The living message of the gospel spreads like all other living things on the planet through multiplication. Plant life reproduces as a seed takes root, the plant that results then must bear fruit of some sort, and finally the fruit must deliver the seeds within it to produce the next generation of growth. So it is with the seed of the gospel message. For that seed to take root in a person’s heart, they must hear and accept it. The new life that springs up must then bear fruit through redeemed relationships as people live out the implications of the gospel in their everyday lives. A life so radically changed will inspire questions among those still in the world. These questions open opportunities for the message to grow to other people as the redeemed person proclaims it through his or her answers. Whether or not the second generation of hearers accepts the message, the redeemed person will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the gospel message once he or she has lived it and proclaimed it. In this way the message will take root that much deeper in their heart producing more fruit and so on. As the gospel seed grows within us we become more like Christ since the gospel is the seed (sperma in Greek) of our Father.
In Life Teams we share life to keep the Growth Cycle turning in the lives of each believer. As we gather to contemplate the gospel message through worship and Bible discussion, the message can take root more deeply in each heart. As we build relationships within the meetings through meal times and between meetings through hanging out and helping out, we learn to bear the gospel fruit of selfless love. Finally, as we conspire to serve others in the world together and as individuals through gospel words and actions we challenge one another to grow the gospel to the next generation of Christ followers.
That’s the theory. Here is a scenario to help flesh out the Growth Cycle operating within a Life Team:
It’s 6 PM on a Thursday evening and the first members start rolling in to the driveway. Informal hanging out happens for the next 20 minutes or so while everyone waits for the rest of the members to arrive. Some members have provided lavish and expensive dishes while others grabbed a few drinks on the way over. The host begins to wonder if there’ll be enough food for all and says a prayer under her breath. Somehow everyone gets fed and the host learns more about trusting God to provide. Those who brought more have the chance to be generous without expecting reciprocity and those who brought less get to enjoy the generosity of the body. Perhaps if they could have brought more they experience a healthy tension toward greater generosity. In any case, everyone learns to bear fruit through cruciform love expressed in community.
As the meal comes to a close, everyone including all of the children gathers in the main room to sing songs of worship and to discuss the Bible. After the discussion, the group transitions to answer the first of The Three 0’s, “Where have you observed God at work over the past week?” Through their responses they share stories of God’s goodness. In each of these ways, they gospel each other and the seed takes root more deeply in each person’s heart.
The last two of the Three O’s focus the Life Team’s attention on the strategic prayer needs of a church on mission. By answering, “What opportunities to share life do you hope to have this week?” the members of the Life Team consider who in their individual lives they might bless through gospel words and action. They might also consider ways that they as a team can work together to grow the influence of the gospel outwardly to their wider spheres of influence.
The answers to, “What obstacles need to be removed for you or others?” become prayer targets for the Life Team as they remove through faith anything which hinders the expansion of the kingdom. When the responses to the entire Three O’s form come in an email to the leader, he or she can then forward those on to the rest of the group so they can pray strategically over the coming week.
Between meetings Life Team members might bear fruit as they gather at another member’s house for a movie night or work together on a household project for another member. They might meet one on one to discuss personal problems or they might pool their money to assist a family in financial crisis.
Conversations about the gospel can continue through the week at the bedside of a sick family member, over coffee or while engaging in a shared interest.
The gospel conversations can spill out into discussions with unbelievers as others are invited into the natural connections among the Life Team members. The Life Team might also engage in projects aimed at blessing those in their host context in the name of Christ.
Traditionally, churches have segregated these three aspects of gospel growth into various specialized ministries. The gospel might take root through a Sunday School meeting but that information would not necessarily be applied since the goal of transferring information would have been met at the conclusion of the class. Real life change (fruit bearing) would be outsourced to a men’s or women’s ministry or youth mentoring program. Those programs generally focus on being better family members and more productive church volunteers but little if any emphasis is placed on mission. The few who crave involvement in the mission might be asked to serve on the missions committee doing fundraisers or events aimed at highlighting the church’s support of international missionary work. Each of these various approaches might be effective in their own right especially because they are often headed by paid professionals. But their existence makes holistic holiness the work of the institution rather than the responsibility of each believer.
Jesus’ instruction to make disciples was not addressed to a religious corporation but to disciples. Life Teams place the locus of the entire Growth Cycle back on the individual believer. Everyone who claims to follow Christ must regularly be taking in the gospel message, living it out in their daily and weekly routines, and sharing it with a lost and dying world. The role of the Life Team is not to ease the individual believer’s call to become exactly like Christ (a necessarily holistic endeavor) but to “spur one another on” to love and good works.