In some sense we are now living in a culture unlike ever before. We see huge shifts in Globalization (demographic shifts, technology that allows people to teach, conduct business and otherwise communicate in real time, face to face), Pluralism (media saturation, complexity, tolerance, sexual openness), Secularism (entitlement, antagonism to religion, rules and laws), Statism (reliance on governments to care for individuals, imposition of elite culture’s will on the masses), Polarization (Red/Blue States), and Materialism (culture’s craving for affluence and its belief that the world is completely and only material matter).
A recent NY Times op-ed explained our current moral universe this way; “In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punch line: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths” (Justin McBrayer, NYTIMES.com Op-ed. March 2, 2015).
If you are a Church Planter, you feel the weight of all the ism’s and tions’ mentioned above and possibly wonder if the church has anything worth saying?
However, in another sense, we are living similar to those in the first century, when the Church burst onto the scene. Moral and philosophical questions abounded in the first century as well. Varied religions existed, all with their own moral teachings for life. Greek philosophy permeated the classes. And certainly the State of Rome had quite a say in behavior. The first century didn’t know Christianity or the Gospel Story. The first church planters worked among the biased and the unbiased. They entered cities and towns with rampant, culturally accepted polytheism and traditional moral religious systems mixed together. Sexual liberty proliferated along with cultic and demonic idolatry.
A few years ago at the North Georgia Church Planter Network meeting (a collection of church planters from various tribes planting new churches around Metro Atlanta), a question was raised, “What are the essentials a Church Planter should consider?” One man offered his three as, “Location, Marketing and a good Band”. Another corrected him with, “Location, Location, Location”. As you can see, twenty-first century church planters have a myriad of essentials that they must attune to for ministry in the city.
Over the next few articles, I would like to offer three of those essentials and also show the most significant work of how to link them together.
So, let’s begin with understanding gospel centrality. The gospel is not just how we become Christians but it is also how we mature as Christians. It makes us a new people, not just nice. It transforms us, producing a new relationship with God — as a child with a Father rather a slave owner to a slave. We have whole new motivational structure for following and obeying God — a love and gratitude generosity, not self-based fear. That means we have a new approach to service; since we’re not saved by our works but by grace, there isn’t anything he can’t ask of us.
We also find, through the gospel a whole new approach to our self-identity. It’s not based on what others think of us or even what we think of ourselves, but on what God has declared us to be in Christ. So, the Gospel does not simply have power, it is power; the power of God to the saving and transforming of men, women, and children.
Our first gospel essential in planting is Gospel Preaching. “We preach Christ” (Acts 8:4-5; 12,35; 17:1-3. I Cor. 15:1-4, 11).
Preaching is, at the very least, one primary way people get the gospel. Preaching must have primacy in your ministry. You should consider yourself willing to grow and mature in your preaching. It will take prayer and faithful work; time, practice and experimentation.
Do you know the Gospel Story? Can you explain it clearly and concisely? You are communicating to a mixture of post-modern, post-protestant, post-Catholic, post-Secular, post-everything culture. We are essentially post-everything. And it is in all our cities, suburbs and small towns. A Christian narrative no longer exists in the North American culture. The Gospel Story is lost to our current generation. What is left of any semblance of Christianity is negative. Christians are seen as haters and hypocrites.
You should know what your gospel model is for preaching Christ. There’s more than one way and it is uniquely more than having a call at the end of the sermon. Pastor Rodney Anderson reminds us, “If you find that Jesus isn’t pertinent to our content, you are probably teaching a great sermon on parenting, or giving, or moral uprightness or some needed act of service, but it isn’t a gospel message. It’s simply teaching people to try harder, to better follow this rule, and you can be your own savior…Jesus is what sets our points and our sermons apart. He isn’t just the person we tag onto the end of our sermons, his work on the cross is the only way we can do anything…Pastors should move beyond Biblical principles to the gospel, bringing every message back to Gospel and Jesus.”
Planters that preach for behavioral change tend to elevate the rules or middle class values to the level of godliness and work hard for external change and conformity. The root of all our problems is that something other than Christ is what we are really orbiting around to give life. It is unbelief in God’s promise in His Son.
Gospel preaching motivates with grace not guilt, with truth and love. Gospel preaching does not drive people to moral conformity through shame, guilt or threat and fear. Gospel preaching is not simply telling people they are breaking the rules but that they, through unbelief in God, have placed their belief on something or someone else and are utterly lost. The reality is that both the person who is trusting in their obedience to God’s rules and the person who doesn’t care about God’s rules are both rejecting God and believing in their own ability to have life apart from Christ.
So, what can we do to work on preaching the gospel? Preach the Word. Work hard at the point. Explain the Story to the audience (God made you as his image bearer for relationship/love, with purpose and dignity. But our first parents, and us along with them, have committed cosmic treason, rejecting him and have come under the Curse. Yet God loved so much, he provided a way back by sending His Son--God in human flesh--to both take the Curse and be the Cursed one, and anyone who believes in Him will have the curse removed and all the rightness of God himself given graciously to him/her).
To the Gospel Story (which gives the good news a context), mix it up with good humor, the wonder and beauty of Christ in an apologetical and joyful manner and practical application for life. Pray that God brings both Christian and non-Christians to hear it and believe it.
Download your FREE eBook “Gospel Preaching Styles” today!
Dr. Tom Wood
I've been in the Church Planting business my entire career. I want you to know, you don't have to plant a church alone!