1-Preaching to young secular adults
Preaching is compelling to young secular adults not if preachers use video clips from their favorite movies and dress informally and sound sophisticated, but if the preachers understand their hearts and culture so well that the listeners feel the force of the sermon’s reasoning even if in the end they don’t agree with it. This is not a matter of style or program. p. 15
2-Different ways to present the gospel
If we conceive the question in the first, more individualistic way, we explain how a sinful human being can be reconciled to a holy God and how his or her life can be changed as a result. It is a message about individuals. The answer can be outlined: Who God is, what sin is, who Christ is and what he did, and what faith is. These are basically propositions. If we conceive of the question in the second way, to ask all that God is going to accomplish in history, we explain where the world came from, what went wrong with it, and what must happen for it to be mended. This is a message about the world. The answer can be outlined: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. These are chapters in a plotline, a story.
As we will see in the next chapter, there is no single way to present the biblical gospel. Yet I urge you to be as thoughtful as possible in your gospel presentations. The danger in answering only the first question (“What must I do to be saved?”) without the second (“What hope is there for the world?”) is that, standing alone, the first can play into the Western idea that religion exists to provide spiritual goods that meet individual spiritual needs for freedom from guilt and bondage. It does not speak much about the goodness of the original creation or of God’s concern for the material world, and so this conception may set up the listener to see Christianity as sheer escape from the world. But the danger in conceiving too strictly as story line of the renewal of the world is even greater. It tells listeners about God’s program to save the world, but it does not tell them how to actually get right with God and become part of that program.” p. 32
There is always a danger that church leaders and ministers will conceive of the gospel as merely the minimum standard of doctrinal belief for being a Christian believer. As a result, many preachers and leaders are energized by thoughts of teaching more advanced doctrine, or of deeper forms of spirituality, or of intentional community and the sacraments, or of “deeper discipleship”, or of psychological healing, or of social justice and cultural engagement. One of the reasons is the natural emergence of specialization as a church grows and ages. People naturally want to go deeper into various topics and ministry disciplines. But this tendency can cause us to lose sight of the whole. Though we may have an area or a ministry that we tend to focus on, the gospel is what brings unity to all that we do. Every form of ministry is empowered by the gospel, based on the gospel, and is a result of the gospel. p. 36
4-What in the world do we mean when we say “Center Church”?
A church that truly understands the implications of the biblical gospel, letting the “word of God dwell in it richly” (Col 3:16), will look like an unusual hybrid of various church forms and stereotypes. Because of the inside-out, substitutionary atonement aspect, the church will place great emphasis on personal conversion, experiential grace renewal, evangelism, outreach, and church planting. This makes it look like and evangelical-charismatic church. Because of the upside-down, kingdom/incarnation aspect, the church will placed great emphasis on deep community, cell groups or house churches, radical giving and sharing of resources, spiritual disciplines, racial reconciliation, and living with the poor. This makes it look like as Anabaptist “peace” church. Because of the forward-back, kingdom/restoration aspect, the church will place great emphasis on seeking the welfare of the city, neighborhood and civic involvement, cultural engagement, and training people to work in “secular” vocations out of a Christian worldview. This makes it look like a mainline church or, perhaps, a Kuyperian Reformed church. Very few churches, denominations, or movements integrate all of these ministries or emphases. Yet I believe that a comprehensive view of the biblical gospel-one that grasps the gospel’s inside-out, upside-down, and forward-back aspects-will champion and cultivate them all. This is what we mean by a Center Church. p. 48
5-Most of our problems in life come from…
Most of our problems in life come from a lack of proper orientation to the gospel. Pathologies in the church and sinful patterns in our individual lives ultimately stem from a failure to think through the deep implications of the gospel and to grasp and believe the gospel through and through. Put positively, the gospel transforms our hearts and our thinking and changes our approaches to absolutely everything. When the gospel is expounded and applied in its fullness in any church, that church will look unique. People will find in it an attractive, electrifying balance of moral conviction and compassion. p. 51
6-Churches, over time, tend to lose sight of the uniqueness of the gospel
Over time, all churches, no matter how sound their theology, tend to lose sight of the uniqueness of the gospel and fall into practices that conform more to other religions or to irreligion. Their doctrinal instruction loses sight of how each doctrine plays a role in the gospel message, and their moral instruction is not grounded in and motivated by the finished work and grace of Christ. The leaders of the church must always be bringing the gospel to bear on people’s minds and hearts so that they see it as not just a set of beliefs but as the power that changes us profoundly and continually. Without this kind of application of the gospel, mere teaching, preaching, baptizing, and catechizing are not sufficient. p. 54
7-How to spot an idol
A sure sign of the presence of idolatry is inordinate anxiety, anger, or discouragement when our idols are thwarted. So if we lose a good thing, it makes us sad, but if we lose an idol, it devastates us. p. 70
8-Doctrinally correct but self-righteous
But it is possible to subscribe to every orthodox doctrine and nevertheless fail to communicate the gospel to people’s hearts in a way that brings about repentance, joy, and spiritual growth. One way this happens is through dead orthodoxy, in which such pride grows in our doctrinal correctness that sound teaching and right church practice become a kind of works righteousness. Carefulness in doctrine and life is, of course, critical, but when it is accompanied in a church by self-righteousness, mockery, disdain of everyone else, and a contentious combative attitude, it shows that, while the doctrine of justification may be believed, a strong spirit of legalism reigns nonetheless. The doctrine has failed to touch hearts. p. 73-74
9-Jesus is the main point of every text
The main way to avoid moralistic preaching is to be sure that you always preach Jesus as the ultimate point and message of every text. If you don’t point listeners to Jesus before the end of the sermon, you will give them the impression that the sermon is basically about them-about what they must do. However, we know from texts such as Luke 24:13-49 that Jesus understood every part of the Bible as pointing to him and his saving work. This is not to suggest that the author of every biblical passage intentionally made references to Jesus but that if you put any text into its full, canonical context, it is quite possible to discern the lines that point forward to Christ. p. 77
10-How does revival occur?
Revival occurs as a group of people who, on the whole, think they already know the gospel discover that they do not really or fully know it, and by embracing the gospel they cross over into living faith. When this happens in any extensive way, an enormous release of energy occurs. p. 79
11-Ministry in the suburbs or city? Which is more important?
I have made as strenuous a case as I can that the city is one of the highest priorities for Christian life and mission in the twenty-first century. Now I want to press even further. These chapters on City Vision may have given you the idea that I think that all Christians should move into cities and serve there. To be clear, this is not what I am saying. I believe that there must be Christians and churches everywhere there are people. In one sense, there are not little places or people. God loves to use unimportant people (1 Cor 1:26-31) and unlikely places (John 1:46) to do his work. Jesus wasn’t from Rome or even Jerusalem but was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth-perhaps to make this very point. We have been told that now something like 50 percent of the world’s population live in cities-but that means that half the population does not live in urban areas, and therefore we must not discourage or devalue gospel ministry in the hundreds and thousands of towns and villages on earth. And ministry in small towns may not change a country, but it surely can have a major impact on its region. p. 166
12-Integration of faith and work
Traditional evangelical churches tend to emphasize personal piety and rarely help believers understand how to maintain and apply their Christian beliefs and practice in the worlds of arts, business, scholarship, and government. Many churches do not know how to disciple members without essentially pulling them out of their vocations and inviting them to become heavily involved in church activities. In other words, Christian discipleship is interpreted as consisting largely of activities done in the evening or on the weekend. p. 175-176
13-Politics and the poor
By setting our sights on gaining and retaining political influence, it is possible to miss the biblical themes of how God regularly works among the weak and the marginal and how any truly Christian society must promote shalom-peace and justice for every citizen. One of the more worrisome aspects of the religious right to this point has been the apparent absence of concern for the poor. p. 201
14-God’s poetic justice
Yet we could also argue that the greatest problem for the church today is our inability to connect with nonbelievers in a way that they understand. Isn’t it a major issue that the evangelical church exists as a subcultural cul-de-sac, unable to speak the gospel intelligibly to most Americans, and is perceived to be concerned only with increasing its own power rather than a common good? Of course it is. Early Christian bishops in the Roman Empire, by contrast, were so well known for identifying with the poor and weak that eventually, though part of a minority religion, they were seen to have the right to speak for the local community as a whole. Caring for the poor and the weak became, ironically, a major reason for the cultural influence the church eventually came to wield. If the church does not identify with the marginalized, it will itself be marginalized. That is God’s poetic justice.
15-Is the current culture redeemable, or fundamentally fallen?
I believe most of these concerns can be reduced to two fundamental questions. The first question deals with our attitude toward cultural change: Should we be pessimistic or optimistic about the possibility for cultural change? The second question exposes our understanding of the nature of culture itself and speaks to the potential for redemption: Is the current culture redeemable and good, or fundamentally fallen? Our answers to these questions reveal our alignments with biblical emphases as well as our imbalances. p. 225
16-The God of mission and the church
In short, God does not merely send the church in mission. God already is in mission, and the church must join him. This also means, then, that the church does not simply have a missions department; it should wholly exist to be a mission. p. 251
17-Does evangelistic church=missional church?
To reach this growing post-Christendom society in the west will obviously take more than what we ordinarily call an evangelistic church; it will take a missional church. This church’s worship is missional in that it makes sense to non-believers in that culture, even while it challenges and shapes Christians with the gospel. Its people are missional in that they are so outwardly focused, so involved in addressing the needs of the local community, that the church is well-known for its compassion. The members of a missional church also know how to contextualize the gospel, carefully challenging yet also appealing to the baseline cultural narratives of the society around them. Finally, because of the attractiveness of its people’s character and lives, a missional church will always have some outsiders who are drawn into its community to incubate and explore the Christian faith in its midst. So the idea that “to be missional is to be evangelistic” is too narrow. A missional church is not less than an evangelistic church, but it is much more. p. 265
18-Six marks of a missional church
1. The church must confront society’s idols.
2. The church must contextualize skillfully and communicate in the vernacular.
3. The church must equip people in mission in every part of their lives.
4. The church must be a counterculture for the common good.
5. The church itself must itself be contextualized and should expect nonbelievers, inquirers, and seekers to be involved in most aspects of the church’s life and ministry.
6. The church must practice unity. p. 274
19-The chief way in which we should disciple people
The gospel creates community. Because it points us to the One who died for his enemies, it creates relationships of service rather than selfishness. Because it removes both fear and pride, people get along inside the church who could never get along outside. Because it calls us to holiness, the people of God are in loving bonds of mutual accountability and discipline. Thus the gospel creates a human community radically different from any society around it.
Accordingly, the chief way in which we should disciple people (or, if you prefer, to form them spiritually) is through community. Growth in grace, wisdom, and character does not happen primarily in classes and instruction, through large worship gatherings, or even in solitude. Most often, growth happens through deep relationships and in communities where the implications of the gospel are worked out cognitively and worked out practically-in ways no other setting or venue can afford. The essence of becoming a disciple is, to put it colloquially, becoming like the people we hang out the most. Just as the single most formative experience in our lives is our membership in a nuclear family, so the main way we grow in grace and holiness is through deep involvement in the family of God. Christian community is more than just a supportive fellowship; it is an alternative society. And it is through this alternate human society that God shapes us into who and what we are. p. 311
20-Keep ’em separated? Religion and work
In the West during the time of Christendom, the church could afford to limit its discipleship and training of believers to prayer, Bible study, and evangelism because most Christians were not facing non-Christian values at work, in their neighborhoods, or at school. They did not need (or did not think they needed) to reflect deeply about a Christian approach to business, art, politics, the use of community resources, or race relations, to name a few examples. In a missional church today, however, believers are surrounded by a radically non-Christian culture. They require much more preparation and education to “think Christianly” about all of life, public and private, and about how to do their work with Christian distinctiveness.
But even this conviction is counter-cultural. Our Western cultures continue to cherish the Enlightenment “fact-value distinction”, namely, that only things that can be proven scientifically are facts and therefore constitute the only legitimate basis for public work and discourse. Conversely, everything religious, transcendent, or subjective belongs in the sphere of values and should therefore be kept private. The implication for persons of faith is that their religious convictions are not to be brought to bear on their work, whether it is banking, acting, teaching, or policy making. In such an increasingly secular and post-Christian culture, it has become normal for believers to seal off their faith beliefs from the way they work in their vocations. The few who resist usually do so by being outspoken about their personal faith rather than by allowing the gospel to shape the way they actually do art, business, government, media, or scholarship. The church plays an essential role in supporting and encouraging individual Christians as they engage the culture, helping them to work with excellence, distinctiveness, and accountability in their professions. p. 330
21-We must support and encourage those who are engaged in “secular” work
We must, therefore, reject approaches to work that counsel withdrawal or indifference regarding the culture. Members of such churches are told to either evangelize and disciple through the local church or, at the very least, to send in their tithes so the more committed Christians can please God directly by doing the work of ministry. In these types of churches, there is little to no support or appreciation for the “secular” work of Christians. On the other hand, we must also reject the approach that stresses social justice and cultural involvement but fails to call us to repentance, conversion, and holiness. We want to avoid both simple cultural confrontation and cultural assimilation and instead become an agent of cultural renewal. We want to disciple our people to work in the world of of a Christian worldview. p. 332
22-If Jesus is Lord of the cubicle are we training people to live in light of that truth?
The question for the church is this: If we believe that Jesus is Lord in every area of life, how do we train our people in the practice of that Lordship? p. 333
23-Church planting and cessationism
In Acts, planting churches is not a traumatic or unnatural event. It is woven into the warp and woof of ministry, and so it happens steadily and naturally. Paul never evangelizes and disciples without planting a church. For decades, expositors have looked to Acts to make lists of the basic elements of ministry: Bible teaching, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and worship. I have always found it odd that there in Acts, along with everything else the church is doing, is church planting-yet this element of ministry is consistently ignored! I believe there is a dubious, tacit cessationism at work. Almost unconsciously, readers of the book of Acts have said, “Yes, but that was for then. We don’t do that now.” I believe this conclusion misses a key aspect of a healthy church, namely that church planting must be natural and customary, not traumatic and episodic. p. 355
24-How to argue well
1. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not own.
2. Take your opponents’s views in their entirety, not selectively.
3. Represent your opponents’ position in its strongest form, not in a weak “straw man” form.
4. Seek to persuade, not antagonize-but watch your motives!
5. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology-because only God sees the heart. p. 372