Missional Community Spotlight: Putting Faith to Work

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Every parent desires to see their children flourish and become increasingly independent as they enter adulthood. But for moms and dads of children with disabilities, this hope can feel uncertain. 

“Once an adult with a disability turns 22, almost everything vanishes in terms of schools, programs or camps,” explains Christ Presbyterian Church member C.B. Yoder. “On average, 95 percent of these young adults are unemployed.”

For many years, Christ Presbyterian has offered a Sunday morning class for young adults with disabilities, providing great support to families on the weekend. Three years ago, however, a new opportunity arose that’s given the church an additional way to come alongside families with disabilities throughout the week. 

It began when faculty from nearby Vanderbilt University proposed a grant-based study in partnership with several area churches, including Christ Presbyterian, to discover the best way to find meaningful work for adults with disabilities.

What started as a year-long study paved the way to the formation of the Christ Presbyterian missional community, Putting Faith to Work. Yoder was one of the group’s founding members and has seen it flourish as she and others have found ways to support families through finding both paid work and volunteer opportunities for young adults with disabilities who attend Christ Presbyterian.

“Instead of just searching for job openings, we learned to begin with discovering each person’s talents and gifts,” Yoder explains. “We started hosting get-togethers, called a ‘person-centered party,’ where parents invite people who know their child well. We discuss what the young adult enjoys doing, his or her strengths and so on. Then we begin to pray, asking God to show us a path forward for this young person.”

Throughout the last three years, the group has helped one young woman, Kate, find work in Vanderbilt’s housekeeping department. Another young adult, Clayton, began a position as a greeter at Nashville Predators hockey games. A woman named Katie received a job at a local pizza restaurant. And a young man named Nathan found work volunteering weekly at Christ Presbyterian, helping provide refreshments for church members Sunday mornings.

Yoder says she’s seen each young adult blossom as they’ve learned to take on new responsibilities. She remembers how Katie bubbled over with excitement when she received her first paycheck. “She loves going shopping, so being able to purchase an outfit with her own money for the first time was thrilling,” Yoder says.

For Katie and the others who’ve found meaningful work, the reality of a newfound purpose in their lives has resulted in a noticeable shift.

“They carry themselves a little differently,” Yoder explains. “There’s such value in earning your own money and becoming more independent. Work is a gift from God.”

Giving these young adults an increased sense of independence has also become a way to support their parents. For some moms and dads, the initial process of letting go is challenging (such as allowing their child to learn to navigate Uber in order to arrange for transportation to work). But once the young adults get the hang of it, their sense of freedom and accomplishment has brought pride to both parents and their children. It’s also begun making a difference among those in the community who’ve hired these young people. 

“The employers of these young adults want them there--they’ve seen the value of their work,” says Yoder. “People such as Katie are faithful, responsible and do their jobs well. They’re reliable and cherished employees.”

They’re also image bearers of Christ, Yoder adds--a truth that becomes evident as people both at church and in the workplace gain more opportunities to get to know and work alongside young adults with disabilities. 

“These kind of interactions put a face on a people group that often can otherwise seem invisible because they’re easy to ignore,” says Yoder. “The benefit for us and for employers is that young adults with disabilities go from anonymous to being known by name and valued for their contributions.”


For other missional community opportunities, and more information on how to start one yourself, visit christpres.org/missional-communities

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

Missional Community Spotlight: Mug and Pencil


"I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word." - Emily Dickinson

If you've ever sat down to write a difficult email and struggled over what to say, you know the importance of choosing the right word.

Words have power. Just a few small words, a phrase that takes seconds to utter, can bring happiness or hurt, encouragement or devastation.

That's the tension Patrick Lockwood, a Worship and Music Associate at CPC, wanted to dig into when he started Mug and Pencil, a missional community here at Christ Presbyterian. Our missional communities were created to serve the city of Nashville. They always include members and non-members who want to meet, get to know each other, and grow as people over shared interests.

Mug and Pencil is a missional community built to serve artists--specifically creative writers.


"We're a group of creative writers--songwriters, poets, novelists, scriptwriters, article writers, both professional and amateur, who want a place to just be sharpened and talk about writing and the power of words," Patrick says. "We share pieces that we've been working on. Some people share songs, others share poetry, and we do so, usually, in a small setting by a fireplace over food and a glass of wine."

The group has been meeting for four years now, once a month at the houses of different group members. On occasion, they'll have successful and intriguing guest speakers come in to inspire and encourage the community. "One thing I like about our group," Patrick says, "is that we're not about just doing stuff for the sake of doing it. We're about becoming better writers who use our words to make Nashville and the world a better place."

Nashville isn't lacking in writers, but Mug and Pencil's goal is to give those writers a vision that might even go beyond just writing a hit song or a featured poem. One newly married couple wrote their first song together through an exercise in the group. Another member overcame a difficult past and was encouraged by the group to find a new freedom in writing.


Patrick tells the story of one particular exercise that had a huge impact on Mug and Pencil's members: "We asked them to write their life story in five minutes, no more than eight lines of content. Then we asked them to cut it down to four lines without adding additional writing. Then we asked them to cut it to two lines, followed by one line. Then, finally, two words. The whole process was amazing. Some people were crying as they worked through the words and the feelings behind what they had been through."

Our goal at Christ Presbyterian Church is "to follow Christ in his mission of loving people, places, and things to life." Missional communities, like Mug and Pencil, are designed to empower CPC members to do just that. So, as a church staff, it's incredibly encouraging to see these communities flourish and grow throughout Nashville.

All it takes is something as small as a meeting with others over a laptop and a cup of coffee to lead you to something greater than yourself.

If you want to find out more about Mug and Pencil, contact Patrick Lockwood at plockwood@christpres.org.

For other missional community opportunities, and more information on how to start one yourself, visit christpres.org/missional-communities

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

On My Shelf: Life and Books with Russ Ramsey


This article, featuring our own Russ Ramsey, was recently published on 12/26/17 by The Gospel Coalition.

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.

I asked Russ Ramsey—pastor and author of several books, including Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (read TGC’s review) and Behold the King of Glory—about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite fiction and biographies, the books he wishes every pastor would read about the arts, and more. (Each Wednesday, Russ curates a story about art on his social media feed. Follow him on InstagramTwitter, or Facebook to get a weekly dose of beauty in your social media feed.)

What’s on your nightstand right now?

I imagine my nightstand is like most folks’—filled with books I plan to read, gave up on, or am actively working through. Some others stay there because I’m always in the process of reading them and like to be near them.

I always keep Scripture in reach. Also, I have a rotation of art books nearby—collections of Vermeer, Edward Hopper, and Rembrandt are in the rotation right now. It calms my sometimes anxious heart to look at something beautiful at the end of the day.

I also love survival stories, so I’m usually reading books about people getting lost in the mountains or at sea. A few years back I suffered a life-threatening affliction, and I found that survival stories brought me a lot of comfort. I still love them because they lend gravity to the story of salvation when I begin to take it for granted.

Also, there are books from friends who also write. I love the creative community that forms among writers, and I love how technology has made it possible to have friendships across long distances. Some books from friends I’ve recently read or am working through now include Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place. She is a true artist, a fantastic writer, and a clear thinker who has a bead on the human experience. Seth Haines is also like that. His beautifully written book Coming Clean is important for its honesty and humility. I’m also reading Scott Sauls’s From Weakness to Strength. Scott’s pastoral voice is so timely and accessible. I just finished Winn Collier’s Love Big, Be Well. It ministered to this pastor’s heart. And lastly, John Blase’s new collection of poems, Jubilee. Poetry is hard work. John reads deep and easy.

What are your favorite fiction books?

Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River and his follow-up So Brave, Young, and Handsome rank near the top of all the fiction I’ve read. As a writer, I marvel at his narrative voice. His stories move me; they’re adventures with high stakes and divine providence. Leif joins together lost innocence and eternal hope in ways that ring so true to me.

I just finished Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Yearling. What a powerful book—a slow burn with the best last five pages I can ever remember reading in a work of fiction. They’re meaningless if you don’t read the first 350 pages, but if you do, man, they will knock you over. They pull the story of the end of boyhood into a tight, focused prayer for the renewal of all things.

Wendell Berry is great. Ever heard of him? I kid. I’m especially fond of his short novella Remembering, which tells the story about what happens when one of his Port William characters, Andy Catlett, loses his right hand in a farming accident. It’s a powerful metaphor about what happens when someone loses their hold on the world they thought they knew.

Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. His prose slips into poetry without notice. He’s a joy to read. This book helped me make sense of my own family in ways that really helped me love them more deeply and lay aside some of my self-righteousness.

Also, I love Cormac McCarthy’s work—especially The Road. I love his writing. It’s so sparse—an exercise in restraint.

What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

I love memoirs. William Zinsser, in Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, distinguishes autobiography from memoir like this: “Unlike autobiography, which moves in a dutiful line from birth to fame, omitting nothing significant, memoir assumes the life and ignores most of it.”

One of my favorite memoirs is Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance [read TGC’s review]. Almost everyone I know who has read this book has said his story helped them make sense of their own.

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard is great too. I’m currently doing some writing on the subject of remembering childhood. I love the way Dillard writes about that subject. Both Dillard and Vance avoid sanitizing their own pasts while still maintaining a respect for the dignity of the broken people in their lives.

What are some books you regularly re-read and why?

Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life because it is a great book about writing, but it’s also an incredible piece of literature. It inspires my own writing.

Also, I try to always be reading something from Eugene Peterson on the pastoral vocation. I revisit his short book The Contemplative Pastor quite a bit.

The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis. That collection of essays has such rich theological ideas about the majesty of God, told with a sense of wonder and reverence.

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and Making Sense of God [read TGC’s review]. I love how Keller helps put me in the shoes of non-Christian people. These two books really help me better understand people who don’t believe as I do, and they keep me from making cartoon characters out of God’s image bearers.

What’s one book you wish every pastor read on or about the arts/imagination?

Can I name three? First, On Writing Well by William Zinsser [read TGC’s piece on Zinsser]. This is a wonderful, helpful, and clear book about how to write well. He talks about the importance of stripping our writing down to its bare essentials, and I think every preacher could benefit from working on the fundamentals of clear communication. This book will help any writer or speaker think about how to say what to say and what habits to avoid for the sake of clarity. If we make our living working with words, it’s always good to hone our skill with them.

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orlund. This is a fantastic book about the psychosis that often happens in the minds and hearts of people who create content for the purpose of presenting it to others. Pastoral work is art as much as it is administration. Actually, more so. Preachers and teachers deal with the same sorts of thoughts, fears, and creative struggles as painters and musicians. By talking about the relationship between art and fear, this book names and helps with a lot of the struggles pastors wrestle with before, during, and after they preach.

Finally, this isn’t a book per se, but more of a habit. I had an art teacher who encouraged us to pick an artist or two and pay attention to them for the rest of our lives. I think this is a great habit—and one we can begin at any time. I chose van Gogh and Rembrandt, but since then I’ve added many others. Following an artist (living or dead) over time is a good way to keep art in play in our lives, to better understand the artists we serve, and to keep ourselves exposed to beauty.

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

Looking at the books I’ve listed above, one thing I see them reflecting back is a hunger for beauty to be part of my daily life. Also, good literature and good art—both in the pages of Scripture and beyond—remind me that no one has a simple story, and as a pastor and Christian person, I need to have humility and compassion with others. We’re complicated people with complex longings and wounds.

When I was in my 20s I was so confident that my grasp of theology was watertight. I believed I saw and understood things as they were in the sight of God. In more recent years, largely by way of the crucible of affliction, I don’t trust my own perspective as much. One by-product of this is a deep hunger for Scripture. I trust God’s Word to be fully reliable, fully inerrant, fully sufficient. But I’m less self-assured of my ability to casually discern what it’s saying. Story and art invite and cultivate patient thinking and curiosity. I’ll take as much of that as I can get if it means I can love God and love neighbors better.

An Exemplary Prayer


Every now and then I will feature something that has moved me personally on my blog. This week is one of those occasions. Christine Schaub, a member of Christ Presbyterian Church where I serve as pastor, offered a lovely, biblically rich “Prayers of the People” during services recently. I wanted to share this prayer with you (with Christine’s permission, of course), in hopes that it will enrich your prayers as it has mine.

By Christine Schaub of Christ Presbyterian Church

O Lord our God, hear the prayers of your people:

Because You are so benevolent, hear our prayers for those in need—lead the jobless to fulfilling work, the homeless to safe dwellings, the hungry to good food, the lonely to thoughtful neighbors, the ailing to kind healers, the sad to cheerful friends, the discouraged to hopeful plans.

And because You are righteous, hear our prayers for integrity in leadership, honesty in business, honor in relationships. Help us to resist losing integrity that once lost is so difficult to restore. Help us to succeed in ways that reflect Your glory and favor.

And because You are so generous, hear our prayers to establish Your kingdom even now—bless this church through our outreach to Nashville, through our loving community towards each other, through our compassion toward healing broken marriages, broken hearts, divided families.

Help us be always sensitive toward the needs of Your people.

Because You are just, hear our prayers for justice for children in the womb, for the weak, the powerless, and those who suffer from corruption of the natural order…even for animals when they are treated cruelly.

And in the midst of your acts of justice, let us remember Your graciousness toward those who repent for offending You…and let us show the same grace toward those who trespass against us.

Help us work always toward peace.

And Lord, because You glory in worship, hear our prayers for the church, illustrated in your Word:

From 2 Timothy: We pray that the church will preach the Word of God without apology.

From Colossians: We pray that the church will devote itself to prayer.

From Acts: We pray that the church will boldly share Jesus as the only hope for salvation.

From John: We pray that the church will worship God in spirit and in truth.

From 1 Peter: We pray that our leaders will serve humbly as godly examples to all.

From Colossians: We pray that the church will labor and strive to present everyone as mature in Christ.

From Matthew: We pray that more workers step up to faithfully serve.

From Ephesians: We pray that our leaders equip the saints for the work of ministry.

From Revelation: We pray that the church does not lose its first love.

From Matthew: We pray that we will trust Jesus to grow the church.

Help us trust always in Your Word.

We pray all these things in Your powerful, kind and generous name. Amen.

This article originally appeared at scottsauls.com on July 22, 2014.

What is the Gospel?


The Gospel is more than the “first step in a staircase” of truths. It is better likened to the hub of a wheel, the central reality around which all of life is arranged. It is not a basic truth from which we move on to deeper truths, but is the central truth from which all other truth flows. Whether you are just beginning to investigate Christianity, or are a life-long follower of Christ, the Gospel is the one, single thing you must grasp if your life is to be all God designed your life to be. Without the Gospel, life becomes distorted in many, many ways. With the Gospel, life is set to a path toward beauty and wholeness.

So what is the Gospel? The hard news of the Gospel is that the universe and everything in it is wearing down all the time, and we are more sinful and broken than we realize. The freeing news of the Gospel is that God, through the person and work of Jesus, plans to restore both the universe and his people to their original beauty and glory. Following are three big truths of the Gospel—truths that are foundational for all other teaching about faith and life.


The core truth of the Gospel is that through Jesus, the love and power of God have entered history to make all things new. This renewal includes the hearts of people, but also much more. God intends to renew the entire universe. He will restore people, places, and things to their original, ‘very good’ condition as described in Genesis 3. The Bible tells us the world is not the way it is supposed to be. Because of this, people and creation itself groan in anticipation of all things being made new again—restored to their original beauty and wholeness before sin entered the world (Romans 8:18-25; Revelation 21:1-5).

What does this mean? It means that life in the present world can include seasons of joy and splendor (a satisfying friendship or romance, a new car, straight A’s, an athletic victory, a delicious meal, beautiful music, etc.). But there is also much of life that is broken and difficult (frustration in work, pain in relationships, financial strain, sickness, death). In spite of the fact that all things eventually break down, even in the worst of circumstances, those who live inside the Gospel can also live with hope (2 Corinthians 4:7-18, 12:7-10). Though things aren’t perfect now, it will all be made right when God renews all things.

There is also room for a kind of redemptive discontent for those who believe the Gospel. Think of the last improvement project you set out to complete (remodeling a kitchen, dusting off furniture, weeding a lawn, strengthening a relationship, healing an illness, getting a haircut, editing an essay, etc.). Both the frustration you felt before the work was done (this isn’t how it’s supposed to be…it could be so much better!), and the sense of satisfaction you felt when the project was completed, are glimpses of God’s image working in and through you. He is a God who eagerly desires, as the rock band U2 sings, to “make beauty out of ugly things.”


At the center of the Gospel is not a list of ideas, rules, commands or propositions, but a Person. That Person is Jesus Christ, who, being in his very nature God (Philippians 2:6; 1 John 5:20), took on human flesh to bridge the otherwise insurmountable gap between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity (Isaiah 6:1-7).

Religion focuses on behavior (“You won’t be accepted unless you perform and keep our rules and embrace our cultural norms”).

Irreligion focuses on personal autonomy (“You can be happy apart from God’s rule in your life”).

But the Gospel focuses on personal trust in God’s heroic rescue. The average person believes that a Christian is someone who follows Christ’s teaching. But the Bible says this is impossible. You don’t rescue people unless they are in a perishing condition and are unable to recover themselves. For example, how many times have you seen a corpse do CPR on itself?

Jesus, knowing the helplessness of the human condition (Genesis 6:5; Ephesians 2:1-10) gave himself as a sacrifice for those who would place their trust in his gracious gift—a gift both unmerited and unearned by us. What was this gift? His life. Jesus came, lived a perfect life, and died a sacrificial death, not to buy us a second chance but to stand in our place as our substitute. Everything we needed to do to achieve peace with God, Jesus did for us—in our place and on our behalf. He died the death we should have died so that we would never be condemned (Romans 3:23-26), and he lived the life we should have lived so that God would declare us blameless and lovely in his sight (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of what Jesus did as substitute, those who trust in and receive his free gift can truly say, “As far as God is concerned, everything that’s true about Jesus is true about me. God regards me as blameless and beautiful. He loves me as much as he loves Jesus. He gives me credit for the good that Jesus did, and he puts all the blame on Jesus for the wrongs I have done and will do.”

The Christian Gospel gives us a “who,” not just a “what.” Christianity is not something that we do as much as it is a Person we trust—the doing merely flows out of the trust. Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and Jesus died the death we should have died. It is on this basis alone (John 14:6) that anyone can stand blameless and fully accepted in the sight of God. The Reformer Martin Luther likened all people to a caterpillar caught in the middle of a ring of fire. For us, just as for the caterpillar, the only hope for deliverance is rescue “from above.”


Returning back to the first point above, it is not only God’s plan to rescue his people, but to start them on a life-long journey of becoming restored to their original beauty, to reflect his image in all of its radiance, perfection, and glory. Believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ will one day actually be like God in their character, way of life, and deepest, most fundamental desires (1 Corinthians 13:8-12; Ephesians 4:24). This will happen in the New Heaven and New Earth, where there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:1-5).

So the Gospel is a healing journey that leads us to a life-giving and abundant destination. It is a journey that we do not embark upon alone, but alongside others who share with us a common trust in Jesus. As fellow sojourners, we are here to help each other along toward the destination of knowing and becoming like Jesus, having first been with Jesus and having first enjoyed the riches of his mercy, lovingkindness, and grace. In this life, God’s ultimate purpose for us is to shape us, to renew us, to re-make us into Christ-like people. This is therefore to become our goal and vision for our own lives, and it enables us to see everything that happens to us, even suffering, as a tool in the hands of God to artistically mold us into the beautiful workmanship he intends for us to be and to become (Ephesians 2:10).

This article originally appeared at scottsauls.com on September 3, 2014.

Can Faith Combat Workplace Loneliness?


The workplace is filled with exhaustion and loneliness—a bit more so than usual.

Research cited suggests "50 percent of people are often or always exhausted due to work," a number that is 32 percent higher than two decades prior.

A recent write-up from the Harvard Business Review concluded workplace burnout today is more impacted by loneliness rather than exhaustion.

So how do Christians respond to a culture that both values and suffers due to the pursuit of productivity?

“The work we do cannot ultimately fulfill us.

Jesus spoke of the idea of striving, exhaustion, and rest in Matthew 11:28-30.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The response is found less in striving without ceasing and more in embracing that your work matters and acknowledging its limitations.

The work we do cannot ultimately fulfill us. That doesn't mean it doesn't serve a purpose. We are called to serve the work at hand, not the other way around.

As Tim Keller and Katherine Alsdorf hone in on in their book Every Good Endeavor, "we work to serve others, not ourselves."

By embracing an identity of resting in the person and work of Jesus Christ, a slice of freedom to serve the work at hand—without perpetual exhaustion or loneliness—can be fully embraced.

Article originally published at NIFW.org.