Did you notice how almost all SOFs sound exactly the same? That's because the main point behind most SOFs is just to tell you, "we believe the Bible, and we're not crazy." If they do believe something crazy, they usually get obsessive and you can spot it right away. You can't hide cray, you know.
So the short answer to this question is no we don't have a statement of faith, yes we believe the Bible and no, we're not crazy. Well not bad crazy, anyway. Maybe we're a little bit crazy in a good way.
The longer answer is that our primary concern isn't trying to tell people how to think. Our mission is simply to get as many people as we can getting together to tell the stories of Scripture and talk about them, and let God take over from there. Of course, that means there may a high degree of diversity in our movement, and variety between groups. It also means that we may have more than our fair share of "tax collectors and sinners", just like in the early Yeshua movement. And yes, that dynamic could scare and scandalize some religious people. But we believe that the Father's house is big enough for all his children, and that Yeshua was serious when he said there was no way he would cast anyone away who came to him. At the end of the day, it's better for people to be getting together and interacting with God's word in a real way, even if it's messy or mistaken, than to not be getting together at all. Changing the world has never been tidy.
Yeshua is pronounced yeh-SHOO-uh, and is the Hebrew name of Jesus. Why did we pick this name for our movement?
The biggest reason is because, well, it's the name of Jesus! And this is all about him. The historical man from Galilee, Israel. The carpenter turned Rabbi who started a movement. The whole point of what we're doing is to strip everything away so it's just Yeshua, us, and his story becoming our story.
The other reason is because storytelling is an ancient Hebrew tradition, and using the Hebrew name of Jesus is a reminder of that. Before Moses wrote down the stories in the book of Genesis, it's likely they were communicated orally. And then in the time of Yeshua, rabbis were accustomed to telling simple stories to picture great truths. A story like this was called a mashal, pronounced muh-SHAWL. The disciples of a rabbi would memorize his mashals and retell them endlessly, as they would also do with the stories of his life and his teachings after his death. This is essentially what we're learning to do!
is a Yeshua group a church?
The simple answer is that it doesn't have to be, but it certainly could be!
In the New Testament, the word for "church" is ekklesia, and just means a group of people. For instance, Paul said in Romans 16:5 to greet his friends Priscilla and Aquila, and the church that got together at their place. He used similar language in 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 1:2, referring to groups that gathered in people's homes. In Acts 7:38, Stephen referred to Israel during their wilderness years as an ekklesia, or church. And then in Acts 19:32, a random group of people who got together to riot are called an ekklesia, or "church"!
So in New Testament terms, yes a Yeshua Group is a church. The problem with the term "church" though is that it carries so much religious baggage. Even if it doesn't for you, it will for people who hear about you. Words can mean different things to different people. So if it would feel good to call your group your church, and if you can use that term in a neutral way without getting any weird ideas, go for it. Just be aware that you might be giving other people weird ideas, so you may want to explain what you mean if you sense that's happening.
If you're Messianic you could call your group a chavurah, or fellowship. That's pronounced chah-voo-RAW.
Of course, you can also be a member of a congregation and be involved with a Yeshua group at the same time. You could even reach out to your church's leadership with the idea of starting a Yeshua group right there in your church - say, for Sunday school, or outreach, or small group. The great thing about our core ritual of telling a Bible story and talking about it is that it's so simple, it can be adapted to almost any context.
why "Yeshua" groups?
what about heresy?
This question ties into the previous one, and it's a valid concern because heresy is a real danger. Paul warned the elders of the church in Ephesus that some of them would turn and start saying perverse stuff, trying to pull the disciples away. He said people like that are like predatory wolves, and to be on guard against them. History proved him right! One of the greatest battles the early church fought was against false teachers and their crazy ideas.
So...what's to keep Yeshua Groups from being hijacked by false teachers? Like what happens if somebody wants to start a group, but they're obsessed with some crazy idea? Or what if someone wants to join your group, but they have an agenda? Here's how our practices are engineered to be as heresy-resistant as possible.
Yeshua said, "I am the way, and the truth." Stop and let that sink in for about two hours. The truth is a person, and his name is Yeshua. So the greatest safeguard against heresy is a real relationship with the Messiah. And the degree to which we as groups and as a movement are truly Yeshua-centered, that's the degree to which we'll also be heresy-proof. It makes sense, too. Did you ever notice how false teachings are always distractions from the Son of God? It's because false teachers aren't in love with Yeshua. They're in love with their pet doctrine, and you can spot it from a mile away. There's a reason we're called Yeshua Groups.
Here's another thing false teachers do. They take the Bible out of context. They take a verse here and another verse there and sew them all together, and out comes this Frankenstein! That's why we keep hammering on the fact that the Scriptures are a story. If you want to understand the Bible in context, you need to understand the story. When it comes to heresy, the devil truly is in the details. So stay big picture!
On a related note, heresy is usually complicated because it requires taking verses from all over the place and tying them together in a big knot. It's also almost always abstract, and has nothing to do with what you'll actually do tomorrow. So one of the greatest ways you can stay safe as a group is just to keep it simple and concrete. Like seriously, be fiercely committed to being as simple and practical as you can, and let new people know it! Just tell the story, and talk about those questions we gave you. Grow in your friendship with God and each other, and focus on concrete ways you can cultivate that love and enjoy real life together. If somebody starts going off about some abstract religious notion just say "Gee, that sounds really complicated. How does that affect what we do tomorrow?"
One other thing to remember is that there's a difference between goats and wolves. Wolves are savage compulsive predators, and they just need to go. Goats can be independent and prickly at times, but they're not dangerous in the same way. If you can get them to refrain from butting the sheep and just work on their own issues, it can work. They're often great for spicing up a discussion and starting daring new initiatives, too.
So that's our advice for you as a group. Obsess about Yeshua, stick to the story, focus on the friendships and the love, and keep it simple and practical. And differentiate between the goats and the wolves.
Beyond those simple guidelines, you'll probably want to develop your own set of unique processes to ensure your group stays safe and sustainable. Of course these will be different for each group. For instance, if you're just getting together with your sister and her kids, that might look different than the group for recovering addicts that you're advertising through Craigslist. In either case, we do hope you'll share what you're learning and experiencing with us here.
In terms of our safety processes as a movement, when we have a new group leader ask to join we feel them out pretty thoroughly. That includes a phone interview and a background check. We're not looking for perfect people, but we are looking for honesty and humility.
Please understand that this doesn't mean we're never going to have issues or problems, either as groups or as a movement. People are messy, we all fail sometimes, and there's always a Judas. If you don't plan for that, you're going to be disappointed. So let's all be prepared for challenges, do our part and trust God with the rest, and enjoy this great adventure!
do you have a Statement of Faith?
what if I don't believe?
"Stories aren't shaped by people. It's the other way around." ~Terry Pratchett
You may have someone who's interested in joining your conversations but is agnostic, atheist, or belongs to another religion. Is that ok? Do they need to believe that the Bible is true before they can be a part of this thing?
Or what if that's you? Let's say you're not even sure you believe the Bible but you read about storytelling, it sparked your imagination, and now you're thinking it could be a neat experience to start a tentative group with some non-religious friends. Or maybe you're Muslim and you're studying different religions in university, and you think this would be a neat way of learning the subject. Could you start a group? Would there be a place for you?
The short answer is yes. We'd love to have you.
The longer answer is that in situations like this attitude is everything. Like for instance, if someone wants to join your group and they're open about the fact that they think these are just stories, or that they believe differently, but they're respectful about it and are willing to imagine the stories with you and contribute meaningfully to the discussion, that's great! Welcome them, and give them the space to process and interact with God in their own way. Of course, if they spend all their time quoting Richard Dawkins and arguing with you, you may have to set some boundaries.
Same goes for if you'd like to start a group, but you don't actually believe these stories are true. If you have a good attitude and you're a decent person, we'd love to help you start a group. Storytelling is a powerful experience, regardless of whether you're religious or not, and we want to hear about your experiences. Just be upfront with potential visitors about where you're at, and let them know that you don't represent the majority of Yeshua Groups so they don't get confused.
"Stories create community, enable us to see through the eyes of other people, and open us to the claims of others." ~Peter Forbes
Ready to start a group? Do it here!
Not ready? Read about how to do all the group things here.
let's do this!