“I have no secret. You haven’t learned life’s lesson very well if you haven’t noticed that you can decide the reaction you want of people in advance. It’s unbelievably simple.
If you want them to smile, smile first.
If you want them to take an interest in you, take an interest in them first.
If you want to make them nervous, become nervous yourself.
If you want them to shout and raise their voices, raise yours and shout.
If you want them to strike you, strike first.
It’s as simple as that.
People will treat you like you treat them.
It’s no secret. Look about you. You can prove it with the next person you meet.”
In the last post we explored what a city-suburb church might look like and in particular thought about the role of small-groups as missional communities to reach impenetrable communities with the gospel. Now we take a brief look at preaching and expectations.
B. Preaching and City Suburbs
Look for bridges over which the gospel will travel and expose the idols that the gospel – Ed Stetzer
1. City-suburbs and bridges to the gospel
The suburbs are community killers. Many churches make the assumption that because people have moved to a setting that has back decks instead of front porches that they don’t want community. I have found that they do — they just do not know how to seek and receive it. Life transforming suburban churches can and must lead people to deeper community even when the culture pushes against it. – Ed Stetzer
Our preaching should therefore feature gospel applications that are corporate in nature and that celebrate the power of the gospel to establish, deepen and maintain community.
Established because true community comes not from a shared experience but from a shared identity of being in Christ.
Deepened because as those in Christ we are able to overcome the barriers to community. We learn to trust, commit, love and serve those who are family in Christ.
Maintained because through the gospel we are able to overcome the breakers of community. We are ready to forgive, to hold our tongue, to overcome the temptations to put ourselves first.
2. City suburbs and idols that need to be destroyed
Darrin Patrick suggests we ask the following questions to expose the community idols that function as alternative gods in our culture.
• What do people in this suburb worry about most?
• What, if they failed or lost it, would cause them to feel that they did not even want to live?
• What do they use to comfort themselves when things go bad or get difficult?
• What do they do to cope? What are their release valves? What do they do to feel better?
Some of the surface idols identified with city suburbs:
In affluent suburbs (middle-class?) they might include: Career, wealth, aspiration, status anxiety
In poorer suburbs (working-class?) they might include: Consumerism, close-knit family, amusement (TV, etc.)
In our preaching we need to return, repeatedly, to these idols and demonstrate how they are gods that fail and how everything they promise is found in Christ.
C. What to expect when planting in City suburbs?
City-suburb planting highlights a tension particular, although not unique, to planting in such situations: a tension between two truths.
1. Longer term opportunities – People tend to live a longer time in the suburbs (living in the same house for 20 years I can still remember every neighbour I’ve had by name) and that provides opportunity to build gospel-relationships over a longer-term.
2. A Cocooning Commuter culture – Theologian Robert Banks (quoted by Al Hsu) observes: One of the key victims of the automobile is the experience of local neighborhood. Since people drive to and from their homes, they do not see, greet or talk with each other much anymore; since they go greater distances to shop and relax, the corner store disappears, and the neighborhood park empties, so removing the chief hubs of local neighborhood life.
D. Could you plant in a City suburb?
Who might be suited to plant in suburbs? Is this the right suburb in which to plant?
1. Do you have a love for this particular community?
2. Can you demonstrate a commitment to this community eg. can you move in? are you willing to educate your kids in the community? etc.
3. Do you have a ‘gift-set’ that is a good match for the suburb. What skills or gifts are needed to connect to the culture of the suburb. Do you need to be a creative-type? a family-man? interest in sports?
4. When it comes to character how patient are you? Can you cope with the frustration of slow growth in the early years?
Cities are pitted against suburbs . . . Rather than contrasting cities against suburbs, it is more helpful to see cities and suburbs as part of a metropolitan whole. Our contemporary understanding of “the city” needs to include both city and suburb, and God needs Christians to have a presence throughout the entire metropolis. Al Hsu
I’m speaking at a workshop today at the Planting for Christ conference. My theme: Planting in a City Suburb. Here are my notes . . . part 1.
A. Cities and suburbs
Wikipedia defines it this way (highlighting how the term means something a little different in the US from the UK). A suburb is a residential area, either existing as part of a city or urban area (as in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city (as in the United States and Canada).
English Heritage goes for the following: In general terms, suburbs can perhaps be best described as outgrowths or dependencies of larger settlements – somewhere with a clear relationship with a city or town but with its own distinct character.
Maybe we can best say: a city suburb is a distinct, recognisable area within a city, often with an integrity and character that is valued by the local community.
2. What is the relationship between the city and the suburb?
For cities like Birmingham (perhaps to be contrasted with global cities) a typical pattern would be
Urban-core, inner city, inner suburbs, outer suburbs, rural
B. What does it mean to plant in a city-suburb?
Rather than appealing to a sector of society you are taking responsibility for a part of the mission field geographically – John James, Helier Chapel.
You might identify the community by a post-code, a housing estate, political ward, but usually by a named area.
1. Contextualisation is essential
- Contextualisation is inevitable
- Contextualisation is biblical
- Contextualisation is necessary
- Contextualisation is complicated
2. When planting in the suburbs, community is key to contextualisation
a. Learn the culture – Ron Edmunson comments: Every city, every village, and every group of people have their own unique identity. What matters most? What do they celebrate? Where do people live and play? What do they do for fun? What’s their language? What are the traditions unique to this area? What history do they value?
b. Learn the market – Chip Weeler asks: Are schools an option for a building? Is the community in a growth mode or a declining mode? What are the major problems, concerns, and needs of the community? Who are the leading employers? What are the demographics?
c. Commit to the community. Planting in suburbs takes time and a great deal of patience.
3. Top Ways to Connect to Your Community
a. Be specific and strategic with your contacts
Very often this means starting with the families; mums and toddlers, kids & youth, messy church.
We’re five years in and we’ve seen very little fruit. We are still right at the start. But there is a whole community of people whose kids have been with us and we’re having conversations we wouldn’t have had three years ago – Andy Weatherley, Grace Church.
b. Build missional communities as a key strategy to reach the community
In City-suburb planting the church needs to engage the community.
Telling members of the plant simply to ‘go and be missional’ in an impenetrable community simply won’t work.
Missional small groups are a surer way in to the community and a training ground for plant members. The leader’s job is to create a context for mission within a community setting. For these groups to work at least the hosts and leaders need to live in or very near the community being reached.
- Small group bible-studies are open to the local community (ie a mixed group of Christians and non-Christians). All the questions are aimed at our belief system – Andy Weatherley. The danger is that you de-skill the Christians in their Bible-handling skills.
- Small groups are intentionally outward focused and look to draw in members of the community through a variety of social gatherings e.g. Eating food, celebrating national events such as Jubilee, Football World Cup, Christmas, Oscars Film night, . . . whatever your community is in to.
- Small groups are often the first point of contact with non-Christians.
Small group leaders need to be evangelists as well as Bible-study group leaders. A church-planter adopting this model needs to give a disproportionate amount of time and attention to training up leaders
Community group leaders are the key to the success of our church – Andy Weatherley, Grace Church.
c. Be a servant
- Street Associations
- Neighbourhood Watch Schemes
d. Use media to connect with your community
Chip Weeler suggests: Invest as much as you can in a Web site—a good Web site. Have the Web site up and running before the launch of the church, and use it as a tool for outreach. Post sermons, worship services, and areas of involvement. Make sure that the Web site clearly spells out where you meet, when you meet, how to dress, what to expect, and how the kids will be taken care of . . .take advantage of online communities such as MySpace and Facebook, as well as YouTube and other popular, free online sources.
Use photos from the community, landmarks from community, community events, etc. on your page. Give the casual viewer of your site links to the community they can identify with.
Produce a local newsletter; highlighting what’s going on in the community, featuring church-run or hosted events but not exclusively.
Follow Twitter feeds relevant to your community.
e. Join with community events (to use the language of Brad House ‘read the rhythms of your community’)
Have a presence at community events but be careful how you use it.
Case Study: Grace Church: Co-Co Mad (arty, drama, crafty festival)
Where are the places people like to be in your suburb? Build in visits into your ministry as a planter and team.
Schools, Library, Gym, shops,
g. Run your own church events & activities
• Curry club
• B-B-Q and family games day
• Clothes exchange party
• Gospel choir
• Football team
I was invited by the staff team of Magdalen Road Church to speak to them on the topic of the inerrancy of Scripture. Here are four God reasons for Christians to have confidence that what the Bible says, God says.
1. God is a God of truth (taken from Words of Life by Tim Ward)
The claim that the Bible is inerrant is a conclusion drawn directly from what Scripture says about God, and about itself in relation to God. Scripture says, as we have seen, that it is breathed out by God, as his own words. In addition, in Scripture God states with great clarity that his character is such that he cannot lie, and that he alone is utterly truthful and trustworthy (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18) . . . It is therefore right to conclude that Scripture’s words will borrow their qualities from God.
2. God is a God of love (taken from Essentials by John Stott & David Edwards)
Is [it] a reliable revelation? Indeed, we have strong Christian reasons for expecting God to have given us one. We both believe [Stott in reply to Edwards view of Scripture] God said and did something through Jesus Christ which was unique in itself and decisive for the salvation of the world. Is it not inconceivable, therefore, that God should first have spoken and acted in Christ and then have allowed his saving word and deed to be lost in the mists of antiquity? If God’s good news was meant for everybody, which it was and is, then he must have made provision for its reliable preservation, so that all people in all places at all times could have beneficial access to it. This is an a priori deduction from our basic Christian beliefs about God, Christ and salvation.
3. God is a God worthy of our trust (taken from Essentials by John Stott & David Edwards)
John Stott describes this one as his most important argument:
Submission to Scripture is for us Evangelicals a sign of our submission to Christ, a test of our loyalty to him. We find it extremely impressive that our incarnate Lord, whose own authority amazed his contemporaries, should have subordinated himself to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures as he did, regarding them as his Father’s written word.
If submission to Scripture was right for him, as it was, it must be right for us also.
4. God is a God deserving of our obedience (taken from Evangelical Affirmations by Kenneth Kantzer)
Christians hold the Bible to be the Word of God (and inerrant) because they are convinced that Jesus, the Lord of the Church, believed it and taught his disciples to believe it.
The conclusion of the matter?
When it comes to whether we can trust the Bible we’re really asking questions much bigger than what is the Bible, we’re asking what is our God like. Who God is and what God has done gives us reason for confidence.
So far in this series we’ve considered how preaching needs to be both biblical and gospel-centred. A sermon is biblical if the big idea of the passage being preached is the main application of the text. A sermon is gospel-driven if the preacher shows how the big idea of the passage is fulfilled in Christ and points to him as saviour and Lord. We turn now to consider gospel-driven preaching.
What is gospel-driven preaching?
A gospel-driven sermon is one that not merely shows how the passage is fulfilled in the gospel but then builds further to show how the gospel enables both our justification and sanctification. The gospel enables the Christian life from beginning to end and thus drives our lives.
Whether or not we have grasped how the gospel enables our obedience of faith will shape the way we preach. Bryan Chapell has said Ultimately, the issue all preachers must confront is what they believe to be the relationship between people’s conduct and God’s acceptance.
How does gospel-driven preaching work?
1. The goal of gospel-driven sermons is to make real to everyone who hears them, both Christian and non-Christian, that they need Jesus more today than yesterday. In particular the Christian increasingly grasps the sense in which he needs to continually trust in Christ and look to him in order to live the life he wants to live.
2. In application, gospel-driven sermons celebrate that the Christian life from beginning to end is a work of grace and a work of God. Our justification is a free gift of God and our sanctification flows from our justification as the spirit-enabled work of God in our lives.
Typically, as we consider Christ, we ask that by his Spirit he might stir up godly-affections, renew our minds and motivate our wills to live for him. But importantly we give the necessary time and consideration to ask just how the gospel, rightly appropriated, can enable the life of faith.
Reading through Ephesians 4:17 to 6:9 we see, time and again that Paul uses gospel indicatives to drive gospel imperatives. Perhaps the most developed example in this passage is Paul’s instruction to husbands to love their wives. He gives us gospel reasons and incentives to obey: we love our wives because Christ loves the church. But through-out the section we find micro-examples eg. don’t get drunk on wine but be filled with the Spirit.
5:1-2 summarises the principle when Paul says Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Good preaching won’t just tell you to do it but will i) move you to obedience and ii) show you what that obedience looks like.
3. Gospel-driven sermon must avoid both legalism and moralism
Tim Keller has helped me, more than any other, to realise that the non-Christian listening to your sermon thinks your message, unless you correct him, is one of legalism. He thinks that religion amounts to ‘obey to be accepted.’ The gospel of justification is the message of free grace. It says ‘because you are accepted, obey!’ Romans 6, Romans 12:1-2, Titus 2:11-14.
The Christian listening to your sermon thinks the message of the gospel is moralism where Christianity amounts to ‘because Jesus has done this for you, you now do this for him.’ Moralistic preaching has terrible consequences for both the individial believer and the church.
The basic problem, is that even Christians do not ordinarily live as if the gospel is true. We don’t really believe the gospel deep down. We are living as if we save ourselves. – Tim Keller
4. Gospel-driven application works hard to make the connection between
- The message of the text as understood by its original hearers
- How it is fulfilled in Christ
- How it leads to gospel change in the lives of Christians and non-Christians
5. Gospel sermons recreate what Tim Keller calls the gospel-renewal dynamic.
At the heart of gospel-driven preaching is the fundamental conviction that the Christian life we are called to live is one we cannot live but Christ can live in us.
[Gospel] preaching assures God’s people that their relationship with him is secure by virtue of God’s provision [and] nourishes the faith that becomes the motivation and enablement of true holiness. God’s people serve God out of love for him and with confidence of his provision. – Bryan Chapell.
6. The result of all of this is that gospel sermons preach the gospel to Christians and non-Christians at one and the same time.
As Keller has often said we need to preach the gospel to the Christian because she needs it for sanctification and the non-Christian who needs it for sanctification.
Some questions to ask of our sermon:
• How do I know that I have preached a gospel sermon over against a moralistic one?
• Have I just told people to obey, to ‘just do it’?
• Have they left thinking that the life the gospel calls on them to try harder?
• Is the heart of my application that the Christian life is a life we cannot live, that Jesus has lived for us and now in him we can begin to live.
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