Small is Good: Communicating the Kingdom of God

The most dominant theme in the teaching of Jesus isn’t about hell, money, or even righteousness. It’s about the kingdom of God. Most other subjects, in fact, are presented in a “kingdom-type” of understanding. Jesus taught broadly about the kingdom of God; most of these specific subjects somehow fit under that umbrella.

The kingdom of God is grand. It’s big. It’s universal. It’s what epic tales of good and evil are all based on. A good and loving king faces a mutiny of His rule led by a devastatingly devious and crafty enemy. The supposedly deposed king has a plan to win back the affection and allegiance of His people. A brave champion is sent to do battle for the sake of, amazingly, the very rebels who spurned the loving authority of the king in the first place. This fight will cost Him His life, but in the end, He will be victorious.

The kingdom of God—that’s what all of history, and the entire universe, is about. In the kingdom of God, Jesus is acknowledged and prized for who He is. He is the King, and He lovingly reigns over everything.

That is a beautiful story full of hope, longing, and heroism. So how does one communicate a story like that?

With visual effects?
3D?
Poetry?
Or a symphony, perhaps?

God’s redemptive story certainly warrants all those things. In truth, we are not just talking about “a” story here; we are talking about “the” story. This is the story that defines ethereal concepts like love, courage, and sacrifice. It’s only because of this story that we even have the vaguest notions of what these words mean. This is the tale that gives every moment of our lives and the lives of everyone who has ever lived meaning and purpose.

Contrary to what we expect, Jesus shockingly describes the kingdom of God—something very, very big and very, very important—in terms of something very, very small and seemingly very, very insignificant:

“How can we illustrate the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to describe it? It’s like a mustard seed that, when sown in the soil, is smaller than all the seeds on the ground” (Mark 4:30-31).

Jesus says that the kingdom is like … a mustard seed. He literally could not have picked anything smaller for the audience of Palestinians. If Jesus were going to compare the kingdom of God to something, given its great scope and magnificent grandeur, we might expect Him to say, “The kingdom of heaven is like a tidal wave.” Or, “The kingdom of heaven is like an elephant.” You know – something substantial. Something with great mass that literally shakes the ground when it approaches. Something visible for miles and miles and miles.

Not a mustard seed.

And yet in this simple phrase, Jesus affirms every single one of us who have wondered if our small lives of quiet faithfulness actually matter. The answer is a resounding yes.

  • Does it matter that you spend your days trying to raise children who love the Lord and know how to live as salt and light in the world?
  • Does it matter if you go to work in a professional environment everyday in a suit and tie, where you earn money and provide for your family?
  • Does it matter if you faithfully plug away at the same tasks day in and day out, with only the occasional invasion of the extraordinary?

It does. It matters very much. According to Jesus, small things make a huge amount of difference. Small things are very significant when your perspective is right.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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VRcurator — 05/13/13 7:53 am

Thanks for your comment, Rick. Michael is a great writer - I hope you will check out some of his other works on his website, or take a look at his books.

Rick Duncan — 05/13/13 7:50 am

Beautiful. Inspiring. Thanks.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Is Your Children’s Ministry More Than Fun?

One of the hidden treasures that the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon, left the church was a little book titled Come Ye Children. In it, Spurgeon contended earnestly that one of the most important tasks given to a parent, teacher, or minister is teaching kids the gospel. Spurgeon writes:

There must be doctrine, solid, sound, gospel doctrine to constitute real feeding. When you have a joint on the table, then ring the dinner-bell; but the bell feeds nobody if no provender is served up. Getting children to meet in the morning and the afternoon is a waste of their steps and yours if you do not set before them soul-saving, soul sustaining truth. Feed the lambs; you need not pipe to them, nor put garlands round their necks; but do feed them.

As a parent, teacher, or minister, teaching your kids the gospel is the most important task you have. So, what is your plan? Just like kids grow physically in proportion to the food they eat and emotional support they receive, they grow spiritually in a similar manner. Are you intentionally feeding your kids the gospel? It is estimated that pastors have 104 hours a year with kids in their ministry, while parents have 8,736 hours a year.

By the end of 2014, will your kids know the gospel?

Help The Kids Understand The Gospel!

According to our kid’s team at LifeWay there are several foundational truths that should be established as the support structure of a child’s faith development—including God, Jesus, Bible, Creation, Family, Self, Church, Community and World, The Holy Spirit, and Salvation (These are charted out in Learning as They Grow). In other words, understanding these biblical concepts is vital to the spiritual development of the next generation. How are we doing with our children? Can our children answer questions such as:

  • What is sin?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • What did Jesus do?
  • Why do you and I need Jesus to save us?
  • How do we receive the salvation that Jesus offers?

It is important that we be careful with our precious children. We do not want to walk them into making a decision to follow Christ without an intentional plan for walking with them down the road of discipleship. Our ministry to children will be measured by disciples, not decisions. In the video below, Trevin Wax offers some practical suggestions on teaching your children the gospel.

TrevinWayGospelProjectforChildren

  1. Repetition is essential.
  2. Choose your language carefully.
  3. Don’t underestimate your kids’ understanding.

So, what are we teaching our children? Are we teaching morals, or the gospel? In that same little book, Spurgeon writes, “…the gospel produces the best morality in all the world.” As we teach our children the gospel, we teach them how to live as disciples.

Point The Kids To Jesus!

Trevin and I both serve as editors for The Gospel Project, a Christ-centered Bible study resource that presents the gospel story of redemption through every major Bible event. Our desire is that kids not only know all the Bible stories, but know the Bible story. We pray that kids would not see Jesus as part of the Bible story, but as the point of the Bible story. Not long ago we heard this story from a pastor in Oklahoma:

One night we were going over the story of Passover. It was such a natural transition to a gospel presentation that I was vibrating with excitement—they were going to hear a clear presentation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ! That night three kids gave their life to Jesus. The next week two more gave their lives to Jesus. The week after, those kids were bringing others to hear the gospel, and those kids were turning over their lives too.

No matter how you do it, or what material you use (unashamedly, I want you to use The Gospel Project) make sure you clearly and consistently communicate the good news of Jesus through your children’s ministry. Make sure you have an intentional plan to disciple your little ones. This is your most important task if you are a parent, teacher, or minister.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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lindaransonjacobs — 10/22/14 12:13 pm

A few years back I was leading a DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids) group at a church in NC. We were meeting in the spring and over Easter. The kids in our group had so much fun as they healed and connected with each other and when Easter came along I didn't hesitate to tell them the story of Easter. One little kindergartner was in our group. I didn't think he had listened to what was said but the next year when Easter rolled around he proceeded to tell his mother the entire Easter story. This was a family that didn't attend church. When his mom asked how he knew so much about the real Easter he said, "Miss Linda told us about it last year." Kids want to know the truth and they can handle hearing the gospel, especially hurting children of divorce. Thank you for validating what I believe. Linda Ranson Jacobs Blog.dc4k.org

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Preaching with Non-Believers in Mind: Learning from Andy Stanley and Tim Keller

Last year, I read Andy Stanley’s Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend and Tim Keller’s Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City  back to back. An odd combination, I know.

These two pastors come from different contexts (Atlanta vs. New York) and different theological streams (Baptistic non-denominational vs. confessional Presbyterian). What’s more, they approach ministry from different starting points, then employ different methods to achieve their purposes.

Despite all these differences, there is one thing Stanley and Keller agree on: preachers ought to be mindful of the unbelievers in their congregation.

Different Reasons for the Same Practice

Stanley and Keller may be worlds apart in terms of their theological vision for ministry, but they both maintain that a preacher should consider the unsaved, unchurched people in attendance.

This doesn’t mean we can’t find differences even in this area. For example, Stanley uses the terminology of “churched” and “unchurched” (which makes sense in the South), whereas Keller’s context leads him to terms like “believers” and “non-believers.”

Likewise, Stanley and Keller engage in similar practices from different vantage points. Stanley’s purpose for the weekend service is to create an atmosphere unchurched people love to attend. Keller believes evangelism and edification go together because believers and unbelievers alike need the gospel. He writes:

“Don’t just preach to your congregation for spiritual growth, assuming that everyone in attendance is a Christian; and don’t just preach the gospel evangelistically, thinking that Christians cannot grow from it. Evangelize as you edify, and edify as you evangelize.”

Whether you are closer to Stanley’s paradigm for ministry or Keller’s, you can benefit from a few suggestions for how to engage the lost people listening to you preach.

1. Acknowledge and welcome the non-believers in attendance.

Both Stanley and Keller mention the non-believers who are present. They go beyond a vague, quick welcome at the beginning of the service. Instead, these two pastors acknowledge that even though the non-believers may be uncomfortable, the church members are glad they are present. Here’s the way Stanley does it:

“If you are here for the first time and you don’t consider yourself a religious person, we are so glad you are here. Hang around here long enough and you will discover we aren’t all that religious either.”

“If you don’t consider yourself a Christian, or maybe you aren’t sure, you could not have picked a better weekend to join us.”

“If this is your first time in church or your first time in a long time, and you feel a little uncomfortable, relax. We don’t want anything from you. But we do want something for you. We want you to know the peace that comes from making peace with your heavenly Father.

“If this is your first time in church, or your first time in a long time, and you feel out of place because you think we are all good people and you are not so good, you need to know you are surrounded by people who have out-sinned you ten to one. Don’t let all these pretty faces fool you.”

Keller lets this kind of acknowledgement seep into his sermon preparation. He recommends the pastor address different groups directly, “showing that you know they are there, as though you are dialoguing with them.” Here’s an example:

“If you are committed to Christ, you may be thinking this – but the text answers that fear…”

“If you are not a Christian or not sure what you believe, then you surely must think this is narrow-minded – but the text says this, which speaks to this very issue…”

2. Assume the non-believers in attendance need help in approaching the Bible. 

For Stanley, this means explaining how to follow along with the biblical text for the sermon. It also means you teach about the Bible as you teach the Bible.

Here’s an example. Instead of saying “The Bible says…,” cite the authors instead. This way, you are giving information about who wrote the books of the Bible.

  • Option 1 – The Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead after being in the tomb for three days.
  • Option 2 – Matthew, an ex-tax collector who became one of Jesus’ followers, writes that Jesus rose from the dead and he claimed to have seen him. Not only that, Luke, a doctor who interviewed eyewitnesses, came to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. He was so convinced he gave up his practice and became a church planter…

Option 2 is better because it doesn’t assume people know everything about the Bible. We should “always start on the bottom rung of the ladder.”

Likewise, Keller suggests pastors think carefully about the audience’s premises. He writes:

“Don’t assume, for example, that everyone listening trusts the Bible. So when you make a point from the Bible, it will help to show that some other trusted authority (such as empirical science) agrees with the Bible.”

While Keller’s approach is not fundamentally geared toward seekers, he still commends a seeker-comprehensible approach to worship that carefully explains the elements of the worship service.

  • Seek to worship and preach in the vernacular.
  • Explain the service as you go along.
  • Directly address and welcome nonbelievers.
  • Consider using highly skilled arts in worship.
  • Celebrate deeds of mercy and justice.
  • Present the sacraments so as to make the gospel clear.
  • Preach grace.

3. Challenge non-believers to engage the Bible by acknowledging the oddity of Christian belief and practice.

Keller believes that proper contextualization will cause the preacher to consider the way the message will fall on the ears of those in attendance. He writes:

“We must preach each passage with the particular objections of that people group firmly in mind.”

Hence, the use of “apologetic sidebars” in the sermon. Keller’s approach is to devote one of the three or four sermon points mainly to the doubts and concerns of nonbelievers.

Stanley makes a similar point:

“As a general rule, say what you suspect unbelievers are thinking. When you do, it gives you credibility. And it gives them space.”

When dealing with stringent moral commands in Scripture, Stanley will say things like:

“Today’s text may make you glad you aren’t a Christian! You may put it off indefinitely after today.”

He claims that whenever you give non-Christians an “out,” they often respond by leaning in.

Stanley uses humor as a way of disarming the audience and pushing them to engage the Bible on their own. In seeking to demolish their excuses, he will say things like, “You don’t have to believe it’s inspired to read it.” Or “You should read the Bible so you will have more moral authority when you tell people you don’t believe it.”

Likewise Keller recommends acknowledging common objections and treating the skeptics with dignity:

“Always show respect and empathy, even when you are challenging and critiquing, saying things such as, ‘I know many of you will find this disturbing.’ Show that you understand. Be the kind of person about whom people conclude that, even if they disagree with you, you are someone they can approach about such matters.”

4. Use cultural commonalities to point out worldview inconsistencies.

Keller recommends that all pastors look for two kinds of beliefs:

  • “A” beliefs – beliefs people already hold that, because of God’s common grace, roughly correspond to some parts of biblical teaching.
  • “B” beliefs – what may be called “defeater” beliefs – beliefs of the culture that lead listeners to find some Christian doctrines implausible or overtly offensive.

He explains why this is important:

One of the reasons we should take great care to affirm the “A” beliefs and doctrines is that they will become the premises, the jumping-off points, for challenging the culture… Our premises must be drawn wholly from the Bible, yet we will always find some things in a culture’s beliefs that are roughly true, things on which we can build our critique. We reveal inconsistencies in the cultural beliefs and assumptions about reality. With the authority of the Bible we allow one part of the culture – along with the Bible – to critique another part.

Conclusion

There’s no denying the significant differences between Andy Stanley and Tim Keller when it comes to theology and ministry. But we can learn from them both in how to respectfully engage the unsaved people in our midst. Keller is right:

We must avoid turning off listeners because we are cultural offensive rather than the gospel… On the other hand, our message and teaching must not eliminate the offense, the skandalon, of the cross. Proper contextualization means causing the right scandal – the one the gospel poses to all sinners – and removing all unnecessary ones.

Read more from Trevin here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Learning to Listen to the Whole Counsel of God

What does Jesus want to say to the church in the West? To the church in North America? To the church in the South, or in New England, or in the Midwest? What does Jesus want to say to your church?

That all depends: what is your church like? Where are you strong? Where are you weak? We live in a big country with hundreds of thousands of churches. If you think the issue out there is too much law, you’d be right. If you think the issue is cheap grace, you’d be right about that too. Jesus wouldn’t say just one thing to the church in this country–let alone in the West or in the world–because the church in this country is diffuse and diverse.

If Jesus had seven different letters for the churches in Asia Minor, I imagine he’d have more than one thing to say to the churches in North America.

Ephesus was your listless, loveless church. They were orthodox, moral, and hard working.  But they weren’t concerned about the lost and may not have been too concerned about each other. They were doctrinally sound, naval-gazers. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Love.”

Smyrna was your persecuted, 10-40 window church. They were afflicted, slandered, and impoverished. But they were spiritually rich. They were vibrant, but fearful. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Be faithful.”

Pergamum was your ungrounded, youth-infused church. They were faithful, passionate witnesses. But they had compromised with the world and accommodated to their sexually immoral and idolatrous culture. They were missional, but misguided. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Discern.”

Thyatira was your warm-hearted, liberal church. They were strong in compassion, service, and perseverance. But they undervalued doctrinal fidelity and moral purity. They were loving, but over-tolerant. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Think.”

Sardis was your flashy and successful, but ultimately shallow megachurch. They were like your big Bible-belt churches chocked full with nominal Christians. They had a great reputation. But in reality, they were spiritually dead. They were the church of the white-washed tombs. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Wake up.”

Philadelphia was your small, storefront, urban church. They felt weak and unimpressive. But they had kept the word of God and not denied his name. They were a struggling, strong church.  To them and to us, Jesus says, “Press on.”

Laodicea was your ritzy, influential church out in the leafy part of town. They thought they had it all together. But they were as spiritually poor as they were materially rich. The church was filled with affluence and apathy. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Be earnest.”

We all tend to see certain errors more clearly than others. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we see our own dangers most clearly and don’t presume that every church has the same problems. We must pay attention to the whole counsel of God. We need to study all of it and preach from all of it, not just the stuff that hits our sweet spot. God has a word for all of us—if we are willing to look hard enough and willing to listen.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin DeYoung

I am the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church(RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. I’ve been the pastor there since 2004. I was born in Chicagoland, but grew up mostly in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. I root for da Bears, da Bulls, da Blackhawks, the White Sox, and the Spartans. I have been married to Trisha since January 2002. We live in East Lansing and have five young children.

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Clarity Process

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7 Ways of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

No pastor wants his preaching to be considered “Christ-less” or something other than “Christ-centered.” Still, it is sometimes difficult to understand what exactly is meant by this kind of terminology. Likewise, no pastor wants to “read into” the text something that is not there.

In the initial chapter of his book, Preaching Christ from Genesis, Sidney Griedanus lays out seven ways that a preacher can legitimately preach Christ from the Old Testament. I’ve adapted the examples for each category in order to keep the focus on how there are multiple ways to preach Christ from an Old Testament account (such as Noah).

1. Redemptive-Historical Progression

The redemptive-historical road to Christ is the “broadest and foundational path from an Old Testament text to Jesus Christ” (3). It takes into consideration the history of redemption which begins with the opening chapters of Genesis and culminates in the vision of a restored paradise in Revelation. This journey from creation to new creation takes us down a path of redemptive history in God’s acts in Israel, through Christ, and then through the church. We take into consideration the place we are in the biblical storyline and then look forward to the climax of Christ’s death and resurrection.

An example would be the story of Noah. More than a simple story of warning against judgment, it is also a continuation of the Genesis plotline, where the seed of the woman must avenge the heel of the serpent. God’s preservation of Noah is the way He keeps His promises, and we anticipate the coming of the Seed – Jesus Christ in His first coming and then His second.

2. Promise-Fulfillment

The “promise-fulfillment” motif is a direct road to Christ from an Old Testament text. The New Testament reveals hundreds of passages that promise the coming Messiah. A preacher who utilizes this approach will take a direct road from the Old Testament promise to the New Testament’s fulfillment.

An example is Genesis 3:15, where God promises that one of Eve’s offspring will crush the head of the serpent. Another example is Isaiah 9:6, where God promises that a virgin will bring forth a son whose name will be called Emmanuel. From the New Testament, we recognize this as being ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

3. Typology

Another way of preaching Christ from the Old Testament is through the careful use of typology, seeing Old Testament events, persons, or institutions as foreshadowing Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.

For example, one finds parallels with the story of Noah. Here, we have a righteous man whose family is saved due to his standing with God. In a similar manner, Jesus Christ is the righteous One whose family is saved due to His obedience.

One must take care to not flatten the Old Testament stories that foreshadow Christ by making all details align. But there are indeed hints and foretastes of Christ in the Old Testament, and a wise preacher will make use of them in his preaching. (Here are some examples of how famous Southern Baptist pastor W. A. Criswell and others have done this with the story of Joseph.)

4. Analogy

Another road to Christ from the Old Testament is by analogy. According to Griedanus, “analogy exposes parallels between what God taught Israel and what Christ teaches the church; what God promised Israel and what Christ promises the church; what God demanded of Israel (the law) and what Christ demands of his church” (5).

This approach uses God’s interactions in the Old Testament as a picture that has further application for us today. Jesus used this method when He told the story of Noah as an analogy (Matthew 24:37-41), urging people to repent and thereby escape the coming judgment.

5. Longitudinal Themes

A fifth road to Christ from the Old Testament is similar to the “redemptive-historical” method, but it focuses mainly on the development of theological ideas. These are “longitudinal themes” because they can be traced throughout the biblical storyline, and they develop over time as they culminate in Christ.

Examples of these themes would be God’s kingdom (brought ultimately by Jesus Christ the King), God’s presence (foreshadowed in the Temple but fulfilled in Christ’s incarnation), and God’s judgment (seen in God’s actions against sin, but also His willingness to bring salvation through judgment).

Returning to the story of Noah, we can trace the theme of God’s judgment, understanding that the judgment that falls on the wicked (the flood) is the means of salvation for Noah and his family (1 Peter 3:21). This theme is most clearly seen in the cross, when salvation comes to us through the judgment of God that falls upon Christ.

6. New Testament references

Another road to Christ is found in New Testament references or allusions from the Old Testament. Most often, these references can be used as further evidence of the other ways of pointing to Christ.

Going back to the story of Noah, we could see an allusion to Noah’s faith as referenced in Hebrews 11:7. This reference gives us insight into the nature of true faith in the face of judgment, reminding us of the faith we are to have in Christ for salvation.

7. Contrast

The last road in Griedanus’ taxonomy of ways to preach Christ from the Old Testament is the way of contrast. There are aspects of biblical teaching that are quite different today as a result of Christ’s coming. Griedanus uses the example of circumcision. In the Old Testament, circumcision was required of every adult male. In the New Testament, baptism has become the sign of covenant membership. What is now required is “circumcision of the heart” which is brought about through Christ’s death and resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
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— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Conscious Culture

The missional visionary is also a cultural architect. One of the basic foundation principles of Church Unique is the assertion that each church has a unique culture. While walking through the Vision Pathway, we emphasize the importance of close observation and listening in order to better understand the surrounding culture, and of unlocking the past in order to unleash the future. The leader shapes the culture with the Vision Frame, informed by the Kingdom Concept. Transforming the future is made possible because the cultural perspective is held in conscious view.

The starting point of developing a conscious culture is contained in the following three principles.

First, remember that the Scriptures reveal God’s signature.

Whatever the leader draws attention to and rallies support for, he must show the signature of God behind the appeal. The Vision Frame must be squarely and repeatedly illuminates with God’s Word. The visionary must always point back to the Original Visioneer .

Look for the passages that fuel your passion, enlarge your own vision, inform your values, and distinguish your strength as a church. Master the exposition of these texts. Then look for opportunities to ooze the vision through the pages of Scripture everywhere you go. Whenever and wherever the vision speaks, your job is to make sure God’s voice is heard.

Second, use your congregation’s folklore to tell the story.

The leader who shapes culture understands that not all stories are created equal. Folklore is a special class of story – stories that speak so fundamentally and clearly to the church’s vision that they have to be told, retold, and told again.

Life is narrative. As humans, we are hardwired to live from and respond to the stories of our lives. Story is an indispensable tool for communicating on a heart-to-heart level; for communicating things like values, passion, convictions, history and vision.

All preachers are familiar with story as either an illustrative tool or message construct for the preaching event. But it is also important to view storytelling on a broader level as a tool for creating culture. Creating culture requires the identification and development of special stories or folklore that serve as foundations, identity-shaping stories within the leadership culture. The texture and color of the culture is then pained artistically by the telling and retelling of these stories.

Finally, understand that symbols mark defining moments.

A symbol is a visible sign of something invisible. The term literally contains the idea of “throwing together” – associating something intangible with something concrete. A lion for example, is a concrete and visible way of representing the invisible, intangible idea of courage. For the leader, expression of old familiar symbols and creation of new ones can shape a culture.

One of the reasons new symbols are so important is that they cultivate a shared memory. As your vision unfolds and you see God’s work, let the use of symbols mark the moment and foster a shared memory. This memory glues the community together and multiplies the values defined by the memory.

As the leader lives the vision and speaks into the church’s culture, symbols – visible signs and symbolic acts – become powerful tools. What is the most important symbol? Does the identifying mark of your church open a door to tell a story.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of VisionRoom.com and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

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Better Worship Requires Better Theology: How to Increase Joy, Fidelity, and Intensity in Worship

“How do I help people engage in worship?”

I know of few church leaders for whom this isn’t a concern on some level. Whether we’re small group leaders, playing in the praise band or the senior leaders, we all want to see the men and women in our churches increasingly engaged in worship (in every sense of the word).

So… how do we do that?

Is it through turning up the speakers? Singing songs with lots of participation, clapping and suggested actions in the lyrics?

D.A. Carson offers a pretty different suggestion in his recently released book, Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed:

We increase the intensity, joy, and fidelity of our worship, not by including the verb “to worship” in every second line in our so-called “worship songs,” but by knowing more about God, and bringing our adoration to him, as he is.

Insofar as our conceptions of him diverge from what he has disclosed of himself, so far are we worshiping a false god, which is normally called idolatry. To study hard what holy Scripture says about the Son of God, who has most comprehensively revealed his heavenly Father, is to know more about God, and thus to begin to ground our worship in reality rather than slogans. (Kindle location 1204)

Carson’s point is simple: better worship requires better theology.

It seems counterintuitive. Indeed, some have suggested it’s simplicity, rather than complexity, that increases the intensity of worship. You often see this argument used in connection with battles over hymns in modern worship services.

The language is unfamiliar (unless the lyrics have been updated) and the theology expressed is too complex for the average Christian, or so go some arguments (never mind that the audience for many of the hymns we still widely sing today was illiterate farmers).

True, many (but certainly not all) of the hymns are anything but simple. But, then, neither are many of the preeminent examples of songs of worship found in the Psalms and throughout the rest of Scripture. They communicate profoundly deep—and often complex—truths about God.

At the risk of overstating, I would suggest the objection many have today about complexity in worship is not because “simple” is better. It’s that we are too ill-equipped to handle much more than the most basic truths of Scripture.

While we must always be careful that we don’t succumb to sinful intellectual elitism, we can’t ignore the way God appears to have wired the Christian faith—increased knowledge and understanding of God leads to increased worship.

Depth begets awe.

This is (at least in part) the desire that is to fuel our disciple-making, as Paul’s prayer for the Colossians makes clear. Maybe it should be our prayer, too:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share inthe inheritance of the saints in light. (Col 1:9-12)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Armstrong

Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty (Cruciform Press, 2011). He is a writer, serves as an itinerant preacher throughout southern Ontario, Canada, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.

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When Does Knowledge Equal Spiritual Growth?

Evangelicals have a love-hate relationship with knowledge, it seems. Many churches seem to be so embarrassingly anti-intellectual that it seems if you enjoy books, you may finding yourself looking for a new church.

There seems to be a great fear of having a swelled, puffed up head (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1), and with good reason—too many of us have made the error of putting too much stock in head knowledge that doesn’t move to the heart. Too often we take someone’s knowledge of Scripture and Christian theology as evidence of their spiritual maturity.

But where we go too far is when we assume that seeking knowledge is a bad thing.

In fact, knowledge should be a great concern of all Christians. We’re to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:3). Our love is to be informed by “knowledge and all discernment” (Phil 1:9). Paul connects salvation with knowledge—a coming “to a knowledge of the truth” (2 TIm. 2:25).

He even prays that the Colossians will be filled with knowledge in Col. 1:9-10:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

So does growth in knowledge mean spiritual growth? Anthony Hoekema puts it well:

The answer depends on what one means by knowledge. If it is mere abstract, intellectual knowledge, mere rote-memory knowledge, mere “Bible Trivia” knowledge, not necessarily. Paul  in fact, talks about a type of knowledge that “puffs up,” but does not build up (1 Cor. 8:1). But if growth in knowledge means growth in understanding what Christ has done for us, what the Spirit is doing in us, and what God wants us to do for him and to be for him, then growth in knowledge is bound to bring spiritual growth. This is the type of knowledge Peter has in mind when he enjoins his readers, in 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 142 (Westminster | Amazon)

We are right to take little stock in knowledge that fills the head but doesn’t transform the heart. But we should always rejoice as believers grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Armstrong

Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty (Cruciform Press, 2011). He is a writer, serves as an itinerant preacher throughout southern Ontario, Canada, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.

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Spiritual Malnourishment: When the Sheep Won’t Feed Themselves

One of the greatest critiques of the American Church today is that it’s malnourished. Some would even say it’s our most pressing problem.

When most people voice this complaint, the focus is on the worship experience. From people who leave these churches, you hear, “I wasn’t getting fed.” Or, “I just want some deeper teaching.” From people outside these churches you hear, “too much milk, not enough meat.”

In some cases, I’m sure this is true. But I really don’t think that’s the real problem. Yes, American Christians are malnourished. But I don’t believe it has anything to do with milk or meat.

Most American Christians aren’t malnourished because of what they’re getting fed on Sunday. They’re malnourished because they don’t feed themselves Monday through Saturday.

So you had filet mignon on Sunday and learned about the mystical union of Christ and the church as it relates to the rapture and the design of the tabernacle in relation to Levitical dietary laws as understood by the Council of Trent. Good for you. Have fun starving yourself the rest of the week and letting your pastor read the Bible so you don’t have to.

So you had some milk on Sunday and learned 37 ways to ________. Have fun having 37 new ways to not obey God during the coming week.

The crisis facing the church today isn’t what people are getting fed on Sundays. It’s what they’re not feeding themselves the rest of the days. Who really cares whether you consume meat or milk on Sunday if it’s the only meal you have all week?

I’m not saying this to get pastors and churches off the hook. It is the shepherd’s job to feed the sheep (John 21). And feed them well based on their needs and faith development. But it’s also the sheep’s job to eat:
13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:13-14

Here’s the point. Churches: we have a responsibility. We should serve up the Word, hot and fresh every single Sunday. As church leaders, it is our job to create and sustain processes and systems that responsibly enable people to grow in their faith after receiving Christ.

People in our churches: you also have a responsibility. If you refuse to study the Word, apply it, pray some during the week, join a small group and dig deeper with others, there’s not much we can do to help you. Your malnourishment won’t be cured by anything we give you on Sunday.

So are you an infant and need milk? Drink it for now, but the only way you’re getting more mature and will be ready for meat is by training yourself. Constantly. Do you want meat? From these verses, it seems like meat is doing the milk. On your own. Constantly.

Not getting it served to you once a week.

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Steven Furtick

Steven Furtick

Pastor Steven Furtick is the lead pastor of Elevation Church. He and his wife, Holly, founded Elevation in 2006 with seven other families. Pastor Steven holds a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the New York Times Best Selling author of Crash the Chatterbox, Greater, and Sun Stand Still. Pastor Steven and Holly live in the Charlotte area with their two sons, Elijah and Graham, and daughter, Abbey.

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Conquered by the Text: Make Sure God’s Voice is Heard

I don’t know how many times it’s happened. I pick a text as the basis for a sermon. I think I know what the text is going to say, but as I study I find out that the text isn’t interested in conforming to my ideas. The wrestling match begins.

There are only three outcomes to this wrestling match.

First, I can try to pin the text down and control it. This has simply never worked. The text is simply too powerful for me, and I’m always overmatched. (A lot of sermons are preached that don’t say what the text says, but never because the preacher has conquered the text. The preacher can only slither away from the fight and pose as the winner, but we all know the truth.)

Second, I can look for a new text. I’ve done this, but the new text confronts me with the same problem. I just end up in a new wrestling match, but with less time. You can spend the entire week looking for a text you can control, and still end up in the fight of your life.

Third, the text wins. I’ll wrestle the text. I’ll stick with it long enough and maybe even think I’m winning. But eventually the text will overpower me and pin me down. I’ll stand up and preach that Sunday a bit battered, as one who has been conquered by the text.

The third outcome is the only one that produces sermons worth preaching, or sermons worth hearing. We must be conquered by the text.

My prayer every week is this: Let the text win.

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Darryl Dash

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VRcurator — 03/11/13 5:29 am

I'm glad you found them helpful!

LARRY — 03/09/13 2:39 pm

As I have just wrestled with a text all week, these words were a blessing

Recent Comments
Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
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The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.