The Gospel is Good News

Have you ever been in a room full of people from a different profession to the one you work in?  Ever been with doctors or engineers who use jargon terms and acronyms to speak to one another?  Often times when others are speaking in jargon terms or using industry language the rest of the people in the room feel confused or left out.  Unfortunately the same is true for new visitors to a church; the Christians in the room speak “christianese” to one another.

Ministry leaders and theologians can be the worst offenders of using jargon and industry language.  Sometime in my preaching and speaking I use words that I think everyone understands but they are words more common to a seminary classroom than everyday life.

The word “Gospel” is one word that we don’t use that much outside of church circles.  One minister might say “our church has grown because we preach the gospel” while another minister might say “our church is small because we preach the gospel”. What does this important term in Christianity really mean?  At the time the bible was written, the word “gospel” was a term to describe a herald of good news.  For example a Roman soldier might bring a gospel of good news from Rome to one of the cities in the empire.

The Christian gospel is the herald of good news about Jesus Christ.  The gospel is the good news that Jesus came as one of us to announce the kingdom of God. In many ways to understand the enormous power of the gospel takes a lifetime of reading, listening and discovery.  In writing this article I don’t want to imply as though we can reduce the gospel down to a catch phrase or a slogan to use in our church marketing.  However when we try to share the gospel with our friends and family, it helps if we have a brief description of the good news that we can share in 1-2 minutes.

Here are five key points of the gospel in a nutshell; or the introduction to the gospel that you can share over coffee or on public transport when time is limited.

  1. We are loved by God– the writer of the Gospel of John begins his account of the good news with God rather than with us. The Gospel of John reminds us that God loved the world (John 3:16) and God sent his Son to bring this good news into the world.  In the past we may have started our gospel presentation with our sinfulness, unfortunately some people heard this but never understood that God loves them.  In 2019 we need people to understand that God loves them; the Gospel begins with God not with us.
  2. We are called into a relationship – in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke we read that Jesus called fishermen to follow him … and they did so immediately. So often people believe that the church is about a set of rules to follow not an invitation into a relationship.  In 2019 as we share the gospel with people, we want people to know that God calls them into a personal relationship with him.  We must not expect people to know how to behave before they believe.
  3. We are forgiven and healed– each of the four Gospels gives an account of the crucifixion of Jesus.  The cross and resurrection of Jesus is central to the gospel because without the resurrection we don’t have any good news to announce.  The resurrection reminds us that we are forgiven and healed by Jesus so that we can be in right relationship with God.  When we understand that we are forgiven, we no longer desire to live for ourselves but we turn away from sin and seek to be like Jesus.
  4. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit– in the book of Acts we read that the disciples knew about the resurrection of Jesus but were stuck in fear until the Holy Spirit empowered them. Jesus calls us into a relationship but doesn’t abandon us, he sent the Holy Spirit to lead us and empower us.  Many Christians know that they are forgiven and healed by Grace not works, but they live like it is their effort as a Christian that makes them a better Christian.  The power of the Holy Spirit is the only true source of power in our lives.
  5. We are sent – someone shared the gospel with you in order that you would believe it and then share it with others. In many ways the church has retreated back into a holy huddle rather than being a group of missionaries who go out into the world to share the good news.  The gospel should be such good news to us that we share this joy, hope and love with the people we work with and the people we live near.  A gospel that stays stuck rather than goes out is not the gospel of Jesus.

In many ways this short overview of the gospel will work as an introduction to new Christians or non Christians.  As we go about our lives, look for opportunities to share the good news that God loves us, we are called into relationship with Jesus, through this relationship we are forgiven and healed, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit as we are sent out to share the good news with others.

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In many ways I learnt this “gospel in a nutshell” from a friend of mine, Tony Neylan. Tony died several years ago and I am sure he is enjoying his new life with Jesus.  In his lifetime Tony shared the gospel with thousands of young adults. Tony was never a Christian celebrity or a world famous ministry leader because he believed in sharing the gospel not building a name for himself.  Tony was the most humble Christian leader I have known and his wisdom empowered thousands of others to share their faith.  In my ministry today I see so many signs that it is humility and patience that God uses to build his kingdom, something that Tony taught me when I was young, arrogant and often impatient.

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You can also read a previous Blog post on the Preaching that sounds like Good News.

Please leave a comment on how you think we can share the gospel with others in 2019.

 

markoffaith.net, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, revmarkmcdonald

 

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Small church vs church planting

Leading a Small Church vs a Church Plant

Since starting in my new ministry placement this year I have come to realise that leading a small church is a very different style of ministry to either medium church ministry or church planting.  When I say that I’m in a small church, I’m talking about an average Sunday attendance of 25 people.  There are some real joys of small church ministry, namely the sense of connection with the people I’m in ministry with.  Yet there are some unique differences to ministry in other settings.

Small churches and church plant have small numbers but they are very different styles of ministry.  It was almost ten years ago that I tried to plant a church with a small group of 25 people.  Whilst the church plant closed after three years of ministry I learnt a lot from season of ministry.  Being with a small group of 25 once again, it might be tempting to borrow some of the lessons from church planting with my small church.  Yet I’ve noticed that there are some key differences between leading a church plant and pastoring a small church. 

The point of this post isn’t to suggest one style of ministry is better than the other.  This post is suggesting four ways that leading a small established church might be different to leading a small church planting team.  Even if both ministry settings have a similar size group there are some interesting differences to make not of.

Whilst I don’t really want to pit small church ministry and church planting against each other, here are four big areas where the two style of ministry are very different:

  1. Newbie or Founder – are you the founder of your ministry or are you the newest member?
    • Small church – when you take on a small church ministry placement it is likely that you are the newest member of your church. Some of the existing members of your small church may have been around a long time, it may be their only church experience.  These people have seen past leaders come and go, seen many styles of ministry come and go.  Your church members may not be that impressed with what you consider the new bright idea about ministry.  Whilst these established members can provide stability to your ministry, change management in an established small church will be much slower than in a church plant where everything is new.
    • Church plant – when you plant a church it is likely that you are the founding member of your church. You might be the first person to have a vision for your church plant; nobody knows the vision and the dreams of your church plant like you do.  As a church planter you will spend so much of your time explaining and casting the vision of your church plant to onramp others to the vision.  Whilst this can be repetitive, it can also be energising to share your vision with people and see them take hold of the vision.  The small group of people you are ministering to in the early stages of the church plant are relying on you to grow the vision.
  2. Legacy or Vision – are you running on the legacy of the past or the vision of the future?
    • Small Church – it is likely that the past is a dominating factor in your ministry in a small church setting. There is often a period in the past when the church was at its strongest and as the new leader you must find out what hold the past has on your church.  You need to discern if there are elements of the past that you can leverage for future growth in your ministry.  Is there some part of the DNA of your small church that is the key to future health in your ministry?  Perhaps there are ghosts of the past that are holding your church back until the church finally deals with them.  Small churches don’t lack vision however you need to build on the legacy of the past so that you can cast a strong vision of your future. 
    • Church Plant – it is likely that future hopes and dreams are dominating your ministry as a church planter. You have hopes and dreams of being bigger that you currently are, drawing more people into the ministry and having a strong future.  Your church or ministry doesn’t have a past so there is not much baggage to deal with, except any baggage from previous churches that your members may have belonged to.  The challenge for you as a church planter is to build something that can become a legacy for future generations to build on for a healthy vibrant church.
  3. Age or Youth – is your membership dominated by age and experience or youthful enthusiasm?
    • Small Church – small church ministries often are small because it got stuck with an older generation that didn’t hand off to a younger generation. Therefore, your church will have people with wisdom and experience but not a lot of intergenerational connections.  If you don’t want your ministry to die out then you need to get some youth and new Christians into the ministry to bring in fresh perspectives.
    • Church Plant – church plants often begin with young adults because of the youthful enthusiasm to start something new. Therefore, your church will have a lot of enthusiasm and drive but perhaps not a lot of Christians with wisdom and experience.  I’ve often heard church planters pray for one or two mature Christians who can mentor and disciple the new Christians.  If you don’t want your church ministry to be a flash in the pan then you need to get some mature Christians who can mentor and disciple the young people into your church plant.
  4. The burden of Maintenance or Poverty – are you struggling under the weight of maintaining your existing church buildings or the weight of no resources?
    • Small Church – if you are taking on a small church ministry in an existing facility then be prepared to spend a lot of time on maintenance and/or renovations. It is likely that you have facilities that you can use for ministry right away but the facilities are often tired or run down or outdated.  They might be built in a previous era when what was trendy is now considered ugly.  It can be hard to create a fresh look for your ministry because of the capital it takes just to maintain the current facilities let along renovate them to bring them up to date.  Whilst your church planting friends might be struggling to find facilities to use, your struggling to use the facilities you have.
    • Church Plant – if you are planting a new church then it likely that you are struggling to find the facilities and resources to grow your church. You need to buy everything and you can’t seem to get enough of money to buy everything you need to grow.   Whilst your small church ministry friends can use their old equipment until they can afford to replace it, you don’t have anything to use unless you buy it.  The challenge for a church planter is to decide what can you borrow, what can you buy second hand and what is the best option to purchase for now that will also work as your ministry grows.

Small church ministry is not always a bad thing, research suggests that 90% of churches have less than 200 members.  Church plants might be a great growth strategy but the first five years of a new church are very different ministry in an established church. Taking a church planter and imposing them on a small church just because they have the same number of people can be a recipe for conflict. Both styles of ministry are a blessing to the church if you know what leadership style to apply to each setting. 

My hope is that you can lead your church to be a health church.  If you church is a fresh new church plant then I hope it becomes a healthy sustainable church.  If your church is a small established church then I also hope that it continues to be a healthy sustainable church for future generations.  Using the right style of ministry for the right context can make all the difference.

Please leave a comment on how you see small church ministry….

markoffaith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald

God does not need Lent, but we do

“God does not need Lent, but we do” these are the words in the opening paragraph of the Lenten resources of the General Synod of the Anglican church.  It describes Lent as a period of waiting and preparation for Easter.  The document says, “the rhythm of fast and feast taps into some elemental need of ours, where denial creates longings to be satisfied so that we come to deeper appreciation of God’s great gifts”.  These words capture why lent is important in our spiritual walk with God.

In Daniel 9:3, Daniel says that he turns to the Lord God in prayer and petition, in fasting and in sackcloth and ashes.  Ashes have become a symbol of turning to God in humility, acknowledging our need for God’s grace.  Lent should remind us of God’s grace; Lent is not a season of earning God’s favour, we can’t be good enough, but it is about returning with humility to our reliance on God’s grace and mercy.

Perhaps you don’t come from a tradition or belief system that observed the season of Lent.  In my childhood, we would not only observe Lent but give up something for Lent.  As a child, I remember heading to the fish and chip shop during Lent to line up for our fish with crowds of other Christians.  It would be fair to say that as a child the observance of Lent was more cultural than spiritual.  Yet I have come to realise that this cultural legacy can easily turn into spiritual disciplines that draw me deeper into my relationship with God.

So, if you want a fresh perspective on the season of Lent or you want to understand this season for the first time here are three things to remember for Lent:

  1. Giving up or Taking up – the focus of many people during the season of Lent is giving up something for 40 days. Perhaps you need to give up something that you enjoy as a  trigger to reminder you to pray or read the bible.  Giving up something for Lent should not be about giving up something that is bad for you or bad behaviour that you should have already given up.  Giving up swearing for Lent is not the point of Lenten disciplines.  The Lenten disciplines are meant to be spiritual exercises that draw you closer to God.  Reading, writing and reflecting are all good practices that we can do at any time of the year, but perhaps during Lent you could take up these spiritual exercises or disciplines with renewed focus. Acts of generosity are also traditional during Lent where people might give up buying something so they have extra money to give to missions or ministry.  Whether you give up something or you take up something focus on how it will draw you closer to God, not the activity itself.
  2. Private disciplines – In Matthew 6:16 Jesus encourages us not to show off about our spiritual disciplines. These spiritual disciplines should not draw attention to yourself and your sense of piety.  These spiritual exercises should not be held over other people to make you look better than them.  Lent should not be something that makes you crumpy and difficult to be around.  It is like the person who gives up coffee for Lent and everyone around them wishes they would just have a coffee.  The spiritual disciplines that you practice during Lent are between you and God.  You might choose an accountability partner who supports you during the season of Lent, this is useful and helpful.  But Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6 that when we fast and pray in secret our Father in heaven will reward us.  This reward is surely closeness to God rather than any earthly treasure.
  3. Sharing the Good News – the subtle thing to remember is that our spiritual disciplines may be observed by others which then present an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with others. For example if you are pausing at a set time every day for prayer this might be obvious to others and they ask you what you are doing.  Whilst we don’t wish to draw attention to ourselves if someone askes what we are doing then we can draw attention to God.  We can use the opportunity to talk to people about the hope we have in Jesus.  We don’t have to deny that we are involved in Lent if someone asks us.  So, if someone asks me what I am doing for Lent then I’ll tell them that I’m writing in a Lenten journal that our church has produces and can give them a copy if they want one.

In some circles of Christians Lent seems to have gone out of fashion, I understand their point of view.  Some people say we celebrate the resurrection and God’s grace every day, which is true. However I think that the standard of living in our society today is higher than many people experience during their periods of feasting.  We could all use some balance in fasting and feasting and perhaps Lent is a season to remind ourselves of this rhythm.

In finishing read these words from the Anglican Prayer book:

So, by self-examination and repentance,

By prayer and fasting,

By self-denial and acts of generosity

And by reading and meditating on the word of God

Let us keep a holy Lent.

Please leave a comment on how you observe the season of Lent.

 

markoffaith.net, Mark of Faith, mark of faith, Mark McDonald

 

Ministry is like herding sheep, cats and sheep dogs

Recently I attended a conference session with Tim Hein which explored stages of faith development.  Whilst there were many complex elements to the presentation, a fun image that Tim used was the image of ministry as the art of herding.  So I thought I would share a quick overview with you:

  • Youth Ministry is like herding sheep – young people naturally want to run together as a herd.  There will be differences within a group but they tend to follow each other.  Young people like the stability of the herd and so are happy to go along with the routine.  Leading a youth ministry can seem difficult but it doesn’t have the complexity of Young Adult Ministry.  The challenge is to introduce complexity so that when they make the transition out of following the herd they know how to handle it.
  • Young Adult Ministry is like herding cats – young adults naturally want to explore their uniqueness.  Being a young adult is about testing out the boundaries, exploring the complexity of life and finding your unique place in the world.  Therefore ministry with this age group can end up with people heading in all sorts of directions.  As a young adult minister you can try to herd the cats but you will get a few scratches along the way, see the video below.
  • Adult Ministry is like herding sheep dogs – adults in the church need to run free because they are their own person but they can be roped in to help with the mission of your church.  Sheep dogs don’t need fences because they naturally stay on the farm; adults will naturally come back to church.  Sheep dogs don’t own the farm and the challenge with adults is to remind them they don’t own the church.

Some of these thoughts were my spin on what Tim was saying, his presentation was far more detailed than this.  I really liked this image because it seemed to resonate with the room, does it resonate with your experience?  Check out the funny video below then leave a comment explaining the image that you use for ministry.


markoffaith.net markoffaith, mrmarkmcdonald, mark mcdonald, Mark McDonald, Mark of Faith.