Why Groups?

Hey Community Bible family, Pastor Josh here with the blog for this week. I want to discuss the value of Groups ministry at Community Bible.

Groups is one part of the threefold discipleship strategy here, which also includes corporate gatherings and mission. When we gather together corporately we are able to worship together, to hear the Word of God proclaimed, and we’re able to experience the synergy that happens as the saints gather together. Then in mission we are able to serve; serve those within our church family and serve the world around us. And then there’s the Groups piece of our discipleship strategy. In groups we get a real sense of belonging, and we’re able to develop relationships where we know others and we’re known by others. This is where gospel community happens best — when our lives are properly centered on Jesus, His saving grace, and daily enabling grace.

Having said that, right now things look different than they have previously because of the COVID pandemic. Instead of all our groups meeting in person, we have some groups meeting in person, some groups meeting online, and yet still other groups mixing it up where some of the group members are in person while they Zoom in the rest of the group. So what groups am I talking about?

This week we opened registration for Community Groups and for one of our equip groups — a women’s study launching Sept 24 which will meet virtually. We have D Groups which are small gender-specific groups of 3 – 5 that get in the Word together, spend time supporting one another and provide accountability for one another. We have a focus group meeting virtually for folks who are grieving the loss of loved ones called GriefShare. We have a men’s group that meets on Tuesday mornings with in-person and virtual options. And even our NextGen ministry for children and students is built around groups.

So there are still several opportunities for you to be involved in Groups at Community Bible, even during a pandemic. But I would imagine there are some reading this who may be thinking “I already attend a service on Sundays, why should I also participate in a group?”  Well I’m glad you asked!

There are 3 significant benefits that I’d like to mention in the next few paragraphs. First, is shepherding. To be sure, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and he has placed undersheperds here for the well-being of His flock; we call them pastors & elders, or the term overseer could be used. But the ratio of overseers to church body is frankly a bit overwhelming and makes shepherding well a challenging endeavor. And that’s where the various group leaders really shine… because God uses these folks to shepherd those within their groups.

We see an example of this sort of empowered shepherding in the OT in Exodus 18 starting in v.13 when Jethro, the wise father-in-law of Moses recognizes that Moses can’t effectively shepherd all the people who need shepherding, and says to him (and I’m paraphrasing): you and the people with you are going to wear yourselves out, for this thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone… look for able leaders from all the people, leaders who fear God, who are trustworthy and honorable, and place them over the people to help with the task of shepherding. When there were a few people, Moses could know them and shepherd them… but then the numbers blew up and Moses, like all leaders, could only know so many people… much less serve them well as a shepherd.

And of course we see it in the New Testament as Jesus identifies 12 men – twelve unlikely heroes – who would go on to champion the gospel, make disciples, change history, and ultimately change my life through the hearing of the gospel! So the first great benefit of being in a group is shepherding.

The second benefit of groups is fellowship. You know, we are relational beings, created in the image of a relational God. God himself exists eternally in relationship as Father, Son, & Spirit, and as image bearers we are created for relationship as well. There’s a vertical component of relationship – us with God – but also a horizontal component – us with one another. And we are designed to fellowship with one another. Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian says it this way: Community is deeply grounded in the nature of God. It flows from who God is. Because he is community, he creates community. It is his gift of himself to humans. Therefore, the making of community may not be regarded as an optional decision for Christians. It is a compelling and irrevocable necessity, a binding divine mandate for all believers at all times. And don’t we all enjoy fellowship with other people when we have things in common? When we are in Christ, we are bound with the most central of all things in common…the gospel. So I’ve mentioned shepherding and fellowship as benefits of being in a group, and the third is encouragement and accountability.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. I was recently on vacation with my family and we went tubing down a mountain river. While we were floating down the river the current would spin around and while we were talking and laughing with one another we would all take turns looking out for one another. We would let one another know when we saw them about to crash into rocks or when there were rapids ahead. Then we stopped and were wading around in the water for a bit, and as I stood there in the river, I could see fish looking upstream, and having to work just to stay in one place as the current rushed against them. I think our lives are like that. We have to look out for one another, encourage & exhort one another as the current of the world rushes against us. Knowing that you’ve got others who are for you, who are close enough to you to know you well, and that they are holding you accountable in the current of life is a priceless benefit of groups ministry.

In summary, I’d like to share these words from an article I read recently:

We live in an increasingly fragmented and disconnected world. Though social media and other technology have made our world seemingly more connected, people have fewer genuine friends than ever before. It feels scary and threatening to allow ourselves to be known or to invest in knowing someone else at a deep level. It is much easier and more convenient to stay on the surface. Yet when we take the risk of being authentic with a small group of people, we can experience God’s grace and love coming through others, which leads to freedom and transformation. So the goal of groups is to create environments where Spirit-driven, life-giving experiences can flourish.

You can find out more about groups by visiting our website or by dropping me a line at josh.sands@cbchurch.org. God bless you, and may God strengthen you to fight the good fight of faith.

The COVID-19 Opportunity

You’ve likely heard often within the last few weeks that these are unique times in which we’re living. Indeed these are unique times. It’s certainly the first time in my lifetime that the entire world has been affected so significantly by one set of circumstances. Everyone is affected during this pandemic. Many are hurting. Some are hurting because of the virus itself while others are hurting in different ways. Some are hurting because of job loss or financial hardships. Others are hurting because they are separated from loved ones and they’re lonely. But in the midst of all the suffering, there are good things that we are experiencing from the Lord in this time.

Recently I’ve heard several stories of how people are stepping up to serve one another in these times of hardship and suffering. It seems like almost daily there’s a report of how people rallied around an individual or family with a parade of some sort. We’ve seen people who know how to sew jumping in to make masks for neighbors and friends. I read an article this week about how a garden tech at HPU was making floral bouquets to take to the hospital each day. I recently saw homemade signs in the Home Depot parking lot that someone had made reading “Thank You Home Depot Workers”. There are good things happening in our community during this pandemic.

There are people within our own church who are stepping up to serve the vulnerable in our community by preparing and/or serving meals for those who in need. The church mobilizing to meet needs in our community is a beautiful thing. And without the opportunity that this pandemic has created for people to work from home, many people would not have had the flexibility to step up and serve like they have. We have taken steps away from being a consumer church where we want to show up and be fed and we’ve taken steps towards mobilizing and being the church in our community. There are good things from the Lord in this season.

One of the things that I’ve celebrated during this time is additional time with family. Sometimes I celebrate it while at other times I lament it if I’m honest. I’m sure my kids would say the same. Without extracurricular activities we have more time for board games and meaningful conversation. But I’ll be the first to admit that this doing-school-at-home thing is no cake walk. With my four kids all doing school and my wife Erin, who is a first grade teacher, doing her school work there are times when tensions run high in our home. But I’m so grateful for the extra time with family, and the extra opportunities I have to enjoy my kids and shape my kids, while appreciating the extra time with Erin, too.

I recently saw a video that one family posted who have obviously been spending time together during this time. This is a very talented family who loves the Lord, and they’ve used their gifts to encourage others. This is the Goss family and they live in Pennsylvania. They started what they’re calling the “Goss Family Quarantunes”. Their “volume 1” is a performance of “Holy Water” by We the Kingdom. When I first saw and heard it I was moved to tears. Sometimes it doesn’t take a whole lot to move me to tears when it involves performances that are intended to glorify God, but this one got me because it was a family doing this together. I don’t know this family and the ages of their kids, but I was struck that their four children (who I would guess range from elementary to high school) were doing this together with their parents. I think about my own family and my four kids, ages 13, 11, 9, and 5, and I am reminded of the unique opportunity that the Lord has given me with my family. Take a listen here to see the Goss family perform “Holy Water”.

Pretty impressive right? They are talented for sure, but they are also really convincing. Their body language sells the message that they’re singing. It’s a precious example of how a family can leverage this unique opportunity. And that’s what I hope to encourage you with in this blog. These are unique times for sure, but we should see this pandemic as a unique OPPORTUNITY. What is it an opportunity for? Perhaps you’re like me and you could leverage it as a unique opportunity to build into your family, making memories and being intentional to shape their character to reflect that of Christ. Perhaps it is a unique opportunity for you to get out and serve because of a more flexible work schedule. Or maybe you’ve lost your job and this is a unique opportunity to testify to God’s goodness and faithfulness when others would be panicked. It’s an opportunity for you to do some home projects, yard work, or maybe washing your vehicle(s), but what opportunities can you leverage for eternal impact? How can you leverage this unique opportunity for the Kingdom of God?

Devote yourself to God. Disciple those whom God has placed within your influence. And deploy yourself as a soldier and ambassador for Christ.

Remind yourself daily that this COVID-19 pandemic is a unique opportunity and I pray your decisions are shaped by this God-centered perspective.

And in closing, I miss my church family and can’t wait for the opportunity to gather together!

3 Contexts & 6 Convictions

As we seek to magnify Jesus Christ by making disciples who advance the mission of God among all people, Community Bible holds to six core convictions. These convictions are not arbitrary but are actually the convictions of the early church. Specifically, we see these things valued in Acts 2:42-47. When we assign one-word summaries of these convictions we arrive at:

  • Proclaim
  • Worship
  • Pray
  • Belong
  • Multiply
  • Serve

*You can get a fuller explanation of these convictions at the end of this blog.

The first step to realizing these convictions in our family of redeemed sinners is to identify them. As I’ve heard it said, “without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination”. Our goal is to have these six convictions move beyond being aspirations to being realized in our body. In other words, as we make disciples who advance God’s mission of making disciples, we believe we need to have these six convictions realized.

But how do we move beyond the aspirations of such convictions to actually seeing them realized? There’s a strategy for that. And at Community Bible, that strategy involves three ministry contexts.

The first of those contexts is our corporate gatherings. When we gather together for corporate gatherings there are a number of wonderful things that happen, including the proclamation of God’s Word and our congregational worship. Each week you can expect to hear expository preaching of God’s Word, which the Spirit uses to convict, encourage, teach, and correct us. With the proclamation of the Word, we learn more of what God desires of us, examine ourselves in light of God’s plan for us, and commit ourselves to move toward God in the power of the Spirit. In that way we are realizing our “proclaim” core conviction. 

Additionally, by singing songs that express what we believe about the gospel together, we are reminding ourselves of good theology. When I am singing these truths and I hear & see my brothers and sisters singing the same, it does a lot to encourage me that we are in this together. To be clear, worship is not limited to singing songs on Sunday mornings, but by coming together regularly to sing our worship to God we are (at least in part) realizing our “worship” core conviction.

Besides our singing together and the proclamation of the Word, we also dedicate time to pray together as a body during each corporate gathering. Each Sunday morning service includes multiple times of prayer (not to mention the Boiler Room prayer group that is praying during the first service each Sunday morning) but we also value prayer in other corporate gatherings, including our quarterly Community Gatherings (formerly known as member meetings). These gatherings often include an extended time of praying for one another, for our church, for leadership, for the lost, for our local, state, and national leaders, and for our ministry partners around the world, thus realizing our “pray” core conviction.

The first context that I’ve mentioned here is the corporate gathering context. In that context, we see the convictions “proclaim, worship, and pray” realized. The second context is groups.

In the groups context we move from large gatherings to smaller gatherings and we move from facing forward to facing one another. In the groups context we realize a few of our core convictions also.

One of the convictions that is most difficult to be realized in a large gathering context is “belong”. It is totally possible to be in the middle of several hundred people and yet feel all alone, like you don’t belong. However, in a group context where there are much fewer people present and those people are committed to knowing one another, you can more easily feel like you belong. Engaging with one another around the gospel and supporting one another is a beautiful experience, which happens within the Community Bible context through groups.

In addition to realizing the conviction of belong, we also see the conviction of “multiply” being realized in the groups context. The concept of multiplying really boils down to disciples of Jesus making other disciples who follow Jesus. Disciples make other disciples via relationship. As relationships are built within the context of a group, group leaders can build into the lives of others and group participants build into one another’s lives as well. So the multiplication of disciples is realized through intentional investment in Christ-following gospel-centered relationships.

Within groups there are three defined objectives: gospel application, mutual care, and prayer. So I find it helpful that even within groups people are realizing the “pray” conviction on a regular basis.

So what about “serve”?  Well, I’m glad you asked. The third ministry context is missional service and that’s where we realize our “serve” conviction. Being on mission — or serving — takes shape in two main categories: serve the church and serve the world. With the gifts that the Lord has deposited and the Spirit activates, we are called to serve the church. In other words, asking how we can leverage our gifts, time, and energy to serve other brothers and sisters. Maybe this looks like serving on the First Impressions team, or the technical team, or the worship team, or as a deacon, or as a Community Group leader, or in our Next Generation ministry. In all these (and many more) ways the Lord uses the church body to build one another up and bring Himself glory.

But then there are the lost… those who have not yet submitted to the lordship of Jesus… and we are called to love all our neighbors, not just our Christian or like-minded neighbors. So as a church we deploy people to serve the lost, for their good and the glory of God. This happens through Local Outreach and Global Outreach involvement and through our strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations. So there are many opportunities to serve at Community Bible and we want all disciples to be engaged in this context as we realize our “serve” conviction.

In summary, there are three ministry contexts at Community Bible that are designed to realize our six core convictions as we seek to make disciples who advance God’s mission of making other disciples. To be involved in only one or two of those contexts means you are handicapping your growth as a disciple. We believe that being involved in all three contexts over time gives you the best opportunity to flourish as a disciple of Christ at Community Bible. There is certainly more to be said here, but this is a blog and not a novel so I’ll stop typing and listen to your comments.

If you have questions about how to become engaged in one or all of these ministry contexts I’m glad to help! Feel free to contact me at josh.sands@cbchurch.org with your thoughts and/or questions.

Yes I Will

This past weekend it was my joy to serve on the worship team during the morning services. It’s hard to believe that I have played drums for 30 years now, and it is remarkable how the Lord has used music in my life over those years. I was able to play for two sitting US presidents during my high school years – not something I ever dreamed would be on my resume. Then I went to college at UNC Chapel Hill, where I had the opportunity to play for very large crowds, even over 100,000 people on several occasions as a member of the UNC Marching Tar Heels. In the colder months I would trade my snare drum and marching band uniform for a drum kit and a seat in the basketball pep band. As a lifelong Tar Heel fan, I am overwhelmed to think of how privileged I was to get to play drums for teams coached by Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge. I played in the Dean Dome for home games, in Greensboro and Charlotte for ACC tournament games, and in various arenas across the country for the NCAA tournament games. My first several flights were chartered thanks to the opportunities the Lord made available to me through the music program at UNC. I will always be grateful for the great opportunities the Lord has made available to me through music.

And it was through music that I was first able to serve the Bride of Christ. Through various churches I have been able to play music that praised the name of Jesus while making great friends and great memories. When my wife Erin and I first came to Community Bible in 2005 it was through the music ministry that I first got plugged into the church. Jon Eric had only been at the church for a little over a year when we showed up for the first time. There was a choir on the stage, an acoustic guitarist, a keyboardist, a saxophonist (Jon Eric) and a guy playing electronic drums on the floor in front of the stage. I was not impressed. But the Lord began to show how the gifts He’d given me were to serve the church and He began to grow me in really significant ways over the next 14 years.

With my role now as Discipleship & Administration Pastor I have lots of other commitments on Sunday mornings so it is rare that I’m available to serve on the worship team, as I did this week. But being back in the saddle was a great encouragement to me this week. I mean, I definitely became aware of just how rusty I’d gotten when I sat behind the drum kit at practice on Wednesday, and I also realized how soft my hands had gotten! But as I studied the music for this week and contemplated the lyrics, the Lord really helped me connect deeply to one particular song. The third song we sang on Sunday is called “Yes I Will” and the Lord ministered to me through that song, even during my prep for Sunday’s worship services.

The verse goes like this:

I count on one thing

The same God that never fails

Will not fail me now

You won’t fail me now

In the waiting

The same God who’s never late

Is working all things out

You’re working all things out

I love how this verse proclaims the unchangeable faithfulness of our God. It’s both beautiful and appropriate to celebrate the great attributes of God. Among those attributes are his faithfulness and sovereignty.

God never fails. So even in my time of need I can count on God coming through for me. In other words, even though my circumstances have taken a turn for the worst, I can be full of faith that God is still able, interested, and faithful to provide. God is not subject to circumstances. Indeed, He stands above circumstances. But often our faith is swayed by the circumstances around us. While we are called to be steadfast and immovable (1 Cor. 15:58) we sometimes feel like we are getting tossed to and fro by life.

But even in the being tossed we have a choice.

We can choose to praise the Lord. And we should do just that.

After recognizing the attributes of God in the verse, I love how the song lyrics move to praising the Lord in the chorus:

Yes I will lift You high

In the lowest valley

Yes I will bless Your name

Yes I will sing for joy

When my heart is heavy

All my days yes I will

The song writers go on to declare the choice that they’re making:

I choose to praise

To glorify glorify

The name of all names

That nothing can stand against

As I listened to and studied this song last week I was really struck by the declarations of praise “I will lift You high… I will bless Your name… I will sing for joy… I choose to praise”. These lyrics exhort us to move beyond the emotions of our circumstances and to worship the One who is praise-worthy. And what motivates this praise? The recognition of the worthiness of the One whose name is above every name (Phil.2:9). In good times and bad, in the ups and the downs, in the happy and the sad, God remains steadfast and worthy of our praise.

I had to ask myself how consistently I’m faithful to praise the Lord, even through the ups and downs of life. I wish that I could say I’d achieved a Grade A rating, but often times I also find myself being distracted by my circumstances and my gaze is taken off of the Anchor and becomes fixed on the waves. Sometimes I fall into a “what has God done for me lately” mentality instead of remembering Who I have the privilege of worshiping.

So, my encouragement to the church is to consider Hebrews 12:28 which reads, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe”.  Looking beyond your circumstances fix your worship on the Almighty, who was and is and is to come, and who is worthy of our praise.

I’m grateful to God for my church family, the opportunities and gifts He has given me to serve the church, and for the gift of music as a means to worship Him. This past week served as a good reminder to me of how music continues to be a gift to me and how service through music is a means of God’s grace in my life.

What means of grace can you recognize in your own life? Even if you’re in a difficult season, there are various means that God is using for you. Identify those and praise the Lord!

IBAC Partnership

It has been a great privilege for me to be a part of a partnership between Community Bible Church and IBAC over the last two years. IBAC is a mobile theological training organization that connects US churches with pastors and ministry leaders in Latin America for the purpose of providing seminary-like education.

Community Bible began investigating this opportunity back in 2016 after I met Jim Wilson, the Founder and Director of IBAC, while on a short-term mission trip to Costa Rica. Long story short, CBC members and missionaries Gordon & Debbie Crandell served alongside Jim and Melanie Wilson in San Jose as part of the same EFCA missions team, and I was introduced through the Crandells.

When I met Jim he told me about the purpose of IBAC, which involved mobilizing the US church – where seminary education is more readily available – to serve the Latin church – where quality seminary education is not readily accessible. Practically speaking, it means having churches like CBC send teachers who either have a seminary education or similar theological training to equip Latin pastors and ministry leaders who already have influence within their churches, for the sake of encouraging sound doctrine and gospel-centered church leadership in Central and South America. The program consists of 15 one-week-long intensive courses taught over the course of 5-8 years.

Community Bible Church formalized our relationship with IBAC in early 2018 and taught the first course in San Jose in June 2018. Since then, I have been part of teaching teams for courses in October 2018 and February 2019.

The pastors who attend come from at least 5 congregations in San Jose and are mostly bi-vocational. These are folks who are called to shepherd the flock of God, but who have to work another job to make ends meet. For that reason, our IBAC group meets from 4:30-9:00pm Monday thru Friday for each course, giving them time in the morning and afternoon to take care of their paying jobs before coming to study. We’ve seen many of the same people returning course after course, because they’ve enjoyed the training, plus we’ve added some new folks along the way. We started with about 30 people and in February we had 48 on our largest night.

Each night is divided into 50-minute sections. We have times of instruction, followed by Q&A, then we have dinner together, which allows for great times of personal connection, and then more instruction, followed once again by Q&A.

One lady that has been coming to the classes is named Mariela. She has been to all 3 courses and I don’t think she’s missed a single night of any course. She is always engaged, always asks good questions, and she has brought others along with her over time. In speaking with Mariela in February, she told me that she leads a women’s discipleship program in a church where there are 1,000 people. I stood there speechless as she told me how she had desired something like this for so long, but it had been unavailable to her until IBAC. This is a woman who loves the Lord, who already has influence over a large number of women, who is able to apply what she’s learned AND teach it to those with whom she has influence for immediate payoff. I believe that is the beauty of the IBAC model. Not only does it build the US church through study and preparation, but it builds the Latin church by equipping leaders who will immediately be able to invest in others in their churches.

And all of this is made possible because of your support at Community Bible Church. It is absolutely free for each person to attend these Bible institutes, thanks to your giving. We pay for the printed materials for each student, for translation, for dinner each night, for the venue that houses us, and even transportation.

Thank you for your support of this ministry and for your continued prayer support moving forward.

How can you pray for this ministry? Here are a few things that come to mind.

  • Pray for the team that is preparing now to teach in October. There is a lot of study and preparation involved in teaching these courses in an effective way.
  • Pray for the churches that we’re developing relationships with there in San Jose. Pray that the gospel would have its full effect on the hearts of the Costa Rican disciples who are in these churches. Pray that these churches would effectively & winsomely minister to their communities.
  • Pray for opportunities to strengthen our partnership with these Latin churches, even as our CBC summer mission team will be in Costa Rica this Summer (July 13-20).
  • Pray for Jim Wilson, who leads this organization, which now has locations in about 30 locations throughout Latin America. Jim does a lot of travel to get to these Bible institutes, so pray for his wife Melanie while he is away.
  • Pray that the Lord would continue growing the number of people who attend IBAC each course.