This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Rev. Raymond Hylton
FPCE senior pastor.

Dear friends,

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There exists in every church something that sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence. So we must strive very hard, by the grace of God, to keep First Pres focused on the mission that Christ originally gave it.

Here’s why: The future of our congregation depends on whether or not we can return and revive the mission of making disciples.

Folks are often startled and skeptical when I say, “First Pres doesn’t need any more members; we need more disciples.”

How can that be true, some ask? And to that I say, Mainly because membership in a church does not always equal discipleship and spiritual formation.

Last Sunday, after worship, I joined Dan Shiau and several First Pres facilitators as we welcomed and introduced a group of people to our church’s history, mission, and ministries. These Life Together Classes provide an excellent introduction to the church, and are intentionally designed to move people from membership into a deeper life with Christ. During my time with this group on Sunday, I covered several theological ideas, historical facts, and other truths about being a Christian in the Presbyterian Church.

But, you see, even that is inadequate. The Christian faith is more than a theory taught in a classroom or a set of ideas a person affirms. It is something a person practices — experiences, lives out — in everyday life. Don’t you agree?

So, if discipleship doesn’t just happen, what will it take to encourage people to love and follow the way of Jesus?

Here’s what I know to be true: Growing Christians are intentionally, devotedly committed to the ongoing practice of spiritual disciplines. Jesus said If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. (John 8:31 NRSV)

These spiritual practices are not for a select group of people living a monkish life in isolation from others. Nor are they the exclusive domain of scholars. On the contrary, spiritual disciplines are everyday necessities for all Christians — from the pastor to the professor to the plumber.

God has given us various spiritual practices to draw us closer to Him and perfect holiness in our lives. Unfortunately, many of these practices have been lost to the church today and desperately need to be recovered.

In I Timothy 4:7, Paul encouraged Timothy: “Train yourself for godliness.” The word train may also be translated as “discipline.” It literally means “exercise,” and it can be helpful to think of spiritual disciplines as exercises that strengthen us spiritually.

Just as physical exercise promotes strength in the body, spiritual practices promote godliness and growth in Grace. They are vital to the individual and the Christian community as we seek to become more like Christ.

What are some of these disciplines?

The early church we read about in Acts was committed to many of these spiritual practices. For example, we read in Acts 2:42 that they focused on “the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

The Holy Spirit uses our prayers to draw us closer to God and to make us more like Jesus in thought, word, and deed. Remember: Jesus was speaking with his Father to his very last breath.

Small groups/face-to-face groups
I dream of the day when every First Pres Christian is rooted and nourished through a life-giving small group. The Bible provides no evidence of a lone ranger in the body of Christ. Even Jesus required his original Disciples to go out and spread the Word. Serious discipleship that grows people to spiritual maturity involves the whole body of Christ. The Scriptures celebrate the importance of meeting with other Christians, sharing experiences, holding one another accountable, and praying for one another. If you are interested in a small group, call or email me, and I will help you find a group.

Serving/ministering to others
Jesus once said, I did not come to be served but to serve and give my life for others (Matt.10:45). Therefore, followers of Jesus do what he did. They don’t wait to be served like diners in a restaurant. Instead, they move beyond themselves, reach out, and meet the needs of others in the congregation who are hurting and in need as well as those of unbelievers in the broader community.

The opposite of service to God and others is consumerism, choosing church as if it were a brand. Author and missiologist Alan Hirsch writes, “We can’t make disciples based on a consumerist approach to the faith. We plainly cannot consume our way into discipleship… Consumption is detrimental to discipleship.” (The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church)

If we want to see church renewal happen today, it needs to begin with us — with an experience of personal and spiritual renewal that comes through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. But, first, we must experience the change we want to see in the church and the world, which means it starts with you and me. We can’t share what we haven’t experienced!

The Good News is that First Pres provides all the opportunities to grow in grace and love for God.

Join one of our many prayer groups, join a small group, or let us train you how to lead a small group. And then get involved in a ministry that is serving the needs of others.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Ray

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