Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the “Engage the South-” conference for Pastors and Church Planters. This was held in Birmingham, AL, and so it meant a very long day (left the house at 5am, returned almost 9pm), but it was worth it. This conference was designed as an attempt to help renew and strengthen faith in the sufficiency of the Gospel of Christ, especially as it applies to reforming church ministry in the American South.
I was excited about this conference, not only because of the listed preachers, but because with all the talk of “engaging culture” in places like New York City and other urban and suburban centers, I sometimes feel like the South, or the “Bible Belt,” is taken for granted. And you know as well as I that Biblical faithfulness can be just as hard to find in Alabama as in California; we just wear more biblical-looking costumes. As one preacher said, ministry in the South is “older brother” ministry, as opposed to ministering to the Prodigal Son who just wants to come home. Many in the South think they are home, when their hearts are as far from the Father’s as the Pharisees’ who heard Jesus’ story.
Here are some great thoughts (not quotes exactly, because I was Tweeting and you can’t Tweet everything) from yesterday’s conference, along with my reflections in italics:
Ray Ortlund (I’ve enjoyed his commentary on Isaiah):
The great Southern divide is not between Christianity and secularism, it’s between the real Jesus and a bunch of fake Jesuses, who are all small enough to fit into our overcrowded weekends.
For the last 7 years, I have struggled to learn how to preach distinctive Christianity in the midst of a “good” culture. And to be honest, it is a “good” culture for the most part, but so – I suppose – was the Pharisaism of Jesus’ day. There is often a veneer of “goodness” that belies a heart where Christ does not reign. However, our glossary of cliches has grown to the point that we at least know enough to say that he does. Unfortunately, one hour on Sunday (or, in reality, every couple Sundays) doth not a Christian make, especially when the remaining 167 hours of any given week look surprisingly similar to that of our neighbors who slept in.
The multiethnic church is not a 21st century novelty, it was the 1st century norm
If the Gospel is for the world, what does it say about us if we won’t go to the “other side” of town?
If we’ve developed a healthy skepticism for the trends that are championed in the various Christian publications, then we might be forgiven for thinking that multi-ethnicism is a passing fad. But when we look to Scriptures, it is painfully obvious that multiethnic churches sparked so many of the controversies that gave rise to much apostolic writing. I would argue that the occasion for the Epistle to the Romans arose from the challenge of uniting a multiethnic church for a common mission. How much easier it would have been to plant homogeneous churches and get together for a weekend softball league!
Simply put, if the Great Commission is to be executed by the church, then we reveal exactly what we believe about it by the people we welcome into our churches. If certain Christians “won’t fit” in our church, but they’ll “fit better” in another church down the road, then we’ve just revealed which church we believe is a better reflection of the Kingdom of God. (Hint: It isn’t us.)
There will be no glory on your ministry for beating up on older, faithful ministries in favor of the newer and better.
Thank you! Whether young fundamentalists or young, restless, and reformed, the young are in danger of failing to learn from history. (So are the old, but that’s another matter.) How easy it is to beat up on someone else in order to make ourselves look better! But how foolish to ridicule things like pews and hymnals and potlucks, when they were tools used by previous generations to evangelize, worship, and fellowship. I sincerely believe that tomorrow’s church members will have a field day with the hairy faces and naked feet of today’s church planters, but that won’t mean that they weren’t following Christ and planting churches that would bring people into the Kingdom and glory to God.
God gave Abraham a multiethnic promise; Jesus gave a multiethnic commission; Paul planted multiethnic churches. The Mission was always multiethnic.
If God can bridge the gap between Jew and Gentile, then black, white, Asian and Hispanic should be a piece of cake! (If you’ve read Acts, you should know what he means!)
Wow! Never seen these dots connected like this. But I like it. We can talk all day about how different administrations focused on the Jews only, but like Smith said, the first Jew was an Iraqi. (Think about the geography for a minute. Abraham came from Ur.) And the end result was that the Gospel came through the Jews to the Gentiles so it go back to the Jews. (read Romans 11) And if you’re wondering why the big focus on Jews and Gentiles, just imagine what it would take for the Israelis and the Palestinians not only to share the same space, but both to abandon their current beliefs and share a common faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Getting blacks and whites in Selma to worship together is nothing compared to this. And yet God can do it. That’s the power of the Gospel.
Profession of faith without transformation of life is not Biblical conversion.
I can’t remember the last time someone admitted that they didn’t believe in Jesus. Druggies, prostitutes, drunks, fornicators, thieves, murderers, liars, self-righteous wealthy folks – they’ve all said they believe in Jesus. In fact, here in the South, if you don’t at least say it, then there’s something wrong with you. Problem is, somewhere along the line, we failed to teach on repentance and we opened the churches’ doors to anyone who could quote our creed or repeat our prayer. “You must be born again,” Jesus said, and he wasn’t using “born again” as a Gallup category. It is not a title to be claimed, it is a miracle from heaven, a sovereign work of God upon the soul. And if it’s real, it will show.
As Platt said later, we blaspheme the Gospel across the South by calling that Christian that has not been born or made by Christ and wants little or nothing to do with Jesus and the glory of his Father.
I greatly enjoyed this conference, and I sincerely pray that this and other efforts like this will result in a true revival of Gospel-centered preaching and Christ-exalting churches across the South.
I don’t know why God has called me to pastor a church here in the South, when there are thousands of unreached people groups and countless under-churched cities even in America, but he has. And as long as I’m here (and he hasn’t indicated that I’m going anywhere else), I want to do what I can to promote his glory through his church by the preaching of his Gospel.