I have been concerned for decades that the church in general has lost its focus on Jesus. I am not the only one who thinks this.
For instance, Prof Len Sweet has written and spoken extensively on this subject over many years and he wrote the foreword to my book Truth is the Word: Restoring a Lost Focus. The TITW site is also part of my response to what Len calls a ‘Jesus Deficit Disorder’ and I have posted many Jesus-centred articles and podcasts on this site over the years.
Next week, we are releasing a podcast with this introduction of the series. However, we are giving readers, who do not usually access the audio versions, a transcript of what Lance and I discuss in the podcast – Here it is:
Interview for introduction to “Captivated by Jesus” series
Chris: “Hello all. As you probably know, Truth is the Word is a Jesus-centred repository of resources. It is all about Jesus and his centrality to church, biblical understanding, and Christian life. I have a strong desire to see the church Jesus-centred and this is something that I strived for over three decades in the church I pastored (The Village Church), and in the seminary which I founded (The South African Theological Seminary).
However, when I look at churches and seminaries around the world I cannot but observe that most are not Jesus-centred. What I mean by this is that they do not seem to adopt Jesus’ life, words, work, and revelation of the Godhead as their focal point for determining doctrine and practice.
At the beginning of 2021, after many long months of COVID-19 partial separation, my son Lance and I started to have breakfast together every two weeks. After a couple of breakfasts, he started to speak of his unhappiness with his church and the church in general. He said that he had started to realise that the church didn’t seem to be focused on Jesus, and definitely not obsessed with Jesus.
So we have decided to see if we can make a joint contribution at this time to lifting up Jesus and to encourage churches and believers to be more Jesus-centred. We have decided that we will have a 12-week series on Truth is the Word, called “Captivated by Jesus”. This is a product of Lance’s desire to contribute to reviving the church and is a vision and endeavour I wholeheartedly share and support.
The reason for this particular post is to introduce the series and Lance to you so that it doesn’t come as a complete shock when you hear his voice and see his name and not mine.
So, Lance – could you introduce yourself and the reason for the Captivated by Jesus series we are doing together?
Lance: Thank you dad and hello to your listeners. Before I begin, I want to say that I don’t have a theological background and nor have I held leadership positions at the churches I have attended. However, I am a Spirit-filled believer with a very solid Christian foundation.
During my life, I have attended quite a few churches and most of them have disappointed me. During the last ten years especially, I have found myself attending church more as an obligation and something that I needed to do for my family. I have often wondered if this is the sort of church that Jesus envisaged when he said he would build his church. The churches I have attended have often been so lifeless, so full of programs and duty and actually centred on so much else other than Jesus. They seemed centred on a charismatic leader who has a grand vision and purpose, or focused on social justice, or rules and processes, or even just on keeping the church going as an institution.
This came to the fore for me again when my wife and I decided to leave the church we were attending. We had been attending this church for over 8 years and we were very involved to the point where my wife was an elder. One of the side effects of being in the “inner circle” of the church was being exposed to all the human stuff a church goes through – from church politics to coming up with big multi-year plans to grow the church. The reason we eventually left the church was when the lead couple, unfortunately, decided to divorce which became very messy.
Chris: So it is clear that you have been unhappy with the church, but what do you think the problem is?
People are the problem. People want to control things and the church.
It actually makes me quite mad when I hear and see the church being managed like a business. Church leaders from the world still go through to the Global Leadership Summit to learn the business of the church. If you do a search on church growth, you will mainly find just strategies to be put into place. Church starts to feel like a business aimed at producing a result. Stylised services with some singing, preaching that is aimed at getting a response, perhaps an altar call, perhaps prayer… and then people leave. People often become resources to work in sound, Sunday School, and so on, and often there is pressure on people to get involved complete with guilt trips if they don’t. Finance is also a big thing with these churches, needing money to operate but always with a small percentage of people who contribute financially.
Chris: Thanks Lance, that is very sad and disturbing. So what can be done about it?
Lance: The answer could be so simple that I am almost embarrassed to say it. The answer is Jesus.
It starts with a question, ‘what is the purpose of the church?’ A common answer is “The Church Exists to Preach the Gospel and Make Disciples of All Nations. God wants us to evangelise the world with the message of eternal life through Jesus Christ.”. This, of course, is true but is this the fundamental purpose of the church? Well, I think that the purpose of the church is to “Help people to know and love Jesus and to make him known to all”.
Looking again at the subject of church growth. Yes, you could run evangelism programs, have seeker-sensitive churches, effective marketing, and other things. But, what if church growth was much simpler than this? What if the Holy Spirit brought about church growth by drawing people to the church? Could be, but how would this happen? So a deeper question is, what kind of church would the Holy Spirit draw people to? Well, I think the answer is, a church that loves Jesus, is obsessed with Jesus and makes Him known and when people go to this church they experience Jesus. A church that is Jesus-centred and captivated by Jesus.
I know I run the risk of falling into the trap of putting this into a formula or method. You know, If you become Jesus-centred then certain things will happen in the church. I am really trying not to.
I often think of John 3:14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life”. This talks about how Jesus’ death on the cross, but I think it also applies to Jesus being lifted up, now, by the church.
I think of the problem I raised earlier about having to beg people to get involved and of so few contributed financially. Would this be the situation if the church loved Jesus and the majority of people loved Jesus? Wouldn’t people want to be involved? Wouldn’t people want to give generously?
Chris: I have to say I agree with you in principle, but I have been a pastor for decades and I can tell you that it isn’t as simple as that. Despite the fact that I built the local church around the centrality of Jesus and my passionate commitment to the centrality of him, I found that over the years things changed. New people joined, new leaders came in, the church grew numerically demanding more administration and funding, and so on. At one point, I realised that we had gradually slipped from our single-minded focus on Jesus. So, we split the extended leadership team of the church into workshop groups to examine just how Jesus-centred we were in every area and department of church life. Then we brainstormed how we could ‘return to our first love’. It is true that the Holy Spirit is the one who draws people to a Jesus-centred church, but we also have a role to play in ensuring that we actually are as captivated by Jesus as we think.
Lance: I think this is what the Captivated by Jesus series is all about. There are so many unanswered questions:
- What does a Jesus-centred church look like?
- Does a church have to be more than Jesus-centred and actually be passionate, or I dare say, obsessed with Jesus?
- Would the Holy Spirit bless a church like this?
- What would this blessing look like?
I am not saying that the Captivated by Jesus series will answer these questions, but it is an opportunity to look at these questions and, most importantly, to focus on and raise Jesus up: To consider his qualities and the wonder of who he is: To rekindle passion for him.
Chris: Thank you son. So, folks, when you hear Lance interviewing people in future podcasts, you now know who is and his vision and role in the Captivated by Jesus series. We are looking forward very much to this series and we are confident that you will be blessed by it. Please tell your friends and contacts about it and encourage them to subscribe to the podcasts at truthistheword.com
The next blog post will be the audio/podcast of this interview and the one after that will be a transcript of an interview with the South African church leader and author Alexander Venter; the podcast will follow the week after that (you may have noticed the pattern we are working in is written blogs every second week and TruthTalks every other).
We are looking forward to this series and I do hope you will follow it and also tell others about it.