Finding Familiarity

44740903_10155417695991157_8686128858564395008_nThere are so many things unique to a small group that you cannot find anywhere else in church. Among other things, a small group can provide a completely non-threatening atmosphere for those who may not be familiar or comfortable with the idea of walking into a large church full of 800 people. Small groups can meet in homes, coffee shops, parks, etc. These are places that all people, regardless of their familiarity with Jesus, can relate to. The more familiarity you can add to the group, the better chance you have for someone to accept an invitation.

One recent example that is just beginning to get off the ground is a group comprised of families who have been involved in Upward Football here at Clear Creek. The idea was to create an easy invitation point and potential landing spot for any of the over 100 families that spend most Saturdays in the fall playing football behind our building.

Like we said before, the more elements of familiarity we can add to an environment, the more likely someone is to visit that environment. So for this new group, the conversation would go something like, “Hey, you know the Birches and the Longs, right? Their kids play on our football team. They and a few other families from Upward hangout at our house every Sunday evening. The kids mostly play the whole time which gives us a chance to have some actual adult interaction. Would you guys want to come?”

Where might you be able to use this approach in your life? Think about those who are in your circle of influence and what connections you share outside of church. Do you run or workout with the same people regularly? Are there families you spend lots of time with because of your kid’s recreational activities? Is there a group of people at work that you consistently eat lunch with? Leverage these connections whenever you can to invite others into relationship with us, and ultimately, with Jesus.



Celebrating Celebrations

When we first started the “Celebration Magazine,” the idea was simple: we wanted an outlet to celebrate and make people aware of the great things that are happening in and around our church family. We didn’t want to focus on how many people came to an activity or even how much fun everyone had. It’s not that either of those things are bad, it is just that what we want to celebrate exceeds any numerical benchmark or subjective opinion. Simply put, we want to celebrate a person or group of people who have the courage and determination to become more like Jesus.

What gets really exciting, though, is when others begin to celebrate these things on their own. It is one thing to recognize the importance of someone taking a step to live and look more like Christ, but it is an entirely different thing when we stop and actually take time to celebrate it. And we aren’t talking about a pat on the back or a phone call, we mean a full blown party!

On January 6, one of our small groups made a commitment to read through the Bible over the next year. More than that, they wanted to take this journey together. They wanted to provide accountability for one another. They wanted an outlet to reflect on, question, and discuss what they were reading, not in a vacuum but as part of a community. So, they found an app that mapped out their reading plan for the next 365 days which allowed them to share thoughts and comments back and forth. They have spent every Wednesday since then doing just that.

For the next few months, these ladies have read, talked about, and lived God’s word together. It was so impactful that Aimee Germ, one of the ladies in the group, said, “This is a really big deal. We should celebrate this!” And so they did… with a party. A party because they had spent 99 days in the word together. When is the last time you’ve heard of someone taking the time to plan, organize, and throw a party all because they are getting closer to Jesus? If that isn’t worth a party, what is?

Sometimes it is easy for us to lose sight of what is worth celebrating. Honestly, our culture has made it feel very natural to celebrate a job promotion or a school championship. And that’s not to say we shouldn’t celebrate those things. But imagine what life would look like if we started to celebrate the things that matter eternally? How cool would it be if when someone started a Bible study with a co-worker or spent an hour with God every day for a month straight, our first inclination was to find some way to celebrate with them the fact that they were becoming more like Jesus? If when someone decided to commit their life to Christ or came back to God after a long time away, the first thing we wanted to do was literally throw a party (if that doesn’t sound familiar, checkout Luke 15)? Our challenge, then, is to always be looking for the opportunity to celebrate when someone takes their next step in becoming more like Jesus.


Follow the Leader

picture2Anyone who has ever been around children knows that they are the greatest mimics of all time. For better or for worse, they watch everything the adults around them do and eventually, they begin to do it themselves. We’ve all heard the son who uses the same phrases his dad does or the daughter who can give “the look” that we’ve seen her mom give a thousand times. We are all, to some extent, products of our environments and the people who make those environments what they are.

As most people know, this practice doesn’t stop when we become adults. This kind of learning permeates our culture. Internships. Residencies. Student teaching. We can often learn what to do from a book, but we learn how to do it from watching other people. This is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple maker: we live our lives in ways that mirror the life of Jesus to the best of our ability and, along the journey, we bring others with us. Paul sums it up in his letter to the Corinthians by saying, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”

In a strong, spiritual community, this process can be so natural that you don’t even realize it is taking place. This was recently the case for one of our small groups. Jan Hudgins was bragging on Jennifer Spry, who is one of the members of their group. She was sharing a story about how Jennifer had invited one of the college-age girls at our church along with her friends over to simply hang out, make cookies, and pour into their lives. When asked “Why do you think Jennifer chose to do that?” Jan replied, “I don’t know, why?” And the answer was simple, “It’s because of you!”

See, unlike most of our small groups, Ken and Jan Hudgins help lead a small group where most of the members in the group are about 30 years younger than they are. It often provides for an interesting dynamic full of heated discussions centering around appropriate meal and bed times, but it also allows for those who may be further along their spiritual path to pour into those who are following along behind them. And those that are following now know how to help the next generation as they begin taking steps to be more like Jesus.

Because Jan and Patricia chose to pour into Jennifer, Jennifer thought it natural to find others younger than herself that she could pour into. And how far will God take this? When we make an intentional decision to have someone follow us as we follow Christ, it never stops with that one person. God can use that to create a ripple effect that changes families, cities, and even the world. So find your one, grab them by the hand, and let God use you to change the world one person at a time.


Hijacked by the Holy Spirit

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all like plans. Some enjoy making them, others love the structure they provide, and even those who purposely choose not to have a plan are in essence… planning not to have a plan. Having a plan makes whatever you’re doing run more smoothly and have a higher chance of being successful. “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail,” right?  But what happens when our plans get derailed? What happens when an unexpected turn takes place leading you to someplace unexpected? Like most things, the answer is simple enough in concept but difficult in execution: When you plan… always leave room for the Holy Spirit.

Now this is more than just what you tell your kids before they head out on a date. The idea is that we never allow our plans to supersede the often spontaneous nature of the Holy Spirit… even when those original plans include doing ministry. Chris and Courtney Reynolds saw this play out first hand during a small group meeting and saw how powerful it can be when you not only allow the Holy Spirit to disrupt your plans, but embrace it while it

After coming off a break, their small group was ready to jump back into their routine of meeting.  Our study on Colossians was kicking off, and as those of you who used your booklets in your small groups know, it lays out your small group time together in a nice, neat, all-encompassing format. Perfectly planned. Everyone was catching up and discussing how they were excited about the Colossians study, when, to really start their devotional time together, they went around asking for prayer requests. Enter the Holy Spirit. As one request after another came, it was obvious that there would be no study on the book of Colossians that night. A perfectly planned Bible study instead turned into a beautiful time where walls came down, tears flowed freely, and prayers from the heart were lifted to God.

Jesus had a similar experience. One day, Jesus was asked if He would heal the little girl of a local church leader. The girl was very sick and close to death.  Jesus agreed and began to follow the man back to his house. Jesus was on His way to heal a child. He was on His way to do something good… even great. Jesus had a plan. As they were walking through crowds, Jesus felt healing power leave Him as he was touched. Enter the Holy Spirit. Jesus stops. He stops His walk. He stops His good deed. He stops following His original plan. It would have been so easy for Jesus to keep walking.  To stay focused on the task at hand. To follow the plan and, as we find out later, continue on His way to literally raise a little girl from the dead! But He didn’t… because Jesus always allowed room for the Holy Spirit in His plans. He took the time to heal, restore and minister to a woman from the crowd. Jesus didn’t let ministry get in the way of ministry.

It isn’t always easy to let the Holy Spirit hijack your plans…but it’s always powerful.  Just ask the Reynolds. And while it is obvious to see why we should celebrate what the Holy Spirit was able to do in their small group that night, it is just as important to celebrate the fact that they saw it for what it was, embraced it, and moved out of the way… even if it meant throwing Plan A out the window.

As the line from the old Scottish poem that inspired John Steinbeck’s novel (should have) said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… especially when the Holy Spirit is involved”. And that’s just fine with us.



Next Steps with Colossians

Over the past seven weeks, our church family was blessed with the opportunity to collectively dive into the book of Colossians. Through teaching on Sundays and Wednesdays, discussions within our small groups, and time spent studying on our own, it is our sincere hope that you came away with one major idea: it’s all about Jesus.

TitleSlideGraphicFor years, authors and theologians have discussed the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. In many ways, this idea is true for us as we reflect on our study of Colossians because it allowed us to focus on what our next step may be on our journey to be a Christ-centered disciple.

Some of us were able to take the step of learning how to better reflect on scripture using the S.O.A.P. portion of Discovery Bible Study. Some of us wanted a group to study with and took the step of committing to be a part of a community. There were some of us who took the step of being intentional to come to worship every Sunday for the past seven weeks and others who were intentional about praying for those who don’t know Jesus.  Still others took the step of sharing God’s word with a friend or co-worker.

Everything about our Colossians study, from the format to the booklet to the content of the messages, was meant to create next steps. It’s often easy to get so focused on the destination that getting there seems completely overwhelming. So for now, let’s continue to focus on our journey—our path–and be intentional on finding what our next step might be.

Being with Jesus and Doing what He Did, Together

One of the greatest joys in following Jesus is the invitation to participate in both the great command and the great promise that he articulates in Matthew 28. The command is to make disciples and the promise is that Jesus himself walks with us as we go. One of the questions we get asked all the time is, “Why another church plant in Chattanooga?” It’s a good question, and the answer has everything to do with participation. Participation hello-i-m-nik-687249-unsplash
with Jesus in the mission of God is an essential component of discipleship. The call of Jesus in the Gospels is to be with him and to do what he does. Showing up to a construction site is not enough to become a master carpenter. To be a carpenter one must learn from and be with a master carpenter. The same is true for apprenticeship to Jesus. That is discipleship – learning from Jesus to do life in the Kingdom of God.

At City Collective we’ve seen that planting a church has allowed people to rally around a vision and has given them opportunities to put their talents to work in the Kingdom. The reality in a new church is that all must participate in order for the vision to come about. This need creates space for new leaders to be raised up, equipped and discipled in the Kingdom. As churches grow and multiply there is a natural need for more teachers, more worship leaders, more volunteers and generally more participation in both the life of the church and the mission of God. More discipleship happens as people discover the love of God toward them and the way their talents uniquely equip them for participation in the mission of God in Chattanooga.

Significant discipleship happens in the context of small, committed communities that gather around the person of Jesus.  Some people in our city will walk into a church plant when they are unwilling to walk into an established church. In this way, planting new churches creates the opportunity for more discipleship. There is a young woman in the church who recently expressed that learning the ways of Jesus in committed community has helped her begin to walk again as a disciple. It was relationship with people that allowed her to experience renewed relationship with Jesus in spite of the wounds and pain that life has given her. The community of faith carried her and believed for her until she could believe and trust again. The intimate community born out of the vision of partnering with God in a new expression of his Church in a city can be a catalyst for this kind of rugged discipleship.

Discipleship happens as we walk together in intimacy with Jesus. That intimacy cannot be microwaved. It only comes about by doing life together around Jesus. The beauty of following Jesus in the context of church planting is that if we can create a new space to be with others and with Jesus and to practice his ways together, he will do the transforming work of making those who have come into good disciples.


The Music of Discovery Bible

Any musician will tell you that there is a shockingly large number of songs that all use the same four chords. In fact, they not only use the same chords, but they often use them in the exact same order. With the chords G major, D major, E minor and C major, you would be able to play everythimalte-wingen-381988-unsplashng from “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Don’t Stop Believing” to “Let It Be” and “Let It Go”. What’s so amazing is that, even though theyshare the exact same structure musically,each song is unique; producing music in vastly different genres and evoking wildly differing emotions. None of these songs would ever be mistaken for another on the list, yet history has proven that each song is a success.

When you take something with exceptional structure and add in the human element, bringing with it all the creativity that people possess, it is amazing how beautiful and varied the result can be. By adding in the spiritual element, the quality of the product you end up with can be improved 1,000-fold.

That, in a nutshell, was the entire idea behind Discovery Bible Study (DBS). DBS was created so that you can apply the same basic structure and approach to studying the Bible with your community, then let the personalities of your group and the influence of the Holy Spirit create something beautiful. At its core, DBS provides an avenue for us to study the word of God in a way that will point each of us to Jesus, get us into the rhythm of following Him more closely, and help us disciple others more intentionally along the way. It’s a very simple approach that can be applied to any scripture and is easily replicated from one community to the next. Because of its structure, DBS can even be used to study the Word with anyone regardless of their knowledge of the scriptures. This approach to studying the Bible will help get your group (or those you wish to begin studying with) into the routine of reading God’s Word, applying what you read and journeying alongside one another.

Several of the communities in our Clear Creek family have already been reaping the benefits of using DBS. When Dennis Henderson’s small group leader stepped down, Dennis’ transition to become the leader was easier because of the environment DBS created in their community. He was able to quickly and easily disciple those around him because of the accountability component provided by this approach to scripture. Rob and Kim Feisley have effectively used DBS with two differing people groups: college students in China and young professionals in the United States. In both situations, they have been able to help others take steps on their journey by providing them the means to lead a Bible study without feeling like they needed to be “biblical scholars.” And the list goes on…

Like the music chords we talked about earlier, DBS offers an amazing backbone ready to be used in conjunction with the creativity of people and the power of the Holy Spirit to challenge and inspire. Even though replicating it is simple, each environment will have a different DNA while achieving the same goal: to help us be in the Word and live out the Word together in community. If you would like to learn more about this approach to studying God’s Word, you can contact the church office or stay tuned for additional information as it rolls out in the next few weeks.


Take a Step

Life is full of firsts. Our first word. Our first day of school. Our first job. And it’s natural for us celebrate these firsts. They define us. They help to shape who we are. Recently, one of our communities celebrated a first for one of its members, Craig Smith. As Craig was about to begin, he said he was so nervous the night before that he could barely sleep. And honestly, not much had changed. But he wasn’t backing down. He was determined to see this thing through. So with a deep breath and resolved mind, for the first time in his life… Craig led a devotional.

Something that is amazing to see as you read stories about Jesus was the fact that above everything else, the thing He seemed to celebrate the most was movement. Jesus was always most concerned with watching those around Him take the next step in following Him more closely. We see Him label a centurion, a heathen in the eyes of most of His followers, as having the greatest faith in all of Israel simply because he believed Jesus could heal his servant from a distance. Of all the great things Peter did for the kingdom of God, we see Jesus give him the most praise when he merely stated that he believed Jesus was, in fact, God’s son. But for Jesus, these were moments that needed to be celebrated. Jesus saw that this centurion’s faith moved past simply accepting what he had seen done to trusting that Jesus could do more. The centurion took a step. Jesus watched Peter’s idea of who He was change from that of a wise and respected rabbi who could do miracles to the literal Son of God. Peter took a step. And so did Craig.

Craig will be the first to tell you that, even a year ago, this is not something he ever saw himself doing, but he knew that it was time for him to make a move, to take a step. And with Jesus it is never about the size of our steps. What may feel like a big or small step for us may feel completely different to someone else. But again, Jesus isn’t worried about the size of our steps, He is only concerned with their direction. And just like with Craig, He wants us to take stock in where we are, look at how we are following Him, and figure out what our next step needs to be. Because in His eyes, any step towards Him is worthy of celebration.


Practice Makes Perfect

Have you ever heard someone say, “Be careful! You should never pray for patience! God won’t give you patience… just more opportunities to practice patience”? People often make jokes about it (until they are the ones praying for patience), but the reason the notion has been around for so long is because it has some merit! In fact, it is probably true more often than not when we pray to God. Instead of giving us whatever trait or ability we ask for, He gives us the opportunity to practice that trait or ability so that we can grow. Logic would tell us, then, that if we pray for God to help us tell our own stories better (as one of our Sunday morning discussion groups is fond of doing) He will remind us that practice makes perfect.

Enter Derek Lusk, who is a part of our church family here at Clear Creek. As someone who works in sales, Derek spends a lot of time forming and maintaining relationships with others, especially those he works with on a regular basis. Dan just happens to be one of those people. Over time, the two came to be able to talk about topics (family, sports, hobbies) that were outside of the mandatory job related things they had to discuss. On a business trip the two were on together, they found themselves broaching one of the two topics you are taught never to discuss with friends…and it wasn’t politics. Dan (who knew Derek was a Christian) started telling Derek (who knew Dan was not a Christian) about how he believed in a creator but not in God because he couldn’t see him anywhere in his life. As Dan continued to talk, Derek began to truly understand his situation. Not only was he a part of a discussion group learning how to share their stories with others and who frequently prayed that God would help them do so, but he was trapped with only Dan in the car with over an hour remaining on their trip! To put it simply, God said, “Ok Derek, it’s time to practice.” And so he did.

If you want to know how the conversation ended, Derek would be more than happy to share that with you (and it really is a great story). Today, though, that is not what we want to celebrate. The “win”, if you will, is not necessarily in the outcome of this story. Of course we want Dan, as we want anyone who doesn’t know Christ, to come to know Him intimately. But that is not up to us to decide. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.”

In other words, God deals in outcomes; we, as humans, deal in opportunities.

Opportunities missed and opportunities taken. Opportunities to stay silent and opportunities to share our story with others. And the best part about it? That is all God asks of us. He doesn’t ask us to change hearts and transform lives. He simply asks us to take the opportunities as they come so that He can do the real work.

So next time you pray to God the provider, just keep in mind that He is the provider of
opportunities. Admittedly, that can seem daunting. But remember, if the opportunity he provides is an open door, He simply asks that we cross the threshold. He will take care of the rest once we are on the inside. It doesn’t take ability or anything else on our part other than a willingness to keep saying, “Ok God, I guess it’s time to practice.” As Derek can attest to, God loves to remind us that practice makes perfect.

Godly Conversations

Discipling relationships come in all shapes and sizes. As we always should, we look to Jesus as our model for how to enter and thrive in a discipling relationship with someone else. While this is the perfect model, we sometimes forget that discipleship can be a two-way street. In His relationships with others, it’s safe to say that Jesus gave far more than he got (unless you count headaches, bickering followers, and plots on how to end His life, of course). It’s important to remember that, depending on who you find yourself in a discipling relationship with, this may not always be the case for us. We are, after all, not exactly on the same level as the Son of God. The relationship may be much more symbiotic as it is equally helpful to all who are involved.

In the fall of 2017, Clint Feher and Shane Shepard launched a small group together. As with most beginnings, they had great intentions for how they would help the group
grow. Then life happened. Each of their wives had a difficult first trimester of pregnancy, sickness ran rampant in their families, work called them away to travel, and the holidays put a proverbial bow on top of a crazy four months. Needless to say, there weren’t too many small group meetings that took place during that time.

After the holidays, they both looked up and realized that they had let the other down in
several ways from a group leader standpoint. They sat down together and did two things that are far too rare in our world today yet are imperative as we try to disciple each other: they were honest with one another through the filter of love and they decided how to best move forward without letting past shortcomings get in the way. They honestly opened up about what they themselves could have done better as well as what the other could have done better. When done in love, these kinds of conversations will only move a relationship to a deeper level. This is the very thing that Paul was
getting at in 1 Corinthians 13.

In figuring out how to move forward without letting how it didn’t work the first time get in the way, they will be able to have a clear picture of where to go and how to get there. Will they still struggle to meet sometimes? Of course. Will it be easier than before? Probably not. But if you defne where you want to go only by where you’ve been, you will never get there.

So you may be thinking, “Ok, but having a conversation about why you struggled to get your small group off the ground probably doesn’t have any relationship destroying or life altering consequences.” And you would be right. But what if it did? What if the topic at hand truly was one with potentially serious consequences? By doing what they did on a small scale, these two men now know that if that “big thing” were to ever come up, they have someone walking alongside them who can help them through it with honest love and an eye towards taking the next best step. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that discipleship is always about the huge, profound moment where God speaks through us at a pivotal point in someone else’s life. The reality though, is that those moments never come unless we practice doing the small things for one another along the
way. We help them see that if they can trust us with the little things, they can trust us with the big ones as well. And if they trust us with the big things, it gives God the chance to show up in a big way.