If you have lived in Las Vegas for some time you may have paid a visit to the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Depending on the season you may see swatches of bright-colored flowers planted around the walk ways, heaps of oversized pumpkins, lily pads floating over the surface of a pond, or vines climbing up the side of an old watermill. After walking in, you cannot but be amazed at the color, life, order, and vitality of the garden.
But imagine when on vacation you decide to visit a different botanical garden expecting to see similar plants, flowers, vines, and garden ornaments. After chatting a bit with the garden curator he tells you excitedly about the many great projects and improvements and trellis work he has been doing in the garden. However, to your disappointment all that exists in the garden are empty flower pots, well-constructed trellises, and empty walkways – all the structures required for a garden, except there is no garden. True to the gardener’s word, the lattice work is excellent and the garden supporting structures are orderly, but the plants are dried out or non-existent. Our gardener indeed was busy in his garden – busy working on the trellises and not nourishing the vines.
Confusing our church activity with spiritual vitality can occur just as easily. If you want to turn any Christian into a salesman, just ask “So, what does your church offer”, and you can count that Mr. Christian will begin to mention the many ministry activities, events, fellowships, or classes the church offers. Make no mistake, these can all be good things, but the existence of activity does not necessarily mean that life is springing forth. Ministry structures cannot grow disciples any more than trellises can grow vines.
When the church corporate comes together at the beginning of the week on Sunday to worship as God’s holy and prized people, we stand together and receive Jesus Christ as he is ministered to us by the preached word and sacrament. It is the purpose of community groups at Spring Meadows support the church in this work of the great commission by helping Christians discover and exercise their gifts and callings. This takes the form of small home gatherings where (1) Christ is worshiped, (2) Christians are trained for ministry, and the (3) kingdom of God is prayed for.
It is not only the pastor who “builds up the believers” but the Bible expects all believers to “build up one another”. The body of Christ grows member to member as we each speak the truth in love, build up, and equip each other. We must see to it that we are able to speak the gospel to one another, seeking to grow each other into disciple-making disciples of Christ. This is the individual call given to you and to me to make disciples in our everyday ministry.
If we are not trained for personal ministry, how can we expect to be able to confront a Christian friend at lunch with the truth of the gospel, tenderly explain to a non-believer why a good God causes suffering, or read the Bible confidently with a younger Christian? How can we expect to be used by God in the life of our family member, coworker, or friend if we are not praying to these ends with other believers? How can we expect to discover our callings if we seek only gain from our relationships with others and not searching for how we can serve other people at the expense of our convenience and time?
The re-launch of community groups at Spring Meadows is our (community group leaders) attempt to help provide the church with a trellis robust enough to handle a vine which may grow out of control. We want to give you a context where you can be trained for personal ministry. The difficult part for you to discern is determining what this looks like in your life; it’s different for everyone. However, as we pray, worship, and study with our fellow co-laborers in our community groups we can begin to learn how we should glorify God and prepare for eternity with him.
It is the community group team of leaders’ hope that by (1) using a new curriculum which emphasizes our identity in Jesus Christ, (2) renewing our focus on praying for one another (even when we are not discussing our problems), (3) seeking the Lord in front-line prayer to be used by Him in speaking the gospel to our friend or coworker, and (4) gathering with one another in worship will be mightily used by the Lord as he teaches us to stop asking, “What am I getting out of this [person/relationship/event/job/spouse]?” and instead start asking, “How should I glorify God in my unique way according to the gifts he has given to me”.
This should make for an exciting time for Spring Meadows in the months ahead, and I could not be more enthusiastic. Please prayerfully ask the Lord to help you understand in what ways SMPC can train and serve you. This is the Lord Jesus’ church. He doesn’t need our help, our favors, our time, or our community groups, but he is kind enough to use us as we tirelessly labor in the vineyard until his glorious return.