Matt Miles is the director of Jesus Collective and a paragraph in the description of the network states that it is for those who ‘resonate deeply with Jesus-centred values and have a high value for scripture, regardless of context, label, or background’. This says a lot about Matt and his organisation, but you can read all about it at https://jesuscollective.com
Please note that this is a transcript of the actual interview we had with Matt and that we have kept editorial changes to an absolute minimum to retain the feel and tone of the conversation.
Lance Peppler: Welcome to the captivated by Jesus series on the truth talks podcast. My name is Lance Peppler, and the son of the regular host of the podcast, Dr Christopher Peppler.
As part of the Captivated by Jesus series, we are interviewing church leaders from around the world. Today we’re joined by Matt Miles, from Toronto, Canada. So to introduce Matt, he’s the executive director of Jesus Collective. And the Jesus Collective, which I hope you look up and you search for on the internet, is a relational network of Jesus centred leaders and churches. He is husband to Fiona, dad to Jessica, (I’ve also got a daughter called Jessica), and lives on the east side of Toronto. He’s passionate about advancing the Kingdom, growing disciples, and giving more visibility to the life-giving and life-changing Jesus-centred Way.
To begin the interview I’d like to start by reciting a poem, or in this case, a song. And it’s a very popular song, “Jesus be the Centre of it all”, by Israel and New Breed.
Jesus at the centre of it all
Jesus at the centre of it all
from beginning to the end
it will always be it’s always been You
Nothing else matters
Nothing in this world will do
Jesus, you’re the centre and everything revolves around you
from our heart to the heavens
Jesus be the centre
It’s all about you
Yes, it’s all about you.
So welcome to the podcast, Matt.
Matt Miles: Thanks, Lance. It’s great to be here. And I love that song. What a great way to start things off.
Lance: Yes, one of my favourites as well. Matt, thank you so much for joining us. Can I start by asking you, how did you become a believer? How did you encounter Jesus?
Matt: Yes, you bet, and I’ll warn you, my answer isn’t that exciting or dramatic. I grew up in a Christian home, here in Ontario, Canada, in southern Ontario. So I had the privilege like some of us have, of inheriting faith, from a family that loved God and loved Jesus. I was a part of the Anglican Church growing up, my parents are still part of the Anglican Church. Now it was a beautiful church background. So I kind of had to grow into the clothes that my family gave me spiritually, appreciated the chance to do that, and I don’t have a particular moment in time. I’ve often envied people who have that moment in time when they can point to where they began to follow Jesus. Like I said, I kind of grew into that, over time, like a lot of people.
In my early adult years, I had a very deep encounter with Jesus that really changed my perspective on him being the centre of the universe, but also my faith and in my life. And that was profound for me. And that’s really just continued ever since. So, you know, that’s kind of how I became a believer through inheritance, but really started to get to know who Jesus really was, I think in my early adult years, I haven’t looked back.
Lance: And could you talk to us about that encounter?
Matt: Yes, I think what happened for me there, Lance, you know, wasn’t overnight. It’s something that takes time. But I started to realize that Jesus is, wow, this is a scandalous god-man. Here he is scandalously and radically welcoming, relational, peace-making and invitational. There’s so much about Jesus that isn’t just the flannel board, soft character, that some of us are raised to believe he is, and there’s so much about the church that we’re tempted to centre on that isn’t actually consistent with who Jesus is, and his vision for the kingdom on earth and the church. And so not only was I starting to reorient my understanding of who he was, and, and kind of wind down some of the perceptions I had about who he was, and replace them with more accurate understandings, but I was also starting to see what it meant to put him at the centre of everything and how that really just changes the game entirely on my view of who God is, but also who I am and then what churches are and how we relate to the world around us. All those things start to change when you start encountering and experiencing the love of Jesus and meeting him as a person and God. So that’s it; everything changed when I started to see him that way.
Lance: Fantastic, Matt. And so to the second question that I’m going to ask you which is again focused on you. You’ve said, you know, you had this encounter over a period of time. What do you think of Jesus now, and I’m asking for both an intellectually and an emotional perspective of Jesus?
Matt: I think one of the things that’s so cool, and this one I’ve learned from one of my theological mentors, here in Canada, if you look at the teaching of Jesus, it bears the mark of the miraculous, it fits our needs holistically as human beings and as a population of human beings, so perfectly. Everything from the pragmatic and practical needs that we have for safety and security. But maybe to where you’re getting with your question a little bit, also our relational needs, our emotional needs, our needs for, you know, esteem and value and worth. His teaching is a perfect fit for who even science would declare we are as humans and what our needs are. I love that Jesus is both sensitive to our need for evidence and rationale. I mean, we see that all through his life on Earth, if not, throughout Scripture entirely, you know, the way he interacts with Thomas, the way he points back to the prophets, he does not dismiss our quest for understanding and our quest for running a ramp of reason before we’re ready to take a leap of faith. You know, Jesus Himself models what it means to be sound in our routing in Scripture and yet, it’s our whole self that he’s interested in speaking to, and he’s inherently relational.
I love to that he’s a God who loves questions. That’s something else I learned in my encounter with being Jesus centred. He’s not interested in erecting a fence and measuring who’s in or out, he’s interested in moving people towards him.
That happens through questioning and the pursuit of relationship and to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, not because we’ll ever attain it perfectly, but because a relationship develops along the way, as we pursue understanding. I think he models that, I mean he invited Matthew as a tax collector, a sinner, into his discipleship ring because he knew what it meant to draw someone to himself on a pathway of understanding and relationship. He models the intellectual, the emotional, the relational, quite frankly, perfectly and comprehensively. I love that Jesus is brilliant.
Lance: Thank you so much. Matt I’d like to draw the conversation towards the local church, the bride, and I know you love the church, and your organization is doing fantastic work in churches. I want to ask you almost another introductory question, hopefully, a very easy question for you to answer, and it is, what do you believe the role of Jesus is in in the local church and every church? What role does he play?
Matt: Yes, it should be such a simple answer. I think, honestly, he’s the cornerstone. And you know, that’s not just a trite answer. But if we’re building our church foundation around anything other than Jesus as the central stabilizing mechanism, then we’re missing the point. He told us, he gave us this teaching, right? If we’re building our house on anything but the rock it’s gonna wash away, and we, you know, we’ve kind of put all those parables and teachings into some cute little basket. But the reality is they contain really profound and simple truth, right?
Lance: I agree fully. Thank you so much. My next question is a little bit more tricky. I’ve heard other responses during other interviews that we shouldn’t criticize the church, but, and it’s a very general question so forgive me, if you look at the church, in Canada, America, across the world, do you think Jesus has that place? Do you think He is the cornerstone of the majority of churches in the world and the centre of churches around the world?
Matt: Yes, such an important question. I mean, if we asked a lot of Christians, would you consider yourself Jesus centred as a church or as an individual? I think a lot of them would answer Yes. And you know, what, if I give them the benefit of the doubt, which is how I want to live, and how I want to think and treat other people and churches, I think they mean it. That’s an authentic answer. At the same time, I think, to your point, it is important as a kingdom family to be introspective, and self-aware, and constructive in our discussion with one another about the fact that he’s probably not actually at the centre in a lot of instances. It’s tough to generalise, because there are beautiful examples and I think it’s important to say that around the world there are truly Jesus centred communities and churches, and they all look different. By the way, none of us has cornered the market or should think we do exactly what it means to look Jesus centred in our context. Right. So this isn’t about judgment. And I don’t sense that in your question. Yeah, yeah, let’s get to the point. I do agree. I think it’s important to name humbly and with a learning posture that we’re observing that there are large portions of the church that just appear to have placed other things at the centre. And people will often say, what do you mean, and I think it’s things we’ve placed, e.g. politics, at the centre, meaning we’ve started a conversation there. And then we’ve tried to fit Jesus into our politics, or we’ve placed the institution of the church at the centre. Or we’ve even placed things that Jesus loves and cares about, like justice is a great example, and we can get a bit confused and put justice at the centre. And kind of invite Jesus into our conversation about justice as someone who maybe can help us move that cause forward, that’s ever so slightly different than placing Jesus at the centre, of fixing our eyes on him. And then immediately, we care about the things that he cares about, like justice, but we approach them so differently tethered to Jesus, not trying to bring him along and advance our cause that’s superior to him, right. So even good things like justice we put at the centre or things like the Bible, there’s one to talk about! The western church, and particularly the evangelical mainstream church, often even will talk with language, like we’re, we’re Bible centred, Bible churches. And you know, there’s a lot of layers of the onion to peel back here. But we love our Bibles.
Our Bibles are an amazing, inspired and useful tool, to do what? To point us to Jesus. But if we read our Bibles, without placing Jesus at the centre of the Bible, and without using him as a lens through which to filter the beauty of Scripture, we’re missing the point.
And even Jesus told us if we do that, we’re missing the point, he told the Pharisees, you’re looking through the Scriptures for truth, but you’re forgetting that they actually point to me, that’s the whole point here. So when we place the Bible at the centre, what we oftentimes do, we give ourselves permission to pick and choose things that have context that suit our agenda, or that fit the image of God that we would love to perceive. And we reduced Jesus to a bit player in a plot, as opposed to the central point of Scripture through which the rest of it is understood. So maybe that’s gone beyond your question.
Lance: Matt, my next question is an extension of that. If there are churches, and some would say quite a lot of churches, that have different things at the centre and I can’t help imagining what the church would look like, you know, across the world if the majority of churches place Jesus at the centre so you didn’t have the minority of churches doing that, but the majority of churches would do that. I want to ask you, do you have any thinking about how that would influence society, the world and the churches that do this? Do you have any thoughts on that? Or do you think it wouldn’t change dramatically?
Matt: Love this question. I think everything would change! I’m not just trying to be dramatic, like Jesus is that big of a deal. This is that important of a conversation we’re having. It’s not just some abstract little nuance of Christianity, we’re talking about here, everything would change. So here’s some things: I think, unity, the kind that Jesus prayed for in John 17, which apparently he seemed to think would be our biggest, most important apologetic to the world, right? He says, when you’re united, people are going to see what God’s love looks like. Okay, so if a church centres on Jesus, and has the possibility of uniting around him, even in our differences, I think that becomes the most powerful antidote to the polarization that is crippling the world in this cultural moment right now. So there’s a change right there as the world starts to see, not a judgmental body of people that’s trying to morally police the universe and doing that very poorly. But rather, it’s a bastion of unity, not where no one cares about anything. That’s not the point. It’s not just a fuzzy environment where anything goes, but it’s a point where we unite around Jesus and people start to feel drawn into that.
So I think that’s what one answer is, I think what would start to change is people would see that unity is possible in our differences because we’re not just fighting for causes. We’re uniting around a person that’s bigger than our differences. I think for churches to be centred on Jesus, their whole teaching and theological paradigm would change.
If churches started to teach through the lens of Jesus, that frees us up from a house of cards, theology, that’s centred on things like atonement theories, sexual ethics, health theories. I mentioned creation theories before all of which, by the way, matter deeply in the pursuit of knowing God and understanding who he is on all these different topics and realities is important. But it frees us up to walk towards him, through learning and listening to one another, as we understand these different realities, rather than holding up our house of cards, based on a particular understanding of all these things that, quite frankly, don’t necessarily have anything to do with the centrality of Jesus. You know, my faith doesn’t hinge on a particular creation theory. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about understanding that and learning of who God is through that, no, but my faith starts and ends with Jesus and it frees me up to pursue these other points of understanding in a very different way. So I think that would be a radical change for churches right there.
I think discipleship changes Lance, if we as churches focused on Jesus at the centre. Now discipleship isn’t about policing that fence I mentioned earlier in what we might call a bonded set environment where it’s all about setting who’s in and out based on our characteristics, or what we believe, etc. Now, discipleship changes, because you and I can walk together as brothers and sisters in Christ in a way where we’re not just so focused on convincing each other what the right answer is, and conducting one another, through this, you know, miss misunderstood meaning of accountability that is often applied in the church. But instead what we’re doing is we are inviting one another, with Jesus together and actually trusting that he’s going to be the one that transforms us the way that he wants to. That, to me is a profound difference in what discipleship means and how it looks in our communities. It creates a much more welcoming, compelling invitational environment for people to encounter the person in love of Jesus as opposed to be morally policed in a church environment. And lo and behold, that actually is what leads to transformation and that’s becoming more like Jesus anyways, which is the whole goal. So I think discipleship changes radically under the question you asked. I guess as I’ve been saying, I think, naturally, the church just becomes a more welcoming and compelling and invitational place to people on the margins as well.
I think the way we teach changes, I think the way I think changes, I think the way we disciple people changes, I think the way we invite marginalized people into our community changes, and there’s way more than that, but there’s some of my thoughts on that. Yes, it’s a beautiful question, what would happen if churches centred on Jesus? I think everything changes.
Lance: I love that answer, Matt. My next question is, you mentioned early on about the Trinity and unity and love between, you know, God, the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I would like one of the things we are looking at and trying to investigate to be what role does the Holy Spirit play? I would love to think that the Holy Spirit would bless and be really involved in a church that focused on Jesus. I’m not necessarily talking about revival here although I think a lot of people, including me, would love to see revival. But I’m just thinking, will the Holy Spirit bless a church that is focused on Jesus. The second part of that question is, how does that look? If your answer to the first question is yes, you know, the Holy Spirit would really bless a church like that, then what would it look like? What would the blessing of the Holy Spirit in a church like that be? Do you have any answers to those two questions?
Matt: Those are great questions. I love that we’re talking about the Spirit Lance, because sometimes, and I understand this, sometimes people who hear a conversation about Jesus centricity like this one, they ask a very good question, which is, so what are you saying about God the Father and about the Holy Spirit? Are you diminishing the importance and relevance of the Trinity with this obsession with Jesus? I think it’s a really important point to orient ourselves to what we mean by placing Jesus at the centre, visa a vis the Trinity. When we do that, when we put Jesus at the centre, we see the Holy Spirit which Jesus Himself reminds us is His Spirit.? The Spirit is referred to in a number of ways; the Spirit of God, but it’s also the Spirit of Jesus. It puts the Spirit in its rightful place as one who points us to Jesus. The Spirit reminds us who Jesus is, and of course, the Spirit imparts on us gifts and has other important roles as part of the Trinity. So the Spirit is blowing us to Jesus. When we get to Jesus, what does Jesus say we see, he says, we see the exact image and replication of the Father. So in that sense, placing Jesus at the centre is this perfect orientation and honouring of what the Trinity was designed to be in all of its parts. It doesn’t mean it’s just Jesus and we don’t talk about the Spirit and the Holy Father. So anyway, I use that as a preface because I think it gives a bit of a foundation for your question, if so, will the Holy Spirit bless a church like that? Yes, I think that is what the Spirit is trying to do is blow us towards Jesus and point us towards him. So I think the Holy Spirit is cheering when we centre on Jesus and saying – this is my work, my work – as the Spirit is to have you be oriented towards Jesus, not be a distraction over here. That’s like, hey, guys, look at me. I’m the Holy Spirit. Don’t forget about me while you’re worshipping Jesus, because we both need airtime. He’s like no, I’m trying to point everybody to Jesus so yes, I think the Holy Spirit is almost like an indecipherable that you can’t parse out. Jesus centricity and the blessing of the Spirit as one in my mind, because as I said, if we see the Spirit as pointing us to Jesus as one then he’s celebrating, and blessing churches that are centred on him, and I think what we’d see Lance, we’d see real transformation of people, and transformation of communities. Like if we actually think about that word transformation, for a minute, without just kind of letting it go by and not stopping on it, like, I think we would really see that as the Holy Spirit blesses our churches He is changing lives.
Actually transformed people fall in love with Jesus, not just academically and intellectually. But he’s a living Spirit. And he’s renewing our minds. He’s transforming us through the renewing of our minds.
If the Holy Spirit blesses the church, that means there’s a whole bunch of people who are allowing him to take the keys of driving our minds, which of course, sounds dangerously offensive in a culture where we don’t want anyone to be our Lord. But it’s healthy when the one driving your mind, and with the keys, is God who has your perfect interest in mind and who loves you, and who loves everyone. That’s the only person I want to give the keys to my mind. So I think what happens, Lance, when the Spirit blesses churches, a whole bunch of people start giving him the keys to their minds and our hearts. And he starts moving us towards Jesus in ways that are just transformative individually. But then, as a consequence of that, our communities transform around us like a national transformational change. Yeah, different than before, when the Spirit gets involved. It’s not just a better version of ourselves. We’re not trying to paint the kingdoms of the world with Jesus coloured paint. That’s not his mission. The Spirit helps us point to Jesus in a way that’s transformative. I also think, maybe a slightly more practical answer to your question.
What would happen if the Holy Spirit blesses his church? I think we would see conviction on some of our leadership that isn’t Spirit led. In Jesus centred, we would see leadership systems that are patriarchal or that have unhealthy power dynamics at play, we’d see those start to yield to a Spirit-led version of what it means to lead our communities as servants the way Christ served the church.
And I think, you know, no conversation about this subject is complete without talking about gifts. Right. It’s not just ticking the box. I mean, I think it is part of your question, I think is, if the Spirit is blessing a church, what we’d see happening is these gifts that God has given all of us being dusted off and being lifted out from the cracks that they’ve fallen into. And lifted out from the lies we’ve all been told about how we’re not good enough, we need to look more like that, we need to accomplish this in order to be useful, and we need to have this position in a church in order to contribute. We’d see the smoke of all those lies clear away and the gifts that the Spirit has given us, be used to advance his kingdom in powerful ways. You know, I find it interesting when I ask in church groups – okay, everybody, let’s talk about what gifts you have. How comfortable are you naming them? You know what, my heart breaks sometimes because I see people immediately fall into this position of oh no I don’t have gifts. I can’t talk about gifts, that I would be too proud. If I talked about gifts, or I’m not good enough to talk about my gifts, I think, oh, gosh, I think God’s looking down on us right now saying, guys, I’m giving you through the Spirit, a whole bunch of gifts, but you need to be self-aware about them, if you’re going to use them come on. Like, it’s a good thing to acknowledge what gifts you have to use in the church. So I think we got a whole bunch of gifts lying around that are not being used and could be put into use to build the kingdom.
I think if the Spirit, blesses the church, those gifts would start to glow again in the people of the church, and would just be used to help build the kingdom. So there’s some thoughts on the Holy Spirit.
Lance: Incredible. Thank you so much Matt. The last question that I’m going to ask you, potentially the most difficult one of all, so be ready, is that now we have a Christ centred church, and the Holy Spirit is blessing the church, I just wanted to know, are there things that church leaders can do to almost cultivate this and to make it happen? Are there things that the church can do to make their church more Jesus centred? During the worship, the worship of Jesus, how can that be done to really accentuate and focus on Jesus, or the preaching, or other areas of the church? Does the church need to be on fire with the leaders focused on Jesus which fires up the people to be transformed? Or is it transformed people who come and fire up the church? What advice can you give to church leaders to make their church more Jesus centred and Jesus focused?
Matt: Yes you’re right. That is a tough question here. I thought we were through all the hard questions. But it is an important one. Because if we’re not asking how the rubber hits the road on this, then what’s the point? Right, so yeah, I think it’s a great question. And you know what, I think Jesus has a way of being bigger than our perspective on any one methodology.
My first answer, although it’s probably potentially the most abstract, is that a church needs to really submit to Jesus as Lord, and the leaders of the church need to submit to Jesus as Lord first.
Now, again, that could sound obvious, but we have been held captive by an incomplete gospel. In so much of the church for so long, that understanding Jesus as Lord is sometimes a lost point. We have overemphasized Jesus as saviour. And by the way, I’m all on board with Jesus as saviour. Just to be clear, it’s a key central part of the gospel, save the cards and letters, everyone. Yes, that’s absolutely true. But there’s more to the gospel than Jesus is Lord. In fact, we hear in Scripture, when we accept Jesus as Lord, we get him as saviour as part of the package. If we say with our mouth that Jesus is, what? is Lord, right, so I’m starting here, I guess, Lance, because I think if we’re trying to transform a church to be Jesus centred, and we haven’t actually submitted to him, the one who’s Master, as opposed to just treating him like the one at the front door handing out tickets to heaven for when we die, and that our life here on earth doesn’t matter. You know, we’re never going to become a Jesus centred church if our perspective on the gospel hinges on salvation as an insurance policy against going to hell. That’s just not enough. That’s not enough of a cornerstone to build a Jesus centred church.
I, I don’t know that this matters so much. So it starts with a theological foundation. And I’m not trying to get academic and heady. I just think it is our understanding of who God is. Any of us who are leading church communities, if we don’t start with that and commit to orienting a gospel around Jesus’s lordship, how will it ever be extended to permeate into us to becoming a Jesus centred church, right. So I think leaders need to commit to that transformation themselves. And as a practical note, I would say and we’re doing this with a lot of churches, start with you and your team. If you’re in church leadership, not because you’re in the ivory tower, and you have power over others. No, start with your own process of submission to Jesus’s as Lord, then get together with your team, and start going on a journey of defining what the gospel is, and in Jesus centred terms start building a foundation of how we see God through Jesus, how we interpret scriptures through Jesus and how we’re about to shape a community that can be diverse around Jesus. And that doesn’t mean that leaders have to get it perfect before they can start the journey. But my point is, if leaders aren’t committed to that kind of transformation in the Lordship of Jesus, who are leading a church community, it’s going to be very difficult for the whole body to get excited about that. I would do practical things like I would commit to starting to teach through the Sermon on the Mount, even if that’s a challenging thing to do. God is going show up if we just start saturating ourselves in Jesus teaching and his character,
I believe, even if and as we’re on a journey, and we don’t understand fully he’s going to show up if we just commit to those basics. So those are a few practical things. I mean, we could say here’s the tricks and tips and tools but again, if you don’t believe that God looks like Jesus and that his Lordships is at the centre of the gospel, the tricks and tips and tools, are pointless.
Lance: Yeah, we definitely don’t want like a three or five or seven steps to doing this. We don’t want a formula for sure, because Jesus is too wild and too unmanageable. Matt, it’s been so wonderful to speak to you. Hopefully, you know, I’m going to carry on following what you’re doing. And I advise and encourage everyone to do so. Matt, could you close in pray for us?
Matt: I’d be honoured to do that.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, what a joy, what a joy.
Just talking about and diving deeper into what it means to place you, Jesus, at the centre of everything.
Just naming that you are the first to last. You are wonderful and mighty and beautiful. You’re alive. And you’re our Lord. And that is good news. Jesus, compel us in our own lives and in the lives of the communities that were part of, to continue fixing our eyes on you.
Holy Spirit, blow us towards Jesus and draw us in, unite us in our differences in this polarizing (z’s or s’s?) moment in time, Jesus, that we may be a light to the world in the darkness.
Thanks for giving us hope that all of this is possible through you and through the local church.
We love you. We love you.
And I’m just so grateful for the chance to hang out with my friend today.
Will you bless their ministry, and I’m grateful for this time together.
In your name we pray, Amen.