If you’re one of my faithful readers [thank you] you know that at one point, I was reading a book called Church Planter: the Man, the Message, the Mission and blogging incessantly about it. Around chapter 9 I stopped. I’ll explain myself – the first section demanded (at least of me) a lot of introspection and response as to where I was on the spectrum of being a man ready to plant a church. But once we hit the second and third sections, it became direct, deliberate truth [the first section was too] that didn’t really afford a lot of space for discussion or reflection – it was just true.
So consider this my reflection upon and review of Pastor Darrin Patrick’s (The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri, part of the Acts 29 Network) informative book.
[I’ll pick up with the second section entitled The Message.] All of my training has taken place in a church that is Christocentric in its approach. We are Christocentric because we believe that’s the only way to be – if our worship, our sermons, our sacraments, our discipleship, our small groups, tithing, missions, etc. aren’t done because of and for the Gospel, then they won’t have any transformational power. After all, Jesus said the whole Bible is about Him, and Christianity is named after Christ, so why wouldn’t every facet of it be about Him?
I could write a whole series of blogs about all the different avenues and just a few of the many ways in which people try to pull off Christianity that isn’t centered around Jesus, but for now [since it’s the subject of the book] I’ll talk about preaching.
It’s amazing how you can “preach” a “sermon” without Jesus in it at all. It’s done all over the country almost every Sunday morning. “Sermons” can become moral lessons or extractions of principles. We discuss things like thankfulness, prayer, the will of God, hearing God, loving God, loving people, discipleship, etc. without connecting them back to the reason for them – Jesus Christ. An alarming number of pulpits “preach” sin management without preaching the One who died to destroy the power of sin.
I’m fortunate (and I would tell you I’m spoiled) because every Sunday at my home church, I hear the Gospel. At some point, regardless of which passage of scripture is preached – from the Pentateuch to the minor prophets to the major prophets to the Gospels to the epistles – Jesus is proclaimed. And I’m not talking about “Jesus wants you to _____” or “Jesus tells us to ____.” I’m talking about the Gospel – evangelium – good news. A sermon, if it really is a sermon, should be a proclamation of the news of what God has done. There’s a difference between news and mobilization. To use an imperfect analogy, if I am tuning into the news in the evening and I hear that police have arrested a thief who’d pulled off a string of robberies, my response is to rest and rejoice in that – they did what they needed to do, and my neighborhood is safe. My response is not, “I need to go see about catching that robber.” That’s what the Gospel is – it’s news about what Jesus has already accomplished in human history, not principles of how we can achieve salvation. The response is to believe, not to do.
All that is to say that a few weeks ago, I visited another church for the first time in a while, and when I left, I was left trying to grasp what the preacher had talked about. The sermon was about the fact that Jesus is love. He preached out of John 5, when Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda. I remember hearing how some of us, like the man at the pool, feel sorry for ourselves and just want some attention, when Jesus is asking us the question, “do you want to be made well?” I remember little anecdotes about people across the country who are doing things because they love people. That’s all well and good, but if I’m a seeker who has never heard the gospel, what am I going to hold on to? Maybe my answer to “do you want to be made well” is yes – then what?
That’s what I remember not hearing.
[dear friends, bear with me, because I am unjustly critical of preachers at times, and I may sound snooty, which is not my intention. I just get frustrated when I don’t hear the gospel preacher.]
Here’s what I would have said: Jesus offered to make the man at the pool of Bethesda well, and He wants to make you well, too. How? Mankind has a sin problem. The world, since the fall, has been under the curse of sin. Bodies are broken. Relationships are strained. People sin. People make decisions that hurt others unjustly. We have a degree of goodness because we are made in God’s image, but we aren’t good. We need a savior, and that’s where Jesus Christ comes in. Jesus left the glory of heaven to come live with us – to have a body like yours or mine, but unlike us, He never sinned. But even though He was innocent, He was murdered like a criminal. That’s why He’s uniquely suited to be our Savior – because we didn’t deserve Him in the first place (after all, He’s God, and we are sinful men and women,) and not only that, but He was perfect, and not only that, but He died as though He were the worst of sinners! Because of that, you and I don’t have to receive what we really deserve – which is what Jesus got, and instead, we receive the favor that Jesus has from God the Father. That’s mercy, that’s grace, and that’s the good news!
But I didn’t hear that. I was left with this “nice” idea that Jesus was love, but no mention of the cross. How am I supposed to know how God loves me if there’s no substance?
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
1 John 3:16.
See that? Patrick articulates this so well – the indicative comes before the imperative. In other words, in Christianity today, we like to put what we should do before why we should do it, but that’s not the order of scripture. That verse served me for several purposes. First, it backs up my argument that the gospel should always be preached, because it’s Jesus life laid down for us that shows us what love really is. Second, it shows this order in scripture – indicative before imperative. That’s how we preach. When we preach, there is always to be a response, but it’s a response that should be based on the substance of the message – Christ.
I’ve become tangential in my review here, but I’ll try to tie it up by saying that Patrick writes about five things that the gospel is: historical, salvation-accomplishing (it saves people,) Christ-centered (it’s about Jesus,) sin-exposing, and idol-shattering. And reading this section, my heart shouted a resounding “YES!” Those are the attributes of the Gospel.
Section three – the Mission – gives legs to everything written before. Why does the church exist? Mission. To reveal the manifold wisdom of God to the cosmos (Ephesians 3:10) and since Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) that means that the church is to spread the gospel. That’s the mission. Section three outlines the reason behind mission (compassion, as Jesus had compassion and births it in us,) the vessel or house of mission (the church,) the context of mission (that is, contextualizing an unchanging gospel to a changing culture without compromising its truth) the “hands” of mission (how it happens, care) and the hope or reason behind our mission: to see cities and peoples transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ as declared in section two of the book.
I end with this quote which sums up the book perfectly –
Jesus is “the Man.” The ability for us to change into the men God has called us to be is dependent upon our surrender to the Man who has perfect character. All of what we hope for in the men who lead our churches is found in the perfect life of our Lord.
Jesus is “the Message.” The power for others to change is rooted in the gospel, which both rescues the sinner and grows the faint. All that we need to know, experience, and proclaim is found in the person and work of Christ.
Jesus is “the Mission.” The hope we have for this world to change is rooted in the resurrection, which both empowers the church to live and proclaim the gospel but also previews to the world how God makes all things new. Our only hope for a broken, jacked-up world is restoration, and our only hope for restoration is found in the One who forever conquered the radical effects of sin through His resurrection.
I’m really glad I picked up this book. I love Pastor Darrin’s writing style, as it isn’t littered with a ton of personal anecdotes [sometimes those seem a little boastful to me, and he does use them, but conservatively, which I personally appreciate] and is well-backed both by scripture as well as by other authors (at times I almost felt it was manufactured from other people’s thoughts, but I don’t think that’s completely fair, as I am also influenced by a lot of what I read and hear) so it doesn’t seem too harsh or too soft on the ears. It’s a great book not just for church planters (though I’d say especially for church planters) but for anyone who is a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s ignited my passion as one. Great book.