Recontextualizing Church

Many churches do a good job of making converts, but if you were to listen to Gen Xers and Millennials you would hear the voice of those crying out for discipleship and authenticity in community.  People want relationship, and disciples are made through long term relationship.

The problem I see in many attractional-event and program-driven churches in the West is their system does a good job of producing converts, but not necessarily of producing disciples who are equipped to make disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Many churches in our country seem to have drifted from the biblical concept of “church” and have redefined it as the place, a building, where ministry happens. Hence, many evangelicals have built large centralized institutions using what seems like marketing as a formula for success: utilize attractional events to draw a crowd, and then develop programs and depend on professional clergy to keep people coming back. While this may have worked to build large communities of worship in the mid-to-late twentieth century, it has also consumed many of the smaller churches like a Wal-Mart monopoly putting out of business the mom-and-pop shops. And often when the pastor of a program-driven church leaves the ministry, that church tends to lose sight of the vision as it struggles to pull together in unity, and the congregation shrinks as people transfer to the new, next, and better program-driven church that meets their family’s needs. I would argue this doesn’t build biblical community; this fractures community among local churches as the competitive mindset takes over and as church leadership begins to use marketing techniques to promote their brand to attract church shoppers, and thus congregants shuffle from church to church.

This book explores the challenges church leaders and congregants face in shepherding a program-driven church to begin to reach out to the community outside of the four walls of a church building. Take this journey with me as I evaluate Jesus’ and the Apostles’ method of outreach and discipleship and seek to find ways to apply their methodology in today’s context. We will explore various small group models throughout history and in today’s contemporary Western context. We will look at the necessity of corporate worship and small groups to stimulate spiritual growth. I have interviewed Jeff Vanderstelt, Steve Timmis, Joel Comiskey, and Dan Braga to glean wisdom from these leaders in how to successfully shepherded churches through this kind of recontexualization of the local church. In the end I have mapped out a strategy for how church leaders can lead their churches through this transition from attractional events and programs to the missional home community and cell-driven model, which resonates with this generation disenfranchised with church.

I believe there are many methods of ministry that can work to make converts, but in order to make disciples that multiply requires an authentic faith community. This is what an unbelieving world is longing to see, a church that has closed the gap between their rhetoric and reality.

For a large print copy, order here:

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This book is a result of a Thesis Project for Gordon-Conwell Seminary Doctorate Program in Outreach and Discipleship.


#4 Consecration – The Master Plan of Evangelism

Have you ever met someone who just became a Christian and they were so excited and you began to see so many parts of their life begin to change.  Perhaps you were or are that Christian.

I remember when I first realized I am a sinner and the helplessness I felt to try to change my life.  I remember when I first began to realize the hopelessness I felt and how directionless I was as nothing in life satisfied.

I also remember the day when I realized the grace of God was being offered to me and that if I humbled myself and received God’s mercy by faith that everything would be okay, that I didn’t have to worry about my future, and that I was guaranteed the inheritance of eternal life.  So I received God’s gift of grace by faith and my whole life changed.

I felt raw, but cleansed.

I felt broken, but I was being re-built.

I felt tender-hearted toward all people and the situation they were in, and I felt a compassion and love for all people.

And then six months later my heart began to harden a little.  I realized the pain of this world continues and that the freshness of the Lord’s favor was beginning to feel distant.

This partially may have been due to the fact that I saw many freshman college students begin to fall away from faith by January 1995.  This may have partially been due to the fact I saw much pain in my friends and their friends, which they tried to fix through self-medicating with alcohol, marijuana, or sleeping with a boyfriend or girlfriend.  This may have had to do with the increased pain I saw in those who formerly declared to be a follower of Christ who then began to drink and sleep around and who then became jaded and started to point the finger at me saying I was being judgmental.

I really wrestled with this. 

I don’t like being judgmental or feeling like others thought I was being judgmental.  At the same time when I would see crushed people trying to fix their problems with things that made it worse I had two reactions during my college days: (1) I would point out that what they were doing was wrong and that it was inflicting more pain; and (2) I would feel bad for pointing this out because people didn’t like to hear me say this and it often resulted in distance between us.

And then there would be my third reaction – “Well if I can’t change them, then should I join them?” I didn’t get into the drinking thing or drugs, but my girlfriend became my fix.  We didn’t sleep together until our wedding night, but I did depend on her more than God for a few years before we got married.  I also flirted with putting my bible on my shelf because movies or video games and poker were more fun.

I would go back and forth about what God wanted me to do and what I wanted to do.  I go back and forth less now, but I still struggle with living a perfectly consecrated life.

What does consecration mean?

It is an ongoing recognition that all you are and continue to be is a disciple growing in Christ in faith.

As Christians we are called to do two basic things: (1) be a disciple of Jesus; and (2) help others become disciples of Jesus.

How do we do this?

First, we are to teach obedience to Jesus and stress confession of sin.  Confession simply means agreeing with God of what sin is, and when you sin agree with God that you have sinned.  And then if the sin was against another person, go to that person and confess you sinned against them  This sure helps you sleep better because you go to bed at night free from condemnation.

Second, being a disciple of Jesus involves the outworking of faith.  We are called to have faith and then to live by faith.  This is the fruit of the tree so to speak, the proof in the pudding, and the expression of God’s love working through the Christian.

Third, disciples of Jesus are called to accept the discipline of devotion and ministry.  Every Christian should be involved in making disciples and you can’t do this unless you are a part of a church working with other people with various giftings working together to help produce well rounded disciples of Christ.  Our elders, when we meet with new membership candidates, we ask if they have read our membership covenant and agree with our doctrine and if they agree to get involved in ministry.  We explain that we expect each member to be discipled and be involved in ministry within their spheres of influence and programs at Grace.

Fourth, disciples of Jesus are called to follow the way of the cross.  This simply means we are to serve like Jesus served and endure hardships for the sake of living the Christian life.  In some countries this results in martyrdom.  In our country there is a social pressure to remain quiet about faith, especially about the Christian faith, and if you bring it up people just distance themselves from you.  And so in this country we walk a fine line of living like Jesus and thus serving people and talking about Christ at the risk of hurting relationships.

And finally, make love your aim.  Obedience gives expression to love.  But love comes first, which causes the Christian disciple of Jesus to want to obey out of love for God.  You can’t say you love Him and then live in disobedience.  Disobedience to Christ is an expression of rebellion against Christ, which results in distance and separation from God.

I am not fully consecrated, but I desire to be.  I desire for those in my church to desire to be consecrated.  May we desire this together, walk by love and with grace inspire one another to live for Jesus.  This is harder than it sounds, but so worth pursuing together.


Jesus’ Plan of Evangelism / Discipleship – #3 Association

In the last few weeks I have been summarizing from Robert Coleman’s book and lectures about Jesus’ “Master Plan of Evangelism.” 

The first week we covered the Incarnation.  Jesus has always been God’s Son, the second person of the Trinity.  When Jesus became a man He went from a glorious position to a humble position.  He did this to love and serve people and to point them to GOD and His ways.  Likewise, we as Christians should emulate the incarnation by becoming humble, loving and serving people, and pointing them to GOD and His ways. 

The second week we covered Selection – Jesus called people to Himself; He called people who gravitated toward Him, who wanted to follow Him, and then He trained these disciples to reproduce disciples.  Likewise, we as Christians should be disciples of Jesus, learning as much as we can, putting it into practice, and then looking for people who are eager to grow in Christ and walk with us doing ministry together.  If people push back, don’t try to force it; rather role with those who want to role with you.

This week we are covering a third topic, Association.  Jesus taught us by example that we are to minister to and serve those we already have an association with.  But we are to build a relationship with these people so that it becomes more than just an association.  If all we ever do is make people feel like a number or a notch in our belts, then people will be put off.  We need to build relationships with people in our church, in our neighborhoods, at work, school, sports teams, etc.  The goal is to build personal relationships with people.  Those who will ask you to disciple them, it will be because they like you and want to learn from you.  Those who want to learn about the gospel from you, it will be because you built a bridge and were there for them even if they never wanted to hear anything about Christ from you.  

One of the down sides of mass evangelistic crusades and revival meetings or outreach events is there is a lack of a personal touch, and thus people might respond to the message of Christ crucified for their sins, but they will not know what to do with their new found faith unless a personal relationship with a Christian is made with the intention of helping the person grow in faith and get involved in the mission of the gospel.  We need to have a personal touch when reaching out, and we need to call for a personal response.  The long term effect of accepting Christ without discipleship will be that the church to them will become a building or will be about what happens on Sunday mornings rather than about everyday church lived out in community on mission.

Large group discipleship classes are okay, small group discipleship groups are better, and one-on-one discipleship is best.  The smaller the group the better because the goal is not just to teach doctrine, but to show people how doctrine applies to everyday life. 

Some examples of everyday discipleship:

  • Bring disciples into the routine of daily life.  Those you know, minister to them or with them in everyday life.
  • Seek ways for casual fellowship (e.g., coffee, fishing, meals together, working out together, working with one another on projects, etc.)
  • Arrange times for prayer and study of the Bible.
  • Occasionally have extended periods of reflection with those your are discipling.

Our goal at Grace Church is not to emphasize a program or schemes to draw people in.  Our goal at Grace is to love each other in practical ways in community with one another and to extend that love beyond those who regularly attend Grace Church.  This is what it means to live on mission together, to live the Great Commission lifestyle.


Jesus Plan of Evangelism / Discipleship – Incarnation

If you have been a part of the Church for some time you have probably heard the preacher speak on “The Great Commission” – when Jesus gave the command to His disciples to “Go make disciples…”  Jesus spoke these words before He ascended up into heaven.  These were His final instructions before leaving earth.  Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20…

18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In the Gospel of mark the commission begins with “Go evangelize…” (Mark 16)

In the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, & ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

He was giving these instructions to His disciples.  A disciple was an apprentice, one who was called to follow a rabbi (teacher) and to learn from the religious teacher and eventually take on his on disciples.  This speaks volumes about Jesus’ plan to reach the world.  We might think His plan would have been to save and disciple the masses; to save and disciple all of Jerusalem at once.  But this was not His plan.  His plan was to come and live among His people, call a small group of disciples to Himself, and train these men to reach the masses.

This plan is counter to how churches in the West try to reach and disciple the world.

The typical plan in the West: Bigger is better, right? And so we try to attract as many people as possible to an event at which we might share the gospel.  When people accept Christ, they might be directed to a discipleship relationship, but often there is not a plan in place and/or discipleship is not stressed as important and so the new Christian doesn’t make it a priority.  Then we place these people into leadership roles, often before they are ready, and they are not discipling people when they really don’t know what they are doing.

Now contrast this with the plan of Jesus.

Jesus’ plan of discipleship: Jesus did not come to save everyone on the planet at the same time when He came to earth 2,000 years ago.  He did not come in all His glory; He came as a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  He lived with humans because He incarnated Himself, He moved into the neighborhood so to speak and influenced those He came in contact with.  When it was His time to enact God’s plan to reach the world, He started with 12 men; He called them to be His apprentices and He taught them everything they needed to know in order to reach the world.  True He preached to the masses, but His emphasis was not on the masses, but on the 12.  He lived among them, served them, worked with them, won them over, taught them, resolved conflicts among them, taught them about compassion, taught them truth, and then after His death and resurrection He said, “You’re your turn to take what I have taught you and go replicate what I have done with you among the people throughout the nations to the end of the earth.”

Jesus was commissioning the disciples to live incarnationally, to go back to Jerusalem and share the gospel and run with those who want to run with them, teaching them to be followers of Jesus.

Likewise for Grace Church leadership, Jesus’ plan is that our leaders would be like Jesus or the Apostles and share the gospel and run with those who want to run with them, teaching them to be followers of Jesus in the context of Seattle.

Likewise for us, Jesus’ plan is that we, Christians, would be like Jesus or the disciples and share the gospel and run with those who want to run with us, teaching them to be followers of Jesus in the context of Seattle (or wherever you live).

For Jesus to be incarnate in us, it takes us following Jesus, turning to Him as our master and perfect teacher who speaks with authority.  We need to commit our lives to Christ.  This requires that we read the Bible, especially the Gospels of Jesus so as to take on Jesus’ love and nature.  This requires prayer that our bodies cooperate with the Spirit to crucify our fleshly desires, which are counter to Christ-likeness so that we can display love incarnate – Christ in me.  If we, Christians, can live this way we will not need magical programs to reach the world.  Our current church events, and potlucks, and small groups, and home communities, and Sunday school classes, and fellowship in the foyer will be enough.  May we strive to know Jesus and strive to live like Him and strive for spiritual renewal as a Christian community.  Amen.