Category: Missional Church

My Endorsement for A Big Gospel in Small Places

“There are billions of people living in small places, yet they are often ignored by ministry-minded people like me. Sure, rural areas are downstream of mainstream ideas, innovation, and trends, but small places are thick with culture and rife with opportunity for gospel ministry: poverty, depression, suicide, racism, injustice, and souls stranded in sin unacquainted with the love of God in Christ Jesus.

As Stephen points out, both rural and urban places are easily romanticized. What the world needs is Christians who value the small even in the big—disciples who move slowly and are attentive enough to bring a grand gospel into the nooks and crannies of life. This book has just about everything you need to help you do that, especially if you live in a small place. It offers rigorous research on rural trends, demographics, and the subtleties of smallness; it motivates ministry in those areas with the gospel of grace; it equips you to develop a theological vision for the place of your calling; it immerses you in real stories of rural ministry; and it challenges urban ministry biases with winsome wit, but most of all it calls us to love in place and discover something more of the immeasurable love of God in Christ Jesus for all the world.”

Jonathan Dodson, lead pastor of City Life Church, Austin, founder of gcdiscipleship.com, author of The Unbelievable Gospel and Here in Spirit

Go get a copy!

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Nitty Gritty Training for Missional Communities

Acts 29 recently hosted the Gospel Formed conference aimed at equipping communities groups to practically live out the essentials of Gospel, Community, and Mission. Each talk got nitty-gritty with challenges and opportunities in each area. I found so much of it to be insightful and encouraging that we posted the videos to our City Group leaders Slack channel.

Will Walker: Gospel

  • Provides a couple “gospel grids” to help lead discussions deeper into Jesus.
  • Guidance in how to draw out vulnerability and lead people into application for real life change.

Todd Engstrom: Community
  • Marks of true community: intentionality, sacrifice, imperfect.
  • How a community can deeper grow: affinity, proximity, crisis, mission.

Jonathan Dodson: Mission
  • What to do when facing challenges and fatigue in mission.
  • Guidance in how to organize, diffuse, and stoke evangelism, mercy, and justice in your groups.

Preaching the Gospel with Your Sweat

Jesus came preaching the gospel to the poor, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:16). But he didn’t just preach to the poor; he proved it to the poor. Jesus is not merely a man of deep conviction, he’s profoundly authentic. He walks right out into the margins of society and calls us to follow him. To take our middle-class wealth, comfort, and convenience and subordinate it to the greater needs of the marginalized. He says nothing short of “Follow me…into the margins.”

The Gospels depict Jesus spending time with the mentally ill, the disease-ridden, and in the homes of the fever-pitched. We often refuse to drop a meal off if someone is contagious. Follow me, Jesus says.

In the sprawling city of Kampala, Uganda, the city center is surrounded by undulating dirt roads that wind into the slums occupied by millions of unaccounted poor. The slum roads are lined with cardboard and cinderblock homes, bordered by open sewage ditches, where half-naked children run free, some with parents many without. It was my day to depart after long two weeks of rural and urban travel, teaching, and orphan ministry among some of the poorest people I have ever known.

My flight out was that afternoon. I couldn’t wait to get home. The team was slated to go to an orphanage. I was flying out before them. When I woke up that morning, I took a warm shower, put on some fresh clothes, and began to reason why I shouldn’t really go to the orphanage with the team. I could get some shopping done, take care of some admin, and oh, when I landed in the States I had a conference to speak at! Lots of prep needed for that. I was trying to justify not walking into the margins, spending time with street kids and orphans.

Over breakfast, I read Luke 5, where I saw God–God–care so much for the marginalized that he became sweaty. Instead of avoiding the dirty, smelly, disease-ridden poor, he walked right into their living rooms, placed his holy hands on them, and loved them. Jesus’ saving message was proven in serving action. The Messiah got dirty with the dirtiest of us all. As I read, I wept. The reason I didn’t want to go to the orphanage was because I didn’t want to get dirty, sweaty before I got on that plane. I had fresh clothes on. I didn’t want to spend time with poor orphans because I didn’t want to get dirty.

Jesus is so deeply authentic, so true to his own message, that his life demands a response. His gospel is so counter-cultural, so status-reversing that it exposes the rich in their pride and compels us to love the poor in their humility. Jesus didn’t just speak a great gospel; he lived a great gospel. He brought the hope of comprehensive salvation right into the slums. He announced and accomplished the gospel, and he is calling us to follow him. He’s calling people out of their designer slums and comfortable homes into the lives of the emotionally broken, socially awkward, mentally ill, economically destitute, racially marginalized, and the eternally-separated-from-God, not only to announce salvation but to prove it with our very own lives.

But “proving” Christ is not enough. Preaching Christ is more than enough. He heals all, makes everything new.

Jesus preaches the gospel to the poor with his sweat. Will we?

Favorite Summer Reads

While I didn’t read as much as I would have liked this summer (lots of family time, travel, movies & writing), I definitely found some gems. Here are four favorites:

Favorite Fiction: The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah

This book is great for page-turning leisure and characters you care about.

After reading Hannah’s New York Times best-selling Nightingale, I thought I would try another one of her novels. I finished this 400-page novel in four days. The story follows a family’s move to Alaska in search of a new beginning. As I read the compelling descriptions of Alaska’s raw beauty, I found myself longing to see it firsthand. This beauty, however, is sharply contrasted by the challenges of rugged, remote living and a dark, inner struggle within the family. It is a story of love and loss, hope and redemption, justice and compassion. It moved me to the brink of tears several times.

Most Fascinating: How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan

This book is a trip, perhaps a sign of things to come, and evidence that rational-materialists can be converted by the hope of paradigms of greater explanatory power.

Pollan is most well-known for his Omnivore’s Dilemma, but in this book he takes a deep dive into the scientific, historical, existential, and spiritual merits (and concerns) in using psychedelic drugs. As a rational-materialist, Pollan experiences a kind of conversion to the usefulness and spiritually eye-opening power of psychedelics. It was remarkable to watch a credible intellectual long for more than his scientific worldview would allow, while also learning more than I wanted to about drugs. I

Most Timely: The Death of Truth, Michiko Kakutani

This book is excellent for preachers who want to commend truth to a secular audience.

Although left-leaning, the Pulitzer prize-winning Kakutani tries to show how conservatives and liberals have contributed to the death of truth in our modern age. While Trump is a constant heuristic of moral and truth decay, the book develops its call for truth and fact by appealing to literature, philosophy, and common sense. It is admirable to see a journalist champion truth in this way, even if it’s not always even-handed.

Favorite Christian: Disruptive Witness, Alan Noble

Everyone in your church needs to read this.

Alan’s thesis is apropos: in an age of thin beliefs, and pantheon-like approach to truth statements, Christianity and Christians must be more disruptive in their witness for the exclusive and unique claims of Jesus to be heard. He takes up major insights of the philosopher Charles Taylor, explains and applies them to various aspects of discipleship. I think just about everyone in our church would benefit from reading this book.