10:15 I Facebook Live
Well friends, we’re all one week into the national emergency due to the COVID-19 virus. How y’all doing? I’m sure the answers are all over the board. And our answers say much about us — things like where we work, what personality type we have, where we gather our information. But most importantly, this is a great time to find out what we truly value. Testing has a way of making some things clear to us that we can’t see when life is easy, when nothing is asked of us. And what is testing but a time of being asked for things? Let’s dig in this week and see how Jesus handles this, and what it has to teach us, and let’s see why his answers let the crowds utterly amazed.
Have you ever stood in the expansive shadow of a California redwood tree?
Of all the stunning reminders we have of God’s majesty and artistry, this magnificent behemoth is one of the most breathtaking. The tallest redwoods stretch higher than a 35-foot skyscraper and grow to weigh almost two million pounds during a lifespan of 2,000 years.
But even redwoods, with their imposing power and bulk, aren’t as strong when they stand alone.
A redwood’s root system can extend more than a hundred miles. As it grows, it becomes entwined with the roots of its neighbors; together, they give each other support, strength and stability to stand against the destructive winds and floods of the Northwest.
At Grace Church, we see a profound and beautiful picture there of what it means to live in community with followers of Jesus Christ. It resonates with us, because at the heart of who we are is a commitment to pursuing Him and walking out our faith in communion with a family of believers.
We might differ from time to time in the way we define “community,” but we understand that it begins for all of us with being connected. Rooted together. Gaining strength from one another. Loving God and serving others and the world while building relationships within our Grace Church family. Being engaged in an on-going conversation about what kingdom living is, listening to each other, seeking to learn about each others’ opinions and experiences. Knowing none of us have all the answers.
Below, we try to state clearly the core tenets of our faith along with how we interpret those in our practice. You’ll learn here about our vision and practices; how we’re organized, and why. Hopefully, you’ll see what it looks like to be a part of the ministry of Grace Church.
But the way you’ll come to know us best is by spending time with us. Explore our website, friend us on social media and, in these times of separation, worship with us via livestream on Sundays at 10:15 a.m. on our Facebook page, Grace Church of NWA.
Why “Belong, Become, Believe”?
“Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me.'” Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, tax collectors, zealots — men and women who would never have been considered “disciple material” by the rabbis and teachers of the day. One important quality they shared was their lack of understanding of what they were in for. It wasn’t strong faith, noble character or purity that qualified them; it was the call of Jesus.
At Grace, we believe the same is true for us today. Jesus calls us to follow Him; that alone qualifies each of us to be Jesus’ disciples, His apprentices. It also qualifies us to belong in, and to, the community of Christ known as the Church. That’s why discipleship starts with belonging. We become who Jesus wants us to be as we’re truly welcomed and included, rooted into the community of Christ-followers. We engage with the Church not in order to earn God’s love or approval, but in response to the love and approval already given to us. As we are more deeply shaped by the love and acceptance of God, our faith is formed.
Now our experience of this is rarely, if ever, linear. We experience all three happening at once. It also never happens as we might expect, or wish, or even pray for. Growing in grace, rooting ourselves into Jesus and learning to live out the “fruit of the Spirit” all rests in God’s grace towards us. There will be challenges along the way, dry spells and seasons of intense testing, but when we know we can rest securely in our belonging, the becoming and believing will follow.
The ultimate witness of the Kingdom among us, the sign that we are Jesus’ disciples, is our love for each other. That is primarily reflected in our belonging.
“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.” —
1 Corinthians 12:13 (NET)
At Grace Church, we believe the Kingdom of Heaven is open, inclusive, diverse, and available to everyone. So that’s what we want our church to look like. Whoever you are, whatever the journey that brought you here, we welcome you. Grace is a faith community who wants to know Jesus. We recognize and affirm that all are welcome to participate fully in the life of our church.
We seek to include a diverse representation of our Church in leadership based on the call and gifting of the Holy Spirit. This is not limited by age, race, marital status, economic resources, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
So what does it mean to be “plugged in” to Grace Church?
Most importantly, it means we are accountable to Christ above any human being or human system. Only when that priority is “in focus” do our relationships with one another stand a chance of being healthy. Once we become secure in our relationship with Jesus we are free to commit to, interact with and serve others with clean hearts, clear heads and pure motives.
Also, it means trying to see our world with the compassion of Jesus; to love and serve others the way He did, sacrificially — without fear; without regard for their beliefs, brokenness and hopelessness; without concern for ourselves.
We want to continually ask ourselves and each other: Where do we encounter things that are not as they ought to be, or were intended by God to be? How can we insert ourselves in those situations in a real and tangible way to give people a glimpse of the Kingdom, the Creator and His Creation? How can we more align our own affections, affiliation and allegiances to reflect our love for Jesus?
We work toward that goal in a lot of ways, including committing to:
praying and actively studying Scripture, personally and along with the Grace community, expecting the Holy Spirit to change us and make us more like Jesus in the process.
participating regularly in worship, Grace Groups, personal discipleship and other activities that are part of the life of Grace Church.
sacrificially sharing our gifts, talents and resources as the Spirit provides opportunities.
building the Kingdom within our fellowship, in our communities and beyond.
serving like Christ in the fellowship at Grace, in family, job, community, overseas — wherever God leads us.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive or exclusive list. More important than any particular expression is the motivation behind it. Basically, our desire is to be a group of people seeking to be passionate followers of Jesus.
Our hope is that in sharing that passion, you will also have a growing passion for His word, as well as a dedication to working out your beliefs in the context of a Christian fellowship.
And if you believe He’s leading you to do that at Grace Church, we’d love for you to join us.
“Now may the Lord direct your hearts toward the love of God
and the endurance of Christ.” — 2 Thessalonians 3:5 (NET)
In the daily discipline of laying everything in our lives before Jesus and apprenticing ourselves to His heart, mind and ways, we grow to know Him more intimately, follow Him more closely and become more like Him. How we act, think, believe and behave — the Holy Spirit at work in us can change everything about us. Becoming more like Jesus we learn to see the world, and our place in it, differently.
We learn what it means to love, live and serve as Jesus did, and would. This is how we learn to be the Church.
We build our mission and vision for Grace Church on a few basic assumptions:
Everything starts with God’s love for us. Loving God because He loved us produces the sort of outcomes we hope to see in our lives: love for each other, desire to serve and excitement to share what we know about Jesus. We didn‘t do anything to earn this love and we can’t do anything to lose it.
God the Holy Spirit teaches, directs and unifies us. One of our chief functions at Grace is to create and maintain an environment of sensitivity to God the Holy Spirit’s presence and work.
To be transformed means we are called to be actively practicing sacrificial love for each other (Philippians 2:1-18). The popular belief that ministry is the responsibility of a pastor, the church staff or other professionals denies the Biblical truth that we are all ministers to one another and ambassadors of Christ in our world.
Each of us is responsible for and capable of ministering. With that in mind, here are a few principles that help us recognize our roles in the Kingdom:
Jesus is the head of the Church, and we yield to His guidance and authority over it. We are guided and compelled in our allegiance to Jesus through the power of God the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.
Every member of the body is equipped to share the Kingdom by living it out, and to be a minister of the Gospel.
Everyone is encouraged to be a passionate follower of Jesus as a part of the regular rhythm of their life.
Everyone is encouraged to develop deep, honest and loving relationships with the Creator and with each other; to look for and respond to opportunities for serving others in Jesus’ name. Rather than building our church primarily around programs for our members, our priority is to help each other be active influencers for Christ in the world.
Sabbath rest. We believe that practicing regular times of rest, ceasing from the necessity of producing or distracting activity is an essential practice.
As we grow in relationship with God and each other, we learn to live and serve together in ways that demonstrate God’s love. Grace Church is a small part of the larger body of Christ, and we seek to cooperate with our brothers and sisters any way we can, being faithful with the resources we’re given.
The key component and the end goal of our personal lives and our life as a church is love. The greatest commandments Jesus gives us are to love God and love one another (Matthew 22:35-38). These twin commandments are the heart of the church; they’re intertwined and can’t be separated. Unless we dedicate constant energy and focus to understanding what this means for us, any efforts or plans we make individually or collectively are futile.
Love isn’t something we can teach; it’s an outcome of our ability to recognize, with the help of God the Holy Spirit, the worth and beauty in ourselves and others. We sometimes create barriers to love, as individuals and as a church. We want to root out those things that keep us from experiencing God’s love and passing it on to others; for example:
the belief that we cannot love, or be loved, because of our sin, lack or ignorance.
misunderstanding what love truly is. God is love! If we don’t know Him, our source of knowledge about love is warped.
being isolated, or isolating oneself, from other believers.
teaching that leads others to perceive God’s love as unattainable, transactional or inapplicable.
over-commitment to activities at the expense of relationships, and choosing to implement structures in place of relationships.
The Necessity of Community
As followers of Christ, all of our hurt, sickness and brokenness is intensified when we’re disconnected from the Church. Our faith is meant to be lived out in fellowship with other believers. And it’s difficult for us to love one another “warts and all” if we actually spend little time together. That’s why being an active part of a smaller group, or Grace Group, within our church is central to being involved in the life of Grace Church. We understand the value of committing to being part of a community of people who we might not otherwise choose to spend time with, much less
Though each of these groups has a distinct personality, they have some important things in common: Meeting for prayer, mutual support, Bible study and fellowship, they provide places for us to exercise the love we claim and seek; to develop close friendships; to learn and grow together more deeply in communion with Christ and each other; and to find encouragement and opportunity for ministry and discipleship.
For those who have not accepted Christ, a Grace Group offers a place to experience the reality of what it means to be a passionate follower of His.
Why We Serve
Our Grace Group leaders help shepherd our faith community and offer spiritual leadership and oversight. They also encourage their group members to lead so that as the church grows, volunteers are available to branch out and offer leadership to new Grace Groups.
As we grow in relationship with God and each other, we learn to live and serve together in ways that demonstrate God’s love; the most visible expression of our love for God is our service to each other, the communities we live in and everyone with whom we share this planet. It’s how others will know we’re different, set apart. It’s where we move from hearing the Word to doing what it says.
While our service begins and grows in our fellowship at Grace Church, it’s equally important to serve in the places where we live, work, travel, play and socialize. Serving others is a vital part of a passionate Christ-follower’s life, and a person’s passion and commitment should grow through their involvement at Grace.
Part of our mandate as a church is to provide teaching and training, and to serve wherever God is at work. We try to be faithful to this vision in several ways, including:
finding, encouraging and supporting ministry development inside and outside of Grace.
partnering with other churches, ministries and individuals who share our vision and values.
encouraging one another in pursuing a calling.
providing resources for specific, focused ministries.
Structure & Organization
There are many different religious traditions and experiences represented by the people in our faith community, but Grace Church doesn’t look exactly like any of them.
We hope that the way we’ve chosen to organize ourselves reflects what we’re most committed to: the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ. Affirming that it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in all of us that facilitates the spiritual growth and prospering of the Church, we believe this model is the best example of what the Bible teaches about how we’re to live together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
But this structure, like any other, only functions as well as the people who are part of it. So for it to work, everyone in the Grace Church family must display:
humility (Philippians 2:3)
peacefulness (Matthew 5:39)
sacrificial love (John 15:13)
understanding (1 Peter 3:15)
servanthood (Matthew 23:5-12)
As individuals and as a church, we’ve wrestled at times with the very things that make our fellowship unique; as you learn more about us, maybe you will too. We encourage you to ask questions and reflect on how our structure compares or contrasts with what is important to you as a believer, and to let that inform your decision about whether God is leading you to be a part of Grace.
There are three points that shape our approach to church leadership:
The Church is a non-clerical community. Unlike Israel, which was divided into sacred priestly members and lay members, the early Christian church was a people’s movement. The distinguishing mark of Christianity was not found in a clerical hierarchy but in the fact that God’s Spirit came to dwell within ordinary, common people, and that through them, the Spirit manifested Jesus’ life to the believing community and the world.
The Church is a humble-servant community. When it functions properly, shared leadership requires a greater exercise of humble servanthood.
Service Teams and Leaders: There are areas of responsibility at Grace Church that are coordinated by teams in order to carry out ministry. We encourage our membership to be sensitive to opportunities to get involved when they see that a team has a need they could fill. The more people there are serving in a particular area, the lighter the load is for any one individual. Similar to other areas at Grace, we encourage shared leadership within our Service Teams. Those who facilitate these teams help shepherd, organize and provide spiritual leadership for their ministry area.
Our Grace Service Teams are:
“Jesus replied, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’”
— John 14:6 (NET)
Jesus Christ is at the center of everything we believe and practice. Jesus is the image of the unseen God; all creation testifies to Him as author and creator. All of Scripture is informed by Him and informs us about Him. The Church belongs to Him.
Jesus taught and demonstrated that God’s redemptive love is radically inclusive; that every person is uniquely created in God’s own image; that God offers everyone — in equal measure — abundant grace and room at the Kingdom table. That’s why we are a church that desires to be made up of people of all ages, races; the rich and the poor. We want to reflect the variances of the human experience - fully integrating the disabled, those across the spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations. Our church body includes and values those who are single, divorced, married and families. It’s why we practice open communion and invite all who want to follow Jesus to be fully a part of our faith community.
Rabbinical tradition in Jesus’ day held that students would aspire not only to learn from their teacher, but to be exactly like him; to emulate him so thoroughly that anyone would know who he was simply by knowing them.
As apprentices of Jesus, that’s our goal. We want to emulate Him so thoroughly that anyone who knows us will know who He is. We can’t do that on our own; Philippians 2:13 says God changes us from the inside, giving us the desire and the energy to do things that honor God. We lean into that process through prayer, community with other believers and connection with God’s Word.
We believe the Bible is a collection of writings inspired by God. We read and teach the Bible at Grace Church because Scripture reveals Jesus to us; it tells us about God’s plan for humankind, shows us a history of God’s dealings with God’s creation and invites us to understand our own lives as part of the story.
As Christ-followers, we want to be grounded in Scripture; to let it inform and expand our imaginations and guide the way we live. The Holy Spirit in each of us and among us when we’re together allows us to learn from, sharpen and shape one another. So we want to create an environment where, as a faith community, we all are digging into the timeless truths it holds.
So we take a unique approach to our teaching ministry. It’s team-led. We don’t have one pastor, or even a senior pastor. As the person responsible for infusing the Word into the church body, the teaching team leader drives the bus. The leader guides a teaching team made up of volunteers from the Grace Church community who provide structure and encouragement for deepening our understanding of Scripture, as well as a pool of Sunday-morning teachers.
Team members meet to study and pray together, pulling apart and wrestling with the text for a given week. Together, they help build the framework for how we engage with the Bible.
We recognize the Holy Spirit as the authority in teaching us God’s Word, not the person at the mic on a Sunday morning. Everyone at Grace is urged to read, think, study and pray on their own in preparation for worship, and to revisit our weekly text with others in our fellowship, whether one-on-one or as part of a Grace Group.
We believe that when all of us are tracking together and investing time as a community to be transformed by Scripture, we stand the best chance of growing into a church that looks like Jesus.
Trying to hear what God is saying to us through God’s word is a serious undertaking; we approach it with care, respect and humility, not so that we can shape it to our will, but so we can grow in our understanding of how the Holy Spirit can use it to shape us.
No creed or confession of faith can fully state what we believe. In order to connect with historic Christianity, though, while leaving room for disagreements on what Paul calls “disputable matters,” we’ve adopted the Nicene Creed. Like all declarations, it’s a product of a particular time and place; of people like us, sorting through what they believed and confessing publicly what they understood to be the basics of Christian faith. It’s also an interpretation, not intended to replace Scripture.
There are four distinctive marks within the creed:
“One” describes our unity.
“Holy” describes our sanctity.
“Christian” describes the centrality to our faith of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
“Apostolic” describes our connection with the traditions passed down from the apostles.
Please read this version of the creed, and interact with it; consider its strengths and shortcomings, as well as its application in light of our desire — individually and as a church — to come to a loving knowledge of Jesus through Scripture.
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
Eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
Begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father;
Through Him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
Was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
And became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
And his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the given of life,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
Who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The best way to learn more fully who we are and what we believe is to spend time with us. Please know you are welcome, and we pray you will find a place to belong, become and believe with us.
Grace and peace.