Missional Community Spotlight: Celebrate Recovery

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Nearly three years ago, Christ Presbyterian member Mary Linda Hardman walked into a Celebrate Recovery meeting when she realized her life had spiraled out of control.

She’d recently sent her youngest child off to college. Then her father died. Their relationship had been complicated—he’d been verbally abusive to her for years, yet driving him to appointments and errands had given her a sense of purpose.

She was hurting not only from the broken relationship she’d endured with her dad, but also from years of dysfunction she’d experienced with her mother.

“I’d lost a lot of connections,” she remembers. “And I harbored pain from wounds that had never healed. I was alone, living in isolation.”

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She turned to food and drinking to cope. Her life began to feel more and more out of control. And she began to suffer from deep depression as her weight ballooned and she became addicted to alcohol.

“When I initially went to Celebrate Recovery, I thought I was going to get help so I could stop drinking long enough to heal from my depression,” she says. “I didn’t realize I was spiritually sick.”

Celebrate Recovery, one of our missional communities, is held at Christ Presbyterian Church weekly on Thursdays year-round, emphasizing that spiritual restoration is the root of all true healing and flourishing. The group is a 12-step, Christ-centered recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind and is comprised of people from throughout Nashville (non-church goers are always welcome.)

The group offers support to those who’ve faced issues with abandonment, abuse, adultery, anger, anxiety, depression, divorce, perfectionism, porn, rage, substance abuse, or workaholism, just to name a few.

“It’s for anyone who wants to grow in Christ and recover from any form of brokenness,” Hardman says.

Hardman’s journey through Celebrate Recovery’s program began with acknowledging she had no power to change herself. “I started practicing surrender, confession and extending forgiveness,” she says. “I chose to trust that God could restore me to sanity.

“Before I got sober, I questioned why being a Christian wasn’t enough to cure me from my alcoholism,” Hardman continues. “Through Celebrate Recovery, I learned a difference exists between merely believing in God and believing that God can work in my life and transform my soul.”

Hardman now has been sober for two and a half years and has lost 60 pounds. She currently helps lead Celebrate Recovery at CPC, welcoming and mentoring new participants.

For those considering whether to join Celebrate Recovery, Hardman poses these questions to consider: Are there things in your life that you do to hurt others? Is there something you wish you could live without? Is it time to face your denial and admit you’re not in control of your life? Do you seek freedom from a painful habit or hang-up?

She welcomes prospective attendees to preview Celebrate Recovery’s weekly group meetings, which take place at 6:30pm on Thursday evenings at the Hope House (adjacent to our Old Hickory Blvd location).

Hardman says she’s grateful for the community she’s discovered through her participation in Celebrate Recovery. “The people there have become like family to me,” she explains. “We need each other to realize that everyone struggles, and we’re not alone.”

Beyond her sobriety, the most significant aspect of her experience is the intimacy she’s discovered with Christ. “Instead of numbing myself to cope, I’ve learned to go God for comfort and peace,” she says. “Experiencing the comfort of God has changed my life.”

To learn more, visit christpres.org/care/celebrate-recovery/



Location 3 Update: What the Process of Coming to Faith Often Looks Like

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In a previous post, we discussed why the process of coming to faith often looks like a process. You can read it here. In this post, we take a look at the path that process often follows. Perhaps you will see your own story here.

As with the prior post, I’m drawing this material from Tim Keller’s book, Serving a Movement: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City.

According to Tim Keller, the process of coming to faith often looks something like this:

1. Awareness:“I see it.” 

People begin to clear the ground of stereotypes and learn to distinguish the gospel from legalism or liberalism, the core from the peripheral. They make mini-decisions like these: 

  • “She’s religious but surprisingly intelligent and open-minded.”

  • “A lot of things the Bible says really fit me.”

  • “I see the difference between Christianity and just being moral.”

 

2. Relevance:“I need it.” 

They begin to see the slavery of both religion and irreligion and are shown the transforming power of how the gospel works. Examples of mini-decisions here are as follows:

  • “An awful lot of very normal people really like this church!”

  • “It would really help if I could believe like she does.”

  • “Jesus seems to be the key. I wonder who he was.”

 

3. Credibility:“I need it because it’s true.” 

This is a reversal of the modern view that states, “It’s true if I need it.” If people fail to see the reasonableness of the gospel, they will lack the endurance to persevere when their faith is challenged. Examples of mini-decisions include thoughts like these:

  • “You can’t use science to disprove the supernatural.”

  • “There really were eyewitnesses to the resurrection.”

  • “I see now why Jesus had to die — it is the only way.”

 

4. Trial:“I see what it would be like.” 

They are involved in some form of group life, in some type of service ministry, and are effectively trying Christianity on, often talking like a Christian — even defending the faith at times.

 

5. Commitment:“I take it.” 

This may be the point of genuine conversion, or sometimes a person will realize that conversion has already happened, and they just didn’t grasp it at the time. Examples of mini-decisions include these:

  • “I am a sinner.”

  • “I need a Savior. I will believe in Jesus and live for him.”

  • “Though there are a lot of costs, I really must do what Jesus says.”

 

6. Reinforcement:“Now I get it.” 

Typically, this is the place where the penny drops and the gospel becomes even clearer and more real. For this dynamic to occur, at least three factors must be in place: interaction with believers with relational integrity, pastoral support, and safe venues.

 

Evangelism is truth-telling—giving a reason for the hope that is in us. And it is a process God is pleased to use us in, even though he clearly does not need to. Our involvement in helping others come to faith is part of his sanctifying, humbling work in us. It is one way he shapes our hearts to keep the great commands to love God and others—to love by laying our lives down for the sake of others. There is no greater love than this. May the Lord use us in the process of calling people to himself, and may he deepen our love for others as he does.

 

Location 3 Update: Why Coming to Faith Often Looks Like A Process

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If you are a Christian, how did you come to faith? Were there foundational experiences or influences that came before your “moment of conversion?” I bet there were. For many Christian people, the story of how we came to faith appears as a process. God works in time and space. He draws people to himself, often over a period of time. 

Christians are people who are called bear witness to Christ. The idea that God often draws people to Himself through a process means we are rarely, if ever, the sole voice proclaiming the Gospel to another person. Hebrews says we belong to a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). 

By God’s grace, Christian people get to be part of the process of other people coming to know the mercy and grace of Christ. This is such a huge honor and joy. So how does that process work? Pastor Tim Keller does a fantastic job of unfolding what this process often looks like. As the pastor at an outward facing church, I wanted to distill down what he has to say about how this process often works. This post will focus on why coming to faith often looks like a process, and in a following post, we’ll take a look at the path that process often follows.

What follows is adapted from Tim Keller’s book, Serving a Movement: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City.

First, let’s remember what we affirm. 

Keller: “Many people process from unbelief to faith through ‘mini-decisions.’ We hold to the classic teaching about the nature of the gospel: to be a Christian is to be united with Christ by faith so that the merits of his saving work become ours and his Spirit enters us and begins to change us into Christ’s likeness. You either are a Christian or you are not — you either are united to him by faith or you are not — because being a Christian is, first of all, a ‘standing” with God.’”

Here, Keller affirms (and we at Christ Presbyterian Church agree) that there are no degrees of conversion. A person is either justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, or they are not. So when we talk about the process of conversion, we are not talking about degrees of conversion, but rather appealing to the truth that the good work God begins he brings to completion.

Keller: “However, we also acknowledge that coming to this point of uniting to Christ by faith often works as a process, not only as an event. It can occur through a series of small decisions or thoughts that bring a person closer and closer to the point of saving faith. In a post-Christendom setting, more often than not, this is the case.”

Why is this the case?

Keller: “People simply do not have the necessary background knowledge to hear a gospel address and immediately understand who God is, what sin is, who Jesus is, and what repentance and faith are in a way that enables them to make an intelligent commitment. They often have far too many objections and beliefs for the gospel to be readily plausible to them.”

This is a big reality I see all the time. More and more, people have not read the Bible or studied religion. In a sound bite culture which tends to turn complicated, historical truths and concepts into oversimplified caricatures, it should come as no surprise that people who have not been near the heart of orthodox Christian teaching would have misconceptions about what Christians believe. If a person has learned about Christianity through the news, they have mostly gotten a diet of politics and scandal. If they have learned through Christian mainstream music, they may conclude that Christians have an unrealistic view of suffering, struggle, pleasure, and how the world works.

Beyond this, we must admit that while Christianity is a faith simple enough for children to understand and embrace, it is also not “self-evident” to the person who has never really investigated the basic claims of Gospel faith.

How do we embrace the process and serve to aid in it?

Keller: “Most people in the West need to be welcomed into community long enough for them to hear multiple expressions of the gospel — both formal and informal — from individuals and teachers. As this happens in community, nonbelievers come to understand the character of God, sin, and grace. Many of their objections are answered through this process. Because they are ‘on the inside’ and involved in ongoing relationships with Christians, they can imagine themselves as Christians and see how the faith fleshes out in real life.”

Maybe this is your story. A lot of the process of conversion is the work of asking questions and seeing and hearing responses from genuine believers—people giving a reason for the hope that is in them. My prayer for Christ Presbyterian Church is that we would be a church filled with people involved in ongoing relationships with people who do not share their faith, and that the Lord would work through these friendships to make himself known.

(Part 2: What the Process of Coming to Faith Often Looks Like)

Location 3 Update: Needing Others and Being Needed

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And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17

I was talking with a friend a few weeks back about the launch of Christ Presbyterian Church’s third location, and she asked me, “When you think about this new congregation, what, in your mind, would constitute a failure?” One of the things I said was, “If in a few years we’re a group of people who don’t serve each other and don’t need each other.”

A number of years ago, I was serving as a pastor in a small church in another state. A woman started attending our services who had a brain injury. One of the symptoms of her condition was that she experienced seizures on a very regular basis. In fact, she had seizures in church almost every Sunday—usually right in the middle of the sermon.

She could feel them coming on. When she knew one was coming, she would get up and move to the back of the room, sit down on the floor, and wait for the seizure to grab her. One of her friends in the church knew of her condition, and would sit with her until the seizure passed. Then she’d drive her exhausted friend home.

Others in the church saw this happening and asked what they could do to help. They met during the hour before church several weeks in a row to learn about this woman’s condition, her seizures, how to keep her safe when they happened, and how to care for her afterward. Soon there were a dozen people in the church who knew to sit near her, watch for her to move to the back of the room, sit with her during the seizure to keep her safe, and drive her home after it passed.

Then one day, this woman came to tell me that she was going to stop attending our church. I was stunned. I asked her why? She said, “Every Sunday someone has to tend to me and drive me home, and they miss the service on account of me. I feel like I burden the church.”

I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit in a moment of Gospel-clarity, or my own naïve inexperience as a pastor, but I told her, “The truth is, you do burden this church. And we are so grateful to have you as part of our community. Every week, your presence requires a cross-section of our congregation to be actively ready to care for someone in need. People have gathered and formed friendships with one another around caring for you. They have come to count you as their friend, and you have done the same. This is the nature of friendship—we ask each other to carry our burdens. True friends burden each other, and true friends welcome the honor of helping to carry the load. Please don’t go. You give us so much. You help us so much. You have an important ministry here.”

Christianity is a faith built on the recognition of our great need, and the confident hope that our deepest needs are met in Christ—forgiveness, peace with God, eternal life. But one of the beautiful truths about following Jesus is that we need each other too. We live in a world of limits, and we ourselves are limited. This need is a gift.

For this need, Jesus gives us the church—a community where we serve one another, where we benefit from one another, where we become known, cared for, and called upon to step in to care for the needs of others. This will always be a hallmark of a healthy church—this recognition of our need and our call to serve. 

We live in a wealthy place where we spend unimaginable amounts of money, effort, and thought avoiding the appearance of need. We try to present ourselves in the best possible light, which usually involves employing a fair amount of fiction. We try to hide our less visible weaknesses and we try to down play those which are more obvious to others. We all do this to one degree or another.

Why do we do this? Why do we work so hard to appear as though we need nothing? Why are we ashamed when our needs are made known? The Gospel is for the helpless, needy, poor. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

As our congregation forms, one of my prayers is that we would need each other, and that we would be honest about our need for one another. This is so important. Why? Because the Gospel itself is a message of needs met. If we are going to be Christians in public, part of the reason for the hope that is in us—part of our public witness—is “nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling.” Our public faith and our confession of need are tied to each other. May one of our greatest qualities as a congregation be how quickly we confess our need for Christ, and for each other. May we need each other, and may we serve each other.

 

Missional Community Spotlight: Nashville S.P.E.A.K.S.

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“And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”  Isaiah 57:14

Seven years ago, Kristin Patton was working as a speech-language pathologist at Vanderbilt when she began noticing a specific need among some of her patients.

Families who had a child born with a cleft lip and/or palate faced a new world of uncertainties as they tried to navigate all the corrective care their baby would need. The initial surgery to repair a cleft lip or palate (or both) is only the beginning of a series of therapies and procedures necessary to fully address the condition. Many children also require speech services, tubes in their ears, orthodontic work, or even jaw surgery.

“On average, a child with a cleft lip and palate needs seven surgeries,” Patton explains.

For parents, discovering the path of treatment, including which doctors and specialists to visit and in what order, is a complicated, unknown territory. Additionally, some families find their children could also benefit from counseling as they struggle with their physical appearance and feel different from their peers.

“I kept coming across moms and dads who wanted information on support following surgery,” Patton remembers. “They also desired community among other families walking the same road.”

In 2012, Patton and her husband, Chris (members at Christ Presbyterian Church), formed the organization Nashville S.P.E.A.K.S. as a response to this need. S.P.E.A.K.S represents the goal of Supporting Parents and Empowering All Kids to Succeed. Two years later, a missional community at Christ Presbyterian was born to come alongside the group and support its efforts to minister to the cleft community in the greater Nashville area.

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The missional community is comprised of families from several different area churches throughout Middle Tennessee and is committed to offering support, encouragement and resources to families at various stages of the restorative process.  

One key component to how the group functions includes hosting quarterly meetings where families can interact with each other as well as those in the medical community who are able to offer insight, guidance and support. To date, the group has invited a plastic surgeon, oral maxillofacial surgeon, family therapist, speech therapist and an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor to dialogue with parents about the best options for treatment and answer any questions they may have.

The quarterly gatherings also serve as a blessing for the children, who are able to see that they’re not the only ones facing surgeries or feeling different from everyone else. Patton says that at a prior meeting, a member of the missional community read a children’s book aloud about a turtle that needed surgery and visited the hospital. “One by one, the kids started shouting out that they’d had surgery and been in the hospital, too. You could see their faces light up when they realized they weren’t the only ones who’d had that experience,” she says.

The other aim of Nashville S.P.E.A.K.S. (MC) involves creating care packages for families of children with a cleft lip and/or palate. One package is designed to help with feeding issues and includes a specialized bottle designed for babies with cleft palate. These packages are distributed at Vanderbilt’s feeding, craniofacial and otolaryngology clinics.   

The second care package is geared for families facing surgery and includes educational materials as well as fun items for parents and kids—bubbles, play dough, crayons and a Starbucks gift card.

The ultimate goal of the quarterly meetings and care packages is for families to know they’re supported and not alone and for the children to feel accepted, Patton explains.

“There are so many challenges to looking different when you’re a kid,” she says. “Children with cleft lip and/or palate have a higher risk for anxiety and social problems. We want to affirm their worth and cast a vision for a hopeful, bright future.”

She’s also thankful for the missional community’s ongoing opportunity to minister to parents.

“It’s overwhelming to learn that your child has this diagnosis,” Patton says. “We’re thankful that a growing number of families are learning about our missional community and reaching out for help. To see the Lord guiding our steps and bringing people to us is a beautiful thing.”

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To learn more about this and all our other Missional Communities, visit christpres.org/missional-communities.

Location 3 Launch: We're Not Meant To Be The Gospel's Destination

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Every Christian shares call to bear witness to Jesus. Or to put it another way, we are called to be Christians in public—to be open, honest, and outward facing when it comes to talking about what we believe and why.

To a persecuted church, struggling with what it was costing them to claim the name of Christ, the Apostle Peter wrote:

“… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” – 1 Peter 3:15

One of our values at Christ Presbyterian Church is that we would embrace an outward facing, public faith. We see in our vision statement:

 As a family united in Christ and led by Scripture, we at Christ Presbyterian Church exist as partakers in a movement of God’s Kingdom that offers spiritual life, public faith, mercy and justice, and the integration of faith and work to the people, communities, institutions, and churches of greater Nashville, and through Nashville, to the world.

When Peter says, “Be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”, he is saying we need to be prepared to explain our reason for trusting Christ to anyone who asks. This question is worth meditating on: Why do I trust Christ?

Evangelism is truth-telling—bearing witness in the same way a witness takes the stand to testify. We talk about what we believe to be true, what we have witnessed first-hand. Why must we talk about our faith? One reason is that we have an ethical responsibility to tell the truth. If we believe what we say we believe, why would we conceal it from others? The entertainer and outspoken atheist Penn Gillette said, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

Christians were never meant to be the Gospel’s destination. It was meant to come to us, and then pass through us. We are meant to pass along the grace we have received—to proclaim it. Peter is saying our testimony for Christ is really an ethical matter. It is not ours to keep. We must give it away.

The Gospel doesn’t just change what we think. It doesn’t just bring a bunch of new data into our lives. It changes who we are. In Christ, we become people with a purpose, a chief end—to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Everything in life is affected by this faith, and we become people joined to Christ in such a way that nothing in all creation can separate us from His love.

Evangelism is not meant to be a task, but something more like a song that flows out of someplace deep inside of us. This is mystory. This is mysong. And that song flows from a deep love and affection for Jesus.

Peter doesn’t tell us to make sure we ask everyone we encounter if they know Jesus. He says, “Live in such a way that people will look at you and ask you about the hope they see in you.” This, in part, is what it means to live as public Christians. And this is my prayer for our third Christ Pres location as we move forward—that we would be a congregation of public witnesses to the grace and love of Christ.