Monthly Archives: April 2009

Dude, Where’s My Gospel?

Once upon a time, my family made the very difficult and emotional decision of breaking fellowship with a church for several reasons, but the most important one, and the one that would have done it by itself, was the persistent neglect of gospel-centered teaching. Since I’ve begun publicly urging the evangelical church to reclaim the centrality of the gospel and re-form its discipleship culture around the gospel, I have heard from many others in the same boat.

Gospel deficiency is the biggest crisis of the American church. It has been replaced by many things, most commonly a therapeutic, self-help approach to biblical application. Bible verses are extracted to enhance calls to self-improvement and Jesus is preached as moral exemplar (which of course, he is, but then again, so is Mother Theresa). The result is a Church that, ironically enough, preaches works, not grace, and a growing number of Christians who neither understand the gospel nor revel in its scandal.

There are lots of good reasons to reclaim the centrality of the good news of Jesus in our preaching and teaching and writing and blogging, and I’ve come up with four basic arguments for (what I’m calling) The Gospel Imperative, but perhaps defining our terms is in order. It’s no good going on about making the gospel the center of our worship and discipleship if we are not on the same page for what the gospel actually is.

Like many others, I affirm that the gospel is big. I favor a robust gospel, …

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What is a Missional Church?: Three Convergent Takes

Mark Driscoll posts:

In Vintage Church chapter nine we answer the question, “What Is a Missional Church?” With the ongoing debate between traditional churches, seeker churches, emerging churches, etc., there is a need to clarify what a missional church is and is not. In this chapter we explore the history and nature of a missional church. Regarding the missional church, excerpts from Vintage Church pages 219-220 say:

Thankfully, the mission of the church is not that complicated. The mission of the church comes directly from the command of Jesus, who, following his resurrection and just prior to his ascension, said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20; see also Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:20-31; Acts 1:5-8). Jesus speaks of going, evangelizing, making disciples, and planting churches that plant churches to continue the process. Therefore, the mission of the church is nothing less than bringing the entire world to Christian faith and maturity.

A missional church must strategize how to carry out the mission to today’s increasingly non-Christian culture.

Still the best short piece I know of is What Is a Gospel-Centered Missional Church and Why Do We Need One? from The Journey Church (St. Louis). Read it all, but here’s an excerpt:

Primarily, a missional church recognizes the centrality …

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The Fear of Preaching Dangerously

Collapse shmollapse.

Last year I nodded toward the preaching coming out of LifeChurch as a sign that the tide may be turning. LifeChurch is in many ways the epicenter of the attractional multi-site church movement, and LifeChurch’s pastor Craig Groeschel has been preaching some great messages in some great series.

Last week at the Catalyst West Conference (which gets credit for inviting Francis Chan back to speak year after year), Groeschel pushed the calling of people into “Level 3″ discipleship, where life is sacrificed for the good of the gospel. And then there’s this post, which is just refreshing and awesome and prophetic:

Pastor, you are called to preach a dangerous message.

(Notice I didn’t say an “edgy” message. There is a big difference between dangerous and edgy.)

Preaching the Gospel of Christ is offensive to men. If you’re being criticized for your sex talks and creative marketing and never for preaching Christ, something might be wrong with your preaching.

Preaching God’s standards will make some people mad. If your sermons always make people feel better about themselves and you never confront their sin, they won’t likely see their need for a Savior.

Preaching about the miraculous power of God stirs people up. If your typical message is five steps to a better life, you may be overlooking the one step of truly taking God at His word.

I pray our messages become more Spirit-filled, Scripture-packed, and God-annointed!

A few of the comments are revealing.

When a guy like me, in my context, says things like this, they …

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When the Work is Dull or People Are Slipping Away

Don’t expect the enemy to coddle you.

This excerpt from C. John Miller’s The Heart of a Servant Leader really ministered to me:

Let me urge upon you the importance of cultivating faith if you are to be able to walk in love and spiritual power. Without faith it is impossible to please God, but those who believe are given more grace than they can handle. Believing is to expect God to be with you and change you and to change others…When the work is dull and routine or people are slipping away, go forth with new boldness and preach Christ until you are filled with faith yourselves and God works faith in others.

Think of it this way. All the powers of hell and earth are ranged against the gospel and your ministry. They will not compromise. Therefore don’t expect it from them. Don’t expect the enemy to coddle you. He will continue to attack from every quarter. At night. On the streets. In your meetings. Wherever. This is a take-no-prisoners kind of war, and we must not compromise with the uglies and with evil in any form.

Therefore resist, fight with all your heart against evil in yourself and others, seek holiness through faith in the blood of Christ, and live boldly out of your union with Christ. You are in Him and He is in you. Don’t doubt it. On that basis keep at it.

Keep at it. Yes.We will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Thanks to

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Judgment Begins with the House of God

…All the calls to “reclaim America for Christ” leave me cold. Our real need is to reclaim the church for Christ. When Christ is exalted in His church, when He is loved and revered and cherished with passion by those who bear His Name–in other words, when the church starts living like the church–then His body cannot help but make an impact on culture.

– Tom Ascol

Thanks, Brenden Link, for the quote. It is timely as I have been already brainstorming my July 4th weekend sermon, and this is near the direction I’m heading.

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Worship Spectacles Produce Spectators, Not Worshipers

One forgets how refreshing engaged congregational worship is after years of immersion in a passive crowd watching the show. No matter how many times the cheerleader worship leader urges response, most everyone knows they are there to watch, consume, maybe clap hands and sing along, but mostly to be impressed or entertained or moved. The “worship” is for us, not God, which is why we pick churches based on how good (or “rockin’”) the music is.

Another good passage from Skye Jethani’s great book The Divine Commodity:

This philosophy of spiritual formation through the consumption of external experiences creates worship junkies — Christians who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that does not fade. In response, churches and Christians conferences are driven to create ever-grander experiences and more elaborate productions to satisfy expectations. Ironically, these worship spectacles, according to Sally Morgenthaler, are failing to produce real worshipers. She writes:

We are not producing worshippers in this country. Rather we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with Gd, deprived of both the tangible sense of God’s presence and the supernatural relationship their inmost spirits crave.

Ministries that focus on manufacturing spiritual experiences, despite their laudable intentions, may actually be retarding spiritual growth by making people experience-dependent.

Tomorrow, btw, I’ll be participating in Zondervan’s blog tour for Jethani’s book. I’ll have a brief review, plus a one-question interview with him featured in this space, as …

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Adventures in the Bible Belt

This from Shaun Groves is all kinds of excellent.

She cut me off. She made a left right in front of me. I was leaving Lowe’s – the home repair store – trying to get home in time for my niece’s birthday party. She was trying to get her Burger King fix faster.

I slammed on the brakes and skid and honked the horn. I may have said a singular bad word i hopes that the Holy Spirit can not only interpret “groanings” but also profanity to be a cry for immediate assistance, please. I was scared. I wasn’t angry. Yet.

Then she moved the phone from her hand to her neck, cocked her head to hold it in place, and flipped me off with her now free hand. I came to a stop in the road – and also a metaphorical fork. And I chose to follow her into the Burger King drive-thru line.

I pulled up beside her. She rolled up her windows without looking my way. So I screamed at her about how I have three kids and a wife who could have lost a father and husband because she was really hungry for a Whopper and couldn’t wait two seconds for me to pass by before turning. I told her she wasn’t important enough to endlessly be on her cell phone. I informed her that I’m not sixteen, I’m an adult like she’s dressed up to …

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Maybe Redemption is Stories to Tell

This is a must-watch video (from the folks at The Austin Stone Church).

Cardboard Stories from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

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The Consumer Church

One of the most resonant sections (to me anyway) of Skye Jethani’s excellent The Divine Commodity (more on this book in this pace on Thursday) is in his personal recounting of friends switching churches.

While enjoying our drinks of choice, Greg and Margaret proceeded to explain why they were leaving our church to attend another congregation in a nearby town. The new church, they said, had multiple services on Saturday and Sunday so they could choose to worship at a time that fit their busy schedules. (Our church had only three services — all on Sunday morning.) The youth group had multiple worship teams for their daughter to serve on. (Our student ministry had only one worship team.) And, because it was “way bigger” than our church, it had more to offer Greg and Margaret too. They could find a class or small group that perfectly fit their needs. Despite making a public commitment as members a few years earlier, Greg and Margaret’s commitment to our church had ended. A more comfortable ship had sailed into port — one that offered more choices.

A core characteristic of consumerism is freedom of choice. Customization, creating a product that conforms to my particular desires, has driven businesses to offer an ever-increasing number of choices to consumers. Nothing represents this trend better than the iPod. No longer must a listener commit to buy an entire album to enjoy one song. She now has instant access to millions of songs, and may choose to download them …

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Four Important Changes for Churches

David Fitch was asked, “If you had to list 5 of the most important elements that you would like to see changed in local churches across America, what would those 5 things be?”

OK here’s 4 off the top of my head:

1.) Less emphasis on success and growth, more on authentic Christian living and discipleship. This is the obedience God is looking for.

2.) Less on pandering to Christians who have little time but more money, and more pandering to the poor who have more time and less money

3.) Concentrate more on the simple stuff where one encounters the transcendent living God, less on programming.

4.) Leadership that listens and responds to what God is doing, not orchestrating the future they learned at business school.

Whether one agrees with these or not (and I do, for what it’s worth), I think it’s at least refreshing to see a request for a “What do we do?” and a response. Lots of critics are long on diagnoses, short on prescriptions, and that just ain’t helpful.

(HT: Dash)

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