Monthly Archives: March 2010

 

Mar

31

2010

Jared C. Wilson|10:19 pm CT

How I Know I’m Not a Church Planter

In my recent post on Why I Moved to New England, I wrote this:

Despite having planted a church and being passionate about church planting movements, I know I am not a church planter. I’m a pastor. I don’t have the wiring to plant. But I love planters and want to encourage and edify them however I can and I want to attract them and raise them up in my church and support them because church planting is vital and necessary and becoming more so every day.

In the comments, reader Chris wrote:

A blog post discussing the process whereby you realized you are not a church planter would be extremely helpful to many of us.

I am not sure how helpful it could be, actually, and it wasn’t much of a process, but I can share how I know I’m not a planter.

To preface, I should say that I did not learn I wasn’t a church planter by experiencing a failed church plant. I did plant a church, although to say “I” did it is not true, and never is it true for any church planter. We planted a church because we had to. The story of this is somewhat complicated, but I was pastoring a young adult ministry within a larger church, and all parties realized after about a year that we basically had a church within a church. So quite by “accident” — read, “by God’s providential wisdom” — we didn’t set out to cultivate an independent church, but we ended up with one anyway. What we did at our church was in a few ways radically different than what our host church was doing. We had entirely different philosophies of ministry. Eventually, we all knew that what we had was not sustainable for our ministry nor desirable for the host church, and parting amicably and with mutual blessings, our thing departed to become officially an independent church. And if I had not been called by God elsewhere, I assume we would still be there. In that sense, I don’t consider Element a failed church plant. I think a church plant is only a failure if you fail to do what God has called you to do.

But my point is, that experience did not teach me I wasn’t a church planter. I knew before we planted that I wasn’t a church planter. I was a pastor. And I had a community I was pastoring. So the planting kind of happened by itself. :-)

The first reason I know I’m not a church planter is that I don’t have the desire to plant. This is not a disobedient thing, I don’t believe. Meaning, I don’t believe God is calling me to plant a church despite my commitment not to. I think “calling” is somewhat overrated, and my experience is that God often plants seeds of desire in us that coincide with calling. I know I must leave room for disobedience, grieving of the Spirit, and just outright Jonah-like running from God’s commands, but I think normatively speaking, guys who plant churches really want to plant churches. It fires them up. They are generally energized by the process, even though it is grueling and tiresome and nerve-racking oftentimes. The urge for me isn’t there, and neither is the inkling. And my experience of how God works in me to go places and do things entails his stirring in me an interest and desire that wasn’t there before. Your mileage may vary, but that’s how his leading grace has historically been applied to me.

Secondly, I don’t have (what I think is) the wiring to be an effective and fruitful church planter. This is what I mean by that: I borrow from the tri-perspectival framework for pastoral makeups. (For background on this, see my short post from the archives called What Kind of Pastor Are You?) I think all pastors have a mix of prophet, priest, and king in them.

In the prophetic framework, pastors are preachers, teachers, accountability holders, vision-casters, leader-developers, scholarly, writerly, etc. In the priestly framework, pastors are relational, counselors, visitors, servants, evangelists, compassion-givers, communal shepherds, etc. In the kingly framework, pastors are administrators, builders, visionaries, accountants, pioneers, entrepreneurs, organizers, initiative-takers, sociologists, historicists, economists, strategists, etc.

Again, I think every pastor has (or should have, anyway) all three frameworks in play to have the right makeup to be an effective pastor. But pastors aren’t made from cookie cutters. We all have different personalities, experiences, temperaments, interests, educations, degrees of giftedness, etc. And from my viewpoint, I think church planters have a high concentration of the kingly framework. It doesn’t mean they aren’t solid as prophets and priests. But they are just stronger as kings than pastors who aren’t wired for church planting.

As I survey my own makeup, I know I do not have a high concentration of “king” in my makeup. I would guesstimate I am only about 15% kingly. This does not cause many problems in my ministry because I am able to delegate to and rely on other leaders and laypeople with strong administrative and organizational gifts. In fact, I often stun the pastors in the weekly pastors’ fellowship group when I do not know all the details of my church calendar or when I say I am not the person to contact about scheduling women’s breakfasts and the like. In their organizations, kingly or not, they are expected to pretty much keep all plates spinning. I am grateful for a church that frees me to pastor according to the degrees of my giftedness, and in return they are pastored better than if I weren’t.

But I digress. Church planting isn’t about administrating women’s breakfasts. It’s about pioneering, gathering a core, establishing something new in untested places, raising money (oh man, is it ever about raising money!), and some other things that just aren’t “me.” I know this. I don’t worry about it. I don’t sweat it. I love church planters. A lot. And not being a church planter doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about church planting. I want to pastor a church planting church. I want to raise up and send out church planters. I encourage and network with church planters. I learn from them. I support them spiritually and financially and materially. And I really believe, although knowing God can do whatever he wants however he wants, that revival will not happen in American evangelicalism and awakening will not happen in lost America apart from vital movements of gospel-centered missional church planting. I want in on that.

I don’t know if this is helpful. I don’t know if you have the wiring to be a church planter or not. I’m not an assessor, so if you are unsure, if I were you I would submit to those who are.
I would only say that if you are honest with yourself, you know if you’ve got the wiring or not. If you are low on the kingly side, there’s nothing wrong with you. You may be a phenomenal pastor. And heck, God uses asses all the time. :-) But you may not be a church planter.

That said, if you have the desire, and God is opening doors for you, I know from Scripture and experience that God equips the called at least as much as he calls the equipped. My advice is to seek godly counsel and get into an assessment program of some kind. If you have, and you’re still unsure: You’re probably not a church planter. (And that’s okay.)

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Mar

31

2010

Jared C. Wilson|10:15 pm CT

Perspective

Journal Entry
March 31, 2010

Month 8 of new life in Vermont. Have yet to see a sasquatch. I am not discouraged, however. I plan to be here until I die, so there’s (probably) plenty of time yet.

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Mar

30

2010

Jared C. Wilson|9:26 pm CT

How Do You Cure Laziness?

The same way you cure all idolatry — serious, serious nagging.

Just kidding. :-)

Laziness is idolatry. In that sense, it is closely related to its opposite, workaholism. Both sins are sins of self-worship. The behavior looks different, but the root idolatry is the same.

And the problem is that Law cannot do what Grace does. There is no saving power in Law. And there is no sustainable abiding of the Law apart from the Grace compulsion. We can command repentance, but it’s Grace that enables repentance and belief that accompanies it. Repentance problems are belief problems.

When we are set free from the Law’s curse, we are set free to the Law’s blessings. The difference maker is the gospel and the joyful worship it creates. Any other attempt at Law-abiding is just behavior management.

So you don’t cure laziness by pouring Law on it. God turns dry bones into living, breathing, worshiping, working bodies by pouring gospel proclamation into them. When we truly behold the gospel, we can’t help but grow in Christ and with the fruit of the Spirit.

Religious people can’t delight in the law like David did. They have to be set free — and feel free — from its curse first. And people aren’t lazy because they think they’re forgiven for trespassing the Law; they’re lazy because they think the Law doesn’t apply to them.

We worship our way into sin, and we have to worship our way out. When someone is lazy (or restless) they do have a sin problem, but the sin problem is just a symptom of the deeper worship problem. Their affections are set somewhere else. And wherever our affections are set is where our behavior will go.

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Mar

29

2010

Jared C. Wilson|1:04 am CT

Preacher, Sweetly Paint the Blessing of Christ as All

Good word from Henry Law from The Gospel in Leviticus:

You ministers of Christ, behold your theme. So dreadfully denounce the curse, that you and yours may flee it. So sweetly paint the blessing, that you and yours may grasp it. So fully preach the Savior, that you and yours may be forever saved. Blessed are they, who, living, preaching, dying, make Christ their All.

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Mar

28

2010

Jared C. Wilson|12:14 pm CT

A First!

I was compared this very morning in a comment thread at another blog to TD Jakes and Joel Osteen.

I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Have your best Palm Sunday NOW! ;-)

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Mar

27

2010

Jared C. Wilson|1:01 am CT

Approved!

“. . . we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.”
– 1 Thessalonians 2:4

While most self-esteem is idolatry, I think many Christians are walking around joyless and timid because they don’t realize the wonder of the gospel confidence in knowing that God approves of them in Christ. In Jesus, sin is forgiven, past is forgotten, religion is fulfilled, and eternity is secure.

If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he has been raised from the dead, God looks upon you with the approval he has for that Son. Do you know how fantastic that is? I almost didn’t write it because it sounds so heretical! Jesus became your sin so that you could become his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). There is no more astounding fact in the history of mankind than that.

God may swipe the card of any of his children at any time, be they happy or sad, victorious or defeated, confident or depressed, and no matter how many charges we have made on it, no matter how many times we have tested debt with it, the report will return every time without fail: APPROVED.

“Christ’s righteousness is so imputed to believers that their justification is not merely the act of a sovereign dispensing with law but the act of a judge declaring the law to be satisfied.”
– Charles Hodge

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Mar

27

2010

Jared C. Wilson|12:43 am CT

How Do You Know If Your Jesus is Too Safe?

“What people don’t realise is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” — Flannery O’Connor

I was reminded of that quote today while reading the comments under this post on Brian McLaren at Matthew Paul Turner’s place.

One way to tell if your Jesus is too safe is if you can’t fathom that he’d come from a God of wrath, from a God who demanded blood atonement to give us his holiness. No, instead the cross was about God “saving us from ourselves.”

I hope one thing God saves us from is our desire to domesticate him.

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Mar

26

2010

Jared C. Wilson|6:31 pm CT

The Sharp Edge of the Gospel and the Fruit of Its Implications

This post is an entry in the Prologue to Missional Discussion Synchroblog.

I am late with my entry in the syncrhoblog this week, but I am hoping to redeem my unsatisfactory (to me) entry from last week, especially as this week’s questions seem connected quite closely to last week’s.

The questions posed the synchrobloggers:
Should the definition of “salvation” be expanded beyond personal redemption of sins to include social justice? If not, what is the difficulty with the question of personal salvation?
Does God save individuals outside of anything other than the proclamation of the gospel through believers who make up the church?

My answer to the first question is simple: No. I believe the gospel is the historical fact of what Jesus Christ accomplished: sinless sacrifice for sin atonement, bodily resurrection for eternal life. This is the basic, non-negotiable truth of the news that God declares good. Notice that it is not advice, not suggestion, not instruction. Nor is it vague spirituality, steps to enlightenment, skills to implement, or precepts to practice. It is information; it is an announcement. It is news. News to be believed, yes, but it is not news of something that has yet to happen or something we can make happen, but rather something that has already happened and was made to happen by God himself.

There may be no need to further distill the gospel; Paul has done not just a good job in 1 Corinthians 15 but an authoritative job. But if we were to summarize his own summary, we might put it this way: The good news is that eternal life is possible because Jesus died to forgive sins and came back to life to conquer death. You may have walked down a church aisle, as I have, to accept an invitation to believe just that.

The gospel is what Jesus has accomplished; news of something that already happened. But what Jesus already did opens up an array of heavenly delights that he is doing and will do. Those things are good news too, but only in so far as they emanate from the gospel “of first importance,” as Paul calls it in 1 Corinthians 15. This is why I like to call penal substitution the sharp edge of the multi-faceted diamond that is atonement and Jesus’ death and resurrection the sharp edge of the many implications and applications of the gospel.

Where does the social justice stuff play in, then?

The New Testament talks about the gospel in ways other than the sharp edge, as its Spirit-inspired writers draw out the aftershocks of the good report. Jesus himself, and John the Baptist before him, are recorded in Matthew’s Gospel as preaching the “gospel of the kingdom,” in Mark’s and Luke’s just “the gospel.” They were not preaching the death and resurrection of Christ, at least not directly at first. They were announcing that God’s righteousness was finally coming to bear upon the real world, that the manifest presence of his sovereignty was finally breaking into history, as is the hope seen throughout the longing of Israel in the Old Testament. This in-breaking kingdom, of course, centers on Christ as King, and the coronation and exaltation of Christ as King hinges on his death and resurrection, so the “gospel of the kingdom” and Paul’s gospel of first importance are not really separate concepts, but degrees of magnification of the same concept. All analogies break down but perhaps we could say that Jesus’ death and resurrection are an electron and a proton, and that Christ’s kingdom is the atom they make up. (In this case, that atom would be hydrogen, but I’m an idiot when it comes to science, so that’s as far as I’ll take the analogy.) Jesus died and resurrected according to the Scriptures, which means God’s kingdom has come according to the Scriptures.

The kingdom of God was being inaugurated by and through Christ before his death, of course, but this inauguration was predicated upon his eventual (thorned) crowning and elevation upon the cross. (His announcement of the kingdom and his acting like the king preceded his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as well.) We could step back a bit and examine how Christ’s sinless life was integral to the efficacy of his eventual substitutionary sacrifice, which means his life before his death is implicitly integral to Paul’s gospel of first importance, but that sort of theological rabbit trail is beyond the scope of this post.

What we can say is that one primary way the Bible talks about the gospel is in the sense of “the kingdom,” but we cannot, as some writers and pastors today do, hermetically seal this form of the gospel off from the core announcement of the gospel found in 1 Corinthians 15. In fact, if you keep reading further into the chapter, you will see in verses 22-25, that Paul begins connecting Christ’s work on the cross and out of the tomb to the coming and consummation of God’s kingdom. In addition, the gospel of all the Scriptures has a cosmic scope that posits God’s glory itself as the sum of the good news. In this wide-angle view of the gospel, the good news is that the peace that was broken at the Fall will be restored in everything from God’s reconciliation with sinners to his establishing of the new heavens and the new earth. A cosmic gospel means the restoration of all things.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, we see the gospel referred to as holding power, as being power itself. Paul says in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the power of salvation for those who believe it. In Ephesians 3:7 he says the gospel was given to him by God’s power. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 he says the gospel is accompanied with power. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 he says the message of the gospel is the power of God. In Colossians 1:6 he says the gospel is bearing fruit and growing. Clearly this is information that is not merely information!

Mark 1:1 tells us that the gospel is Jesus himself. Acts 20:24 tells us that the gospel is God’s grace. Romans 15:16 tells us that God is the gospel. 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that the gospel is not just Christ, but his glory. Ephesians 6:15 tells us that the gospel is peace.

What we see in all of this is not many different gospels, but the many facets to the gospel of first importance. It is one song, but many notes. There are also implications and applications of the gospel: the birth of the Church, the reconciliation between sinners, the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the healing of the sick, the deliverance of the demoniac, the rescue of the impoverished, etc. All of these and more are part of the fruit that the power of the gospel bears. But the essential mustard seed of the gospel is the incredible historical event of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This is good news because you and I are sinners who are under God’s wrath and will die under the penalty of that wrath—destined for hell—without this divine intervention.

The second question posed, again, is this: Does God save individuals outside of anything other than the proclamation of the gospel through believers who make up the church?

My answer may seem a cop-out, I’m sure, but I default back to the one halfway decent thing I think I said in the last entry: That the church is the locus of God’s saving work doesn’t mean the church is the limit of it.

I believe babies who die and the mentally deficient are elect unto salvation. Obviously the church’s proclamation of the explicit gospel and conscious belief in its propositions is not taking place here. So God can (and I think does, probably) save people outside the proclamation of the gospel by believers. But usually when someone asks this question, they mean to tease out the implications for missions and evangelism. And I cannot say what Scripture doesn’t: we don’t get to go hands off because of what God may or may not be doing to renew all things. We are commanded to preach the gospel and make disciples, and that’s what we should do.

If God saves people apart from proclamation of the gospel by believers it will be in spite of our efforts and strategies, not because of them.

Others participating in the conversation:

Ed Stetzer
Rick Meigs: The Blind Beggar
Bill Kinnon: kinnon.tv
Brother Maynard: Subversive Influence
David Fitch: Reclaiming the Mission
Tiffany Smith: Missional Mayhem
Jared Wilson: The Gospel-Driven Church
Jonathan Dodson: Creation Project

Feel free to explore and read their takes on the question. So for the sake of conversation, leave a comment with your own answer to the questions “Should the definition of “salvation” be expanded beyond personal redemption of sins to include social justice? If not, what is the difficulty with the question of personal salvation?
Does God save individuals outside of anything other than the proclamation of the gospel through believers who make up the church?”

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Mar

25

2010

Jared C. Wilson|8:51 pm CT

Why I Moved to New England

Is that news to you? It’s probably the worst kept secret in my tiny niche of the Interwebs, but I moved to Vermont late summer of last year.

I know this has been confusing for some people, especially as my profile (such as it is) has risen with the publication of my first book last summer. At the time of publication I was still the pastor of Element, a missional community planted by some friends and I a couple of years ago in Nashville, and that’s what my little bio says on the back of the book. As I was getting inquiries about Element and invites to lunch/coffee in Nash Vegas, I was packing to move to the great green north. But I couldn’t really tell anybody, at least not publicly.

In one of the weirdest experiences of my life, my family has had to basically keep my move off the public radar (for the most part) because my wife works/worked in the tumultuous world of Christian retail, and word of her impending vacancy would have caused some headaches for her and her superiors. Complicating matters was that we still needed her income until our house sold. And our house hasn’t sold. But we wanted our daughters to start the school year in their new home so they and I moved up and Becky stayed behind, and we have been painfully separated for going on 8 months. It sucks.

But that doesn’t tell you where I went and why. In the summer of 2008 I began searching God’s will on a variety of things that all seemed to have a common thread. I loved Element and the people in it, but I was becoming more and more disillusioned with ministry in the Bible Belt. I grew up in Southeast Texas and have lived in Nashville for the last 13 years, so the Bible Belt is in my blood. And I believe gospel-centered missional churches are the answer to the inoculation to the gospel that is systemic there. But I also began to sense that I was losing heart for the culture there. It wasn’t them, and it wasn’t me: it was both of us. At the same time, I was pastoring Element for free, scraping up some income with my writing work, but my dream and Becky’s since the beginning of our romance was for her to be a stay-at-home mom. I couldn’t give her that gift in Nashville.

Those were two big reasons to make a radical move, but the biggest was just trying to sort out where to go and what to do. I am called to preach and minister the gospel; I know this. Despite having planted a church and being passionate about church planting movements, I know I am not a church planter. I’m a pastor. I don’t have the wiring to plant. But I love planters and want to encourage and edify them however I can and I want to attract them and raise them up in my church and support them because church planting is vital and necessary and becoming more so every day.

But in any event I knew I was looking for an existing church that was in need of a senior or teaching pastor. But I don’t see myself as a product to be marketed, so in the end I sent my resume to only two churches. One in Michigan and one in Vermont. You should know that I had never been to Michigan. And not only had I never been to Vermont, I had never been to New England. The furthest “northeast” I had ever been was Chicago. But I don’t think it was a coincidence that as I was praying and thinking about where to seek out ministry, religious research was emerging showing New England as the least churched and least religious region of the U.S. And coming in dead last in nearly every survey was the state of Vermont. And that’s why I wanted to go there.

A friend told me I was going to kill my career doing this. That kind of emboldened me. :-) There was something about the little ad from the little church that intrigued me, but I’m not quite sure what. Turns out that a hundred resumes had already reached Middletown Springs Community Church before mine showed up, but something about mine intrigued my friend Betty, who was charged by the search committee with screening incoming applications. In the fall of 2008 I got a phone call. That turned into multiple phone calls over a series of months. Lots of prayer. In February 2009 I took a weekend off of Element to fly to Vermont and preach and answer questions — the leadership of Element knew all about this — and a couple of weeks later I was told the vote had been voted unanimous (with one abstention) to call me as pastor.

It was tough to leave Element, especially knowing that my departure basically meant shutting the doors on it as an organization. But I believe together we built each other up into potent little gospel missionaries, and I am grateful most of them are now in other gospel-centered church plants in the area (Immanuel Church pastored by Ray Ortlund, who was exceedingly good to us, Journey Church pastored by Jamie George, and others). But I know God was calling me north, to a mission field difficult in ways different from the Bible Belt.

They wanted me. I wanted them. And God didn’t tell me not to do it.
So here I am.

Oh, also: My wife put in her notice at work and will be moving up in May. It’s a long time coming. If you don’t mind, you could pray that our house sells before then, so we are not a burden to our church family, despite their joyful initiative and willingness to bear this burden to reunite our family.

Coming soon:
Why I Love My Church
Why You (Maybe) Should Move to New England

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Mar

20

2010

Jared C. Wilson|10:13 pm CT

Despair of Sin, Not Just Guilt, is the Profitable Brokenness

It’s been a while since I shared from my current work in progress, so here is another sneak peek from a chapter on brokenness.

There is a difference between wanting to escape the consequences of our sin and truly feeling the weight of that sin. This difference is often illustrated in being sorry for getting caught doing something, not being sorry for doing the thing itself. What our flesh wants, maximally, is to be rid of guilt, not sin. But gospel wakened people want to be free of sin itself, not just the guilt of it.

The difference between gospel wakefulness and first conversion comes into play here, because many of us express saving faith in Christ for reasons of fire insurance. We don’t want to go to hell when we die. (That alone is a very good reason to trust in Christ, by the way!) But despair not just of hell, but of the sin in us, is evidence of gospel wakefulness. Gospel wakened people want to avoid punishment, sure, but moreso they despair of the reason for punishment. And until we despair of the sin in us, we will not truly rejoice over Christ in us. “Christ is never sweet,” Thomas Watson tells us, “till sin is felt to be bitter.” That is a profitable brokenness.

Previous excerpts from the manuscript I’ve tentatively titled Gospel Wakefulness:
Good Gospel Engagement
Blaspheme Your Idols

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