Prodigal Church

April 26, 2017

My thanks to Jared Wilson, not only for another thoughtful book, but for expressing many of the very things I would like to express.  In his 2015 book, Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, Wilson has written a book I wish I had written.

The third gathering of Race and the Church in Richmond, Virginia took place on Saturday May 14.  Featured speaker Leonce Crump addressed the diverse crowd on the subject of The Church’s Commission.

Leonce Crump’s bio, from the Race and the Church RVA web page:

Originally from Louisiana and raised Catholic, Léonce began following Jesus at age 16. Always an athlete and a talker, Léonce outran his first mall security guard (and pregnant mother) at age 3, and spent most of his grade school years talking with his principals on the subject of public speaking during class. He has been in ordained ministry for 9 years, is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma; and holds Masters degrees in Criminal Justice, with a focus on Case Law, from the University of Tennessee, Missional Leadership from the now defunct Resurgence Theological Training Center, an; is currently finishing his Masters of Divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary.

At Oklahoma he was an All-American wrestler and played a short while on the Sooner football team. He experienced an extended time of rebellion and running from God during college, but after 22 months of living as though he were not a Christian he surrendered to Jesus and ultimately to God’s calling into ministry. After college Léonce competed to make the world team in wrestling, played professional football for the New Orleans Saints and coached collegiate wrestling.

Prior to planting his present church, Léonce had served in 3 churches, starting and leading 3 college and young adult ministries. In 2006 he felt called to plant a church and settled on the under-served area of downtown Atlanta; and in early 2008 he and his wife began the process of planting Renovation Church, in partnership with  Acts 29 and Perimeter Church.

A prodigious reader and engaging speaker, Léonce regularly speaks and preaches across the country at conferences and churches of all denominations. Léonce enjoys boxing and MMA, studying theology, history, leadership, church structure and poetry. He likes Soul music, jazz/standards, and Bossaniva. He also loves to lift, keep up with wrestling, football, and rugby, playing with his kids, hanging with the homeless dudes.

To view the first two gatherings of Race and the Church RVA:

The second gathering of Race and the Church in Richmond, Virginia took place on Saturday morning March 12. The theme was: Why Do We All Look the Same? A Cultural & Theological Analysis of Underlying Church Dynamics; featuring speaker Dr. Alexander Jun.

Alexander Jun is a professor at Azusa Pacific University, a TED Talk speaker, and author. He has published extensively on issues of post-secondary access for historically underrepresented students in under-served areas. Jun is also a respected Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.

To view the message from the first gathering, with featured speaker Sean Lucas, click: Race and the Church: Telling the Truth.

Dr. Os Guinness speaks to Acton Institute, a message titled: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Times. This message, though long, is powerful, and is related to a post I published earlier this week titled: Culture Shaping Power of the Church.

Potter's Hands

Os Guinness, in his excellent book, Renaissance, concerning the church in midst of the present challenges unprecedented in Western Culture, notes the culture changing and culture shaping power of the gospel, when the gospel is both declared by God’s People and is actively shaping God’s People.  When many of our churches are caving in pursuit of “relevance”, which is hoped will cause people to “like” the church, so we can keep our numbers up, I think Guinness offers a both prophetic and strategic word:

What we have here in the teaching of Jesus and the Scriptures, and amplified in Augustine, is the very heart of the secret of the culture-shaping power of the gospel in the church. When the church goes to either of two extremes, and is so “in the world” that it is of the world and worldly, or so “not of the world” that it is otherworldly and might as well be out of the world altogether, it is powerless and utterly irrelevant.  But when the church, through its faithfulness and its discernment of the times, lives truly “in” but “not of” the world, and is therefore the City of God engaging the City of Man, it touches off the secret of its culture-shaping power. For the intellectual and social tension of being “in” but “not of” the world provides the engagement-with-the-critical-distance that is the source of the church’s culture-shaping power.

In short, the decisive power is always God’s, through his Word and Spirit. But on her side the church contributes three distinct human factors to the equation: engagement, discernment, and refusal.

First, the church is called to engage and to stay engaged, to be faithful and obedient in that it puts aside all other preferences of its own and engages purposefully with the world as the Lord commands.

Second, the church is called to discern, to exercise its spiritual and cultural discernment of the best and worst of the world of its day, in order to see clearly where it is to be “in” and where it is to be “not of” that world.

Third, the church is called to refuse, a grand refusal to conform to or comply with anything and everything in the world that is against the way of Jesus and his kingdom.

Marks of Revival

January 20, 2016

Revival Fires

I had the privilege last week to meet a man convinced we are headed for revival.  He is a gentle man, who thinks often of God, wishing for a return to some semblance of the way things used to be – minus the overt sins of racism and sexism that were so widely tolerated in days gone by.  But the basic reason for his certainty is simple: We are in desperate need of revival. He had other reasons, of course; supporting reasons. Among them, through his examination of of history he has concluded that God works cyclically, and that we are presently overdue for the next revival.

I share his desire to see God bring revival.  I can’t argue that we are overdue and in desperate need. And it is not just America that needs to be “revived”.  More than our culture, I believe the American Church needs to experience revival.  And when God works, he works through his church. So if revival is to occur, reorienting the cultural drift, renewing God as the rightful object of our collective affection, it is going to be at work in and through the Church.

But still, what does revival actually mean? Of course it means “to make alive”.  But what does it look like? Do all revivals look alike? What are the characteristics?

I suspect the answer the the question “Do all revivals look alike?” is likely a “No”.  Cultures are different. God seems to bless different expressions of evangelism and ministry approaches from one generation to the next; one culture to the next.  So to assume when revivals hit they will be uniform seems a bit of a stretch to me.

J.I. Packer,defines a revival this way:

“Revival is God accelerating, intensifying, and extending the work of grace that goes on in every Christian’s life!”

In his book God in our Midst, Packer suggests that, among the variety of God’s ways, there are at least five constants that seem to always appear in biblical revivals:

1. Awareness of God’s presence: “The first and fundamental feature in renewal is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy and might.”

2. Responsiveness to God’s Word: “The message of Scripture which previously was making only a superficial impact, if that, now searches its hearers and readers to the depth of their being.”

3. Sensitiveness to (Our Own) Sin: “Consciences become tender and a profound humbling takes place.”

4. Liveliness in Community: “Love and generosity, unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer, and a passion to reach out to win others, are recurring marks of renewed communities.”

5. Fruitfulness in Testimony: “Christians proclaim by word and deed the power of the new life, souls are won, and a community conscience informed by Christian values emerges.”

I hope my new friend is right, that God – who is always at work – will soon be at work in unusual ways.  These are some of the signs I will pray will be evident in our culture, and in our church.

Church on Mission

If our congregation were to be a church with the gospel, plus a group that enjoys being together in community, but we were not on mission to reach out to our neighbors and the Nations, for the sake of advancing Christ’s Kingdom, then we would just be another social club for people to attend.

Gospel + Community – Mission = Club

If we were to be a church with the gospel, and we were actively engaged in mission to our neighbors, but not together in community, then we would  be like a bunch of silos that aren’t truly showing off the body of Christ. We could not be considered like a city on a hill.

Gospel + Mission – Community = Para-Church

If were to become a church actively on mission, serving together in community with one another, but we had no gospel, or we were careless about the truths of the gospel, we would then merely be just another non-profit organization.

Community + Mission – Gospel = Non Profit

To be the church, to be what Jesus calls us to be, what he created us to be, is a Gospel-centered, missional, gathering of people living life together, sharing one another’s joys and pains, serving together in various ways for the good of our city, expecting nothing in return, all for the glory of Jesus, the joy of being together, and love for our neighbors.

We must be a church that is gospel centered, on mission in community so that we can be the organism, the family, the church that Christ gave the Spirit to empower, and of which he said could not be stopped.

Gospel + Community + Mission = Church