Enjoy Tracy Branchaw's testimony of how God used her to start a book club that created community and strengthed relationships through fellowship. If you're interested in starting and joining a group of your own, check out Super Group Sunday after the service THIS Sunday (Feb. 7.)
I’m going to pretend I’m typing an email:
Dear so and so,
John and I are starting a new book club and we wanted to know if you would be interested. As you know, we’ve been in limbo for a year or 2 since we stopped leading a youth care group and our pastor left to start the church plant in Mt Airy. We are thinking about something different and thought that the 3 things we like best: sharing a meal, reading a good book and hanging out with folks, could combine into a potluck book club. There is a book we found that would be great to go through with others in the same season of life. It’s called You Never Stop Being a Parent: Thriving in relationship with your adult children. We are inviting 9 other couples, some we know a little, some we know a lot. You may not know them at all. It’s likely that not everyone will want to join the book club. We will meet once per month. I’ll host the first one and I’ll make the main course and then everyone can bring sides and dessert. John will lead the first meeting and you just need to read the first chapter. The book has 10 chapters so we can finish it in about 1 year. And even though our house is on the small side, we’ll just pack in so it will be cozy. Then, we’ll switch houses every month and whoever is hosting will throw out possible dates, make the main course and lead the discussion. That way nobody will get overwhelmed. If you want to come, reply asap and we will see you at 6:30 on Saturday.
I sent this email 3 years ago and this book club is still going strong.
Although we had lead, enjoyed and benefitted immensely from caregroups in the past, we were looking for something different. We had started a supper club with a few friends and were thinking of starting another, but it seemed too labor intensive. Then we thought about having a book club. We thought about not being with the same friends we normally gravitated toward. We didn’t pick people who knew each other. All were in the same season of life-almost or absolute empty-nesters. Some had kids who were doing well, some had kids who had walked away from Christianity. Divorce, engagement, marriage, homosexuality, irresponsibility, prodigals, college issues...these were all topics that would end up being addressed in our new group with our 1st book.
Our second book was Prayer by Timothy Keller. Although it’s a good book, it didn’t work out very well for discussion. I hate to say it, but I’m not a silent sufferer and I complained quite a bit about how hard the book was for me (and I’d picked it!) but others were getting a lot out of it and they tolerated me. A better book for discussion might have been A Praying Life by Paul Miller, we might do that for our fourth book. We had also thought about doing a work of fiction like “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson.
Our current book is Jesus Outside the Lines - a way forward for those who are tired of taking sides. It’s about politics, poverty, money, and the institutional church. Everybody has an opinion and not everybody agrees and that’s just fine.
Book clubs may or may not have the depth of discipleship of a caregroup, it depends on your vision for it.
But if you are looking for something a bit different from the norm, think about some folks that would make a diverse group, pick a great book, throw out some dates and start your new book club! It could be in your neighborhood, your school, or your place of work. And don’t forget the food! That’s the real reason people want to get together anyway-to eat and talk and savor the time.
If you're interested in starting and joining a group of your own, check out Super Group Sunday after the service THIS Sunday (Feb. 7.)
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January 22 2016 at 12:46 pm 0 Comments
Here's a greeting from Mark Mitchell for your snowed-in Sunday.
P.J. Smyth messages from the last two Sundays:
"God’s Sovereignty and our Faith" (from January 10)
"Outwards" (from January 17)
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January 19 2016 at 12:43 pm 0 Comments
On Sunday, P.J. Smyth presented his 2016 "Outward Living Plan" to encourage us to make friends, build relationships with our co-workers, acquaintances and neighbors.
Step 1: Make Genuine Friends with Unbelievers
- Think relatives, neighbors, colleagues, those with shared interests in your current rhythm of life. God has placed you!
- Prioritize a few people and make it your aim to become a brilliant friend.
- Pray for them.
No friends? Think about rhythms of life:
a) Gym, hairdresser, out walking, etc.
b) Hobby: running club / walking club / dog / kids sports team
c) Meals: 21 per week
Step 2: Naturally Engage on Spiritual Things
- Let these friends know you are a Christian, in a natural, unforced way.
- Live an attractive, authentic life, not perfect, but not high maintenance.
- Be honest about your struggles: don’t hold out Christianity as a self-improvement scheme. Share how your faith helps you.
- Listen to your friend’s problems; maybe offer to pray for them.
- Ask about their faith, and just listen. You might say, “Are you a person of faith? What does that look like for you?” If they say, “I don’t believe in God” say, “Tell me more about that” Don’t show disapproval if you disagree with what they believe. Ask questions and listen with interest. This is what friends do! It is also an expression of love, respect and humility, and it will help you understand them better. It may also mean that in due course they are more open to hearing your view of faith.
Step 3: Draw people into your church community
- Informally socially, or more formally socially, e.g., interest groups (book club, sport)
- Can freeload on others’ friendships. Fish as a team.
Step 4: Personal and Public Proclamation
- Personal: Prepare and use personal tools:
a) Personal testimony: 30 sec and 3 min versions. Keep it real. Share how your faith helps you; e.g., stress, fear, drivenness.
b) Learn 2-4 ways to frame the Gospel
c) A stash of resources to give: “This helped me.”, “I would be interested to see what you think of this.”
- Public: Think what’s first: Social action or Introducing God course? Sunday? Particular preacher or series?
Our 2016 Goals
- Invite at least one unbeliever to our Easter Service. (i.e. “A tradition we have is to go to church on Easter and then eat together, and we would love you to join us.”, “Kids have a blast.”, “We’ve got this new pommie pastor who I am still working out; would love your perspective.”)
- Have a couple of friendships developing nicely by the fall. This gives our church a chance to gear up in a few areas.
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November 3 2015 at 1:44 pm 0 Comments
I was born and raised in in a small town in west Texas. For most of my adolescence, I was the typical farmer’s son; going to church since birth and being raised to follow a strict moral code. It wasn’t until I was 13 that I actually heard that my sin was keeping me from communion with God when my church brought in a traveling evangelist for a revival weekend. I never really considered my situation as it was easy to do living in an environment in which everyone was a Christian and no one talked about sin or hell. I remember the clear call of the Lord on my heart to believe that Christ died for me, took on my sin on the cross, and that I would be saved from separation from my creator. From that point onward, I really connected with the youth ministry and began living a life dedicated to Christ.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year at Texas Tech University that the Lord impressed on me to dedicate my life to the ministry in a local church. It was a clear answer to prayer and my friends and pastor affirmed my calling. Upon graduating from Texas Tech, I realized the next step in my life was to attend a Seminary. The next five years of my life would be a priceless pursuit in knowing Christ more by attending the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Through the dedication of each professor to adhere closely to the word of God as it related to theology, Christian history, and doctrine forever deepened my understanding of God and his church.
Although Seminary was a wonderful experience, it wasn’t the best gift that God gave me during that season of my life. Louisville is also where I met my exquisite southern bride. I’ll let Alyssa share a bit more.
I was born and raised in Louisville Kentucky and grew up with my mom, dad and older sister. I realized my need for forgiveness from sin and the holiness of God at the early age of 5, God used my church, parents and grandparents to point me to Christ. I went on to attend Boyce College, which is the undergraduate school at Southern Seminary. It was in my freshman year that I met my handsome husband. We met through mutual friends and my good friend was dating his roommate so she would quite easily "drag" me along to hang out. Will pursued me and two years later we were married.
Our family has grown to include our first son Liam, who is five, and daughter Penelope, who now is three. And the newest addition to our family is due in June.
These past 7 years have been filled with external challenges. One of our children was born premature, we had a major house fire, and other various challenges. But God’s faithfulness through our marriage has been such a gift! God has really taught us the goal is not an easy life, the goal is to know Jesus more!
After I graduated from Southern, we moved to a small Florida town where I served as a youth pastor. I then did an internship at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville. My connection to Covenant Life came through Dave Brewer reaching out to me after some interest in my application. After interviewing at Covenant Life, both Alyssa and I knew this was the right church God was calling us to invest in. I stopped the hiring process with two other churches and decided to step out in faith that Covenant Life was where the Lord would make a path for us to serve the Middle School.
Needless to say, watching the Lord bring us through our house fire in Louisville, allow us to sell it, and then bring us here in a way that worked with both our timeline and Covenant Life’s was nothing more than His wonderful work. Standing up here today, I can honestly say that He did this and we are honored to be among you. We are looking forward to growing together with you in community and serving with you in the days ahead.
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September 29 2015 at 4:07 pm 0 Comments
"The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing."
Last Sunday we had the privilege of hearing from Sam Storms who blessed us with a very encouraging reminder of just how much God takes delight in His children. Drawing from Zephaniah 3:17, Sam taught that God's love for his children is so strong that he literally sings over us.
For those looking to dig deeper into the theme, Sam has authored a book-length version of his message entitled, The Singing God: Feel the Passion God Has for You ... Just the Way You Are. You can pick up a copy at the bookstore on Sunday, or on Amazon.
God loves us. With all our faults and failures, with all the secret sins no one else knows about. In fact, He rejoices over us so much that He breaks out in inexpressible joy and song as He thinks about us.
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” —Zephaniah 3:17
That’s how God feels about you! He looks at you, He thinks of you ... and He sings for joy!
In "The Singing God" Sam Storms explores God's immeasurable love for His children. You don’t need to be different; you don’t need to be better. You just need to know that God loves you just the way you are now ... today. When you truly believe this, you will find the strength and incentive to fight sin, experience freedom from shame, and walk in the fullness of all that God desires for you.
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September 28 2015 at 2:38 pm 0 Comments
Below is the text of Mark Mitchell's update from Sunday morning, September 27. Church members: For the meeting schedule over the next two weeks and to submit comments or questions, see covlife.org/lpsearch.
Good morning, everyone.
This past Thursday through Saturday the elders met together on our fall retreat to consider the Search Team's recommendations and written report on the Lead Pastor search process and to discuss next steps.
Many of you were praying for us. Many of you were even fasting on our behalf. And there's just no way that we can thank you enough. We believe God heard and answered your prayers. Our conversations, our times of seeking the Lord, were marked by faith, unity, a fruitful discussion together, and a wonderful sense of God's peace—and we know that is in no small part due to your prayers. So on behalf of all the elders we want to say, thank you.
Here's the update: the 11 person Search Team made up of eight members and three elders met from April through September, and after many, many hours given to prayer, gathering input from the congregation, viewing resumes, conducting interviews and listening to sermons, the search team has recommended P.J. Smyth to the Board of Elders for the role of Lead Pastor.
[Applause] Very appropriate. P.J. would be blessed by your enthusiastic reponse.
After much discussion and prayerful consideration, the Board of Elders enthuiastically believes that P.J. should be our next Lead Pastor. We believe that God has been directing our path over these last few months and has provided this man as a gift to our church. As we've gotten to know P.J., we believe his godly character, his pronounced humility, his leadership gifting, and proven fruitfulness in ministry make him an excellent choice as Lead Pastor to serve our congregation, Covenant Life Church, for the foreseeable future.
He's aligned with our doctrine and values, committed to team and accountability, he is eager to grow and learn from us, and he passionately loves Jesus, His church and His mission—and as the Board of Elders we heartily commend him to you, the congregation.
So where do we go from here?
The process is not over. There are additional steps that need to take place involving the Smyths, congregational affirmation, and further opportunities for your participation as members.
First, the Smyths: The Elders had a brief conversation with P.J. and Ashley yesterday, via FaceTime, where we formally invited P.J. to consider being our Lead Pastor. And it was moving to see how P.J. and Ashley received that invitation. They were humbled and excited and really filled with anticipation for the next step. They plan to formally repond to us by next Sunday, so please be in prayer for the Smyth family in what will no doubt be a very emotional week for them as they process this with their elders and with their congregation.
Second, if the Smyths accept our invitation, a congregational vote of affirmation is necessary in order for this decision to be finalized. Due to issues relating to immigration, the earliest that this can take place is still months away. And the earliest the Smyths could arrive would be somewhere between January and April of next year.
Finally, we recognize that you will need time as a congregation to hear more from the Search Team and the elders and to engage more with P.J. as our Lead Pastor candidate. We're excited about walking through these next steps with you. So we've got a few meetings planned, and I want to fill you in on those at this time:
- Next Sunday, October 4 [during the morning service], you'll hear from Pat Ennis, the Chairman of the Search Team, and he will explain more about the process the Search Team followed leading up to their recommendation. And I'll follow that with a brief report on the elders' perspective on P.J. and his candidacy, including his role in the Advance network of churches.
- Then on Sunday, October 11, in the evening [6 p.m.], we'll have a Members Meeting where Search Team members and elders will share more detailed information and address your questions. We'll provide a mechanism for you to submit questions prior to that meeting. [The page with the meeting schedule and form for submitting comments and questions is found at covlife.org/lpsearch]
- Finally, P.J. informed us on our retreat that he is available to come and be with us Tuesday evening, October 13 [7:30 p.m.]; so we've extended an invitation for him to come. We thought this would be a great opportunity for you to get to know him better and hear more directly from him regarding many issues I'm sure you have on your mind. We've got this information here on the screen; we'll also get it out to you via the Quick Read this upcoming week. I'll probably communicate it again in the Friday Update, so if you don't have a moment to jot these things down, that's ok; you'll hear more later on.
This has been just a brief update, so I understand if many of you still have questions. We want to invite you to seek out the elders. We are eager to have conversation with you if that would serve you to any degree. But we especially hope that you'll participate in these upcoming meetings that have been planned, because there's much more information to be shared there, that we think you'll find it to be very helpful.
Here's my final thought: some of you, as we've just experienced, are very, very excited about this news. But we also understand that there are some who still have many questions, perhaps about the process, about a variety of different things, and so you're maybe a bit more cautious and guarded. We're a local church made up of diverse people, so a variety of perspectives is understandable and to be expected.
I want to exort all of us, no matter where we are, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfector of our faith, and the Sovereign Head of His church. And let's look to Him with eyes of faith and continue to pray as He taught us to pray: "Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done." We want to maintain that heart, that posture over next several weeks and months as we move towards finalizing this decision.
I want to leave you with these encouraging words from Psalm 33:
"The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you." (Psalm 33:11-22 ESV)
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