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In an effort to extend church planting discussion beyond model-based debate, I wrote this Wrong Debate: Attractional vs. Missional. Neil Cole has weighed in consistently, offering some insight on Organic Church and hopes to post on the Gospel soon. At his blog, he is running an Organic series. Check out the discussions in the comments here for some insights.
On Sunday at our Deacon Training we discussed how be a deacon that doesn’t just do ministry. We don’t want to have deacons (or volunteers) that serve out of sheer duty. Rather, we want to cultivate disciples and deacons that serve from the strength that God provides in the gospel, thru the Spirit. Joyful deacons, not jaded deacons.
As Neil Cole points out, mundane service such as setting up or tearing down, can be disconnected from both the gospel and the mission of the church. It is unfortunate that mundane tasks are viewed as lesser, when in fact, they are frequently the greater task, requiring greater servants.
Service in the local church doesn’t have to kill her. In order to promote a gospel-centered approach to service in the church, we discussed what it looks like to connect the gospel to web design, media work, and traffic direction (and these are just Sunday examples; the church is much, much more). To cut to the chase, we concluded that publishing the gospel on the web has a remarkable impact on people who read manuscripts and listen to podcasts. For those that direct traffic, they are actually pointing people to Jesus, and some of these people have never really understood who Jesus is. Both traffic direction and media work contribute significant to the gospel-centered mission of the church, so deacons take heart.
But what keeps us from duty-driven service that leads to weariness and bitterness? The gospel. We spent some time considering how the three perspectives on the gospel ground us in Jesus and call us to mission. We also discussed the idea of leaning away from the gospel into people pleasing (not Christ pleasing) service or leaning into “screw the responsibility,” self-pleasing service. We were reminded that serving in the strength that God provides is essential to church-edifying, Christ-honoring work.
Instead of working to please pastors, we work because God is already pleased with us in Jesus. We don’t need the approval of pastors (though encouragement is important). The path of irresponsibility is also deceptively dangerous. Abandoning service to the people of God is an abandoning of the gospel, a gospel that has remade us to serve, that has wonderfully enslaved us in love to one another. Of course, seasons of rest are important, and one of our deacon candidates is in that season. In the end, we serve not to be spiritual but becase we are spiritual; we are new creatures who live out the new life we have received from the Spirit.
The gospel fruit from last week’s sermon is falling off the tree. Person after person has contacted me to share how powerful the message was, how they are still thinking about it, how they were called to repentance and faith. In fact, gospel fruit is dropping all over the place. Yesterday I met with a guy who ran out of our Sunday service the first time he visited because he was so freaked by the “spiritual experience.” He was jaded and cynical but appreciated the kind of Christians he worked with. Yesterday he told me that he had been walking around with his past weighing heavily upon him, feeling that he had such a great penalty to pay. Then he said: “but then I realized Somebody paid that penalty for me. I am different. People are telling me I’m different!” This fruit is not because of great preaching but because of a great Christ. However, the greatness of Christ was more plain in the dimness of my own sin, my broken past.
The power of the Gospel to reconcile our past and present sin is all too often absent from the pulpit. Preachers hide behind the facade of professionalism, while our people struggle to understand how the incarnation really makes a difference. Our churches are longing for a little Christ in thier midst that shares their failures as well as their successes. They want to know a pastor who is truly human, so human that the need for the divine shoots through the roof. We constantly say that we are an imperfect people who cling to a perfect Christ. On Sunday, people got to see my imperfections next to the glorious perfection of Jesus Christ.
I guess this post is a reminder of the centrality of the gospel in church planting. A reminder to allow the full breadth of redemption to be experienced in our own discipleship and heard by other disciples. In the end, we are simply fellow sheep in need of the Great Shepherd. Our identity is disciple but our role is pastor, and because of that we bear the great responsibility of displaying redemption from our own stories, not just the stories of the Bible.
In this brief interview, Tim Keller offers some advice on prayer, gospel-centered contextualization, a new writing project, and the new breadth and balance of city centre churches. To get you going, here is his comment on contextualization:
The gospel is the key. If you don’t have a deep grasp on the gospel of grace, you will either over-contextualize because you want so desperately to be liked and popular, or you will under-contextualize because you are self-righteous and proud and so sure you are right about everything. The gospel makes you humble enough to listen and adapt to non-believers, but confident and happy enough that you don’t need their approval.
Not everyone can think on their feet. Some people are simply not good at speaking to strangers and forming new friendships. One of the practical benefits of the three-strand model of evangelism is that it gives a role to all of God’s people. By making evangelism a community project, it also takes seriously the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in distributing a variety of gifts among his people.
Applied three-strand evangelism includes forming authentic relationships with others, inviting them into your community through dinners, movies, hearing bands, parties and so on, allowing them to witness the power and presence of God in people who aren’t afraid of culture and genuinely love others.
In search of a biblical-theological, culturally relevant, simple evangelism approach I came across Tim Chester’s The World We All Want. Here is a description of this course:
We all dream of a better world – a world of security, plenty and friendship. Christians believe that God promises just such a new world. The Bible is the story of God making that promise and keeping it. The World We All Want is for people who are interested in the message of the Bible. Developed by the Crowded House, The World We All Want is an evangelistic Bible overview.
One of the key points that Tim has emphasized is beginning our gospel “presentations” with new creation, not with sin. I the Austin context, this is pretty crucial. Beginning with sin smacks of legalism and self-righteousness, but beginning with what we all long for—and what God promises—a world put to rights, full of joy and justice connects with the longing of every human heart. It mines the seed of religion in the heart of man and graciously leads him to repentance over looking to lesser things for fulfillment of this longing.
A number of readers responded enthusiastically to my posts on the UK published book Total Church. Steve Timmis and co have now released an entire website devoted to Total Church. An entire chapter can be read online, after registration.
Crossway is slated to publish it in the U.S. in 2008. *Link is fixed.