Sunday, March 01, 2009

Blogging The Deliberate Church: Part 2

In this post I want to give my thoughts on chapters 2-3 in the book, The Deliberate Church. You can read my first review here. My friend, Jeff Wright, has made his opening comments on the book here. It is worth reading, so check it out.

Chapter two is entitled, "Beginning the Work." So what is the first thing you should do when beginning ministry in the local church? The authors waste no time giving their answer. The first thing you must do is clarify the Gospel by preaching it clearly. Here the authors discuss the plague of nominalism running rampant in our churches today.

The human heart is astoundingly deceptive (Jer. 17:9), nominalism (being a Christian in name only) has spread in our churches like gangrene, and misunderstandings about the Gospel abound among professing evangelicals, especially regarding its relationship to other religions and its implications for our everyday lives. People need to hear the Gospel--whether they're professing Christians or not. (p. 43).

Words like this are music to my ears. I appreciate the authors reminding us that "the Gospel of Christ has never needed the gimmicks of man to effect conversion in the soul" (p. 44). And their suggestion that we begin with an exposition of Mark or John to let Jesus' words speak for themselves is an excellent idea.

If you are not surprised at the suggestion that the first thing one should do when beginning a ministry in the local church is clarify the Gospel, then you may be surprised by what comes next. In a section entitled "Cleaning the Rolls," the authors argue that we must make a big deal about making church membership meaningful. How serious do the authors think this is?
Most seriously of all, when we allow prolonged nonattenders to keep their names on the membership rolls, we actually help deceive them into thinking they are saved when their behavior is in fact calling their salvation into question. If membership is the church's public affirmation of a person's conversion, then to leave a nonattender on the rolls could very well be damningly deceptive. (pp. 47-48).

I think the key to affirming this quote lies with one's agreement with the idea that "membership is the church's public affirmation of a person's conversion." It is this idea that I think so many churches have a hard time with. Not agreeing with that statement is certainly a major reason why many new churches avoid having a formal membership at all. But I think this is a huge mistake. As pastors, we will be held responsible for the spiritual well-being of those we pastor (Heb 13:17), so it is important that we have some way not only for identifying those for whom we are accountable, but also for being able to say something about one's spiritual health. Commitment to the church is one biblical way of doing just that (see 1 John 2:19).

At this point I can say that the authors have made it clear by example what they mean by being deliberate. They mean taking seriously the charge to defend the Gospel, to watch over the spiritual condition of those within the church, and (in chapter 3) to seek for genuine conversions. This last issue the authors call "Doing Responsible Evangelism," the title of chapter three, a must-read chapter in this book. Here the authors discuss four essentials of the Gospel and deal with two responses that seem to be confused with a genuine response to the Gospel: praying a prayer and coming forward at a church service. The chapter concludes with an appeal to avoid entertainment and manipulation in presenting the Gospel as well as a warning against making the Gospel me-centered rather than God-centered.

In my first post on this book I began by noting this probing question found in the early pages of the book: Does the Gospel enjoy "functional centrality" in your church? This question continues to drive the ideas of this book in the next couple of chapters. After all, the Gospel is the only message the church has been entrusted with, so we had better take great care in making sure that it is the Gospel we are indeed delivering to people both inside and outside of the church.

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