I got a chance this past week to interview Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger and Josh Patterson about their new book Creature of the Word. The goal of the book is to refocus church leaders on a Jesus-centered church and provide real practical steps toward achieving it. Here’s 5 questions asking them about the project, the Gospel and youth ministry!
There’s a ton of talk today about The Gospel. Can you help us give a clear definition of it?
To explain the gospel fully, it takes a combination of two perspectives – the global work of God to reconcile all things to Himself and the life, death, resurrection and future return of Jesus Christ. The combination of the two perspectives provides a more crisp, clear and lifelike expression of the story.
The gospel is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures, from Satan, sin and its effects to the Father and each other through the life, death, resurrection and future return of the substitutionary Son by the power of the Spirit for God’s glory and the Church’s joy.
Where has the modern church failed in sharing and preaching the Gospel?
The Church historically and presently makes one of two errors when it comes to the gospel, legalism or license. We try to lean on the law for justification or we do whatever we want because we have heard that God will forgive us regardless. Both of these errors are traps that rob of what Jesus called “life to the full” (John 10:10). In our day it seems we are making both errors simultaneously depending on the church we worship with. Some of us lean on a type of moralism that would dictate our relationship with God based on our actions instead of God’s. Others lack any real desire to pursue holiness because they believe to “pursue” (1 Tim 6:11) “strive” (Heb. 4:11) or “toil” (Rev.2:2) would be legalistic and not leaning on the grace of God in Christ. Our hearts burn to see people throw themselves on the lavish grace of our Savior and let that be the fuel that burns in the engine of the pursuit of holiness.
Tell us about the year-long campaign and why church leaders should consider it?
The Creature of the Word Church Campaign is a year-long movement of examination and growth. The hope is for churches to become more centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Broken into 12 parts, each corresponding to a chapter in Creature of the Word, the campaign is designed to help churches audit and assess their various ministries, from preschool to the pulpit, in order to be saturated with the Word of God in all that they do.
Each one of us as individuals and our churches corporately, have areas where there is a gap between our doctrinal confession and our practicing culture. Our hope is, by God’s grace, close the gap between what is believed and how we are actually living and functioning. We want to see churches, including our own, take an honest look at how our theology is being translated into practice. Is there is a correlation or have we bought into some other foundational system to try and lead a church.
The Creature of the Word Church Campaign is an attempt to address a variety of challenges that we all face through an audit, assessment and renewal process.
How has this thinking and strategy shaped your personal ministries and churches?
Ultimately the book is about the gospel and the pervasive nature of it, especially in the context of a local church. Too often, the gospel has been relegated to an aspect of the church like preaching or teaching, but doesn’t actually permeate into the life and culture of the entire church.
The thinking and strategy is lay a solid theological foundation based on the Word of God. This is the foundation upon which the philosophical framework of the life is established. Then, this philosophical framework informs daily church practice and decisions. To simplify it, theology informs philosophy which informs practice. So, our church practice should ultimately be tied back to a theological truth.
This thinking is how we have led The Village Church. It literally informs our approach to decisions, ministries, what to keep, what to cut, why to do something or why we wouldn’t do something. It is embedded into our culture. One of the great benefits of this is that we are able to make relevant connections between our church practice and our theological convictions.
Can you share the most important principle from the book and campaign where change is necessary in youth ministry?
We have a natural tendency to drift toward religion, to drift toward futile attempts to stand before God in our own goodness. Couple that natural drift with the burden many youth pastors and youth ministries sense to teach students to behave (no drinking, no sex, no drugs, make good grades) and we have a recipe for youth ministry to drift away from Jesus and His finished work for us.
While the gospel definitely creates a new heart in a believing teenager, and the result is a life that is marked with obedience and glad submission to Christ, it is very possible to teach for behavior without addressing the heart. And many would applaud a youth ministry for effectively teaching the kids to act differently. Many youth pastors and youth ministries sense pressure from parents and even the overall church to “train kids to be good” or to “keep the kids busy.” The problem is that if the behavior is not the result of a changed heart, then the behavior is merely temporary. And the messages the students hear only further burden and enslave. Only Jesus transforms. Only His sacrifice is sufficient to melt the heart of a kid.
So youth ministries must wage holy war on the urge, the natural inclination, and even the pressure to protect students from the world (“keep ‘em busy”) or teach them them to overcome the world in their own strength. Youth ministries must constantly and continually bring teenagers back to Jesus. As Thomas Chalmers once stated, “The best way to overcome the world is not with morality or self-discipline. Christians overcome the world by seeing the beauty and excellence of Christ. They overcome the world by seeing something more attractive than the world: Christ.”
We know many youth ministries continually apply Jesus and His grace to the hearts of teenagers. And for those we deeply rejoice!
Thanks so much, guys! Get Creature of the Word today!