A community of change

Here is the fifth part of my course preparing people for cross-cultural mission. (Here are parts one, two, three and four.)

Discipleship is a community project. God has given us the Christian community so we can challenge and comfort one another. We are to speak the truth in love to one another, to ‘gospel’ one another. The writer of Hebrews says: ‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ (Hebrews 3:11-13) Day by day you will need one another to remind you of these truths so that your hearts do not become hardened.

These four liberating truths about God (‘the Four Gs’) are a great resource as you encourage one another. These four truths are a great way of ‘speaking the truth in love’ to one another (Ephesians 4:15). This is how we can help one another fight sin.

They are also a great diagnostic kit. When you face temptation or fall into sin, ask yourself, ‘Which of these truths am I failing to embrace?’

1. God is great – so we don’t have to be in control

2. God is glorious – so we don’t have to fear others

3. God is good – so we don’t have to look elsewhere

4. God is gracious – so we don’t have to prove ourselves

Proclaiming good news

These four truths offer an alternative to legalism.

People often try to change behaviour without looking at the heart. They provide a set of rules by which people should live. Here is Paul view on that:

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:20-23)

Living by a set of rules for behaviour does not work, says Paul. Such as approach to change can look very impressive, but it lacks any power to restrain the sinful desires of our hearts.

On a good day a behaviour-based approach will make us proud and self-righteous. Our confidence will be in our outward respectability. We need to repent of our ‘righteousness’ if this has become a source of false confidence or a substitute for true heart change. On a bad day a behaviour-based approach will leave you despondent and confused. The power of sin is supposed to be broken, but it does not seem to broken it my life!

These four liberating truths about God good news. They bring about gospel change.

  • If I meet someone who is worried about life or manipulative, then I can say: ‘Here is good news – you don’t have to be in control because God is in control.’
  • If I meet someone who is enslaved by other people’s opinions, who fears rejection or craves approval, then I can say: ‘Here is good news – you don’t have to fear others because God is glorious and he smiles upon you.’
  • If I meet someone who enslaved by the pursuit of wealth or pleasure or sex, I can say: ‘Here is good news – you don’t have to look elsewhere because God is good and to know him is true joy.’
  • If I meet someone who is desperate to prove themselves or make it in life or looks down on others, I can say: ‘Here is good news – you don’t have to prove yourself because God is gracious and Christ has done it all.’

We are not simply telling one another off. That is legalism and it kills. The ‘four Gs’ enable to us to speak good news to another.

Legalism says: You should not do that.
The gospel says: You need not do that –

because God is always bigger and better than sin.

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Audio from 121 Degrees ‘Core’ Conference

Here’s the audio of Jeff Vanderstelt and myself speaking at the 121 Degrees ‘Core’ Church Planting Conference in Perth Australia in August.

1. The Mission of God – Tim Chester


2. A Disciple Making Culture – Jeff Vanderstelt


3. The Heart of a Disciple – Tim Chester


4. Equipping For Mission – Jeff Vanderstelt


5. Missional Communities at Soma – Jeff Vanderstelt


6. What Drives Me – Tim Chester


Bonhoeffer on Christian pastoral care and secular psychology

I’m posting a few quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US which I recently reviewed (here).

In my final quote, Bonhoeffer contrasts what Christian pastoral care and secular psychology have to offer.

‘Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ungodliness of the human being. And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner. The psychologist must first search my heart, and yet can never probe its innermost recesses. Another Christian recognizes just this: here comes a sinner like myself, a godless person who wants to confess and longs for God’s forgiveness. The psychologist views me as if there were no God. Another believer views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ. When we are so pitiful and incapable of hearing the confession of one another, it is not due to a lack of psychological knowledge, but a lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ.’ (115)
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If we don’t confess to another we’re merely forgiving ourselves

I’m posting a few quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US which I recently reviewed (here).

Today’s quote offers what I think is a profound insight. I encourage you to ponder it, prayerfully searching your heart.

‘In confession there occurs a breakthrough to assurance. Why is it often easier for us to acknowledge our sins before God than before another believer? God is holy and without sin, a just judge of evil, and an enemy of all disobedience. But another Christian is sinful, as are we, knowing from personal experience the night of secret sin. Should we not find it easier to go to one another than to the holy God? But if that is not the case, we must ask ourselves whether we often have not been deluding ourselves about our confession of sin to God – whether we have not instead been confessing our sins to ourselves and also forgiving ourselves. And is not the reason for our innumerable relapses and for the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living from self-forgiveness and not from the real forgiveness of our sins? Self-forgiveness can never lead to the break with sin. This can only be accomplished by God’s own judging and pardoning Word. Who can give us the assurance that we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins? God gives us this assurance through one another.’ (113)

‘But it is precisely for the sake of this assurance that confession is about admitting concrete sins. People usually justify themselves by making a general acknowledgment of sin. But I experience the complete forlornness and corruption of human nature, insofar as I ever experience it at all, when I see my own specific sins.’ (113)

‘Does all this mean that confession to one another is a divine law? No, confession is not a law; rather, it is an offer of divine help for the sinner.’ (114)
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How gospel communities are different to some things that look similar

This is a re-posting. The original version of this video was not working so I have reloaded it.

In this clip I try to explain how our vision in Total Church and The Crowded House is different from some approaches that look similar. While not wanting to exaggerate the differences, I try to explain how our vision contrasts with that of reconstructionists who try to reproduce exactly what was happening the New Testament and pragmatists who are driven by sociological or business models. The key is biblical theology.

This video clip is from the 2010 Total Church Conference in Sheffield, UK. The full conference media are available here.

Bonhoeffer on the way confession creates community

I’m posting a few quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US which I recently reviewed (here).

Bonhoeffer has a long section on confession, partly because he recognises that it is treated with suspicion by many Protestants. Today some quotes on the way confession reinforces community.

‘In confession there takes place a breakthrough to community. Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community. The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and closed isolation of the heart. Sin must be brought into the light. What is unspoken is said openly and confessed. All that is secret and hidden comes to light. It is a hard struggle until the sin crosses one’s lips in confession. But God breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron (Ps. 107:16) Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of another Christian, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders, giving up all evil, giving the sinner’s heart to God and finding the forgiveness of all one’s sin in the community of Jesus Christ and other Christians. Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear apart the community.’ (110)

‘In this connection, we are talking exclusively about confession between two Christians. A confession of sin in the presence of all the members of the congregation is not required to restore one to community with the entire congregation. In the one other Christian to whom I confess my sins and by whom my sins are declared forgiven, I meet the whole congregation.’ (111)

‘In confession there occurs a breakthrough to the cross. The root of all my sin is pride.’ (111)

‘Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one’s pride.’ (111)

‘It is none other than Jesus Christ who openly suffered the shameful death of a sinner in our place, who was not ashamed to be crucified for us as an evildoer. And it is nothing else but our community with Jesus Christ that leads us to the disgraceful dying that comes in confession, so that we may truly share in this cross. The cross of Jesus Christ shatters all pride.’ (111)

‘In confession there occurs a breakthrough to new life. The break with the past is made when sin is hated, confessed, and forgiven. “Everything has become new” (2 Cor 5:17).’ (112)
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Bonhoeffer on giving and receiving rebuke

I’m posting a few quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US which I recently reviewed (here).

Today some quotes on giving and receiving rebuke.

‘The basis on which Christians can speak to one another is that each knows the other as a sinner who, even given all one’s human renown, is forlorn and lost if not given hep. This does not mean that the others are being disparaged or dishonoured. Rather, we are paying them the only real honour a human being has, namely, that as sinners they share in God’s grace and glory, that they are children of God. This realization gives our mutual speech the freedom and openness it needs. We talk to one another about the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our undoing. We are gentle and we are firm with one another, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s firmness. Why should we be afraid of one another since both of us have only God to fear?’ (104/105)

‘The more we learn to allow the other to speak the Word to us, to accept humbly and gratefully even severe reproaches and admonitions, the more free and to the point we ourselves will be in speaking. One who because of sensitivity and vanity rejects the serious words of another Christian cannot speak the truth in humility to others. Such a person is afraid of being rejected and feeling hurt by another’s words. Sensitive, irritable people will always become flatterers, and very soon they will come to despise and slander other Christians in their community. But humble people will cling to both truth and love. They will stick to the Word of God and let it lead them to others in their community. They can help others through the Word because they seek nothing for themselves and have no fears for themselves.’ (105)

‘Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons other to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.’ (105)
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Bonhoeffer on listening to one another and listening to the Word

I’m posting a few quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US which I recently reviewed (here).

Today some telling quotes on how a failure to listen to others reflects a failure to listen to God’s word. Let he who has ears to hear …

‘The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives us God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to “offer” something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either’ they will always be talking even in the presence of God. The death of the spiritual life starts here, and in the end there is nothing left but empty spiritual chatter and clerical condescension which chokes on pious words. Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.’ (98)

‘This impatient, inattentive listening really despises the other Christian and finally is only waiting to get a chance to speak and thus to get rid of the other.’ (99)

‘If proper listening does not precede it, how can it really be the right word for the other? If it is contradicted by one’s own lack of active helpfulness, how can it be a credible and truthful word? If it does not flow from the act of bearing with others, but from impatience and the spirit of violence against others, how can it be the liberating and healing word?’ (103)
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Bonhoeffer on conflict in the community

I’m posting a few quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US which I recently reviewed (here).

Today some quotes on conflict in the community.

‘No sooner are people together than they begin to observe, judge, and classify each other. Thus, even as Christian community is in the process of being formed, an invisible, often unknown, yet terrible life-and-death struggle commences.’ (93)

‘Thus it is a good idea that all members receive a definite task to perform for the community, so that they may know in times of doubt that they too are not useless and incapable of doing anything. Every Christian community must know that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the community.’ (96)

‘What does it matter if I suffer injustice [from others in the community]? Would I not have deserved even more severe punishment from God if God had not treated me with mercy? Is not justice done to me a thousand times over even in injustice? … Those who live by justification by grace are prepared to accept even insults and slights without protest, taking them as from God’s chastising and gracious hand.’ (97)

‘A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed. I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner. That is a blessed discovery for the Christian who is beginning to offer intercessory prayer for others. As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife, that cannot be overcome by intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day.’ (90)

‘Those who take refuge in community while fleeing from themselves are misusing it to indulge in empty talk and distraction, no matter how spiritual this idle talk and distraction may appear.’ (82)

Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community … But the reverse is also true. Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone.’ (82)
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Bonhoeffer on the community together and apart

I’m posting a few quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US which I recently reviewed (here).

Today some quotes on the relationship between the Christian community and activities outside our shared life.

‘Every day brings the Christian many hours of being alone in an unchristian environment. These are times of testing. This is the proving ground of a genuine time of meditation and genuine Christian community. Has the community served to make individuals free, strong, and mature, or has it made them insecure and dependent? Has it taken them by the hand for a while so that they would learn again to walk by themselves, or has it made them anxious and unsure?’ (92)

‘In their solitude they can shatter and tarnish the community or they can strengthen and sanctify it. Every act of self-discipline by a Christian is also a service to the community. Conversely, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community. When the cause of an illness gets into one’s body, whether or not anyone knows where it comes from, or in what member it has lodged, the body is made ill. This is the appropriate metaphor for the Christian community. Every member serves the whole body, contributing either to its health or to its ruin, for we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence. This is not a theory, but a spiritual reality that is often experienced in the Christian community with shocking clarity, sometimes destructively and sometimes beneficially.’ (92)
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