Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Informal Belonging and Formal Belonging

by Tom Goodman

“Why do I need to become a member?”

I was recently asked that by someone who’s been actively participating in the life of our church for several years. He’s been attending and giving and volunteering on a level that matches—even exceeds—those whose names are on the membership roll. So why, he wanted to know, was that not enough?

At Hillcrest, we have a high commitment to both informal belonging and formal belonging. If we only had one of these things without the other, we wouldn’t be everything God wants us to be as a church.

Informal Belonging

When I ask people what drew them to Hillcrest, one of the most frequent comments I get is, “I felt like I belonged from the day I first attended.”

It’s one of our highest values: No matter where someone is on the spiritual journey, we want them to feel welcome in our fellowship.

I often use two phrases to communicate this value to our leaders. The first one is, “Belonging precedes believing.” It’s in the context of acceptance and friendship that people can consider Jesus and commit to him. I also tell our leaders, “Practice the IPI Principle.” That stands for “Involve People Immediately.” Don’t wait for baptism and church membership. Ask them to serve as a greeter or take the offering. Persuade them to go on a mission trip. Inform them about the causes we believe in and invite them to participate with us in giving generously. Enlist them to sing in the choir or play a musical instrument. Challenge them to volunteer. There are certain positions and activities that require formal church membership, and I’ll explain why in a moment. But as much as we can, we follow the IPI Principle at Hillcrest.

Formal Belonging

So, if we work so hard to create an environment where people feel they already belong, why do we ask people to become a member?

It’s a public covenant.

In the step of membership, we’re formally announcing, “I’m responsible for this group, and I’m letting them be responsible for me.”

Of course, we can start living like that during the stage I called “informal belonging.” In fact, we should. But there should be a point at which there is no question that you’ve entered into a covenant with a particular group of people.

It’s like marriage. A couple’s love and loyalty for each other doesn’t begin at the wedding ceremony, but it is formally expressed at the ceremony.

How do we fulfill Hebrews 13:17 without church membership? That verse says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

“Obey your leaders.” Which leaders? Any Christian leader in the city?

“They keep watch over your souls.” Who are they to keep watch over? Any Christian in the city?

It’s only in the covenant of membership that we make ourselves responsible for a particular group of people, and we let them take responsibility for us.

As Rick Warren puts it: “Every team must have a roster. Every school must have an enrollment. Every business has a payroll. Every army has an enlistment.”


So, help us create a church culture where both informal belonging and formal belonging takes place. Welcome people into the life of our fellowship in every way you can, but also call people to the covenant called church membership.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

What Each Generation Wants to Know

by Tom Goodman
At Hillcrest we say "Every Generation Counts."  Every generation feels they "count" when leaders prove sensitive to the questions that people in different generations ask.

In a Leadership article, Gordon MacDonald said that as he prepares his sermons he tries to keep in mind what people in various stages of life may need to know.  He was writing for preachers, but no matter what role you play at Hillcrest, keep these questions in mind.  It will help you serve everyone in the wide age-range of adults in our church family.

Here is the excerpt from MacDonald's article:


When I preach to people in their twenties, I am aware that they are asking questions such as:
  • What makes me different from my family of origin or the people around me?
  • In what direction am I going to point my life in order to pay my way through life?
  • Am I lovable, and am I capable of loving?
  • Around what will I center my life?

Those in their thirties tend to have accumulated serious long-range responsibilities: spouses, babies, home mortgages, and serious income needs.  Suddenly life becomes overrun with responsibilities.  Time and priorities become important.  Fatigue and stress levels rise.  The questions shift to:
  • How can I get done all of these things for which I am responsible?
  • Why do I have so many self-doubts?
  • Why is my spiritual center so confused?
  • What happened to all the fun I used to have?
  • Why haven't I resolved all my sin problems?
  • Why is there so little time for friendships?

For people in their forties, the questions do not get any easier.  Now they are asking:
  • Why are some of my peers doing better than me?
  • Why am I so often disappointed in myself, in others?
  • Why isn't my faith deeper?
  • Why is my marriage less than dazzling?
  • Why do I yearn to go back to the carefree days of my youth?
  • Should I scale back some of my dreams?
  • Why do I no longer feel attractive?

People in their fifties are asking:
  • Do these young people think I'm obsolete?
  • Why is my body becoming increasingly unreliable?
  • Why are so few of my friendships nourishing?
  • What do my spouse and I have in common now that the children are leaving?
  • Does this marriage of mine offer any intimacy at all?
  • Why is my job no longer a satisfying experience?
  • Are the best years of life over?
  • Do I have anything of value to give any longer?

Those in their sixties ask:
  • How long can I keep doing the things that define me?
  • Why do my peers look so much older than me?
  • What does it mean to grow old?
  • How do I deal with angers and resentments that I've never resolved?
  • Why do my friends and I talk so much about death and dying?

Those in their seventies and above have questions such as:
  • Does anyone around here know who I once was?
  • How do I cope with all this increasing weakness around me?
  • How many years do I have left?
  • How long can I maintain my independence and my dignity?
  • When I die, how will it happen?
  • What about all these things I intended to do (and be) and never got around to?
Yes, I'm aware that for our church MacDonald stopped about 15 or so years too soon!  We're blessed with a seasoned gathering of those in their 80s and 90s at Hillcrest, too!  But this is a good start.

Here's what I suggest you do.  Re-read this post again.  This time, think of someone in the age range you're reading about.  Pray for those in the Hillcrest Family who are in that age range.  Pray for the unchurched in our community who are in that age range.  And pray that our church will always be a place where every generation counts!


The excerpt was from Gordon MacDonald's article, "Incarnate Preaching," Leadership Journal, Summer 2007.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

For Further Study in Daniel

by Tom Goodman

As we wrap up our series through Daniel (archived here), maybe you're interested in further study of the book.

The book of Daniel is a complex book, and I had to make dozens and dozens of interpretative decisions as I prepared the messages for this series. I did not always lay out the interpretative options nor explain why I chose the perspective behind my sermon points.

So, for those who want to dig further, I found the following commentaries helpful. Click on the links to find the resources at Amazon:

Top on the list were The Message of Daniel by Dale Ralph Davis and The NIV Application Commentary on Daniel by Tremper Longman III.

Other commentaries I used:

Preaching Christ from Daniel by Sydney Greidanus

The Gospel According to Daniel by Bryan Chapell

The Prophecy of Daniel by EY Young

The New American Commentary on Daniel by Stephen Miller. The link will take you to the physical copy, but the ebook is only $3 right now.

The Word Biblical Commentary on Daniel by John Goldingay.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Books on Suffering

by Tom Goodman

I was asked for a list of books that deal with suffering. Here’s what I recommended to start with.

The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis

A Place for Healing, by Joni Eareckson Tada

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, by Tim Keller

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, by John Piper

The Question That Never Goes Away, by Philip Yancey. The ebook version is only $2 right now.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Recommended Books

by Tom Goodman

In yesterday’s sermon I recommended the following books. These will help you develop confidence in answering questions that nonbelievers may ask about your faith.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. In fact, any of Strobel’s “Case” books will help.

The Reason for God by Tim Keller. I also recommended his newer book, Making Sense of God. But at least start with his “Reason” book.

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, by Francis Spufford. I don’t agree with everything about this book, but what he gets right he gets very, very right. My comments here.

True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, by David Skeel

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. Released in the 1950s, it’s still relevant.

The Anchor Course: Exploring Christianity Together

I also quoted from Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.

So, there. Your summer reading list is complete!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Outreach with the Okinawa Tomonokia Drum Corp

by Tom Goodman

I asked Bruce Murray to give us a quick report on a program we hosted at Hillcrest. The program gave the Japanese Church of Austin an opportunity to reach out to the Japanese who attended. Here's his report. 

Bruce Murray and a performer

Our church hosted the New Year celebration of the Okinawa Tomonokia Drum Corp! Some 300 people gathered in the MPC last Saturday, many of whom speak Japanese, and pastor B'young Lee had the opportunity to speak to them about the Japanese Church of Austin that meets here at Hillcrest, Many of these folks did not know of the church's existence and indicated an interest in attending! We provided a great outreach opportunity for this church!                 --Bruce Murray