Monthly Archives: September 2008

Be the First!

I don’t consider myself a church planter, although what we’re trying to do with Element is essentially trying to plant a church, in the most organic sense of the word. One thing we have struggled to accommodate and work around is the reluctance on the part of some folks to be the first ________ in our community.

This is not a phenomenon unique to new or young churches either, I don’t think.

It is difficult to be the only:ethnic minoritysingle momcouple with small childrensenior citizenmarried couple


In our Bible Belt suburban context, in our days of full-fledged “young adult” targeting, it was difficult attracting college students and young adults, because most of these folks want to go where there’s already lots of college students and young adults. Big attendance is considered success, and small attendance begs the question, “What’s wrong with this place?”

Very few want to be the first of their kind. They want to go where others have already blazed the trail, broken the seal, what-have-you. (I understand the appeal. There is certainly less required that way.)

In the current phase of our ministry, we need couples and families of all kinds to value what we do and what we’re trying to do (in a nutshell, the things that set us apart from surrounding churches are heavy gospel-centrism and a missional approach to church “operations”) and decide to be the first of their kind.

This is difficult for us because as a small community made up largely of young adults in their twenties, we …

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We wrapped up our series “The Supremacy of Christ” at Element last night. This has been a landmark series for me, four weeks in Ephesians chapter 2, because it has really been the essence of the motivation of my life of discipleship and the passion of my theological pursuit over the last several years.

I broke the chapter up into four sections and the messages were titled:Christ In UsChrist Over UsChrist With UsChrist For Us

Last night in our “Christ For Us” service, we celebrated communion, and before we ate and drank, for the time of prayerful self-examination, I read the complete chapter of Ephesians 2 as a proclamation over our gathered community.It was deeply moving for me.

Then we had our worship time after, and that’s always moving for me, because it functions as a response to the word heard in the message.

I just love proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. If you’re a preacher/teacher, don’t you?

And I am grateful for folks who receive this proclamation week in and week out with gratitude and joy and a provocation to worship.

We got a response card in our basket at the info table last night that simply said “Awesome!”That about sums it up for me, also.

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Stetzer on Pastoring in the Suburbs


. . . [S]ome pastors hate the suburbs. If you hate the suburbs, stop whining about it and move into the city. I have done both and find them both in deep need of the gospel. It is trendy to mock the suburbs — I have done it myself, calling them the “vast suburban wasteland.” Well, it may be, but everywhere is a wasteland without Jesus. So, if you are called to pastor in the suburbs, dig deep and engage its culture — look for bridges over which the gospel will travel and expose the idols that the gospel must destroy.

Seen at sub*text

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Ray Ortlund at Element

Over the summer, while I was out of town, Element was blessed enough to receive a great message from our friend and mentor Ray Ortlund.

The audio is now available here.

This is really special not just because Dr. Ortlund is a passionate, wise, and relentlessly Gospel-centered preacher, but because his messages are not widely available online anywhere else. (Unless Immanuel Church has begun podcasting lately.)

So not only was Element fortunate to have a superior guest preacher, we are fortunate enough to have exclusive audio of a Ray Ortlund sermon.

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How to Feel Scripture

My latest piece at SearchWarp:

Five Ways to Feel Scripture

A taste:

We like to keep Scripture short and manageable, and that’s understandable. It’s certainly more convenient that way. But we will not be mastered by Scripture if we don’t occasionally allow it to overwhelm us, intimidate us, and force us to wrestle with it.

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Gospel Intentionality

Desiring God’s David Mathis interviews Tim Chester, one of the authors of Total Church, a new book in Crossway/Resurgence’s Re:Lit series that sounds awesome. From the interview:

DG: Tim, what do you and Steve Timmis mean by the title Total Church?

Tim Chester: The phrase is actually adapted from the world of football (or soccer in the States!). “Total football” was a style of play associated with the Dutch international side in the 1970s.

“Total church” is our way of capturing the idea that church is not one activity in our lives. Church isn’t a meeting you attend or a building your enter. It’s our identity, our community, our family. It’s the context for the totality of the Christian life.

DG: How would you summarize the message of the book?

TC: Total Church argues for two core principles: We need to be gospel-centered and community-centered.

Being gospel-centered means we’re word-centered (because the gospel is a message; it is good news), and it means being mission-centered (because the gospel is a message to be proclaimed; it is good news).

I think most conservative evangelicals are strong on this. But we also need to be community-centered. The Christian community is the biblical context for evangelism, discipleship, pastoral care, social involvement, and so on. That doesn’t mean meetings. It means the shared life of the community.

One of our catchphrases is “ordinary people living ordinary life with gospel intentionality.” It means doing the chores, having meals, watching sports, and so on with an intention to talk about Jesus, to …

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Gospelizing a Folk Tale

Another contribution at SearchWarp:Grace and “The Little Red Hen”

It’s about dispensing with “just desserts” and giving people what they don’t deserve.

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The latest edition of Themelios, the Gospel Coalition’s theological journal, is out. Good stuff.

If you’re going to The Gospel Coalition’s 2009 conference, say aye.The Element team is going and we’re really excited about it.

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Via Pete Wilson’s Twitter feed, I found this perspective from former attenders of the church we formerly attended.

What I find interesting is that her family left because “it just wasn’t the same.” My family left (essentially) because it was too much the same.

Please be charitable (to both her and her new church), but what do you think of her criteria for church selection?

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The Law, Love, and Reconciliation

Obedience is really about reconciliation. The place of the Law in the context of the Christian life is an integral one, but a tricky one. One of my chief concerns in teaching on obedience and the Law is that order be kept straight. We see it in the Exodus story, and we see it in the order of salvation. We are set free to then follow. God did not hand Moses the Law before the burning bush. He did not deliver the Law to the Israelites while they were still in bondage. He delivered them into the wilderness first.I think that’s really important. We are set free to follow. The call and the deliverance precedes obedience in the same way that a changed heart precedes changed behavior. (Tim Keller is the best of the best on this subject from a pastoral perspective.)

But it still leaves the command to obey, the command to follow the Law, sitting heavy on us like a weight. And so my aim is to give it context, to put the Law in its proper framework, and for post-cross Christians the context and framework is the same as it was for post-Exodus Israelites. Or at least should be. Love.

God gave the Law out of love. And when the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus into a legal fumble, it was love that Jesus used to frame the Law:The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love …

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