There is a lot of talk these days about masculinity and real men in Christian circles these days. Here is what one such “real man” – a test cricketer and missionary to China to boot – has to say;
“Too long have we been waiting for one another to begin! The time for waiting is past! … Should such men as we fear? Before the whole world, aye, before the sleepy, luke-warm, faithless, namby-pamby Christian world, we will dare to trust our God, … and we will do it with His joy unspeakable singing aloud in our hearts. We will a thousand times sooner die trusting only in our God than live trusting in man. And when we come to this position the battle is already won, and the end of the glorious campaign in sight. We will have the real Holiness of God, not the sickly stuff of talk and dainty words and pretty thoughts; we will have a Masculine Holiness, one of daring faith and works for Jesus Christ.”
Strange there is not even one mention of killing animals or full contact cage fighting?
Ed Stetzer’s, Lifeway Group just released some new research on church goers and sharing their faith. I would imagine that statistically the results are probably fairly similar in Cape Town.
- 75% of churchgoers say they feel comfortable in their ability to effectively communicate the gospel
- 80% of churchgoers agree they have a personal responsibility to share their faith
- 39% of churchgoers they have shared their faith one or more times over the last six months.
- Nearly half (48%) of church attendees have not invited an unchurched person to attend a church service or some other program at their church in the past six months
BIG QUESTION: Given these statistics does it not raise the question that perhaps we are doing something wrong when it comes to church? If the aim is to make disciples, surely we need to question if our church structures are actually achieving our goal?
J. I. Packer:
“What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16]. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.”
Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 41-42, emphasis added.
This series of posts is a reflection on a lack of innovation in the evangelical church. A reflection which has led me to the uncomfortable thought that we lack innovation not because it is not needed but because we fear it! The presence of fear, in this context, reveals the absence of faith. Not the type of faith which means you know the right answers but the type of faith that means you shape your life, desires and ambitions around the right answers. It is a faith that informs the head, warms the heart and moves the feet.
In the last post I suggested we needed to recover our faith in the sovereignty of God. In this post I want to suggest that a recovery of our faith in justification by faith will lead to more risk-taking and greater innovation for the church.
Many of us shy away from risk or innovation because we are averse to the consequences. If we fail – are we a failure? If we succeed are we a heretic? If we try something new are we a trouble-maker? If we don’t follow the same path as everyone else are we arrogant?
For many of us we doggedly hold to the doctrine of justification by faith as that which will save us on the last day but we do not apply this great truth to today (Tim Chester). Instead we desperately look to our ministry effectiveness, church size, busyness of ministry, recognition by our peers, methodological orthodoxy or church attendance to make us feel significant, important or justified to others or most often to ourselves.
We need to hear Jesus say “It is finished!” BEFORE we begin our work, our ministry or get up in the morning. There is no longer any need to prove yourself, outperform anyone else or justify ourself. You are a beloved child of the Most High God- and nothing can change that. Even if it were possible for you to mess it all up and fail every time – “It is finished!” you cannot change your status before God, cannot un-justify yourself, cannot make God love you more or less through your achievements or lack thereof. This is, in part, what it means to live as one whose heart is captured by justification by faith and the cross of Christ.
If my reputation is secure…
- Perhaps it is not necessary to have a thriving youth ministry to be a successful church.
- Perhaps the mark of a growing church is not adding a 2nd or 3rd service.
- Perhaps you don’t need that university recognised theological degree to be legit.
- Perhaps it is not the books you read or the committees you sit on or your seating capacity of your church.
- Perhaps it is not even necessary to be a self-sustaining church?
If it is the gospel that has captured our hearts rather than the “worship of the bitch-goddess success” (William James- love that turn of phrase) then might we see more Homeless Pastors (as in pastors to the homeless not domicile-ly challenged pastors). Or what about releasing some of your key people to go and live among the “night people” of our city (i.e. probably not going to make Sunday morning)- chefs, waiters, street vendors and pimps. Walk the streets, meet them for a drink when they get off shift at 2pm, find ways to bless the homeless sleeping rough, attend late night gigs, befriend car guards, bouncers and taxi drivers. This probably won’t grow your church, nor will you be recognised or even liked honoured for releasing people to do this.
Reaching out to those who are far from the church – the broken, messed-up, sinful, angry and disinterested will get messy. You will lose control, credibility, comfort and conformity. It will not be a job that can be quantified in office hours, job descriptions or five-year plans. It will be confusing, full of dead ends and about turns. It will test your wisdom, your creativity and your credibility. It will not be pretty, nor glamorous and probably not anything that could look legit or successful. This will break your idealism and your heart, drive you to cynicism, alcohol or prayer.
Only one who daily rests in Christ’s finished work on their behalf will be able to stay the course in this vocation.
Yesterday I suggested that methodologically us evangelicals are people of fear not of faith. When I talk about faith I am not talking about the answers you could quite easily and correctly write down on a theological exam – our cognitive beliefs. I am talking about our functional beliefs - those things which our lives, choices and desires show to be our actual beliefs. Perhaps here I am already treading on some hallowed evangelical toes but it is not what you say you believe (i.e. being able to recite and discuss good theology) that makes you orthodox but what you show you believe (what is the fruit of a life that loves good theology) that counts.
So what do our methodological fears say about our deepest held desires and the corresponding lack of faith.
Our innate fear of failure, risk or innovation displays our lack of faith in the sovereignty of God. A robust belief in the sovereignty of God means we cannot fail. Romans 8 reminds us that he is working all things together for his good. Even our perceived failures, wrong turns or unwise ideas are being worked together for our good, His mission and His glory.
We, however, are scared to risk or be out of control. We desire to keep things ordered, safe, controllable. Overstatement? Why then are we so innately suspicious of any methodology that does not contain an a priori decision to hold a corporate gathering on a Sunday or engage in a 30 minute teaching monologue. Why does every new church plant look suspiciously like a slightly tweaked version of every other church out there – no matter how different the context is ethnically, geographically or economically? Where are the radical, new inventive, risk-taking gospel endeavour being funded by the established or (crazy thought this) the mega-churches?
We need to recover a robust faith in the sovereignty of God. A faith that says I can risk it all because ultimately he will save the day. Ultimately the victory is his. A faith that says Jesus has done it all on the cross I cannot lose it or mess it up. Not only can we not mess it up but he uses our failures and foolish ideas to extend his Kingdom and bring him glory. We are set free from a paralysing fear of failure, of getting it wrong, or of doing it the wrong way. We are set free to throw it all up in the air, to put it all on the line for the gospel. To risk, to try, to dare, to dream.
We are free to question every methodology, every tradition, every innovation, every guru and every past wisdom. We are free to throw every past success in the air and risk it all again on some crazy venture to share the love of Jesus with a lost world. We are free to wisely or unwisely throw out every “but we’ve always done it this way” and reinvent it all again in the hope of bringing just one sinner home again. We need our pastors to stop keeping the sheep safe from the world and start setting us free to risk it all for His gospel and His glory!
Next: Recovering our faith in Justification by Faith.
“It takes the whole Bible to expound the gospel, so reducing it to three sentences is inadequate. But this summary provides a necessary reference point for considering the question of this post: Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life and died our death. He rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the age to come. He brings forgiven sinners together by the Holy Spirit to live as his people, under his gracious reign, as we point to and wait for the New Creation.
To be gospel-centred means that the gospel is not only to be the focal point but also that which sets and sustains the culture of our churches.
Our preaching must be the gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel. We don’t preach moralism, sentimentalism, emotionalism, behaviourism, abstentionism, antinomianism or legalism. Whether we’re preaching from a podium or teaching in a living room, to whomever, wherever, whatever the issue – we preach the good news that is Christ.
Prayer and singing are opportunities to rehearse the gospel. It is through both that our affections are excited and we’re reorientated around the gospel, which renews, shapes and directs our hearts.
Don’t let business meetings get hi-jacked into being about protocol or procedure. Meeting times, Bible translations, instruments and coffee brands are all gospel issues.
If the gospel isn’t central, don’t be surprised when our youth jump ship. No matter how “sexy” our meetings, we can’t compete with the world’s sizzle. Youth ministry must faithfully bring the gospel to young people.
What will keep a couple together in 10 years’ time is not a compatibility test, but the gospel. Rehearse the gospel in your marriage preparation; massage it deep into the hearts of your men and women.
Train people in, with and for the gospel. The gospel enables them to disciple others, engage with non-Christians, answer critics, respond to hard questions and cope with disappointment & failure, joy & success.
In pastoral care, take people to the compelling truth of a God who, in Christ, justly forgives sinners. It tells me of my sin and of my Saviour. I no longer have to justify myself. Lying becomes unnecessary, forgiveness a reality, reconciliation a certainty.
Our mission is the gospel! We’re not here for our comfort or renown. The gospel is the unique contribution we make to a fallen world. So whatever other legitimate activities we support (relief, infrastructures, emergency aid), the gospel is that which sets us apart.
To be gospel-centred means that the gospel shapes and defines everything we are and do as God’s people. Which, like so many good and vital things, is a lot easier said than done. But, since when has ease of implementation ever been a necessary criterion.”
After thinking I was selling my soul to the man I am happy to report that I repented of my previous compromise and instead “stuck it to the man!” After only one day of training!
Hard core I am? Ok so I confess I got the details all wrong, it was not data capturing but fieldwork that they were asking me to do. And rather than a dull drudgery of 9-5 data crunching it was going to be more like working crazy hours 6-7 days a week for about a month and a half. Plus 2 weeks of training, for no pay of course, “cos we all know that is how the man rolls”.
The cost of earning the extra cash we decided was going to be too high for our existing ministry and relationships. And for our family after what has been a really tough year for us.
We took the decision to rather enter the year refreshed, excited and full of energy for the mission God has called us to. Rather than drained, worn out and needing a break. When it seemed like this opportunity for work was going to support our ministry it was a good option when it became obvious that it was going to detract from it – it was a bad option. We believe that as followers of Jesus the ministry he has given us to do is the primary criteria for our decision-making. Of course that does not exclude the possibility of working full-time in a regular job – as most Jesus followers must do. What it does mean is that employment - the when, where, how, how much – is not our primary criteria for our decision-making.
So what about the money? It is not our abilities or our employment which provides for our needs, it our Father in Heaven who is our great and gracious provider… even when the means He uses is regular employment.
So I am still hard-core right?
I have been saying for a while now that getting paid to do ministry is a privilege and not a right. Now I have to put my money where my theology is – I have a temporary job, working for the man. If we are honest most of us missional types have a bit of a non-conformist streak in us, which God graciously uses for his glory. So we like the idea of being funky baristas, photographers, consultants, web-designers, writers, basically anything that allows us to be a bit alternative in lifestyle and life-choices.
But as I was not seeming to cut it in any of these more acceptable missional practioner, alternate jobs, while still being cool I have been forced to actually believe my own rhetoric and get a real, real (repetition intended) job working for the Census 2011 doing data capturing. Yes be aghast not only am I working for the man, but it will be mind numbingly boring in all likelihood with precious little redeeming “sexy” factor.
So if this blog falls eerily quiet over the next month and a half (yes I know it has been rather quiet of late anyhow) you now know that I have sold my soul to the man.
But on the less cynical side the extra cash I earn will hopefully help to consolidate us financially and set us up for ministry next year.
And it won’t hurt to experience the dullness and low job satisfaction that the majority of people in our country experience on a daily basis… and now how do I glorify God in all this?