Monthly Archives: February 2009

What Gospel Wakefulness Does to a Church

Many modern communities, many of whom call themselves “missional,” are doing their best to follow Jesus without worshiping him.But this phenomenon is partly attributable to decades of churches committing the opposite error: trying to worship Jesus without following him.

But you can’t follow Jesus without worshiping him alone, and you can’t worship him alone without following him.

A community that is awake to the gospel does both.

May their tribe increase.

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Faithfulness = Success

From Mark and Maki:

“I also find that one of the things we don’t preach well is that ministry that looks fruitless is constantly happening in the Scriptures. We don’t do conferences on that. There aren’t too many books written about how you can toil away all your life and be unbelievably faithful to God and see little fruit this side of heaven.”– Matt Chandler

He brings up the examples of:1. Jeremiah2. Moses not going into the promised land3. John the Baptist not seeing the fulfillment of Jesus’ work

Will you be faithful to your call, even when it seems fruitless? Are you committed to Jesus and His glory in your ministry, and not towards numbers? God is in charge of the results as long as we are simply obedient.

I recall my good friend and mentor as a college student, Jim Luebe, saying, “I just want to be a faithful laborer over time.”

(HT: Vitamin Z)

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The Gospel is the Antidote to Everything

Once there were two brothers. You know their story, more than likely. One was wasteful, exploitative, wanton, licentious. One was rigid, moralistic, uptight, legalistic. Two brothers with two personalities and two sets of attendant sins. But their father loved them both and all that he had belonged to both of them equally.

This is how staggeringly awesome the gospel of Jesus is.

Two sisters. One is a busybody, the other kinda poky. One rarely Sabbaths; the other makes every day a Sabbath. The prescription for both is focus on Jesus.

Two Americans. One is a practicing homosexual and proud of it. The other is a practicing Baptist and proud of it. One trusts his feelings, the other trusts his actions. Both are in desperate need of Jesus for pretty much the same reason.

This is how wonderful the gospel of Jesus is. It’s the skeleton key for all of humanity.

Medicine doesn’t work this way. You don’t treat spina bifida with drugs for leukemia. (At least, I don’t think you do.) You don’t give a decongestant to a kid with athlete’s foot. For every condition, there is a specific treatment. Different symptoms, different fixes.

But the gospel isn’t like that. It fixes everything.

We all exhibit a multitude of symptoms for our conditions, running the gamut from self-indulgent immorality to self-satisfying morality. Opposite ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. Whatever your symptoms, the gospel is the answer.

There is no problem, pain, or perniciousness outside the universe-spanning scope of the gospel.The gospel carries with it resurrection …

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Gospel-Centered Community

Ben Reed has written some really good stuff on Gospel-focused small groups. An excerpt:

Are your groups structured so that basic Gospel questions and concerns can be brought to the table? Or are you so laid back that the Gospel is never discussed? Or are you so “holy” that you jump to “deeper” questions (as if there is anything more life-changing and “deeper” than the Gospel!) Are you group leaders ready and willing to ask these questions?

Do you or your group leaders make the mistake of assuming that, just because a person is attending your church and frequents your small groups, he or she is saved? How are you giving your group members the freedom to explore faith?

Good stuff there.

Elsewhere, Steve Timmis, co-author of Total Church, argues for calling our groups “gospel communities”.

The idea of missional communities has become trendy. This enables larger churches to devolve the routine stuff of church life to smaller groups throughout the week while retaining a central teaching session, usually on a Sunday. But why call them “missional” when we have a perfectly good word at our disposal in “gospel”? Gospel communities is exactly what they are: communities that are all about the gospel because they are formed by the gospel and exist for the gospel.

Here are my four practical tips for centering your small group, life group, community group, cell group, home group, Sunday School class, Bible study, or whatever you call it on the gospel:

1) Look for …

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Everything Must Culminate in Christ

“If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen — nothing else matters.”— Jaroslav Pelikan

My thesis is that everything we do either culminates in Christ or in hell. Which will you have?

If we are not fixated on Christ, I fear for what our words, our efforts, our good intentions are leading us toward. If we are not fixated on Christ, I fear for what our spiritual words, our “Christian” efforts, our “loving” intentions are leading us toward.

I am writing to my fellow pastors. Some think I am too critical. If I am, it is only because a) the situation is so dire, and b) Jesus Christ is so precious.

You who are so keen on your people “self-feeding”: How can you expect people to self-feed if you aren’t demonstrating to them week in and week out how savory Jesus Christ is, how delicious the gospel is? You treat the Bible like Bartlett’s Quotations in support of your practical tips and then expect people to eagerly find in its revelation a well of living water?

As long the faith, hope, and love you preach is all about realizing our dreams, achieving our potential, or being nice to each other, you are feeding people manna. Good for a day, and eaten, still ends up in death.

What we preach, instruct, and reflect must culminate explicitly in our incomparable, supreme, sovereign Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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A Blueprint for a Pastors’ Gospel Group

Ray Ortlund and I, along with Element’s administrative director David McLemore, dreamed up an idea last year to create a pastors’ group that was not about networking or trading tips or what-have-you, but specifically for a few gospel-driven ministers we know to have the opportunity to “gospel” each other. It’s accountability, brotherhood, Life Together. That kind of thing. I call it a “pastors gospel group.” Here’s the blueprint we adopted. Feel free to steal it, adapt it, and start your own group.

A Blueprint for The Gospel Group for Pastors

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Gal. 6:2Pastoral Brokenness

According to statistics gleaned from sources like Pastor to Pastor, Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, TNT Ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ and the Global Pastors Network, it can be extremely lonely and painful serving as the pastor of a local church:

1. Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.

2. Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.

3. Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

4. Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years. Ninety percent of pastors said their seminary or Bible school training did only a …

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The Gospel is for Everywhere

As a follow up to my last post, though, I should mention I don’t mean that the Bible Belt doesn’t need new churches. It does. We are in desperate need of a gospel-driven reformation. What the Bible Belt doesn’t need, however, are more of the sort of churches that already dominate the landscape. Where are our Matt Chandlers, our Francis Chans? Why is the Bible Belt so reluctant to let go of new glosses on a formula that doesn’t work?

Let’s not give up on cultural Christians. Or the suburbs. They need the gospel too. As Al Mohler writes:

In Mississippi, the challenge is to reach persons who think they are Christians with the reality of the genuine Gospel. In Vermont, reaching a secular population is the main challenge. Both represent important and vital Great Commission challenges.

When it comes to Christian culture, we’ve got the rest of the nation beat, no doubt. But when it comes to gospel wakefulness, the Bible Belt is just as much a spiritual wasteland as anywhere else.

God bless the guys preaching and teaching gospel A-Z in a culture that thinks they’re past the ABC’s.

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You Go Where the Customers Are

My friend The Internet Monk is asking why aren’t we doing inner city church planting?

It’s a good, challenging question with multiple answers, most uncomfortable.

His post came a week after I read this story about the decline of churches in rural areas. Rather, it’s about the exodus of pastors from rural areas.

Why are the pastors disappearing? Mainline churches (as well as some Evangelical) prefer their ministers seminary trained. But the starting salary for debt-burdened seminary grads now runs to $35,000 a year. That can break a poor and aging congregation, says Elizabeth Rickert Dowdy, pastor of the Tar Wallet Baptist Church in Cumberland, Va., who recently helped disband her other church: “When you have a congregation that’s historically been able to survive at 20 members and loses 12, they close.” And for the first time in American history, the majority of seminarians don’t come from rural areas. Shannon Jung, a rural-church expert in Kansas City, Mo., says of young pastors, “A town without a Starbucks scares them.” Wolpert recalls a professor’s warning to a promising seminarian to shun a rural call: “Don’t go. You’re too creative for that.”

The guy who said “You’re too creative for that” needs to repent.

It’s a disgusting sentiment. But it does not surprise me. He might as well have said “You’re too good for them.”

I came across this news story and the iMonk’s post in a time when I’m also wondering why nobody is planting in the Northeast. Of course I don’t literally mean “nobody.” …

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When We Think We Are Our Own

You are not your own.– 1 Corinthians 6:19b

If you don’t read In the Clearing, you should. Bob Spencer’s blogging has been a must-read for me for going on 4 years.

His recent post titled Self-Life vs. Christ-Life is a good example why. A sample:

I notice that a lot of Christian publishing thrives on promises that you too can be the hero of your story. That’s why so many book covers depict people raising their hands in triumph atop rocky crags that they’ve just conquered. As if to say, read this book and become a hero, the prince or princess, the victorious warrior, the great man or woman that you are supposed to be.

This is idol worship, that’s all.

The alternative? Not I who live, said Paul, but Christ lives in me. Who is the hero in such a statement?

Go read the whole thing.

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Why, God?

It is human nature, when terrible things happen, to ask God, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this, God?”

It is gospel vision, when good things happen, to ask God, “Why is this happening to me? I do not deserve this, God.”

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