The Problem with the “Hot New Thing” in the Church

February 14th, 2013
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Here is a fascinating interview with a person who has not one single possible bias or axe to grind or any emotional investment in any Lutheran squabbles about the liturgy. Check out what he has to say about the historic liturgy. It is always both amusing and quite pathetic to see that just when some Lutherans are breathlessly trying everything they can to out do each other coming up with new “best pratices” for conducting their ministry, the very thing we think of as irrelevant, out of touch, old, useless, only good enough for the old folks whom are shunted off to a “classical praise” service at some inconvenient hour on Sunday, the Evangelicals and others are slowly, but surely, discovering the riches of the Church’s great traditions and heritage: the ancient liturgical forms of worship being one of them! Oh, yea, and that whole “sin and grace” thing? The whole “I’m a poor miserable sinner” thing? Yup, that too. Lutheran congregations ditching their confession/absolution are doing so just while a lot of Evangelicals are viewing it now as a “best practice.” Go figure. HT: Stetzer

Daniel is the founder and lead pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and founder of Sojourn Network. Mike is one of the founding pastors of Sojourn where he serves as the pastor of worship and arts. He is also founder of Sojourn Music and has helped us with elements of The Gospel Project.

I’ve seen Sojourn Church grow from a dream that Daniel and Mandy shared with Donna and me in our living room, to an amazing church and growing network. I am so thrilled with to see that vision come into reality– and very glad they have shared about it in Faithmapping.


“Faithmapping” is a very interesting word. What does it mean?

Faithmapping is our attempt to clarify the relationship between the gospel, the church, and the world. Each of these concepts is a big, broad idea, and in the Christian life, they can become quite confusing. So in Faithmapping, we are attempting to plot out each idea on the map, showing the various routes by which they connect and depend upon one another.

Why is there so much confusion among churches today about what the gospel actually is?

There are many reasons for this. One is our addiction to sound bites. Another is the perpetual fads that surround the church – the newest book, conference, or blogger that is the Hot New Thing.

But ultimately, the gospel itself is a message – an announcement really – that is simultaneously simple and complex, easily summarized and worthy of lifelong reflection and meditation. In the face of complexity, we’re often tempted to be reductionistic. Faithmapping aims to resist that temptation, painting a broad, multi-dimensional picture of the gospel.

Why is grace such a stumbling block for Christians?

Because most of us would love to believe that we can be good enough, smart enough, and righteous enough to earn God’s favor. The gospel demands that we encounter and acknowledge our sinfulness, and only then can we understand grace in its fullness. That’s an unattractive message to many.

Some have narrowly defined the gospel as kingdom, cross, or grace–but rarely connect all three. What are the dangers of over-emphasizing one facet of the gospel against the others?

We miss out on the life-shaping impact of the scriptures. The Bible has no problem with revealing a gospel that is multi-dimensional (referencing it as the gospel of the Kingdom, the cross, and grace, as well as many other modifiers), and that depth enriches our understanding of Jesus’ work. If we emphasize the cross without grace, we can end up being nothing but miserable sinners. If we emphasize grace without the cross, we get a sentimentalism that doesn’t understand sin. On the other hand, when we understand the whole thing as complex, and interdependent, it’s a much richer picture. At times, we particularly need to hear on or the other aspects.

Only by holding them aspects in tension and dialogue with one another can we fully understand the message of the gospel.

Why can it be dangerous to measure one’s spiritual health by their quiet time or prayer performance?

Because our standing before God isn’t defined by our performance. It’s defined by Jesus’ finished work! Our prayer and Bible reading is an absurdly insufficient effort to please a God who can only be satisfied by perfect, unblemished sacrifice. By a miracle of grace, our messy, flawed, insufficient lives are wrapped up in Jesus and offered to God as a “living sacrifice,” which he joyfully receives on our behalf! It all has very little to do with our actions.

If we see that God’s acceptance of us is primary, and prior to any of our spiritual disciplines, then we can understand these disciplines as invitations to the good life – to life with God in a world he’s at work redeeming.

How does viewing your life (even in the mundane, ordinary, or secular areas of life) as worship revolutionize the way you work? Parent? Do ministry?

It’s crucial that we see these mundane and “secular” areas of life as worship. Worship isn’t just a gathering of people, or a set of actions; it’s a way of life. It’s a life lived for the glory of God, and it’s rooted first and foremost in trusting Jesus’ finished work on our behalf.

If we know that Jesus is our brother and God is our father, and that our lives are lived before his gaze, the ordinary moments of life are transformed. Every moment – at work, at home, or in a drive-thru – is a call to worship, an opportunity to live in a way that says, “yes” and “amen” to God’s work in the world.

How do you fight for unity in your church? Or deal with conflict in your church?

Rather than call people to a vision statement, or a particular leader, we call them again and again to the gospel. It really is the key to all of life and ministry: it’s the rallying cry for the church, the point at which unity is possible, where sinners gather before God. Practically speaking, if you call all of your ministries to be centered on the gospel, then it unifies their language and opens doors for a lot of commonality. In other words, you don’t learn one vision and set of language for mercy ministry, and another for music ministry; both are calling people to serve others for the sake of the gospel.

In dealing with conflict, Paul’s words to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry have become more and more important to me as a leader. Most of the time, when conflict emerges, one or both parties just needs to be heard. Great leaders listen, and work hard to acknowledge that the other person has been heard and understood. That’s where conflict resolution will always begin.

How do you cultivate an authenticity among staff and leaders at your church?

You have to fight for an atmosphere where sin is expected. You have to act as though it isn’t surprising when a staff full of sinners demonstrates sinfulness. If people feel safe confessing sin, weakness, sadness, and frustration, then you can have real authenticity.

That said, you have to fight for joy as well. Sometimes, the church can spiral down a well of sin-hunting misery, and you have to guard from that too; it’s as inauthentic as plastic-faced joy. So laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep; allow for highs and lows in the life of the church culture.

With “gospel-centered” as a current buzzword, how can we keep the familiarity of the gospel message from becoming something that no longer stirs and moves us?

This is a great question. I think there are some great answers from church history. The old Liturgy of the church was a dialogue between the congregation and the word of God, rehearsing the basics of the gospel story: God is holy, I’m a sinner, Jesus saves me from my sins and sends me into the world. In many ways, historic worship never got past that basic story.

While I don’t think everyone needs to resurrect a historic liturgy in their congregation, I think they definitely need to consider ways in which their gatherings – whether they’re a house church or a church of 10,000 – rehearse the gospel story beyond just preaching. We absolutely need good, Christ-centered preaching too, don’t get me wrong! But the gospel is a story we live in as well.

The richness of the Bible and the depths of the gospel are such that I believe a determined pastor, looking The story itself is the story of our lives, and it’s the challenge of pastors to make sure that the story is connecting – that people are seeing themselves inside the story.

Your chapter on being a servant contains a striking sentence: “We might fly across the world to feed children in a ghetto, but ignore our neighbors who need help carrying in their groceries.” Why do you think it’s sometimes seems easier to serve in high-profile ways? How can we learn to love and serve those in our everyday lives, especially when there is no chance of being recognized for doing so?

This is a tremendous challenge for our culture. In our day, even carrying a neighbor’s groceries is something that can become high-profile; we can broadcast it on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, and Google Plus in seconds. We have trained ourselves – and to a much larger degree, we’re training our children – to tell the world every time they do a good deed (or eat a good cheeseburger). Marketers have caught on to this. They know we want to do good and get credit. The whole phenomenon of Tom’s shoes (a company that gives away a pair of shoes for every pair sold) is simultaneously a good, generous thing, and a brilliant bit of marketing. People who wear Tom’s are not only making a fashion statement, they’re making a values statement, and that has made them a huge-selling phenomenon.

The cure for this is a spiritual discipline that church fathers before us called “secrecy,” which was a practice of doing good and keeping your mouth shut. Choose some opportunities to do good – to serve neighbors or family members – and not tell anyone about it. It’s small disciplines like this that help to shape our hearts, transforming us into the kind of people who are serving others in small ways, with no recognition, but with great joy.

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  1. February 14th, 2013 at 13:45 | #1

    Happy to serve your blog. ;-)

    Hope we are still “friends” after my LCMS blog on Saturday.

    • February 14th, 2013 at 13:46 | #2

      You bet, Ed. The only thing I would quibble with is your description of The LCMS as a “sect” … but otherwise I thought it was a very fair and kind post. Blessings!!

  2. Eric Garvue
    February 14th, 2013 at 23:23 | #3

    I’ve always maintained that because of our conservative nature, we LCMS Lutherans are twenty-some years behind the “trendy” curve – segments of us are rushing headlong into worship practices that other churches (who got there long ahead of us) have found to be lame and insipid.

    As Mike Cosper said in the article:

    “The old Liturgy of the church was a dialogue between the congregation and the word of God, rehearsing the basics of the gospel story: God is holy, Iā€™m a sinner, Jesus saves me from my sins and sends me into the world. In many ways, historic worship never got past that basic story.”

    Amen. THAT’s the rock I stand on every Sunday in my liturgical church. May we never “get past” the basic gospel of Christ.

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