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Who Are You Hanging Out With These Days?

Jesus, Hanging Out

When I was a college student living on a Christian college campus, I fell into the trap of often staying in the safety of the bubble. On campus, there was a bit of a micro-economy that remained pretty safe. You could eat, sleep, and study on campus and ‘do life’ only with those kids who were also Christian college students. While I wouldn’t trade those days, I wish I’d chosen to venture out a bit.

If anyone could have lived in a religious bubble, it would have been Jesus. But instead, He repeatedly chose to live life around people who were defined by their culture as “sinners.” Mark records that, “as he reclined at table in [Levi the tax collector’s] house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'” (Mark 1:15-17 ESV)

If you’re a Christian and you hang out in Christian bookstores a lot, attend Christian conferences, purposely shop and eat at Christian-owned places, make sure you have a Christian doctor, a Christian dentist, and a Christian lawn service, you might be missing the point. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things in particular, but in America, Christians on the whole are guilty of retreating into the bubble where we forget how to relate to a lost world.

Here’s some food for thought. All of your Christian friends are already going to heaven. And hopefully they’re in a church that helps them grow. But there’s a whole community full of lost people around you that need a friend. They need you to get out of the bubble and do life with them. That doesn’t mean you have to spend Friday nights in clubs and bars. It just means that living by the Great Commission compels us to get out, to go meet people, to share God’s love and the good news of Jesus in a relatable, loving way.

So who are you hanging out with these days?

Andy Stanley: The Church Can Be Deep and Wide

Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley

A little over a year ago, Angie and I started planting Grace Hills Church in northwest Arkansas, and one of our biggest hopes is that it’s a church that unchurched people love to attend. So Andy Stanley’s newest book, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend caught my attention. I pre-ordered it and devoured it once it arrived. I found the book to be both deep… and wide.

Andy opens with the deeply personal side of how North Point Ministries came into existence – the whole story including his experience at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, his parents’ high-profile divorce, and a church split. But don’t buy this book just to be “in the know” about such things. Instead, buy it because of all that follows – tremendous wisdom from one of this generation’s great church leaders.

I jotted a few notes down to share with my own leadership team, such as…

Andy Stanley’s announcement at the organization of North Point:

“Atlanta doesn’t need another church. Atlanta needs a different kind of church. Atlanta needs a church where church people are comfortable bringing their unchurched friends, family members, and neighbors. A church where unbelievers can come and hear the life-changing truth that God cares for them and that Jesus Christ died for their sin. We’ve come together to create a church unchurched people will love to attend.”

Say the word “church” today and very few people think “movement.”… One of the fundamental realities of organizational life is that systems fossilize with time. The church is no exception. Your church and my church are no exceptions. It takes great effort, vigilant leadership, and at times good, old-fashioned goading to keep a movement going.

The catalyst for introducing and facilitating change in the local church is a God-honoring, mouthwatering, unambiguously clear vision.

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Five questions churches need to be asking…

– Are we moving or simply meeting?
– Are we making a measurable difference in our local communities or simply conducting services?
– Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation?
– Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budgeting decisions?
– Are we ekklesia or have we settled for kirche?

The Five Faith Catalysts…

– Practical Teaching
– Private Disciplines
– Personal Ministry
– Providential Relationships
– Pivotal Circumstances

People are far more interested in what works than what’s true.

On the giving side of things, we are very upfront with the importance of what I refer to as priority, progressive, percentage giving. Priority as in: give first, save second, and live on the rest. Percentage as in: choose a percentage and give it consistently. Progressive is a challenge to up the amount by a percentage every year.

When people are convinced you want something FOR them rather than something FROM them, they are less likely to be offended when you challenge them.

The catalyst for introducing and facilitating change in the local church is a God-honoring, mouthwatering, unambiguously clear vision.

Marry your mission.
Date your model.
Fall in love with your vision.
Stay mildly infatuated with your approach.

This is one of those books that will be among the dozen or so that testify of great movements of God in recent history. What really amazed me as I read were the similarities between the thoughts of Andy Stanley, a guy I perceive to have had enough of “church as we know it” and my own heart as we have articulated the vision of Grace Hills.

Andy is controversial. He creates tension and leaves people hanging, wondering where he’s heading with each point, which is part of his unique gifting as a communicator. His book provides a great answer to two camps in evangelicalism today. One assumes the church exists for the church, along with its weekend service. The other sees the services of the church as a mechanism to attract the outside world. These two camps rarely meet, but Andy’s answer to the question of which camp is right is “Yes!”

If you want to lead a church that is both deep and wide, that draws people far from God and challenges God’s people to deeper discipleship, Andy’s book is a must-read.

Buy the Book Buy the Kindle Edition

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Getting Explicit About the Gospel

The Explicit Gospel by Matt ChandlerRick Warren said, “If you read only one book this year, make it this one. It’s that important.” The gospel is a message that never loses its relevancy and always needs retelling. I found Matt Chandler’s The Explicit Gospel to be an awesome retelling of it.

Chandler’s explanation of the gospel is ultra-clear, and while I detect that hint of his Reformed leanings (to which he alludes a time or two), his book avoids extremes, stays between the theological rails, and at least once even seems to rebuke calvinists for making the TULIP the central issue of the gospel. (To be fair, he rebukes anyone  who makes anything other than the biblical gospel central to the gospel.)

The first four chapters of the book could stand alone as a great summary of the most essential truths ever articulated. I love this for several reasons.

First, we need to realize that there is nothing “deeper” than the gospel. The gospel – the good news of God’s holiness, wrath, and love in giving Jesus as our substitute and raising Him again so that all who repent and believe in Him will have their sins forgiven – is the essence and entirety of our faith. It is both the introduction, the body, and the conclusion of the Christian faith.

Second, I love Chandler’s example to Pastors. Augustine, Spurgeon, Criswell, Piper, Stott, and so many other voices of influence in the history of Christianity were what we might call pastor-theologians. Many of the greatest had little formal religious education, yet they were willing to study hard and articulate theology from the viewpoint of a practitioner who shepherds people living through real circumstances. I applaud Chandler for writing the book, and I hope to see many other Pastors with the courage to enter the arena of writing theologically.

In the second part of the book, Matt takes the church to task – not in a way that is condemnatory or condescending, but rather as a passionate plea to return to the biblical gospel. He writes…

The moralism that passes for Christian faith today is a devastating hobby id you have no intention of submitting your life fully to God and chasing Him in Christ. (p. 70)

and further…

… Rick Warren was onto something when he opened his best-selling book with “It’s not about you” and subtitled it What On Earth Am I Here For? (p. 106)

His book serves as a stern warning against our wanderings and our extremes. Any deviation of the church from the gospel once delivered to the saints is dangerous no matter how “good” it may seem for other reasons.

Though it occupies just one chapter, I also love Chandler’s treatment of eschatology, which he refers to as “consummation,” keeping it in line with the centrality of the gospel’s power to make all things new. I’ve felt his tension of hoping to avoid the subject of the end times because so many have treated and represented this area of theology so poorly and too dogmatically. But I love how he brings it all back around to the eternal enjoyment of the results of the gospel. Redemption is forever.

My biggest personal takeaway is the need to avoid reducing the Christian faith to mere moralism. It’s a trap that I’ve fallen into in the past in my life and leadership, and I want to be careful stay focused on Jesus instead. Hear Chandler’s excellent explanation…

“The person who understands the gospel understands that, as a new creation, his spiritual nature is in opposition to sin now, and he seeks not just to weaken sin in his life, but to outright destroy it. Out of love for Jesus, he wants sin starved to death, and he will hunt and pursue the death of every sin in his heart until he has achieved success. This is a very different pursuit than simply wanting to be good. It is the result of having transferred one’s affections to Jesus.”

The gospel is not about doing better. It is about Jesus, and the change that happens in us when we fully surrender to Him in repentance and faith. Our doctrine determines our direction, and soaking in the goodness of the gospel will do more to change our direction than a hundred practical tips for better behavior.

Therefore… read The Explicit Gospel.

Get This Book!

Why Grace Hills Church Is In Jeopardy

Thin IceGrace Hills Church is eleven Sundays old, officially, and about eight months old, unofficially. And we’re in trouble. If we don’t do something, all of our effort will be in vain and all hope of planting the kind of church Jesus had in mind will be lost.

No, we’re not out of money. God has provided every step of the way. No, we’re not losing people. In fact, we’re seeing new attenders every week. And no, we’re not losing our leaders. We’re seeing new leaders emerge as each week passes. But I still contend that we’re in jeopardy of losing everything important to us… if we don’t fight for it.

Churches do not automatically thrive. The American church, as a local institution, has proven that it can coast along in almost-dead mode for many years. But there are no churches that are effectively reaching and changing their surrounding culture by accident. Recently, Rick Warren wrote a brief piece on Pastors.com about breaking three common barriers to church growth. In the comments, a troubling attitude emerged that is probably not too uncommon among believers in American churches – that growth is up to God (which I wholeheartedly agree with) and so any intentional effort to cause growth is somehow wrong (which I couldn’t disagree with more).

We’ve been having “good Sundays” at Grace Hills, but I’m still very much on guard. In fact, I sometimes find myself troubled at the rising threats against our success, not from any force outside of our fellowship, but from within it. Let me elaborate on some ways I believe the mission is in jeopardy even now…

If we fail to intentionally be the church, we will unintentionally just do church. And that’s true, no matter how much we say we’re going to “be the church.” Doing the Sunday gathering thing is what we’re good at, and even though we spend a lot of time and money on it, it’s still easier than scattering to be the church in our community.

If we fail to intentionally make disciples, we will unintentionally just make fans. I believe in making Jesus famous and bringing people into the enjoyment of His glory, but our mission is more than increasing the popularity of the church. The mission is to help people become reproducing, sold out Jesus-followers.

If we fail to intentionally be authentic, we will unintentionally just perform. I’ve performed before. In fact, I’m a recovering performer and have struggled with an addiction to the approval of others, so admitting my weaknesses is tough, but essential. I no longer trust my autopilot to lead me into genuine authenticity. Being real takes effort, and if we aren’t real, nobody heals.

If we fail to intentionally embrace all people, we will unintentionally play favorites. And the apostle James warned us about the danger of insulting the cross by picking and choosing those with whom we want to do ministry. Rather than hanging out with only the “churchy” people, of our color, of our political persuasion, of our cultural background etc., the gospel itself demands that we purposely break free and seek out new friendships for the gospel’s sake.

If we fail to intentionally be generous, we will unintentionally consume everything. By default, we spend it all, and we tend to spend pretty much all of our resources on ourselves. Churches tend to fall into the trap of sustaining their institutional machinery, maintaining their buildings and budgets, and begging for more volunteers and bigger offerings to keep the snowball rolling. Generosity requires purposeful sacrifice (if we can even use that word in light of the cross).

Grace Hills is in jeopardy of existing for us rather than them. We’re in jeopardy of growing the institution of the church rather than the people of the church. And we’re always in jeopardy of becoming a well-liked brand rather than pointing the culture to the infinite goodness of God.

So what should we do? How do we stop our drift and shift out of autopilot? With focus, intention, and effort, we need to:

  • Check our hearts and our motives.
  • Remind ourselves of the mission often.
  • Repeat the vision regularly.
  • Keep Jesus at the center.
  • Put people before the organization.
  • Do it all with a sense of desperation.

After all, if we fail to take the reins, we’re already as good as dead no matter how long we keep the doors open. So… go.

Seth Godin on Church Planting

I don’t know if Seth knows what church planting is or not, but his post yesterday should be memorized (it’s short – that’s Seth) by every church planter in the world. I’ll quote it in its entirety because of its brevity…

There’s nothing wrong with having a plan.

Plans are great.

But missions are better. Missions survive when plans fail, and plans almost always fail.

Gotta love Seth.

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