Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Great Word on Gospel Fluency from Jeff Vanderstelt

This is the first of a 5-part series taught by Jeff Vanderstelt of Soma Community in Seattle Wa. Gospel Fluency is a term that describes Paul's content for discipleship. No one says it better than Jeff. It is an hour long and there are 4 other videos. But if you will take the time to listen-you will be blessed and perhaps see the Gospel in a way that you may have never considered otherwise. There is no area of our life that is exempt from the Gospel or the Gospel does not speak to.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Paul's Gospel included Bethlehem as well as Calvary.

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
                                                                                                1 Cor. 2:1-5

Paul’s method and message while he was working among the Corinthians was to intentionally live and speak the gospel. If a person was snatched from the influence of the deviant religious and moral quagmire of the Corinthian culture, it would be the gospel that did it and not Paul’s personality, winsomeness, well-communicated thoughts on leadership principles or a well-marketed “Jesus” brand.  Paul relied fully upon the gospel that he personally embraced and proclaimed to beckon sinners to the Savior's side. There was no single polished method that was “successful” in seeing mature disciples developed but there was a powerful message.  The gospel initiates, facilitates and empowers the process of disciplemaking.

For Paul and for us, the gospel is the incarnation, life, ministry, teaching, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot confine it simply to the cross or Him crucified. To reduce the gospel to the event of the cross is to truncate the mission of Christ to make disciples. This is why Paul states that he “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The gospel is more than Calvary. It is Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jericho, Cana, Sea of Galilee and Samaria as well. The whole account of the person and work of Jesus Christ serves not only as the message but also the method by which this life-transforming message would be transmitted throughout the world and across the generations to come.

The substance of Paul’s disciplemaking method was the person and work of Jesus Christ as the message and the model for the mission. If we choose to not approach our day-to-day relationships (family, work, school, recreation and commerce) with gospel intentionality we are missing a God-given opportunity to obey Him by making disciples.  Jesus initiated the method, gave it a life-changing message and entrusted the mission to his followers, and promised He would be with us. Paul understood and obeyed. Will we?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Paul’s conversion informed his disciple-making method.

Paul exhorted Timothy to not be ashamed of the testimony of Jesus Christ, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Paul had heard the gospel testimony many times prior to salvation. We know of at least one instance. Stephen’s costly account of Christ’s coming, life and atoning death in Acts 7 is surely indicative of similar occasions as a pre-conversion Paul punished and imprisoned Christians in his religious zeal prior to the Damascus road conversion. But the Gospel was the substance and agent of his transformation, not behavior modification. He was well schooled in the Scriptures in their original languages and the religious law. But it wasn’t until the Spirit of God germinated the truths of God in Paul’s heart that his eyes were opened to Jesus as the King. Paul knew who saved him. It was an act of the proactive compassion of God, initiated through the Gospel as evidenced in the lives of other believers. In Galatians 1, Paul’s states his disappointment that they had deserted Christ, who had called them by grace and were turning to a different gospel, which is not a gospel but a distortion of the gospel. He then goes on to confirm that his education as a disciple was Gospel-centered (Galatians 1:8-17).

I want to be careful to not portray the idea that I am talking about sitting around with people going over the Romans Road continually. The gospel informed every component of Paul’s relationships as he sought to present others, male and female, mature in Christ. Paul kept looking back to Christ to learn how to handle adversity, suffering, conflict and even prosperity. As a result, Paul’s intentional efforts to communicate propositionally by pen and to portray by proximity served as an example of how the gospel is being worked out in his life. It wasn’t pretty, comfortable or even desirable to many but it beckoned to hearts of longing seekers to consider the claims of Christ.  His example served to encourage the daily walk of other disciples to rise above crippling shame, guilt, doubts, fears and worries and continually submit to the will of a gracious and sovereign God who is, at once, personal, concerned and involved in our lives through the power of the gospel.  “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Phil. 4:9

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Paul Discipleship Method: Gospel-infused Instruction

The first element (and most obvious) of Paul’s discipleship method is Gospel-infused instruction to selected individuals and churches. In Acts 20, Paul tells the Ephesian elders that he had no regrets concerning his time among them because he “had not shunned declaring unto them the whole counsel of God.” One of Paul’s disciple-making tools was instructing new believers in Gospel growth and potential leaders such as Timothy and Titus in practical matters of church, disciple-making, family matters, finances, work ethic, social order and civic duty. All of this instruction is premised upon and infused with Gospel intentionality. Legalism and moralism remove or isolate the objective and propositional teachings of Scripture from the Gospel. You will find no incidence in Paul’s writing, or narratives of Paul’s ministry in Acts, where he instructs believers without firmly asserting the Gospel of grace as the impetus for action or behaviors that diminish self and exalt Christ. Grace saturated morality is Gospel-initiated behavior.  Rules do not a disciple make.

For an example of Paul’s teachings to new believers, read Romans. The book of Romans is the centerpiece of salvation theology in the NT and its first eight chapters are an incredible treatise on the mechanics of the Gospel. The last eight chapters explain practical matters of God’s plan and purpose for the redeemed while on earth. All of it premised upon the first 8 chapters. Read the first three chapters of Ephesians to get some grasp of how the Gospel gives us a new identity then read the last three chapters to understand how this new identity practically applies to our daily lives.

There is no good reason to assume that Paul didn’t approach one on one discipleship in the same manner. We know that Timothy and Titus received theological and practical instruction as they grew into young pastors. All of this instruction comes within a very personal and caring relationship that tolerated failures, extended grace, forgave weaknesses, lovingly confronted, instructed in a timely manner and dominated Paul’s prayer life.

We will not write new books into the NT canon but we can write Gospel-infused letters to growing young believers. We can sit across the table from these young believers and hear their story, keep them centered on the cross, grace and the Gospel. We can challenge their behavior by comparing it to the Gospel rather than our moral expectations. The vehicle of Paul’s discipleship method was a personable, approachable and hands-on, gritty style but Gospel-infused instruction was the substance. Paul’s authentic relationships, winsome way and co-laboring leadership paradigm are good and beneficial but it would not be biblical discipleship without Gospel-infused instruction whether by word or deed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Gospel is the content of discipleship

What informs the disciple-making process? It has to be more than the word "Gospel." The content of the Gospel is found in the incarnation as well as the death, burial and resurrection. Please comment.

Paul's Disciple Making Method Still Works

         The apostle Paul was a disciple-maker. Timothy, Titus, Silas, Epaphraditus and Onesimus are each products of Paul’s disciple-making ministry. The NT record of Paul’s interaction with these men and others give some insight into the art of making a disciple. In Philippians 4:9, Paul gives some insight into the processes of making a disciple. “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Paul was not ashamed to live an exposed life. He knew that even his mistakes could be learning experiences if he handled them in the Spirit.


          Paul makes it clear that he lived his life as an open book for all to read. We have written record of at least some of the methods he utilized in order to produce disciples that worship Jesus. First, Paul imparted instruction. He told the Ephesian elders that he had not shunned to declare unto them the whole counsel of God. Most of the NT letters of Paul’s are his divinely guided instruction to believers. Second, he engaged their senses by proximity and experience. What did Silas, Timothy and Titus learn from Paul by watching him do the work, hearing him teach, penning letters for him and assisting his efforts with their physical presence? Third, Paul engaged readers and listeners in dynamic, emotional and thought provoking ways that served to apply the matter to the heart. Acts 20 is an account of Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders as they wept over him and his admonitions to them. Paul evoked emotion and was passionate to the point of pushing the hearer to do something with what they had just seen, heard or read. Fourth, history bears record to the effectiveness of Paul’s teaching ministry. The NT gives record to the effectiveness of Timothy, Titus, Barnabas and others that Paul influenced with his teaching. Once these men had accepted the words and applied these things to their hearts the subsequent result was understanding or wisdom to go and do likewise. And last, Paul produced men that walked after him or like him. This is the emphasis of Philippians 4:9. Those that have learned, seen and heard Paul should do the same as Paul. This is the heart of the disciple-maker, Paul wanted those that came after him to grow closer to Christ and reach more for Christ than he ever did or could. We should have the same expectations of our intentional efforts to make disciples. Paul’s method still works. The next few posts will expound a bit more on these five elements of Paul's example.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

All Disciples Are On A Short-term Mission Trip

                Our church made it a practice for short-term mission teams to give a presentation upon their return. Since the church had sent them we should hear from them by way of a report/presentation, we thought. This accomplished three things: celebration, challenge others to go and accountability. It was a few weeks after our team shared the story of our two-week mission trip to Belgium, when it dawned on me that we may be short-circuiting the missional purpose of our church. Our reporting may be unintentionally sending the wrong message about how God wants to use His people in our churches to incarnate the Gospel in our neighborhood. 

                  Why do we seem to have really good and fruitful experiences when we go to another state or country on mission? This may not always be the case but trips that did not go so well are rarely reported as such in front of a church. We tried to steer away from numbers but it is inevitable when you are working in such a compressed time frame.  We encouraged using names and telling personal stories about people encountered for the sake of the Gospel mission in these reports. I cannot think of one single occasion where someone regretted they had gone on a trip or wasn’t stretched as a disciple by the cross-cultural experience.

Here are some of the elements of a “successful” short-term mission trip:

1.     Identify the need as observed or communicated by people on the field.
2.     Our churches hear of the need and disciples decide to go.
3.     These disciples marshal resources in order to go, which requires an intentional investment of time and money.  Also team members co-op prayer partners who invest in the trip as well.
4.     These same disciples prepare themselves for the physical, mental and spiritual rigor of the trip with training, planning and intercommunication.
5.     They go with the whole purpose of Gospel mission from rising up early to going to bed late. From the van ride to the airport to getting back on the plane, the whole matter is infused with Gospel-mission intentionality.
6.     Glad to return home but with heavy hearts concerning broken people, desperate needs left behind and at the same time rejoicing that God uses broken people like us to entice others to consider the goodness and grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
7.     Remember. Celebrate. Rejoice.

              Why not apply the same elements to reaching our community, our town or our neighborhood where our church is embedded? It’s certainly not difficult to observe some needs in the lives of people in our neighborhood. Share the need with others who may want to participate with us by giving, praying or going with us. But the greatest step is the decision to go!  We must teach, challenge and stretch disciples to be Gospel-intentional and mission-minded about work, school, store, races, ballgames, and going walking at the park. In short, believers must make no less a decision to go out of the house on mission daily than to go to Africa on mission for two weeks. This may be a greater challenge than going to Africa for two weeks!

              And Sunday worship gatherings and small group gatherings would be akin to walking down the steps at baggage claim and seeing loved ones who prayed, gave and longed for your return.
In our gatherings, it would serve our covenant community well to create space for Sandra to tell about going to teach fifth-graders day after day on mission for Christ? Why not celebrate with Joseph concerning his effort to reach a classmate who responded to an invite by attending Wednesday night student worship?  Let’s hear from a praying grandmother who is celebrating the way God is using suffering in a grandson’s life to open his heart to the Gospel. 

             A large part of the challenge, blessing and growth comes from the cross-cultural nature of the mission experience when we go to another country or state for that matter. One thing we should consider is how going into our community as a follower of Jesus Christ really is cross-cultural but we have become so adapted that we cannot sense that our ‘citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) Have we adapted too well and cannot seriously engage our surroundings because we have become so much like our surroundings?

            Fellow disciples, we are on a short-term mission trip. Make no mistake; we are working with a compressed time frame that is determined by our life span or Christ’s return. The church is an outpost of heaven in a foreign land and we are ambassadors for our King. We are not where we belong but we are where we should be for now. Let’s be resolved about our disciple-making purpose on this short-term trip. One day the One who loves us, sent us, intercedes for us and gave Himself for us will receive us at the baggage claim of heaven.  What a day that will be…until then; Remember. Celebrate. Rejoice. Go.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Too Many Churches Are Well-Prepared For A World That Doesn't Exist

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. [1Co 9:19-23 ESV] 

We must be learners continually. “Learners are prepared for the future, the learned are prepared for a world that doesn’t exist any longer,” says Hans Finzel. In 1980, 66% of teenagers indicated that church would play a large part of their lives. In 2010, 33% of teenagers indicate that church will play any part in their lives.  In spite of all the so-called “mega-churches” in America, there is not one county in all of the United States that has a greater churched population than it did 10 years ago. In 1991, the number of evangelicals in Asia surpassed the number of evangelicals in the whole of the western world and the gap is increasing exponentially. In 1920, there were 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans. Today there are fewer than 10 churches per 10,000 Americans. The institutional Christian church is dying.  It has become disconnected and irrelevant to a generation of 35 yr. olds and younger.  This generation has grown up, informed and educated, in a technologically-defined world. It is possible to watch an event around the world, as it is happening, talk or text immediately to anyone around the world and overthrow governments through social media.  The arts are important to this generation. They are enamored with creativity and diversity.  As a matter of fact, literature abounds, theatre is strong and their music is diverse, complex and seriously misunderstood by some of us old folks.  Jesus stepped out of heaven into our situation. He made the incredible effort to get to us where we are, identify with our struggles, pains and confusion. He appealed to us at a very real and understanding level.  Making Himself of no reputation, coming in the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:7) Though He was willing and obedient, His “body” (the church) is not so willing to lay aside self-interest, preferences and traditions while the last two generations are becoming so disconnected from Church they do not know Noah or Daniel. They cannot find Genesis in a borrowed Bible and seriously misunderstand a misrepresented Jesus and His love for them.  I have little patience for undue criticism that blasts their music, dress, body piercings, tattoos or lack of interest in politics and the things of God or education, especially from anyone that makes no effort to understand. This generation is defined by broken homes and a morally destitute culture delivered to them by our generation. They have been taught that truth is relative, abortion is ok, marriage is optional and God is out there somewhere if he even exists.  Evolution is the accepted science of the elite and any other position is non-sense, making the Bible irrelevant, if not a joke. Societal and religious leaders have proven to be people with no integrity who are not willing to work hard for a cause bigger than self. This generation has few examples of those who are willing to press through all the “stuff” to help with the problem.  All too often, our efforts to worship and reach the disaffected are answering questions that no one is asking and fixing problems that few are experiencing. We throw the Gospel at them.  We should be carrying it to them. Our labor of love to flesh out the Gospel will help to dispel cynicism and confusion. The average age of many churches around us is creeping up year upon year.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to retain a younger generation. They recognize their needs are not being addressed or even acknowledged. Leadership and an older generation must become informed, concerned and creative in reaching an inquisitive generation.  Christ has promised they will be reached. My desire is that He would do it through us and the ministry of the local church. Let’s be learners and not the learned.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Church Must Be Clear and Comprehensive with the Gospel

            Postmodernity necessitates a different approach than has been the case historically. We cannot assume any biblical literacy or any understanding of sin, good, God, Bible, heaven or hell. D.A. Carson states that Paul’s address in Athens is construction of a biblical worldview, from God as eternally existing creator to Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb.[1] This was important in Athens or Greek culture in order for the Gospel to make sense. Our culture is a modern day Athens with religious pluralism as a defining characteristic. Postmoderns are accustomed to religious or spiritual talk, so introducing the Gospel is not too difficult. But we must steer clear of vagueness and ambiguity and point directly to Christ as the remedy for sin. Carson writes, “saying God loves you may carry a very different set of associations than for Christians.”[2]
            Postmodernity’s obsession with spirituality demands that our Gospel presentations be more comprehensive and coherent that ever before. When these presentations are the subsequent action of the church being culturally educated and creatively engaged the collateral effect is Gospel centered communitas (an intense community spirit, the feeling of great social equality, solidarity, and togetherness). These presentations must be comprehensive in that they point postmoderns to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the sinless Son of God who came and died for the sins of humanity and His resurrection verifies the transaction and imparts life to us in this present world. There is no other religious system to make such a claim but as Ravi Zacharias states in the opening essay of Telling the Truth, “What our (postmodern) culture needs is an apologetic that is not merely well argued, but also felt. There has to be passion in communication. There must be a felt reality beyond the cognitive, engaging the feeling of the listener.”[3] Cultural education and creative engagement affords the church an opportunity to incarnate the Gospel through acts of compassion and sacrificial service that engage the feeling of the listener. The collateral effect of such a strategy is immeasurable but God is Sovereign and accomplishes His glorious and immense will with our acts of Gospel-driven compassion and sacrifice. May it all speak to the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ as Lord as postmoderns find in Christ, and His body, a spiritual coherency and consistency that is, at once, intellectually hard to deny and emotionally enticing as well.

            [1] D. A. Carson, “Athens Revisited,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 392.

            [2] Ibid., 395.
            [3] Ravi Zacharias, “An Ancient Message, Through Modern Means, To A Postmodern Mind ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 26.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Church as Community in Community

            One of the consequences of the cultural shift from modernity to postmodernity is a shift from being individual centered to being community centered. “Postmoderns need and want community. They don’t know how to get it and they are not good at it,” asserts Don Bartel.[1] People need a place to belong. When the body of Christ is seen working together, serving together and worshiping together it is attractive to disassociated postmoderns and it buttresses the message of Christ.
            A church should be proactive and strategic about creating “communitas.” Communitas is described as an intense spirit of community that nurtures social equality, solidarity and togetherness. Communitas is the by-product of working shoulder to shoulder on mission. This is especially true where there is risk and hardship. There is no greater sense of communitas than that shared by soldiers who have served in combat together as a unit. In the movie Band of Brothers, the series depicts the harsh, harrowing and heroic experience of Easy Company in Europe during WWII. There are heart-wrenching interviews of the real surviving soldiers throughout the series. I was captivated and inspired by their love, commitment and sense of responsibility for one another after all these years. This is communitas. These men came from different ethnic and socio-economic circumstances but the walls were removed by sharing the mission together; an agreed upon, worthy and hard mission to which they were called to accomplish at all cost.  
            The church has an agreed upon, worthy and hard mission. And believers are called to fulfill the mission of making disciples at great cost. When a church embraces Christ’s mission for His church and expects believers to participate in fulfilling the mission there is something attractive about it. Outsiders and observers may be skeptical about the mission but they cannot deny the camaraderie and the commitment of the faith community who has embraced and embarked upon the mission. The church should leverage this as a witness in their locale.   
            I will illustrate the attractiveness of community and how it creates healthy curiosity and even co-ops unbelievers into the mix. A church in our community has adopted the task of cleaning the local high school football stadium after Friday night football games. About twenty minutes before the end of the game you notice several people with red-shirts throughout the stadium. They are holding bags, sticks and blowers. After the game ends, they wait a few minutes then jump into action.  The sight of a hundred red shirts working diligently to accomplish a singular task is pretty intriguing.  After the third game or so, by-standers were seen helping clean up. By the middle of the season, these by-standers were staying afterward for snacks, fellowship and prayer. This is a microcosm of the benefit and power of communitas. Obviously the higher the risk, sacrifice and stakes of the mission the stronger the bonds can become.
            The church community can be viewed as an outpost of heaven in a dangerous and foreign land. We are ambassadors, are we not? When the Word is faithfully and fitfully proclaimed and leadership is willing to ask hard things of believers, a sense of communitas becomes an evangelistic asset to the local church. What did Jesus mean when He said the children of this generation are wiser than the children of light in their generation? I do not believe that it is a stretch to receive this as a rebuke of American church legalistic pettiness, lack of excellence in the arts, unwillingness to throw caution to the wind, fear of true community service because we might “compromise” the Gospel. It is only compromised by our lack of Gospel-compelled action, sacrifice and love.
            Community mission effort does two things: it accomplishes the feeling of a shared experience that strengthens our bonds as a body and it attracts the unchurched and skeptics to see what we are doing and why. We now have people that come and help us that are unchurched. They share in the experience with us and begin to feel as though they belong. This becomes a form of pre-conversion discipleship and it provides a strong relational foundation for the sharing of the Gospel message. Postmoderns need to feel like they belong before they will hear.[2] 
          For years, many churches have made short-term mission trips off limits to unbelievers. Some churches are beginning to rethink this position with the right conditions. Short-term mission trips create a sense of  communitas that is difficult to replicate within similar cultures. When we go to the Andes of Peru to evangelize in a mountain community our team struggles together, eats together, learns together, and fails together. When these teams arrive back in the states that have a bond that is unique and potent. Postmoderns need to see this interaction and experience it before they can embrace it. This sense of community is only obtained when a church is intentional about creating and displaying it. Maybe this is one reason that God calls us “co-laborers” with Him (1 Cor. 3:9).

            [1] Don Bartel, “Evangelizing Postmoderns Using a Mission Outpost Strategy,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 348.

            [2] Jimmy Long, “A Strategy for Reaching a Postmodern Generation ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 328.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Mission and Collateral Effect (Intended Consequences)

            Postmodern culture is adverse to philosophical challenges or confrontation as a rule. Thus you have tolerance policies in corporate America and laws that assure diversity at the expense of biblical morality, competency, or merit. For years most church evangelism programs were designed to help individuals learn how to share the gospel and offer answers to certain responses. This worked well enough in a modern culture that had some biblical knowledge, Christian terminology and biblical morality. “As the culture becomes more biblically illiterate, it is necessary to provide a framework of the biblical worldview,” writes Keith Davy of Campus Crusade.[1] Postmodernists are disconnected from Christian language and culture. As a result, the effort to evangelize must become “pre-conversion discipleship” much like Jesus did with Peter, James and John.
            Each heart can be viewed as a domain to be conquered. There are three barriers to overcome. The emotional barrier is overcome by building a bridge through a genuine relationship. The intellectual barrier is overcome by accessing the mind with truth through honest conversation and answered questions. The third barrier is overcome as the will surrenders self and recognizes Christ as Lord over the conquered heart. The following stories illustrate the collateral effect of creative engagement as a means of “bringing a new flag to the heart of the castle,” as described by Ron Bennett.”[2]
            One of our church members suffered an event of debilitating illness. As the church family learned of the John’s condition and the subsequent struggle his family would endure, they began to do what church families should. We arranged meals, rides to the doctor and even helped him keep his business moving.  This display by John’s church family stood as an example in our community, especially in John’s neighborhood. In one instance, a neighbor who is hostile toward evangelical Christianity came to John to talk about some business. During this conversation, this unbeliever commented to John, “My wife told me that your church was bringing you meals and helping with the kids. Now that’s not like any church I ever attended growing up.” The sense of community was new to him. His previous church experiences had jaded his thinking about all Christians. Later on this same man had a crisis in his life, our church helped John and his family reach out to his neighbor.  The hostile neighbor’s heart and mind is grappling with a new understanding of the Gospel. None of our acts of compassion should be viewed as wasted if they are carried out in faith or Gospel intentionality. This is the collateral effect of John’s church ministering and John being on mission even in his illness.
            Bob became a janitor at the high school to reach students and teachers for Christ. And Bob has reached students and encouraged believing teachers to boldly stand for Christ. However, the collateral effect of Bob’s service is that other older adults have made radical life decisions to pursue reaching others for Christ through their vocation. When the whole narrative is considered it paints a beautiful picture of authentic service and sacrifice that pushes past the emotional and intellectual barriers of the postmodern mindset and weakens their temporal allegiances. Jimmy Long writes concerning the use of story, “We need to live the truth out in our own lives, our own life story… can’t just talk the talk—you’ve got to walk the walk.”[3] Bob’s story is God’s story and 1800 people are reading it each day as he empties trashcans and cleans urinals.
            The group from Austin Stone had envisioned drunks getting involved in recovery programs and coming to Christ through their outreach to the bar scene. Pastor Matt Carter told the story of this team at a recent conference I attended. The team has seen few drunks get saved but they have seen several bouncers and extended family members become believers. The bouncers had watched the team assist many inebriated men and women. The team had cleaned up vomit, picked up trash, befriended destitute and hostile people and the bouncers had watched it week after week. The collateral effect of their service to the drunks was to see several of the bouncers give their life to Christ. It was unanticipated by the team but no accident to God.
            Reaching a postmodern culture is going to require believers to engage relationally and move from event oriented evangelism to process discipleship. The members of a team that are reaching and ministering to a particular group are genuinely displaying compassion and holding out hope. However, oftentimes the real work is being done in the hearts of those that observe the acts of compassion. These acts create curiosity and conversations that lead to overcoming intellectual barriers and barriers of the will.

            [1] Keith Davy, “The Gospel for a New Generation ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 360.

            [2] Ron Bennett, “Authentic Church-Based Evangelism in a Relational Age ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 26.

            [3] Jimmy Long, “A Strategy for Reaching a Postmodern Generation ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 330.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Church and Creative Engagement

            Jesus Christ not only came to redeem humanity but through His incarnation, His sent-ness, His relational interaction and servant example we have the model for the church to reach a broken and alienated world. The day of the two-week tent revivals or camp meetings is gone. Cold call, door-to-door soul-winning may have some merit but not as an effective method of winning the lost. Far too many churches have relegated missions for a committee to budget and plan a conference, short term trips and programming while failing to recognize that the Church, the body of Christ, IS God’s mission strategy for reaching the world. 
            Christ left His heavenly abode and came to a sin-sick, dark and hostile culture that facilitated His death. During His sojourn he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because of the people with whom He was identified, He railed against organized religion that created spiritual hierarchies. He washed feet, touched lepers, lived as homeless, spoke boldly of another world, rejected the allurement of possessions, actively engaged the community and, most importantly, made disciples who followed His example and carried on with the Gospel-driven mission.
            Reaching our postmodern culture requires Christians to be creative and intentional about engaging the culture in meaningful, relational, less glamorous and compassionate forms. First, we must understand that our well-founded arguments for absolute truth are more powerful when they are subsequent to creative and compassionate engagement.  For example, a member of our church is a county commissioner on mission for Christ. He does not fill this position with grand visions of bringing local ordinances and proposals that impose Christianity upon the community. He serves in a humble and mediating manner. The calmness, resolve and wisdom that Mark inserts in the issues facing our community serve a redemptive purpose and offer a form that is a picture of Christ’s greater passion for people above issues. Currently, a school bond issue is dividing our county. Mark is opposed to the bond and boldly asserts the reasons for his opposition but he does not moralize the issue or build barriers by responding unwisely to negative comments. Mark and others like him in various roles see themselves on mission for Christ in our community. The local church should challenge, train, support and resource believers to be “redemptively” engaged in our community, Mark's did.  As a result, Mark has the prayer support of his church, pastor and brothers in Christ as he is incarnating the Gospel through local politics.
            Tim served as vice president of our local Little League organization. There are over 1600 kids involved in Little League. Tim also coaches a team. He and his family have taken this role in Little League as a means of intentionally engaging our community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his role as vice-president Tim is often called upon to mediate difficult circumstances. He has to be stern at times, gracious, compassionate and even compromising of his own feelings at times but Tim is seen as an example of stability and fairness that enhances the Little League experience for every family involved. Again, Tim does not lead devotions on Saturday mornings at the ball field, he could but he knows that is not the primary purpose of his service for Christ in this venue. He does his job well in Christ’s name, thereby serving a redemptive purpose in our community. His bold faith and pursuit of excellence provide a strong and elevated platform for an incarnational Gospel witness. Tim and his family represent a local church creatively and naturally engaged in the community, making a difference and attracting people to the Savior.  
            A third example is 63-year-old Bob. He is a high school boys Sunday School teacher who quit his job as a long time manager of a local Hobby Lobby to become the custodian at our local high school on mission for Christ. Bob could say that his vocation is being a witness for Jesus Christ, being the custodian at the local High School is his ad-vocation.  Bob and his wife are also founders of a ministry for teenage mothers called House of Hope. Bob daily engages students by listening to them, cleaning up after them and offering an encouraging word. Needless to say his Sunday School class has grown but that is not why he became a janitor. He and his wife, Diana, do it because they desire to live life as missionaries who bring the redemptive work and reconciling message of the cross to bear in a lost and broken world.
            A fourth example of creative engagement is from Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. As most cities, Austin has a pretty active nightlife. Many of Austin Stone’s members are well acquainted with the bars of the city due to their pre-conversion lifestyle. Some of these members formed a team to engage people who frequent the bars of Austin by showing compassion on Friday and Saturday nights. These teams show up outside the bars around midnight on the weekends. They stand ready with water, food, coffee and a vehicle to assist people that are so inebriated or vexed that they cannot drive. It is not unusual for a team member to be the victim of a patron’s sickness or hostility. Over the past four years these teams have assisted countless bar patrons to survive the evening. In some cases these missionaries have connected to hurting or angry families. But where is the redemptive pay off for such ministry? It is in the collateral effect of the service these four previous examples provide as a living, incarnational witness of the person and work of Jesus Christ in their community through their local church.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Church, Cultural Education and Discipleship

              The American church is in danger of missing an opportunity to reach a new people group. This opportunity must be met with the same resolve, resources and innovation that reaching the “uttermost” received in generations past. Ravi Zacharias declares postmodernism to be an opportune occasion for the propagation of the Gospel if the church will recognize and embrace to the occasion.[1] Just as a missionary to a foreign field is trained for the purposes of culture and language acquisition the western church must implement these some principles in their own cultural context. The culture is changing and, of necessity, the language is changing. This requires the church to accept a revised mission-strategy and a new attitude or paradigm concerning evangelism. If the western church is going to avail itself of the opportunity that postmodernism presents then the church must consider an amalgamation of topics that cannot be attained through classroom teaching and linear or formulaic curricula. These topics should be considered contextually per church or believer as it concerns practice. In principal, there is common ground that is biblical and universal that churches can embrace. For the purpose of a concise outline I have chosen to briefly develop five topics for consideration and practice that may assist the church in reaching people with a postmodern mindset with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The five topics are cultural education, creative engagement, collateral effect, church as community and Christ exalted as Lord.


                  Does a fish know that it’s wet? Does it need to know that it is wet?  The answer is no, unless the fish has business to conduct in other environs. The church has business to conduct in a postmodern culture. Therefore, understanding the postmodern world-view is not a luxury for the Church. Jesus berated the Pharisees in Luke 12:56, “You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don't know how to interpret the present times.”  They failed to recognize the time of His coming. The religious leaders were so transfixed on a self-centered, predisposed mission model that they could not identify their moment in history on God’s cultural continuum. The church must position itself to respond as the body of the One who is transcendent, objective and culturally relevant all at the same time. There are at least three approaches to cultural education that will help the church to “know that it’s wet.”

                  The church should encourage cross-cultural experiences for believers. This too often is understood as short-term mission trips to other countries to build a church, evangelize or teach believers.  These are wonderful and beneficial but a weekly jaunt to the local rescue mission, nursing home or Hospice House can be just as eye opening, educational and even more cross-cultural. When believers push outside of their normal cultural context it gives them a more refined perspective of their own culture. Postmodernism is most recognizable when senior adults choose to engage twenty-something’s in their world. If elders, pastors and senior saints were actively engaged in the lives of “postmoderns” they wouldn’t need to be convinced of the need or the opportunity that postmodernism presents.

                  The pastor-teacher must be abreast of the times. Pastors and church leaders are to serve as faithful ambassadors of Christ in a foreign land, “for the purpose of communicating accurately the position of the policies of the government he represents so that they people to whom he speaks will be brought into good relationship with the country he serves.”[2] Colin Smith describes the ambassador’s life as immersed in the culture he is serving so that he can accurately, culturally represent the interest of his authority in a relevant fashion. The church’s leaders must teach the congregation through thoughtful illustration and application how to view our culture in light of the cross of Jesus Christ. The news makes it evident enough that something is wrong, undone and adrift in the culture. Ravi Zacharias quotes Os Guinness, “It is truth that gives relevance to ‘relevance,’ just as ‘relevance’ becomes irrelevant if it is not related to truth.”[3]Culturally educating the church demands that her leaders and teachers demonstrate how the cross of Christ is relevant, powerful and efficient to reconcile wrongs, complete what is undone and provide a mooring for what is adrift. Postmodernists may have given up on a transcendent, objective and absolute truth but that does not negate the power intrinsic to the message of the cross, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Postmodernists will not come to the church looking for such a truth so we must take it to them. Is the power of the Gospel observable in those who name Christ as Lord? This is what is meant by a flesh and blood apologetic.

           Another suggestion that can serve to culturally educate the church is encouraging, advocating and resourcing believers to fulfill key roles in the local community and society at large. This practice serves two purposes. It not only keeps the church well informed as it concerns legislation, policies or community movements but it gives the church a voice. However, we need not believe that we are going to shift the culture through macro-involvement but since we are informed we can be more capable of incarnating the Gospel because we are at the very least involved and relevant to the conversation.

            Educating the local church concerning her surrounding culture mediates the tug to form a Christian sub-culture that can easily lose it's saltiness. Disciples are called to be witnesses. The whole narrative of the New Testament is about our mission calling as believers and a community in a sin-sick, dark and desperate world. "Going to church" is no-longer acceptable language- "We are the Church" captures the missional emphasis that must be re-introduced and fostered in order for disciples to see themselves as a called out community but still very much a transforming agent in the world.  

            [1] Ravi Zacharias, “An Ancient Message, Through Modern Means, To A Postmodern Mind ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 26.
               [2] Colin Smith, “The Ambassador’s Job Description ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 180.
               [3] Ravi Zacharias, “The Touch of Truth ,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing  Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 41.