Gospel Centrality: A Vital Kingdom Mindset

In Ray Anderson’s book, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches, he writes,

In so many places right polity takes precedence over the gospel. Violation of polity may be our modern form of heresy.
[Ray S. Anderson, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches (Downers Grove, IVP Books: 2006), 78.]

In my off day reading, I enjoy reading different theological works, biographies, practical ministry helps, and a variety of other material. But I am always drawn to theology, and in particular, theology in practice.

When I came across this thought I was struck at both its truth and the inherent danger of which us are at risk. First, the statement is true. I personally have experienced it in churches. The way a church functions, the way things have always been done, seem to be an unbreachable barrier to growth and change. We are creatures of habit, to be sure. But we must not allow the comforts of our habits to prevent us from changing and growing. And certainly we should not change simply for change’s sake. Our changes must be one of calculated research, drawing from Scripture and tradition to make positive changes in the lives of our churches.

Secondly, we must always be careful to watch our own lives for this danger. In working with other churches and denominations (which is Scripturally good and commanded) we run the risk of avoiding certain people, groups, or even whole denominations simply for the fact that they do church a little differently than us.

In our efforts to see the Kingdom of God continue to grow in our lives and communities, let us not let polity (or whatever else may come in the way) take precedence over the gospel.

Discernment: A Vital Gift

A tree is one of the most beautiful aspects of creation. There is one stem, one trunk, and then there are so many branches and leaves. Each leaf is unique, a incredible work of art. The tree can teach us much. The lesson I want to learn today, however, is that of unity.

Donald Bloesch, a scholar and theologian, writes, “….Christians sorely need the gift of discernment to make the proper evaluations.” [Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts, 145.] He is dealing with different variations within Christendom that view the Spirit in diverse ways. 
His comment is so vital for today. There are so many variations, so many denominations, so many view points. Which one is correct? Which one is wrong? The spirit of discernment, mentioned in 1 Corinthins 12.10, needs to be exercised today. We need to discern, to judge in order to determine which view is correct and which view is not.

Another point Bloesch makes is to differentiate between heterodoxy and heresy. He defines the two, “Heterodoxy signifies the elevation of what is peripheral over what is essential in the faith, while heresy leads to a denial of what is essential.” [Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts, 145.] It is imperative that, in Christendom, we learn to do this. Is it difficult? Yes. Will it be messy? Of course. But if we are to follow Christ, then we are to seek unity. Harmony, oneness, and “a complex or systematic whole” are words and phrases that describe what we should be seeking.

Too often we make peripheral issues the main focus and lay aside essentials.

I end with these words from the Messiah, and pray that believers may be one, אחד, a God-glorifying harmony.

John 17.20-23

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Evaluating Malphurs…

*The below article was a post on evaluating Aubrey Malphurs’ book Advanced Strategic Planning. It has been left in its unaltered state, but covers Malphurs’ contribution to a specific aspect of strategic planning, that of researching the church and the community. I hope it may be helpful to my fellow ministers and seminarians.

 

The most influential aspect of the reading requirements for the class for the author of this post was the questions to ask about the church congregation as well as the community. The first step Malphurs suggest accomplishing is that of understanding the church’s boundaries. He recommends understanding how many members live within twenty minutes as this will indicate 40% of your membership. (Malphurs, 2013: 179-180)

The next beneficial aspect of this that the author found most helpful is that of the specific questions. Malphurs breaks it down into community questions (Malphurs, 2013:181-184) and congregation questions. (Malphurs, 2013: 184-186) This information is incredibly beneficial as it provides a better understanding of the community to be reached as well as the members who will do the reaching. Gary McIntosh, a church growth guru, writes, “Often well-intentioned churches make mistakes that keep them from experiencing biblical church growth, and one of the major mistakes is to fail to do adequate research to understand the people they are seeking to reach with the Gospel.” (McIntosh, 2003: 136-137) McIntosh really aptly describes the problems of most churches’ evangelistic efforts. The research aspect is a necessary aspect of planning for outreach, and Malphurs provides the church with a good head start for questions. Of course other information could be added or subtracted, depending on the specific outreach plans of the church. However, the questions offered by Malphurs also produces excellent results for a focused effort of evangelism.

Besides reaching the community the church’s function is to teach and make disciples. This involves the members of one’s church and their own spiritual growth and development. Unfortunately many churches fail to adequately train and raise up volunteers and so the few that do contribute often experience burn out. (Marshall and Payne, 2009:13-14) Understanding who makes up the congregation will enable the leadership to focus on training specific people with regards to their own unique and diverse backgrounds and cultural influences. In order to be more effective in the outreach of the community it is necessary to build up the people within the church. Marshall and Payne describe this, writing, “If we want our strategy to be people-focused, we should concentrated on training, which increases the number and effectiveness of gospel communicators (i.e. people who can speak the good news both in personal conversations and in public settings).” (Marshall and Payne, 2009: 19) Thus, understanding who is in one’s church will enable the church leadership team to more effectively train the individual members.  Marshall and Payne offer a chart that enables leadership to plug members into sections to determine the spiritual maturity of each one. (Marshall and Payne, 2009: 110) With the understanding that this list is a general idea rather than specific information, the leadership team can take the information garnished through the research and then handpick one another for more specific development.

The combination of understanding the community and the congregation will enable the church to make disciples and thus fulfill the Great Commission. Malphurs’ contributions to this area of church theology and practice will prove, in the estimation of this author, to be of unrivaled benefit for generations to come.

Gary L. McIntosh, Biblical Church Growth: How You Can Work with God to Build a Faithful Church (Grand Rapids, Bakerbooks: 2003)

Aubrey Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning: A 21st Century Model for Church and Ministry Leaders (Grand Rapids, Bakerbooks: 2013)

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything (Kingsford, Matthias Media: 2009)