The Message Is the Medium: Gospel-Driven Church Planting
Editor's Note: On October 10 and 11, The Gospel Coalition will join with 9Marks, Sovereign Grace Ministries and The NETS Institute for Church Planting for Plant New England, a conference for church planters and church-planting churches, to be held near Boston. NETS president Wes Pastor introduces this event, an official TGC regional conference for New England.
The medium is the message. This is the idea (originating with Marshall McCluhan) that Neil Postman popularized 25 years ago when he dropped his literary bombshell, Amusing Ourselves to Death.
Obviously we Americans could do with less entertainment, whether it's Netflix, FarmVille, or our insatiable appetite for sports. But Postman wasn't critiquing entertainment per se; he was critiquing our attempts to deal with serious matters through it. His thesis: We live in an age not of exposition but of entertainment, making thoughtful interaction essentially impossible, since light media can't support serious ideas.
Amusing Our Church to Death
The church-growth movement has bought into the entertainment paradigm with catastrophic results. The unfathomable riches of God's wisdom in Christ just cannot be plumbed by video clips and sermons on loneliness. The Christian message---salvation for hell-deserving sinners through Christ's death and resurrection by faith alone---has been subjugated to the entertainment paradigm and predictably distorted, truncated, and even lost altogether. As a result, the church has become increasingly ignorant of its faith and, not surprisingly, increasingly confused about its mission.
This gospel distortion has spread with mind-numbing speed, resulting in a near wholesale return to the liberal church mission of the early nineteenth century. Rob Bell now wants to "save Christians" from a heavenly fixation by having them focus on the here and now.
And many have done just that. Churches have allowed the medium to dilute the message to the detriment of the mission.
The Medium for the Message
Christianity is all about proclaiming the message of the gospel. So what is a fitting medium? The message actually contains the medium God has endorsed---the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and in these last times, God has spoken to us by that Word, his Son.
The Bible is the inscripturation of that Word. These 66 canonical books are the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This we proclaim, as it was given and in its entirety. The message is the Word of the gospel, and that Word is the medium.
The Message Is the Medium: Doing Gospel-Driven Church Planting
This realization should profoundly affect how we do all things "church," including church planting. In gospel-driven church planting, the message of the gospel is the church-planting methodology. As one NETS planter put it, "I'm a gospel-only kind of guy. No tricks, no gimmicks, no rock-climbing walls, no bait to get them in and then preach the gospel. The gospel is the bait. The gospel is the hook."
We must stay on mission, planting churches as Jesus did, as the apostles did, as the reformers did, as the church has done throughout history---by proclaiming God's Word. The message is the medium.
This is the theme of Plant New England. On October 10 and 11, 2011, NETS will partner with The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, and Sovereign Grace Ministries for a conference designed to equip churches and church planters for gospel-driven church planting. We want to see God transform New England's spiritual landscape through the power of the Word. Mark Dever and I will deliver talks, experienced planters will lead practical workshops, Collin Hansen will moderate a panel discussion, and we'll meet conference sponsors to learn about church planting opportunities in New England.
This conference is for men and women, pastors and laypeople---anyone who has a heart for New England church planting, whether you want to start a church or lead an existing one. Come away with advice from seasoned pastors and planters and a renewed vision for Christ's church in New England. Hope to see you there.
Registration is now open! Find out more about the conference, including costs and our Boston-area venue, at www.plantnewengland.org.