Monthly Archives: September 2014

It’s all about the Cross

IMG_2578A long time ago I heard CJ Mahaney refer to a book that, he said, “defines Christian ministry for me”. Whatever problems Mahaney has faced in recent years, I’ve always admired his relentless focus on the Gospel. I heard him speak at a major leadership conference with thousands of church leaders present, and rather than offer up your typical conference message guaranteed to get the crowd going, he instead chose to preach on Golgotha. His little book, The Cross Centered Life, changed the way I understood my faith. It radically refocussed my life (along with The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges and a series of messages on grace by Terry Virgo). So, when Mahaney said that a particular book defined Christian ministry in his mind, somehow that lodged in my mind.

But for whatever reason I never got around to picking up that book until a few days ago. It’s The Cross and Christian Ministry by DA Carson. In this book he’s explaining a few sections of First Corinthians. It’s absolutely brilliant. There are echoes of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (but with a little more balance). Here are a few selections well worth thinking about.

On the temptation to pursue ministry strategies v. preaching the cross:

“At the moment, books are pouring off the presses telling us how to plan for success, how ‘vision’ consists in clearly articulated ‘ministry goals,’ how the knowledge of detailed profiles of our communities constitutes the key to successful outreach. I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing to be learned from such studies. But after a while one may perhaps be excused for marveling how many churches were planted by Paul and Whitefield and Wesley and Stanway and Judson without enjoying these advantages. Of course all of us need to understand the people to whom we minister, and all of us can benefit from small doses of such literature. But massive doses sooner or later dilute the gospel. Ever so subtly, we start to think that success more critically depends on thoughtful sociological analysis than on the gospel; Barna becomes more important than the Bible. We depend on plans, programs, vision statements—but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning.”

On the tendency to platform celebrities to make our churches seem more credible:

“Why is it that we constantly parade Christian athletes, media personalities, and pop singers? Why should we think that their opinions or their experiences of grace are of any more significance than those of any other believer? When we tell outsiders about people in our church, do we instantly think of the despised and the lowly who have become Christians, or do we love to impress people with the importance of the men and women who have become Christians? Modern Western evangelicalism is deeply infected with the virus of triumphalism, and the resulting illness destroys humility, minimizes grace, and offers far too much homage to the money and influence and ‘wisdom’ of our day.”

These first two quotes come from his comments on 1 Corinthians 1.18–2.5. This final one, from later in the book, rounds the ideas off well. He’s making the point that a church must be built on the foundation of the Gospel or it isn’t a church.

“If we see this clearly, then many other things will fall into place. We will perceive that it is God’s revelation to us of his Son that is of paramount importance. Recognizing the need for the Spirit of God to illumine the minds of men and women who otherwise will not grasp the gospel, we will emphasize prayer. We will live and serve in the light of the final judgment, for we must give an account of our ministry. It is not that we shall refuse any practical help from those who have something to say about technique or sociological profiles; rather, we will remain utterly committed to the centrality of the cross, not just at vague, theoretical levels, but in all our strategy and practical decisions. We will be fearful of adopting approaches that might empty the cross of Christ of its power… and the only approval we shall seek is his who tests the quality of each builder’s work on the last day.”

Goodbye Chapel

chapelgoodbyeYesterday we said goodbye to Westminster Chapel in an official way as we were prayed for and commissioned to get going with this church plant. In addressing the church for the last time as a member of the Leadership Team I decided to more-or-less write out in full what I wanted to say. Here it is:

In a moment or two I want to talk a little about Grace London, but before I do that I need to say a few things about Westminster Chapel.

I love this church. What do I mean when I say that? Obviously, I don’t know everyone, and those I do know I don’t know equally. But when I say I love this church, I’m talking about the corporate identity, the characteristics of the family.

I want to get specific. Here are some of the things I love about this church.

1. You love Jesus.
2. You are serious about the Bible.
3. You’re not scared of but instead love the Holy Spirit.
4. You are amazingly diverse.
5. You honour your wonderful history.
6. You are excited about the future and willing to embrace change and vision.
7. You don’t give your leaders a hard time.
8. You are generous.
9. You are pursuing holiness.
10. You make sacrifices to be part of this family.
11. You serve sacrificially often with little recognition.
12. You have an amazing pastor.

You might ask, if I love this church so much, why am I leaving?

Jesus made it clear that, while we’re called to build churches that really honour him, we’re also called to multiply and spread what we’ve got so that more people become part of his body, the Church.

If I felt that Chapel was going to be diminished because I or the people joining me are leaving, that it would be weaker, then maybe we’d feel compelled to stay. But the reality is that Chapel is going to go from strength to strength as more people shoulder the work we have been involved in. There are immense talents and gifts in this place, and people who can take things much further. So, in that sense, you don’t need us at all!

But all that’s good about this church needs to be reproduced into new churches. London needs many, many more churches to touch it’s vast fields of harvest — the sprawling population of millions.

And so, after 12 years here, and 7 years full-time work, I feel it’s the right time to leave.

For a while now I have sensed what I would describe as a ‘pressure’ or ‘compulsion’ on my spirit to get on with what I believe God has called me to do — to plant churches. There’s a lot that doesn’t feel comfortable about that. I don’t think I’m a natural fit for church planting, and it’s quite an intimidating prospect. But I also know that God is in this, so I will just keep plodding forward.

I’m so grateful that a few of the people in this church have been willing to join me. After 7 years work here I feel a bit like Jacob asking for one of Laban’s daughters, but unlike Laban, you didn’t give me bleary-eyed Leah — instead, I’m conscious that the people joining me represent Rachel. They’re beautiful and I’m grateful.

As we get started there are a few burning passions that drive me. I suspect that our vision will morph over time as the Holy Spirit leads us, but right now, these are the things that compel me.

1. I want to see people getting saved. I really believe that the gospel is the hope of the world and that Jesus is the ‘one mediator’. So he needs to be preached all over the place. And I also believe that when Jesus is preached, people get saved and changed. So, in a sense, I want to put that to the test in a new church and long to see Jesus lifted up so that he draws all men to himself.

2. I want to see men (specifically) discipled and trained. It seems to me that there is a huge need for a change in the expression of Christian manhood in evangelical circles in the UK. In my experience, women are far more willing to do courageous things for God. Over the years at Chapel it is single young women who I have observed taking radical steps to be involved in frontline mission, and rarely men. In the course of us getting started on this church plant I have had more interest (outside Chapel) from women who are expressing a desire to be involved. Men often don’t seem to know what it means to lead their families on mission with Jesus, to teach their children, to model godliness, and it is my hope that in Grace London we can begin to see a change so that men catch up with women, and then shoulder the burden to take the lead.

3. I want to plant more churches. It may seem overly ambitious to talk like this when we haven’t even started, but all of us who are in the core team are infected with the vision that we’re not here to establish one healthy church, but rather to shape our practice and identity around the goal of training and sending. Church planting is intimately intertwined with the Great Commission, and therefore, since we are here to fulfil the Great Commission, we are also going to plant churches as God enables us. That means finding and training pastors, channelling resources, and praying, praying, praying.

As we say goodbye, I want to ask you all to join us in ongoing support and prayer. Please go on our website and sign up to our mailing list where you will hear updates and receive prayer requests. Please consider giving over and above what you give to Chapel. If you already give to Chapel, you can give to Grace London by simply letting the treasurer team know (e.g. in a reference) and your gift will be designated. Or, you can give online through our website and they will know it’s for us.

We’ll be back from time-to-time, I’m sure, over the coming months and years.

Thank you for 12 amazing years.

[This post was originally posted at www.gracelondon.org.uk]