Archives For community

By Meredith Flynn

Of all the buzz words floating around churches over the past decade, “community” might be the buzziest. Biblical community is something many churches aspire to now. It can take the shape of small group meetings, monthly dinner gatherings, or a simple encouragement to show hospitality. “Community” can also be used to describe in general the way we want to feel about church. We want community. The Bible tells us we need community. Right?

What about the family who struggles to make it to small group during the week? Or the newcomer who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing personal details with relative strangers. And are “older” forms of community—like Sunday school classes—still a valid expression of the concept?

I’ve felt those tensions in my own life and family. As a single adult, community wasn’t difficult. An evening meeting with people in the same stage of life was a welcome break in the middle of the week. But as a married mother of two preschoolers, it’s often difficult for us to get out of the house on a weeknight, and even harder to arrive in an attitude befitting community as we’ve come to understand it.

Is it a command for all Christians, or just people who are wired for it?

Our current situation begs the question: What is the value of community with fellow Christians, even when a particular set of circumstances or stage of life makes it challenging?

Thankfully for us, the Bible has much to say about community, even if the authors don’t use the term like we do. By exploring how Scripture describes early Christian community, we can start to define the characteristics that ought to mark ours:

1. Community encourages. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul tells the church there that he longs to see them so he can “impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” His aim isn’t just one-way encouragement. The apostle says he wants to be encouraged by their faith too.

When we put this in context, we can draw a parallel between their time and ours. Christians in Rome were being persecuted. The level of our persecution now is drastically less severe in most cases, but there is a connection. We as believers can encourage each other to continue in the faith, even when the circumstances of our lives are difficult, or the culture moves farther away from a real understanding of God’s plan for the world.

2. Community shares the load. “Carry one another’s burdens,” Paul tells the church in Galatia. He’s talking about sin burdens, commentaries note, but Charles Spurgeon extended the metaphor this way: “Help your brethren….If they have a heavier burden than they can bear, try to put your shoulder beneath their load, and so lighten it for them.”

Many burdens have been shared in community groups I’ve been a part of over the years. Depression, career disappointment, death of a parent or a sibling or a child. These burdens were shared verbally and then figuratively, as group members prayed for each other and kept in close contact.
Community gives believers an extra shoulder to bear the weight when it’s too heavy to bear alone.

3. Community provokes (in a good way). The writer of Hebrews encourages Christians to “watch out for one another to provoke love and good works.” Whereas the encouragement we see in Romans 1 undergirded the early church, the encouragement referenced in Hebrews 10:24 spurred it forward.

In a recent community group discussion about hospitality, I listened as my fellow group members shared humbly about how God is opening doors to share Jesus, simply because they’re inviting people into their homes. I was encouraged and “provoked” to do the same so that the gospel can go forth.

4. Through community, God builds his church. Acts 2 paints a glorious picture of the church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer….Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 47, CSB).

Living faithfully in the context of community drew people to the truth of Christ. The same thing happens now. At a recent baptism at my church, two couples shared how they came to understand their need for Jesus in the context of their community group.
Scripture’s depiction of biblical community puts the emphasis on God’s graciousness to us. The gifts of community—encouragement, burden-sharing, good works, and the opportunity to see God build his church—are gifts from God himself. It’s far more about him than it is about us.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist and a member of Delta Church in Springfield.

hands patterned with the US flag

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the National Day of Prayer. Many of us pray for America on a regular basis, but each time this year, we are able to join together across the nation and pray together in unity.

Whether you are joining a prayer gathering for the event or praying on your own throughout the year, here are some ways you can pray for America.

1. #PRAY4UNITY in America.

“Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

The present spiritual crisis in America is calling us to pray for and take all necessary actions to come together in our nation. God is the only One who can do this, so we call upon Him to empower us to make every effort to live in unity.

2. #PRAY4UNITY in the church of America.

“Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

God is calling His Church in America to unify upon the authority of the Bible and centrality of Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world. We must come together to make Christ known to the world by advancing the Gospel to every person in the world. Ask God for local churches to unify as one body of Christ and walk together in unity, harmony and oneness.

3. #PRAY4UNITY in the families, workplaces, communities and cities in America.

“Also, the power of God was at work in Judah to unite them to carry out the command of the king and his officials by the word of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 30:12).

God’s power upon us is the only source to unite our families, workplaces, communities and cities in America. Ask God to call families, workplaces, communities and cities to look to the only One who can unify us.

4. #PRAY4UNITY among all ethnicities and people in America.

“For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

Since each of us are made in the image of God, we bear His image regardless of the color of our skin or uniqueness of our ethnicity. Through the death of Jesus, He has torn down the wall of division among all people. In God alone, we unify and live in peace with one another, standing against all racial and ethnic division, denouncing it as sin.

5. #PRAY4UNITY for the security of our nation and for our schools, churches, and all public venues.

“The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

Ask God to protect our schools, churches and all public venues. Plead with God to restrain all evil and secure our nation from all enemies. Ask God to move upon our government officials to work together to secure our schools, churches and all public venues.

6. #PRAY4UNITY that we agree clearly, unite visibly and pray extraordinarily for the next great spiritual awakening in America.

“They all were continually united in prayer” (Acts 1:14).

Ask God to convict the church of America to wake up spiritually, unite visibly and pray extraordinarily for the next Great Spiritual Awakening in America to occur in our generation and shape the future of America.

EDITOR’S NOTE: May 3 is the National Day of Prayer.

Ronnie Floyd is senior pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas and president of the National Day of Prayer. This article first appeared at LifeWay’s Facts&Trends (factsandtrends.net).

Talking with kids…about race

ib2newseditor —  September 18, 2017

Parenting conference takes on serious discussions

parenting panel

Steven Harris (left) moderates a panel including the ERLC’s Trillia Newbell and Texas pastor Jason Paredes on how to help children view diversity like God does. Photo by Kelly Hunter

Is it ever too early to talk about race with your children? Panelists at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Aug. 24-26 conference on parenting said no, resoundingly.

“You should not wait,” said Rachel Metzger, an educator and mother of two. “Because waiting seems like a secret, or something you don’t want to talk about.” Metzger joined four other parents and church leaders for a panel discussion on how to raise children with a biblical view of racial unity.

Coming less than a month after deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va., the panelists addressed the topic at a time when America’s racial divides are glaringly apparent. But, “this is not just something that we need to be talking about because something in the culture happened,” said Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach for the ERLC. “It’s something the church needs to be on top of, ahead of, because it is ultimately a biblical topic.”

Newbell is the author “God’s Very Good Idea,” a new children’s book about the diversity inherent in God’s creation. The book calls families to celebrate differences because they are, after all, God’s doing.

“That’s what’s missing in our culture—we don’t celebrate our differences; we politicize them,” Newbell said during the panel. “And we should celebrate. This is God’s good plan. It’s his idea.”

With kids, celebrating differences means acknowledging them. Newbell told the audience in Nashville that her son identified early on the difference between his mom’s skin color and his own. As her children have gotten older, open conversations about skin color have evolved into discussions about the realities of racism, division, and ethnic pride.

“It is heartbreaking, but it’s something that we have to be talking about,” Newbell said. “But even with that, we are sharing the full picture of the gospel that unites.”

The panelists shared several suggestions for fostering in children a biblically-based appreciation for racial diversity and unity:

1. Educate yourself. Dive into what the Bible says about the nations and the image of God, said Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. “You need to know for yourself first of all what it is that you believe, and why you believe it, so that you can better then explain it to them.” Day noted two helpful Scripture passages: Genesis 10 and Revelation 7.

2. Point to real-life examples. Adoption is such a part of the culture on his church staff, said Pastor Jason Paredes, that if an outsider were to try to match parents with kids based on skin color, it would be impossible. In that environment, said the pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, identity is based less on looks and more on family bonds, giving parents a real-life way to talk to their kids about God’s view of racial unity.

3. Lay a biblical foundation. Pastor Afshin Ziafat recalled seeing an interview with a white nationalist in the aftermath of protesting in Charlottesville. The man’s angst, Ziafat remembered, seemed ultimately to be about protecting himself.

The root of racism is the sin of self, said Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. “With our children, I want to teach them that all are made in God’s image, but I also want to make sure I’m teaching them that life isn’t about you. Philippians 2 is what I want to teach them: Count others more significant than yourselves; put the interest of others before yourself.”

4. Invite people in. Get to know your neighbors, Newbell advised. Ask God to give you eyes to see color and culture, and invite the people around you into your family’s life.

Ziafat said mission trips have motivated his church members to get to know the people around them. “As we’ve gone on mission trips and our people have gone to other cultures and come back home, I’ve seen them have a heart to now want to go meet my Indian neighbor who I’ve never even talked to, because I just got back from India. I think tharat’s been a huge thing for us too.”

5. Start now. Newbell acknowledged some listeners probably feel the guilt of not having had these kinds of conversations with their kids. “It’s never too late to talk about the glory of God and Imago Dei. If you’re listening and thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t do that,’ start today.”

The Illinois Baptist’s Meredith Flynn was there. Watch for more articles from Meredith from the conference.

By Marvin Del Rios

Editor’s note: This post is the last in a series on cross-cultural ministry, taken from a round table discussion between four Illinois pastors and leaders. Click here to read more from their conversation, published in the September 29 issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper. 

marvindelriosMarvin Del Rios is pastor of iglesia Bautista Erie in Chicago. He will lead worship during the Thursday morning session of the Illinois Baptist State Association’s Annual Meeting at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in Chicagoland, Nov. 2-3. The theme of the meeting is “Cross-Culture.”

Defining ‘cross-cultural ministry’
When I hear “cross-cultural ministry,” I go to the book of Acts, chapter 6, which talks about the differences between the Hellenistic Jews and the Jews that come from their own land. That is something that we are living within Hispanic or Latino churches right now, which is the way our generations relate to one another.

The first generation can become accustomed to a certain way of preaching, a certain way of leading worship, a certain way of “doing church” right. The second and third generations are more familiar with American culture, education, lifestyle, and language. What is happening is that there is unfortunately an exodus of the second and third generations that are leaving the church. Either they’re leaving completely and not coming back, or they’re going to a more English-based or multicultural church.

On a pastor’s responsibility
Even though I am called to go and preach to the nations, I have a burning desire to go and reach my second- and third-generation Latino culture. Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect with the first, second, and third generations, even though we may speak the same language and may have some of the same traditions.

 We have tried to make our church a hub for the community.

Even though I am a second-generation Hispanic leading a predominately first-generation church, a few people that are second-generation have seen me model trying to minister and take care of that first generation. And now, the first generation is taking the extra step to learn a little bit more English. All of that happened with modeling. I could have said, “Fine, I’m concentrating on the second and third generations, and that’s it.” But we still have that need for the gospel for all generations and cultures. It is our responsibility to see it through and make it happen.

On inter-generational outreach
My approach has been to let get something going well with our second-generation people, so they can take it back to the first generation. Usually we hear about the first generation ministering to the second generation, but now it is starting to turn around.  Now it is the second generation ministering to the first generation. Because of that dynamic, we also are ministering to the young professionals in our community and trying to see where we can come out of our comfort zone.

We have tried to make our church a hub for the community. Now we are housing an AA meeting for families and a lot of contemporary culture kinds of programs. In a nutshell, the people in our community know we are there to serve. Is it happening really fast? No, I wish it would be faster. But it is getting to the point that we are seeing more of the gospel leading out, instead of the gospel just being planted in our church and staying there.

By Kevin Carrothers

Editor’s note: This post is one in a series on cross-cultural ministry, taken from a round table discussion between four Illinois pastors and leaders. Click here to read more from their conversation, published in the September 29 issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper. 

kevin-carrothersKevin Carrothers is pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church and president of IBSA. He will deliver the president’s message Wednesday, Nov. 2, during the Illinois Baptist State Association’s Annual Meeting at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in Chicagoland. The theme of the meeting is “Cross-Culture.”

On being an influential church
I was a couple of years into my ministry in Rochester when I sat down with a leader in town. I asked him, “What do you think about when you hear Rochester First Baptist Church? What comes to mind?” His words weren’t really a rebuke, but I didn’t like what he said. He said “You’re a nice little church.”

Well, we are a small church, unapologetically a small church, but that was his perception, a “nice little church.” Now, hopefully that has changed since then. Now, we’re “the church that does the party” (our annual fall festival). Or we’re the church that does VBS in the summer in a way that spreads the gospel to our community.

We don’t have to be the biggest church but we can still be the most influential church.

I don’t want to just be the nice little church, but we are still little. The word that I want is influence. We don’t have to be the biggest church but we can still be the most influential church.

On ‘incarnational’ ministry
God was incarnational with us—he sent Jesus to live among people. Likewise, we need to be incarnational. Sometimes I think that’s where we kind of miss the boat in the church. We think we have to come up with a new program or a new ministry. Instead, let’s find out who is doing something and go be involved in that.

For me personally, being incarnational is volunteering at my kid’s school. On my day off, I spend a couple hours at the schools and have a presence there. That makes an impact. It’s coaching Little League or youth basketball. You’re there with people. Then, you have to be intentional about making sure the gospel becomes known, about making sure that they know this is who you are.

It gets back to all the things we have been talking about. Cross-culturally we have to love our community; we have to show them that we care. We have to go where they are.

By John Yi

Editor’s note: This post is one in a series on cross-cultural ministry, taken from a round table discussion between four Illinois pastors and leaders. Click here to read more from their conversation, published in the September 29 issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper. 

john-yiJohn Yi is IBSA’s second-generation church planting catalyst in Chicago, founder of a community ministry in Maywood, and a leader at Bethel SBC, a church plant in Mt. Prospect. Visit John at the virtual vision tour sponsored by the IBSA Church Planting Team during the IBSA Annual Meeting Nov. 2-3 at Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in Chicagoland.

On living where you serve
I think my wife and I always knew that once we got to the place where we would set down our roots ministry, we would have to live in the community where we were going to do our work.

We were not going to be commuting. That was something we had both experienced in our young adult years—traveling to go to church. In fact, until we lived in Maywood and started our ministry there, I don’t think I had ever lived and gone to church in the same town.

…the sacrifice might mean having to pull up your roots and go to a place that feels very uncomfortable and unnatural to you.

We lost some other comforts in the move too. A lot of our friends are away from us too.  We were distant from the people with whom we felt comfortable.

On becoming a community church
We still live in Maywood. And in the years since our move there, we’ve learned the sacrifices were worth it. I think in order to be cross-cultural, there has to be a weighing of what is not necessary for the sake of ministry. We have done that at our church, Bethel SBC, too. Part of us wanting to become a community church means we really have to become less Korean.

In Korean churches it is almost a universal practice to have a lunch fellowship after the worship service and it is almost always Korean food. When I first proposed not doing Korean food anymore, there was an uproar. I’m like, “Why can’t we just do sandwiches or order pizza once in a while, or do spaghetti and meatballs?”  That’s how it was at the beginning, but now I can’t even remember the last time we had a Korean meal at church.  Our members have really taken to this idea that we really have to make it more accessible. We want to get rid of all the barriers, and I think that is one of the sacrifices we have to sometimes make.

And sometimes, the sacrifice might mean having to pull up your roots and go to a place that feels very uncomfortable and unnatural to you.  We know missionaries do that all the time when they go to a foreign country, but when you weigh the value of the gospel and the Kingdom of God, I think sometimes those things that seemed so important to us start to lose their luster.

THE BRIEFING | “It’s business as usual” at First Baptist Church of Ferguson.

“We had a very normal Sunday, a fairly normal size crowd for worship, without any disruptions,” said Ron Beckner, the church’s associate pastor.

Nearly a week after violence erupted in the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, the church continues to go about the business of Gospel ministry.

The_BriefingWhile there are protests ongoing, Beckner said they have been “largely peaceful” following the Thanksgiving holiday. “We’re taking things one-step at a time and are hopeful the violent reaction has faded.”

Pastor Stoney Shaw led the church in prayer for the community, its residents, and leaders Sunday morning. Beckner said Shaw reminded the church that this Christmas and throughout the year, “Jesus is the harbinger of peace.”

The church will continue with its regular Wednesday evening programming this week which includes AWANAs, youth group, and prayer meeting. “We want to be as normal as we can be,” Beckner said. “We want to function as normally as possible unless we can’t.

“We’re continuing to do what we’re planted here to do. We’ll change and adapt as needed to minister to our community.”

Reported by Lisa Sergent. Click here for more on how to pray for Ferguson.


A Ferguson-focused Facebook post by football player Benjamin Watson garnered nearly 825,000 “likes” and more than 450,000 shares in the week after the New Orleans Saint published his thoughts on the verdict. “…[U]ltimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem,” Watson wrote. “…BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind.”


Long-time Baptist leader and pastor Jim Burton writes about how the church must deal with disability in this Baptist Press column. Burton’s own experience in “the blue zone” (noting the color of handicapped parking signs) began with a 2013 diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.


58% of Protestant senior pastors support immigration reform “that includes a path to citizenship for those who are currently in the country illegally,” according to a pre-election survey by LifeWay Research. While 87% of responders said the U.S. government has a responsibility to halt illegal immigration, 79% said Christians should assist immigrants, even those who are in the U.S. illegally.


Bob, Larry, and all their veggie friends are now streaming on demand in a brand-new Netflix series. The first five episodes of “VeggieTales in the House” debuted Nov. 26. “It’s been clear that if we want the characters and the ministry to stay alive, then they need to keep moving as kids move to viewing media in different ways, VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer told Baptist Press.