In my last article about Gospel Ministry, I introduced the first essential in leadership: Effective Gospel Communication. A compelling, coherent and cohesive communication is, at the very least, one primary way people get the Gospel. You should consider yourself willing to grow and mature in your gospel communication because our aim is to introduce and reinforce the Gospel Story into the lives of those we influence.
The second essential of 21st century pastors, ministry leaders, and church planters is Gospel Mission. “We communicate Christ to the unconverted through our words and our lives” (2 Cor. 5:18-20; Rom. 5:6, 10).
Wherever a work of God is advancing there will always be a counter offensive by the enemy. That is true all down through church history and revealed in the book of Acts. Acts is the second volume of “All that Jesus continued to do and teach” by means of the Holy Spirit, after his ascension. The founders of Acts 29 played on the idea that the Spirit was not done at the end of Acts 28, but that Jesus continues to expand his Church today. I’m not an Acts 29 pastor but I love the name. I have teased my Acts 29 friends that I want to start Acts 3.0.
One of my early gospel ministry mentors, Dick Kauffman, began a talk I heard some twenty plus years ago with this remarkable insight: “All of history is shaped by two great movements: the movement of the Holy Spirit…and the movement of the forces of darkness opposing…Christ is building his Church and the gates of hell are seeking to prevail against it. Repeatedly, the enemy imposes obstacles in the form of persecution, hypocrisy, distractions, money, racism and elitism, criticism, popularity, and false teachers (I might add illness and death). In each case, the enemy’s goal is to prevent the bold proclamation of the gospel [and the planting of new churches]. Christ overcomes the obstacles not only to the gospel by also through the gospel”.
I am well aware that everyone is talking about “Missional Church” and “Missional Communities”. I am not persuaded we get it though. I recently interviewed a church planter candidate and he mentioned that he was part of MC. When I asked him to describe to me what life in his MC looked like, it was as small group of Christians meeting weekly eating, doing a Bible study, and talking about mission but not actually being in mission.
Here’s some key thoughts about Gospel Mission:
1. You need a clear definition of Gospel Mission and a clear path to how that is lived out in your context.
Living in mission is going to look different in NYC than it does in Franklin, TN. At the end of the day, I believe a gospel leader in the 21st Century in North America (given all the ism’s and tion’s mentioned in my previous article), has a disciple making missionary call. If you are planting a new church, whether in a full or bi-vocational approach, it is a special call to reach non-believers with the gospel. My friend David Jackson wrote, “All legitimate church planting is evangelistic in nature and purpose. Church planting which simply moves ‘sheep from one pen to another’ isn’t really church planting at all” (Planted: Starting Well, Growing Strong).
We are on a mission field full of western post Enlightenment secularists on the one side and a flood of immigrants from various religious cultures on the other. We no longer live in the days when one could send out a few thousand mailers, hang out a Church Sign, and then have de-converted or de-churched people come rushing to hear a new band, drink coffee, and listen to the next great speaker in town. Now, if you try that approach, you might get some unhappy churched people.
We have to take a friendship approach. Inappropriate confrontational evangelism is not a loving gospel apologetic. Disciple-making leaders see their work as a process not an event. They provide multiple exposures to the gospel in words, works of mercy, and Christian community. There is the apologetic of shalom—bringing peace to the world at war: globally, racially, sexually, religiously, etc, all of which is ultimately spiritual in nature.
A great starting point is to see that God is already working in and speaking to the world. God has been witnessing to them and we work to help lost people see “God pointers” that they already have experienced but have but unaware of it being God.
2. You need a clear path of making disciples: Gospelling Life Together.
Disciple-making is, at a most basic level, connecting with others where you intend to understand and discern their life story (how and why God made them; how the fall has ruined their created design as well as their world; how Christ has redeemed; and what mission the Spirit intends for them to be part in the renewal of all things); and to do everything possible through the Word, prayer and community, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to develop and encourage them in their gospel dance (Faith, Repentance and Following) so they love, mature and reproduce the way Christ intends.
“The [Great] commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple. …Thus the goal of Christian ministry is quite simple, and in a sense measurable: are we making and nurturing genuine disciples of Christ?” (The Trellis and the Vine, Marshall & Payne).
The Majority world does not have access to the myriad of published resources we have in the West. They have one another, prayer, and in many places a worn out Bible. Yet they are fully devoted followers of Jesus. It is Not complicated or complex
“A disciple of Jesus is one who had heard the call of Jesus and has responded by repenting of their self-saving life, is believing the gospel, and following Jesus with others”
Gospel-discipleship in mission has as its primary focus dealing with the deep motivational structures, formed in their story, of what they are really living for.If discipleship does not get to the heart it will not produce change or transformation into the likeness of the True Man-Jesus Christ, because if “the gospel doesn't take your breath away, something else will.”
Some have a path that involves regular, organic times of meeting for encouragement, prayer, and spiritual questions. Others use some type of curriculum. What is your path? What do disciples of Jesus have to know, be, and do? Contact me at cmmnet.org if you need help in this area. We have a GLT intensive we can do at your church.
3. You will need to clear the fear of being a missionary.
I’ve found an insidious de-motivator for being a missionary in North America. If we are honest with ourselves, we find it hard to share the gospel story and message with others because we are afraid of criticism or perhaps view it as a threat to our personal peace. Especially when someone attacks the Christian faith as something superstitious or as unintellectual. In addition, we have an oppressive cultural that warns Christians to remain privatized in our faith.
Who in the New Testament, in your opinion, had most difficulty with fear? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but if you read the prayers of the missionary church planter, Apostle Paul, maybe it was him. Remember, prior to his conversion, he was a Pharisee. His identity was being a pure, righteous Religious leader. His glory was in his moral record. He was fearlessly pursuing the people of the Way. In fact, they feared him. He arrested, abused, had stoned, put out of business. He was hostile, mean and fearless. He had the power; both religious power and State power. But then he met Jesus.
He regularly asked for boldness and implored people not to be afraid to share the gospel. Yes, he did say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” as a bold proclamation, but he told the Corinthians he came to them in weakness, fear and much trembling. He later admitted, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death…”.
However, he wrote, God loved him and gave his life for him (Gal. 2:20). Love is the antidote to our fear. Love given to us, our love for him and for his gospel. In the gospel we are embraced by a love so great it drives out fear and frees us to love others in need of the gospel. By gospel love you can be a missionary. Do not look for courage to share the gospel. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. You may always have fear of sharing the gospel. Look at Love. The real and True Love in life.
One of the results of the cosmic rebellion of our first parents was a total breakdown of relationships. We are not only at enmity with God but with one another.
“I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid…Who told you? … Have you eaten from the tree…? The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it…to the woman God said, ‘your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you’….” (Genesis 3:10-19).
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:1-2).
Before we start on a journey to learn how to deal with conflict, let’s lay down 4 foundational principles:
1. Christ Overcomes
Christ overcomes the conflicts in the Church. He is reconciling ALL things (2 Cor. 5:16-19; Col. 1:19,20). You can learn operating principles and ideas for dealing with the inevitability of conflict. Do not lose heart as you struggle through. Christ overcomes the obstacles and conflicts to the Gospel, through the Gospel.
2. Prayer is Foundational
Prayer is the guard against both the enemy’s subtle and not so subtle attacks and the world’s system that hates the church. The spiritual nature of starting a church — to remaining word, mission, and community centered — will be opposed. God answers prayers for peace and reconciliation, because He is the One who has promised to reconcile all things.
3. You Will Encounter Conflict
It is not a matter of if you will encounter conflict, but when you do. One thing I’ve learned over the years of developing new churches is this: the Evil One lies in wait for the most opportune time to pounce. The younger the church, the more destructive the conflict will be. Church plants are exceedingly vulnerable to conflict among the people. It's a high-risk venture. Often there are people involved who left their previous church with unresolved conflict; often there are cultural and/or race barriers that can lead to offenses; there are non-Believers and Believers together in the church; and more and more the political environment is increasingly anti-Church.
4. Ignorance is Not What’s Best
No matter how much you resist dealing with conflict, you must learn to effectively, lovingly, and firmly navigate conflict between people in church, personal conflict others create with you, and the conflict you create with others.
There is only one “magic bullet”: the Gospel. No matter the conflict, God has called you to a ministry of reconciliation with a message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).
Human sheep are dangerous to their shepherds and to the other sheep. Conflict can come in the form of teens and their parents, husbands and wives wanting divorce, and members who are being sued by others outside your church (and want you to intervene).
Unfortunately, most pastors, Church Planters, and ministry leaders are ill equipped or naïve when dealing with conflict in the church. “Pastors list conflict management as the most needed training they lacked in their Bible College or Seminary training” (Alfred Poirier, The Peace Making Pastor). Few people have been given the skills or training needed to deal lovingly with conflict and it might drive you out of ministry.
To begin to explore how the Gospel answers the conflict(s) you will face with others and others will have with one another, download your FREE eBook “Handling Conflict in the Church” today!
You don’t have to face challenges in church ministry alone. A CMM Gospel Coach can help guide you and your church through a process of identifying and implementing practical, measurable, gospel-focused ministry practices that sharpen the God given mission and improve the health of the local church. Learn more today about church coaching!
The need for a leader to be effective in gospel communication is a non-negotiable for leading with influence. Why? Well, think about the huge shifts of the 21st century.
There are major shifts in Globalization (demographic shifts, technology that allows people from around the globe 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 the political and elite class’s will on others), Polarization (Red/Blue States), and Materialism (culture’s craving for affluence and its belief that the world is completely and only material matter).
A New York 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). We regularly hear people talk today about “My truth.”
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. First century people didn’t know Christianity or the Gospel Story. The first church leaders 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.
If you are a pastor, church planter, or ministry leader, you feel the weight of all the ism’s and tions’ mentioned above and possibly wonder if we have anything worth saying?
Leaders in the 21st century face formidable head winds in culture and one of the primary tools or gifts we have for people is the gospel. The gospel is not just how people become Christians but it is also how they mature as followers in Christ. It transforms life, producing a new relationship with God — as a child with a Father rather than a slave owner to a slave. Believers in Christ have a whole new motivational structure for following and obeying God. The gospel is not simply “accept Jesus as your savior”. It is that, but it is more, for “The Just shall live by faith.”
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 revealed; we are made by God, as image bearers, with dignity, beauty and meaning (good news); but because we cursed and enslaved by our guilt (bad news), we were rescued by Christ from the penalty and power of sin in life; and we are, by His Spirit, being renewed day by day (very good news).
How does the gospel play itself out in leadership?
Our first leadership essential in leading is Gospel Communication. “We communicate the good news about Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:4-5; 12,35; 17:1-3. I Cor. 15:1-4, 11).
There are two points in communication. One is preaching and the other is clarity or what we might say is being compelling in communication. Preaching is, at the very least, one primary way people get the gospel. If you are a pastor or weekly teacher, you should consider yourself willing to grow and mature in your communication competency. 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 various religious beliefs and a post-everything culture. And it is in all our cities, suburbs and small towns. A Christian narrative (Gospel Story) no longer exists in the North American culture. Gospel Story is lost to our current generation and unknown to cultures moving into our western cities. What is left of any semblance of Christianity is negative. Christians are seen as haters and hypocrites.
It is important leaders know a gospel model for communicating Christ. There’s more than one way and it is uniquely more than having a call at the end of a 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 the Gospel and Jesus.”
Leaders that teach 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. However, the root of all our problems is that something other than Christ is what we are really orbiting around to give life. Churched people may be singing “Christ is enough for me”, but inside they are thinking, “I also need a new job, or new spouse, or better kids, or nicer car.”
Gospel communication that is compelling and cohesive motivates with grace, truth and love, not guilt, shame or fear. Gospel communication (preaching, teaching, disciple-making, coaching, mentoring) is not simply telling people they are breaking the rules but that they, through unbelief in God, are relying on something or someone else for life but instead 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 relying in their own ability to have life apart from Christ.
So, what can we do to work on communicating the gospel? Work hard at getting to 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). We have the most compelling story to tell.
Using the Gospel Story (which is good news, bad news and very good news, provides 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.
Gospel Coaching is a practical way to sharpen your communication competency and a CMM Gospel Coach can help guide you and your ministry through a process of identifying and implementing practical, measurable, gospel-focused ministry practices that sharpen the God given mission and improve your leadership health Learn more today!
Download your FREE eBook “What’s Your Preaching Style” 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!