Make Disciples

At least five times in the Bible Jesus puts his disciples on mission to proclaim the gospel and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:46-48, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8).  The text in Matthew gives us an interesting instruction:  Make disciples and teach them all that Jesus commanded.  This suggests that making disciples in about inviting a lost person to be a Kingdom citizen and then teaching him or her the Kingdom ethic in which we are called to live.  

Over the past few months, Jared Jenkins, Brett Ricley, and I have been discussing both sides of the Great Commission coin.  This discussion resulted in a Salty Believer Unscripted series called, "Make Disciples" and will likely be the seeds of another series called, "Grow Disciples."  

In this series, we stick to the evangelism side of making disciples and deal with six spheres of evangelism as Joel Southerland teaches.  We fully recognize that it would be gross negligence to see someone saved and then just abandoned them to learn and grown alone; however, we kept this series to the first part of making disciples--sharing the gospel and introducing lost people to Jesus. 

All three of us grew in area of evangelism during this series and we've shared our journey along the way.  I learned how necessary a wide variety of methods is when we live in a world so full of diverse thinking and attitudes.  We have and are trying all of these methods at Redeeming Life Church to find out what works for us in our context.  It's been extremely interesting and informative.  But through it all, I've really come to see the importance of simply being faithful. 

You can find Salty Believer Unscripted on iTunes, subscribe to the non-iTunes feed, or listen here: 

Make Disciples
-- Part 1, An Introduction audio
-- Part 2, Snatching Some From the Fire audio
-- Part 3, A Biblical Relational for Missions and Evangelism audio
-- Part 4, 6 Spheres of Evangelism audio
-- Part 5, Prayer audio
-- Part 6, Personal Evangelism audio
-- Part 7, Revival audio
-- Part 8, Event Evangelism audio
-- Part 9, Service-Driven Evangelism audio
-- Part 10, Sunday Service Excellence audio
-- Part 11, A Mission to the Nations audio

You May be a Barnabas if. . .

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By guest writers Dave Earley and Tom Swanner.

Dave Early says you may be a Barnabas if...

... you get more excited about the ministry success of someone else whom you have helped than you do about your own success.

... you are content to do most of your ministry behind the scenes and off the radar.

... ministries that you have started tend to fizzle.

... you would rather listen quietly to the struggles of a young leader than lead an evangelistic rally.

... you get your greatest joy from watching the individuals that you have discipled become movers and shakers in the kingdom.

... you are awakened often in the night with an urgency to lift up your senior leader in intercessory prayer.

... you are more about what other leaders are doing than about what you are doing.

... you are often tempted to see the needs and inadequacies in senior Christian leaders and think of ways you can help.

Tom Swanner explains what it is to be a "Barnabas" in ministry: 

Most of my life I struggled with thoughts of inadequacy and self-doubt. I was sure that I was supposed to be in some kind of ministry; however, I did not feel that I was supposed to be the lead in any Christian organization. I knew what it took to be a leader, and many times I found myself in leadership roles, but I never felt entirely comfortable.

One day I was studying the life of Paul. I realized that there was a person who was not only humanly responsible for Paul being in the ministry, but there was also a person responsible for keeping him effective at ministry for an extended period of time. His name was Barnabas.

Barnabas: Son of Encouragement

Barnabas was really a nickname that Joseph (his real name) picked up after the early believers learned what kind of person he was. The name “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement.” The longer I spend in ministry, the more I am convinced that this type of leader is vital for the sustainment of our campaign against the darkness. While we may see the need for real men and women of God to lead the masses, the often-overlooked need of the son and daughter of encouragement is just as fundamental.

The problem with being a Barnabas is that there is often very little recognition in the modern Christian economy for someone who is a second leader. People tend to ask, “Who is in charge here?” People want to get that guy’s attention so that they can get what they want. They do not ask for the guy who is not in charge of something, because that guy cannot give them what they want.”

“Jesus said that whoever would be great in God’s kingdom would be the servant of all (Matthew 20:25-28). As a Barnabas, you have a great responsibility. Your job is to keep the “Paul” in your ministry encouraged and on track. They do not need your criticism from the sidelines. They need your encouragement.

* Dave Earley and Tom Swanner serve at Grace City Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Dave is the author of more than 20 books.  Both hold Doctorates of Ministry. 

** This post originally on published on Dave Earley's website in a slightly different form.  

You can find it here.

 It is reposted here with permission. 

Redeeming Life Church Public Launch (Or "The Funny Language of Church Planting")

April 28, 2015.

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In February of 2014, I packed a church van full of young people and set off for Missions Week on the Golden Gate Seminary campus.  It was a pivotal trip.  We attended workshops and sessions.  We helped a church plant and we slept in a poor part of San Francisco.  I met Dr. Richard Johnston and Pastor James Soy.  Dr. Irog and Dr. Wilson encouraged me to apply for the Doctorate of Ministry program, and I did. (Dr. Iorg also tried to convince an intern on my staff to transfer to Golden Gate; but so, far that hasn't happened.) A young man in our group demonstrated that he can lead worship.  We discussed the missional nature of church planting and Risen Life's role in that. And we prayed a lot.

The group was from Risen Life Church.   I was on staff.  My job was to learn and grow in preparation to plant a church.

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Upon our return, we started a Bible study group in my home with the purpose of examining what it might take to plant a church in another part of Salt Lake City. The Barnabas House Fellowship was the name of our study. We journeyed through the book of Acts with Elmer Town's book,  Churches that Multiply as a supplement.

The group grew as people came and went.  Some were simply not called to church planting.  Others were only in it for the excitement of the newest, shinny thing.  But some were there in the beginning and are still a part of our core team today. (More than I expected, actually!)

Eventually we outgrew our house and it became apparent that God was calling this group to plant a church.  We worked through all kinds of details.  Eventually we settle on the name, Redeeming Life Church.  ([R] for short.)

We started meeting on Sunday afternoons in the Risen Life Church building.  It was a special time because we saw God do some amazing things.  People were saved.  Believers were baptized.  And our core team grew stronger and stronger. 

Then something happened. God brought people from the Rose Park area all the way across the valley to worship with us.  We knew what was coming.  God was calling us to the Rose Park area of Salt Lake.  It was time to move out of the Risen Life building.

Risen Life released me from their staff and commissioned me as the pastor of this new church.  My family, as well as other families of the core team moved into the neighborhood. We started doing evangelism in our target area to include a campaign that resulted in us hanging 5,000 door hangers. We invited the neighborhood to our Easter Sunrise service. 

We've spend the past three weeks meeting in the Northwest Community Center in preparation for our 'public launch.' It's funny because in church planting language, this point is thought of as the day the church plant starts.  But we've been a church seedling for a while and we feel more like May 3rd is the day we stop saying 'plant' and just say 'church,' Redeeming Life Church. 

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I'm thrilled to see what God might do with this little church in Rose Park.  If you live in the area, we'd love it if you'd be our guest.  Our Sunday Gathering starts at 11am. We're praying that God is calling you to join us in this mission. Or maybe you don't live in the area but he's calling you to help us in some other way. And please, keep us in your prayers.   

Soli Deo gloria!

Bryan Catherman

Salty Believer and Pastor of Redeeming Life Church

GGBTS Cohort on Evangelism

After a grueling two weeks in doctoral seminars at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, some of the guys in my cohort pulled up chairs and recorded a podcast on evangelism.   I hit record on mobile phone recording gear and six of us tried to pull some thoughts out of our soupy minds.

Throughout the week, we tried a few things to open up evangelistic conversations in the community.  We also swapped stories from our experiences where we pastor, respectively.  This podcast attempts to understand how we try to engage in evangelism within our respective contexts.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Mike Clements pastors  First Baptist Floresville in Texas.  Josh Seafkow is the Minister of Education and Outreach at Abilene Baptist Church in Georgia. Less Wesley pastors Trinity Baptist Church in Washington.  Stephen Brucker is the Associate Pastor of The Branch in Oregon.  And Peter Jun does international student ministry in Boston.

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KSL's "Faith on the Frontlines"



On April 5th, 2015, Easter, the Salt Lake NBC affiliate, KSL ran a documentary about soldiers and faith.  This was one of a handful of documentaries to run during the halftime show between their broadcast of two LDS General Conference sessions.  Three of the interviewees are LDS and then there is me -- an evangelical Christian pastor.

With our permission, they brought cameras into our home and church.  They filmed our prayer time and school.  They interviewed me and asked me questions about the war, my family, the pastorate, and my faith.

Obviously there is a risk when you do these things.  Editing can make the program go any number of ways.  I could have ended up looking either LDS or crazy.  But I don't feel that's what KSL did.  Keri, Eric, Doug and the crew did a wonderful job getting at their topic; and although KSL is an LDS owned company, they were more than fair.  I wish I would have had more pictures to supply of the 3d Armored Cavalry and might have been able to give the Brave Rifles a bit more of a shout out but I just didn't take many photos in that first year of the war.

I really enjoyed KSL's work and I hope you enjoy the documentary.  (It's 22 and a half minutes long, but if you'd like to jump the the bulk of the stuff featuring me, my family, and Redeeming Life Church, you can click this link.)

Evangelism Conference 2015


On February 6th and 7th, some great brothers and sisters are gathering to discuss the importance of evangelism.  Terry Rials, Dave Earley, Randy McWhorter, Joel Southerland, and others will help equip and train those of us in Utah who desperately need to engage in more evangelism.

This is a free conference provided by the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Conference and hosted by Mountain View Baptist Church.  You don't want to miss it.

The conference begins at 1pm on Friday and runs into the evening.  It will pick up again for a Saturday morning session starting at 8am.  (If you can't get off work early on Friday, you can still pick it up at 6pm and catch Dave Earley and some of the session.)  If you'd like to attend, please register here.

Childcare is available for children 5 and under.

I'm thrilled about this conference.  In part because God is greatly working on me in the area of evangelism; but more so, because I know and love a couple of these great speakers.  Dr. Dave Earley was the professor of three of my classes in seminary at Liberty.  They were great courses because of Dave's experience, passion, and expertise.  He's also the author of a book I absolutely love called, Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High Impact Leaders.  In addition, Dave left Lynchburg to plant a church in Las Vegas and it seems to be doing amazing things for God's Kingdom in Sin City.  Dr. Randy McWhorter was also one of my professors of a leadership seminar in my Doctor of Ministry studies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  He's also very passionate, wise, and a great instructor.

The Mission of Church Planting

June 24, 2014

Risen Life Church is planting another church somewhere else in the Salt Lake Valley.  As of yet, we haven't determined the location because we believe our first task is to gather those God is calling for this work and faithfully prepare ourselves for his mission.  We're slowly growing into a unified team. We're starting to understand and appreciate one another's gifts, personalities, and character.  We're worshiping, studying the Bible, and growing more devoted to the fellowship.  Little by little, we're starting to reach deeper into our relationships with one another as well as the lost community around us.  Some of what we're doing actually looks like mission trips to other parts of the world because church planting is the similar mission of making disciples of Jesus. But rather than connecting the disciples to an existing church, missionaries seeking to plant churches gather them into a group who covenant together to be a new local church.  Then, God willing, this new church serves as God's agent to reach even further into the community to share and plant the gospel of Christ.

We are on a mission. 

Unlike many church planting missions to Utah, we're locals and we're planting with extremely strong support from an existing local church.  Risen Life Church provides us elder oversight and shepherding, financial support, prayer, encouragement, and many other necessary resources.  Most of our core group regularly attends serves at Risen Life, but not all.

In addition, our new church plant group (we're praying about the name) meets in my home on Monday nights, which happens to be the parsonage on the church property.  (We have an intern living in the other parsonage next door.)  As we grow, we hope to expand into more home fellowships that meet during the week for discipleship under the leadership of elder quality men (or elder quality men in training).  God willing, we'll also meet together on Sunday as a larger corporate gathering in the Risen Life Church building--in the evening until we move across the valley to another location.  At that point, we'll start meeting on Sunday mornings. 

In the meantime, it's extremely helpful to start in an incubator of sorts, which happens to be right next to an existing church.  When we need chairs, we get them from next door.  Tables for a barbecue, yup, get them from next door.  Administrative support? Yes, he works next door.  Oh, and that big parking lot is a good place to park when you come on Monday nights.  Risen Life has a basketball hoop that attracts people from the neighborhood (and it's nearby in the parking lot).  The house is large enough to host people and there's a field between the two church owned houses where our intern lead a team to build an awesome fire pit.

On Monday nights we open with a worship song and a brief discussion.  Someone reads from Scripture.  We pray together and there's a sermon.  Then we respond in worship through more singing and prayer.  And we take communion.  Someone (usually my wife) provides snacks and beverages.  We have the kids join us at first, then they're dismissed to go downstairs for a lesson on the same text that's more age appropriate.  Two adults from a rotation of volunteers (which is an area we're going in) lead the children's lesson and activity. Then they join us again for worship and prayer.

While we're presently putting heavy attention into building a core team, we are still seeking to reach the lost, although this is another area where we need lots of growth.  This is a slow process, but we're starting to connect. Many of us get together for coffee, dinners, ladies nights, and other things.  We help each other move and seek ways to serve one another.  We pray for each other often and stay in touch via text and e-mail when we're not together. We've hosted open houses and a barbecue to invite others, both believers and non-believers.

Like any mission project we have to be creative and flexible.  We've had nights where we used Google Hangouts to connect with people who were away for military duty, health reasons, or other business.  It wasn't the greatest, but it was nice to have some kind of connection with those who were away. 

We've had to try different approaches with the kids (and hopefully we've landed on something that works well).  We've tried different things with our prayer time.  Daniel Graves, our worship leader, has sought ways to improve our worship time with song and reflection.  And we've done some stuff that looks like small churches in other parts of the world.

We determined that having a fire pit might be a good, natural way to bring people together.  Who
doesn't like chatting around a fire on a late summer evening?  What family wouldn't want to have a Smores night?  So, in what looked very much like a foreign mission project, some of our guys starting clearing the spot.  They dug through the concrete-hard ground.  We cut the bottom off an old 55-gallon drum.  With some decorative bricks we found at the house the fire pit was dress up.  And, by the way, our fist fire was great fun.

The challenge, it seems, is many people naturally seek to put mission work in some kind of neat box.  It's two weeks here or there.  It's not in our every day lives.  Or if it is, it has to look very specific like some popular book-inspired method evangelism or something.  People do the same with church planting work.  Some might criticize our methods (although I've found those who do are often not making disciples or planting churches themselves.) On the other end of the spectrum, some outsiders may feel that we look too 'churchy' and suggest we should be hip and 'organic' (to use the popular buzz words). 

I wonder how much of what this little group is trying to do would happen we were just tying to be "buddies hanging out," organically?  I suspect very little.  I find myself asking lots of questions.  What would our mission look like if we didn't understand and respect the diversity of gifts and personalities within our group?  What if we relied more on what's popular rather than the will of God?  What would we look like to our own communities if we were not who we really are?  What if we tried to wrap ourselves in the newest marketing and exciting church planting buzz words, even if they didn't fit us?  I wonder, can we honor Christ in our acts of service and love that are not cool enough to be spoken about in the hot, popular conferences?  Do we have to use the exciting buzz words?  No, we really don't.  Can we be be known by how we love Jesus and each other and then seek to bring others into that kind of community?  It's my hope that this may be a way for a small group of locals to plant our church and faithfully share the gospel of Jesus in our city.

Sure, we need to grow spiritually and numerically.  We need to develop a great unity.  We need to have a passion for reaching the lost.  Yes, we'll need financial resources along the way.  But our greatest need is prayer.  We seek to be on God's mission, and that requires prayer, lots of prayer.  Another advantage of being locals supported by a local church is that we have a number of people praying for us near by.  They can put an arm around us and ask, "how can I pray for you this week?" We printed prayer cards and made them available at Risen Life Church.  These cards have a pictures of people involved with the mission to plant a church.  Each card also has specific prayer requests.  One day I noticed a couple of sweet ladies digging through the stack to be sure they had all the different cards.  They expressed that at this point in their lives they wouldn't likely leave Risen Life Church but they sure want to help us by faithfully asking God to bless our efforts, to grow us, and to protect us.   What a blessing!

We'd love to have you join our efforts, whether physically with us in Salt Lake City or in prayer.  (You can chat with me more about that here.)  Will you try to remember our mission to plant a church in Salt Lake the next time you're talking with God?

Soli Deo gloria!
Bryan Catherman

J.D. Payne -- Sharing Christ and Start Churches

Not too long ago, I was fortunate to sit down with Dr. J.D. Payne and others to discuss reproducible church planting.  If you listen to Salty Believer Unscripted, you may have heard our conversation.  Dr. Payne was in Salt Lake, consulting with some pastors and on March 13, 2014 he lectured at a small conference called Strengthening Churches to Share Christ and Start Churches.  Not only was it a great pleasure to meet Dr. Payne, but I was blessed to hear some very good information that has really helped shape some of my thinking on making disciples and church planting.

Dr. Payne serves as the Pastor of Multiplication at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.  He also served on staff with the North American Mission Board and was an Associate Professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He's been an editor of missional magazines and journals, served on missional boards and associations, served as a pastor of five churches, worked to plant four churches, and has written books to include Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel, The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting, Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today’s Questions, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission, Roland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous Expansion, Kingdom Expressions: Trends Influencing the Advancement of the Gospel, and Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church.  

I was pleased to learn that someone filmed Dr. Payne's lectures and was able to acquire the footage.  Unfortunately, there were some technical difficulties with the video.  I was able to extract the sound from the file with only some occasional minor interruptions.  If you're thinking about church planting or sharing Christ to start churches, I highly encourage you to check out the Salty Believer Unscripted podcast with Dr. Payne (above) and consider listening to his Salt Lake lectures by following the link below.

Church Planting: The Practice of Making and Gathering Disciples of Jesus Christ

April 22, 2014.

After many years since God first called us to plant--with shaping and growth through seminary, working with other church planters, serving on staff at Risen Life Church, and now engaging in a doctoral program for more training--my wife and I are taking some large steps on our church-planting journey.  We're leading and hosting a group with the hope that God will prepare all of us to plant one or more churches as well as equip others saints the work of ministry. 

What's church planting?  That's a good question and often loaded with tons of baggage and buzzwords.  So I'll simply define it at this:  Church planting is the lifestyle of making disciples of Jesus Christ and then gathering them into a group who has committed or covenanted together to be a church and function accordingly.

Presently, we meet on Monday nights in our home, affectionately dubbed the Barnabas House. (It's the church parsonage and ministry home that serves a gathering place of Christians as an extension of Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.)  

The Barnabas House Community Group is mostly made up of Christians, most of whom are connected to Risen Life Church although neither of these things are a requirement. Over the next several months the group meeting at the Barnabas House will be discussing, equipping, and exploring what it means to follow and live Christ-centered lives in a broken world. We want to learn how we can better love and serve Christ, love people in our community, and make disciples of Christ. 

All are welcomed to come and fellowship, discuss, and worship as we explore what it might look like for disciples to make disciples and gather them together into a new church or churches. Whether you are a Christian interested in discovering what church planting looks like, or seeking to become more equipped to reach others in your daily walk with God, please feel free to join us. Or maybe you are curious what it means to follow the Jesus of the Bible and just want to know what faith in Christ looks like – you too are invited to join us!

If you're on Facebook, you can find more info here: https://www.facebook.com/thebarnabashouse.  You may contact me with your questions or comments, or you can likely find some of us at Risen Life Church.

It is our prayer that The Barnabas House will be a place filled with the Holy Spirit. As we seek to know God better and love him more, we hope to grow in our relationship with God, other believers, and the lost. We pray that many are added to the Lord because of our faithfulness and pray that we are equipped for ministry as well as able to equip other saints for ministry. The Barnabas has been an encouragement to many and we hope those who have been encouraged will be an encouragement to others.

The Forgotten Mission Field

Missions and evangelism--really one in the same--are important.  At least five times Christ called his people to reach the world with the gospel (John 20:21, Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:46-48, and Acts 1:8).  This means we should be reaching the world around us as well as collectively reaching every corner of the globe.  Some have taken up this call and faithfully dedicated their lives to this purpose.  Others use their vacation time to serve missions a couple weeks of their year; while still others use missions as a "religious cover" for a vacation. Whether in our communities and at the work place, or around the world, the life of the Christian should include some kind of answer to this call. (This however is not the entirety on the Christian life as some passionately argue.)

Many of us in American gravely overlook, even forget an obvious mission field.  It's the ministry to children in our local churches. The Bible clearly shows that parents have a responsibility to teach their children, but this is not to say that the local church can't be there to help.  And what about the families where parents aren't Christian but may attend a local Christian church?  I went to church as a child but wasn't a believer until I was 25. What about guests?

Working with children can be difficult, but not always. 

A teacher or servant-hearted volunteer working with children could have an impact on the next generation and maybe many generations to come.  He or she may also impact this generation because the child could potentially be how God reaches the parents.

If you feel called to teaching, preaching, missions, or evangelism, deeply consider a ministry that reaches children.  I'm sure there's a children's ministry that could use your help.


*Photo by Cosey Tutti is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission.

J.D. Payne on Church Planting

Dr. J.D. Payne visited Utah recently to discuss sharing Christ, starting churches, and strengthening churches (the mission of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Association).  I had the privilege of hearing him speak on these matters as well as interviewing Dr. Payne, Russ Robinson, AdamMadden, and Dr. Travis Kerns on the topic of church planting after the conference.  Dr. Payne serves as the Pastor of Multiplication at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.  He also served on staff with the North American Mission Board and was an Associate Professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He's been an editor of missional magazines and journals, served on missional boards and associations, served as a pastor of five churches, worked to plant four churches, and has written books to include Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel, The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting, Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today’s QuestionsStrangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and MissionRoland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous ExpansionKingdom Expressions: Trends Influencing the Advancement of the Gospel, and Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church." The more complex a church," argued Payne, "the less it will be reproducible."  Unlike many church planting books, Payne didn't argue for one specific model or one specific level of complexity, but instead challenged his listeners to think about the starting point.  He took his audience through the biblical picture of planting churches; that is, making disciples and then gathering them together to be the church.   Instead of criticizing big, complex church that takes millions of dollars and lots of people to reproduce somewhere else as 'instant church,' he pointed out that while that's biblically permissible, it is difficult and really not normative.  But neither did he advocate that the only way to start churches is in homes with nothing but new believers and a pastor recently raised up from among them.

"Before we can discuss church planting," Dr. Payne opened with, "we need to understand what it is we are planting."  His starting point was extremely refreshing.  He spent nearly an hour simply looking at what Jesus meant when he said 'Church.'  We examined at what the local church looked like in Acts and the Epistles.  And it wasn't the process of planting or entering an unchurched community that we explored, but simply church.  What is church?  What is local church? What is the big C Church?  "How we answer these questions determines how and what we plant," said Dr. Payne.  I believe he is absolutely correct. 

Dr. Payne sat down with a pastor from First Baptist Provo, a pastor from Christ Fellowship, the Salt Lake City SEND City Coordinator, and me to record a Salty Believer Unscripted podcast on the topic of church planting.  He was extremely informative, and really, just an easy going guy.  We laughed and joked and he was extremely gracious when I got his name wrong. (Thanks J.D., that was really embarrassing but you were much easier on me than I deserved! )

If you're interested in starting churches and making disciples (or if you just want to hear me make a boob of myself), I highly encourage you to check it out here:

A Discussion on Reproducible Church Planting with Dr. J.D. Payne

Learn more about J.D. Payne, download free books, and keep up with what he's doing at www.JDPayne.org.  Also, you can find this podcast and many others like it as well as many other resources at www.SaltyBeliever.com in the Resources section and you can subscribe to Salty Believer Unscripted on iTunes.

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Equipping Ministers - A Good Work for Denominations

Church denominations have received a beating in the past couple decades, and in some cases rightly so.  In other cases, these blows might be undeserved.  It's easy to find believers and non-believers who are quick to point out all the negative aspects of one or many denominations.  And it's equally as easy to find brothers and sisters who are excessively tied to a denomination, sometimes even above the universal Church and the advancement of the Lord's Kingdom.  Case-in-point: the polarizing effect at the mere mention of the Southern Baptist Convention.  

Jared Jenkins and I specifically discuss what a denomination is and what it is not in a podcast recorded for Salty Believer Unscripted.  We also talk about the purpose of denominations and include some pros and cons.  You can listen to that here.

Without getting into all the arguments of denominations (you can listen to a podcast on that above), I'd like to examine one way that a denomination might help fulfill Ephesians 4:11-16.  This text reads,
And he gave apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, but craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (ESV). 
From this text, it would appear that the purpose of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  This is not necessarily to say that all the saints will enter a profession of full-time ministry or even some kind of formal bi-vocational ministry.  But the saints must be equipped.  And if the saints are to be equipped, the leaders should also be well equipped.

The local church is a great place for leaders to learn and grow, but it is not the only place.  Seminary is a helpful resources for pastors to develop skills and understanding.  Some denominations support seminaries.  But what about those individuals who can't attend seminary?  This is where the denomination can help.

If a denomination is the pooling together resources from a number of smaller local churches, it seems that a teacher from one local church could greatly help pastors from many local churches.  This would allow a pastor with a seminary education to share his knowledge with others.  The teacher would have the ability to equip other ministers and then together they could equip the saints.  The role of the denomination then, should be to bring these people together.

And example can been seen in Salt Lake City among the Salt Lake Baptist Association.  The SLBA has partnered with a seminary program of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary called Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD).  At the very heart of this program is the desire to equip the saints.  They call it the Utah School of Theology.

The Utah School of Theology offers very affordable diploma programs accredited by GGBTS.  Upon the completion of the program, students receive a diploma backed by GGBTS; but along the way students receive a high quality education from seminary trained instructors.  Some of the professors are even seasoned guys with PhDs who have taught at other seminaries.  Applicants need not hold a bachelor's degree (unlike the seminary) and the courses are typically taught in the evenings. 

It's my hope that as more denominations work toward equipping the saints rather than some of the other things they do, the beatings will subside.  One way is to help train up the church leaders. And when the denominations focus on the right things, maybe the gospel will be advanced at a greater speed into the far depths of the world!

Churches that Multiply by Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter


Towns, Elmer L., and Douglas Porter. Churches That Multiply: A Bible Study on Church Planting. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2003. 


Dr. Elmer Towns, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Douglas Porter, pastor of Napanee Baptist Church until his death in 2011, set out to examine church planting through the lessons taught in the books of Acts.  But unlike many other church-planting books, this is not simply a book to encourage people to copy the lessons of Paul's journeys recorded in Acts.  It is not a book that dictates a single model to follow, as some denominations attempt.  Instead, this is a book that sets out to equip and encourage the average church, full of regular people to plant churches through whatever God calls them to do.  Towns and Porter write, "this book suggests a bubble up strategy, which means average Christians get a burden to begin a new church" (7).  They conceded that a top down method (they call trickle down) and the bottom up method (they call bubble up) are both biblical and may get churches planted, "but this book," write Towns and Porter, "is aimed at getting you and many other members in your Bible study group a vision of how your church can start a new church" (7).

The format implemented by Towns and Porter is straight forward.  They simply move through the book of Acts as their chapters progress.  Starting with Jesus' post resurrection ministry, they deal with the education of the disciples and the Great Commission and the disciple's role.  From this point, everything is driven out of what Towns and Porter see in the various churches in Acts.  From the Church in Jerusalem they discuss the importance of saturating a place and a people with the gospel through evangelism.  The Church in Samaria becomes a platform for discussing the ministry of the layperson.  Antioch is about cross-culture planting and evangelism while Galatia is about overcoming great problems.  The Church in Philippi is used to look at relationships, Thessalonica about compassion for people, and the Berean Church is about being rooted in the Scriptures.  Understanding a culture is discussed through the lens of the Athens Church, Corinth becomes the setting to examine spiritual gifts in the church, and the Ephesian Church allows Towns and Porter to close with a chapter on leadership training.

Another aspect of each chapter is the many project options that follow.  After each chapter, the reader will find sections called "Personal Lessons to Take Away" and "Church Lessons to Take Away."  These sections provide additional opportunity for through and discussion, making them ideal for a group study.  In addition, these two sections provide different perspectives for the various readers who may be journeying through this book.  A pastor or prospective church-planter may be thinking about a larger vision and context for an entire church or church-planting team while the individual may just be thinking about planting in general or a specific role on a team.  Having these two sections broke out makes it easy to get to specifics based on personal circumstances.  In addition, there are two more post-chapter sections called "Personal Project" and "Church Project."  These sections provide many ideas and 'assignments' for individuals thinking about planting or joining a plant as well as Bible study group projects and even church-wide projects related to planting.

One would be disappointed if he or she were looking for the complete 'how-to' of church-planting, if such a book even exists.  Churches that Multiply is not written with many specifics, other than what might be extrapolated from the Lessons to Take Away and Project sections.   However, Towns and Porter do not claim this is a how-to book.  They call this book "A Bible Study on Church Planting" (cover).  The set out to ignite a planting vision for a Bible study group, individual, or church.  If a group where to work together through this book and engage in the projects, it is likely that they would indeed gain a vision to plant.  That being said, Towns and Porter achieved what they set out to do.

A weakness of Churches that Multiply might be found in its format.  Using each church in Acts to examine one thing begins to look a bit contrived as the reader moves from chapter to chapter.  It almost seems as if the authors first created a list of things they wanted to cover and then assigned those topics to a single church.  Actually contrasting these churches with one another may have been more informative.  I wonder how relationships differed and what could be learned in the differences and similarities.  How did each church deal with their respective culture (because they all did)?  Instead, Athens is the only example of dealing with culture.  How did the various churches train up leaders, because surely the Ephesians are not the only ones that provide examples?   How did these various churches spread the gospel, do evangelism, and stand in the face of opposition? 

A strength of Churches that Multiply might also be found in its format.  Having simple sections that cover divided sections of the Book of Acts means it is easy to handle a chapter per week or every two weeks.  The projects and lesson take aways provide a simple task for a group leader.  This book might be a great place for a church planting team to journey for a season.  The projects could unite the group around a common theological vision and purpose as well as allow them to learn and grow together.  Spending 6 months in this book would greatly help a team develop a plan for their specific church-plant.

While there are many books on church-planting available, Churches that Multiply is great for a group study.  Although I have not used it with a study group or to develop a vision for planting, I believe it would make a good resource to do so.

Purchase this book at Amazon.com by clicking here.


* This book was recommended to me along with a few other books by a NAMB Send City Church-Planting Coordinator, and for that, I'm thankful. 
** Purchases made through the links on this website help financially support this ministry. 
   

On Preaching

They stand and deliver Sunday after Sunday, alone or as part of a team, sometimes traveling, sometimes for the same flock for many years.  They are the preachers that so many sit under week after week.  From their biblical expository preaching many learn the Word of the Lord and are moved to respond accordingly.  

Preaching is a special calling that often takes discipline, training, and practice in addition to the aid of the Holy Spirit.  It's hard work and encompasses so much more than what is seen and heard on Sunday morning.  And preaching is nothing new; preaching, according to Dr. Jim Hamilton, "is as old as Moses." 

After reading Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, Jared Jenkins and I amplified our regular conversation on the topic of preaching.  As our conversations grew more numerous we decided to start a series on the topic for Salty Believer Unscripted.  We quickly realized a better way to examine preaching would be to view if from a variety of perspectives so we talked with a guy after he preached his first sermon.  Then we talked to pastors who preach in the team ministry of a shared pulpit.  We chatted with church planters.  One guy we interviewed has a PhD in preaching.  Another preacher develops curriculum and cut his preaching teeth in another language.  We talked with an itinerant preacher.  A seminary professor who also pastors a church was on the list as well as a preacher who has been preaching every week at the same church since the 70s.  Through a conversation with a variety of diverse preachers we saw similarities and differences.  And I believe we got a better picture of preaching through such a great list of preachers. 

I deeply appreciate all the guys who contributed their thoughts and time to this conversation.  I learned a great deal as I suspect will be the case for others who listen.  These contributing preachers include: Andy Conroy, Kevin Lund, Robert Marshall, Dr. Travis Freeman, Trevin Wax, Kyle Costello, Rob Lee, Danny Braga, Douglas Wilson, and Dr. Jim Hamiltion.  It is a great privilege serving our Lord alongside them. 

You can listen to the conversation by following the links below:
-- On Preaching: Who's Qualified?  audio
-- On Preaching: Defining the Sermon audio
-- On Preaching: The Bucket and the Thimble audio
-- On Preaching: Stand and Deliver audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Andy Conroy audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Kevin Lund audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Robert Marshall audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Dr. Travis Freeman audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Trevin Wax audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Kyle Costello audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Rob Lee audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Danny Braga audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Douglas Wilson audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Dr. Jim Hamilton audio


Salty Believer Unscripted is a weekly podcast.  If you would like to listen to more conversations like the ones listed above please subscribe.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
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* Photo taken by Paul Kelly and is registered under a creative commons license. 

The Para-Church Prosthetic

In 1 Corinthians Paul likened the Church to a physical body saying,
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, thought many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
"For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, 'Because  I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body"  (1 Corinthians 12:12-20, ESV). 
Paul's primary point is a demonstration of unity among Christians within the Body, that is, the Church.  Each member of the local church is not expected to be exactly like the other members.  We need one another and all of us serve in different functions but function together.  By extension, the same should be true of each local church.  Various local churches, while still mirroring the shadow of the Kingdom, will likely look different among the entire Body of the Church built and lead by Christ.

How then are we to understand the role of the para-church?

To get to the heart of this question, we must first attempt to define para-church.  The para-church is typically any organization or network that works alongside the Church.  Missionary organizations, campus ministries, learning centers, church-planting networks, Christian counseling facilities, orphanages, chaplain services, and seminaries are some of the most typical para-church organizations.  Some denominations, at times, function like a para-church.

Historically, the rise of various para-church organizations came in the wake of the failure or inability of the Church in one specific area or another.  As local churches stumbled to send and support missionaries, para-church organizations were formed and came to the aid of struggling local churches.  When theological education is not being adequately developed in the local church, Bible colleges, seminaries, learning centers, certificate programs, and publishers come alongside the local church to help.  Campus ministries abound where local churches struggle to reach the campuses with the gospel.

Para-church organizations are like a prosthetic limb for the Body.  Where the local church's reach is limited because it has no arm, the para-church can extend that reach.  But we must see this for what it really is if we are to understand how the Body of Christ best functions with the para-church.  

First, a prosthetic limb is useless apart from the body.  The prosthetic limb helps the disabled person, not the other way around.  Any para-church organization that does not work in conjunction with the Body of Christ, specifically with connections to local churches, is a prosthetic limb attached to nothing.  Para-church organizations should be seeking ways to help the Body.  Too often, para-church organizations demand that the Body financially help the prosthetic (in the name of advancing the Kingdom) without any intention serving alongside or connecting to the Body.

Second, the para-church is not the Church.   At times, para-church organizations function completely apart from the local church.  The claim is often something to the effect: "It's all about the Kingdom," but then no attention is given to the prosthetic connection point--the local church.  In addition, when para-church organizations function completely apart from the local-church, they become just an eye or ear and often assume that the entire Church is (or should be) only an eye or ear.  And many times the people involved in these kind of para-church organizations learn to depend too heavily on the para-church and can't seem to integrate into a local body.  Rather than becoming part of the bigger body and part of the family, they learn only to become a prosthetic limb.  While it is certainly not the case for all para-church organizations, some make little or no effort to encourage people to join and serve within a local church. Some outright discourage local church involvement.  In the bigger picture, this does little good for the Body.

Third, local churches should do more to encourage and equip para-church organizations that are serving in an area where the church is struggling.  A good relationship between the local church and a para-church organization is like the active person who lives very well with a prosthetic limb.  Local churches really aught to see the para-church (if it's functioning in conjunction with the mission of the local church) as an aid where the church is in need.  This can be a healthy relationship.  And this may be one way to better advance the mission of the Church.

Finally, churches can grow new limbs.  Through Christ, churches can regenerate failing and missing parts of the Body.  Where the human often depends on the prosthetic limb for life, the Church is really only on crutches while a new limb could be forming.  Local churches and para-churches should work together to grow limbs, training and equipping people in the area the para-church is covering.  In fact, the truest measure of the success of the para-church results in being replaced well by the local church.   If only more local churches and para-church would strive for such a goal!


* Photo of the prosthetic leg worn 1st Lt. Ryan McGuire  during track and field events was taken by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III and is registered under a creative commons license. 

There's No Evil In The World?

As I was walking the dogs one morning I bumped into a neighbor who is often out with her dog at the same time. We struck up a conversation and I learned that she was once Protestant, then Mormon, then Muslim, and now rejects any form of faith that claims that evil exists in the world.  "There is nothing evil in the world; everything is good," she claimed.  I wonder what she might think if I had kicked her dog right there in front of her?  That sounds evil and the opposite of good to me, and probably to most people. 

As I think about her statement I see the distinction between, "There is no evil; everything is good," and the more popular statement, "I see the good in everything."  As Christians, I can confidently say we see the good in everything.  As we see anything evil in the world, and more specifically the evil (or sin) in our own lives, we should also be able to see the cross, where Jesus bore the wrath of that evil for us.  We should feel the weight of our evil and God's goodness as we come to know God's love for us despite the evil we personally bring into the world. 

Christians should also see the things of God's creation as good.  God did.  After God had created everything, including us, he called it "very good" (Genesis 1:31).  But we should equally be able to see how the good creation was utterly tainted and corroded by sin at the Fall described in Genesis 3 and our personal repetition of the Fall in our own lives.  To ignore the effects of the Fall is to look at the cancer-riddled world and call even the cancer good.  So I wonder how much anything can really be valued as good if things that are clearly not good are still allowed maintain that title?

Finally, as we see things intended for evil, we, like Joseph should have faith that things intended for evil can, and are often, used by God for his good purposes. (See Genesis 45.)  Things we may declare as evil from our perspective may actually be tools used by God for good, and we would do well to try to see this from God's prospective.  Job is a good demonstration of good coming from what appears as evil. I think about the atrocity of the Egyptians killing all the Hebrew baby boys, but through this evil, Moses' life was greatly shaped for God's good and greater purposes.  I'm reminded of the Assyrians and Babylonians that initiated the great exile of the Jewish people. And how could we overlook the evil, sin, and betrayal that surrounded the crucifixion of our Savior?  Saul, administering evil upon the Church, through the power of God became Paul, a remarkable church planter and theologian.  How about the destruction of the temple in AD70?  And we can take this all they way forward into our own lives today?

It is a grave mistake to say there is no evil.  It is tragic to call what is evil good.  Instead, we must be able to see the evil in the world and turn our focus to God who is the very one who can mortify the evil in our hearts, thus bringing the ultimate good into the world.

* The photo used in this posts is in the public domain.           

Throwing in the Towel: Dying Daily

"Throwing in the towel" is an idiom or figure of speech commonly used to express that one is quitting.  It comes from the sport of boxing when a boxer's trainer throws a towel into the ring to stop the fight because his fighter is getting pummeled beyond recovery.

We should throw in the towel every day.  Yes, you should quit.   You probably don't like reading this, let alone doing it.  Neither do I.  That's probably because by the very nature of our western idea of success, this sounds really bad.  But it's true.  Throw in the towel.

If you're a Christian, that is, if you're a follower of Jesus who has surrendered your life to Christ, then at some point you've thrown in the towel.  You've said, "I can't keep up this fight.  I'm going to quit doing it my way.  I'm going to quit battling on my own.  I don't have any more strength.  I'm pummeled beyond recovery.  I give up." But when you gave up, you cried out to Jesus.  You may have said something like, "I can't do it, Jesus.  Help me!"  And if you're living the Christian life, this should be a regular occurrence.  You should quit often.  "Jesus, I can't keep doing this on my own.  Help me!"   Some people think of this like a tag-team with Jesus, but that's not how Paul saw it.  

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul made the comment that he dies every day (1 Corinthians 15:31).  He throws in the towel daily.  He doesn't tag Jesus and then Jesus steps in for a while--he dies.  He's got no more fight in him.  It's likely that Paul's comment is in reference to something Jesus said in Luke.  He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24, ESV).  Going to the cross means to die, to be killed.  Game over.  But in losing your life, you will save it! 

In ministry, I often find myself working hard, striving to accomplish things.  I plan and execute.  I think about problems and solutions.  But it seems that more often than not, I find myself pushed to the edge.  It gets hard.  Things happen that are way beyond my control.  My plans just can't account for reality.  My solutions fall grossly short.  So I throw in the towel.  I cry out, "That's it; I can't do it Jesus.  Help me!"  And the strangest thing happens.  God seems to bring solutions.  Plans come together.  The ministry goes forward; not without me, but in spite of me!  I find that when I quit, when I die to myself, things get amazing.  And you'd think I'd figure this out and throw in the towel first thing in the morning every day.  I'm learning, but my prideful self needs to take a few punches first before I realize that apart from Christ I'm beyond recovery.


* Photo take by flickr.com user, MrBragaosian is registered under a creative commons license and used with permission.

Ministry Killer: Seminary Loan Debt

Jesus once asked a great crowd, "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish'" (Luke 14:28-30, ESV).  His question was pointed specifically at understanding and weighing the cost of being a disciple of Jesus even in the face of renouncing all that one has and baring the cross of Christ.  But there is wisdom in counting the cost of any ministry endeavor as we seek to faithfully serve our Lord. 

Seminary is one such endeavor that really demands that the cost be counted.  It is difficult.  It takes lots of time.  You'll start reading topics that will brand you a geek.  You will need room for all your books.  Many seminary graduates I know (including me) ended up getting glasses while in seminary.  And seminary is expensive.

Seminary President, Dr. Jeff Iorg argues against the cost writing, "Check seminary prices against graduate or professional school tuition, and you will be shocked.  Formal ministry training is the least expensive of all major academic and professional disciplines" (1). But if we are okay comparing the cost against other graduate programs and professional school tuition, then we should also be okay comparing the salaries among these professional fields.  I suspect in most, if not all cases, the average ministry salary is much, much lower that these other professional fields.  Many seminary trained missionaries actually have to raise their own support just to get into the mission field!

This is not to say that the cost should be the primary reason not to go to seminary, just that it is important to understand what one is getting into as he is moving into his calling.  It is also important to examine the practical cost of a student loan on the other side of seminary.  I can speak with some experience.

When I entered seminary, I was also entering an Army chaplain candidacy program.  I believed my student loan would be paid off by the Army.  But when I was unable to enter the program, I ended up with a big loan balance.   My salary is good for the ministry profession, but it looks like a peasant boy with a stick up against an angry, fire-breathing dragon.  My loan is a monster and causes me a great deal of stress.  This stress effects both my family and my ministry.

Large student loan debt in ministry is extremely difficult.  Many church planting and missionary organizations will not accept a pastor with student loan debt.  Some churches may not hire you.  Churches and other organizations that will happily offer scholarships to people headed into seminary will rarely if ever offer to pay down the debt of one who has successfully completed seminary and serving faithfully in ministry.  (I know I've yet to find one.)  Government programs that once helped offset debt for those working in a non-profit capacity no longer apply for those in religious positions.

I believe seminary is important and extremely valuable to the minister of the gospel, but every effort should be made to finish seminary without debt.  If you must go slow, go slow.  If there are ways to cut costs, cut costs.  And if there's no way to go to seminary without obtaining a loan, then please be sure to count to the cost of a loan against your post-seminary ministry.

It's my prayer that more churches will consider helping seminary graduates pay off their debt as part of their compensation packages or as a ministry to pastors with debt.  It's my prayer that more churches will help seminary students buy books, pay tuition, and afford food and housing as he or she is in seminary.  It's my prayer that seminaries will work hard to reduce costs as much as possible considering what they are training their students to do.  And it's my prayer that more scholarships for seminary would be made available by any means possible.  If we hope to have well trained, prepared pastors and missionaries, then we really aught to invest in the students.  And if we really want to help the student succeed, we aught to find ways to combat educational debt. 


____
1. Jeff Iorg, Is God Calling Me?: Answering the Question Every Believer Asks (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 82.

* Photo by flickr.com user, thisisbossi is used under the conditions of its registered creative commons license. 

Unveiling Grace by Lynn K. Wilder

My friend and colleague, Jared Jenkins was sent a review copy of the book Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church (Zondervan, 2013).  Additionally, we had the opportunity to interview the book's author, Lynn K. Wilder.  Lynn is articulate and sharp.  It's enjoyable to hear her speak about her story as well as her practical, experience-tested ways to converse with your Mormon neighbors.  And I must say, it was one of the best podcasts we've had on Salty Believer Unscripted.

Lynn was a professor at BYU and both she and her husband were highly involved in the LDS church; that is, until God got her attention.  She's written a book about her testimony as well as the testimonies of 11 other former LDS people. She was on the road with the band Adam's Road when we interviewed her by phone.

You can listen to the podcast interviews here:
Unveiling Grace with Lynn K. Wilder 
-- Unveiling Grace (Part 1) audio
-- Unveiling Grace (Part 2) audio

Walk on the Wilder Side: Another Discussion with Lynn Wilder  
-- Walk on the Wilder Side (Part 1) audio
-- Walk on the Wilder Side (Part 2) audio


Here's the book trailer:



After conducting the interview with Lynn, hearing from Jared, and watching this trailer, I'm curious about the book and will likely read it soon.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes


* I have no connection to this book, financial or otherwise nor did I receive anything in exchange for the discussion of this book on SaltyBeliever.com 

Measuring Community Depth

Over the past few decades, it seems there is more and more "community" competing for the Christian's involvement.  Community (at least at some level) is available at nearly every turn.  Where it was once found primarily in the neighborhood, workplace, and the local church, opportunities for community are ever more abundant. Be it professional associations or groups centered around hobbies, gangs of all shapes and sizes, political caucuses, sports teams, outdoor groups, or on-line communities, when connection with others is sought after it can be easily found.  Or at least the group is found, community itself may be another matter. And even more complex is the Christian community.

As more people were seeking and finding community apart from the Church, the local churches responded.  Over the past century the small group Bible Study known as 'Sunday School' became popular.  It then transitioned to some other kind of community group, be it called the small group, community group, home group, gospel gathering, prayer group, home study, life group, missional community, accountability group, house church, power team, mid-week group, koinonia, redeemer family, connect group, spirit team, discipleship community, soma group, or any other variety of nomenclature.  These groups tend to consider them selves as "community" and draw their purpose from biblical reasoning.  The most common argument comes from Acts 2:42-47, which reads,
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed where together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (ESV).
Interestingly, this text appears to be explaining the entirety of the local church, not a single "community group" but by no means is there anything wrong with a smaller group seeking this kind of community.  But how do we know if we're reaching this level of community?  What's its depth?  Do we have a 1 inch blanket of snow or 35 feet?  It can be difficult to tell when we only examine the surface.

The first thing we need to come to grips with is how we define community.  What is the purpose for our community groups?  What makes Christian community different from all the other communities we find in the world?  This is a hot topic today as evidenced by all the how-to books filling the shelves with all kinds of different ideas. Articles are written arguing that community groups are about studying the Word while other articles say community groups are about being missional and reaching the lost while still other articles will say it's about taking care of one another.  (And they all most always cite portions of Acts 2:42-47.)  Local churches have also registered their ideas by implementing a cornucopia of different kinds of organized small groups.

Once we define our purpose we can better take measurements.  Once we understand why we gather, we can check the depth.  If the purpose for community groups is to reach the lost, then our measurements should reflect how many lost people are being reached.  If our groups are about study and growth, then when we plunge the measuring stick in, we should see how much the participants are growing.  Or maybe we should see if anyone is in need and examine how well we're meeting needs.  Or maybe we just count attendance and commitment level.  But as we examine one aspect of community, we seem to neglect other aspects. 

I would like to propose that Christian community--be it some kind of study, a group that meets in a home, an informal group of believing friends, a formal organized association, or the gathering that meets on Sunday mornings--should reflect gospel community which is much deeper than many of the single purposes proposed by so many articles.  The Christian community should be a shadow of heaven and offer the hope of salvation as well as the better things to come. Christian community should be viewed as the bride of Christ and those in the community should be in a growing, loving relationship with Christ.  We often call this Church, but Church, that is, the Body of Christ, aught to be synonymous with Christian or gospel-centered community. I believe this is what differentiates Christian community from all other forms of community the world offers.

And as we begin to measure depth in our community groups, it becomes a much more complicated matter.  Is there love among the brothers and sisters?  Is there joy and hope in Jesus?  Is there growth?  Is this a community centered around loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then loving our neighbors as ourselves?  Are we about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission?  Is there grace for one another?  Does our community reflect Jesus and lift him up?  Is the Holy Spirit present among us?  Do we see the Fruit of the Spirit?  Is there real life transformation found within our community?  Is there this much depth or is our community only as shallow as the single issue we've built our community around?  Has Christ build the community or is it a product of our own design?  Is our community about God's kingdom or is our community about fulfilling our selfish, worldly needs?


* Photo of Theo Donk and Eric Kuovolo measuring the snow depth was taken by Washington State Department of Transpiration and is registered under a Creative Commons License.