It’s been nearly four years since I started blogging at Modern March. I’ve learned a ton and am so grateful for those of you who have stuck with me from the beginning and those of you who have joined in along the way.
As you can see in the title of the post, I will no longer be blogging at Modern March. I have decided to take my talents to South Beach… kidding. Actually, I’m excited to announce that I’ve begun a new blog venture with some friends of mine. This blog will allow me to spend more time editing than I do here while still maintaining an opportunity to write as much as I please!
Please join me over at Project TGM. I promise, it will be more interesting and resourceful than I ever was.
As someone feeling called by the Lord to pursue church planting, there are not many better resources than the work of Steve Timmis. He and I recently Skyped (though my Internet connection and webcam had a mind of their own!) and I picked his brain about missional living and leading a missional church in particular. Steve was gracious enough to allow me to transcript some of our conversation for you!
For more great interviews and conversations, click HERE.
BRANDON: Total Church has impacted myself and many church planters. What is the story behind your writing this book with Tim Chester?
STEVE: We were getting some requests from publishers to tell the story of Crowded House, but we didn’t want to do that because we didn’t want to present Crowded House as being a model or any kind of example. We didn’t want to set it up like, “Aren’t we great?” What we decided to do was to write a pretty robust ecclesiology but to earth it with our own experience at Crowded House.
I’ve been doing church this way for years, like decades. I had a man come up to me in Sydney, and I recognized him straight away – he had been in a church I’d pastored when I was like 25 (and I’m no longer 25, as you can see). He says, “Timmis, you’re just a one-trick pony. This is exactly what you were talking about doing 25 years ago!” At one level I was slightly hurt, because I hadn’t come up with anything inventive. But one the other hand, I was encouraged that the core – and it’s definitely changed – but that the core theology, rationale, Christology, ecclesiology, missiology… that was forged way back then.
My principle influences have been Francis Schaeffer, the Dutch Reformers like Kuyper shifted my theology in a big way. I read Calvin’s Institutes when I was very young, and got a lot of my ecclesiology from the Evangelical Anabaptists of the Reformation period. Jonathan Edwards and John Owen have been big influences, as well.
BRANDON: I had heard you say awhile back that many times it takes guests of the Crowded House some time to get comfortable around your church because of how tightly knit you are. What is it about your church that would make guests feel out of place at times?
STEVE: If I said that, it would be Christians who would feel a certain sense of disconnect. We tend do church differently than most people, because our leading edge is our Gospel communities – living life-on-life together on mission is what is distinctive. Most churches struggle to live that out. Just today, I was coaching a senior minister at a large, solid evangelical church and some of the stories that he was telling me is that guys from his church would find it very odd at the Crowded House because of the emphasis of living life-on-life together on mission.
So, when people come and visit from elsewhere, they often comment on how I cope with people always popping in and hanging out at my house and people end up staying. For a lot of Christians, it’s just weird.
BRANDON: My wife went on a mission trip to England recently, and she told me that she’d never been to such a spiritually dark place. How is your church model particularly working in England? Is this church model of life-on-life more effective in that culture?
STEVE: English people are very private, and so in a lot of ways it’s quite counter-cultural. My conviction is that if human beings are made in the image of God, and God is in community, then community is something that is part of our identity as human beings. They might be afraid of it and are undoubtedly are putting all sorts of management techniques that aren’t right and godly to satisfy that desire, but it’s there. So there’s something that is inevitably attractive about the model. I think missionally it’s very effective.
BRANDON: What are some practical ways that church leaders can encourage their people to actually want to go out and be missionaries in their context?
STEVE: Fundamentally and ambiguously I’d say that it’s a Gospel issue. If they are averse to the very idea (and there’s a difference between that and just being afraid of the experience), then they aren’t understanding the Gospel properly. Church leadership is all about creating a culture at it’s very core, so leaders are responsible for creating, nurturing, and developing that culture. If the recognized leaders aren’t doing that, then they aren’t leaders whatever their title.
I think there are four principle areas to do this if you have a reluctant congregation, which many men have:
1) Preach it faithfully and biblically. You’ve got to show that this identity isn’t just “my thing” or a “new trendy thing” but that it’s core to Gospel purpose. I find it quite helpful to use aphorisms or sound bites with substance that help people grasp biblical truth memorably. You have to preach it consistently and publicly from “house to house” to quote Paul in Acts 20.
2) Pray and sing for it. Not just the individual leader only, but he’s got to shape the whole prayer life of the church around it. Corporate prayer meetings have got to be missional and you’ve got to rehearse and pray the Gospel out. Even in terms of singing, we’ve got to sing missionally. Prayer and singing are great ways to capture the affections, and so leaders have the responsibility to put a lot of effort in creativity in those two areas to make sure that we’re not only informing peoples minds, but that we’re genuinely seeing their hearts captured by the Gospel and captivated by Christ. To love Christ is to want to speak of Him and desire His fame. If we don’t want to do that, then we don’t truly love Him.
3) Model it. You’ve got to show how the Gospel has captured your heart and stimulates your affections and that you’re talking about Jesus and commending the Gospel to people faithfully and engaging in people’s lives. One problem is that leaders love talking about theory but they don’t practice it in their lives. They talk about the church, but the reason why their church is institutional is because their leader tends to live institutionally. He lives a professional, a person with an 8-6 job rather than a person who sees his identity wrapped up in the community of God’s people.
4) Build structures. You’ve got to structure the life of the church around it. I think one of the dangers of the so-called “organic church movement” that we’ve sometimes been associated with is that it just doesn’t appreciate the necessity of structures. All life needs structure – just look at the human body. Build structures that demonstrate and celebrate the centrality of Gospel living for the life of the church. Where you put your money, effort, energy, resources, where you release people… they’ve all got to continue to hammer on that theme.
BRANDON: What is your opinion on how elders and church leadership should be structured in a church that is really trying to be missional?
STEVE: I don’t buy into the “first among equals” idea; I really believe in a collegiality of leadership where in particular areas one person will take the lead. What I try to do with our eldership, and we have eight in our gathering here, is to keep reiterating the vision and articulating it in different ways and engaging with them as best I can in different contexts. I am very content, not with power, but with influence. I do want to persuade people and be influential, but I can live without institutional power. Then, when the leadership has the same thought in mind, you’ve got to make sure that it filters through to the different leaders who are engaged with the people. You’ve persuaded the leaders, and they’re persuading others. So, when we come to any big decision we don’t just say, “We’ve decided this, do you agree?” because by the time we’ve presented it, it’s filtered through the life of the church.
My principle strategy for that is generally to have absolutely as much as possible in the open forum. I encourage leaders to talk about things at the leadership level. I’m not talking about personal pastoral issues, but in terms of vision and our whole sense of our direction and who God wants us to be because I think that’s the way that people become persuaded. So when it comes to making formal decisions, all the issues have been addressed and all the battles have been fought. We want to be as open as possible, and a value for me is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians, that we don’t do anything in secret but that everything is out in the open. Our default is to talk about it openly. Sometimes you can’t, but that’s our default. For us, a lot of this is going on all the time so that people are aware instead of dumping ideas on them and asking them to approve of it.
BRANDON: Do you hold to a strictly elder-led model, or more of an elder-congregation idea?
STEVE: We’re definitely elder-led, but my conviction about being elder-led is that you’ve got to have people persuaded. I’m not a congregationalist, but unless the people are behind it and sign off on it in terms of people being committed to it, then you can make all the decisions you want but it won’t do you any good. Leaders have got to persuade. So, if someone pushes back, I won’t just accept that, I’ll go after them in hopes of persuading them. I want all leaders to be persuasive for the sake of mission, for the sake of the fame of Jesus, for the glory of God.
Look upward, and you will perceive no seat of fiery wrath to shoot devouring flame.
Look downward, and you discover no Hell, for there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.
Look back, and sin is blotted out.
Look around, and all things work together for good to them that love God.
Look beyond, and glory shineth through the veil of the future, like the sun through a morning’s mist.
Look outward, and the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field, are at peace with us.
Look inward, and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keeps our hearts and minds by Christ Jesus.
- Charles Spurgeon
Unless you live under a rock and completely avoid social media, you’ve at least heard of my man Jeff Bethke’s viral YouTube video “Why I Love Jesus, But Hate Religion.” If you haven’t, watch it below. At the time of this post, just six weeks after its release, the video is sitting at 19.3 million views (I remember when it was a big deal to get to ONE million!).
Jeff was kind enough to take a few minutes between speaking engagements and appearing on shows such as ABC Nightline to do a quick interview with me about his story and the making of his poems.
For more interviews like this, click here.
Brandon: Give us a little bit of your testimony and what brought you into writing/performing spoken word.
Jeff: I was raised in a single parent household all my life. Section 8 housing, food stamps, etc. I played the church game as a cover up for my insecurities and then lived the worldly life for the same reason. I came to faith four years ago and have only been writing the past year because I thought the medium was unique and hit home with my generation.
B: Your “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” poem was a YouTube sensation overnight. How have you dealt with all the attention and what has changed for you since then?
B: There was some minor backlash from pastors and others that felt you were too demeaning of religion, something Christians and even Jesus technically practice(d). Did you see much of this on social media, blogs, etc. and what is your response?
J: Here’s my dissertation- :) http://jeffbethke.com/my-thoughts-after-writing-why-i-hate-religion-but-love-jesus/
B: Your next popular poem was focused on marriage (watch below). Is this a topic that you feel is misunderstood and overlooked by the world in general, and Christianity in particular?
J: Totally! I read Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller and it was a one-hitter-quitter to my soul. We have butchered marriage today which is God’s primary means of revealing Himself.
B: What’s next for you? Any new poems or other endeavors that we’ll be seeing soon?
J: Not sure! Still letting the dust settle; hoping to continue to do what I do! Thinking about doing poems in a more topical, systematic way (with Bible studies, etc.).
Let me first commend you on your acceptance to join the furnace that is the Elephant Room. You have taken a lot of heat over the years from pastors and theologians of all ilks, and you have handled it rather gracefully just as you did today. Perhaps the greatest compliment that one can give you is that humility does not seem to be something that you struggle with.
At 22, I felt the Damascus Road calling to ministry and dropped everything that I was doing to pursue ministry. This led me to start school over and begin a Biblical Studies degree at Dallas Baptist University. Interestingly, the school at which I studied and lived is no farther than a few football fields from your church, The Potter’s House.
Being the young angry Calvinist that I was, my first inclination that was that you were a heretic and probably hated Jesus more than I hated the traffic your church creates outside of the campus gates every Sunday morning and evening. I often had thoughts of attending one of your services and later blogging from my dorm room in my underwear about what a shame to God’s cause you really were. When I heard that people were getting saved at your church from Potter’s House members that I had class with, I was praying for REAL salvation to come upon those who bought into your heresies. Want to know the funny part? I hadn’t so much as listened to a single sermon of yours.
So, I listened to a few of your messages and tried to convince myself that I didn’t like what you were saying (though I did much of the time) and was determined to believe that you were a snake oil salesman which a fancy suit that cost too much money. Of course, I was too busy arguing with Calminians at DBU to consider whether or not I was wrong about anything, much less whether or not you were the Antichrist.
Needless to say, the onus was on me – not you – to repent.
As the past few years have come and gone, I have begged the Lord with great fear to humble me and allow me to love my brothers in Christ, regardless of differences, so long as they are not denying the foundational tenets of our faith. When hearing about your inclusion in the Elephant Room, I was greatly excited to hear that you would be cross-examined about your theological beliefs. People were all over the Internet already accusing Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald of associating with a heretic who denied the Trinity, when in reality they were doing what they should: allowing a brother to defend himself in his own words. I was a little disappointed in your responses in Christianity Today regarding the Trinity, but leading up to the Elephant Room I re-read it and had to remember that the interview was 12 YEARS AGO. Chances are, you have developed and grown quite a lot since then.
At the Elephant Room, you answered the question everyone had been asking: Do you affirm the Trinity? Is there one God in three manifestations (a Oneness Pentecostal theology that you’d affirmed so long ago), or is there one God in three persons (the orthodox view)?
Your response: ” I believe the latter one is where I stand today. One God – Three Persons.”
You went on to explain that you’re not afraid of the word “manifestation” because Paul used it, which in context I agree with.
You were then asked the follow-up question by Driscoll: “Do you believe the Bible is the perfect, infallible Word of God? Do you believe God is Three Persons? Jesus is fully God and fully Man? He died on the cross for our sins? He rose from the dead? He is coming again? Apart from Jesus is no salvation?”
You response: Absolutely.
This letter is getting long and you are a busy man, so let me say this: I love and affirm you as a brother in Christ. There will be many people who parse your words from today and still doubt you. Sadly, people believe that you a) owe them an explanation satisfactory only to them, and b) that you’re probably still a heretic even though they can’t name a theological reason why. I don’t agree hardly at all with your methodology or even sometimes your exegesis, but I know this – you are the real deal and I can learn a lot about loving Jesus and loving others from you.
Praying for you,
I recently interviewed one of my favorite guys and a man that I’ve done some good Kingdom work with. Enjoy!
For some other great interviews and conversations, click HERE.
What are the biggest cultural challenges that you see hindering the Gospel in your country?
TB: My one word answer would be idolatry. But to be more specific, I would say that our culture provides many functional saviors or god-replacements that have brought about increased slavery and dysfunctional living, ironically being lived out as a self-salvation project. Seeking to be free, people have become enslaved. Thinking they are living independent of God, they don’t realize they are only under the present judgment and facing the coming wrath of God. Unlike many addictions, idolatry springs from good things that have become ultimate things. Our culture has defined themselves by the good things God has blessed us, and the in our depravity we have turned God’s blessings into a curse. Only when the kingdom of God comes in the power of the Holy Spirit can captives be set free and functional saviors seen for the sham they really are.
What would you say is the biggest reason for a need for church planting in your country?
TB: Every generation is a responsible steward of the mission God has given us. That mission is to make disciples who gather as new churches (local expressions of the kingdom). We need church planting first and foremost in our country because the church is the only “institution” God has promised to build and bless. Our country is not promised God’s blessings. The same is true for parachurch organizations, educational systems, or government programs. The church is not only uppermost in God’s plan. It is God’s plan for His people. Therefore, we should devote our lives to joining God on His mission to make His name great through the proclamation of the gospel, advancement of His kingdom, and planting of new churches.
Cultural context aside, what general advice would you give to a man who is considering planting a church?
TB: Generally speaking, I would begin by saying know God well. That may sound simplistic, but often times church planters spend more time considering the context rather than communion with God. We need me who know God and commune with Him, men who are fluent with the gospel and find their lives shaped and saturated with it. The calling of a church planter is certainly important, but what is preeminent in my mind is whether that prospective planter has a cursory knowledge and experience with God or whether he is, in the words of John Piper, “God-besotted.” Given all the challenges and difficulties church planters face, those who know God best are best equipped to handle the various seasons they will encounter.
What encouragement would you give a planter who may be thinking of “throwing in the towel” because perhaps things are not going how they had hoped?
TB: Realistically speaking, I believe every church planter will be able to attest that things that did not go exactly as they envisioned. Everything looks great on paper or in a proposal, but when everything unfolds, there are surprises and disappointments that will be inevitable. In some situations, it may very well be time to “throw in the towel” in the sense that God may have other plans than what you intended. On the other hand, I believe that we are living in a time where endurance and perseverance are well-worn virtues of yesteryear but a rare find today. My encouragement would be not to think too self-referentially or make decisions when you are depressed or frustrated. Seek counsel from those who will speak plainly in your life and help you keep a kingdom-first perspective on all your labors.
Lastly, I encourage the church planter to reflect on the last days of Jesus’ life on earth. His mission appeared to be a waste of time and effort. His disciples all turned back and denied Jesus. He had no visible “fruit” and even on the cross His Father turned His back on Him. At any point, Jesus could have thrown in the towel. He didn’t when he sweat drops of blood at Gethsemane, was whipped to the bone, or when nails pierced his hands and feet. At the end of the day, this vision of our Savior who “for the joy set before Him” endured the cross (Heb. 12:1-2) should inspire us in the race marked out for us. Because of the resurrection, Paul exhorts us that we should be “steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord” and encourages us that “no labor is in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Abound in the work. None of it is wasted because Jesus is risen and will raise us also. Believe that the Lord of the harvest will bring an increase. And find your identity not in the work or the harvest but in the one who rejoices over you as His adopted son.
For some other great interviews and conversations, click HERE.
“If you don’t make the Gospel explicit, if you don’t keep coming back to the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ for us, if you don’t keep coming back to the wrath absorbing cross for us, If you don’t keep coming back to the resurrection — listen, you need all three of those — if you don’t keep coming back to those things and you assume that’s some sort of kindergarten-level, entry-understanding Christianity; you are going to build out Moralistic Deism — do this, don’t do this — instead of preaching, “find your righteousness in Christ alone and approach the throne of grace with confidence.” But you’ve got to come back to it — over and over and over again.”
- Matt Chandler
Behavior modification does no good for anyone. We can conform people to a pattern of living – typically begrudgingly – but it won’t reach their hearts. The point of the Gospel is to transform hearts, not behavior. If the heart is changed, obedience to God is the natural outcome.