Do you need the cross to follow Jesus?  

This is Holy Week. It is a time to reflect upon God’s action on the cross and to remember and rehearse everything about Jesus, who he was, what he said, and what he did. Holy Week is much more than a Palm Sunday sermon, Maundy Thursday Holy Communion, and special Easter music.  Holy Week is about the cross and the kind of life God calls you to live in Jesus.  

So, do you need the cross to follow Jesus? Maybe the question is, who needs the cross?  

Who Needs the Cross?

You do when your spirituality denies someone’s humanity. In fact, the cross speaks directly to hatred wrapped upon in religiosity.

You do when you want to make law greater than grace. “Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion. Which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)

We all do when we make our faith a mirror of morality, giving more value to one stage of human life than another. We all do when we deny the reality reflected back to us in Jesus regarding who is loved and who is not. God’s love is not based upon our moral values. In fact, it is the cross that gives us moral and ethical ground upon which to stand.   

We all do when we support systems that benefit us while at the same time take benefits away from others. Regardless of political, social, economic, or cultural structures, we all need God’s grace in and through the cross when one life is valued more than another.

It Matters Where You Start

It matters where you start when it comes to following Jesus. The question is, do you need the cross to be a follower of Jesus, a disciple, a Christian?

The apostle Paul would tell us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” It is in and through Jesus the Christ, that God’s grace abounds. So, why do we act so entitled in this world when all we have is grace?

It is Holy Week. It is time to reflect upon such questions. So, as you reflect, it is time to pick up your cross and follow. If God and God’s movement of grace and mission of love are the point and purpose of your living, then all other loves, perspectives, preferences, beliefs, and wisdom are far less by comparison. 

The only gospel that can change our world today is the “word of the cross.” Foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others. But to those who are not allergic to obeying God’s call, it is the hope of our future. 

Do you need the cross to follow Jesus? Read what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. 

Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of the proclamation, to save those who believe. 

22 For Jews ask for signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Reflect

When it comes to following Jesus, it matters where you start. As an example, the apostle Paul starts with the cross. For him, the cross is the core of the good news. The event of the cross is the hinge point that makes a difference not only in all of history, but in everyday living. That is why, in the middle of addressing divisions in the Corinthian church, he stops to talk about the cross.

The Cross and God’s Mission

He understood the cross as part of God’s mission. When he writes, “It is written,” he is drawing a connection between the God revealed in Jesus as the same God revealed to Israel and the prophets. (Read Isaiah 29:14)

From his perspective, the response to the event of the cross divided humanity into two categories. The first was nonbelievers. They were the people who relied on their own potential and achievement. The second was believers. They were the people who responded in faith to God’s grace. Both groups represented an action in process. Non Believers were not necessarily eternally doomed, and believers might have been on the way, but had not arrived.

Paul Addresses Divisions in the Church

So, he is addressing the divisions within the church. Their disagreements were centered on where they started. Each group viewed things in terms of their own human wisdom. Their thinking and living revealed they still missed the point.  And because they were missing the point, their divisions continued to grow.

So, Paul focused on the cross as the way to address the conflict. He said that the world did not know God through wisdom, but through the foolishness of what was preached. It was not the act of preaching but the content of the preaching that was considered foolishness. The word he used is related to the English word “moron.” Crucified savior was a contradiction of terms, an oxymoron.  It was foolish to think that a “crucified savior” would make the difference.

The God Revealed in the Cross

From his perspective, the Christian faith was not the confirmation of their best efforts, and insights. The Christian faith was the replacement of their efforts.  Following Jesus was not based on best practices. In fact, the gospel overturns not only our worst practices, but our best practices as well. The God revealed in the cross of Jesus does not and cannot fit into our ideas of how the world works. The cross is a reversal of all our expectations, not just those that are evil or stupid.

All Humanity is Included

Here is where it matters where you start. When Paul refers to the Jews and the Greeks, he is not using ethnic or national terms. He is referring to all humanity. Jews corresponded to the Jewish way of speaking of “Jews and Gentiles” and the Greeks corresponded to the Greek way of designating the whole of humanity as “Greeks and barbarians.” He refers to the Jews as those who represent the people who believe that God’s act is made obvious and clear by miraculous events. The “Greeks” represent those who assume that God’s way of working is a confirmation of their own intellectual system, or ordinary “common sense.”  Both types presume that God works according to their presuppositions. The truth is the cross turns both sets of beliefs upside down. To claim to believe the Christian faith because it has measured up to our expectation, whether of miracle or intellect, is still to operate with the wisdom of this world, which has been shattered by the unanticipated, unpredicted, incalculable event of the cross. In other words, grace that is not amazing is not grace. It matters where you start.

The Scandal of the Cross

The term “stumbling block” literally means “scandal.” There is a necessary scandal of the cross. When it is watered down or eliminated, the gospel has been domesticated to our expectations, and the Christian faith is only a projection of our “best” insights and ideologies.

Two thousand years of using the cross as a positive religious symbol, as decoration, and as jewelry, has dulled the impact of the scandal. The Romans used crucifixion to make an example of those who disturbed the good life of Roman peace. Crucifixion was a public display of how important they considered “law and order.” It is important to note that Roman citizens were not one crucified. Crucifixion was reserved for revolutionaries, terrorists, slaves, and unpatriotic lowlife.

God’s Movement of Grace & Mission of Love

So, the event of the cross of Jesus, though meant to maintain the law and order of the status quo, was in reality the reversal of our best into God’s movement of grace and mission of love. The very event itself, when understood and incorporated into human living, transforms our human wisdom into God’s love.

Paul’s term “those who are called” refers to followers of Jesus, Christians. Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. What we could not attain or verify by miracles or intellectual systems or common sense, God has freely provided in the surprising event of the crucified Christ.  

Paul uses the people in the Corinthian Church as testimony to his point. The church included both rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile. This was part of the message of the cross, the overturning of all human priorities and expectations.

The Cross is Experienced in Your Living

Let me say it one more time in a different way. For Paul, the church was not a matter of developing human potential but the work of God. The Corinthians wanted to be proud of their church, their preachers, and their apostles. They were so proud that they could not live the love of God. So, Paul reminds them that Jesus is the true wisdom of God. True wisdom is not intellectual systems or common sense retrofitted into the gospel.  Jesus, as the wisdom of God, is God’s act of love on the cross.

So, the cross does make a difference in your life not by how much you know or how great your faith but is experienced in your living. The difference is seen in your righteousness or your right relationship with God and with the people around you. The difference is seen in the way you act on behalf of people who are either down and out or up and out. The difference is seen in your everyday living at work, at home, and the places you play. This is what true wisdom is all about.

There are places in the world today where the Christians all come from the edges of society, intellectually, socially, politically, and culturally. They read Paul’s words and dismiss them as true but foolish. They read Paul’s words but pay little attention. There is a movement today, in our country, to be seen, recognized and accepted by the world. The church lives with this temptation. Do we follow the way of God’s love, or do we seek acceptance in the world?

You might use the social status of members to penetrate the upper levels of society, but you must be careful not to abandon the “people of the land.” You might seek out the healthy, wealthy, and wise, but your call is fulfilled when in loving service to those faceless ones who are powerless. When you start with the cross, God calls you to love all people just as God has loved you.

Let me crass for a moment. Paul never wore a t-shirt or a cap that said, “Make Rome Great Again.” Now let me be truthful, the cross speaks directly against making the best practices of religion an established form of government in its relationship with the world.  I know it sounds foolish and it gets in the way, but the cross of Jesus is our way, truth, and life.

During this Holy Week, consider this: Jesus rises from his knees and says to his followers, “Get up, let us be going.” He then goes before them to the Cross. As a follower of Jesus, it is not your wisdom or your faith that makes the difference. Picking up your cross and following Jesus is what makes the difference. Picking up your cross and following Jesus is who you are as a Christ centered leader.   

So, do you need the cross to follow Jesus? As foolish as it seems, I have put my life on it. 

Respond

Warner Sallman is known for his paintings of Jesus. In one of his paintings Jesus is knocking at a door. There is no handle or knob on the outside of the door. The implication is that the door must be opened from the inside. 

Over my years of ministry, I have heard preachers say, and rightly so, “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart, or at the door of your life. Because there is no handle on the outside, you must open the door to let him in.”  

I like that, but this Holy Week, I challenge you to think of it in slightly a different way. Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart, or at the door of your life. Because there is no handle on the outside, you must open the door to hear him say, ‘Come out and follow me. I have some friends I want you to meet.’” 

I once used that as an illustration in a sermon. A woman, when greeting me after the sermon, said, “You misunderstood the meaning of the painting. Jesus is knocking on the door to come in.” 

And I replied, “I agree with you. Jesus is knocking on the door to come in. I just know that when he was knocking at the door of my heart, I opened the door and he said, ‘I have some friends I want you to meet. When I come into your life, I am bringing them with me.” 

For Consideration During Holy Week

Holy Week This Holy Week, as you journey toward the cross and reflect upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, consider the following:   

You have work to do to follow Jesus and to be grounded in love. Has the cross made any difference in your living? What would it take for you to pick up your cross and get in line behind Jesus? It might seem foolish, but who will you love unconditionally with the love of Jesus? How will you be a person of healing hope in your family, in your church, in your community, and in the world? How will you work for justice? How will you shine with the light of love until God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love is a reality in everyday situations and circumstances? How will the people around you experience God’s love in and through you? 

It might seem foolish, but how has the cross made a difference? Why not show your community and the world the difference the cross has made by the way you live your life and in the relationships you are developing? Following Jesus is who you are, and who you are is how you lead. 

Pray

O God, make me aware of the people around me today and throughout this Holy Week. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. What difference did the cross make in how you responded to people? How you loved them? Cared for them? Advocated for them? How did you invite people into God’s movement of grace and mission of love? How did you offer Christ to the people around you?

Think about the people you encountered today. With whom do you need to practice your faith so you will become more who God has created you to be. What will you do differently tomorrow?

As a Christ-centered leader, in a rapidly changing world, you have the responsibility to lead forward in mission. By centering on God’s mission, engaging with the community, and embracing your local context, you can lead with purpose and authenticity. You have the opportunity to lead your church in reclaiming its role as a vibrant and relevant force in the lives of the people in your community and beyond. 

Engaging in Mission

You have been preparing for mission. The time has come to engage in the mission for which you have been preparing.  David Bosch wrote, “Mission is seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is the church because there is a mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people; since God is a fountain of sending love.” 

The time has come to move into the community with God’s love. But before you move too quickly, take a quick overview of the mission in which you are engaged.  (For a more in depth overview go to Preparing for Mission: Building on HOPE) .  

Our Mission

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).

People are sent out into the community to live the life of love as they have experienced in and through you and other followers of Jesus. As they experience hospitality, they extend hospitality. As they are immersed in God’s love, they invite others to be immersed in God’s love. As they practice loving as they have been loved they are inviting others to experience and to practice God’s love. 

Remember, you are sent out by Jesus. “Go” literally means “as you go.”  Wherever you are, you are set apart to live the life of love as experienced in and through Jesus.  

You are sent out to “make disciples.” A disciple is a student or follower. You have been invited, called, and commissioned to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus. This is important. You have not chosen Jesus. Jesus has chosen you. You are a follower of Jesus for the purpose of loving others as you have been loved. 

Making Disciples

Now, some people misread the word “make” as coercion, but that is not what Matthew means by “make.” Matthew is concerned about developing healthy relationships. So, how do you make disciples? You make disciples, followers, and students of Jesus, the same way Jesus did. You love people. You bless them, help them, and care for them. Just as with Jesus, (agape) the well-being of people becomes your priority.  

You practice the love of Jesus so you might become like Jesus. When you read the Gospel of John, you discover that the followers of Jesus are known by the way they love one another. So, to “make disciples” means to love people as you have been loved.  It is to engage in the love of God in the places you live, work, play, and associate with people. 

Making Disciples Begins with Love

The greatest part of loving others as you have been loved is, you are not left alone to love others.  The Risen Christ is with you.  God does not leave you to fend for yourself. The very birth of Jesus is announced as “and they shall name him Emmanuel which means, ‘God is with us.’” The mission of making disciples is God’s mission. You have been invited to participate in God’s mission.  If God calls you, God will equip you. When God calls and equips, God will be with you, even to the end. 

With that review, you are not ready to move forward with the mission clearly in focus. 

Read Matthew 28:19 

“Go therefore and make disciples…” 

To help engage in mission, below are seven questions to answer: (Click here for a more in-depth look at the 7 Missional Questions

1.      Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? (God’s Presence)

To help lay a foundation for mission and assist in developing a clear focus, consider asking this question at the beginning of every meeting. Have every group that meets engage in answering this question. It is one of two foundational questions that contribute to congregational health. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their life. The question can be asked in different ways. For example, “Where did you experience the light of Christ today? (Matt 5:14-16) How did God’s love become real today? Take note of the responses as one way of preparing for mission.

2.      What is the mission of the church? (Mission)

This question is about the purpose of the church. It is not about mission projects, trips, or work. It is about why your church exists. What is the church’s mission (purpose)? Does everyone know the mission? Can they repeat it? Do they embody it? This is the partner question to naming God’s presence. Both are essential for healthy disciple-making movements. It’s one thing to have words on a website or framed on the wall. It’s another thing to use the mission to guide what you do and to measure the direction and activities of the church. Use the mission as a sorting mechanism to ask, “Does this help us further or fulfill our mission?” If not, why are we doing it? Don’t confuse activity for missional impact. Don’t try to justify all your activities as contributing to your mission. If you’re having a party and it’s simply for fun, name it as fun. Otherwise, the mission becomes fuzzy for people. Lack of focus leads people to inaction.

3.      What is our mission field? (Mission Field)

Your mission field can be described in multiple ways. Most often, it is a geographic region where people live. Using the location of your church building as the center of a radius, what is the geographic area of your missional outreach? Although most of your church members live in the suburbs, if your building location is in the urban core of the city, your mission field is a section of the urban core of the city. The question to answer is, “are you a suburban church that meets downtown or are you an urban church in ministry downtown?  Once you have defined and are clear regarding your geographic region, then identify who lives within the mission field. What are their habits and interests? Listen to their stories, identify activities and symbols that help you learn more about them. Although you live someplace other than where your building is located, identify the area around your building as your mission field and the people within your mission field as your mission partners.

4.      What are the assets of our community? (Assets)

This is an important “preparing for mission” activity. Your assets start with the people who live in your mission field. As you meet people and begin to develop relationships, take note of their skills and resources. As you walk your mission field, take note of the services, businesses, physical attributes (parks, attractions, poverty, trash, etc.) and financial assets. If you’re having trouble identifying assets, take a walk in your community and ask people to respond to the questions: “What do you love about our community (neighborhood, or city)?” and “What would you change if you could change it?”

5.      What are the needs in our community? (Needs)

 This is another important “preparing for mission” activity. The needs start with the needs of people in your community. In general, the basic needs are food, water, and shelter. These are followed by safety, love, belonging and self-esteem/respect. Recognizing and realizing our potential, learning, faith, and service round out the list. As you walk your mission field, ask the people you meet to respond to a couple of questions. The first question is, “What do you love about our community (neighborhood, city, etc.)” Make sure to start with what they love, or you will not get much feedback. People like to talk about what they love to anyone who will listen. Then ask the second question, “What needs does the community have?” As you engage people in conversation, follow-up with “Would you like to help address the needs?” Make sure to get contact information so that you might engage them in meeting their needs.

6.      What relationships exist with leaders in our community? (Relationships)

 How are you and other church leaders developing relationships with the following sectors of the community: business, government, education, first responders, faith/religion, arts and entertainment, non-profit, health (hospitals, doctors, nurses, clinics)? Who are the people you already know and what relationships do you have with them? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, re-established? What community leaders are members of your church? One person with whom to start building a relationship beyond the walls of the church is the principal of your local elementary school.

 7.      What is one way we can collaborate with another church? (Collaborations)

Every local church, at their best, is focused on Jesus. Your practices and theology may differ, but you are in the same business of loving others as you have been loved. In other words, you are not in competition with other churches. We are all on the same team. Now is the time to model for others what collaboration can look like, even in the face of differences. Now is the time to have a conversation with another local church leader or pastor. Listen to their stories. Learn of their faith and God’s call upon their lives. Take note of how they express their mission and what disciple-making looks like to them and their faith community.  Reflect upon how you might partner with them in God’s movement of grace and mission of love in your mission field.

You have received much information regarding engaging in mission. As you read, reflect, and respond to this information, prepare your head and heart for the next part of Preparing for Mission: Engaging in Mission Part 2.

Respond

To engage in mission, prepare your heart and mind with prayer. Ask God to help you to be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter in your mission field. 

Prepare your heart and mind with bible study. Read Luke 10:1-12 and ask God to send you out as a missionary to learn about the mission field you have defined and within which you serve. 

Engage the leaders of your church in participating in the seven questions above. Send your leaders out in teams of two or three to experience the mission, to encounter the people, to assess the assets and needs of the mission field. 

Assist your leaders in identifying and developing the relationships within your mission field. What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, or re-established? 

Continue to engage our team in prayer and study. Continue to ask God to help you be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter. 

Now, how will you love the people God sends your way?  How will you reach and receive them in love? How will you introduce them to God’s love? How will you practice who you are as a follower of Jesus?  In what new way will you love them as Christ has loved you? 

Remember, practice makes perfect. It helps you become who you are created to be. And who you are is how you lead. 

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what did you engage in God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love? How did you engage the seven missional questions?  Who did you invite to participate with you? How did you feel like a missionary?  

If you did not engage the seven questions today, how will you engage them in the near future? Who will you invite to participate with you? How will you use prayer and study to prepare?

This is part two of a two-part series on Practice your faith. Read Part 1 – Preparing for Mission: Practice Your Faith here

Practicing your faith comes in two ways. First, to practice means to perform an activity or exercise a skill repeatedly in order to improve or maintain your proficiency. In other words, you rehearse or practice. (Part 1) 

Second, practice means to put into action or to implement what you have learned and experienced. It is the actual doing or application of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to talking about it. In other words, you apply or practice what you have rehearsed. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to nurture people in their faith as well as equip them to live out their faith in everyday situations and circumstances. You have the opportunity to assist them in rehearsing their faith as well as applying their faith in everyday situations with every person they encounter. As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to put faith into action because that is who you are. You model faith by the way you live your life in relationship with everyone you encounter. 

Jesus gives clear direction in Matthew’s good news. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). When you are preparing for mission, practice makes perfect. 

Read Matthew 28:19-20 

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

To get a firm foundation for Practice Your Faith, read 

PREPARING FOR MISSION: What is God’s Mission? Part 1 

PREPARING FOR MISSION: What is God’s Mission? Part 2 

PREPARING FOR MISSION: Building on Hope

Reflect on “Teaching”

The word “teaching” for Matthew refers to who you are to be as a follower of Jesus. For Matthew, you are to be holy. The word means to be “different” as God is different. And you are different in the way you live your life as a person of God’s love. It is who you are and how you live as a follower of Jesus. It is what God’s movement of grace and mission of love means. The different life, the life of holiness, is seen in your relationship with God and with the people around you.  

You practice holy living in your relationships with family, friends, strangers, and enemies.  You are proactive in how you treat others.  You act on behalf of others not because they have acted on your behalf but because you are loved by God. A love you see in Jesus. 

You practice by living with integrity. You practice what you preach. You are as good as your word. You walk your talk. You can be trusted. Your “yes” means “yes” and “no” means “no.” Integrity is who you are. Your values are rooted in God’s love. And even though there are conflicting voices, you are attuned to God’s Word, God’s voice of love, Jesus. 

You practice by keeping your focus on God’s love by working for the well-being of all people. So, you seek first the way of God’s movement of grace and mission of love. You don’t get tripped up on things. To say it another way, you focus more on people than on buildings, furniture, or investments. You focus more on people regardless of their economic, social, or political status. 

Loving others becomes so natural that you care for everyone the way you would care for Jesus. You care because that is who you are, a grace-filled Jesus follower who is putting your faith into action. 

You practice by taking the initiative in forgiveness.  It actually means to forgive as many times as it takes to restore the relationships that are being broken.  It is the relationship that is important. 

Put into Practice 

Here is the key to practicing your faith. The words “to obey” mean “to observe” or to “pay attention to,” or “to put into practice.  To obey “these things” means to put into practice God’s movement of grace and mission of love. To observe or to pay attention to means to be holy. 

It is easy to talk about being holy, but it is not so easy to be holy, to live in right relationship with God and your neighbor. So, practice makes perfect. You practice by living out what you have learned. As a Jesus follower, it means your regular everyday living is holy living. 

The Way You Love

As a Christ-centered leader, you lead others in practicing hospitality and in offering Christ in all they say and do. You practice faith by the way you love others. You practice faith by inviting others to practice what they are learning about “holy living” in relationship to the people they meet each day. 

You nurture the people around you in God’s love and lead them into practicing God’s love in everyday situations and circumstances. You put faith into practice because that is who you are. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

So, how will you practice holy living today? Be aware of the people God sends your way. Be mindful of the opportunities you have to respond with love. How will you practice who you are as a follower of Jesus?  In what new way will you love others as Christ has loved you? 

Practicing your faith helps to turn your inner faith into an outward expression of love and care. How will you practice your faith today? 

Remember, practice makes perfect. It helps you become who you are created to be. 

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you practice your faith? With whom did you share God’s love? How did you invite people into God’s movement of grace and mission of love? How were you hospitable? How did you offer Christ to the people around you?

Think about the people you encountered today. With whom do you need to practice your faith so you will become more who God has created you to be. What will you do differently tomorrow?

One of the characteristics of God’s mission is practicing your faith. Practicing your faith comes in two ways. First, to practice means to perform an activity or exercise a skill repeatedly in order to improve or maintain your proficiency. In other words, you rehearse or practice. 

Second, practice means to put into action or to implement what you have learned and experienced. It is the actual doing or application of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to talking about it. In other words, you apply or practice what you have rehearsed. 

Nurture and Equipped to Live Out Your Faith 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to nurture people in their faith as well as equip them to live out their faith in everyday situations and circumstances. You have the opportunity to assist them in rehearsing their faith as well as applying their faith in everyday situations with every person they encounter.    

So, as you invite people into the movement of God’s grace and equip them for the mission of God’s love, you provide opportunities for them to practice by learning and growing in their faith. It might be you’re helping people practice their faith through the means of grace, a small group, or a Sunday School class. Whether it be serving meals, caring for those who are homeless, or teaching children to read, assist people by incorporating scripture, prayer, and reflection as ways of practicing their faith. Whether it be a finance meeting, trustee meeting, choir rehearsal, a women’s or men’s meeting, youth fellowship, or nursery school board, offers people opportunities to talk about faith experiences as ways of practicing their faith. 

The point is, as a Christ-centered leader, you nurture and equip people by providing opportunities to rehearse their faith and apply what they have rehearsed.    

People experience God’s love and learn to share God’s love through practice. Jesus gives clear direction in Matthew’s good news. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

When you are preparing for mission, practice makes perfect.

Let’s explore several examples of practicing faith from the early church in The Acts of the Apostles, Acts 2:42. (It would be helpful to read Christ-Centered Leaders Develop Community and Christ-Centered Leaders Develop Community – Part 2

Read Acts 2:42-47 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  

Reflect

The first followers of Jesus practiced by devoting “themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” Part of the practice of the first followers was to gather in community. Practicing community was important. 

It is mentioned three times: They devoted themselves to “fellowship” (verse 42), “All who believed were together” (verse 44), and “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple…” (verse 46). Being together was an important characteristic of their faith development. They practiced their faith in relationship with other Jesus followers. 

Practicing Community

Practicing community was seen in the relationships they made and deepened as they gathered to listen and learn of the gospel (apostles’ teaching). They practiced community when they ate together, (breaking of bread). 

They practiced God’s love, agape, by working for the good of others, especially with those who had little to eat. They practiced relationships by praying together and by gathering with glad and generous hearts in gratitude to God. They practiced by seeking direction on how to live their lives as followers of Jesus. 

Studying the Scripture

They practiced by studying the scripture together. “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching…” Wesley called this “searching the scriptures.” 

One of the distinctive marks of Jesus followers was they sought to understand how to live their lives in relationship with one another.  Just as the apostles’ teaching was transformational in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, practicing living the good news of Jesus Christ is transformational both personally and socially.  

Practicing Fellowship

They practiced fellowship together. “They devoted themselves to…fellowship.”  When they gathered, they practiced loving one another. Their time together was formational as they grew together in their personal faith and learned to have compassion and encouragement in their social interactions.  

They practiced accountability. “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple.” Those early Jesus followers spent time together sharing stories, asking questions, learning, and growing together. It was in their conversations (Christian conferencing) they practiced accountability. 

For a more in-depth exploration of accountability can be found in the blog Christ-Centered Leaders Develop Community 

Practice Sharing Your Faith

Their practice inward led to their practice beyond themselves. As they practiced their faith together, they were led to practice their faith outside their group. They discovered new ways to love others the way God Jesus had loved them. They practiced their faith by sharing what they had with others. Whether it was their food, clothing, shelter, money, or other possessions, they practiced generosity by offering themselves to one another in love. 

Their practice helped them become more who God had created them to be. How are you practicing your faith? Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

How will you practice your faith today? Be aware of the people God sends your way today. How will you participate in community? How will you develop relationships with people who are not part of your inner circle? In what new way will you love others the way God in Christ has loved you? 

How will you practice your faith by reading and studying the scripture, by praying, by entering conversations about faith and how to grow in love? 

How will you practice your faith by feeding people who are hungry or finding shelter for those who are homeless? How will you provide care for children or find jobs for those unemployed? 

Practicing your faith helps to turn your inner faith into an outward expression of love and care. How will you practice your faith today? 

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you practice your faith? With whom did you share God’s love? How did you invite people into God’s movement of grace and mission of love? How did you practice hospitality? How did you practice offering Christ to the people around you? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?