Jared Wilson - "Gospel Driven Church"
2:17AM Jul 10, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it is our huge honor to be speaking with Jared C. Wilson. Jared Wilson is Assistant Professor of pastoral ministry at Spurgeon college, also author in residence at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church in Kansas City. Jared Wilson is also author of the texts that we'll be discussing today. The Gospel Driven Church: Uniting Church Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace available from Zondervan in 2019. Jared, we're really thankful to be speaking with you
tonight. Thank you so much, sir. Thanks for having me.
Jared, if I may, the first question I should ask is, what does it mean for a church to be gospel driven?
Yeah, it's a really important question, isn't it especially in this day of gospel centered this and gospel saturated that and The jargon can kind of take over sometimes and the sloganeering and we lose the the substance of it. Just as a basic definition, essentially what it means is that a church is making sure that everything that it does, is influenced by, directed from the finished work of Jesus Christ. To get a little bit deeper than that, as like I think passed orally for ministers essentially means that they are regularly asking themselves in sort of a spirit of discernment, whether they are leaning on the weight of the gospel, the Holy Spirit working through the good news of Jesus Christ, or they're leaning on their own wisdom, their own ambition, their own creativity, their own production skills, all those sorts of things. It doesn't mean any of those things are bad, those other things are wrong to us. But I think Most ministers who are self evaluative enough honest with themselves can be able to come to a point of saying, No, I'm trusting in myself for the results of this ministry, or I really am trusting that the the gospel is the power for my ministry, that's sort of the premise behind gospel driven, is that really the gospel is the only power that we've been stewarded not as a magical force, but as a Holy Spirit working through the foolishness of this message of Christ's death and resurrection, and all the things that entails. Yeah, so there's some major implications for ministry for that, and the three that I kind of, you know, highlight, like with my residents and things like that, as I say, if somebody asked you, what's the point of this whole gospel centered thing, like how do you measure that or how does that impact the work of ministry? So first of all, how you understand the Bible. So are you teaching preaching or even just in your personal study of the Scriptures? Are you seeing Christ as the center of it? Is he the point of the sermon that you're preaching? Is he the point of the lesson that you're teaching in that small group or equipping group of your personal study? Are you looking for Christ even in the Old Testament? That's one of the biggest implications of gospel driven ness or gospel sensuality. The other is understanding how people change, like how how do you answer the question? How is it that people change? And most of us tend to think just naturally, it makes total sense. It's intuitive, that the way people change is when you tell them, You tell them how are you tell, you tell them to change and maybe you give them some steps on how to do it. And those are all important things. Those are things the Bible has that there's plenty of imperatives in the Bible. But the gospel centered paradigm comes to say look, actually the way people change at least the the kind of change Christianity is interested in, which is that Hearts of Stone become hearts of flesh, and that saints Believers become more conformed to the image of Christ is actually through the gospel. Titus chapter two, Paul says it's the grace of God that has appeared. And it's training us to renounce on godliness. Paul in Second Corinthians chapter three says this by beholding the glory of Christ, that we are transformed from one degree of glory into another. So how people change is a second big component. And then thirdly, just for your own validation and confidence. So for the ministry leader, missionary, Pastor, Professor for the Christian, where are they finding their daily, their daily affirmation, their daily approval, so to speak, is in their performance. So for ministers who are doing church, they're basing their success or their worth or their validation on, usually how the church is doing. And how the church is doing is a really important thing to think about and to be even concerned about. But your validation should never be there should be in God's approval of you in Christ. So those are the three kind of big implications, I think. Have gospel driven nests to kind of flesh it out. So we understand really what the what the import is
really grateful for your reflection. And Jared many denominations and churches are reporting declining demographics in in your view, what is it that? What is the greatest set of challenges that our churches are facing today?
Yeah, you know, it's interesting because my answer, I think, ties into what people tend to be doing to forestall that decline. So I think some of the things that we do to address that issue, people not interested in church basically, or people dropping out of church. I think some of the the major ways you know, evangelicals, particularly in in the West, particularly in America, have tried to address that actually exacerbate the problem. We are now 30 years almost 40 years into sort of the church. Growth movement that came out of Yeah, just the sort of as a reaction to kind of fundamentalism and and you know, kind of the traditionalist way of doing church. There were some people who very wisely and compassionately discovered that loss. People weren't interested in how church was being done, the church wasn't effectively reaching the loss. And so they began to design church itself, the worship gathering in particular, around the secret. So this came the the rise of the seeker sensitive church, the seeker targeted movement. And we're still kind of dealing with that today. And so 3040 years on what we're seeing is that it's not exactly working. It's one of the worst kept secrets and even chuckle Islam. I think. We still have a dropout rate of those who are raised in church about 70%. The number of baptisms and and every evangelical denomination is in decline. The number of professing Christians of course, is in decline. And there's a lot there's so there's a million factors that that go into that. Just even population fluctuations and diversity in all sorts of things that affect that. So it's not simply ineffective churches but but by and large, what we have done to address that issue isn't really addressing the issue. And so there's even research I use in the book, Sally Morgentaler, who was one of the early proponents of what she called worship evangelism. She wrote a book called worship evangelism. And she was one who would travel around and kind of consultant speak on this idea of orienting your worship gathering specifically to reach seekers. And what she discovered through her time doing that and compiling more research and just experience is that it really wasn't working. In fact, most pastors who were enacting that model were discovering that they weren't reaching the number of unchurched people that they thought they were, and by and large, the people occupying those churches tend to leave Within about four to seven years, depending on life stage. And so what we're looking at is the things that are often used. The challenge is to go back to the original question. I think it's still consumerism and pragmatism. Those are the two primary issues that the American church and particularly American evangelicals need to face head on. And it manifests itself in churches of all kinds. It's not just the kind of, you know, fog and lasers attraction on church that's dealing in that stuff. There are very conservative or traditional or formal churches that are that have embraced a consumeristic sort of ethos. Because they discovered they discovered that their market is people who like traditional, you know, informal worship services. So it doesn't come from a place of principle or or theology, it comes from what is the customer want and sometimes the customer in a given area once the very informal You know, jeans and spiked hair and you know, smoke on the stage. Sometimes the customer wants the choir and the and the big kind of formal production. And so it's still an embrace of consumerism. And then pragmatism, I think impacts almost every evangelical ministry. It is the constant pool of every pastor which is essentially that we lean into the works of the flesh to attract people, or we were trusting in our eloquence or creativity or whatever to do the work that only the gospel can do.
This book is all about the gospel. We're getting there. There's still more bad news before we can appreciate the good news. So I was looking over a an article by Christianity Today last March came out the article is titled The church growth gap the big get bigger while the small gets smaller and it this article from Christianity Today cited a statistic that the majority that is 50 per seven, excuse me, 57% Have American churches now have fewer than 100 attendees each Sunday. What's your view? Jared? Can the traditional model of church sustain as we look to the future?
Yeah, I mean, I think it can, whether it will, you know, certainly remains to be seen. I think there's just so many factors that play into how churches done in certain regions. I mean, you look at places like, you know, like New England, for instance, which is, you know, has in the last 510 years replaced the Pacific Northwest as the least church region of the nation. And what some are saying is there's sort of a quiet revival there, right. So it's still least church region, and yet, and yet, as Mary ever stad and others have shown, the conservative churches are growing there are at least, are not in decline as the mainline and other churches are And so there seems to be this this sort of slow rebounding right, we're not seeing, you know, big explosive growth or church, the kind of church planting movements we might see in, in Asia or what have you. But there's a number of church plants that are that are cropping up. You're seeing in a lot of non white congregations that are flourishing there sometimes. You know, that's why it's sometimes called the quiet revival because they don't get the press that, you know, the Anglo churches do. And so, wherever you have people who really feel called to a mission and feel called to each other, I think you have the right foundation for that political traditional model. You know, I don't think it's going away. And I think it can be sustained as long as there are people who are willing to, we're going to support it, and the money's there. I don't have the status. In terms of, you know, giving percentage is and what have you, but every time you look at how much evangelicals give to their church, you tend to see that we have a lot of ground to make up, we could do a lot more in terms of poverty relief and other things. And certainly, if we wanted to, we could keep the lights on and the doors open for most of our churches, but, gosh, their churches declining and closing doors every day as well. And there's probably multiple reasons for that. Sometimes even faithful churches, you know, have to, you know, go that route. So, there's just so many contingencies involved, but I just don't think were in this region. You know, in America, I don't think the traditional model is going away anytime soon. You know, Old habits die hard here. Even as things change, the more things change, they stay the same. And it's remarkable that it was nobody you know, matter what kind of church you go into just about just about there, you know, always, you know, outliers and innovators, but from the most contemporary, you know, mega church to the kind of avant garde quasi, you know, there's always people singing songs, and a guy who gets up and talks. And so there's something about that, that just dies hard. We know we're not. And I think for good reason, and I'm glad that that, you know, would die hard, but it's so common. It's so ubiquitous, that it'd be strange to see it going away anytime soon.
Jared, we're really grateful for your reflections. In your view, what's the future of the mega church movement?
Yeah, you know, I've go one or two ways on this. So a couple years ago, I think it was, I think it was two years ago, I wrote two pieces of back to back blog posts at my blog at the gospel coalition. And the first was why I think the tractional church and in particular the attraction of men A church is will be going away like whites in decline or white will decline. And I listed some reasons that I could, you know, foresee as sort of the end of the megachurch movement. And then the next day I post an article on sort of, you know, not so fast, all the reasons why it's probably gonna be here for a while. And so I kind of go back and forth on this. And what's interesting is there's so many shifts within the movement, and there's so many different kinds of mega churches, right? So statistically, the number of mega churches is still a vast minority of the number of churches it's, I just saw stat, I think today yesterday from the Southern Baptist Convention, and the number of churches more than 2000 is like point 5%. So point 5% of all churches is more than 2000. I would venture to guess that outside the SBC and just the wider evangelical world, it's probably a you know, one to 2% maybe maybe a little Little bit higher, I'm not sure. But it's still statistically, the number of the vast majority of churches tend to be what we would call small churches, but really normative size churches, so they tend to be certainly less than 500, and probably in the hundred to 200, size range. And yet, the number of mega churches seems to be increasing, at least the last time I checked. Again, they're not statistically, you know, blowing everybody out of the water yet in terms of the note, you know, their numbers, but they are growing. And so there's some of the things that there's a consolidation taking place. So, as nominal Christianity kind of begins to waste away even in the Bible Belt, you're beginning to see kind of cultural Christianity erode. I don't think it'll ever quite go away, especially in the south. But as that kind of erodes and more churches, you're going to see people kind of flocking to where there are more resources. I think that's kind of the phenomenon of the mega churches. Well, you know, people want to go where there are More people like them and where there seems to be the appearance of success America. You know, Americans love bigness, they equate bigness with excellence with success. And so I just don't think it's going to go away anytime soon. In fact, I think we may see an increasing number of them. The question will be, are they will they be able to navigate some of the tricky waters that are coming, that are already here, actually, but just sort of our pros, you know, post Christian, you know, as America steps further and further into post Christianity, the Post truth, culture, all of that sort of thing, are they able to kind of stay afloat with those times? Or will they get kind of too big for their britches, but I don't think it's gonna go away anytime soon. And even globally, that I mean, there's an increasing number of mega churches as well. So the world has gotten smaller because of technology and globalization. And so I think the influence of them will persist. And I think the manifestation of them will persist. Well,
Gary, if you were to start a church tomorrow, and you were to be the senior pastor of that church, and it was to start from totally a fresh template or total it was completely a fresh initiative, what kind of church would you plant? What would the model be?
Oh my word. Yeah, so I like the simple church model. I think sort of some, you know, the bare necessities would be the preaching of the Word and the exalting of the Lord and song and communion. And if possible plurality of eldership. Sometimes if you're planting a church, I planted a church and I planted as a solo pastor, sometimes you have to begin that way. But that would be the basic model, it would be the traditional model of gathering, you know, whether that's in a home or in a public space. But we would have a time of singing we would have a time of preaching, the time of giving and celebrating communion, which I think is coming Have the you know the regulative norm biblically the irreducible elements really have gathered worship. But then just in terms of like, the outward focus, I thought about this a lot just in terms of the simple church concept, which I'm really one too, which would be that I think a church has to have a worship gathering. Church has to have table fellowship. So that can look a million different ways. But generally, the small groups have some kind of community groups, that we're experiencing life on life. And then that there's an outward focus of service, whether that's, you know, Justice initiatives or evangelism or a mix of, of all those things. You know, Heart of community service, those three things, I think that's what I planted with when I planted in Nashville and if I had to do it over again, there's a lot of things I do different but the model itself I think I would stick to
technology seems to be changing almost Everything in our current world, whether it's medicine, education, should technology also change church? or shouldn't churches be appropriating technology in any particular way? Is the virtual church possible? What's your view?
Yeah, no, I don't think a virtual church is possible if it If anything, it's almost a redundancy or an oxymoron, I guess you'd say, you know, because, yeah, churches, a body of Christ, and virtual is a disconnection. There's no tangibility there. So it doesn't mean we can't connect with other believers over, you know, the use of technology. But I tend to think an uncritical use of technology in the church has been a deficit for us spiritually, that we haven't thought through the implications of things like video venues. And even some of the use of some production techniques in gathered worship. I'm not as harsh on those As a lot of folks are, but to me, I just want churches to ask why why would Why do we do this? What's the purpose behind it? And to really think through whether kind of using a mirror to reflect back to the world itself is really an effective means of what gathered worship really is, which is to Exalt the LORD. You know, sometimes those things reveal that the, the, the center of worship is actually the worshiper, we're trying to create an experience of some kind for those who are coming. And that makes them the object of worship, essentially. And so it doesn't mean we shouldn't use technology, but we shouldn't use it uncritically. And so I think, in the best case scenario, the technology we use is more circumstantial, right? So you have amplification of the instruments that you're using amplification of the preaching because of the acoustics in the room or the size of the audience. You're using technology to, to broadcast the message or just your presence, all those things to connect the people in fellowship during the week as they're not gathered together. Those are all I think, you know, appropriate circumstantial means. It's when we begin to innovate and turn the technology into an element itself, that I think we run into some trouble. And so, you know, I'm not dogmatic to say you should never use you know, colored lights or anything like that. But I just think we should ask a lot of why questions why do we do that? What's the purpose of turning the lights down low during worship? And, and and does our answer to that question reveals something about our view of worship, which actually isn't reflected in the scriptures? Mm hmm.
All right, Jared. I'm super grateful to be speaking with you about your book, the gospel driven church Uniting Church growth dreams with the metrics of grace. I've got to ask one more question and I may have confessed you At this point that I'm writing a book on virtual reality church, so I'm interested in your views here, Jared. So okay, be patient with me, but your church has incredible vision about how the gospel transforms and moves the church. It's the heartbeat of the church and and that's sort of the what gives the church momentum as it brings its mission to the culture. In your view, would it be possible for the church to disseminate that gospel message, its sermon, basically as a podcast, for example, and then to reserve the service time the gathering together for the other things, singing discussion, etc. but to actually take that that sermon piece and to route it through some other delivery system to get to the to the people. What's your view? Must the sermon be performed as a live act?
Yeah, it depends on what on what must means. I think ideally, yes, because the sermon is an act of worship itself. If you look at Nehemiah chapter eight, what Ezra and and the others are doing is they read through the book of the law. And they give the sense I think of an example of kind of expositional preaching. They're, they're not just reading scripture, they're helping explain it so that everyone can understand the word. But there's worship that people are responding to what Ezra is doing. He's giving thanks to the Lord, while he's preaching. It's really fascinating. And the others have responded to that. I don't think you get that kind of interaction and connection. When you have a virtual sermon involved, now you can be moved. He just says we can be moved by listening to preaching on podcasts, and those sorts of things. But there's not the relational connection. it ceases it. It's not just ceases to be a worship of event, but it ceases to be a pastoral event as well because if I'm preaching, I can see and I'm live I can see the people I can see what they're responding to or not responding to I can look them in the eyes. I can even if I know my congregation well, which I think, you know, most pastors should, there are some I can say their name, perhaps I can pause if I need to pause. There's just so much in terms of tangibility, that creates a connection, that I think is more of the essence of what Christ has done in His incarnation. And I just think with all of the problems that the church is facing, and you know, it's been, you know, and going into the future as well, that sort of de incarnating the worship event or the preaching event, just doesn't seem wise to me. I'm not prepared to say it's sent, you know, it's a sin to do, you know, have you know, video, you know, preach or anything like that I've preached at churches where they do, you know, venue, video venues in other locations, and all those sorts of things. And, and I wouldn't do that if I thought it was, you know, you know, sent you know, to experience that. I just wish we were Just ask some more questions and also have concerns about the raising up of preachers. You know, Matt Chandler, who, you know leads one of the most recognized multi site churches, although it's they're now spinning off their, their campuses, the village church in Flower Mound, Texas, they're spinning off their campuses into autonomous churches now. He said in an article about the multi site phenomenon, the video venue phenomenon A few years ago, that he worried that in the future, there would only be like four preachers in America and every church would just have one of those for broadcast on a screen or some other way downloaded. And you know, he was making a joke, but there's some reality to that do we make preaching equivalent with a performance and then to say only the most talented people can do this, which is another way of saying it's really not the gospel that transforms people, it's talented preachers or, you know, gifted preachers who actually do this. Paul said I did not come to you with eloquence or wisdom. I came to you with the foolishness of the cross I resolved to know nothing among you except the cross. And so I think if we believe that we'll put more effort into raising up a generation of creatures, so that we don't have to go this other route.
Even worse than just having four preachers in America, they would be distributed by Apple, Google, Microsoft. All right. I really appreciate your your point there. What does this mean for the preparation of preachers and you serve serve as director of pastoral training of the pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church in Kansas City. So that's part of your week to week routines is planning for the preparation of future ministers? What what does all this mean the change in church demographics, the the technology on the horizon? What, what should theological education programs be doing now to make sure that pastors are ready for the ministry of the future?
Yeah, so certainly training and preaching As we just discussed, but there is also, I think, a decline in real pastoral care and meaningful care of, well, I mean, just the understanding of church membership in general, but attending to the flock. So what we see in kind of the not just in the megachurch phenomenon, but even in medium sized churches that are trying to replicate, being sort of a religious Resource Center of sorts, everything is built into that weekend gathering. And the experience of the churches is basically that weekend experience. And all the energy is poured into that. And that becomes people's experience of the church. And people come in and out. You don't even know sometimes who's there. You don't know if they're disappearing. I hear horror stories all the time, which to me are horror stories that people be who are baptized in a church. They made a profession of faith, and you're later nobody knows where they are, you know, if they're still walking with the Lord If they're in that church or another church, all of that, I think spells trouble for us and has for a long time. So I think part of the training and part of the training, you know, that I want to do, both at the seminary and in our residency is prepare young men for the future as things like the new sexual revolution collapses, and we have a hordes of people who are dealing with the wreckage of Yeah, what we're what we're sewing now in terms of sexual identity, chaos and all sorts of things like that. But other things besides so I, I was just up in British Columbia preaching at a church and the church there just opened up a counseling center. They hired a fellow to come direct it they've got you know, he's a professional license guy. He's got some lay workers that are there. They really wonder like man, you know, can we get this off the ground they have been bombarded with with needs. Since they open, they they work non stop, all the appointments are full. I think that's going to be an increasing need. And we cannot treat the church simply as a weekend production or a one stop shop for your kind of spirit, you know, spiritual pick me ups. I think we have to train the future of ministers for the the the onslaught of personal care needs, counseling, mental health, even issues. Some of those things are becoming increasingly necessary.
Jared, I'm really grateful for your time this evening. And if I could close this interview with the question that we've been asking all of our interviewees on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united today? How might we recognize this unity and what is it that we can do as believers to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed in john 17
Yeah, you know, on on one level I'm grateful that what Jesus is praying for he's actually actualizing Himself and His atoning work, that the church would be one as He and the Father are One right as he says, I am in them, they are in me that they would be one just as you and I are one. And in a spiritual sense that's accomplished. He has made us brothers and sisters, whether we like it or not, we may not get along, we may not go to the same church. But if we profess cry, and we have different views on secondary tertiary issues, but we agree on the main stuff. And we're brothers and we're going to be in unity in heaven. And and and so by virtue of that fact, because of Christ's death and resurrection and his ascension, because we're united to him. We are actually one not to each other. The critical question is, will we ever get around to expressing that? Will we ever get around to some manifestation of that before he comes back? And I don't know. I think There's so much said and so much brokenness in the world. And we are so stubborn. I think if it's going to happen, it will have to be a great move of the Holy Spirit, it will have to be something tantamount to another great awakening of some kind to do that. Because what it requires is basically that we would put Christ above our preferences, our comfort, all the issues that divide us all the things we see on social media of believers, arguing and debating over which many times not all the time, but many times are important things and things that we even could debate over and kind of hash out. But when we put those things above Christ, we actually stifle the kind of unity I think Christ desires for us and how we get to that how we're going to up Turn, turn those tables over. I don't know that we can I think Jesus has to do it himself, which I think means that for it to happen would require a great move of God. Another rushing wind to kind of bring, you know, bring all down upon every soul.
It's been a huge privilege today to be speaking with Jared Wilson, Assistant Professor of pastoral ministry at Spurgeon, college author in residence at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, director of the pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church in Kansas City, and also author of the text that we've been discussing today. The Gospel driven church Uniting Church growth dreams with the metrics of grace. Karen, thank you so much
for your time. Thanks so much for having me. Yeah, I really appreciate it.