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From the archives : Reconnecting Theology to Mission


(From the archives : this blog was originally posted on March 14th, 2014)

Have you heard the one about how the more theological you are, the less missional you will be? Have you noticed that some churches who want to be more theological tend to grow more slowly than those who are lighter on theology, and bigger on missional practice, contextualisation, and great programs?

Now we aren’t knocking the programs, and the missional practice, or the need to go deeper in theology, but we want to close the gap between theology and practice because the difference doesn’t make sense. Theology is nothing if it’s not practical.

Theology is practical because of the way God reveals himself to us in the gospel. God reveals himself through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son.  Theology is about the person and work of Jesus: the gospel. It can’t get more practical than that.

Theology is practical because of the response the gospel demands of us. Faith and obedience to the revelation of who God is in Christ are practical responses.

Gospel truth must impact practice and belief or it is not proper theology.  Practice and belief must be shaped by who God is in Christ or it will rest on human effort alone, leading to empty religion and rule keeping, or immorality, or both.

The practical truth of the gospel and the gospel shape of the Christian life are wonderfully brought together in Paul’s own understanding of his identity. He understood himself in light of what happened to Jesus.

‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Galatians 2:20).

The gospel pattern is there again in his life’s mission statement:

‘..that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.’ (Philippians 3:10)

And in his goal for his ministry to others:

‘ little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth untilChrist is formed in you.’ (Galatians 4:19)

Everything that happened to Jesus, happened to, and for, Paul. It was as if his life had been woven into the events of the gospel.

The wonderful practical events of the gospel bring us into a new relationship. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are brought through death for sin, and made fit for the presence of the Father. In Jesus, we are acceptable because he is acceptable to God. The Father loves us as he loves the Son.

As we are released by those truths from fears and the power of sin, we become conformed to the family resemblance of our older brother. Our identity, life goals, ministry and practice must be conformed to the truth of the life, death, and resurrection of the saviour. That is theology.

Theology is about gospel formation, not just information. And so, properly understood, theology is about gospel mission; to see people conformed to the gospel.

Therefore everything from leadership training, to pastoring, to planting, to contextualisation, flows from the gospel itself. The gospel is the starting place, the blue print, and the goal.

This post was written by Dr Jonny Woodrow, pastor of The Crowded House, director of The Porterbrook Network, and co-author of ‘The Ascension : Humanity in the Presence of God. The post was taken from the archives of the Porterbrook Blog..

Want to find out more? Our course ‘Gospel Change’  encourages you to apply the gospel deeply to your own life and to minister the gospel to those around you. See more here.gospel-change


The programme-less programme

One of the things we often talk about in Porterbrook material is the need to permeate ordinary life with the gospel.

I remember speaking at a conference about living ordinary life with gospel intentionality. Questioner after questioner asked me about the structures that needed to be in place. But, of course, you cannot programme ordinary life! ‘When do you do evangelism?’ people asked. ‘When do you pastor one another?’ ‘While I do the washing up’ did not seem to satisfy them, but it was the only answer I could give!

Of course, programmes and events are good and can really help reinforce a gospel culture. But if the gospel is going to saturate who whole lives then we need people who are proactively committed to speaking the gospel to unbelievers and believers in ordinary life.

We try to create this culture by things like regularly teaching missional values, celebrating gospel opportunities, setting aside time each time we meet to share how God has been at work in our lives, ‘commissioning’ people as missionaries in their workplaces and social clubs, and so on.

Above all we model the culture for one another so that it becomes the normal thing to do. The communities to which we introduce people must be communities in which it is normal to be talking about God. This means talking about what we are reading in the Bible, praying together whenever we share needs, delighting together in the gospel, sharing our spiritual struggles, not only with Christians but with unbelievers.

Further Reading

To further explore how the Christian life is to be lived in the context of community why not take our course ‘Gospel Community’, click here for details.

This post was written by Tim Chester, pastor of The Crowded House in Sheffield, director of The Porterbrook Seminary and author of over 20 books.