Speaking the Gospel

Speaking the Gospel

Do you speak gospel?

What, you mean like, do I speak French?

Well, yeah, kinda like that. Speaking the gospel does have some similarities to speaking a language. 

Speaking the gospel has to do with communicating with others in terms of the good news of God’s work through Jesus on our behalf. It has to do with pushing everything you say through the grid of the gospel. It means the good news of Jesus is so pervasive and saturating in your life, that it infuses your normal daily conversation very naturally. Believers must become much more fluent in speaking the gospel to ourselves, one another, and to the world.

So, here are several ways that we can speak the gospel…

Laying out the complete message of salvation. Typically, this is what is referred to as sharing or presenting the gospel. It entails making the case of our sinfulness, our need for a savior, what God did through Jesus, and then inviting the person to respond. This is how many believers were trained to speak the gospel, or witness, win souls, evangelize, or other such related terminology. And, in some circles, this method is perceived as the only real way to share the gospel. A pitfall is that many believers experience guilt, because they feel inadequate to share the gospel this way, so they leave it to the “professionals.” Thankfully, this is not the only way to speak the gospel.

Giving counsel and correction to a fellow believer. Many are under the impression that the gospel is primarily or only for conversion of unbelievers to faith in Jesus. The gospel is for believers, too. For some reason, we think the gospel has more to do with our eternal destination than with our temporal situation. We never move past our need for the good news being applied to our lives on a daily basis. When a fellow believer is describing a problem they’re dealing with, you need to be able to apply the gospel, not give them advice or your opinion, concerning the issue. If a fellow believer is complaining or griping about something, you can lovingly confront them with the gospel, by reminding them that Jesus is sufficient to handle it, and that they need to look to Jesus rather than the source of their complaint for right belief and behavior.

Giving God credit. When people compliment you or applaud your behavior, it’s so easy to just take the credit. You say something like, “Well, that’s just how I was raised,” or “I just think people should be nice and do what’s right.” Instead, deflect the praise and applause and point to God and his grace as the sole reason you did what you did. If someone compliments you on your generous spirit in helping someone else, you could say something like, “Look, God has been so generous to me in giving me forgiveness and providing so amazingly for my every need, I just want to share that generosity with others.” Simple, no fuss, God gets the credit, and you’ve spoken gospel truth into an opportunity.

Giving an explanation for why you behave the way you do or respond the way you do. When people ask you how you can react the way you do to adverse or challenging circumstances, you need to instinctively point to Jesus. This is being ready with an answer when someone asks you for the reason for your hope. You speak the gospel by explaining how Jesus has changed your heart or mind about things. You speak the gospel by clarifying that your hope, trust, and dependence are centered in Jesus.

Preaching the gospel to yourself. You need to be able to remind yourself of the truth of the good news daily. When you hit an obstacle in your day and you react in the flesh, you must be able to stop and say to yourself, “Now hold on. What am I not believing about the gospel in this moment? What truth about God am I forgetting or refusing to acknowledge right now? What is true about me because of Jesus, and I’m failing to live up to that truth right now?” The Holy Spirit is so faithful to call you out when you react in a way that is not in line with the gospel. You have to be postured so you can readily hear the Spirit, repent of wrong responses, and then believe gospel truth afresh.

Every opportunity to speak the gospel is not going to be a full blown presentation leading to an invitation to follow Jesus. Because we’ve been programmed to present the gospel this way, we can easily overlook all the other opportunities to speak the gospel. The chance to fully present the gospel in a long conversation comes along only every once in awhile. But those other opportunities are popping up every single day! 

So learn to speak the gospel into every situation. If you are faithful to do this, it can more easily lead to a longer conversation about the good news of Jesus. 

Keeping Church Members Happy

Keeping Church Members Happy

Pastor, stop trying to please all the Christians in your church.

Some of you are losing your minds trying to keep church members happy. You love what you do, but at times, it’s more stressful than you suspect it should be. You wonder if you’re truly fulfilling the call of God on your life. Many churches treat the pastor as though he were a hired gun. Do these common expectations sound familiar?

We hired you to preach good sermons.
We hired you to visit the elderly members and the sick.
We hired you to marry and bury our members.
We hired you to administrate the church business.
We hired you to evangelize the lost.
We hired you to train the volunteers.
We hired you to grow our church.

So much of what you’re expected to do is take care of Christians, make them happy, and keep them “fed” and occupied with Christian activities. Perhaps that’s all they want you to do…and they want you to do it all. This may be what they believe they hired you to do, but is it what God actually called you to do? Why don’t we take a quick look at another more reliable source?

God called you to be an example in how you speak and live (1 Timothy 4:12).
God called you to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12).
God called you to train others who will train others who will train others (2 Timothy 2:2).
God called you to preach the truth even when it’s unpopular (2 Timothy 4:2a).
God called you to correct and rebuke when needed, but to always encourage (2 Timothy 4:2b).
God called you to be willing and eager shepherds, living as examples to those you lead (1 Peter 5:2, 3).

You’ll be doing much of the things members might expect, but not because you were hired to do them. You’ll be doing them because they’re part of fulfilling your call as a follower of Jesus. 

Your focus must be on being on God’s mission, not on dispensing religious goods and services to consumer-minded Christians. Jesus said something about leaving the ninety-nine behind to go in search of the one. The satisfaction of the saint must not take priority over the salvation of the sinner. At some point you will come to realize there is only one you must please, and that’s God. If God is pleased with your life and leadership, it really does not matter who is displeased.  

The satisfaction of the saint must not take priority over the salvation of the sinner.

Let Jesus consume your heart. Pursue Jesus and not a model. Reacquaint yourself with the Savior in the Gospels, exposing yourself to his life and ministry. Ask the Spirit to fill you with the wisdom and love of Jesus as you lead, train, and care for your church. Lead them to understand all they need is Jesus, that he is sufficient for all they believe they lack.

Know, speak, teach, and preach the gospel. Filter everything–conversations, circumstances, counsel, comfort, conflict, confrontation–through the grid of the gospel. Let God’s greatness, glory, goodness, and grace as fully expressed in Jesus be the foundation of all you do in life and ministry. No matter what you’re teaching or preaching, always take it back to the gospel. The gospel is embedded in all of scripture!

Pour into two or three others. There will be a couple others in your church who will be drawn to the lifestyle of incarnating the gospel in everyday life, who want to passionately pursue a gospel-centered missional life. Pour into them. Teach, train, eat together, really “do life” together. These will be the seed of a harvest of possible change in your church, transitioning from a traditional/institutional framework to an incarnational/missional paradigm. Pray that God will continue to raise up even more.

Get connected with others to learn and be encouraged. You need support. Find others in your area or online to connect with. You may even start some sort of network yourself. But you need somewhere to share your struggles and what God is showing you. You need a place to learn from others and their experiences. Many resources are available to help you. Verge Network and Saturate are two online resources I always recommend.

Leading and pastoring a church is way more than serving as a chaplain for Christians. It’s leading believers to join in the mission of God to reach those yet to be reached. So, you have to ask yourself one final question: Who will I live to please–God, or church members with short-sighted expectations? Only members who are living gospel-centered lives are truly happy.

A Relevant Gospel

A Relevant Gospel

What is your definition of the gospel? How would you describe the gospel to someone asking what it is? Think through your answer before reading on.

Most who are familiar with the term may include ideas like the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in their description. Some would add that the gospel means forgiveness of sin, being made right with God, and having an eternal home in heaven with God. Others would include the concepts of being given the gift of eternal life, being made righteous, being made a new creation. Still more would say something about the Holy Spirit taking up residence in the new believer.

Put all those things together, and you have a good description of the gospel. And if that is everything the gospel is, that’s an awesome thing. But that’s not all there is to the gospel. There is more. So, so much more.

Think of the gospel like a gift. It is a gift, an act of grace from God, no question. But I mean think of it maybe as a birthday gift. Imagine receiving that one thing that your heart has most desired. You are elated beyond words. You feel as though you couldn’t be any happier or ever want anything else. Your desire has been more than satisfied. But you’re not done with the gift-receiving yet.

You receive something else. Maybe it was on your gift wish list, but a little further down. But you find yourself astounded at having received it. You didn’t specifically ask for it, but got it anyway, and you are more thrilled with the gift than you expected. But you’re still not done.

Someone gives you another gift, maybe later, that wasn’t even on your list. And it’s an amazing and thoughtful gift. You think, how could I have not known about how awesome this gift is? I didn’t even know that I would ever need or desire such a gift.” It’s like the giver anticipated what you would need or desire and gave it ahead of your need or desire. And you’re still not done…

That’s how the gospel works. You receive forgiveness of sin, removal of guilt, a right standing with God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the assurance of heaven when you first open the gift of the gospel. But then God keeps giving. And giving. And it keeps getting better and better. 

You see, people typically think of the gospel as good news for dealing with their past sin and for securing their future hope. And the gospel has done exactly that, praise be to our God! But they miss the good news that the gospel is for their present. It’s good news for your everyday here in the present. This is why the good news is so good! The gospel provides me everything I need for the everyday struggles, strifes, and stresses. 

It gives me answers for the questions I face, 
Solutions for the problems that arise, 
It gives me reason for praise, 
Gives me comfort, 
Fills me with confidence, 
Changes my perspective, 
Tenderizes my heart, 
Reminds me who God is, 
Reminds me who I am and whose I am,
Establishes my witness for Jesus,
Gives me something worth speaking into someone’s life,
And the power to speak it.

The problem is that too many followers of Jesus are not seeing the gospel as relevant for the day to day stuff. They know their past and future are handled, but they live as though they figure it’s up to them to do their best with the time between.

Listen, if the gospel is powerful enough to break you free from your past, don’t you think it’s powerful enough to enable you to live in the present? If the gospel is so reaching in its scope that it secures your eternal future, why would you not rely on it for life today? Or don’t you know that by the gospel, eternal life has already begun for you? The gospel tells us Jesus has saved us, that he will save us, but also that he is saving us. 

Every single day of your life you get to live in the light of this good, good news. His mercies are new each day. This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it! Today is the day of salvation. 

The gospel is relevant to whatever is going on in your life today, right now. It may be a lovely thing, it may be a horrific thing, it may be a depressing thing, or it may be a routine thing. Whatever it is, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how the gospel speaks to that thing today. Ask him to help you see how the good news of Jesus addresses this moment, this day.

Life in the Kingdom

Life in the Kingdom

I hate to be late to the movies.

If I’m late I’ll miss one of my favorite parts of the movie-going experience: the trailers of upcoming films.

Movie trailers give you a customized tease to entice you to come and see the full movie. Trailers are splices of some of the most action-packed, most dramatic, or some of the funniest lines in the film. When the trailer ends, you’ll hear other movie-goers sitting near you say, “I’m going to see that movie!” The trailer has done its job.

The church is to be like a movie trailer. By our life in community and on mission we should be giving an accurate tease of what life in the kingdom of God has to offer. We should be giving people a foretaste of what is in store when God sets all things right.

In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you” (NIV). Seeking God’s kingdom does not mean searching for it as for something hidden or elusive. Jesus made it clear that the kingdom was here, now. Seeking means to intentionally strive to live daily life with the kingdom of God at the center of your priorities. This means that when it comes to how the church is to display and declare the glory of God through the gospel, we must start with the kingdom of God, the future reality that is still to come. It’s the now, and the not yet. We must display the “not yet” right “now.”

So, the church needs to ask two questions. One, what will it look like when all is restored as God originally intended? From God’s Word, we get images and descriptions of what that restoration will look like. No more sickness, pain, or death. No more loneliness and broken relationships. No more hunger. Perfect rest and peace. Freedom from fear, rejection, and hatred. I can hardly wait!

The second question we must ask then is, how can we give people a taste now of that future reality? After all, the church, or a missional community, is to be a living picture of what life in the kingdom looks like. We live and operate as an alternative culture to the prevailing culture around us. This question forces us to get really practical with what it means to be on mission with God.

In light of the first question, let’s work through some real life answers to the second.

Future Kingdom Reality: No sickness, pain, or death
Present Kingdom Trailer: Provide for the medical care of a family in need, helping with medical bills or money for medications. Participate in a local medical clinic. Donate medical supplies for a local agency.

Future Kingdom Reality: No loneliness or broken relationships
Present Kingdom Trailer: Regularly include single parents, widows, or widowers in family meals. Visit people who have no local family. Open your home for someone to live with you for a time. Provide life on life discipling to model healthy relationship.

Future Kingdom Reality: No more hunger
Present Kingdom Trailer: Share meals regularly with others. Donate food to needy families. Provide snacks for kids after school, or the local Boys Club, or YMCA.

Future Kingdom Reality: Rest and peace
Present Kingdom Trailer: Watch someone’s kids while they go on a date night. Sit with someone’s aging parent while they take a break. Take over a project when the person trying to finish it gets overwhelmed.

Future Kingdom Reality: Freedom from fear, rejection, and hatred
Present Kingdom Trailer: Invite and include all into the life of the family; your discussions, worship, meals, and your serving. Make your homes welcoming places of safety and acceptance, displaying how God accepts us.

All these actions and demonstrations are awesome, but if they don’t point to Jesus and if we don’t give a gospel explanation for why we’re doing them, they’re just kind deeds. Remember, our goal is to help people get a foretaste of what the kingdom of God holds in store and whet their appetite for it. Taste and see that the Lord is good! Always be ready to give the true reason for the hope we put on display by our good deeds.

What specific actions can your missional community or church take to make people want to see the movie?

Mid-South Missional: Featuring Vintage Church, Horn Lake, Mississippi

Mid-South Missional: Featuring Vintage Church, Horn Lake, Mississippi

This is the second of two interviews with pastors of missional churches in the Memphis, Tennessee area. I was curious how the missional paradigm had influenced their approach and how it was being fleshed out in this unique region. So, here’s the story of Vintage Church and pastor Brice Holbrook.

LCI: Give a brief snippet of your personal story, Brice.

BH: My name is Brice Holbrook, and I was born in Desoto County Mississippi, to a police officer and a teacher, both strong believers. I graduated from S.B.E.C (now northpoint Christian school), the University of Mississippi in ’06, and then from Mid- America Baptist Theological Seminary in ’09. I have been married to Anna Holbrook for eight years. We have three children: Ellie, age five; Bennett, age three; and Emmalynn, age five months. I enjoy the Memphis Tigers, Memphis Grizzlies and St. Louis Cardinals. I like working with my hands in the construction field, playing disc golf and softball, and spending time with my family and church.

LCI: What is your church background, and what sort of experiences did you have?

BH: Church planting for me was a shot in the dark. I had been a part of the same church my entire life and even served there for five years as associate and youth pastor. I decided that I would develop a youth ministry like I would do a church plant. Build community by organizing social functions around church family, and promoting having non-Christians to be a part of our fun. The goal was to train young people to share the gospel with their friends as naturally as possible. I treated the youth like a practice church plant and we had great success. I spoke with the youth like I was speaking to adults and they responded well. However, I was only partially prepared to plant a missional church. The gospel had to transform me over many years.

LCI: Fill me in on a little history of Vintage Church.

BH: Vintage church started as a dream of a perpetual dreamer. I am always thinking of fabulous things, but truly rarely having the guts to explore. I believe God knew this when he organized the circumstances of Vintage. I started out with a partner and long time friend, and I was going to be the second man (associate/co-pastor) in the church. We had great dreams of what the missional church would look like, yet no experience. We had learned everything from books and conferences and most importantly the Bible. We had everything set up and had a good core group with a ton of money, and right before we were set to start, my partner left. It thrust me into a position only God would put me in, with a church that barely knew me, and zero experience in the church style I was promoting. To make things worse, most of the core group came about because of my partner. We met with our core group and asked them where they stood and if they planned on staying with Vintage. Almost all of them said they were committed to where the Lord had brought them. So we started meeting in 2013 and have been learning and growing together since that time. We currently stand around sixty-six people with children. We have Sunday morning service at Horn Lake High School and three missional communities. 

LCI: How did you first learn of the missional conversation?

BH: I think it was reading people like Darrin Patrick, Jeff Vanderstelt, 3DM, and listening to some men in the Memphis area. Mostly there was always a desire on my heart to fix what I thought wasn’t working in the traditional church. I started tearing down all of the things that were unnecessary in order to get back to what the Vintage Church might have looked like. 

LCI: How did the missional approach impact your ministry philosophy, ecclesiology, or missiology?

BH: For me, I had to detox from a traditional church model. I experienced moments of rest for the first time in ministry and I felt guilty for not being busy. I had to keep reminding myself that being busy is not always being productive or godly. We cut out a program-driven mentality and where you would normally do missional activity through the corporate body, and we designed our missional communities to be the avenue for missions. We organized most of our events and outreach through neighborhoods and the effort of each individual MC. We moved to a more liturgical style service with meaningful prayers, songs, scripture reading, preaching, and communion each week. We want to do a corporate worship service well, but it is not our main focus. Vintage is also elder governed. We support a foreign missionary financially and domestically we support and work with church plants.

LCI: What have you observed in utilizing a more missional approach among people in your context? Have people quickly adapted, has there been any pushback/conflict? 

BH: There is pushback with everyone, some people don’t realize that it is pushback. It usually comes in the form of people wanting something that looks like what they are accustomed to seeing. I am guessing because it brings comfort. We typically have less pushback with people who are unchurched or who have been out of church for a while. Usually they find the more personal/organic style to be a relief. I am deeply convicted that I am there to train the parents and the parents are to raise their children, so we do not have a lot of programs where we separate the family. We usually lose a lot of people on that one, because people are looking for churches to give them a break from their kids and their busy life.

LCI: What individuals, leaders, books, or resources have been influential for you?

BH: Jeff Vanderstelt, Darren Patrick, people from local church, Mark Dever big time, Putman’s Real Life Discipleship, J.D. Payne’s book, Missional House Churches, The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall

LCI: Any parting pearls of wisdom for people considering planting missionally or introducing Missional Communities in established churches?

BH: I think over the next few years you will see MC’s as a token name for small groups, but trying to start missional communities and not change anything would be silly. Churches can’t start MC’s all at the church building and expect them to be missional. They are not synonymous with Sunday school. It is hard for MC’s to not just be a name if you are program-driven church, because in order to make them missional you will have to add more missions activities. But if you add more activities you will wear your church out. To those starting missional churches, if you attempt do some amalgamation of a traditional and missional church then you will likely frustrate yourself and confuse people. True missional churches have to go all in, and when you do, the people that stay will be all in also. It is a slow growth model.

To learn more about Vintage Church, click here.

Mid-South Missional: Featuring Missio Dei Church, Memphis

Mid-South Missional: Featuring Missio Dei Church, Memphis

This is the first of two interviews with pastors of missional churches in the Memphis, Tennessee area. I was curious how the missional paradigm had influenced their approach and how it was being fleshed out in this unique region. So, here’s the story of Mission Dei and pastor Shaun Payne…

LCI: So Shaun, tell me a little about yourself.

SP: My name is Shaun Payne, I am married to Tracy Payne and together we have three daughters, Bella, Kylee, and Addie. I was born in Keflavik Iceland into a military family. My parents divorced when I was only 3 months old. My mother remarried to a man in the Army and we traveled the United States and were able to live in Okinawa Japan for 3 years. I came back to live with my dad in Memphis in the 7th grade and I have been living in Memphis ever since. My family and I love Memphis. We love to explore and continue learning about the city from the history to the present with great hopes and dreams for the future.

LCI: What about your church background and past experiences with church?

SP: I had no interaction with the church growing up with the exception of the influence of my godly grandmother (Mammaw) Ruby, a small yet powerful indian (Native American). I hated Christians, churches, and pastors until my conversion. I used to sell drugs and drink with “Christians” often who would leave the parties early because they had to go to church. Never about Christ, never any life, always judgment, hypocrisy, and religion.

LCI: Tell me about your current church.

SP: At the time of graduation from seminary, I believed God was calling us to plant a church in Las Vegas, It was on the flight home after visiting Las Vegas that God began convicting me of something else altogether. I was studying and teaching through the book of Jonah at the time, and the Spirit worked through his word to reveal I had become careless toward the people of my city. I hated them, and in some sense, like Jonah, I was waiting on the hill to see what would become of them. Through a few interactions with scripture and as I began and finished the book Prodigal God by Tim Keller, I was convicted of my hatred of the people God had revealed I was to give my life to. 

After a few weeks of praying and fighting with God because I longed to go to Las Vegas, I submitted to give my life to Memphis. I began to see why God loved her, I began to see the older brother as worth inviting to the party, and I began to see the younger brother in the city, and I saw the love of the Father. The Spirit worked in me to reveal his love and further convince me of the truth of the gospel, shaping the overly religious city that was in large part gospeless. Lots of churches, lots of “Christians”, lots of religion, but few disciples living in the power of the Holy Spirit who were sent to make Jesus known and his kingdom visible in everyday life. No gospel. No care for others, no passion and zeal, complacency, mediocrity, and religion had largely ruined the church in the city. We began with a dream of a church that really lived in the everyday with a vibrant faith working in the power of the Spirit and living out the truth of the gospel. 

One day under conviction, I quit my job at the church where I was on staff, and left the office, called my wife and told her we were planting a church (This did not go well haha). After hanging up with her my pastor at the time called and graciously offered to help us. We began with a few people who desired to help us make the dream a reality. In August of 2008 I began talking with White Station Baptist church in East Memphis, after preaching there twice for a friend. I initially submitted to an interview that I deliberately attempted to blow. I asked three questions of them: what is your church government (structure), what is your church theology, and how do you budget your money. I submitted a plan to them to replant the church. 

After six months of meetings and conversations, on December 6, 2009, I was voted in as the fourth and final pastor/replanter of WSBC Memphis. That was Sunday, and we introduced new values of gospel, community, and mission by Wednesday. We replanted into Missio Dei Church September 9, 2012. With a new vision, mission, values, and name, only five people remained from the orginal seventy. The first year and half were by far the hardest. I was asked to resign three times and the entire leadership team stepped down during the first year. 

LCI: How did you first learn of the missional conversation?

SP: I read a book that would blow my mind and enhance my understanding of the church called Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. That first year we asked the entire church to work through this book. It challenged the culture of the people I had been called to serve. I was invited to a micro conference with Jeff Vanferstelt, Dhati Lewis, and Michael Stewart in 2010. I have learned and led in Porterbrook Network here in Memphis. We have read a ton on fleshing out this paradigm among the dechurched and unchurched. We have also learned so much from Jeff V and Dhati L and their team over the years.

LCI: How did the missional approach impact your ministry philosophy, ecclesiology, or missiology?

SP: Missional living is what the church is tasked to do with their everyday life. Community offers the beauty of seeing this as a big picture. We live in the midst of the truth of Jesus by his gospel (life, death, resurrection, ascension and return). Our philosophy of ministry is largely shaped around a gospel-centered community that lives a life together shaping one another with the truth and practice of living as sent people that all might know Jesus. We have people (saved and lost) constantly around us who are learning through the normal everyday experience how the gospel challenges and offers the way of life. It is complicated and messy, but beautiful. Our mission is clearly evidenced in how we do life.

LCI: What have you observed in utilizing a more missional approach among people in your context?

SP: Memphis is both religious and irreligious, so you have to learn when and how to approach each group. Often you’re dealing with both groups at the same time. It is slow, it is hard, but it is worth the work involved. It is learning and teaching, it is faith and practice, it is dark and beautiful, it is learning to be transparent, vulnerable, and open and trusting in Jesus beyond your comfort. Religion and irreligion always push back. People will offer justification and will point to something other than Christ and his gospel. I think replanting is more challenging because of the baggage of religion and ideas that must be confronted but are often difficult to relearn.

LCI: What individuals, leaders, books, or resources have been influential for you?

SP: Soma- Jeff Vanderstelt, 3dM- Mike Breen, BluePrint Church- Dhati Lewis, Tim Keller-all his books, Joe Thorn, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester; http://gcdiscipleship.com/; https://www.vergenetwork.org/; http://wearesoma.com/

LCI: Any parting pearls of wisdom for people considering planting missionally or introducing Missional Communities in established churches?

SP: I think you have to be strong and patient yet move with the Spirit in his wisdom. Some say I moved too fast and others think I did not do the work correctly. I have been with the church through pain and beauty. I have seen the beauty arise from the ashes. I have been there almost eight years. It is worth it to me to see the people God has saved, people changing and engaging their family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and even their enemies with the gospel out of love, making Jesus known and his kingdom visible through their normal ordinary everyday life for his glory.

Keep learning the gospel, keep studying and do not be distracted from the task. Keep believing and follow Jesus yourself. Pray more than you think you should. Learn and teach what you are learning with every one. Get out of the office and do work in the field. Proclaim the gospel as you go where you are and by the strength and power of the Holy Spirit. Be humble and walk in the Spirit (keep in step with him). Give people an example of what you are teaching and show them how to do it. Ask questions and allow the Spirit to teach. He loves us more than we believe and he is a better teacher than we believe.

Learn more about Missio Dei by clicking here.

Church and Society: Navigating the Cultural Minefields

Church and Society: Navigating the Cultural Minefields

Deep racial divide. Immigration. Gun violence. Trump and Washington gridlock. Police shootings. Afghanistan.

Are you still reading? Okay, good. 

Nothing seems to evoke more emotion, opinion, and outrage than the aforementioned issues. Never have I seen our nation more polarized than now.

Because of that polarization, serious and civil discussion on these issues is practically impossible it seems. Personal feelings are so tangled up in them that even mentioning the words sends some people off the rails. Communication is, let’s say, challenging, and any agreement? Well, that’s about as likely as me having ever watched Beverly Hills 90210.

Opinions are all over the map about the cultural mines of our day. So, what does the church have to say about them? 

It’s not that the church has been completely silent about these toxic matters. Perhaps at times some in the church have been too opinionated. The question is, what is the basis of our opinion, and on what authority are we offering it? Also, how can our voice be heard amidst so much shouting? If we’re honest, some of us are part of the shouting and truth is being drowned out along with any credibility we had.

To begin with, our opinion must be shaped by the Word of God. Our response to these issues must be formed and informed by the gospel. God’s Word provides the authority (our personal opinions do not really matter and are as unique as the individual who holds them, and we are not our own authority), and the gospel is the foundation of our response. Granted, others will disagree and scoff. Nevertheless, you and I both know there is no other authority and no other truth outside of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, we must be crystal clear as to what the root problem is. Racism, violence, xenophobia, political divide, and other such contentions are not the problem. Yes, that’s what I said. They are only symptoms of the root problem, which is…wait for it…sin in the hearts of people. Sin has corrupted every facet of human existence: our emotions, reasoning, decision-making processes, relationships, our bodies and the material world, and every detail of day to day life. Attempting to address the symptoms of the problem provide band-aid, short-lived coverups for what lies beneath. Demonstrations, marches, legislation and laws, political change, lawsuits, etc. will not touch the brokenness resulting from man’s sin nature. Only the good news of Jesus can bring any lasting change. 

Some churches choose to come alongside activists in their causes, which at first glance might seem to be a glimmer of hope for healing. However, those churches may wind up as spiritual pawns for the activists, providing them with a convenient endorsement of the faith community for their cause. Perhaps those churches had the right spirit, seeking to bring peace. Their great failing, however, was not introducing the uncompromised gospel as the solution for what was broken. And that failure usually stems out of a misidentification of the real problem. If you don’t know what the root of the problem is, you have no hope of providing any solution. At the same time, other churches have pitched in wholesale support for certain causes, going in eyes wide open. They have chosen to believe society can be made better by focusing on the surface symptoms, so they champion a cause and not the gospel.

Our engagement with the social explosives of our day cannot be guided or influenced by the approaches used by the activists. Even adopting the same language about these issues is not helpful. So how do we, as a gospel-centered community of Jesus followers, pick our way through the minefield that is our American reality right now?

Jesus lived and ministered in a time and place plagued with its own social challenges. Discrimination was prevalent in the care and treatment of the less than privileged (lepers, the very poor, non-Jews). Xenophobia manifested against the Roman occupiers of Palestine. A political resistance movement, the Zealots, was willing to resist Rome with violence if they felt it was justified. Political corruption was rampant as the choice of king and even High Priest was heavily influenced by the Romans. Religious life was devoid of real connection to God.

Jesus entered into that world, not by joining up with causes, or even aligning himself with areas of agreement with the activism of his day. He brought a completely new and different reality to the discussion: the kingdom of God was breaking in. Jesus introduced a new way of living, a means of becoming an entirely new people. He preached the good news that the kingdom of God was here, and that lasting transformation was possible. His life, death, burial, and resurrection sealed the deal on the gospel. 

His approach did not alienate or drive people away. It drew them to him. In droves. Jesus intentionally spent time with those in the margins of his society, going to where they were. He even called a Zealot to be one of his original twelve disciples. His message, though he was truthful and brutally straightforward, resonated in the hearts of people exhausted by fighting their social battles for their particular causes. Jesus brought people together. His message and life was like no other they had ever heard or seen before. He gave the ultimate solution to man’s ultimate problem.

Our approach as the church is the same as Jesus. Engage the culture with love and truth. Live among the conflict as an alternative culture, one that is not at all like the prevailing culture. Demonstrate that contrast by how you love Jesus and one another, and always give the gospel as the reason for why you live the way you do. Give people Jesus. Help them see the real root problem of sin in the heart. Once the root problem is dealt with and Jesus rules the heart, these other symptoms begin to resolve or evaporate. I must add that when these symptoms show up again, that means you’ve transferred power back to self and away from Jesus.

The church’s relationship to society is not one of blending in, or even trying to reform it. It’s a relationship of existing as an entirely new and different society that provides a better alternative. A life transforming alternative.