Archive for the ‘missions’ Category

This review was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.

Aliens and strangers. While these words may conjure images of space battles and horror movies, the apostle Peter uses such terms to describe a marginalized community of Christians living in the Roman Empire during the first century (1 Pet. 2:11). Struggling under the weight of social ostracism, family rejection, and widespread hostility on account of their faith, Peter’s first readers understood what it meant to be on the fringes of society.

In Everyday Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis argue that American Christianity is headed in that same direction. From our inflexible standards of morality to our exclusive claims regarding salvation, evangelical Christians are increasingly viewed as intolerant and irrelevant. Drawing on the paradigm-shattering research of sociologist Peter Berger, the authors note that modernity has resulted in a pervasive pluralism fundamentally intolerant of any and all intolerance (the irony is palpable). The consequence of this steady shift in worldview is increasing marginalization of the church in the West.

Everyday Church follows up on the authors’ earlier book, Total Church (Crossway, 2008), in which Chester and Timmis, founders of The Crowded House church planting network in the U.K., seek to reshape “church” around two key principles: gospel and community. In many ways, Everyday Church elaborates on one of the most memorable lines from Total Church: “Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality” (63).

From pastoral care to evangelism, Everyday Church continually emphasizes the fundamental importance of ordinary life, resisting the all-too-common mindset (sometimes verbalized, but most often just noticeable in practice) that considers Monday through Saturday unimportant compared to the “real stuff” that happens on Sunday. Rather, Timmis and Chester argue, we must “shift our focus from putting on attractional events to creating attractional communities” (10). The authors are careful to ground their arguments and suggestions in Scripture, primarily through missional reflections on 1 Peter.

Post-Christian Context

Armed with a robust assortment of facts and figures, Chester and Timmis open the book by examining the church’s place in our post-Christian, Western context. As in Europe, the church in America is increasingly reviled in the realm of public discourse, no longer accorded the widespread respect and admiration enjoyed by previous generations. This shift, the authors argue, must be considered when thinking about the church’s community and mission.

In the next four chapters, Chester and Timmis discuss the day-to-day reality of their renewed vision of church, exploring the nature of “everyday” community, pastoral care, mission, and evangelism. These chapters, full of biblical wisdom and practical suggestions, continually challenged my thinking and stirred my imagination. For instance, Chester and Timmis remind readers that the “Christendom mentality” that tends towards surprise when faced with, among other things, legislation that doesn’t line up with biblical values or unfavorable portrayals of Christians in the media, is quite foreign to the perspective of the New Testament. They write, “We need to discover or recover the sense that if this year we are not imprisoned, then it has been a good year in which by the grace of God we have gotten off lightly” (38).

From suggesting that Christians join pre-existing social groups instead of creating new evangelistic ministries to offering lists of challenging questions for reflection and self-analysis, these practical chapters encouraged me to think carefully about my church as a community of interdependent believers living as ambassadors for Christ each and every day. Yet Chester and Timmis never stop reminding readers that the goal should not simply be “doing” community and mission better. Rather, the move is always from “identity to action,” with biblical ideals realizable only “because of the new reality God has produced in our lives through the gospel Word” (60). This gospel backbone, bolstered by the authors’ obvious dependence on Scripture, keeps Everyday Church from devolving into a list of do’s and don’t’s designed to make the church more palatable to the outside world.

In the final two chapters, Chester and Timmis explore the nature of Christian hope and share details related to how they shepherd their church. These chapters are the book’s strongest, addressing practical issues such as money, church leadership, and prayer. The authors also address two common accusations often levied against them, namely that they oppose “big church” and “monologue preaching” (156). Chester and Timmis reject such charges, noting that what concerns them is simply a “privileged status” that often distracts Christians from living as family and proclaiming the Word in the everyday. Readers will have to judge for themselves whether or not they agree. Additionally, some readers may be uncomfortable with the fact that the authors apparently don’t confine baptism and communion to the church’s corporate gathering on Sunday (155).

My biggest critique of Everyday Church is that the authors’ claims and arguments occasionally lack nuance. At times Chester and Timmis make statements that seem ambiguous and simplistic, from their use of undefined terms such as “church” (17) and “institution” (20) to overly negative portrayals of various church programs (50). By the end of the book, however, it’s clear that Chester and Timmis are reacting against an overemphasis and overreliance on “attractional” meetings and events, rather than against the meetings and events per se. Christians coming from “traditional” church backgrounds would do well to read Everyday Church with this in mind, remaining open to the possibility that, at the very least, re-evaluation of pre-existing church structures and priorities may be in order.

Context of Community and Mission

In the final analysis, Everyday Church is an insightful addition to a growing corpus of literature focused on helping Christians become more intentional about living gospel-centered lives with fellow Christians and among the lost. Although not as groundbreaking as Total Church, Chester and Timmis’s latest contribution is more practical and, in that regard, perhaps more helpful for those seeking to practically apply the principles the authors so passionately proclaim. Their vision—simultaneously robust yet simple, convicting yet compelling, sober yet optimistic—demands reflection and deserves a response.

At the heart of our vision is not a new way of doing events but the creation of Word-centered gospel communities in which people share life with one another and with unbelievers, seeking to bless their neighborhoods, “gospeling” one another, and sharing the good news with unbelievers. The context for this gospel-centered community and mission is not events but ordinary, everyday life. (50)

By God’s grace, that is a vision that I, for one, hope to cultivate in my own life, family, and church.

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Trevin Wax recently posted an extremely insightful “critique” (softened through the use of questions) of Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s new book, What is the Mission of the Church.  I think all of his comments are spot on and are an important counter-balance to a Gospel-only missional mindset.

Here are his most compelling questions:

1. Can we reduce “making disciples” and “teaching Christ’s commands” to the delivery of information?

It seems to me that DeYoung and Gilbert tend to reduce “disciple-making” to teaching and then reduce “teaching” to the transferring of information. I agree that teaching is a central part of discipleship (which is one reason I am dedicating the next few years to the development of solid biblical curriculum). At the same time, we need to recognize that teaching also takes place in mentoring, in modeling, and in collaboration with others…

3. Isn’t there a sense in which worship is expressed through our life in the world, not just our corporate worship services?

At the corporate level, it’s clear that worship takes place within the church’s gathering. Yet the biblical story line begins with Adam and Eve worshiping God by obeying His commands in the gardenIt was their cultivation of the garden that reflected their love and praise for their Maker. So when DeYoung and Gilbert claim that worship is integral to the mission of the church and yet want to separate worship from our deeds of justice, I worry that we are failing to remember that our good work in the world is part of our obedient worship to God…

5. Is our representation of Christ not part of the mission?

DeYoung and Gilbert believe we must represent Christ, but it seems like they connect this representation so tightly to verbal proclamation of the gospel that little room is left for representing Christ through love and good deeds…

It is too easy to oversimplify and be reductionistic in our approach to theology.  The Bible is a complex book with a lot of nuanced teaching.  Our calling – as Christians – is multifaceted and can take many shapes.  That’s not to say that the proclamation of the good news about Jesus the Messiah is only one among many “good” objectives the church is called to pursue.

Rather, we need to be reminded to read the Bible carefully, allowing it to speak its message with the force and clarity it seeks to convey.  It is not sufficient for us to proof-text our way into cut-and-dry, black-and-white theological positions.  Clever, quippy theological phrases can be powerful communicators, but they often strip out the nuance of the Bible’s teaching leading to misunderstanding and misapplication.  In relation to the mission of the church, it seems that fear of losing what is central (the Gospel) leads some to deny what is peripheral (good deeds).  Yet, this is not the way the biblical writers talk – you don’t see the stark contrast.

We must remain faithful to the Bible, despite the (very real) danger of losing the center.

From Together for Adoption:

In this video (fast forward to 17:20), Francis Chan points to the relationship between mission and fellowship, arguing that a focus on our mission will inevitably lead to a desire for fellowship within the Christian community.  Although I’m not sure I would agree with all of what he said, I think his main point is absolutely right.  We shouldn’t pit our calling as ambassadors for Christ in the world against biblical exhortations to gather together in community.  Rather, both realities serve to bolster each other.  That being said, it seems that many of us struggle with the mission component.

Chan’s main point is that if we neglect our mission, our fellowship will suffer.  Conversely, if we embrace our calling to make disciples, we will see our meetings become more life-giving and significant.

http://vimeo.com/15502463

HT: Verge Network

In this interview, Jeff Vanderstelt, pastor of Soma Communities, talks about the importance of hospitality (a term he carefully defines) in the life and ministry of the church.  His comments remind me of Tim Chester’s recent book, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission Around the Table (Crossway).

Vanderstelt also offers some good thoughts on the recent resurgence of Christ-centered theology and a renewed passion for the local church among young evangelicals.

HT: Verge Network

Check out this very helpful discussion regarding the tendency of churches (especially large churches) to call Christians to a “ministry” that really just boils down to helping staff programs within the church and for the church, thus stripping them of the time, energy, and training needed to be ministers of the Gospel within their specific spheres of influence (job, family, neighborhood, etc.).

Horton raises an interesting (and I think, important) point about how the special, prescribed offices of the Scriptures (elders and deacons) are actually being eroded in our desire to emphasize the “priesthood of all believers.”  That is to say, in encouraging people to be “ministers of the Gospel,” we largely present this service as ministry in the context of the gathered church, rather than in the world and among the lost (at least, I think that’s what he’s saying).

I also appreciate Chandler when he says that this is why his church strives to keep things as simple and streamlined as possible, maintaining their focus on equipping their saints for the work of ministry in the world.  Another reason why the concept of the “missional community” is so appealing…

HT: The Gospel Coalition

Glad to see the folks over at Desiring God teaming up with the likes of Jeff Vanderstelt and Ed Stetzer for this year’s Desiring God Conference.  The theme is Finish the Mission For the Joy of All Peoples: Bringing the Gospel to the Unreached and Unengaged.  If my wife and I don’t go, we’ll definitely be watching the sessions online!

Over the past few months I’ve learned a lot from Vanderstelt in particular, after I first heard him speak at the Gospel Coalition Conference in Chicago.  His talk really helped summarize and organize a lot of my own thoughts from this past year of church ministry (and from my reading of Total Church, a great book with powerful insights into what the church is called to be).  Then I discovered this interview, in which Vanderstelt talks about the “missional communities” around which his church, Soma Communities, is built.  All I can say is that the interview was compelling…  If you haven’t watched it, I would encourage you to do so right now.

Jeff Vanderstelt

My thinking was then further refined and directed during the mission trip to Denver, CO that I led this summer.  After meeting some elders from Providence Bible Church, I quickly realized that they were working hard to incorporate some of the same principles and basic strategies that Vanderstelt was talking about.  The church sees itself as a group of missionaries, dedicated to making disciples in the inner-city of Denver.  Church leaders and members regularly reorient their lives for the sake of the Gospel and the people they are ministering to, both in word and deed.  Providence alse sent a couple of their elders up to Tacoma to enroll in Soma School, a training program designed to give church-planters a taste of the “missional community” model.

And that brings us to today.  Lindsay and I have just moved to a new city where Lindsay will be working full-time while I attend grad school.  First and foremost on our “to-do” list is finding a church to be involved in.  We are praying that God will lead us to a family of people excited about and experienced in living ordinary life with Gospel intentionality in context of biblical community.  We are looking forward to getting involved in a “missional community,” for worship, discipleship, and mission.

In case you haven’t kept up with all my posts over the past few months, here is a short introduction to “missional communities” by Vanderstelt from the Desiring God blog:

A missional community is a family of missionary servants who make disciples who make disciples.

Family

First of all, a missional community is a group of believers who live and experience life together like a family. They see God as their Father because of their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the new regeneration brought about by the Holy Spirit. This means they have and know of a divine love that leads them to love one another as brothers and sisters. They treat one another as children of God deeply loved by the Father in everything — sharing their money, time, resources, needs, hurts, successes, etc. They know each other well. This knowledge includes knowing each other’s stories and having familiarity with one another’s strengths and struggles in regards to belief in the gospel and it’s application to all of life (John 1:11-13Romans 12:10-16Ephesians 5:1-2).

Missionaries

God’s family is also sent like the Son by the Spirit to proclaim the good news of the kingdom — the gospel — and fulfill the commission of Jesus. A missional community is more than a bible study or a small group that cares for other believers. A missional community is made up of Spirit-led and Spirit-filled people who radically reorient their lives together for the mission of making disciples of a particular people and place where there is a gospel gap (no consistent gospel witness). This means people’s schedule, resources and decisions are now collectively built around reaching people together (Matthew 3:16-4:1;John 20:21Acts 1:813:2).

Servants

Jesus is Lord and we are his Servants. A missional community serves those around them as though they are serving Jesus. In doing so, they give a foretaste of what life will be like under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. Living as servants to the King who serve others as he served presents a tangible witness to Jesus’ kingdom and the power of the gospel to change lives. A missional community serves in such a way that it demands a Gospel explanation — lives that cannot be explained in any other way than by the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus (Matthew 20:25-28John 13:1-17Philippians 2:5-111 Peter 2:16).

Disciples

We are all learners of Jesus our rabbi who has given us his Spirit to teach us all that is true about Jesus and enable us to live out his commands. Jesus commanded us to make disciples who believe the gospel, are established in a new identity and are able to obey all of his commands (Matthew 28:19-20).

The missional community is the best context in which this can happen. Disciples are made and developed:

  1. through life on life, where there is visibility and accessibility
  2. in community, where they can practice the one anothers, and
  3. on mission where they learn how to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.