Sherry and I started a community group in Ventura, last summer. We had been thinking, dreaming and exploring what planting a church in Venturamight look like.
So one of things we did was start a community group, to really seeing if there was any traction here. We wanted to see if God was stirring something in us for this city. We knew from day one, if God was stirring something up, it wouldn’t stay with us. That heart, mission and vision would be carried out by others.
And these last 8 months or so have been tremendous! We have seen our little community group grow, we’ve seen relationships deepen and a love and affection and worship of Jesus grow! It’s been amazing to see the grace of God at work.
One of the always awkward subjects in church is growth. People don’t like to talk about numbers. Comparisons are always dangerous. And we don’t like to be faced with the reality of what happens if we don’t grow.
But, here’s the crazy thing: the bible talks a lot about growth! Especially in Acts, detailing the journey of the new church spreading throughout the world.
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7 ESV)
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31 ESV)
But the word of God increased and multiplied. (Acts 12:24 ESV)
When the gospel goes forward, the church grows. When the church grows, the church must reproduce, or else it gets bloated. Reproducing means gospel goodbyes.
Anything that is heathy reproduces. This is true in nature, and its true for the church. But, it does’t make it any easier, nor should it!
This last week, in our community group, we commissioned our second group and its leader. This was a bittersweet time!
It was bitter (and it should be) because we love them, and will be missing the deep relationships and bonds we’ve cultivated with the team starting this second community group.
But, it was sweet, because it’s puts us on mission to invite others into this story, it gives leadership away to others and creates more opportunity for people to join this story.
When Paul called for the Ephesian Elders, the pastors, leaders of the church in Ephesus, and spent time encouraging them, praying for them, and teaching them, he leaves them. He had build an amazing relationships with them over his three or so years there, but he was leaving. He was continuing in his great gospel adventure. And at the very end of this scene, we get a glimpse into something kind of crazy: gospel goodbyes.
And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
(Acts 20:36–38 ESV)
There were tears. There was embracing. They were sad they wouldn’t see him again! But, they gospel was moving forward. It wasn’t just a goodbye, it was a gospel goodbye! Full of memories and tears and joint experience, but they knew Paul was pressing forward in his journey.
While gospel goodbyes are essential for the growth of the church of Jesus and crucial to mission we are on, it doesn’t make it any easier. And what I love about the bible is that it reaffirms it isn’t easy. It should be hard. It should be sad. It should be bitter.
But it should also be so sweet. We can have joy in the fact that gospel is moving forward through a new community.