I was recently invited to be a part of the blog tour for Ed Stetzer & Phillip Nation’s new book Compelled By Love. I was honored to join fellow bloggers (the tour has included Alan Hirsch’s blog, Tall Skinny Kiwi, Darryl Dash, Micah Fries, iemissional) in the conversation over this new book. The book is a wonderful exposition about how the church as a people of God can incarnate the love of Christ and by so doing become God’s mission in the world. The book is an apologetic for God’s love being the very core of what missional church and missional living is. This notion may seem elementary, almost obvious, yet Ed and Phillip do a marvelous job of expounding what this looks like in a people caught up in mission. I consider Ed a friend and respect his work very much. So I was anxious to offer them the following questions and hear their answers. So here goes. Feel free to comment on their answers and hopefully they will check in and respond a time or two.
Dave Fitch: Ed and Phillip, people who love like this (the way you describe in Compelled by Love) don’t just grow on trees! They don’t just show up at your church plant all “ready to go!” In fact, most often church plants start out with the people who couldn’t love like this in other churches. How does the discipling of these kind of people happen in the church according to your book? What can we learn about this kind of discipling, and formation by reading your book?
Ed: First, David, let us say thanks for the opportunity to visit with you and the readers of your blog. And, we are so glad you are a part of the blog tour. Reclaiming the Mission is on my Google Reader and The Great Giveaway is on my shelf. It was good to see you in Chicago and I hope to see you more now that I am on the faculty of Trinity.
Anyway, on to the great questions.
First, the type of discipling we advocate is relatively simple while deeply profound. It focused on God’s character and his mission. There is no need to discount other topics such as marriage, apologetics, or character studies; but the primary task of making a disciple of Christ is to lead that person to be on mission with Christ.
It seems to us that too many people who say that they want their discipleship filled with “meat” are really interested in being instructed in “minutia.” They want to have more knowledge, but it often is not applied.
We are convinced that people need more, not less, Biblical knowledge, but what many lack today is Jesus-shaped application. In other words, we know much but live little (at least in the evangelical subculture).
Philip: One of the issues we point to in the book is the need for the church to engage in the mission of Christ together. On face value, this seems elementary. But, we all know that many churches have stress fractures that prevent unity in relationships and purpose. Leading spiritual formation around the biblical ideal of love will bring the type of unity which points to God’s glory.
When Ed and I planted together in Atlanta, we had a pretty theologically driven approach and our discipleship was built around practices. Rather than focus on what we typically refer to as “disciplines” as an end to themselves, we led believers to express love for Christ through spiritual practices. To that end, we have taught worship, missional living, spirituality, and service as practices of Christian living motivated to place Christ’s glory at the center of our lives and buoyed by love.
Another part of spiritual formation has been the emphasis on community. The New Testament’s teaching on the church constantly emphasizes our interconnectedness. Thus, we think that the Christian journey is best taken with friends who, to quote Hebrews 10:24, “stir up one another to love and good works.” So we encourage friends to move through spiritual formation together.
Dave Fitch: Excellent! … and thanks Ed for the encouraging comments! Ed and Phillip, it seems like this kind of love, being embodied in our lives as you discuss, changes the very nature of our corporate existence in the world. How does this love change the way we practice church? Would such a church look any different than say a Seeker Service mega- church, a traditional Baptist church? What does your book mean for ecclesiology?
Philip: Our practice of church is too often tied to self-satisfaction rather than redemptive mission. Love will cause us to abandon personal preferences (which are short-sighted anyway) for a sacrificial life which cares for the lost and hurting in a manner akin to Christ. Some “style” issues (traditional, contemporary, whatever) would have little bearing on whether or not we are loving, but a church that loves will shape itself around the mission of Jesus in the place it finds itself.
Ed: Let me also add something that an old friend of mine once said. He explained, “The way you win people is how you keep people.” So, I think we need to be careful in how we do ministry. If our ministry is built primarily on attracting people to the show, it is hard to get them to then love God and others on a mission.
Missional living with love as a motivation should be able to operate in churches of every style and size, if they are willing to not make it about themselves. If, in reaching them, we make it all about them– well, it should not surprise us that they never move beyond a self-centered model. My hope is that churches are seeking to dig in with the truth and contextualize their communication methods – and both require a loving spirit. Loving God supremely will cause us to stand for his truth. Loving our neighbors will help us to speak the truth clearly to them; even when it is inconvenient and with methodology that is not what we necessarily prefer.
Philip: Ecclesiology is touched on within the book from a relational and missional perspective. Our ecclesiology, theology, and missiology should be tied together. After all, how God reveals himself to us (theology) and how we engage others (missiology) should determine how we relate to one another (ecclesiology). And, as you know, he has chosen love as a primary descriptor of himself. So, we have included a section in the book that gives an overview of a basic missional ecclesiology.
Dave Fitch: That is extremely helpful! Last question to both of you: The issue of your book – missional living as compelled by the love of Christ’s love – is such an important issue for church presense in a community. You mention in the book the Lifeway Research about people seeing the church as judgmental and hypocritical. What are the roadblocks, theological and practical, that we pastors have to overcome in order to see God shape us away from this kind of judgemental hypocrisy and into living the gospel as a church in this way?
Philip: For pastors, it often comes down to the simple matter of our own spiritual formation. Congregations take on the form of their leaders. So, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.” We as pastors must ensure that our leadership is born from the life of Christ – which is heroically sacrificial. The unnecessary hurdles which we (the church) place in front of the Gospel must be removed first in the lives of its leadership. We are greatly concerned that many pastors show a lack of spiritual formation and that is just naturally passed on to a congregation– which is soon filled with people who know Jesus dies for them but they don’t know how to live for him. They know what they are against and for what they have been forgiven, but they don’t know how to live.
Ed: David, that research was pretty startling. People can find out more about it here (http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_main_page/0,1703,A%253D166950%2526M%253D200906,00.html). I tried to explain a little bit about it to the reporter here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wAIpT-5-Jw).
I want people to get three things from it. They are not very profound because I am a simple person!
1. They don’t see us as very loving.
2. That is probably because we are not often shaped and compelled by love.
3. We ought to do something about that.
It seems to be that unloving Christians must not get what God did for them. Paraphrasing my friend Tim Keller: God is more holy than we can imagine and man is more sinful than we are willing to admit. When our doctrine of God and man are born from the truth of scripture then we are able to move from judgmentalism to redemptive ministry.
I am not a naturally loving person (Philip is probably much more compassionate than I am). However, when I think of the debt Jesus paid for me, how can I then hold something against another person. And, yes, Jesus sure illustrated that in his Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35.
So, for us it boils down so clearly to 2 Cor. 5:14-15:
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (HCSB) 14 For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: if One died for all, then all died. 15 And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised.
We will be loving when we no longer live for ourselves but for Him.
Dave Fitch: Thanks to both of you for an excellent interview and an excellent book! God bless your labors in this book for Christ and His Mission.