorporate proven ancient New Testament practices in our journey. In this series of periodic blogs, I will outline our basic values and approach to being and doing church.
There are 3 general forms of learning: informal, non-formal and formal. Through our 40+ years of church leadership, Terri and I have concluded that there has been an over-use of formal learning environments in our church cultures and that this approach to learning has "worn thin" for many dedicated and sincere Christ-followers in our day. As a result, we have chosen to rely primarily on creating and inspiring informal and non-formal environments in the spiritual formation process for those who choose to be associated with our fellowship.
Informal learning happens when people connect and get together for various reasons without an agenda to either "teach" or "learn from" each other. However, in the process of being with one another and engaging in "whatever" activity, we do learn many important things on both subconscious and conscious levels. Sometimes these, "learning as we live" encounters are the most memorable, joy-filled and transformative experiences of our lives!
Non-formal learning happens when people get together for the stated purpose of learning something, but the method and dynamic is interactive in nature. There is often guidance and facilitation by a leader, but the participants get the opportunity in "real time" to ask questions, feed back, discuss, share insights, etc. Participation and engagement are essential in non-formal learning.
Formal learning happens when people gather and an someone holds the floor and delivers a talk, lecture or sermon of some kind while everyone gathered listens to her/him. There is a place in our lives for this kind of experience, but we have found that many disciples of Jesus genuinely need to experience less of this format for learning and more of the first two formats to remain engaged and inspired to grow in Jesus Christ.
In our second podcast, Terri and I converse together on the second half of James Chapter 1.
Terri and I have begun to host a weekly podcast called Immanuel Life. It's our homespun commentary and conversations on Scripture, God and life. We are presently working through the Book of James a paragraph at a time. Hope you check it out and enjoy it. Share it with others if you find it valuable!
A VOICE OF HOPE
Michael Sullivant's Blog
I am a child of God, husband, father, grandfather, spiritual father, author, speaker and hope coach.