About Gregg Caruso

I have enjoyed the privilege of serving the Church as a co-church planter, pastor of multi-staffed churches, coach, mentor, mission’s executive, trainer, interventionist, diagnostician, and intentional interim pastor. I have served in such varied places as Carson City (NV), Santa Barbara, Oceanside, Boone (IA), London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, the North Shore of O’ahu, the SF Bay Area, Manchester NH, Temecula CA, and Torrance CA. My all-time favorite book on leadership is “Leadership is an Art” by Max DePree. What a great and humbling topic... Specialties: Intentional Interim Pastor (IIP) Gospel-centered theological 'reboot' Change management Organizational development Analytics (3 tiers of diagnostics available) Policy-based governance Conflict management and reconciliation

The Role of An Elder

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I am currently working with a church that is reconstituting their eldership team.  There has a five-week series and then a three week nomination process.  A few nominees have asked for an overview of what will be required — they’re mostly asking about the time commitment.  Following is my response…

As elder nominees prayerfully consider the role of an elder at [the church] and the time commitment required, here is some basic information to consider:

PRIMARY TASKS

Elders, which includes the Lead Pastor, have three primary tasks that are carried out in the context of mutual prayer, study, authentic biblical relationships, unity, and consensus building:

Doctrine – The [church] elders will be the guardians of the church’s doctrinal stance for both the essentials of the Christian faith as well as non-essential (or secondary) issues of faith.

  1. The essentials of the faith most often describe the behaviors and beliefs without which the Bible clearly states we are not saved. For instance, the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, etc. (These are not requirements we must meet in order to save ourselves and earn God’s favor. Rather these are the essential beliefs and behaviors that will be manifest in the true Christian.)
  2. The non-essentials of the faith most often describe the doctrines in the Bible that while very important, are not essential to salvation. For instance, whether or not someone believes in the baptism of infants or whether or not God still heals today. These are important issues; yet, what someone believes about these are not essential to salvation.
  3. Here is how Augustine stated it succinctly: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

Direction – With input from the Staff, Ministry Leaders, Members, and Attenders the Elders will be responsible to determine the vision of [the church] and, with the Lead Pastor, identify 3-5 yearly ministry objectives. The Elders will then delegate to the Lead Pastor the authority to oversee all Staff and operations of the church, and then consistently hold the Lead Pastor accountable through monthly reports and regular (yearly) performance reviews. The Elders will also consistently evaluate the progress of the ministry objectives by employing both qualitative and quantitative metrics.

  1. Qualitative Metrics include (but are not limited to) widespread genuine joy and excitement in the gospel, unity, maturity, zeal, faith, hope, love, increased boldness and zeal in evangelism with a winsome and contagious witness among a cross section of people, the aroma of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, responsive obedience to the Word of God, the fruit of the Spirit, a humble willingness to follow the leadership, eagerness to do works of service, receptivity to non-Christians, seekers, and newcomers, etc.
  2. Quantitative Metrics include (but are not limited to) measuring the numbers of conversions, baptisms, numbers of Bible studies, small groups, those enfolded into groups, weekend worship attendance, general giving, missions giving, numbers of those serving inside and outside the church, numbers of new and consistent givers, involvement in ministries and outreaches, attendance and quality of training events, etc.

Discipline – Broadly speaking, there can be a distinction between formative discipline (referring to instruction to develop the disciplines of the faith) and corrective discipline (referring to correcting sin). Corrective discipline refers to any act of correction, whether privately and informally warning a friend (which all Christians are called to engage in with gentleness and humility) or formally engaging a habitually sinning member in the corrective discipline process outlined in Matthew 18:15-19. The Elders become involved when all the other relational resources of the church have been exhausted. When the formal process gets to the final stage, the word “excommunication” is frequently used. To excommunicate is to “ex-commune” someone. Among Protestants, excommunication does not refer to removing someone from salvation (which the church is incapable doing) it refers to removing someone from membership in the church and participation in the church’s ministries including the Lord’s Supper. This effectively removes the spiritual connections and covering of the church with the hope for a deep and heartfelt repentance.

LEADING LEADERS

There is a difference between a minister and a leader. A minister builds people and a leader builds groups of people. Like wings on a bird every church needs both to fly straight. In a larger church the Elders must be proven leaders capable of leading other leaders. Are leaders born or developed? The answer is YES! Consider Jethro’s counsel to Moses in Exodus 18:21: “Select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.” Every person has a “leadership capacity.” Most people can be trained to be a “leader of ten.” We can think of this as a small group leader, whose primary responsibility is to regularly facilitate thoughtful dialogue, prayer, biblical community, and service. Beyond leaders of tens there are leaders of fifties, hundreds, and thousands. Every person will max out somewhere on that continuum. The larger the church the more essential it is that the Elders (and Management Team Staff) need to be effective and proven leaders of fifties, hundreds, and thousands. It is possible in a growing church that the needs and governance required can outgrow the leadership capacity of an Elder (or a Staff member). (This could become one of the drawbacks of the “elder for life” perspective.)

AN ELDER’S WIFE (IF MARRIED)

This is not directly addressed in Scripture but would come under the eldership qualification of managing his household well — with love and dignity (see 1 Timothy 3:4-5). In addition to being a spiritually mature believer an elder’s wife must also be self-differentiated (as do Elders!). Jesus would be 100% differentiated, the rest of us would land on a scale ranging from low to high. People with a high level of differentiation have their own beliefs, convictions, direction, goals, and values apart from the pressures around them.  They can choose, before God, how they want to be without being controlled by the approval or disapproval of others. Intensity of feelings, high stress, or the anxiety of others around them does not overwhelm their capacity to think and act intelligently and with responsive wisdom. There are times of high stress and anxiety in an elder’s home and marriage (again, if married). During these seasons the elder has the opportunity to regularly process with other elders while his wife may feel the weight of the stress and anxiety (no matter how much she knows about the situation) without the opportunity to process with others. If she is not differentiated she may be given to “leaking” her stress and anxiety in unhealthy ways. The stress and anxiety can lead to defensiveness, triangulation (i.e., unnecessarily involving a third party), or outright gossip.

Self-differentiation is an emotional health issue. Unfortunately many churches have not done a good job of integrating emotional health into the discipleship process.

TIME COMMITMENT 

Certainly the time commitment will vary. Not every elder will have an equal amount of time per month to serve. However every elder will need to determine during the vetting process if he has sufficient time to devote. The goal during this transition season at [the church] is to show that being an elder at [the church] is (overall) a joyful ministry opportunity! Whether or not a church believes in “elder for life” there does need to be required sabbaticals (TBD, somewhere between 3-5 years). I recommend three meetings a month. The goal of all of these meetings is to balance effectiveness with efficiency.

  1. A monthly board meeting to carryout the legal requirements of a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization by reviewing financial and attendance reports, holding the Lead Pastor accountable through engaging with his Ministry Objective Report, providing counsel and input to the Lead Pastor when asked for, and actively moving toward consensus and unity. The agenda for a board meeting is jointly assembled by the Board Facilitator and Lead Pastor and sent out with monthly reports 3-5 days before the Board Meeting so that every member can come prepared to move quickly and efficiently through the agenda. A board meeting should last no more than two hours, however it will most likely take an additional two hours to properly prepare for the board meeting.
  2. A monthly “work” meeting to engage in extended prayer for the church, the staff, leaders, members, attenders, specific prayer needs, and for God to bless the church with salvations. Additionally, in a work meeting the elders review any current or possible church discipline issues as well as continue to study and refine [the church’s] doctrine. Position papers are often written for effective instruction and communication to the rest of the church (hot topics include women’s roles in leadership, sexuality, and defining marriage). These meetings can last 2-3 hours.
  3. A monthly “check-in” meeting to share and care for one another. Honest sharing about joys, challenges, struggles, marriage, work, etc. and praying for each other individually as needed. I would also encourage, at least once a quarter, for these meetings to include wives for continued relationship building, sharing, and caring. This also helps the wives to be able to engage with their own wisdom and discernment (where appropriate) as well as being an outlet for any pent-up stress and anxiety. These meeting should last 1-2 hours. When the wives are involved it should usually take place over a meal, with plenty of time to interact plus time to pray together.

I would also recommend an elder’s retreat on a regular basis – at least yearly. This could just be for the guys, or for couples (maybe one of each??).

Addendum #1: What About Women Elders?

Think of a continuum with “Complementarian” on one end and “Egalitarian” on the other end. Here’s a concise definition for each:

  1. Complementarian – The theological view that men and women are created equal in their value, being, and personhood through bearing the image of God, displaying physical and functional distinctives and are created to complement one another in biblically prescribed roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, and church leadership. Complementarians view women’s roles in church ministry as distinctive from men, holding to the “mystery” of mutual submission, male headship, and sacrificial love conveyed in Ephesians 5:19-33. Practically, this is expressed through the practice of male lead pastors and elders.

An important theological consideration is, does complementarianism emanate from the Fall or the Trinity? But that’s for another time 🙂

  1. Egalitarian – The theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their personhood, value, and worth but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, church, or society – viewing Galatians 3:28 as a hinge-verse that changes the historical role of women in the Church.

Complementarianism has it’s own continuum: “Soft,” “Strict,” and “Hyper” (again, for another time). Historically, [the church] has been more complementarian in its theological perspective with male elders and pastors. This is an area that the incoming elders will oversee theological clarification on. (If a nominee tends toward an egalitarian view it will not disqualify him.) Also, many healthy and vital churches have a provision in their governance model to add “gifted men and women” to their board. These men and women would not be considered elders but their wisdom and discernment would be consistently utilized.   

Addendum #2: Can Vocational Staff Be Elders?

This is an area that is not clearly defined in Scripture. Many healthy and vital churches have differing views on this question. When a church is in transition with the aim of calling a “Permanent Pastor” it’s generally wise to not have any vocational staff as elders. When a permanent pastor comes on the scene it can be awkward and confusing for the permanent pastor to be the (new) supervisor of the staff member/s at work but be a co-equal in an elder’s meeting. In the governance model expressed above the Lead Pastor can bring one of his staff (often the Executive pastor) to a Board Meeting as a non-voting member to give input as well as helping the Lead Pastor communicate with the rest of the staff.

12-Point Spiritual Audit

Audit

As we begin a new school year (which, most churches orient their calendars around) I am reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16). Consider the following questions in order to be proactive and intentional about becoming all that God has called you to be.

  1. Is responsive obedience the fruit of genuine joy in the gospel?  We can obey God out of fear or from love. God prefers love.
  1. Have I maintained a genuine awe of God?  Awe inspires, it overwhelms, it intimidates our humanness, it inspires worship. Awe isn’t learned; it is realized.
  1. Am I content with who I am becoming?  Every day we get one day closer to who we will ultimately be. Am I satisfied with who this will be?
  1. Am I becoming less religious and more spiritual?  The Pharisees were religious; Christ is spiritual. Much tradition is religious, while relationship with Christ is spiritual.
  1. Does my family recognize the authenticity of my spirituality?  They see us whole. We would like to believe, and must believe, that if we are growing spiritually, our family will recognize it.
  1. Do I give-to-get-to-give-again?  John Wimber used to remind audiences that the reason we give is not just to “get,” but to “get” so we can give again, and again, and again… Are we giving away that which God blesses us with?
  1. Do I have a quiet center to my life?  Peace is not just the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety in the midst of conflict.
  1. Have I defined my unique contribution?  Do we know what we can do effectively? The need is always bigger than any person can satisfy, and so our call is simply to handle the part of the need that is ours to do.
  1. Is my prayer life improving?  One test of our prayer life is this: Do our decisions have prayer as an integral part, or do we make decisions out of our desires and then immerse them in a sanctimonious sauce we call prayer?
  1. Is my humility genuine?  Humility is not denying the gifts and power that we have but admitting that the power comes through us, not from us.
  1. Is my soul being fed?  We have different personality and character traits that need developing or dwarfing. That means we must search out the spiritual food that feeds our soul.
  1. Do I have joy?  God doesn’t need us, God loves us; and we don’t work for Him to earn His love, we work for Him as a result of His love. He lets us work in order to mature us. That brings joy.

A spiritual audit is more than a statement of condition. It is also an indication of spiritual potential. May the coming school year be a season growth toward your destiny in Christ.

This post was adapted from an article originally published in 1998 by the (late) Fred Smith in Christianity Today/Leadership Journal. I have continued to adapt it over the years as I think, plan, pray, and grow.  You can read the original article here.

The Christian Contribution To Our Current Moral Crisis


I didn’t vote for President Donald Trump but I can understand why people did.Many Americans are fed up with the partisan politics in which both sides of the aisle pursue political agendas with the (seemingly) underlying goals of personal enrichment and, therefore, re-election. (For instance, how many of our representatives would vote for us to have the same health-care plan they do? Or the same retirement benefits?)

People took a chance on someone they thought could “drain the swamp.” I get that. And I get that Christians were hoping for more of a voice in determining public policy. But Trump is who we thought he was — and we (all) need to own that.

It’s also been demoralizing to listen to many of the “Evangelicals” who are backing him. The vast majority of them certainly don’t speak for me. And the levels of incompetency many of them bring to the table are baffling to me — whether it’s theologically or professionally, and in some cases, both. Sometimes it’s hilarious, but usually it’s quite sad.

Also, thinking of last weekend in Charlottesville, Va., it doesn’t take a graduate degree in theology to know that the actions and activities of “alt-right” groups are antithetical to biblical Christianity — and neither does it make anyone who disagrees with them “leftist.”

Here’s what I see the Bible plainly saying: God sent His Son — a brown, Jewish Middle Eastern man — to live a perfect life and die a sinner’s death so that we could enjoy a relationship with a perfectly holy, just, loving and righteous God.

And I get that many people struggle to connect perfect holiness with love, or perfect justice with love. The place where they intersect, however, is at the cross. This is what makes biblical Christianity distinctive from every other religion or philosophy of life. It’s about what God has done, not what we must do. That’s why we call it “good news.”

The result of this gospel grace is that sinners like me from every race, tribe and tongue will celebrate God’s goodness together, as a family, for all eternity (see Revelation 7:9). My belief is that the gospel alone has the power to overcome social, ethnic and gender barriers (see Galatians 3:26, 28).

I am saddened to think that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be shocked to learn that many of the beliefs and practices that the current “Evangelical Church” clings to will be just as baffling to them as us looking back and wondering how anyone, ever, could have believed and taught that slavery of any kind was God-ordained, or that any other human being did not/does not inherently possess equal value, dignity and worth.

What’s the way forward? Three things come to mind.

  1. Humble, respectful and convictional dialogue. This is especially essential for those of us who identify as Christ followers. It is very confusing to people when so-called Christians who profess to know God and practice the Bible behave in ways that do not reflect the demeanor of Jesus. And we must acknowledge that when Jesus did speak and act in anger it was in legit response to the hypocrisy and greed of the religious leaders. There are many excellent resources available, in addition to the Bible. One that I have enjoyed is the book, Convictional Civility, with the subtitle of “Engaging the Culture in the 21st Century, Essays in Honor of David S. Dockery,” who is president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.
  2. We (white folks, especially) need to speak out on behalf of — and serve — the marginalized, the poor, the weak and the alien. Period. It is clearly stated in the Bible. There is simply no way around it. New life in Jesus Christ will place new motives, capacity, desires — and trust in our hearts.
  3. Participate in the political process, and support civic education. It’s been said that we get the leaders we deserve. There is truth to that. The “they” needs to become the “us.” In 2012, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter was interviewed at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, where he said, in essence, that democracy will fail if we continue our decline into “civic ignorance.” You can watch the (impressive) clip here.

The Heart of A Leader (Acts 20:17-38)

The Heart Of A Leader

Sermon Notes from Aug 5-6, 2017

INTRO

I’ve noticed that there are quite a few cemeteries in the area. There was a time when I collected epitaphs (what’s written on the tombstone). It’s interesting to think that our lives can be summed up in a few words. Here are a few of my favorites…

  1. Uniontown, Pennsylvania: Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake – [He] Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.
  2. Silver City, Nevada: Here lays Butch, He was quick on the trigger, but slow on the draw.
  3. In Ribbesford England: Anna Wallace — The children of Israel wanted bread and the Lord sent them manna, Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife, And the Devil sent him Anna.
  4. From Albany, New York: Harry Edsel Smith – [He] Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was.
  5. From Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada: A victim of fast women and slow horses.

I know those are humorous, but on a serious note, what would you like to see written on your tombstone?

I had the privilege of studying under a professor named Bobby Clinton during my time in grad school (The Making of A Leader). Clinton spent most of his career studying leadership in the Bible. Here’s what Clinton found…

  1. 500 leaders in the Bible
  2. 100 leaders with information on their lives
  3. 49 with information on how they finished
  4. 13 finished well (26%!)

The point about pointing this out is: If you and I are not intentional [focused living] about finishing well, we probably won’t. Clinton developed six criteria for what it means to finish well. I will post them on the Pastor’s Blog this coming week. I’d like for us to take the thought of what it means to finish well into our passage for today…

Last week we considered what effective leaders DO, today I would like for us to consider the heart of an effective leader who, by-the-way finished VERY well!

Remember our commitment to look at leadership on two parallel tracks.

  1. If the lowest common denominator of effective leadership is influence then the Bible can inform us all about how we might influence the sphere of our relationships. (As I mentioned last week, it’s time for the Church of Jesus Christ to start leading in our culture again…)
  2. The second track is that we want to learn about leadership in and for this church. In a few weeks we will have the opportunity to nominate elders and we don’t want it to be a popularity contest…

We will look at a passage that Dr. Luke [medical dr, historian, and collegue of Paul] records in Acts 20 as Paul, who is on his way, back to Jerusalem stops in Miletus, which is a town that is 36 miles dead-south of Ephesus. Paul likely stayed in Miletus for about a week. As he landed Paul likely sent word to the Ephesian elders to come and meet him there. It’s thought that he wanted to meet specifically with the elders.

I will read the passage, then pray and we will see what we can learn about the heart of a leader [pg. 1182]. As I read I’d like for you to notice the two “Therefore’s.” Each “therefore” is an intensifier and provides us with a segue into a new section…“From Miletus [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry, which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.

26 Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

36 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word, which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.” Acts 20:17-38

BODY

We can understand this passage better if we break it into four pieces, which are listed in the bulletin…

  1. Paul CHRONICLES his ministry among them ( 18-25) [the real meaty portion is here as Paul reviews, or identifies, the personal integrity of a leader]
  2. Paul CAUTIONS them about coming dangers ( 26-30)
  3. Paul COMMENDS them to God and His word ( 32-35)
  4. Paul CONCLUDES his time with them (vs. 36-38)

We’ll look quickly look at them one at a time…

  1. Paul CHRONICALS his ministry among them ( 18-25)

I was with you (v. 18) [Paul wasn’t with everyone; he speaking to the elders. Remember Jethro’s counsel to Moses – “leaders of thousand, hundreds, fifties, and tens.”]

Paul served the Lord with humility, tears, and trials. (v. 19)

Definition of humility: Humility is coming to know the grace, majesty, and beauty of God and viewing ourselves from that perspective.

Paul did not shrink from declaring all that was profitable (v. 20) [remember this verse]

Paul taught them (v. 20)

Paul solemnly testified of repentance and faith (v. 21)

Paul was “bound in the Spirit” (v. 22) [he couldn’t get out if he wanted to]

Paul did not consider his life as dear to himself (v. 24)

Paul testified of the gospel of the grace of God (v. 24)

Paul preached the Kingdom (v. 25) [summary statement of the gospel]

Paul declared the whole purpose of God (v. 27)

Q-1 of the Westminster Confession of faith: What is the chief end of mankind? “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” [God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. –John Piper]

  1. Paul CAUTIONS them about coming dangers ( 26-30)

Be on guard for yourselves (v. 28) [Paul served the Lord with humility, tears, and trials. (v. 19)]

Be on guard for the flock (v. 28) [Conflict, Control (micro-managing), Idolatry (when good thing become ultimate things), Theology]

The Holy Spirit has made you overseers (v. 28) [not man]

Shepherd the church (v. 28) [Psalm 23:4 “your rod and your staff- they comfort me.” The rod is for correction and the staff is for direction. Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines. Pro 3:12 & Heb 12:6]

  1. Paul COMMENDS them to God and His word ( 32-35)

Be on the alert (v. 31) i.e, watchful, awake, discerning

Admonish each one with tears (v. 31) [invest emotionally and be willing to say the hard thing]

Be commended [entrusted] to God and the word of His grace (v. 32)

Minister to needs (v. 34) [So heavenly minded you’re no earthly good??]

Covet no one’s silver, gold, or clothes (v. 33)

Help the weak (v. 35)

Remember the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (v. 35) [Jesus gave it all…]

The REAL leader is the first one to the cross. –Gordon Dalbey

  1. Paul CONCLUDES his time with them (vs. 36-38)“When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.” [They loved Paul]

CONCLUSION

Now, as we move into a time of response and taking the Lord’s Supper together I’d like for us to look at the takeaway that’s printed in the bulletin. What I attempted to do is reduce Acts 20:17-38 into one sentence to make it as practical as I can. Paul was one of the greatest leaders who have ever lived. (The greatest was Jesus but Paul may have been second…)

So, let’s look at the takeaway: All leaders inspire beliefs. Great leaders inspire great beliefs that are rooted in both deep humility and courageous communication.

In my opinion your unwillingness to engage in courageous communication is the greatest failure of CCC over the last few years…

If you have been a leader in this church over the past 5-years I would call on you to repent. We can call it conflict avoidance, peacekeeping instead of peacemaking…

Gospel Centered Preaching & Teaching

gospel-centered2

Gospel Centered

What do we mean when we say a church is gospel-centered? The word gospel means good news and is not simply the entry point into the Christian life but it is also the foundation and power that shapes all we do as followers of Jesus Christ, both in our daily lives and in our experience as a community of Christ-followers.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only the fire that ignites the Christian life, it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing each day.

The gospel is the gloriously great announcement of what God has done through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ to satisfy (or settle) the opposition against sin which God’s holy nature requires and to secure unrestricted access to God that includes the free gift of eternal life, a free and perfect righteousness for all who trust in Christ alone for salvation, the empowering gift of the Holy Spirit, and a coming new creation free from decay, disasters, disease, evil, sin, and death.

Therefore, the gospel is central because it is not what God requires it is what God provides. The gospel is not an imperative, demanding things we must do. The gospel is an indicative, declaring what God has done. The gospel is not about human activity; it’s about divine achievement.  The gospel is not a moralistic “Do!” The gospel is a merciful “Done!” The gospel is not good advice – it’s good news!  We want the gospel of Christ to inform and empower all that we do to the glory of God.

The Basics of Gospel Centered Preaching and Teaching

Jesus is the climax of the Bible’s storyline.  Here is the way to understand the narrative arc of the Bible’s story:

Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration 

  • Creation (Gen. 1-2): “It was good” (SHALOM* initiated)
  • Fall (Gen. 3): Sin and destruction enter the world
  • Redemption (Gen 3.15 – Revelation): God’s pursuit to redeem a people
  • Restoration (Revelation 21-22): Final redemption and restoration of all things (SHALOM* restored)

(*For a further explanation of SHALOM see the previous blog post or listen to the CCC sermon The Gospel of Grace: From Genesis To Revelation.)

The main idea of gospel-centered preaching and teaching is to interpret the biblical text in its redemptive historical context (see above), the sermon must also aim for change, must proclaim the doctrinal center of the Reformation – grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for God’s glory alone — with passion and personal application. Gospel-centered preaching and teaching seeks to speak in a language that connects with the unchurched in our culture with an aim to shatter their stereotypes of Christianity and bringing them face to face with Jesus Christ who meets sinners real needs, felt and unfelt. The approach then is a blend of the Protestant heritage of preaching, evangelism, and pastoral care — with a concern to make real the Biblical aspects of our heritage in the midst of contemporary (increasingly) post-Christian culture.[1]

The Underpinnings of A Sermon

Sermons seek to be be rooted deeply in God’s word. Our call is to move people into the word through asking (at least) six questions of every Biblical text that we preach:[2]

  1. What is the “takeaway” (or, big idea) in the assigned text?
  2. What does God want people to know? (Knowledge question)
  3. What does God want people to do? (Action question)
  4. What does this text teach about God, His character, and ways?
  5. What does this text teach about fallen humankind? (Unfold the grand redemptive context.)
  6. How does this text teach about Jesus Christ?

“Help people to worship Christ in the text.”

We want to do solid exegesis and spend adequate prayer time to get ready. We don’t want to preach a sermon that we aren’t ready to preach. We seek to take the time to do the hard work of being before God, doing the study, and spending time in prayer to prepare.

We want to apply the sermon to your life before we preach it. Asking, “How will this apply to my life?” Then we want to tell people how it applies to their lives, which can be challenging.  We can’t be telling people how God wants them to be unless we are willing to go there ourselves.  We want to be vulnerable without TMI.  Note, “For me this means…” or “This has been a real challenge for me. I’ve been trying to make this real in my life this week but I am struggling with…”

Walk in brokenness and vulnerability before the congregation. Don’t get weird about it but do it.  Each sermon should move towards Christ – or as (the late) Ed Clowney said: “Help people to worship Christ in the text.”  This may take some time to figure out how to do but try to do it.

[1] Dennis Johnson. Him We Proclaim. P & R Publishing: 2007:54.

[2] Adapted from Danny Aken.

The Bible Only Tells One Story

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These are (rough) sermon notes from last weekend…

Two verses – both spoken by Jesus…

“You search the Scriptures [Torah] because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me…” –John 5:39

When we go into a restaurant we are often greeted by a host/ess and directed to a table and given menus.  We use the menus to determine what we’d like to order.  One thing we DON’T do is eat the menu!  This is what Jesus is saying in the verse above – The Scriptures are a menu that guides us to Jesus.  Paul say it in another way in Galatians 3:24: “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ.”

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures [Torah].” –Luke 24:27

Flyover Version

What Jesus is saying is that the whole Old Testament bears witness of Him. Most people see the Bible as an interesting set of isolated stories, each story telling us something different about how to live. However, Jesus tells us the WHOLE Bible is really only one story. While there are great stories in the Bible, it is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss THE Bible story.

The entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is ultimately about Jesus. From Genesis to Revelation God is unfolding the grace that culminates in Jesus leaving the comfort and perfection of heaven to come down into our brokenness. Therefore, the Bible is not fundamentally about what we do FOR God but what God has done FOR us.

“The Old Testament is a richly furnished but dimly lit room. Only when the light is turned on do the contents become clear.” –B.B. Warfield

Takeaway

The gospel of grace is THE central theme of the whole Bible – it begins in Genesis and travels all the way through Revelation.

Four Symphonic Movements

God’s story, or history (His-Story), comes to us as a redemptive drama in four acts. Or, we might think of it as a classical symphony with four movements building toward a grand crescendo. Here’s an overview and then we’ll come back and look at it more closely…

  1. Creation – When everything was as God meant it to be. (Gen 1-2)
  2. Fall – The tragic intrusion of sin and death, resulting in the pervasive brokenness of all people and everything God has made. (Gen 3)
  3. Redemption – God’s astonishing promise to rescue His fallen image-bearers and creation through the grace-full work of His Son, Jesus Christ. As we will see, the movement of redemption begins in Gen 3:15. (Gen 3:15-Rev 20)
  4. Fulfilment (or consummation, or, glorification) – The magnificent fulfilment of God’s plan to gather and cherish a people forever, and to live with them in a more-than-restored world, called “the new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

Creation and Fulfillment As Bookends

We can think of Creation and Fulfilment as bookends. They are the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two chapters of Revelation. What we find in those bookend chapters is a state of perfection known as SHALOM. Shalom is the Hebrew concept for peace, which means so much more than our (Western) limited understanding of peace, which reduces peace to the absence of conflict.

Biblical SHALOM means a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs…the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfilment, and delight. SHALOM is the way things ought to be.[1] — Cornelius Plantinga

An even more succinct definition would be: “Undefiled harmony with God.”

The Fall

In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve fall into temptation and SHALOM is replaced with a curse. Through Adam, sin entered into the world with its promised punishment (or, consequence), which is both physical and spiritual death. Adam and Eve are then plunged into alienation — both from God AND from one another. They are driven out of the garden, away from God’s presence.

In Genesis 3:15 we read the curse pronounced on the serpent devil: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.”  Many people read this verse without understanding its meaning. What’s happening here is that God is initiating a rescue plan for humanity.  The “seed of the woman” is the promised Messiah/Jesus who will bruise the head of the devil (eventually it will become a fatal blow).

Verse 15 is such an important verse it has it’s own word: protoevangelium, which literally means “first gospel” and is the first mention/promise of the gospel in the Bible.  It is from this point forward the gospel of God’s grace and God’s rescue plan to bring about redemption in and through Jesus Christ becomes the central theme of the entire Bible. This Genesis 3:15 promise becomes an organizing theme for the rest of Scripture and the rest of human history.

Redemption – Looking For Jesus and the Gospel Throughout the Old Testament

We’ve talked about the bookends of SHALOM and we’ve talked about the Fall and the first mention of the gospel in the Bible that initiates God’s rescue plan.  We’ll spend the rest of our time leaning into how we look for Jesus and the gospel throughout the OT. Let’s consider two examples…

  1. Most of us are aware of the David and Goliath narrative.  We need to ask, “What is the meaning of that narrative for us?”  Most of the sermons you’ve probably heard go something like this: “Be like David” or, “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord.” Or, “You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” Yet as soon as we ask: “How does David show us Jesus?”  We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light.  The story is telling us that the Israelites do not have the strength or power to go up against Goliath.  They can’t do it.  They need a substitute. When David steps in on their behalf, he goes in as a vulnerable and weak figure.  He goes into the battle virtually as a sacrificial lamb.  But God uses David’s apparent weakness as the means to defeat the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be reckoned (imputed) to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves. Jesus is the better David.
  2. Most of us know Nehemiah, he wrote one of the books in the OT.  Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king, which means he tasted the food and drink of the king to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.  (In our modern parlance we would probably say he was the palace food and beverage manager.)  Nevertheless Nehemiah lived a comfortable life in the king’s palace.  So, how does Nehemiah show us Christ?  When Nehemiah heard about the broken-down walls and the broken-hearted people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah left the comfort, opulence, and convenience of the palace to step into the brokenness, desperation, and shame of God’s people.  Jesus left the comfort and perfection of heaven to come down into the brokenness of humanity.  Jesus, is the better Nehemiah, who came in obedience to the Father and out of love for humanity – and laid His life down as a sacrifice for sinners – to rescue us and spare us.  Our lives, like the walls of Jerusalem, need to be rebuilt so that the glory of God might be revealed.  (Nehemiah is not just a preview of Jesus but he’s also a preview of what the Church can be in a broken world.)

So, when we read any Old Testament passage we need to ask, “How does this passage show me, or point to, Jesus and the redemptive gospel?”  The whole Bible points to Jesus and the good news of the gospel – from Genesis to Revelation.  It’s not, “How do we be like David, or Moses, or Nehemiah?” it’s, “How do David, Moses, or Nehemiah show us (or reveal) Jesus Christ and the gospel?”  As we make this the focus of our reading and study we will begin to see the richly furnished room!

Concluding Theological Parameters

The theological descriptor of what I have just shared is, “Gospel Centered Hermeneutic.” What’s a hermeneutic?  Like your glasses, it is the lens with which we view the Bible.  There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: Is it basically about me or basically about Jesus?  In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what He has done?

“I have never yet found a [Bible] text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it.” –Charles Spurgeon (“Prince of Preachers”)

If we think the Bible is about us, we tend to view it as a rulebook – what we MUST DO to please God. But, if we see that the whole Bible is about Jesus – we will focus more on what Jesus HAS ALREADY DONE, rather than what we MUST DO, which is the essence of the gospel.

Here’s another way to think about it…Being gospel centered means we don’t fight FOR victory in the Christian life we fight FROM victory – it’s ALL GRACE.

[1] Cornelius Plantinga. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, Eerdmans 1995:10.

Addressing the Underlying Causes of Conflict – Part 7

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A Biblical Response To Each Dimension (3 of 3)

  1. How To Be A Non-Anxious Presence In the Midst of Conflict To Help People Listen Well and Own Their Own Issues

The need to be strong, right, in control, and successful is so patently rooted in American evangelicalism that it is no wonder that our church members are the same way. If the interim comes in exactly the same way it can be like shaking nitroglycerin. “I’m here and I’ve got the answer, you can all relax now!” Who are we trying to kid? Unfortunately, this can be a real temptation to feel this way but it would not be an emotionally healthy way to respond.[1]

  1. Maintain a “shepherd’s heart.” Having been hurt by the Church we still love the Church.
  2. Walk in brokenness and humility. This flies in the face of our evangelical culture. In our attempts at being vulnerable, in various interactions as well as from the pulpit, we will have people use them against us. But without brokenness and and humility there is no blessing.
  3. Lovingly state (and remind people as necessary) that you are not the problem. While you certainly have your own problems the current problems in the church were there before you got there.
  4. Self differentiate, which involves knowing who you are and who you are not (in relation to others) and being able to act with the knowledge of who you are even when the anxiety of others tempts you not to.[2]

[1] Miles: 15.8-15.9.

[2] Adapted from Failure of Nerve: 236.