Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The vision for this church planting onslaught starting here in Northeast Ohio has become more and more clear to me this last year. As Coram Deo is physically taking shape and as I watch my buddy Jeremy get the folks of The Movement Church ready to plant themselves and launch in Barberton I’m finding myself more energized than ever. As I’m entering my sixth year in this game, my tenth or eleventh year as a preacher and (if I’m thinking right) my ninth as a lead pastor in general, I’ve concluded that a Christ exalting and missional local church throughout Church history, boils down to three things.

1. A proper appreciation and deep conviction regarding the doctrine of The Holy Trinity. By this I’m speaking about all that doctrine encompasses (which our feeble minds are able by His grace to comprehend what He enables) including the unique work of each person within this mysterious Holy Trinity and His absolute Sovereign control over all things at all times. One must proceed and engage culture knowing that the Almighty One is able to and in His Word has already clearly communicated with fallen humanity and does not need our mediation (He spoke clearly and so therefore the Word is totally sufficient to stand on its own, saying what it says clearly…without our help…or censorship…it’s not jibber jabber nor can it be made inoffensive to human sensibilities, it is intended by God to offend), He is in need of no assistance to save anyone, is utterly relevant to every person at all times apart from our creativity and will judge all people righteously according to their deeds. This must be at the center of all things the local missional church involves itself and it is from this constant awareness and conviction all else must flow. This might seem obvious, but I assure you many if not most churches are not truly driven nor are consumed by this understanding...it's not basic to their functional dna. It’s why we see so much timidity in pastors and such little reverential fear of God in the West as a whole. Jesus isn’t the centerpiece of our churches, contemporary or traditional. We do not eat His flesh nor drink His blood when we gather because ultimately it’s not even about Him in many (if not most) churches. Now, if that offends you I beg you to please prove me wrong here. Oh to God how I wish my evaluation could be demonstrated and shown to be exaggerated. Speak up and explain to us all how Jesus Christ is exalted and is the centerpiece throughout the churches of the West! This rebuke might not be warranted in your church, Jesus might be the centerpiece indeed…but as a whole, this is just not the case. We have many lovely religious clubs and gatherings for good moralists and pious people…but not so many true local and missional churches. Please pray for me that I never lose sight of Almighty God as I lead.

2. A proper understanding of how the local church is to be governed. A healthy missional church has Jesus as the Senior Pastor and they openly and regularly recognize Jesus as the Senior Pastor in every gathering and meeting. Then, they have healthy, qualified and fearless men who serve as elders and under-shepherds who prayerfully lead the church as the Lord leads them, period…end of story. However, what we’ve got in most local evangelical churches is the influence of a small hand full of qualified men totally diluted with unqualified men and a whole bunch of women, all together and equal in authority, leading local churches. And Jesus? Well, He’s asked to bless what our congregation has decided to do at the end of the meeting. That’s what we’ve got. Oh…maybe not in an “official” capacity…it’s not likely presented that way…but that’s the bottom line even in many of our fine Baptist churches (gasp! Yes…you read that right). Everyone has a say, everyone has a vote and everyone has an opinion. I told my buddy Jeremy the other night that I just can’t explain how anything gets accomplished or how the lost are ever saved, apart from the five points of Calvinism…because most ‘evangelical’ churches are just wandering out in the wilderness without direction, passion or conviction. They just have services and committee meetings it seems. This is because everyone is a leader and so therefore WE HAVE NO LEADERS. I’m not going to toss rocks at congregationalism per se…but…qualified men need to be leading the church. Sure, the congregation can sign off on an issue, that’s not how we’ll be doing things but no matter what you set up is, the Bible is clear “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Hebrews 13:17 esv. (Can one of you Greek geeks bust out your lexicon and look up the words “obey”, “leaders” and “submit” here in this passage and share with us what they literally mean cause surely they can’t literally mean “obey”, “leader” or “submit”…).

3. A proper and Biblical missiology. The truly missional church will have no misunderstandings about the way society actually works and will proceed with the previous two convictions boldly. They will not have significant misunderstandings simply because the missional church is actively engaged in the real world. Books can not make a missional church nor can a blog. The missional church is organic and indigenous so therefore they artlessly, very naturally and authentically reflect the culture in which they reside. My buddy Jeremy (I reference him a lot lately…he’s a wise young man) puts it this way, “…we are to be exactly like them and nothing like them at the same time…” So the missional church lives in the real world, participates and enjoys the culture, the music, the art, the drama, the sports, the friendships and the entertainment of the real world yet abstains from the sin of the real world…but not the sinners of the real world. You can not abstain from the culture of the real world and effectively witness to the people of the real world at the same time, that’s foolish (ask the Amish how that strategy is working for them…sure they’re happy with their subculture but they have nearly no Gospel impact or witness in the secular world to speak of at all). The true missional church will seek expertise in Theology first and local Sociology second. It’s through those two lenses they see their Kingdom assignment and objective …they’re traditional evangelical penchants are certainly not of primary concern in the local missional church.

There you go…I’ve saved you a few bucks by keeping you from running out after the next “how to grow a big time church” book. I’m still a young church planter and I’ve not planted a mega-church. But you know what, I don’t think I ever will. If we can continue to spawn multiple Jesus centered, Gospel proclaiming and missional churches in the greater Akron/Canton area till the day I die, that’s just fine by me. Maybe if you are looking to see your church become a mega-church you should just forget the simplicity of my argument and hire a marketing firm to direct your path. But I do know this…we’ve seen people saved, man. This strategy isn’t the best at attracting disgruntled (yet tithing) church hoppers who are looking for the next cool thing. As I’ve reported many times here, we’ve always struggled with the weight of many immature babes in the Lord being carried by just a few mature believers…and we’ve made mistakes in our care for them, believe me. At times we expected way too much...others times we expected way too little. On top of that I have just blown it a time or two and really messed up. This is a road less traveled and we are learning. But I am convinced at this point in my life, in order to have a faithful, missional and healthy local church (not simply a Christian mega attraction/ concert/ mall/ Disneyland called a “church”) you must be radically Trinitarian, you must have Biblical Ecclesiology in practice and not just in theory, complete with Godly and qualified men serving as elders leading the people and the church must have sound missiology deep down in her soul. These three things are not exactly rocket science…but it is amazing that most of evangelicalism is marked by none of these three things.

I’m now 30 and it’s time for me to take these things that just scream through my mind and see them more effectively applied in the local church I’m planting and leading. I don’t know what that means, exactly…but I think I’m onto something. Who knows…but the last two of these three points have only in the last year or two really consumed and convicted me. Poor TEC…they’ve had to suffer along with me as I’ve learned this stuff the hard way(the story of my life it seems). The truth is that we lost key families in the past 12 months. It's been at times a painful season of transition, self evaluation, humility and my own personal maturity as a man. We sure learned a lot about putting the wrong people in positions of influence, that's for sure! That's not all their fault by any stretch...I put them there for crying out loud! Perhaps Coram Deo will reap the benefits of these lessons I've had to learn the hard way? Now, now...I say poor TEC…but…I’ve got this funny feeling she shall more fully blossom now that she’s got these things nailed down more securely herself…

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:2-4 esv


Naomi said...

I like the new look of your blog! And that was a good post too.
Love, Naomi

Jeremy Schweyer said...

Reverend Fox,

These words are filled with passion and wisdom, and they bring with them knowledge, encouragement, and conviction! Men, please heed these words! WHAT ARE WE DOING TODAY AND CALLING IT CHURCH? Who is Jesus in our churches men? Is he some complementary dish, add-on, girly man in sandals and a dress--who is hardly ever spoke about (unless in pity prayers that end with "In Jesus Name," or if we are asked if we want to "accept Jesus," not unlike you would accept Visa, Mastercard, or Discover!), and who is hardly ever really preached about?

Answering the "Who is Jesus question" will define what your church is all about! If he is weak, your church is weak! If he is the effeminate tolerant Jesus, you church will be effeminate and tolerant. If he is the "Jesus is my hommboy/hippy Jesus," then your church will view Jesus as your "Dude" who isn't concerned about sin, or confession and repentance, or changed lives! If your Jesus is a punk, your church is punked! But, if your Jesus is the Jesus of Scripture, then you'd know that he a mighty Warrior who left heaven for battle, and returned victorious! He wrapped himself in flesh to live the life we could not live, die the death we deserved to die, 3 days later, he arose from the grave triumphantly defeating our enemies Satan, sin, and death--and now he is majestically exhaled to the Father's right hand, with all power, dominion, rule, and authority subject to his very words (Eph. 1, Rev. 19). The Jesus of Scripture is not weak, he is not effeminate, he is not a punk, he is not a hippy in a dress--he is King! King over everything from our pots and pans to our pants and zippers! He our King who knows no fear--and who has commanded us to continue on in what he exampled to us (John 20.21), but are we really? Only you truly know men.

If I may make an observation for just a moment--if we spend our SHORT time talking about "Our Best Life Now" and "Repositioning Yourself for Success,” I think that it is safe to say that it has become more about what this Jesus guy can do for me; rather than what the King should do with me! He is a side dish in our churches today, and that’s if he even makes the menu at all! But, he must--he MUST become the main coarse (Christocentricity!) In the words of Mark Driscoll, "It's all about Jesus, always about Jesus, solely about Jesus, only about Jesus! We are Jesus people living in the wake of his sinless life, substitutionary death, resurrection, and ascension!" This is the emphatic message that the young punk kid is drawn toward--or not!

May it be to his glory and our joy!