Mass Confusion in Duval
Can I be real with you for a minute?
Most days I feel like I have no idea what in the heck we are supposed to be doing as a church or how I am supposed to be leading us.
When God called Amy and I to plant a church in Jacksonville only two things were clear.
Jacksonville is very religious but many people don’t REALLY know the gospel of grace. I am called to preach the gospel of God’s grace as clearly as I possibly can to as many people as I possibly can.
The gospel clearly preached and lived out will create diverse churches planted around the city that reflect God’s heart for reconciliation.
Outside of those two things, everything else has been an endless amount of questions about HOW to do that faithfully.
How do we preach grace AND “teach people to obey everything” Jesus has commanded us like he told the disciples to do in Matthew 28.
Here's why it's complex. Everyone is in a different place with understanding the gospel.
Preaching grace to a religious city is HARD work. Some people have been so abused by the rules they can hardly stand to hear anything that sounds like rules, it just hurts so bad, so they get frustrated at calls to discipleship. Others have been so rewarded by following the rules, that they think it’s the way to real life. Others think the gospel is a free pass on sin.
Everything I say on Sunday is heard through these natural filters.
“I don’t have to obey because I am already accepted.”
“I have to obey to be accepted, if I don't, I'm not."
"The more I obey the more accepted I become."
If people hear that they need to obey to be accepted or more accepted, it’s either because I am not communicating the gospel well or people feel pressure because they aren’t living out of their identity in Christ and feel guilt or shame in not “being good enough”, even though they are already righteous in Christ.
If people hear they don’t have to obey since they are already right with God, it’s either that I am not presenting the gospel clearly or they aren’t getting the gospel deeply, or both. If you get the gospel deeply, you can’t help but obey. The gospel changes our heart’s desires to want to please God, to want to obey, to love him in word and deed.
We obey because we are already 100%, eternally accepted as sons and daughters of God. True grace motivates obedience.
On top of the religion vs. grace problem, we have “Christian consumerism”. We are in a consumeristic culture that tells us “it’s about us, it’s about our needs”. We really live that out. So when I call people to serve more it feels like pressure to people recovering from rules and religion or it feels like an opportunity to be “a super Christian” to some, and it feels like “too much” to people who just want to be a part of a church on their own terms.
Consumer Christianity asks:
“How does being a disciple fit into MY life?”
Jesus answers us:
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38–39, ESV)
As if the religious and consumeristic dynamics weren’t enough to complicate things, I have no idea what I’m doing as a pastor of a diverse church like The Image.
Only 2.5% of churches in the United States are like The Image, where no one racial group makes up 80% of the congregation.*
My friend Jay tells me all the time I have no idea how to talk to people that aren’t white and privileged. When he hears me preach or talk to people 1:1, it’s clear that I’m about as ignorant as I appear. So again I feel the weight of not knowing how the heck to be a part of leading in the calling Jesus has given me, to plant a multicultural church founded on the scandalous grace of Jesus.
I’m venting and these are only a couple of areas I know I am not sufficient for. I want to ask you for something.
- Prayer for wisdom, guidance and fruit from the Holy Spirit in making the gospel clear and that I would be swimming in it myself. I struggle with all three of the things I listed above, somehow at the same time!
- Grace and love. Would you give me grace as I fail forward in leading us in this new church? Seriously, I will need your forgiveness over and over. I’m already in debt to most of you.
- Patience and long suffering. This is not a microwave move of God. This is a slow smoker type move of God. (I’m hungry) We are going to learn, make BIG mistakes and keep going in the calling of our church. Let’s be prayerful and patient as we follow Jesus without knowing all the next moves.
I hope you know this, but I want to remind you again. You don’t have to do anything to be right with Jesus, he already did everything on the cross. You don’t have to serve or give or be a “Gospel Partner” with The Image to be accepted, Jesus already was perfect for you. What I think Jesus is doing is loving us and pursuing us so much to where we can’t help but lay down our lives for the good of others and the glory of God.
Where I have gotten in the way of that, I ask you to forgive me. On my best days I really believe that it’s the gospel, the love of God, that changes people. We really need to believe it. When we do, at the deepest levels of our soul, we will be a church that is good news to our city. We’ll be a church that is saturated in love, justice and mercy because we have known God that way too.