Archive for the ‘Ecclesiology’ category

Structuring the Church for Maximum Edification

February 6, 2012

Along with the resurgence of Reformed theology and gospel centrality, I believe there is a resurgence of biblical ecclesiology taking place as well. I’m grateful for the influences of organizations like IX Marks, and even more churchmen and practitioners who are bringing reformation to local churches according to the Word of God.

One of the practical benefits of examining our ecclesiology is being more deliberate and intentional in what we do as a body of believers. What is the nature of the church? How should a preacher handle a text? What should covenantal membership entail? These are questions reflecting a pursuit of a healthy, robust ecclesiology.

Being intentional not only means that we consider the practices or marks of a healthy church, but we also need to examine structures and systems to best accomplish the purposes as well as honor the marks of a healthy church.  In this post, I want to consider the need for structure for maximum edification.  Let me explain.

When Paul addressed the church in Corinth, there apparently was confusion and selfishness when it came to the exercise of spiritual gifts.  Some were given special recognition while others were devalued. The improper exercise led to further division instead of unity. Some were used for self-promotion instead of building up the church.  So what Paul does is lay out five overarching principles for the church to understand and implement:

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Roots Reading Initiative (New from PLNTD)

October 24, 2011

I’m excited to share with you a new project from PLNTD called the Roots Reading Initiative. Over the past several months, we have been working on the creation of a whole new approach to leadership and networking in church planting through what we are calling the PLNTD ecosystem. We endeavor to create an environment through which church planters and churches flourish in the Great Commission.

The first new project, the Roots Reading Initiative, focuses on providing church planters targeted self-feeding opportunities through an informal structure and accountability. The goal of this initiative is for church planters to “deepen their roots” in their understanding of God, the church, gospel, mission, and the world. In doing so, we believe the RRI will be an effective way of keeping church planters “grounded” and growing as leaders, missionaries, and churchmen.

RRI will consist of bi-monthly installments of thematically-driven self-feeding. By embarking on this challenge with other church leaders, RRI will offer encouragement and accountability that we so often need to press on in growing ourselves in the midst of the daily grind. Each bi-monthly installment will have two books to read–one book for each month, along with discussion questions provided by those in the network.

The first installment of the RRI begins November 1, and the theme is “the mission of the church”.  Here’s the details for the first installment:

RRI Vol. 1 | Nov-Dec 2011 |
The Mission of the Church

November: The Mission of the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert
Nov 6-12             [pages 1-66]
Nov 13-19           [pages 67-140]
Nov 20-26          [pages 141-222]
Nov 27-Dec 3    [pages 223-66]

December: Everyday Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester
Dec 4-10            [pages 1-40]
Dec 11-17           [pages 41-96]
Dec 18-24          [pages 97-152]
Dec 25-31          [pages 153-88]

For those who would like to help us get the word out on Twitter, the hashtag is #RRI.

More information will be made available in the Training Community of PLNTD, including when the discussions will take place and additional artwork that you can download for your own use.

» To get in on the Roots Reading Initiative (and the discussions and book study guides), you will need to join PLNTD on Cobblestone.  You can do here.  I hope this new resource will be helpful for church planters, pastors, and other ministry leaders seeking to grow in their leadership and stewardship of their calling.

The Mission of the Church

July 18, 2011

One of the most significant topics and sustaining conversations in my generation is the mission of the church.  Fifteen years ago, “missional” wasn’t in most evangelical’s vocabulary, even less so in their practice.  But in recent years, there has been so much talk about mission from all corners of evangelicalism that there is a struggle for consensus for what the mission of the church actually is.  Some missional practitioners have recently sensed this need and have come out with a Missional Manifesto.

Exactly what constitutes the mission of the church and how individual Christians life a mission-oriented life seems simple enough, but it has been (and will continue to be) a topic of many books and conferences. At the last Gospel Coalition Conference, Moody Publishers sponsored a session on that very topic, with Matt Chandler facilitating the discussion.  Panelists included Kevin DeYoung, Trevin Wax, and Jonathan Leeman, all of whom are well-respected, careful theologians among the younger generation of Reformed evangelicals.

I encourage you to watch the video below.  I also encourage you to check out DeYoung’s forthcoming book co-written with Greg Gilbert on this very topic.

Evangelize as Your Edify, Edify as You Evangelize

July 14, 2011

One of the biggest tensions regarding philosophy of gathered services is the issue of breadth and depth, or who should be the priority and focus of the ministry.  Obviously, everything we do should be first and foremost with a focus and passion for the honor and glory of God.   But the question we are usually asking is this: “Should our gathered services be evangelistic, focusing on unbelievers, or edifying, focusing on believers?”

Yesterday, Tim Keller answered the question by referencing Martyn Lloyd’Jones by saying “both.”  Keller concludes:

The lesson I eventually learned from him was—don’t preach to your congregation for spiritual growth thinking everyone there is a Christian—and don’t preach the gospel evangelistically thinking that Christians cannot grow from it. In other words—evangelize as you edify, and edify as you evangelize.

I agree with MLJ and Keller completely.

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Our Churches Are the Proof of the Gospel

June 17, 2011

Mark Dever:

“Many Protestants have begun to think that because the church is not essential to the gospel, it is not important to the gospel.  This is an unbiblical, false, and dangerous conclusion.  Our churches are the proof of the gospel.  In the gatherings of the church, the Christian Scriptures are read.  In the ordinances of the church, the work of Christ is depicted.  In the life of the church, the character of God himself should be evident.  A church seriously compromised in character would seem to make the gospel itself irrelevant.

The doctrine of the church is important because it is tied to the good news itself.  The church is to be the appearance of the gospel.  It is what the gospel looks like when played out in the lives of people.  Take away the church and you take away the visible manifestation of the gospel in the world.  Christians in churches, then, are called to practice ‘display evangelism,’ and the world will witness the reign of God begun in a community of people made in his image and reborn by his Spirit.  Christians, not just as individuals but as God’s people bound together in churches, are the clearest picture that the world sees of the invisible God and what his will is for them.”

Mark E. Dever, ‘The Church” in A Theology for the Church, edited by Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007), 836.

The gospel is absolutely essential to the church.
The church is incredibly important to the gospel.

Therefore, the recovery of the gospel is essential to the health of the church, and the importance of the local church is crucial to the advance of the gospel.  May God gives us a passion for churches to be driven by the gospel, and may God grant churches an unrelenting ambition to make it unmistakably visible in our world for the glory of Jesus’ name.

Biblical Church Leadership

May 17, 2011

From IX Marks.

[vimeo 10645693]

Highway to Hell and the Regulative Principle

April 12, 2011

Back in October 2oo7, Mark Driscoll started an online game called “Ask Anything” where anyone could ask him a question and people voted on their favorite questions.  The top nine questions would turn into a sermon series which later became his book entitled Religion Saves.

On October 12, I blogged about the question I asked Driscoll.  The question was:

Do you believe that Scripture regulates not only your theology but also your methodology? In other words, do you believe in the regulative principle? If so, to what degree? If not, why not?

The purpose of me asking this question was related to what I saw happening in evangelical life, namely the popularity of pragmatism over theologically driven and biblically sound methodology.  Driscoll used the illustration of the two hands: one being contending for the faith (doctrine) and the other being contextualizing the faith (practice).  My question was specifically geared around the ways in which doctrine (theology) shaped or influenced practice (methodology).  In other words, do these two hands work independently of one another, or does one hand have a tighter grip on the other?  I wanted to know to which degree Scripture determines what you do versus what culture, trends, or “what works” determine what you do. I thought the question was pretty straightforward, simple, and relevant.

Well, a firestorm erupted on the “Ask Anything” website when my question took the top spot after the first week of voting.  After a month of dealing with antagonism and anger from folks, I asked people to stop voting on my question, which resulted in it dropping down to #13.  After a month of silence, the voting came down to the final days, and friends were eager to have me make a final push to get out the vote because they felt the question could possibly get into the #9 slot and get into the sermon series and book.  Little did we know,in a matter of three days the question moved from #13 to #1, taking in 10,000 votes in that short period of time (a total of 25,181 in all).  I must admit, it was a rather fun moment in the history of this little blog.

The reason I bring that saga nearly four years ago is because of the recent discussion between James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, and Perry Noble regarding Noble’s church singing the song “Highway to Hell” in their church service.  Here’s the video:

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Disciple-Making and Cultural Transformation

October 27, 2010

Below is a video of Kevin DeYoung, Greg Gilbert, and Ryan Kelly talking about the mission of the church.  DeYoung and Gilbert have a forthcoming book coming out on this subject, and it will certainly be one worth reading.

However, I think Doug Wilson is on to something about seeing things a little differently as it relates to the mission of disciple-making.  Wilson argues:

The commission is not to “make disciples” in our modern individualistic sense. That is included, and amen to it. But the commission as the Lord worded it says that we are to disciple the nations. To say that cultural transformation is not part of this is to completely overlook the direct object of that verb. We are to disciple the ethnoi, their hearts, souls, and minds, but also their court systems, and their film industries, and their politics, and their art studios, and their publishing industries. This certainly means discipling their citizens, and we start with that. But it is just the beginning.

If the point of this video is to start with personal evangelism, then absolutely. If the point is to head off those who want to have a bunch of missional stuff that by-passes gospel declaration, then great. But when we make individual disciples, and we move on to the institutional structures of their cultures and societies, we are not changing the subject. We are not moving on to another area. We are not abandoning the Great Commission. We are just getting started.

What do you think?  Is cultural transformation included in the work of making disciples (which is at the heart of the mission of the church)?

When Justification Is Marginalized

July 7, 2010

Check this powerful excerpt describing nominal Christianity evidenced when “the dynamic of justification” is marginalized:

“The ultimate concern of most church members is not the worship and service of Christ in evangelistic mission and social compassion, but rather survival and success in their secular vocation.  The church is a spoke on the wheel of life connected to a secular hub.  It is a departmental subconcern, not the organizing center of all other concerns.  Church members who have been conditioned all their lives to devote themselves to building their own kingdom and whose flesh naturally gravitates in that direction anyway find it hard to invest much energy in the kingdom of God.  They go to church once or twice a week and punch the clock, so to speak, fulfilling their ‘church obligation’ by sitting passively and listening critically or approvingly to the pastor’s teaching.

[ . . .] Since their understanding of justification is marginal or unreal–anchored not to Christ, but to some conversion experience in the past or to an imagined present state of goodness in their lives–they know little of the dynamic of justification.  Their understanding of sin focuses on behavioral externals which they can eliminate from their lives by a little will power and ignores the great submerged continents of pride, covetousness and hostility beneath the surface.  Thus their pharisaism defends them both against full involvement in the church’s mission and against full subjection of their inner lives to the authority of Christ.”

– Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, 204-05 (emphasis mine).

Jared Wilson on Under-Programming Church

April 28, 2010

10 excellent reasons to under-program your church from Jared Wilson. Check them out:

1. You can do a lot of things in a mediocre (or poor) way, or you can do a few things extremely well.
2. Over-programming creates an illusion of fruitfulness that may just be busy-ness.
3. Over-programming is a detriment to single-mindedness in a community.
4. Over-programming runs the risk of turning a church into a host of extracurricular activities, mirroring the “Type-A family” mode of suburban achievers.
5. Over-programming dilutes actual ministry effectiveness.
6. Over-programming leads to segmentation among ages, life stages, and affinities, which can create divisions in a church body.
7. Over-programming creates satisfaction in an illusion of success; meanwhile mission suffers.
8. Over-programming reduces margin in the lives of church members.
9. Over-programming gets a church further away from the New Testament vision of the local church.
10. Over-programming is usually the result of un-self-reflective reflex reactions to perceived needs and and an inability to kill sacred cows that are actually already dead.

Be sure to read his additional commentary on the points as well.  These points are so important to consider that I cannot recommend them highly enough. Seriously, one of the most basic ways of undergoing local church reformation is considering the ministry design and labor to “under-program” your church.

Nuts and Bolts of Sojourn Community Church

April 12, 2010

I have really enjoyed and been helped by these short videos by Sojourn Community Church wherein their lead pastor Daniel Montgomery shares some of the nuts and bolts of their ministry and community life.  I don’t think the series is completed (yet), but do check them out.

Also, if you are in Louisville for Together for the Gospel, you might want to check out the opportunities to connect with Sojourn’s leadership team while you are there.

Vision 101

Church 101

Gospel 101

Mission 101

Giving 101

For more videos of Sojourn Community Church, go here.

In Defense of Physical Community

February 2, 2010

As a follow-up to my post about technology and the absence of community, I want to direct you a a series of guest posts by Jake Johnson on Rethink Mission wherein he makes a good defense for physical community, contra “internet church.”  Here are the links:

–> In Defense of Physical Community – Part One
–> In Defense of Physical Community – Part Two
–> In Defense of Physical Community – Part Three
–> In Defense of Physical Community – Part Four

The Many Ways of Destroying the Church

December 17, 2009

D.A. Carson:

“The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful.  Raw factionalism will do it.  Rank heresy will do it.  Taking your eyes off the cross and letting other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it–admittedly more slowly than frank heresy, but just as effectively over the long haul.  Building the church with superficial ‘conversions’ and wonderful programs that rarely bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it.  Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love will build an assembling of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the living God.  Gossip, prayerlessness, bitterness, sustained biblical illiteracy, self-promotion, materialism–all of these things, and many more, can destroy a church.  And to do so is dangerous: ‘If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:17).  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

– D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 83-84.

Homogeneous Community vs. Gospel Community

October 21, 2009

One of the undercurrent movements of evangelical renewal in local churches has been the rise of missional communities.  These small communities are distinct from your typical home groups or small-groups because what unites them and defines them is a common mission.  I resonate with this kind of missiologically-informed structuring of the ekklesia scattered as those who have been sent.

Here at Grace, we have been transitioning to similar communities to have a broader and deeper impact in Southwest Florida.  Part of the developmental process has been to listen and learn from other churches who have embraced some form of small groups to foster community, whether it was life-on-life discipleship or a more incarnational lifestyle in engaging the community at large.

One of the things that has confused me about some of the philosophy behind leading models is how they are formed or constituted.  There are various filters that one can use to encourage members to participate in these groups.  What seems to be the leading filter has been for members to choose the groups according to what they have most in common (e.g, affinity-based).  So there would be the young married groups, elderly groups, ladies groups, mens groups, college groups, and so on.  These groups are shaped to bring the most homogeneity and thereby promise to be more effective and fruitful.

What I find troubling about this filter/model is twofold:

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Gospel Workshops – An Idea for Consideration

September 29, 2009

I have argued for several years now that the greatest need for our churches today is the recovery of the gospel.  Some people have concluded that what I mean by that is everyone embracing the doctrines of grace; however, a casual observer of my blog could able to discern that is not the case.  What I mean is understanding the functional centrality of the gospel and its sufficiency in every aspect of the church.

I have become more and more aware of this need when I talk to, for instance, seminary-trained Christian counselors who have never heard or been trained in how to apply the gospel to situations in life involving believers and conflict of any sort or a leadership style that reflects more of corporate one-upmanship rather than the gospel style of decreasing to serve others.  I have grown up in the county-seat First Baptist Church and heard how the gospel of Matthew was a how-to manual to overcome stress, worry, fear, and so on and also been in the seeker-sensitive megachurch where the stories are gripping but the gospel missing.  I have been in the smaller, more rural church where the preacher is excited and earnest as in the tradition of revivalism but the gospel is reduced to a few points and a prayer.  Reflecting and experiencing these realities have served to increase the burden in my heart for the gospel to be preached, lived, and result in truly transformed lives.

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