Have you ever wondered about the story behind Madison Church, and how it transformed from a single Facebook post to the vibrant community it is today? I'm Stephen Feith, your host and lead pastor, and today, we're taking a walk down memory lane. We'll revisit our early days, when Anthony, a young man I met through a Facebook post, became our first member, our first baptism, and one of our first leaders. Through trials and tribulations, we've grown organically, carrying the faith and dedication of our members as our backbone.
Then, we shift our focus to the heart of our community - our small group gatherings. Inspired by the early disciples, we delve into the foundations and significance of these little clusters within our congregation. We acknowledge the fears and reservations that may come with joining such groups, but we also celebrate the profound impact these gatherings can have on your spiritual journey. As we look ahead in 2023, we share practical advice on maintaining individual Bible study, prayer, and nurturing connections within our Madison community. Tune in to this podcast episode, as we honor our past, celebrate our present, and look forward to the future of Madison Church.
Welcome to Madison Church Online. My name is Steven Feith, I'm a lead pastor and we're so glad that you're joining us today. In just a couple of weeks, we're going to be celebrating our ninth anniversary since we got started in Madison. It's been nine incredible years a lot of good stuff, some tough stuff, but nine incredible years of life, ministry and mission here in the city of Madison. I want to invite you on Sunday, september 10th. We're going to have a party to celebrate right after our 11 am gathering. We're going to have face painting and balloon sculpting. We'll have music playing, free lunch, so it's a great Sunday. If you've never been here before you've just been watching and listening online, it's a great Sunday to come out and visit. Or if it's been a while since you've come in person, it's a great Sunday to reconnect. It is around this time a year, every year, that I reflect on how we've gotten to where we are. I'm not just talking about the last 12 months how did we get from year eight to year nine, but how did we go from where we are now? Or how we began to where we are now? We started Madison Church in 2014, and I can remember vividly when we moved here. I didn't know anybody, I didn't have friends here, didn't have family, just felt like God had guided us and led us to start Madison Church here in Madison. So it was early on in the springtime. I felt like this was the right time to move. At that point, though, my wife, megan she had a teaching contract. She had to finish out in Missouri throughout May, so I moved here a few months before she'd be able to get here. That was like a step of faith for me. I felt like I needed to do this. I knew it was going to be difficult, so I took that step. We could only afford one car, though, and because Springfield, missouri, was less commuter friendly with public transit than Madison was, megan kept the car. I honestly thought it'd be warm enough to ride my bike around Madison in March, and I learned within my first hour of being here that March is no where near warm enough for me to ride a bike around. I also didn't have housing. You see, we couldn't afford two places to live one in Missouri, one here so I came here hoping something would work out, and thankfully it did. A local pastor offered a spare bedroom for me to stay in for the first few months that I lived here. When I first came to Madison, everything I brought with me was in a backpack or in a duffel bag that I held in my hand. It was a big step of faith, but we felt again in hindsight that that was the right thing to do. And still to this day, I feel like it was the right thing to do. As I mentioned, I didn't know anybody in Madison, but we're here to start a church. So where do you begin with that? I chose Facebook. I put a post out there. Hey, you're settling into Madison. We're here to start this church. If you know anyone who lives in the city and it might be interesting what we're doing, have them reach out to me, or could you make an introduction for me? And that's what happened. A pastor in Milwaukee said hey, there's this kid. He just moved to the UW, his name is Anthony, his family have been coming to my church for years and I'd love it if you could connect with him. And so I had reached out to Anthony and asked him to go and get a coffee at Starbucks. And can you imagine just how for Anthony? You put yourself in his shoes for a second. There's this guy that you've never met before and you got introduced to him by your pastor back home and your pastor says, hey, he's going to start a church. Well, how many people go to the church? Well, no one goes to the church yet. Well, how old is the church? Well, it hasn't even been started yet. And that Anthony showed up to that first meeting. Still, that impresses me. But so Anthony shows up to this meeting and we're sitting there and we're talking and at the time it's all vision, it's all dreams. We have nothing to show for anything, we've got no money, we've got no building, we've got no gatherings. I think the website was still under construction, so we didn't have anything. But Anthony seemed into it and it was around that time that I could tell he was leaning in and interested, that I thought this is Anthony. Anthony is going to be our very first member. I doubt he thought that, but I was like Anthony, he's totally in. And because I didn't have a whole bunch of people to like, recruit or develop or anything like that, I got to spend most of my time pastoring Madison Church with just Anthony. And so Anthony, it turns out he wasn't only our first member, he was the first person we baptized at Madison Church, and he was also one of our very first volunteer leaders at Madison Church, and so he really stepped up. It was awesome. And from there, though, from this meeting at Starbucks with me and with Anthony, we begin to continue to spread the word, and so Anthony starts bringing a friend or two, and I've been working at the Starbucks and inviting customers or coworkers that I had built a relationship with and shared with them what we were doing, and over that entire summer, we built the community at Madison Church person by person. It was one plus one plus one plus one. There was no rapid growth, it wasn't fast going, it wasn't large, it was person by person, and that's just how we reached people. As a matter of fact, I got a picture here I can show you. One of our earliest church gatherings was in my apartment. We could all fit in my apartment, and that's where we began hosting our gatherings. And as I reflect back on nine years living here in Madison and doing ministry, there's a lot of things that I would do differently. I look back at situations where I didn't make the right decision, or I was slow to make the right decision, or I made the wrong decision and I was too quick to make the wrong decision. But one thing that I absolutely know that I would not change is how we got started. Madison Church started small. We started relationally. Things grew organically and naturally. It was slow going and not a lot of people have had the patience for that. And we miss some of those people who decided, hey, we weren't growing fast enough or we weren't big enough. We miss them Absolutely. But I still stand by the decision to begin how we began and the reason that I wouldn't change that. You're asking well, why wouldn't you change it if? If you've lost good people along the way, who, who didn't have the patience for why would you stick to it? And the reason I wouldn't change is because I firmly believe with it's just such a deep conviction in me that how we do this, our philosophy of ministry at Madison Church, is the best and most effective way to accomplish our mission of connecting people with God and each other. Now I don't just reflect on where we've been, I don't just look over my shoulder and that's an important part of this but I also look ahead. It's impossible not to. I look ahead to the next year, the next 10 years and, in this case the next Uh 15 years, like where are we going? And as I think about the next year, I'm reminded just how important small groups are going to continue to be and, if anything, they're gonna become more important. If you've been coming to Madison Church the last couple of years, you've probably noticed that, while we're not a large church, that we are a growing church and a lot of things and a lot of new friends and new faces and people getting connected and and serving and volunteering and getting involved Into our community. It's exciting and it's great. But as we continue to reach and expand all around us, small groups will become more important because at the heart of what we do is Relationships. At the heart of what we do, it's about connecting with other people, it's about knowing other people and being known by other people, and so small groups will be critical and that's why, for the next couple of weeks leading up to this ninth anniversary Celebration, we're going to be talking about our small group Communities here in a series called created for community. You see, you and I, we were created for Community and there's a little bit of attention when I said our mission connecting people with God and each other. The tension is that we're always kind of expanding and growing and evolving, not just individually, but the sum of our group, the sum of our community, is always changing and growing. We have to connect the people we have now and have really good friendships, while remaining open and inclusive to new people who want to be part of this community. And there's such a natural tendency for me, for you and for some of us it's a great poll and for others it's just a little bit of a poll, but I believe that all of us have a poll to get cozy and comfortable with the people that we know well. I've got my friends, I've got my circle, I've got my group, I'm good, I've I'm connected with God and each other check. But the mission is to continue to do that, is to continue to connect people with God, each other. If you're watching or listening online, part of why we came to Madison was to connect with you. Part of the reason we came to Madison was to connect to the people who are in this room right now and with each other. And I think about all of the friendships in the different areas and stages of life that we're all coming from and the one thing that Brings all of us in the same room or online listening and watching is this idea. But there's a God who loves us and we have questions about that guy and we want to ask those questions. But it's not just that. This isn't just a classroom, but it is a Community. The default for you and me is to find people we like, to spend time with people we like, and then stop reaching out to people that you know potential we don't like, and then what happens is is when we do that, our relational cup gets full. It makes sense that our relational cup would get full, but for followers of Jesus, we can never stop advocating for growth of the church community, because Jesus is constantly reaching out to them and God is constantly wanting to work through you and through me to reach them. And how we grow again going back to this idea, in my opinion, how we grow and continue to reach people and expand the kingdom of God throughout Madison is through small groups. Small groups aren't just a ministry of Madison church. They're a vital aspect to our culture, our strategy and our mission and our calling as believers, as followers of Jesus. Small groups are our origin story and we have a variety of connections with others and the different connections that we have with others require different spaces for those relationships to form and to grow. And, let's be honest, there's only so much connecting that we can do during an hour on Sunday when I'm doing most of the talking, and so we do need these small groups Now. If you're not already signed up for a group, my hope is that you'll get involved in one. I want to be transparent about my agenda. This week, next week and the week after, our elders and I, we have been praying and working toward multiple groups and those groups being filled up completely, and I've got to tell you that that's been an answered prayer. We started off with a few groups and they filled up. We actually had to open up more spots so that more people could get involved, and I don't think we're done yet. I just don't think that we're done yet. I think that you're watching or listening right now and you're not in a small group. If you haven't signed up, you're thinking about it. You're going back and forth, should I? I want you to be in one, and so we've expanded how many people can sign up for it. We're doing this because we believe in the importance of them in your spiritual development and the growth of our community. Now you might be watching or listening and say, well, I've already signed up for a group, so I'm just gonna hit this little red X in the top corner and move on with my day. But don't do that yet. Don't check out. This series is still very much for you. You and I need regular reminders as to why we do something, so that we don't forget and so that we don't stop doing it. A lot of times we just forget why we're doing something and then we end up stop doing a good thing, something we probably put work into beginning a long time ago, but when we forget we stop, and so this series is a great reminder for all of us. Maybe you're in a group, but you haven't thought about why you're in a group. We hope to explain that today as well. The passage we're gonna be studying and breaking down today, if you wanna follow along, is found in Acts. Acts is written by Luke, who wrote the book in your New Testament called Luke. We're looking at the second chapter of his second volume, which is called Acts, and this is what's happening right after Jesus' resurrection. So at this point in Acts, when we're going to chapter two. Jesus has already been born, he's already lived, he's already died, he's already been resurrected and at this point, he just recently ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit has come down on all of the followers of Jesus at the time the upper room, about 120, 140 of them or so and now we're seeing kind of the fruit and the ripple effect of everything that Jesus did and has left behind. And so, beginning in verse 42, we read All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship and to sharing in meals, including the Lord's supper, and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over all of them, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's supper and shared their meals with great joy and generosity, all while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Now, the first thing I want to point out about this passage if you're taking notes, highlighting, following along, I want you to notice that it says that all the believers worshiped together at the temple each day and that really would be the equivalent of what you and I are doing today. It probably looked different. You know, they're in the Middle East. 2,000 years ago they didn't have electricity or cameras or microphones, but it was essentially this large group of people getting together to pray, to hear teaching, to kind of fellowship and have community and friendship with each other. So there was this aspect of the faith in which there was a larger gathering, and that's a good time for me to throw out the disclaimer while this week and the next two weeks we're going to be emphasizing our small group communities that meet between Sundays. That's not to say that what we do on Sunday morning is not important. It's not even to say it's less important. I don't want to diminish or take away the importance of our weekly church gatherings on Sunday. The two our small groups and our large gatherings they absolutely complement one another. I personally don't think that one has more value than the other because they serve different purposes, and at this point I want to point out that most of us if you're watching and listening online in the room most of us found Jesus at a large gathering, whether it be a conference or a camp, a church gathering or service. Most of us found him in this space. So I absolutely don't want to diminish that. I want to say that this space is not enough. It's not enough and that's not even what the early disciples did. They didn't just check this off. We continue to read that they met in homes. They didn't just go to the temple as a part of their weekly routine, but they had this organic and very real and natural cycle of meeting with others and those who shared the faith with them. In other words, they assembled as a crowd, but they shared their lives in a community. And all of this sounds good and well, but yeah, people still don't get involved, and you might be one of them. You're not getting involved, and so why aren't you? Or why don't other people? And I thought of several, really what I think are probably common reasons why people don't. The first one is that you might just have a fear of commitment and joining a group. That's going to require time right Every Wednesday night for the next couple of months, an hour and a half. If you join a small group, you might have to say no to some other plans. If you join a small group, you might have to say no to something else. That's also really important, but it might be a fear of commitment for you is the reason that you don't want to sign up. You might have had a previously bad experience with a social group, a club or even a small group within a church. If you joined a small group once and it was clicky and it was unwelcoming, you might have social anxiety or be an introvert. So if you're an introvert or you have social anxiety, you might actually have some sort of physiological response to the idea of going to someone's house and being with other people and talking. You might have experienced a lot of anxiety. There might be time constraints and scheduling conflicts. I think this is probably the most common reason. That a lot of people don't get involved in a group is because we have busy schedules, we have work commitments, we have family responsibilities and we just don't have the time. We're going from one thing to the other. Hear me out, if you are overextended and you don't even have enough time to squeeze something else in, I don't want you to. If you're living the way I just told you, you wake up, you eat, you go to work, you do this, you do that, you do that until you go to bed and you rinse and repeat day after day after day. I don't think it's healthy that you do anything else. As a matter of fact, we did a series about a year and a half ago based on the book the Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, in which we're telling people to quit things to eliminate hurry. While I do want you to be in a small group community to get to know other people and be known by other people, I want you to be healthy. I want you to begin to consider why are you so busy and what's going on, and to dive into that and examine that and get to a place where you are healthy, you have time and then you can be in a small group and really see yourself begin to flourish even more than you are right now. So we got all of these reasons and I want to say that I get it. I get all of those reasons and you didn't need me to validate you for that, but I'd like to validate you and I also want to add that I'm sorry if you're watching or listening and you had a bad experience in one of our small group communities and if you did, if you reach out to me, send me an email I would love to take you off for a drink, to apologize to you in person and to also figure out what we can do as the leaders of Madison church to prevent that from happening again to someone else. So, while there are lots of reasons and valid reasons to not be in a small group, I want to spend the rest of my time today talking about the reasons to join it. Are you surprised that that's how I took this? I want to talk about the good reasons, and even better reasons, to join a small group community. Let's break down the passage and ask even more. First off, spiritual growth happens in community. This is reason number one why I think you should join a small group community. Looking closer at the passage, we read all the believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teachings and to fellowship and to sharing in meals, including the Lord's supper. Now notice, in this passage, this was not an individual activity. Their devotion to God, their faith, their spirituality wasn't just inward, it wasn't just themselves. The early church, these first followers of Jesus, knew that their relationship with God was not to be experienced alone. They were devoted to learning together. They were devoted to spending time with one another. They were eating and praying together, and when I think us today, in 2023, living in Madison, wisconsin, when we think about praying and reading the Bible, I imagine you think of those activities. As you do that by yourself, it's a Monday morning and you wake up and you read the Bible by yourself. It's a Tuesday afternoon and you're kind of having your quiet prayer time and that's good. Keep doing that. I'm not saying, do these things less, but we see examples of the early followers of Jesus doing those things outside of the temple regularly together. And so the challenge here is well, for me, to grow spiritually, I need to be connected with people outside of Sundays who are followers of Jesus so we can pray together and eat together and read the Bible together and to learn together and to pursue God together. But it's not just that. Spiritual growth happens in a community. Physical needs are met in a community. All the believers met together in one place and they shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. You read that right. They sold everything they had. If they own property, they sold it. If they had shelter, they sold it. Whatever that they had that was worth something, they would sell it so that everyone in their group wouldn't have a need. They lived in such a way that they wanted to live this way, to sacrifice like that. And while I don't think that we need to sell our houses today, I don't think that that's what this passage is saying. It's not saying for you to sell everything. You haven't me to sell everything. I haven't Throw it all in a pot together. I don't think it's saying that. But it is saying that a mark, a signature, a follower of Jesus in a group is that we help those who are in need all around us. But how will you know who is in need if you're not involved in a small group community? When you're in a small group community, you might find out that somebody needs some help running some errands. You remember during the pandemic, if you were sick, you needed someone to go out and pick up medicine or go get groceries for you or do these little things. How would you know if you didn't know that person and how would they reach out to you? It could mean making a meal for a family that is dealing with a crisis. It might mean driving someone to a doctor's appointment. It might mean pulling some of your resources together because something came up in someone's life and they're not able to make rent this month, and so you guys get together to help out someone. And I want to point out that, as the pastor of our church, I know a lot of the needs in our church community. I talk with you guys and we hang out, we spend a lot of time together, we send text messages and emails back and forth, but believers you and me, if you're a follower of Jesus, we're all called to do that, whether your job is to be the pastor of a church or not. And so it's not just that the pastor of the church does it or that the leader of the leaders of the church does it, but it's that all of us do it. And so the question is if you're not in a small group community, how will you know what the needs around you are so that you can walk this aspect of your faith out? So spiritual growth happens in the community, physical needs are met in community, and people find God in community. The last sentence in our passage from Acts says and each day, the Lord added to their fellowship, those who were being saved. When we gather together and involve and are involved in small group communities, we will see more and more people being reached. Now think back to that tension I mentioned earlier with our mission right, where it's easy to get closed off. I have my friends, us for no more. God wants us to reach people. So while physical needs and spiritual growth happens in communities, they're not supposed to just be inward, and for us, we are to reach people. It makes me think of Brianna, who is a member of our church and a volunteer leader and does a bunch of things it has for several years. Brianna actually didn't come to start coming to Madison Church or find God in this space. It actually was in a small group when a small group leader who worked with her invited her to his small group. It was through that process of physical needs being met and spiritual growth happening that Brianna begins to find and then choose to follow Jesus, and then in that case it transitioned from a group to this space as well. But we do see examples within Madison Church and churches all over the place in which people do find God in these small group communities. And so those are several reasons, spiritual growth, physical needs being met people can find God. Those are all, I think, really great reasons to join a small group community. But let me throw out one more thing. There are over 72 times in our New Testament in which you and I, followers of Jesus, are commanded to do something with or for one another. For example, jesus says in John 1335, by this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. You see, that's just one example, but the others are accept one another, serve one another, forgive one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, offer hospitality to one another, love one another. Essentially, there are things that God wants you to do, commands you to do, things that are just as important as praying and just as important as reading your Bible, just as important as baptism, that you cannot do by yourself. If you are a follower of Jesus and you think that you can do your faith by yourself, without anyone else, you're not correct. You're wrong, because there are 70 plus examples of things that God is urging us to, guiding us to do. Pulling us to do that involves other people, and it involves us knowing other people, and these commands involve us to be known by other people. It involves us trusting other people and being vulnerable and being willing to be hurt and not just be hurt, because I bet a lot of you are really good or have had a lot of experience of being hurt but it's also about forgiving other people as well. So I know that there are many reasons why you might not want to join a small group community, but I hope that you'll consider or reconsider your position because of all the many good reasons there are to join one, and my ask now, my challenge today, is that you would sign up for a small group community this fall. We've got some really great options for you. On Tuesday night, we have a parenting course. If you have kids, no matter what stage of life they are maybe they're just babies or you have high schoolers this parenting group is meeting on Tuesday nights every other week beginning this fall, and what we're going to talk about is this idea, this goal how do we raise our kids in such a way that they want to spend time with us when they don't have to spend time with us? And so, for those of you with adult children, you might know what I'm saying a little bit better than those of you with kids at home. There will come a point, if you have kids at home, there comes a point where your kids will leave home and then they don't have to spend time with you anymore. I mean, you might think that they have to, but they know that they don't have to. How do we raise our kids in such a way, in such a positive and biblical way, that even when they leave the home and they don't have to spend time with us, they want to and they choose to? On Wednesday nights, we have the Alpha course, which is a fantastic course. They're going to eat together, they're going to watch little videos on who is Jesus and who is the Holy Spirit, or what about heaven and hell. They're going to talk about those things and it's not like this is what you should believe. It really is very much a conversation and it's coming together to share food and to build relationships and to ask questions and it to be a safe place for your questions to kind of be kicked around and discussed with other people. And then on Thursday nights we have a community hangout group. Every week they're going to do something fun like go for hikes and go for picnics, and all of these groups are free. There are no costs to be involved and so I hope that we've removed all of the barriers for you as you consider how you're created for community and I hope, as we get ready to celebrate nine years of being in Madison as Madison Church, I hope that this is the year that you take an on ramp and you go on this journey with us of connecting people with God and each other, because if you're watching or listening right now, I firmly believe as I've believed for nine years with almost everyone who's watched or listened that God has a reason for you being here, that God has guided you to this point, and I hope that you'll join us on mission, and the first step of that really is to get involved in a small group community.