Connecting Theological Depth with Missional Passion
A gospel-centered curriculum should be driven by the character of our missionary God seen most clearly in the Person of Jesus Christ. Our weekly gatherings are not the goal of the mission; they are the means by which we connect with one another and learn God’s Word in order that we might be equipped to love God and neighbor while spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
The goal is not to fill our heads with theological truth but to fuel our hearts with passion to join God on His mission to bring people to Himself. Keeping a focus on how the gospel leads us to mission is a crucial aspect of how we apply the Bible to our lives.
In this video, Ed Stetzer (general editor) and I talk about our approach to theology and mission in The Gospel Project.
Trevin Wax: Ed, anytime I’ve ever listened to you preach or teach, you have emphasized that we are sent - God’s people are a sent people. Why is that so important for churches, for Christians to understand – our sent nature?
Ed Stetzer: One of the things that we often under-emphasize in all different kinds of churches is actually the fact that we have been sent as ambassadors. Agents of reconciliation. We join Jesus in His mission. So that’s really been a theme of my ministry. That’s why I did my focus on missiology.
At the end of the day, what I don’t want is for us to help people go deep and at the same time not encourage them to go out. That’s part of just what it means to not miss the commissions of Jesus. We can’t miss this theme of sentness throughout the Scriptures.
People have talked about it a lot in terms of mission, missional, mission-driven. Those are all good and important things. I don’t care if you use the word. I do care deeply that God’s people would actually act a little less like they’ve arrived and a little more like God has sent them on mission.
Trevin Wax: Now, you were talking about the role of small communities, life-on-life, and so you see small groups, Sunday School classes, community groups, home groups, all different kinds of groups. And one of the things that most small groups will do is they want to bring in people who are not yet believers into their community. So one of the questions you get when it comes to curriculum is if you go deep with them, how are you going to be accessible, relevant to that non-Christian?
Ed Stetzer: I was doing an interview with Craig Groeschel a couple years ago and I asked him what are ways his preaching has changed over the last few years. He said even non-Christians are asking deeper questions. And I think that’s part of the reality. So even churches from different kinds of movements are saying, We’ve got to now move into more depth.
When you teach in an environment like that, like using The Gospel Project curriculum, at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean that you say words that people don’t know. I try to preach in biblically driven ways, but when I use a term, I try to explain that term. But I do believe that if you can learn to order coffee at Starbucks, you can learn theological language at church. There’s some language that has to be known. The Gospel Project seeks to ramp people on and ramp people in by being able to explain. It doesn’t mean we have to go to the lowest common denominator.
I lead a small group in my neighborhood, and I have a neighbor who occasionally comes who has never been to church before. So when I said turn to Matthew, chapter 4, verse 11, his question was who’s Matthew? Why does he have two numbers after his name? We start there. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have to teach something deep. But I explain and I “on ramp” that. And that’s what we’re going to try, we are trying to do in The Gospel Project.
Trevin Wax: How do we connect to missional application? We talked about how depth is not just information, not just immediate application, but The Gospel Project does have both.
Ed Stetzer: When we understand what God has done for us in Christ, it causes us…that those who live should no longer live for themselves, 2 Corinthians says, right? It says He died for all of those who live should no longer live for themselves but for the One who died for them and was raised. So when people understand the enormity of the gospel, when you teach it in your church or I teach it in my church, the enormity of what God has done in Christ changes us so that people then ultimately need to live, churches need to be structured around, God’s glory and His mission.
So if it’s not my agenda, it’s God’s glory. So I live for God’s glory. And I live ultimately to be sent on mission. That’s why Jesus left us here rather than calling us into eternity right at the moment of our conversion. So how do we live? To give God glory and to live on mission. So I don’t think it’s a hard thing to do. And again, it’s not a forced thing. I think we need to be hermeneutically, exegetically responsible in all these kinds of situations. But at the end of the day, throughout the Bible God’s people are sent and are called to live as His representation and His agents of His mission and His grace. We see that throughout the Scriptures. So it’s not hard to make this case. As a matter of fact, I think the question would have to be ”Why haven’t we been making this case all along?”
Trevin Wax: One of the questions we ask every writer with The Gospel Project is: How does this passage or this theological topic equip God’s people to live on mission? Because we believe all the Bible is ultimately there to equip us to be about God’s mission.
Ed Stetzer: Exactly. If the Bible’s ultimately, if the big theme is what God has done in Christ, if the Old Testament leads up to it, the New Testament flows out of it – if that’s true, then what did Jesus tell us to do? It’s not simply to say, “Oh, the awesomeness of the gospel,” but because of the gospel, Jesus says all authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded. And then He promises His presence always. So again, to think on the glories of the gospel and not live as an agent of mission is a disconnect that too often we see and we need to overcome.