On Tuesday, Fred, Marcellus and I drove down to St. Louis for a workshop at The Journey, an Acts 29 church with a few campuses in the St. Louis metro area. Our good friend, Dan, works part-time with this church and is also a full-time student at Covenant Seminary. Dan invited us down for the day to attend this workshop, which was one of the free quarterly workshops that The Journey hosts. Their desire is to equip and connect regional church planters and pastors...and it's free!
We met at their Tower Grove campus, a beautiful, remodeled Catholic church that the Journey purchased, complete with a convent, school and other buildings.
The guest speakers for the day were two pastors from Sojourn Community Church (also Acts 29) in Louisville, KY.
The first dude, Daniel Montgomery, spoke on the topic of "Gospel Centrality." It was a very dynamic, rich and foundational message for us to hear. We were saturated in the Gospel for about an hour as he impressed upon us the need to realize that the "Gospel changes everything"; it is to "inform and transform all things."
He walked through the first few chapters of Romans, and we saw that the Gospel of Christ is what Paul's life orbited around (Apostolic), the Gospel is what the entire Scripture points to (Biblical), the Gospel is all about Jesus (Christological) and his Cross, Kingdom and Grace (Tim Keller: doctrinal, activist and pietistic, respectively), the Gospel calls us into community (Eccesiological), and the Gospel is the core of God's mission (Missiological). We spent the largest chunk of time discussing the Cross, Kingdom and Grace of Jesus: do our individual local churches focus on one more than the other at the cost of teaching the depth and breadth of the Gospel?
Some of the questions that I left asking of myself and of my local church:
Am I picking and choosing what I want to focus on in the Gospel?
Does my life orbit around the Gospel?
What is our church "all about"?
Do I believe that the Cross is sufficient for all of our needs and broken places?
Is the Gospel becoming "bigger" as my understanding of the depth of my sinfulness and the greatness of God's holiness expands?
Are we a "best practices" church or a "theology-centered" church?
What does it mean to live in the good of the Gospel daily?
What is our plan for presenting everyone perfect in Christ?
The second session was on the topic of Christian Liberty, led by Mike Cosper. We talked about the dangers that can come with the freedom that we have in Christ, leading us down legalistic or licentious roads. We discussed the importance of knowing our conscience (and others) and our context, when facing often controversial matters, such as politics, alcohol, media, language, spending habits and parenting styles.
Looking at the realm of media, Mike talked about the proverbial "big 3" that some Christians often use for their media filter: sex, nudity and profanity. Similar to some of the narrow filters that conservatives often use in politics (abortion, homosexuality, scientific research methods), we neglect other messages that the media feeds us. How often do we ask ourselves "Why am I watching this TV show, this movie?" or "Why am I consuming this media product?". The answer is not simply to just turn it off, but to understand the messages that we are receiving and to remember Romans 12:2, in which Paul urges us not to conform to the pattern of the world. In other words...don't just veg out in front of mass media (TV, movies, internet, etc), but actively engage with them.
Another example that Mike discussed in the razor edge between license and legalism was the way in which we degrade political figures. We forget that George W and Hillary are image bearers of God. Again, this doesn't mean we cannot be critical or that we have to just shut off our political sensors.
The key is to discover Gospel Freedom in which we center ourselves on Christ's righteousness, and not on the extreme margins where we get involved fruitless arguments and judgments over TV, beer, "cuss words", etc.
Apart from the great teachings, it was great getting to hang out with some guys who made their way to the workshop. Got the chance to catch up with Abe, a former I-Lifer. Good times.
Here's a God-moment: we were over at the Luminary (the Journey's Center for the Arts, located in the old convent) and bumped into some guys from an Acts 29 church in Omaha. Told this guy Bob that I was a missionary with GCM and he pointed me to one of his buddies, JD, from Omaha as well. He told me that he is going to GCM staff training so that he can go to South Africa to begin a church planting movement with Acts 29 (GCM and Acts 29 have just recently begun to form a relationship). His wife is from Cape Town. No way, I told him. Having spent 6 months there, I have been dreaming about opportunities to return in ministry. GCM has not had any Africa connections, much less South Africa connections, like they have in Europe, Asia and Latin America. We exchanged contact info. He hopes to be in Cape Town before the year's out. His desire is to start justice and mercy work in the townships and to establish a church-planting hub for Acts 29 in Cape Town. Too cool. He and I were thrilled that we had the chance to meet. We'll see what God has in store there...