The Church as the Creature of the Word, Part 1

Part 1 of a 4-part series.

A couple weeks ago, I reviewed the book Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger. Many books today encourage pastors to be focused on Jesus in their preaching and teaching. But Creature  goes beyond the teaching ministry and instructs church leaders on creating a gospel-centered culture in the church, a culture that shapes all levels and areas of ministry.

Today, I’m glad to welcome Matt, Josh, and Eric to the blog for a brief conversation about the book.

Trevin Wax: The subtitle of the book is The Jesus-Centered Church. “Jesus-centered” is going to be new language for a lot of leaders who are used to hearing about “gospel-centered” everything. What do you hope this book’s focus on Jesus will communicate to pastors and leaders?

Matt Chandler: Our hope in using the term Jesus-centered is to create some distance between a phrase that has been used so much it’s become a junk drawer in many ways. We want to remind people that Christ is the head of the Church, and everything about how our church functions and operates should reflect the new life we are given in Jesus.

Trevin Wax: I pointed out in my review how this book benefits from having three authors with unique gifts. How did your particular strengths and weaknesses as leaders influence the insights you each contributed to the book? How has the Lord challenged you personally through the “iron-sharpening” process of working together?

Josh Patterson: We all enjoyed the process of approaching this book as a team. God has designed His Church to be made up of various members, all essential, to the building up of the body to maturity. We wanted this variety represented in the book.

All three of us have different gifts, strengths and weaknesses which helped us form this book in a unique way. We hope it has resulted in a balanced perspective on the nature, design and function of the Church both theologically and practically.

Personally, it has been a rewarding and edifying experience. We spent a considerable amount of time dreaming, talking, praying, pushing back on one another, and shaping our thoughts and words. In short, the entire process solidified our brotherhood as friends and encouraged our hearts to love the Church even more.

Trevin Wax: Many pastors are talking about being focused on the gospel in one’s teaching and preaching ministry, but this conversation hasn’t always made it past the pulpit and into important conversations about a church’s culture. What happens when ministry philosophy and church practice is disconnected from or in contradiction to the church’s theological commitments?

Josh Patterson: The phrase, “Jesus is the most important part of my life,” is uninformed at best. If we read the New Testament correctly, then Jesus doesn’t get relegated to a part of piece of life. He has come and boldly proclaimed that He is life, not a slice or sliver of it.

So, in the same manner, a church cannot compartmentalize Jesus to a certain aspect of her life and function. Ironically, many churches preach and teach Jesus from the pulpit or in Sunday School, but find Him strangely absent from other areas. We wrote in the book about the need to have a clear understand of how theology drives philosophy, which in turn informs the church’s practice.

We all face the temptation to let our pragmatics or practice drive our ministry philosophy. The danger here is that we can begin to drift theologically. But, the more immediate implication is that our people cannot see how our theological convictions are relevant to how we actually operate and function as a body. All of this has an impact on the church culture.

A church culture that is saturated in the gospel of Christ rightly understands that He is the life and breath of the Church in each and every aspect from theology to daily practice.

Trevin Wax: You give attention to the role of community in the church fulfilling its purpose. Some churches tend to fluctuate between an “authenticity” that excuses sin or a “righteousness” that breeds hypocritical living. How does being Jesus-centered challenge both those cultures?

Eric Geiger: The best way to answer this question is to look at the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry. He repelled hypocritical Pharisees and attracted sinners who recognized their need for Him.

In the same way, when a congregation is focused on Jesus, it becomes the kind of place where sinners come and find transformation. It’s a safe environment for people to be honest about their ongoing battles with sin. At the same time, we don’t excuse sin. We fight it fiercely.

The church that fails to focus on Jesus will excuse sin – either the sin of legalistic self-righteousness or the type of rebellion seen in the prodigal son. Gospel-centered community exists with the grace-filled tension of receiving sinners while simultaneously making war on sin.

Trevin Wax: What is your hope for pastors and other church leaders who read Creature of the Word?

Matt Chandler: My hope is that our theology (rightly understanding who God is) will drive how we organize and operate as a church. I fear that at times our practice drives our philosophy that in turn shapes our theology. This is backwards and dangerous. Our right understanding of God and His revealed word should shape our philosophies of ministry which should in turn determine our practice. I hope this book helps church leaders in this area.

Read Part 2 of this series here.

Read more from Trevin here.

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Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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