The Calling of the Church

The calling of the church in every culture is to be mission. That is, the work of the church is not to be an agent or servant of the culture. The churches’ business is not to maintain freedom or to promote wealth or to help a political party or to serve as the moral guide to culture. The church’s mission is to be the presence of the kingdom…  The church’s mission is to show the world what it looks like when a community of people live under the reign of God.

Robert WebberThe Younger Evangelicals

Gospel Discipling: Gospel & Renewal

Not only is Gospel discipling the very heart of discipleship within churches, it is also the critical issue in the matter of renewal or revival in the church at large.

Dr. Richard Lovelace, in his modern classic work Dynamics of Spiritual Life, asks why the Church must think in terms of what he calls “cyclical renewal” when the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit should allow “continuous renewal”.  As he explains his “primary elements of continuous renewal,” they are summarized in what he calls a “depth presentation of the gospel”.

Lovelace writes:

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. … Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

In order for a pure and lasting work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation.

This is another way to speak of gospel discipling, and we are seeing evidence of such quiet but deep renewal in ministries in the United States and in other nations.


This is Part 4 of a 5-part series titled Gospel Discipling. This series is taken from an essay by Stephen Smallman, author of Spiritual Birthline and past Executive Director of World Harvest Mission. Some of the content has been edited. 

Thanks also to New City Fellowship of St. Louis, who posted Smallman’s essay on their web page.

To read Parts 1-3 click: Introduction; Romans as Model; Gospel & Adoption

To Be Or Not To Be Missional

Dave Harvey is an expert church planter and an astute observer of trends in church leadership.  At the Spring 2007 Leadership Conference of Sovereign Grace Ministries Harvey assessed the strengths and weakness of the missional movement in an address titled Watch Your Mission: To Be or Not to Be Missional.

One observation Harvey offers is that sometimes missional practitioners muddy the Cross-centered focus of the Church. 

Here is a sketch outline of Harvey’s message:

What are the Strengths of Missional Churches?

  • Missional Churches Have a Commendable Passion for Evangelism.
  • Missional Churches Have a Laudable Commitment to Engaging Culture.
  • Missional Churches Have a Profitable Impulse for Reexamining Church Tradition.
  • Missional Churches Possess an Admirable Devotion to Social Impact.

What are the Weaknesses of  [Some] Missional Churches?

  • Missional Churches Tend to Be Mission-Centered Rather Than Gospel-Centered.
  • Missional Churches Tend to Have a Reductionistic Ecclesiology.
  • Missional Churches Tend to Confuse Culture Engagement with Cultural Immersion.
  • Missional Churches Tend to Downplay the Institutional and Organizational Nature of the Church.
  • Missional Churches Tend to Have an Insufficient Understanding of Apostolic Ministry.

As one who desires to be both Gospel-centered and Misisonal, I take Harvey’s cautions seriously. I think he has a valid point. I would say that while being Missional does not inherently make one guilty of this, I would have to concede that many who are Missional are guilty of this. 

I suspect this results from an imbalance with the Prophet, Priest, and King tri-perspective. Too much emphasis is placed on the role and influence of the King.  This seems only to be natural since, afterall, one of the important principles recovered by the missional movement is that our mission matters; our mission is as much an expression of who we are as is our theology.

So what is the solution?  Uncompromising Tri-Perspectivalism.

Read Harvey’s full outline here; Download the mp3 for FREE and listen to the audio here.

Note: Thanks to Tony Reinke of Miscellanies for the links.

Are We One?


The church I pastor, Walnut Hill Church, has a problem. While not uncomon, it is an unusual problem in a day when 85% of all American Churches are stagnant or in serious decline.  But it is not a problem I expect will generate a lot of sympathy from the pastors or members of most other churches.

We have a space problem.  Our sanctuary is too small to comfortably or reasonably seat all of our members – much less our guests.  Missiologist Peter Wagner calls this problem “Sociological Strangulation“. 

The solution? We’ll look at a number of options. But the seasoned leaders I’ve spoken with keep reaffirming what I have already suspected for some time: In the absence of the funds to build a new building, we need to add a second service. 

While that sounds simple enough, for some reason that idea unnerves people.  It also seems to evoke a recurring question: Will we have two different styles – one contemporary service and one traditional service? 

For those who think two styles is the unquestionably preferable way to go, I suggest taking some time to hear from someone who has thought through  and worked through this issue, and has come to the conclusion that two styles is not the preferable, nor even the healthiest, approach. 

Earlier this week, in a post on The Gospel Coalition blog, Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, expresses his reasons for sythesizing the services of that high profile congregtion.

To read what Tullian has to say, click: We Are One.

I appreciate Tullian’s thoughts.  While they may go against the grain of some Church Growth practitionaers and principles, Tullian’s chief concern is that the church be what it is supposed to be – to be what God wants it to be.  And that is my chief concern, too.

Gospel Discipling: Gospel & Adoption

World Harvest Mission was founded in 1983 under the leadership of Dr. C. John (Jack) Miller. Dr. Miller’s ministry had been revolutionized by his own rediscovery of the Gospel through studies in Galatians and the work of Martin Luther, and the results of that revolution became evident in multiple conversions in his church and subsequent interest in missions and evangelism. Dr. Miller asked, “How can we take the Gospel to others if we have not been mastered by it ourselves?” And so as part of its ministry preparation, the church began discipling people in the Gospel in a program now known as “Sonship”.

Key to the concept of Sonship is the recovery of the doctrine of Adoption.  The central ideas taught in Adoption include:

  1. The glorious truth of our sonship, even though we often act like orphans;
  2. The basis of our sonship in the finished work of Christ–this includes not only receiving the passive, or alien, righteousness of Christ for our forgiveness, but also understanding that because of the active righteousness of Christ we are actually welcomed by the Father as well-pleasing in his sight;
  3. A careful look into the true demands of the Law as a prerequisite for a full appreciation of our constant need for the Gospel;
  4. Repentance as a lifestyle for the Christian;
  5. Sanctification as well as justification by faith. This leads to a new paradigm for Christian living rooted in believing the gospel rather that the futile attempt to destroy the “flesh”;
  6. Faith expressing itself through love;
  7. The absolute centrality of prayer.

Just as critical as the truths taught in Adoption is the commitment to see that the gospel truths actually penetrate the heart and are beginning to affect the life, relationships and ministry of participants Believers. When people are actually discipled in the Gospel, not merely taught it, REAL change takes place. Continuously believing the gospel allows one to be frank about the reality of our own sin because any hope of righteousness is found in Christ and not in our outward performance.

The Gospel is for sinners. We must recognize that living in the reality of the Gospel is a constant battle. In fact, it could be argued that the essential issue of spiritual warfare is unbelief. Therefore we are in constant need of repentance and being renewed in the Gospel ourselves. Much of our joy in Gospel discipling is the way it encourages our faith as we witness the power of the Gospel transforming others.

Another challenge to the ministry has been to discover how easily Adoption can be divorced from its missionary setting. The mission of World Harvest Mission is still to take the Gospel to a lost world through our own evangelism as well as encouraging the witness of others. Sonship has been a means to that end, as was certainly the case with the Apostle Paul’s preaching the Gospel to the church of Rome. To lose the missionary character of the Gospel in the process of Gospel discipling is to attack the essence of the Gospel itself.


This is Part 3 of a 5-part series titled Gospel Discipling by Stephen Smallman. Steve Smallman is a past Executive Director of World Harvest Mission and author of the book Spiritual Birthline.

Thanks also to New City Fellowship of St. Louis, who posted Smallman’s essay on their web page.

To read Parts 1-2 click: Introduction; Romans as Model

Grid Watch 2010


These are the college football players I will be keeping a close eye on this coming season. Most of these guys, including my oldest son, played for high school teams I had the privilege to coach. Others are family friends:

Gospel Discipling: Romans as a Model

It would be presumptuous to claim that we can discern precisely the approach Paul and the first missionaries would have used under direct leadership of the Spirit. But I would encourage a view of his letter to the church(es) of Rome as essentially intending to take those who already believed the Gospel, and who were therefore “saved”, back to that very Gospel, but at a more complete level of understanding.

It is clear from the explanation of his purpose in writing the letter (Romans 15:14-33) that Paul was intending to shift his center of ministry from the Eastern to the Western Mediterranean, since he had completed his work in the East. His particular vision and calling was to “preach the Gospel where Christ was not known,” and therefore following his visit to Jerusalem and a stop in Rome, he was heading for Spain (Romans 15:24-28). The clear implication of the letter is that just as other churches had an opportunity to contribute to the offering for the saints of Jerusalem, he was sure that when he visited them they would want to “assist” him on his journey to the new mission field.

Given Paul”s stated ambition to take Christ to those who had never heard, it is curious that he was “eager to preach the Gospel also to you who are at Rome” (Romans 1:15) when he came for the long overdue visit. I would argue that this did not mean that he wanted to do evangelism with them among the people of Rome (no doubt he would do that, too), but that he wanted to preach the Gospel to the church of Rome. In other words, he wanted to give the Gospel to those who had already believed the Gospel, who were “called to belong to Jesus Christ…called to be saints” (Romans 1:6-7). As he moves into the body of the letter, it becomes clear that there is far more to the gospel than is immediately apparent to a newly awakened believer. It reveals a righteousness of God that leads from faith to deeper faith (Romans 1:17).

In the chapters that follow, the Apostle unfolds with great precision the righteousness revealed in the Gospel. The exposition of this deeper understanding of the Gospel begins first with justification, then an explanation of our union with the risen Christ (often labeled sanctification), then the extraordinary privilege of adoption or sonship, and climaxing in the celebration of the predestinating purposes of God. Chapters 9-11 continue to wrestle with the Gospel and its relationship to the Jewish people. Throughout his explanation of the Gospel, Paul makes application, but it is not until ch. 12 that he begins specific teaching about the “doing” of the Christian life.

Here then is a demonstration of just how Paul worked out his constant prayer that believers would grow in the “knowledge of God”– he was eager to preach the Gospel to them. In this light, his reference to the gospel as the “power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16) should be understood as empowering believers through every aspect of that salvation. Our more limited idea of gospel has resulted, it seems to me, in a similarly limited view of the power of God for salvation–we only think of this verse in terms of conversion, when we first believe. So understanding and continuing to believe the gospel is not only the essential task of discipleship, it provides the basis or power for attending to the doing of the Christian life–a life appropriately identified by Paul as the “obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5).


This is Part 2 of a 5-part series titled Gospel Discipling by Stephen Smallman. Steve Smallman is a past Executive Director of World Harvest Mission and author of the book Spiritual Birthline.

To read Part 1 click: Introduction

Beauty & Purpose of the Cross

Sadly not everyone recognizes the requisite necessity for God to be Just. Many picture him exclusively as absolute and unconditional love, thinking he will dismiss the the legal demands that result from mankind’s sin on that basis alone. This approach is offensive to God because it demeans two of the other essential facets of his unfathomable nature: Holiness & Justice. In addition, to see God solely as love is to overlook the beauty and the purpose of the Cross. For at the Cross, the perfect holiness of God meets his perfect love in action.

-Jerry Bridges & Bob Bevington, The Great Exchange

10 Dumbest Things Christians Do

There is a book out there with the title: The 10 Dumbest Things Christians Do. I feel compelled to pick up a book with a title like that. I want to see how many of these 10 dumb things I am guilty of doing.

I don’t know if the list the author, Mark Atteberry, compiled is right or not.  Are these the DUMBEST things Christians do? Some of us do so many dumb things, it is tough to tell which are the dumbest.  But I must concur. He is right. These are some stupid things many Evangelical Christians do:

  1. Slinging Mud on the Bride of Christ
  2. Winning People to Church Rather Than to Jesus
  3. Living Below the Level of Our Beliefs
  4. Speaking Above the Level of Our Knowledge
  5. Hopping From Church to Church
  6. Fighting Among Oursleves
  7. Missing Golden Opportunities
  8. Settling for Mediocrity
  9. Allowing Wolves to Live Among the Sheep
  10. Accepting the Unacceptable

Gospel Discipling: The Crying Need of the Church

by Stephen Smallman

Thirty years of discipleship programs, and we are not discipled.”

This is the startling assessment of Jim Petersen, the visionary leader of the esteemed discipleship ministry, the Navigators. Petersen goes on in the first chapter of his important book, Lifestyle Discipleship, to ask some very hard questions about the real effectiveness of our various attempts at discipling believers.  But if the situation in most of our American evangelical churches is lacking with respect to discipleship, the condition of many churches in developing nations is nothing short of tragic. Instance after instance can be cited of young and vital churches sliding quickly into debilitating legalism, with Christianity being defined by believer and unbeliever alike as essentially little more than the keeping of certain rules.

There is little need to draw out this lament about the current condition of “discipleship”. Almost anyone in ministry recognizes the need to rethink assumptions and approaches to this critical aspect of the work of the Church. In this article I would like to make the case for a fundamental shift in the paradigm we use with respect to the content of our discipling ministries. It seems to me that most of the work being done to improve the discipleship component of our churches or missions focuses on the matter of methodology – how to secure greater commitment from participants, whether we should work in small groups or one-on-one, how pastors should redefine their roles, etc..But the actual content of what is imparted can be largely described as the “doing” of the Christian life. It is my contention that before methodological issues are discussed, we need to recognize that the essential content of our discipleship is to be the Gospel – taking people who have believed the gospel back into the Gospel again and again.  This is what I will call “Gospel discipling”, which could just as easily be termed “discipleship in the Gospel.”

I believe it can be demonstrated that this was the approach of the Apostles, as evidenced by their letters to new churches.  In particular I want to use the book of Romans as a model of Gospel discipling. I believe it can also be demonstrated that it is the Gospel itself that supplies the power to enable believers to become meaningfully engaged in the “doing” of the Christian life. Once I lay out these foundational issues, I will then explain briefly how World Harvest Mission, building on the seminal thinking of Dr. Jack Miller, has attempted to address the issue of Gospel discipling in a practical way.

Definition of the Gospel

At the outset, it is essential to contend for a much broader understanding of the word “Gospel” than is commonly held by evangelicals. In its essence the Gospel is the glorious announcement that God has kept his promise to bring salvation to the earth (Isaiah 52:7).  The fulfillment of his promise is a person, his own Son, named Jesus, who is Messiah and who died for our sin and was raised to life. Remarkably, by believing this Gospel we are granted eternal life, and the break caused by the original fall and our personal sin is restored.

But the Gospel is more than the announcement about the person and work of Christ, it is used by Paul and others to include all that comes to us when we believe the Gospel. In the words of Galatians, it includes not only God sending his Son to redeem those under the law, but also his sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts that we might experience the privileges of sonship. (Galatians 4.4-7)  In Colossians 1 Paul talks about the “word of truth, the Gospel” and seems to equate it with “God’s grace in all its truth”. (Colossians 1.5-6) It is also worth taking time to reflect on Paul’s use of Gospel in 2Timothy 1.8-2.10. I believe in the light of that context, Paul’s exhortation to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2.1) can be understood as challenging Timothy to find his strength to endure by returning again to the Gospel.

All of this points to a need to understand the Gospel as much more than rehearsing the facts of Christ’s death and resurrection – as wonderful as they are. Furthermore, teaching or preaching the Gospel is more than inviting unbelievers to put their trust in Christ for salvation. The Gospel is the word we should use for all that has been given us in Jesus Christ, which is why it is frequently called “the Gospel of grace”. This broader use is much closer to the historic distinction of Law and Gospel, which was commonly understood in earlier generations, but seems to have been largely ignored by ours.  To be sure, the benefits of the Gospel are being taught today, but I believe our discipling of believers will be helped by recognizing that biblically, these are still to be thought of as Gospel. The posture of simply believing in Jesus as we learn of Him in the Gospel is as fundamental to our progress in the faith as it was to our initial receiving of it.


This is Part 1 of a 5-part series titled Gospel Discipling. This series is taken from an essay by Stephen Smallman, author of Spiritual Birthline and past Executive Director of World Harvest Mission. Some of the content has been edited. 

My thanks to New City Fellowship of St. Louis, who posted Smallman’s essay on their web page.

To read Parts 2-5 of this essay click:

Romans as a Model

Gospel & Adoption

Gospel & Renewal

Gospel & Evangelism

Practical Difference Makers

One of the vows folks are required to affirm if they are to become a member of our church – or a member of any church in the PCA, for that matter – is:

Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of you ability?

This seems simple enough. I don’t recall anyone ever hesitating on that one.  In fact I don’t recall anyone even asking a question for clarification. But, how does one actually DO that? How does one support the worship and the work of the church?

In the closing message of NEXT 2010, Kevin DeYoung offered a list of suggestions for the conference participants to become “difference makers” in their local church:

• Find a good local church.
• Get involved.
• Become a member.
• Stay there as long as you can.
• Put away thoughts of a revolution for a while.
• Join the plodding visionaries.
• Go to church this Sunday and worship in Spirit and truth.
• Be patient with your leaders.
• Rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
• Bear with those who hurt you.
• Give people the benefit of the doubt.
• Say “hi” to the teenager that no one notices.
• Welcome the old ladies with the blue hair and the young men with tattoos.
• Volunteer for the nursery.
• Attend the congregational meeting.
• Bring your fried chicken to the potluck like everybody else.
• Invite a friend.
• Take a new couple out for coffee.
• Give to the Christmas offering.
• Sing like you mean it.
• Be thankful someone vacuumed the carpet for you.
• Enjoy the Sundays that “click.”
• Pray extra hard on the Sundays that don’t.
• And in all of this, do not despise the days and weeks and years of small things (Zechariah 4:8–10).

Seems so simple, doesn’t it?  But I can tell you if even a handful of people adopted these things in a local congregation the difference would be noticeable.  As a pastor, I would be thrilled.

Ah!! You Just Said a BAD Word!

Tony Campolo is famous – or infamous – for a statement made at a Christian college chapel service:

“The United Nations reports that over ten thousand people starve to death each day, and most of you don’t give a SH%T.  However, what is even more tragic is that most of you are more concerned about the fact that I just said “sh%t” than you are about the fact that ten thousand people are going to starve today.”

Let me ask you:

  • What was your first thought when you read that quote?  Did you visualize thousands of starving people? Or were you stunned by the use of the “bad” word?
  • Imagine if you had been in the congregation at your church and he made that statement. What would have struck you then?
  • Can think of any better way to point out that sometimes we do not have the heart and priority of Christ? 
  • Can you think of a better way to reveal our tendency toward self-righteousness and legalism?

I’ve never had the nerve to say anything like this from the pulpit. Maybe if I was a traveling speaker who didn’t have to face the same crowd again a week later I might have considered it…