Daily Links (December 8)

What it’s like being an iPhone pastor in a typewriter church

“It is okay for a millennial pastor to be the one crossing the bridge, making the cultural commute in order to be a part of a church community. But, it doesn’t always work the same way for millennial church members.

And, I think this is a big reason millennials aren’t in church. It just isn’t a world that most of us can even access.”

Why you should read old books

“There are a number of bad reasons to avoid reading old books, which you should never use as an excuse to avoid reading old works of literature. I list four of them here, quoting C.S. Lewis liberally to make the point.”

Making disciples who engage the culture

Audio of Robby Gallaty addressing the ERLC National Conference on the urgency of a return to discipleship.

Podcast episode featuring Francis Chan on the house-church movement he’s leading

Francis Chan walked away from his megachurch to try something completely different – a series of tiny house churches in inner city San Francisco.  Why the change?  And what can we learn from his big experiment in going “small?”  This week on the podcast with Francis Chan – is the future of the church tiny??

Caring for the Poor in an Affluent Area

Brad Watson asked a really good question on Twitter:

I saw it right before bed and it has been messing with me ever since. It’s something I wrestle with because I live and serve in an affluent area. How do you care for the poor and welcome them into your community if you live in an affluent area?

Well, I’m not sure I have the answers, but here are my thoughts from the last several years as I’ve processed this.

Own your affluence

So many of us don’t think of ourselves as affluent. None of the worldwide statistics support this though. I know not everyone reading this is making end’s meet, and I get that. I really do. I coordinate pastoral care and benevolence, so I know people are struggling. I serve in an affluent area, but that doesn’t mean everyone is affluent. But for those of us who have a roof over our head, food in the fridge, and air conditioning keeping us comfortable, we need to own our affluence.

Use your affluence from God to bless people in the name of God

Owning our affluence and accepting that reality should lead us to ask why we have resources. Why, out of all the poor places in the world right now, did God choose to have you be born in your country and live in your town or city? It’s not a mystery. When God blessed Israel, He had other nations in mind that He wanted to bless through them. Yes, it was about Israel enjoying the blessings too, but God was primarily interested in spreading His glory throughout the nations by blessing the world through Israel. The Great Commission makes this clear. Whatever affluence we have, we should be using it to bless the poor in the name of God.

Spend time among the poor

More practically speaking, we have to spend time among the poor if we want to care for them and invite them into our communities. The biggest hurdle to caring for the poor in affluent areas is that you are so isolated from them. Yet, even in a wealthy town like mine, there is always an organization, church, or non-profit that is serving the poor and working poor. Seek them out. Give them time and resources. Join in their cause. As long as what they’re doing isn’t hostile to the name and mission of Christ, why not join them? We can’t minister to people we don’t understand. We must be serving the poor where they are.

Open your home

Here’s something that would make a big splash in an affluent neighborhood: inviting a poor person or family to move into your home. And why don’t more of us consider this? Jesus’ teaching is laden with instructions to care for the poor, minister to the down and out, and to be hospitable to the stranger. Particularly in suburban affluence, many people have homes with extra bedrooms, bonus rooms, and basements, so why not use those homes for ministry? Using homes for ministry has been a part of the Church since the very beginning. Just because we live in an individualistic age doesn’t mean we should be exempt from that history. Thankfully, we’re living in a time where this ministry form is having a bit of a renaissance (at least in theory).

Move to the “poor part of town”

Here’s another counter-cultural idea that would raise eyebrows in your affluent area: sell your house and move closer to what is condescendingly called the “poor part of town.” Every town and city has at least one area like this. But in our affluence we actively avoid living close to such areas, citing crime, poor schools, and sagging real estate prices. These sound reasonable enough until you ask yourself if those would sound like good reasons to Jesus. What kind of witness to the name of Jesus would it be if more believers sold their homes, moved closer to poverty, and used their affluence to enrich the lives of those around them? A pretty compelling one if you ask me. And it sounds dangerously close to the early Christianity we all claim to long for.

Cultivate church gatherings that welcome the poor

Ask yourself: If I were to bring a poor person to church with me today, what would their experience be like? Would they stand out? Would they be welcomed? Would people talk to them? Would the service make sense to them?

These might be tough questions, depending on your answers, but we have to ask them. If we’re surrounded by affluence, over time we’ll only be able to relate to affluence and everything we do will assume people come from affluence. But the Church should be marked by a counter-cultural blending of people. A people that no longer think in societal hierarchies or act according to cultural norms. The day of Pentecost brought together people from countries and people groups that actively hated each other, yet the world was turned upside down by the way they loved one another. Could our churches facilitate this same counter-culture today?

Host community meals

I got this idea from Ecclesia Houston. They do something called a “simple feast” where they gather to share a pot-luck style meal with their homeless brothers and sisters. No money required, you just show up. Oh, and they do it every week. I love this. Churches in wealthy areas often have facilities that are well-equipped to do this sort of thing. Why not use them to serve the poor and integrate them into the community? The hardest part would be getting the word out to those who would benefit from it, but surely that’s something that could be addressed through networking with other organizations in your area.

What else?

What ideas do you have? Let me know on Twitter.

Daily Links (December 7)

Low expectations from sermons

This is a journal article by J.I. Packer. It’s longer than the normal links here, but quotes like this are why it’s worth checking out:

“Low expectations become self-fulfilling. Where little is expected from sermons, little is received. Many moderns have never been taught to expect sermons to matter much, and so their habit at sermon time is to relax, settle back and wait to see if anything the preacher says will catch their interest…It is now assumed that those who sit under the preaching are observers, measuring the preacher’s performance, rather than participants waiting for the Word of God. Many in our congregations do not know that there is any other way of listening to sermons than this way of detached passivity, and no-one should be surprised to find that those who cultivate such passivity often dismiss preaching as an uneventful bore. Those who seek little find little.”

Our own devices

“Attention is precious. It is that part of our soul we give to the world around us, the gateway to the self. ‘My experience is what I agree to attend to,’ William James said; ‘only those items which I notice shape my mind.’ What if, at the end of each day, you received a statement from the Bank of Attention updating all your recent expenditures, along with a heat map of smartphone use? Where did you leave your soul today? Did you blow your precious morning hours surfing ESPN, reading about a baseball player’s groin strain? I confess that I did.”

Four conversations we must have with ourselves

“Some of the most important conversations we can have are with ourselves. These conversations allow God to examine our hearts, motives, and actions.”

2016.

This one’s funny. Watch the video for a few seconds and I think you’ll get it.

Why You’re Not Being Transformed

“In many cases our need to wonder about or be told what God wants in a certain situation is a clear indication of how little we are engaged in His work.” – Dallas Willard, Hearing God

I talk to people all the time who are frustrated with where they are spiritually. They want to be “better.” They desire to grow more like Christ. But they just aren’t getting anywhere.

They’re doing things to try and address it, and many times even good things. They’re trying to read their Bible. They’re going to church every weekend. They’re even in a small group. But still, they’re not seeing any transformation. So what’s going on?

What they’re really saying is they’re not being transformed. That the power of God isn’t evident in their everyday life.

How transformation happens

Many of us have misconceptions about how we’re transformed into the likeness of Christ. We think we can just read different books or listen to different radio stations or go to church every week and somehow we’ll change into godly people.

The Bible teaches something very different, though. In terms of transforming the human heart, it teaches that we’re actually powerless to do anything. That left to ourselves we are incapable of being righteous before God. And that’s the glory of the gospel — that we are offered salvation and eternal life solely through the magnificent grace of God.

But when it comes to transforming how we live, the Bible’s teaching is that God transforms us through His Spirit by the power of His Word, and that we are to make every effort to strive to live godly lives. Most believers and their churches have at least a basic understanding of how God’s Word transforms and renews us. When it comes to making every effort to live godly lives, though, it seems that many of us are less clear.

Make every effort

The language of “make every effort” comes from 2 Peter:

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV)

We’re told that we should be exerting effort to supplement our faith with actions. That’s what the list that follows the command is referring to, these qualities of living that display on the outside how we’ve been changed on the inside. Now, notice that Peter says these efforts only serve to supplement, not replace, our faith.

Perhaps nowhere is this same teaching seen as clearly as in the opening chapter of the book of James, where we’re told simply to,

“be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22 ESV)

What James is saying here should shock us, because he’s saying that listening to the Word of God is not enough. Through James, the Holy Spirit is saying that listening to sermons and podcasts, reading Christian books, and even reading the Bible itself, all of these things are not enough on their own. All of those those must be accompanied by doing something, otherwise we’re just deceiving ourselves.

John 8:44 tells us that Satan is a deceiver, using all kinds of schemes to distract us from obeying God. If we listen to the Word but never do anything with it, then we are doing his job for him. We are deceiving ourselves if all we’re doing is sitting through a church service on Sunday or even attending a group during the week, while not doing anything with what we’ve heard.

Lack of exercise

Think about this in terms of physical exercise. When someone badly breaks their leg and they aren’t able to bare weight on it for a significant amount of time, they have to do physical therapy when it’s time to walk again. That’s because their leg muscles have atrophied. They’ve shrunken from not being used. So they then have to strengthen those muscles through exercise.

When you exercise, you’re actually tearing muscle tissue. Muscle is being built up by continual tearing that is then healed by scar tissue. As that happens more and more, muscles begin to grow.

This is exactly what has happened with so many of us in the church. We’ve spent so much time taking information in that we’ve forgotten how to exercise what we’ve learned, and now our spiritual muscles have atrophied from lack of use.

What’s needed now is to start putting those muscles to use. And yes, it’ll be difficult, it may even be painful. But it’s only through the hard work of exercising our faith that we begin to see transformation.

Exercise may tear your spiritual muscles, but the grace of God acts as scar tissue that will heal the wounds and build you up into something more perfect along the way. Or, put another way, exercising your faith leads to sanctification, which most teaching on the subject seems to miss.

How doing is linked to sanctification

After James makes his case that believers should be doing things based on what they hear from God’s Word, he says something very interesting:

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25 ESV)

That last phrase, “he will be blessed in his doing,” points out something that’s so often overlooked: that our sanctification happens as we minister to others. Our sanctification, our being transformed into the image of Christ, happens as we put our faith into action.

Most of us think we need to be transformed before we minister to other people. But what the Bible teaches is that we’re transformed as we minister to other people. It is in dying to ourselves, taking up our cross, and being obedient to Jesus that we’re transformed into the image of Jesus.

And that’s really what being “doers” of the Word means — being obedient to Jesus.So if we want to experience transformation, we need to ask ourselves if we’re being obedient to Jesus’ commands. This is the reason we were created!

How obedience to Christ brings freedom

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that,

“we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

We are God’s workmanship. Another translation is that we are his masterpiece. And He created us as masterpieces for a reason, which is what? For good works.

We were saved by Christ that we might do good works in Christ. Which means we won’t fulfill God’s purpose for our life outside of obedience to Jesus. But in that obedience there is outlandish freedom.

That’s why James uses that paradoxical phrase, “the law of liberty.” He knows that if we’re obedient to Christ then we are free from the law and, ultimately, our sin. If we are obedient to Christ, we are free in Christ. Which is why Jesus said,

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31, 32, 36 ESV)

The Ministry Shift that Changes Everything

What if there was a shift you could make in ministry that would change everything? Authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne think there is one, and that it’s the most foundational idea in the Christian faith — discipleship. This is the theme running throughout their book The Trellis and The Vine.

What “the trellis and the vine” means

The problem, according to the authors, is that too many within the church have overlooked that foundation in search of “better” methods and programs. This is where the metaphor of the “trellis and the vine” comes in:

“most churches are a mixture of trellis and vine. The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel. That’s the work of planting, watering, fertilizing and tending the vine. However, just as some sort of framework is needed to help a vine grow, so Christian ministries also need some structure and support. It may not be much, but at the very least we need somewhere to meet, some Bibles to read from, and some basic structures of leadership within our group. All Christian churches, fellowships or ministries have some kind of trellis that gives shape and support to the work. As the ministry grows, the trellis also needs attention. Management, finances, infrastructure, organization, governance—these all become more important and more complex as the vine grows.”

What happens in many churches is an overemphasis on the trellis work. It’s often flashier and more pressing. The problems are right in front of you and scream for your attention. Small groups needs leading, budgets need tightening, staff needs vision, and emails never stop coming. So we keep up with the trellis work, assuming the vine is taking care of itself.

The power of the trellis and vine metaphor is striking. Its ties to biblical references only seek to strengthen its prophetic witness. Perhaps that’s why this book is so powerful, and why it broke on the scene after its release in 2009. Not many books come out of Australia and penetrate the rest of the Christian world like The Trellis and The Vine has.

And that’s for good reason. This is a good book. A really good book. And, I’m starting to think, a foundational book for pastoral ministry.

Focus on disciple-making

Here’s why: The Trellis and The Vine focuses sharply on what disciple-making looks like in a pastor’s life and his church’s life.

Marshall and Payne start where most books on discipleship start, with the Great Commission. But then the book gets interesting and starts to challenge its readers assumptions, a pattern that’s continued throughout the book. The authors make a point that’s been made elsewhere, but that’s not often talked about — which part of the Great Commission is actually the command.

“Sometimes our translations may give the impression that ‘go’ is the emphasis of the command, but the main verb of the sentence is ‘make disciples’, with three subordinate participles hanging off it: going (or ‘as you go’), baptizing and teaching. ‘Baptizing’ and ‘teaching’ are the means by which the disciples are to be made.”

The more common way the Great Commission is understood is where “go” is the primary command and making disciples, baptism, and teaching flow from the “going.” But if churches have this understanding it can lead them to,

“think that they are obeying the Great Commission if they send money (and missionaries) overseas. But the emphasis of the sentence is not on ‘going’. In fact, the participle is probably better translated “when you go” or “as you go”. The commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.”

In just these few, pointed sentences they lay down the logic for why The Great Commission is for every Christian (and therefore every pastor and church). That means each Christ-follower and their churches must focus on disciple-making as the core of their mission. (Notice I’m using the term disciple-making. I’m implying, as are the authors, that the Great Commission is both evangelism and discipleship. Disciples are to be found (evangelism), then taught to obey Jesus’ commands (discipleship).)

More than a how-to manual

But this book isn’t a simple how-to manual. Far from it. Much of the middle of it spends time examining just what God is doing in this world, how He plans to carry it out, and what it means that we are saved by grace.

The rest of the book draws these ideas out, going through the pastor’s personal and professional life, and how this plays out in the church. The authors aren’t suggesting minor tweaks in a church’s programs, but a radical shift in how it does ministry and what those ministries are:

“most churches need to make a conscious shift—away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ.”

By that, they mean churches need to shift some of their attention away from trellis work, and focus it on the vine where it belongs. And here’s what “vine work” means:

“This is what the growing vine really is: it is individual, born-again believers, grafted into Christ by his word and Spirit, and drawn into mutually edifying fellowship with one another.”

That has drastic implications for what pastors and churches focus on.

If God is at work making his gospel known throughout the world through disciple-making disciples of Jesus, then the pastor’s life and schedule should reflect that priority, and even come to emphasize it. This means a pastor might spend more time in one-on-one training and mentoring, or perhaps more time meeting with 3-4 men who are being trained to teach others the truth of the gospel.

It also means shifting our from making followers of our particular church or denomination to focus on making followers of Jesus. This implies shifting focus away from growing our particular churches to growing the Kingdom of God and its gospel-influence.

The heart of the shift in ministry

At the heart of this shift in ministry is a return to training. But this isn’t simply training Christians how to do certain things, such as reading their Bibles and having a quiet time (though those are obviously important). Instead, the authors say that,

“training is much more about Christian thinking and living than about particular skills or competencies.”

I like the dual emphasis on both the mind and the heart, because it echoes the Great Commandment to holistically love God.

The training section of this book is a goldmine of wisdom and practical information. Their goal is not to give you a blueprint of what to do, but convictions of what you should be doing.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s very helpful for pastors and church leaders, and foundational for church planters. At the same time, it’s for anyone in the church, because the call to make disciples doesn’t fall on pastors alone. The writing is concise, potent, and sage. If you’re looking for a book to help you understand discipleship and the implications of the Great Commission, this a great place to start.

Top quotes

  • “The first and most obvious is that if this is really what God is doing in our world then it is time to say goodbye to our small and self-oriented ambitions, and to abandon ourselves to the cause of Christ and his gospel.”
  • “The Christian without a missionary heart is an anomaly…We have to conclude that a Christian with no passion for the lost is in serious need of self-examination and repentance.”
  • “…most churches need to make a conscious shift—away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ.”
  • “But our view of gospel work must be global as well as local: the goal isn’t church growth (in the sense of our local church expanding in numbers, budget, church-plants and reputation) but gospel growth. If we train and send workers into new fields (both local and global), our local ministry might not grow numerically but the gospel will advance through these new ministers of the word.”
  • “But it’s interesting how little the New Testament talks about church growth, and how often it talks about ‘gospel growth’ or the increase of the ‘word’. The focus is on the progress of the Spirit-backed word of God as it makes its way in the world, according to God’s plan.”
  • “…people-growth happens only through the power of God’s Spirit as he applies his word to people’s hearts.”
  • “The radicalism of this demand often feels a world away from the ordinariness of our normal Christian habits and customs. We go to church, where we sing a few songs, try to concentrate on the prayers, and hear a sermon. We chat to people afterwards, and then go home for a normal week of work or study or whatever it is that we do, in time to come again next week. We might read our Bible and pray during the week. We may even attend a small group. But would someone observing from outside say: ‘Look: there is someone who has abandoned his life to Jesus Christ and his mission’?”
  • “The heart of training is not to impart a skill, but to impart sound doctrine. Paul uses the language of ‘training’ to refer to a lifelong process whereby Timothy and his congregation are taught by Scripture to reject false religion, and to conform their hearts and their lives to sound doctrine. Good biblical training results in a godly life based on sound, health-giving teaching.”
  • “…training is inescapably relational. It cannot be done in a classroom via the supposedly neutral transferral of information. The trainer is calling upon the trainee to adopt not only his teaching, but also the way of life that necessarily flows from that teaching.”
  • “A commitment to the growth of the gospel will mean that we train people towards maturity not for the benefit of our own churches or fellowships but for the benefit of Christ’s kingdom.”
  • “Christian discipleship is about sound doctrine and a godly life, and so to train or equip someone to minister to others means training and equipping them with godliness and right thinking, not just with a set of skills—because that in turn is how they will need to minister to others.”
  • “The Bible doesn’t speak of people being ‘called’ to be a doctor or a lawyer or a missionary or a pastor. God calls us to himself, to be Christian. Our ‘vocation’ (which comes from the Latin word ‘to call’) is to be Christ’s disciple and to obey everything that he commanded—including the commandment to make disciples of all nations. In that sense, all Christians are ‘ministers’, called and commissioned by God to give up their lives to his service, to walk before him in holiness and righteousness, and to speak the truth in love whenever and however they can.”

Buy The Trellis and The Vine on Amazon