To many, a flagging church calls for a double dose of the latest ministry methods. Hone your programs. Adopt cutting edge outreach strategies. Find the latest training for the leadership—or get new leaders altogether. Maybe bring in a church consultant.
Joe Thorn, pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois, would just roll his eyes. In his view, struggling churches don’t need anything novel; they need to return to the basics. They need a reminder of what the Bible says the church is and what it’s been called to do. That’s the drive behind his new trilogy of books: The Heart of the Church, The Character of the Church, and The Life of the Church. The books are designed to call leaders and laity to drop distracting pursuits and rediscover the biblical vision for the church. We talked to Thorn about the books and how focusing on the nature and purpose of the church has played out in his own congregation.
Is there something about the current state of the church that creates a special need to return to the basics?
I used to be in really good shape. I ran a lot, and I was much lighter. And the result of being in shape was that I had a lot of freedom to do and to be what I’m supposed to do and be. I felt great! But over the years, I stopped running and I stopped eating well. Now I’m fat and tired and I have headaches all the time. And as I continue to age, my muscles atrophy. Many churches are like the out-of-shape me. They started out well, but they’ve lost their way. They get sidetracked by good issues that become their priority rather than the gospel and the task of making disciples. It’s easy to focus on secondary issues and lose sight of what’s most important. We all need to return to the basics again and again, whether that concerns the doctrine of God or the doctrine of the church.
Do we need greater clarity on the nature of the gospel?
Like many words, gospel is used in so many ways it has become a nebulous idea. We’re seeing a dumbing down of theology, a dumbing down of soteriology, so we just say “gospel” when we mean something else. “How is it that God sanctifies? Well, it’s the gospel.” Well, not really. It’s the Holy Spirit using the means of grace, particularly the Word of God, to renew our minds and our wills. So it becomes a way of avoiding the nuances and important details of theology. Gospel is a good word. Paul uses it; we should use it. Reformers used it. But it should lead us to precise thinking, believing, and doing. The gospel is not everything, but it is the main thing.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Interview by Drew Dyck