Connections at The Austin Stone is not simply giving information that propels individuals towards involvement but rather it meets people where they are or where they begin and moves them toward a greater degree of faithfulness to Jesus in community. Connections is discipleship.
Connecting a Murderer
One of the best “Connections” stories can be found in the book of Acts. We meet the character Saul in Chapter 7 at the stoning of Stephen. Stephen, after preaching a Gospel Message to the Sanhedrin, incites such a negative response that he is sent out to be stoned. As people come to grab their stones and wield them at Stephen, they “laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul (v. 58).” This is our introduction to the murderous, scheming, Saul, enemy of the Gospel. The following chapter tells of “Saul’s ravaging of the Church,” outlining a life lived with the sole purpose of bringing unprecedented persecution to the quickly expanding Christian church, but in chapter 9 everything changes and Saul is blinded and then converted. What happens next is where his “Connection” story begins. Saul, now Paul, overwhelmed with this newfound lease on life begins preaching and teaching the Gospel. People have no idea how to respond. Christians did not know if this was a trap, and Paul’s former associates were even more dumbfounded. For a few more verses, Paul “fumbles” doing the only thing he knew to do which was boldly proclaim the Gospel wherever he went. As he does this, his former associate persectors resort to the only conceivable solution of plotting to kill him while Christians in the Church thought only to avoid him.
All of our Sunday environments need to carry the philosophy and heart that Barnabas demonstrated to Paul.
It was then that Barnabas broke down the barrier. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:27) Barnabas went outside of his comfort zone, recognized his brother in Christ, and welcomed him in. I venture to say that this “connections” step in boldness was integral to Paul’s trajectory and ministry.
A Philosophy for Environments
All of our Sunday environments need to carry the philosophy and heart that Barnabas demonstrated to Paul. As people walk through the doors of The Austin Stone Community Church for the very first time, the only assumption we can make is that they are walking through our doors from a past life. The nature of criminal behavior and debilitating shame and sorrow are probably less horrific than the life Paul was leaving behind (or maybe not?), but everyone on a multitude of levels deals with the ramifications of sin. So we welcome them in as Christ has welcomed us. Our desire at The Austin Stone Community Church is that the “church experience” not be simply confined to the Sunday worship environment, but that the Sunday worship environment work in congress with a Missional Community strategy that engages the people of the Church to extend the values and mission of The Austin Stone Community Church into their work places, neighborhoods, and schools throughout the week. It’s the family of God being a family on mission together. For this desire to be emphasized and displayed, a significant amount of time is spent ensuring that our “front door” experience and our Sunday environments give a glimpse into a familial bond and fuels a desire to be connected to a Missional Community.
People Over Process – the “Be With” Factor
Barnabas invested time and even risked his own personal safety on “advocating” for Paul.
It wasn’t a really good directional sign or database software that connected Paul. It was an actual person. Barnabas invested time and even risked his own personal safety on “advocating” for Paul. When I was in student ministry we called this the “Be With Factor”. You could never assume that someone knew what the next steps were or that if you told them the next steps, they would know how to take them. However, if by the way you interacted and communicated with people, they understood that there was someone who would “be with” them throughout the next steps no matter what they might be. I’ll unpack our strategy in the next post, but how do you think through environments, especially on Sunday?
Published December 8, 2015