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I want to talk about something that I think is important, and not talked about enough. And that’s what I means for us as a spiritual community to be healthy.

Most everything I’ve learned about Christian community, I’ve learned from this community. So you all continue to lead me and teach me.

I haven’t always talked about Christian community the way I do now. Growing up in this church I certainly EXPERIENCED healthy Christian Community. But it wasn’t for me personally until I began to lead Outlet that I developed the language for what I have been experiencing my whole life.

Growing Up – this church

When I think back to when I was growing up, going to church. I remember being a little kid at this church and being one of the cool-kids because I could do armpit farts. Besides that, it’s pretty much a blur. Jk.

One thing that I remember is the food that we ate before and after church. Does anybody remember Grandy’s? Oh man. So great. We also loved, let’s see, Shoneys. Anybody remember Shoneys? And then on Tuesday nights, before mid-week service, we would go with our friends to a little restaurant called ‘King David’s’.

What’s amazing is when I think back to those times in my life, I’m amazed how little I can remember about church and how much I can remember about the tables that were before and after church.


Christian community has always meant so much to me and that’s why I think it’s so tragic when people find their way to a community and it ends up being one of the WORST things for them.

And start thinking about this show that my wife is obsessed with called ‘Scientology and the Aftermath’ on A&E. It’s a documentary series that stars ex-scientologists talking about their experiences in the cult which is scientology.

In fact, I know some of you might not be familiar with the church of scientology, I actually have a short of the show just to give you an idea.

(Scientology & the Aftermath / A&E clip)

What’s amazing about the ‘church’ of scientology is that it’s a church. It gets all the tax benefits of a church. So it’s interesting to think that for a lot of people, the criticisms that they’d have against scientology, they would also have against Christianity.

So it’s an interesting and important question to ask “How can you tell the difference between a healthy spiritual community and an unhealthy one?”

Well Jesus points us to a way that we’re able to tell.

The pharisees in Jesus’s day, they had the scriptures, and they even to some extent had the right behaviors, but what they didn’t produce was healthy people.

Look at what Jesus says about them:

Matthew 23:1-4

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: (Matthew 23:1)

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. (Matthew 23:2)

So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (Matthew 23:3)

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)

Explain: Amazing that Jesus actually says to do what the pharisees say. But they don’t practice what they preach. And he says something about them that’s very revealing to us today: “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Their religion is heavy. And oppressive.

  • Christianity is a faith of liberation, not bondage.
  • Christianity is a faith of freedom, not obligation.

5 questions – ask – any spiritual community.

5 questions to ask of any spiritual community. And within these questions, you can hopefully see the type of community we aspire to be.

1. Does it build bridges or barriers between people?

For those of you who know about scientology, you know one thing they do is if someone leaves scientology, they force that persons family to excommunicate you. A Christian church would never force you like that, but does our teaching lead you to build bridges or lead you to build barriers?

Think for a moment about Christian denominations.


We’re not part of one. We’re what’s called a ‘non-denominational’ church – which in a way has become it’s own denomination.

But let’s just take 1: “The Church of God.”

  • Began August 1886 in Cleveland, Tennessee.
  • Over 6 million members across 180 countries.
  • One of the largest pentecostal denominations in the world.

But to talk about the “Church of God”, we have to acknowledge that there are MANY “churches of God”

  • Church of God – Cleveland Tennessee.
  • Church of God Chatanuga Tennessee
  • Church of God Anderson Indianna
  • Church of God Huntsville Alabama
  • Church of God in Christ
  • Church of God of Prophesy
  • Church of God 7th day
  • Church of God of the union assembly
  • Church of God mountain assembly
  • Church of God of the original mountain assembly
  • Church of God holiness
  • Church of God restoration
  • Christian Baptist Church of God
  • Church of God by Faith
  • Church of God with signs following
  • Fire baptized Holiness Church of God
  • Pentecostal Church of God
  • Pentecostal Church of God Detroit
  • Church of God All Nations
  • Church of God in Divine Order
  • The Apostolic, Overcoming Holy Church of God (AOHCOG)

This – just 21 denominations, all have their own churches.

How many total? Aprox 34,000

Thought about listing like 200 of them to make a point, but I started boring myself, so I thought I’d spare you.

It’s fine to have differences in beliefs but what’s not ok is to be a community that communicates that unless you believe exactly like we believe that you’re somehow the enemy.

2. Does it empower or create dependency?

If you would allow me to speak frankly for a minute here. I am so blessed and so grateful to be a pastor to many of you here, but you need to get clear: Your relationship with God is not dependent on me. And it’s not dependent on Pastor Marshall or Pastor Cindi or anybody else.

And to whatever extend we become THE source of experiencing God for you, we’ve created a dependency that’s really gonna bite you in the butt later. I’m grateful for Godly counsel. I get a tremendous amount of Godly counsel. But if the counsel truly is “Godly”, what it’s going to do is point the person to Jesus, and empower them to receive from God directly.

Healthy leaders won’t make decisions for you. They’ll walk alongside of you.

3. Does it foster a sense of guilt or self-worth?

Question: What is the deepest truth of who you are?

Is it that you’re a piece of garbage? Wicked? Unworthy? Sinner? We live in a world that’s completely about performance. God does not love you based on performance.

Let me tell you a secret: If what you believe about yourself is that you’re just a giant piece of garbage, you’ll never be free. Your own self-condemnation will keep you in chains.

So what is the truth of who we are?

Well religion will you tell you that you’re a piece of junk. We call it ‘Total Depravity’. You’re worthless. – But for some reason that we’ll never understand, God loves the trash that is you.

You will always live up to the way you see yourself. And you have nothing to build on. You have nowhere to go but legalism. You feel like you need the law to stop you from becoming the disgusting sinner that you really are.

No, the truth about you is that you’re made in the image of God. Imperfect image bearers, but imagine bearers none-the-less. The deepest reality of who you are : You are built for love and joy and peace. And purity of heart. And Kindness. And when you understand that truth, you’ll live there automatically.

How you relate to the world has everything to do with how you see yourself. So for many people, the journey out of religion into relationship is getting rid of old broken, toxic ways of seeing yourself and letting God instill back in you your sonship (daughtership is that a thing). That the deepest reality of who you are is beautiful and worthy of love.

4. Does it increase or lessen enjoyment of life?

Think about the fruit of the spirit. Found in Galatians 5. Healthy spiritual community will take you into MORE love, MORE joy, MORE peace.

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)

Contrast that with what Jesus says in Matthew 11: “My Yoke easy and mu burden light”

One thing that’s amazing when I’m talking to people who have left unhealthy spiritual communities, is to hear them say things like: “I didn’t realize how much anxiety was added to my life because of church.” – There’s something very wrong with that.

Healthy Church Community brings conviction and challenge, but not heaviness and despair.

5. Does it emphasize love or fear?

You can recognize an unhealthy spiritual community when they emphasize what will happen if you DON’T do what they say. And they just get you all freaked out so you go along with them, so that whatever bad thing they’re threatening doesn’t happen.

There’s nothing spiritual about wanting to avoid pain. Fear is a good short term motivator and a terrible long term motivator. I can scare some of you enough to raise your hand for an alter call, but if the only thing that’s motivating you is avoiding pain, it’s not gonna last.

LOVE on the other hand, is completely different. If I can give you a tiny glimpse of the LOVE that God has for you, it will change you forever. When you fall desperately in love with Jesus, you’ll live better on accident than you ever did on purpose.

Love is the greatest motivator for change.


Let’s say you have someone who’s trying to quit smoking. B/C it’s bad for your health. And then you show them gross pictures of lungs and people hooked up to machines because they smoked. And someone will watch that, and get freaked out, and quit for a week, or a month. But then there’s examples of those same people, their wife has a baby, and they quit smoking that day. Permanently. Because the idea of that precious baby that you love so much growing up and becoming a smoker like you, well that’s beyond comprehension.

But as leaders, getting you to fall in love with God is more work than to simply make you afraid of him. That’s why unhealthy spiritual communities emphasize fear.

2 More things I’d like you to write down…

HEALTHY Community is one of the primary ways that God is present in the world.

I really mean that. That’s not a weird metaphor. I truly believe that one of the primary ways God is present in the world is through the body of Christ. So many people can have this super mysterious picture of God. “We have a sighting!!” “Where’d you see him?!” “Florida!” It’s always Florida! If I’m searching for God, I don’t have to drive far. Wherever 2 or more of us gather together, he’s promised to be here with us.

Getting Hurt

A lot of you are nervous to really go all in with Christian community because you’re afraid of getting hurt. Let me cut to the chase: You will definitely get hurt.

You know how I know that? Because the people you’ll come to love are just as fickle as you are. You will be wounded. But you know what, you will also do some wounding yourself.

HEALTHY Community is where you learn that you’re not alone.

I think that one of the worst things a person can experience is the sense of being profoundly alone. I know this point seems very basic, but it’s incredibly important. I’m not just talking about being physically alone, but also being alone with what you FEEL and what you THINK.

Jesse Harden

A couple years ago, I met for the first time, someone who now is a wonderful friend of mine and that’s Jesse Harden. Jesse is a pastor of a church here in town called ‘New Creation’. And what’s funny is we met at the gym! He’s an unbelievable racquetball player. Our friendship has continued to grow and it’s such a huge blessing. Every time we get together, I intend to be there for maybe an hour, and then before you know it, 3 hours have passed.

And it’s been amazing to see how his story and my story were in parallel for a good portion of our lives. And how it seems like God is doing the same things in him that he’s doing in me. And we’re reading the same books, and we have the same logical hangups and issues. And on top of that, we’re both pastors. And so we get together and I say “Do you ever feel like …” “YES!” “Do you ever struggle with…” “YES!” And this seems so basic, but it’s healing to my soul when I encounter community that reminds me that I’m not alone. I’m not the only person that struggles with this or that. I’m not alone.

And let just say, that if you’re in our community, and you need to be reminded that you’re not alone, listen, the people that you need are here. And it might just take a little initiative, and a little courage and vulnerability, to reach out and find them, but make no mistake, Healthy Community stops you from being alone.


(As we prepare – communion)

I want you to focus on something that maybe on the surface can seem kind of unspiritual, but it’s very very spiritual. I want you to become aware that you are in a room with hundreds of different people who are very much like you. Your skin color might be different, your age, your social status may be different. But all of us struggling with the same handful of things. And then I want you to become aware of the fact that one of the ways God is able to be present with you is through them. And in whatever way is most natural to you, just become aware of the holiness and sacredness of us all being here together, and coming to the table of Jesus together.

(Pass) / (Invitation)

(Pray) Lift up this body of Christ.

I pray that this hand we’re holding would be a very real and tangible manifestation of your presence.