Tag Archives: church

“Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission,” some thoughts

41TfHkM5ZmL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Chester and Timmis offer another insightful, Biblical, and helpful book on “church.” Their previous book Total Church is one of my ecclesiological “must-reads.” This book is helpful because it applies the foundations of “gospel and mission” (discussed extensively in Total Church) in the current Western situation.

They open with a provocative observation on the decline of Christianity in the Western World. Rather than spend too much time bemoaning its fall, they quickly look for the gospel opportunity. I would argue that their underlying question (laid out on pp. 13-21) is this: Do we want to hold on to Christendom or Christ?

It is likely that for all Christendom’s good you can’t have both. And that’s not to mention its many demonstrated ills. Christendom cannot exist in a pluralistic society because it requires political and/or military power. Following Christ requires radical love and service. Conversion cannot be coerced by power but must be won by love.

It is a losing battle to only focus on rechurching the dechurched (see p. 26). Reintroducing Christian culture without Christ is a painfully misguided attempt at returning to the glory days. What is needed is a radical commitment to reaching the unchurched with the gospel. To do this requires that Christ and his message be the central principal of our lives EVERY DAY.

We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We can no longer think of church as a meeting on a Sunday morning. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. And we cannot think of mission as an event that takes place in an ecclesiastical building (p. 28).

The church is about the “people of God” not some sort of “building of God.”

One of the central contentions of this book is that our marginal status as Christians in the West requires us to think differently about mission. One way is by dropping our preoccupation with church [defined as a building] (p. 85).

The foundation of Gospel community is the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Nothing can supplant that foundation. If the word is first and final, then the way it says “to do” mission is important. Mission in the Bible is not primarily “attractional” (e.g., “come and see”) but “go and tell.” Even when crowds came to Jesus, he was “among them.”

Much of the message of this book is broken down into four basic truths about God. These liberating truths are for those we pastor and those who pastor (p. 76).

  1. God is great, so we do not have to be in control.
  2. God is glorious, so we do not have to fear others.
  3. God is good, so we do not have to look elsewhere.
  4. God is gracious, so we do not have to prove ourselves.

IMG_2758The discussion of pastoring based on the greatness, glory, goodness, and grace of God (pp. 82-83) was the most helpful and convicting part of the book for me. It helped me identify some latent sin in my heart toward God and the church. As a result, I could identify with various levels of “over-pastoring” (e.g., self-importance, domination, micro-managing, proving myself) and “under-pastoring” (e.g., fear of others, conflict avoidance, seeing people as burdens.”IMG_2759The same truths that inform pastoring are truths to be proclaimed to those we are seeking to reach with the gospel. This book is wonderful in its biblical depth, theological acumen, and cultural analysis. However, it is also very practical. The chapter on “everyday evangelism” recognizes the necessity of sharing the “good news” on which our faith is built but also the difficulty that many of us have. Not everyone is a natural evangelist! How do you develop the ability to share the gospel in everyday life?

  1. Make your everyday conversations with other believers about the gospel! By talking about Jesus more with your Christian friends you will find it easier to talk about Jesus with your non-Christian friends (pp. 111-112). “If you find it hard to talk about Jesus with Christians, then how do you expect to talk about him with unbelievers?”
  2. Let your unbelieving friends in on your everyday Christian community. If your unbelieving and believing friends are sharing a meal at your house, your unbelieving friends are bound to overhear your conversations about Christ (p. 112).
  3. Don’t assume that people have a Christian background. As a result, your gospel presentations must be more holistic, more big-picture, and more patient (p. 112).
  4. “Sometimes less is more” (p. 113). Silence is okay. Give people time to think. Give the Holy Spirit some space to work. Don’t expect that everyone can make the journey that has taken you a lifetime in a few minutes.
  5. Allow the people you are sharing the gospel with to ask their questions. Don’t just answer the “popular” objections to Christianity.

Chester and Timmis suggest that “story” is the primary way that people in the modern world interpret life. As such, everyone has a “story” that includes their version of salvation. Look for points of intersection between the “true” gospel story and the functional gospel story that most people have.

The authors bring the book “full circle.” They started explaining the marginal status of modern Christianity and end similarly “at the margins.” As such, the Biblical admonition to expect persecution and suffering should be taken seriously. The result is a paradoxical coexistence of joy and grief amidst suffering. But suffering is no threat to the will of God. Suffering has no power over the “hope of glory” (e.g., 1 Peter 1:6, 4:13).

In the end, the authors are challenging the church to take the mission of God seriously “every day.”

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Thoughts on the Dangers from Within

A few weeks ago we were talking about Acts 20:13-38 in small group. I am still feeling the affects of that powerful passage.

You see, this is Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian church. A church that occupied the majority of his last missionary journey and where his protégé was an elder. His farewell to the Ephesian elders is filled with tears and heartache. He is convinced that he will not see his friends again and his conviction proves true.

In his farewell I am reminded of true gospel ministry. A ministry that is sacrificial rather than demanding, honest rather than flattering. It is rooted in humility and thoroughness. Such ministry has a deep foundation in truth and is developed in meaningful relationships: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

All that to be said, I find it interesting that the very last words Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders regards the dangers from within the church that will come. Communication in that day and age was spotty and travel was dangerous, there was a high likelihood they would not receive any future instruction from Paul and he left them with these words:

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood.  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

As I thought about these last words I was reminded that the danger for Christians is more frequently from within the church than without. This is no excuse to abandon the church but rather a call to guard the health of our faith community.

Dangers from without are easier to spot. They are different and distinct. Such is the case with many “overt” sins. Maybe this is why Christians often point to “outsider” sins (e.g., homosexuality, drunkenness, etc.). They’re easy to spot! But just because they are more visible does not mean they are more dangerous.

Sin that grows within the community of faith is much more difficult to identify because it takes Christian language and even Christian scripture and cleverly mixes it with false teaching. I finally settled on two major dangers that are present within the church that often receive Christian justification: traditionalism and existentialism.

Imagine a wide, asphalt highway with two great ditches on each side. If the highway is the firm sure ground of Biblical truth, then two ever present dangers are the lure of traditionalism on one side and the elevation of feeling on the other. The difficulty in navigating the highway of truth is that we are often tempted, by distraction or danger, to swerve off of its sturdy path.

When you ask people to make godly decisions they too often have no Biblical foundation on which to base their choices. As a result, the default mode is often traditionalism. Such traditionalism is seen in the kind of thoughtless repetition of doing things a certain way because they’ve always been done that way. Much like Einstein’s definition of insanity, traditionalism is unable to look outside of personal experience to find a better option.

On the other extreme is the particular modern lure of “feelings.” Most people have no solid criteria by which to discern right from wrong and good from bad. As a result, they are at the whim of their feelings. They tell me they “feel” like they’re in love or it just “seemed” like the best thing at the time. That tickle in your stomach is probably just gas. This too shall pass.

I think tradition can be a vibrant connection to our Christian heritage and feelings directed toward God are lovely but both our traditions and our feelings must serve in submission to the truth of God’s word. “We have the prophetic word made more sure” (2 Peter 1:19). Our feelings and our traditions can easily be co-opted by suave communicators. They can quickly make you think that God is all about making you feel good or the Bible is a book that justifies the way things have always been done. The only light in such darkness is the revealed word of God, to which we would “do well to pay attention” (2 Peter 1:19).

Next time you have to make a decision ask yourself, “what does the Bible say?”

I think my blogging hiatus is about over…

It’s been quite some time since I’ve blogged regularly. I think things have slowed down just enough for me to get back into it.

This past year has been quite an adjustment in many ways. I’ve been adjusting to the demands of being back in school. This is the first time I’ve gone to school while working “full-time.” I always thought I worked a lot in college and seminary but the increased level of responsibilities at the church in combination with the higher academic expectations of PhD courses has been daunting at times.

I’ve enjoyed teaching more regularly at Nansemond River Baptist Church. In fact, I just uploaded a recent series on “Discipleship” under the resources tab. I’ve been very happy to watch our church embrace a vision of shared leadership. I must say that I pastor alongside some of the most talented and godly men on the planet. In addition, the church has been very receptive to the Scriptures. I believe NRBC has a bright future as a church that embraces the Great Commission in every area of life.

This summer has been busy as we took the teenagers at NRBC to camp. Also, we’ve been using Dare2Share’s “Gospel Journey Maui” curriculum on Wednesdays. The thoughtfulness and openness of the discussion among our students has been an encouragement. I sense a desire among them to embrace a radical vision of obedience to the call of Christ.

On a personal note, Whitney and I have also been adjusting to a lot of things. Whitney will be starting classes at William and Mary this fall to pursue a Master’s of Higher Education. In addition, she starts a new job at W&M on August 18. She is very excited about all of these changes but they are changes nonetheless. In addition, God has been teaching Whitney and I a lot about risk, obedience, faith, and contentment. We are wrestling with what it means to leverage our marriage for the cause of Christ. It is scary to ask such questions but we are convinced that whatever we must sacrifice is well worth the reward.

I hope this fall will allow me time to post my musings on life, culture, mission, and miscellany. I know I have some music and book recommendations and I am rarely want for an over-the-top rant.

Thanks for reading.

The Benefits of Christendom’s Waning Influence

Some time ago I read a post by Larry Hurtado on the fall of Christendom in Western cultures.

In the Western nations where Christendom once was dominant, it is dominant pretty much no more.  I for one don’t grieve this one bit.  I regard “Christendom” as a morally dubious phenomenon that probably did as much harm to the gospel as it ever did any good.  It consisted more in the promotion of institutional power of churches and church officials.  It may have had some effect in shaping professed public morals, and perhaps even some effect on moral practice.  But I don’t like the idea of any religion being able to exercise social coercion, and I think that religious faiths should live or die solely by their ability to commend themselves to the consciences of people…

So, I find pre-Constantinian Christianity much, much more exciting than what comes later, with much more to say to churches, Christians, and non-Christians too in our modern era in which Christianity is essentially one religious option in a religiously plural world.  If Christians want to figure out how to be authentic and particularly Christian while also negotiating their contributions to the wider society, it’s Christians and texts from the first three centuries that provide the best resources.

This is similarly related to a conversation I had with a fellow pastor at our church. He was telling me how he used to want to live in the South, deep in the buckle of the Bible Belt “Religion Belt.” He was commenting on the change in his attitude over the years. He would rather live somewhere that the gospel and Christianity was not culturally assumed. In a non-Christian environment he could share the joy of the Christ without having to disabuse people of their religious idols.

This is a good reminder for me that the decline of Christianity’s social and political impact is an opportunity to elevate the life-changing, life-saving, power of the gospel.

HT: Alan Knox.

Benefits of Community

I recently came across this post at Desiring God about one of the benefits of a local church.  I was really interested in the benefits of “righteous judgment” and the need for accountability espoused in this brief article.  I hear the oft-repeated mantra “not to judge” based ostensibly on Luke 6:37.  This verse (“judge not, lest you be judged”) is often the only Scripture some people have memorized and almost exclusively used out of context.  I think the passage in question might is more concerned with humility and genuine faith than some prohibition against pointing out sin or inconsistency in another believer’s life.

I have reproduced the entire Desiring God post below for your consideration.

“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (1 Corinthians 5:11-12)”

It is dangerous not to be judged. We need other people to judge us, with righteous judgment (John 7:24). We need accountability. If we don’t have Christian friends that are close enough to confront us when our lifestyle doesn’t match our confession, then we ought to tremble.

The type of judgment I am referring to is not generated by a desire to look down on others for the sake of feeling superior—a condescending disposition. Rather, it comes from a tender disposition of love. It comes from a Nathan who is willing to tell David to repent and turn to God (2 Samuel 12).

We should fear God in light of the sin that can deceive and destroy us. We should not fear the judgment that comes from friends in the church which helps us to fight sin. This is grace!

It is immeasurably more safe to be a part of a local church that watches for our souls. Praise God for the safety that is in the righteous judgment of his people. It is grace from heaven!

Investing in the Community

Partners in Education at Creekside Elementary School included, from left, Assistant Principal Tara Moore, Principal Katrina Bowers, Nansemond River Baptist Church Pastors Gary Vaughan, Mark Turner, and Jeff Walton, and Dr. Lynn Cross, Assistant Superintendent for Special Projects.

I was very excited when my church, Nansemond River Baptist, was named Suffolk Public School’s “Partner of the Year.”  The Suffolk News-Herald has a nice summary of all that was involved.

Our church, led by our Jeff Walton (our Children’s Pastor and one of our elders), has been partnering with Creekside Elementary School for the past year.  At the beginning of the year the small groups at NRBC provided 60 bags full of school supplies to children in need.  Throughout the year the church has provided one-on-one mentors and helped with various school activities.  At the recent Creekside Carnival our church provided volunteers as well as various equipment (e.g., snow cone machine, popcorn machine, etc.).

I am so excited that the community sees the value of partnering with our church and I am even more excited that the members of NRBC are intentionally investing in the community.  The relationships that have been built in Suffolk, VA will provide meaningful opportunities to demonstrate and explain the good news of the love of Jesus.

Thoughts on Christian Hypocrisy

Recently I was musing over the common maxim regarding hypocrites in the church.  You know what I’m talking about; this idea that someone loves Jesus but not the church.

Jesus made a big deal about hypocrisy.  For him hypocrisy was so bad because it involved a lack of acknowledgment of one’s own sin and type of self-righteousness.  Self-salvation is impossible.

On the other hand, I think hypocrisy is so dangerous because it calls into question the efficacy of “new life” in Christ.

Sin is often a continual problem for the Christian, but acknowledging one’s sin does not justify it (Romans 6) and one of the results of salvation is obedience (John 14).

I am continually wrestling with the idea that what I do matters (though it does not save).  I wonder at what point honesty about my sin becomes merely a way to justify my disobedience.

If I do think that my life should reflect the character of Christ (my savior) and that my actions should demonstrate the legitimacy of my new life in Jesus, how do I avoid letting outward behavior become a substitute for the inward working of God?