everPresent

everPresent

There’s a new trend in the gospel-centered publishing world: recovering a sense of locality. The time and place in which we live and minister—the physical location God has placed us—this really, really matters. Or, at least it should. Sometimes we struggle to see why we live where we do, what God’s purposes might be in that when we’d much rather live in some far off “exotic” land. And so pastors are rising to the challenge, reminding us how the gospel affects our sense of purpose in the place we are and how we might benefit the world around us by being present.

Jeremy Writebol is the latest voice in the choir with his new book from Gospel-Centered Discipleship, everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present. In this concise book, Writebol asks readers to reprioritize their sense of presence in light of God’s omnipresence—and because there is nowhere He is not, we should see everywhere as an opportunity for worship and missional living:

How would it change the way we see our neighborhoods? How would we live differently in God’s place? How would we work? How would we play? How would we worship? What would we do with the broken places within God’s place? What would we say to the broken people in God’s place? (25)

Being present in light of God’s omnipresence

The first half of everPresent contains its strongest material. Writebol does a terrific job connecting our disconnection with “place” and the gospel itself, pointing readers back to the Fall. We feel dislocated because our souls have been dislocated from the place where they were intended to reside: in proximity to God. And our dislocation is only solved by God relocating us in Christ.

Every religion in the world is constructing systems and paradigms to get us home. The reality, however, is that none of them work. None of them can adequately do the job of restoring the dislocating reality of our sin.… How do we get home? We get home by way of Jesus. He has done everything to bring his dislocated brothers and sisters back to the Father. (48)

A bit repetitive

As much as I appreciated the first half of the book—and again, it is really, really good—the second half is where it falls apart for me. This isn’t because what Writebol says is bad or wrong; it’s simply that there’s nothing I’ve not read in a Tim Keller book or any of the dozens of authors advocating a “missional” lifestyle. As a result, the second half comes across a bit repetitive, if only because it seems like that area has been more or less exhausted.

A strong portrayal of one side of being present, but more balance is needed

Now, that said, I do have one particular issue I feel is important to bring up: marriage and singleness. Much of what Writebol shares in chapter five, which deals with the subject of cultivating a households and families, is very good. In fact, there’s little I would disagree with. Here’s an example:

The goal of conceiving and cultivating children isn’t just to have well-adjusted adults who won’t make a larger mess when they enter the world. The goal of the gospel- shaped home is the sending of our children to live in their homes and bear witness to the relocating power of Jesus as King over all kings. This is often the reason the Scriptures describe the church as a household (Eph. 2:19). In the same way the church is called to make disciples, develop, and then deploy them, the home is a first place for the making of disciples, developing, and then deploying them. The missionary strategy of the church is first played out in the home itself. (79)

This is an example of a passage I wouldn’t have much to disagree with. As a parent, I strongly resonate with what Writebol advocates here. I want my home to have this kind of culture, where our children are discipled and deployed to reach others. And honestly, I can’t think of a Christian parent who would’t want that.

The concern for me arises not so much in the content as the seeming elevation of marriage as the ideal:

The home is the place where Kingdom citizens fulfill the mandate to cultivate a new generation of loyal followers of the King. By implication this means that, as God allows, every Christian should endeavor to get married and have children. Making a home for the Kingdom means, at the most basic level, fulfilling the mandate to make babies. This does not mean that every Christian will be married and have children, but again, as God allows, this should be the default intention of our home lives. (75)

While, again, I agree to a point—every married Christian should endeavor, as God allows, to have children, I’m not entirely sure I agree with the assertion that every Christian should endeavor to get married (even with the necessary caveat of “as God allows” in place). The Bible presents what seems to be an elevated view of singleness for the purpose of ministry. Single believers have a flexibility and freedom for the pursuit of mission that those of us who are married and have children simply don’t.

For example: as a parent and provider for four other people, I have to filter all the opportunities I receive through their needs: does this take away from my ability to emotionally and spiritually invest in my family, does it allow me to provide for their physical needs, and so on. But a single believer, ultimately, only has one serious question to answer: is this the place where I am best able to further the work of the gospel? There is much freedom there, something we would do well to remember in any discussion of locality and being present.

Now, in reading the book, it’s clear that Writebol is not intending to marginalize single Christians as second-class believers. It’s simply that he winds up showing only one side of a powerful witness from believers who are invested in the places they live. I would have loved to have seen the other side given as much attention for a more balanced perspective.

Overall, despite what I perceive as a few missteps and the repetitive feel of the latter half, there is much to be appreciated about everPresent. As an introduction to the conversation and a discussion starter, it is very good and well worth reading. Just don’t let it be the only book you read on the subject.


Title: everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present
Author: Jeremy Writebol
Publisher: Gospel-Centered Discipleship (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Gospel-Centered Discipleship

How do we fix the problem of celebrity-ism?

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Monday, after sharing a few thoughts on the latest bit of controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll, I made the following statement:

Maybe our question should really be: how do we fix the problem of “celebrity-ism” that’s seeped into the church?

I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would deny this is a problem—not just for pastors with a particularly large platform, but for laypeople, too. I think the solution really comes down to one thing:

Regaining a right view of oneself. 

I know—totally revolutionary and world-changing, right? Bear with me a minute:

How does celebrity-ism start? It always—always—begins when we forget who we are. For pastors, maybe the congregation’s grown to a size when people are starting to take notice. More people show up. Podcasts downloads increase. Someone suggests writing a book. That book sells more than three copies.

For bloggers (yeah, it happens there, too), it’s more or less the same. Traffic increases, shares are up, comments are exploding. Sooner or later, the idea of writing a book comes up and it, again, sells a few copies.

Maybe you’re in sales and rocking your quotas. Maybe you’re a mom who’s kids actually clean their rooms and stay in bed at night. Maybe you’re a barista who makes a wicked-awesome latte. Whatever your thing is, if you’re nailing it and people are taking notice, it can make you think you’re a pretty big deal.

But here’s the problem: it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a New York Times Bestseller or a blog with half-decent traffic—you’re just a person. So it’s silly to start thinking too much of yourself, isn’t it? [Read more...]

What’s your small group story?

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Today’s post is by Ben Reed. Ben is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN area. In addition to pastoring, preaching, and writing, Ben has a great passion for coffee. Good coffee, that is. And CrossFit. But not at the same time. You can journey along with Ben at BenReed.net and learn more about his new book, Starting Small, at smallgroupblueprint.com.


Nobody ever stated it outright, but the way our local church was structured growing up made me feel like the Sunday morning experience was the most important aspect of my walk with Jesus. Maybe it was self-imposed, but I felt like if I missed a Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Tuesday evening, Wednesday evening, or the random youth trip, I’d be smote. Or smoten? Or smitten? No… that’s something else entirely.

It’s easy for churches to slide into this mindset, because whether you like it or not, Sunday morning is coming. It doesn’t matter what kind of dreaming, strategic planning, or structural work you do throughout the week. If you don’t prepare for Sunday you’ll fall flat on your face.

So you dump more time. More resources. More energy. More staff. More planning. Into ensuring Sunday morning is air-tight.

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Don’t get me wrong, corporate worship is vital to our faith. It’s an environment that corrects, teaches, energizes, and worships Jesus.

But without relational connection, The Church isn’t the Church. At best, it’s a show. At worst, it’s a complete waste of our time, energy, and resources.

You and I are the Church. Not the buildings we build. Not the walls we construct. Not the pews we sit in.

The Church exists outside the four walls of our church buildings. You know that, right?

That’s why I wrote Starting Small. To promote small group health. To lay out a strategy for starting small groups, no matter the size of your church. No matter the location. No matter the demographics.

And to help small groups become more effective disciple-makers.

I’ve told my story through group life, failures and all, to help build healthy, authentic, biblical, God-honoring small groups around the world.

What’s your small group story?


Ben has kindly offered two copies of his new book, Starting Small, to give away to readers here. How do you win? Simple: share your small group story—what have you loved; what’s been most challenging? Ben will pick his two favorite answers at the end of the day Wednesday. Winners will be notified by email.