To the cultural Christian, there is nothing attractive about a small
church that expects relational community, practices regular
neighborhood service, highlights the cost of discipleship in every
message, has a minimalist menu of programs to partake from, and gives
most of its money away (precluding a "nice" facility and assorted bells
and whistles). But I want to reach them. All Christians are family. I
love the big-C Church dearly.
There are some who would say the
missional communities should just write off their attractional brothers
and sisters and focus on reaching the lost. I defy false dichotomies.
And while I never poach (I've never invited members of other churches
to mine before they themselves have first expressed interest in
visiting), I pray and preach AND BLOG and try to live a life of witness
so that my churched brothers and sisters will begin to crave the gospel
and gospel-centrism in their congregations.
The more churched
converts gospel-centrism receives -- we're talking about revival here,
by the way -- the greater impact for the kingdom among the lost and
"least of these" there will be, in the Bible Belt and beyond.
JD Greear lays out a very helpful path for college students trying to figure out whether to focus their time and energy on campus ministry or the local church:
Some students will,
from the beginning, know they want to minister to kids, seniors, the poor,
etc., and that being involved in the ministries of their church will be a
better fit for that. That should not be discouraged or looked down upon! On the
other hand, some students are designed and called by God to focus more of their
ministry on their peers. They may always keep their Bible study and ministry
focus on campus and this is fine as well. This is how i was: not only for all
my years of college, but several years afterward as well, I led Bible studies
and ministry on campus. Students should be given freedom to explore their
ministry callings and plug into the ministries that best fit them.
Christ Community Church is a replant - an organic description of a process that mechanically can feel like taking a machine apart piece-by-piece, discarding the parts that are unsalvageable (and no, I'm not talking about people), cleaning up what can be repaired and building out a church that gets the job done.
I spoke on replanting at an Acts 29 boot camp in Dallas last year - and almost ten months later, I get calls about replanting every week. Some men intentionally walk into a church knowing it needs this kind of work; more often it's not until someone has been part of a particular church and its particular culture and processes that they discover a church that needs to die and experience ecclesiastical resurrection.
Scott Thomas is the director of Acts 29. He also has experience in replanting churches - and he's writing a five-part series on replanting that's well worth your time. The truth is, we need patient, compassionate, courageous, persistent men who will love dying churches well enough to help them die well and experience new life.
Steve McCoy reviews Jim Belcher's Deep Church - a book Tim Keller calls 'an important book':
I think the bottom line is that Deep Church is about the roots
of the traditional church, the helpful questioning and critique of the
emerging church, and better answers than many in the EC could deliver.
You could say that Belcher (as one in the EC) finally found the answers
to the EC's questions while staying thoroughly biblical and
theological, solidly traditional and historical. These are the answers
so many of us have been looking for and only finding in bits and pieces
along the way. They aren't new answers. But they have never been
explained better as they pertain to the emerging church and the
I've been heavily involved in or around campus ministries since 1993 - Arsenio Hall was still on TV and Beavis and Butthead were a cultural phenomenon. So I've seen a few things change since then - but one thing that hasn't changed is the annual tension that flares up between churches and campus ministries in university settings as a new semester begins.
Last month, Steve Lutz laid out the primary issues that feed this tension:
Are church and parachurch partners, or should they have “sphere sovereignty”?
Regarding parachurch, is there something inherently illegitimate about its existence?
Regarding church, should it defer to parachurch’s unique calling and equipping for on-campus ministry?
How can the local church most effectively serve and reach out to students?
How actively should parachurch ministries be making local church involvement a priority?
In the age of house churches, what IS a church, anyway?
Steve's entire post on ecclesiology is helpful - and at the end he lays out this perspective: A missional campus ministry approach utilizes the strengths of
parachurch ministries to empower the local church to take its place on
the missional edge.
There are two things that keep this kind of partnership from happening:
Churches who insist on creating a rhythm of life for students that consistently pulls them off of the campus and out of their mission.
Campus ministries who insist they have the same authority in the lives of students as the local church.
Churches who encourage and equip campus ministries to do what they do best - incarnating gospel, community and mission in a context where most people in a church do not fit and honestly don't belong (I'm talking to you, Mr. I'm-45-and-wear-my-Auburn-War-Tigers-jersey-every-Saturday).
Campus ministries who structure their missional rhythms to move students into the life of the local church. Figure out how the church trying to grow students and grace and don't hamstring the church by scheduling events that overlap with those events (NOTE: it helps if churches have a clear and simple pathway of corporate discipleship for students).
I love being able to encourage and equip the men and women who have shaped their entire lives around the mission of Jesus on campus. And as we continually wrap our collective gray matter around these central themes of gospel, community and mission, we're finding a great deal of overlap and the opportunity to give up control and free up students to live out a healthy pattern of life involved in both the local church and the particular work of campus ministry.
In the end, students belong neither to the church nor campus ministry XYZ. They belong to Jesus - and Jesus loves the local church and the local church can join him in his mission on the university campus by raising up and releasing missional tribes on campus.
Jonathan McIntosh has launched Rethink Mission, an initiative to inspire gospel-centered missional churches. I met Jonathan a year ago at an Acts 29 bootcamp in St. Louis and benefited greatly from both his preaching and hospitality. We've had the opportunity to interact a bit since then and this is a guy I want to continue to listen to and learn from - I'd encourage you to do the same.
Here's a blurb from the Rethink Mission site on gospel-centered churches:
A movement has begun among a diverse group of evangelical churches.
Simply, one by one, pastors are coming to the realization that they are
not preaching the gospel.
Christian churches that do not preach the gospel? Wait. Are they
teaching anti-Christian doctrine? Satanism? Snake-handling?
Neo-shamanism? (I don’t really even know what neo-shamanism is, but it
sure sounds cool.)
Often, it’s not that these churches have fallen into some gross
heresy. Most likely, it’s just that over time, they’ve let the gospel
slip in favor of another way to try to draw people and change people.
A few of the most prevalent things I’ve seen that can crowd out the gospel:
Moralism – using fear, rules, and commands as the basis for
discouraging sin and encouraging holy living, which sadly results in
increased self-righteousness among rule-keepers and absolute despair in
those who are unable to live up.
Pragmatism – when in an effort to reach new people, church
leaders spend more time teaching helpful techniques or useful
principles than actually pointing people to the only thing that has
real power to change both hearts and lives.
Political agendas – out of a desire to get involved in the
public square and to influence policy, Christians of every political
stripe often begin to equate the spread of the gospel with the growth
of a specific political party or platform.
What’s tricky is that usually these –isms start with a
noble aspiration: a desire to help people change & grow, a desire
to reach out to people far from God, a desire to use influence to
change the way things are done.
Unfortunately when something other than God is our primary goal, no
matter how good that goal is, we will eventually start taking short
cuts to get what we want accomplished.
A gospel-centered church understands that change or transformation of any kind, especially authentic heart-transformation, cannot happen apart from the gospel of grace.
A gospel-centered church roots and keeps the focus of all its
activity – teaching, worship, outreach, social activism, and
discipleship – honed in on the gospel: the riches of the grace of God
available through of the sacrificial death of Jesus for sinners.
Because of this, a gospel-centered church is committed to:
• Reading & teaching the entire Bible in light of the gospel.
• Preaching the gospel to believers, not just unbelievers.
• Leaders applying the gospel to themselves first; church leaders are the first repenters.
• Cultivating a leadership culture marked by ever increasing “gospel astonishment.”
• Being known for an atmosphere of grace; gospel-centered churches
are safe places for seekers, skeptics and those outside of the faith.
• Producing people who don’t just know the doctrine of the gospel but who love the person of Jesus Christ.
These are the themes that we are committed to fleshing out together in greater detail at Rethink Mission.
At the end of the day, grace isn’t just something we “get” and the
cross is not just some object in time. These things hinge on a person.
At the center of it all is a person.
In an age when his name is easily tossed around or relegated to some
minor point of doctrine used to win arguments and manipulate people, we
long for the day when Jesus is seen for what he is: the hero of the
There have been several books that have radically reshaped my thinking, values, and behavior - the most recent has been Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. When I first read it a couple of years ago, it turned just about everything I thought about church on its head. The result has been a methodical process of working with our leaders to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, resulting in a church that intends to live and function as missionaries in community empowered by the gospel.
A few weeks ago, another A29 church produced a study guide to help people walk through Timmis and Chester's book - here's more information:
An A29 church has created a free study guide to go along with the Re:Lit book Total Church, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. The well-designed 32-page study guide is available for free PDF download here. We’ve talked with Steve Timmis, and he’s excited about this free resource.
Short interview with NT Wright on how individuals and churches honor God in everyday life.
You must always come back to prayer, worship, and Bible
study. Make sure that Christians are not going hollow in the middle
individually or corporately. But, then let it flow out. First, focus
on mission. Second, grow leadership. Third, encourage discipleship.
Then, act collaboratively. That means the church helps the local
education authority, the local housing committee, the police force,
whatever it may be. Let’s work with everyone who we can.
Much campus ministry over the last century has merely been an
extension the local church work of basic disciple-making onto a nearby
campus. Should it continue? Perhaps it should, especially with
international students and others who might need extra time to
integrate into local churches. But to offer a “spiritual kindergarten,”
I suggest, is not the central mission of campus ministry. It
is the main responsibility of the local church, and campus ministries
instead should do what they are peculiarly situated and, I trust,
equipped to do.
Evangelism on campus? Of course that should continue. That’s “on the
job evangelism,” which every Christian ought to do. And with a special
“people group” in view—namely, university students and professors—one
can tailor apologetical and evangelistic initiatives to their
distinctive needs. When people do respond positively to such
initiatives, then campus ministries must connect them with local
churches and their helpful programs in basic Christian life: with Alpha
programs, small groups, Sunday School classes, and the like.
Without this clear sense of what they are to do versus what the
local church is to do, campus ministries neglect their particular work.
Thus they compound the problem by competing with local churches: “Why
even go to a local church? It’s so much less interesting than this
student group”—which in the nature of the case is tailored to and
includes only this nicely homogeneous demographic! Thus campus
ministries in effect train students in a “non-local-church” paradigm,
which devastates them upon graduation as they must, in fact, make their
way into local churches or flounder alone.
I'm thankful for the students and the campus ministries we're connected to on the University of Georgia campus. We're engaged in some really fruitful discussion about how the church can partner with these ministries to help students grow and thrive as missionaries to the campus, living in community, empowered by the gospel.