There’s More to Romans Than Personal Salvation

How Western readers miss the meaning of Paul’s letter—and how an Eastern perspective can correct the imbalance.


There’s More to Romans Than Personal Salvation

For much of church history, Christians have brought Western cultural assumptions to their reading of Scripture. But as the church’s geographic center of gravity has shifted from the West to the Majority World, believers across the globe have come forward to offer fresh insights on God’s Word. Jackson W. (a pseudonym), an American-born theologian teaching at an Asian seminary, builds on that work in his latest book, Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission, which reexamines the apostle’s famous letter. Missiologist Jayson Georges, coauthor of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials, spoke with Jackson about the value of bringing East Asian perspectives to bear on the message of Romans.

The ideas in Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes emerged from both your research and overseas ministry experience. Can you share some of the story behind the book?

For some time, I’ve noticed confusion stemming from the way Western Christians evangelize and explain Christianity to people in China. Whether you talk about certain terms, concepts, or emphases, there is a basic disconnect. However, the Bible has several themes that make more sense to a typical person in East Asia: specifically, issues related to honor, shame, and group identity.

At the same time, many Westerners overlook the significance of honor and shame in the Bible and the Christian life. Their reading of Romans minimizes the importance of honor and shame. For them, Romans is definitive proof that legal categories trump all other metaphors and concepts in Scripture. So I figured I would make my case from perhaps the most so-called “legal” book in the New Testament. If we can see the pervasive influence of honor-shame dynamics in Romans, then clearly these are critical categories of thought that should shape how we read the entire Bible.

How does reading Paul’s letter through an “honor-shame lens” help us understand his argument?

One major theme is collective identity. For most readers, Paul is speaking to individuals about being saved from sin and then sanctified as they walk in the Spirit. But that oversimplification misses a more fundamental concern that underlies Paul’s letter—who is God’s family?

The Jew-Gentile divide is central to Paul. God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations is at the crux of Paul’s theology. God’s honor is at stake. Will he keep his promises? If Paul’s Jewish opponents are correct to say that people must become Jews as a prerequisite to becoming God’s people, then God cannot keep his promise from Genesis 12:3, which Paul explicitly calls “the gospel” in Galatians 3:8.

What’s more, reading Romans with an honor-shame lens helps us see more subtle dynamics at play. For instance, when Paul recounts Israel’s story and her presumption of divine favor, he makes a subtle yet superb argument against the mindset held by certain readers. Many Romans saw themselves as “Greek,” which implied that they were full of wisdom and the cultural envy of the world. They looked down on non-Greeks, who were derided as “barbarians.” However, it is this “backward” group of people in Spain to whom Paul professes a desire to preach the gospel (Rom. 15:24). He wants assistance from the Roman church but worries that the cultural pride of its members might discourage them from supporting his mission. So Paul recasts the Romans in the role of ancient Jews and the barbarians in the place of Gentiles.

Can you point to particular passages in Romans that an honor-shame lens helps us better interpret?

In Romans 9–11, Paul draws from multiple Old Testament passages that are heavily shaped by honor and shame. Many people are familiar with Romans 10:13, which quotes Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But ask yourself, “Saved from what?” If you look closer at Joel 2, the prophet answers the question two times, saying, “never again will my people be shamed” (v. 26–27).

Also, Romans 9:33 and 10:11 are especially interesting. In a span of 12 verses, Paul twice draws from the same passage, Isaiah 28:16. In Romans 9, he renders it like this: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” Paul’s letters weave together logically tight arguments. He tends to be rather economical with his words. It raises the question: Why does Paul repeat himself? Why does the language of “put to shame” appear in the context of so many passages he quotes in Romans? When we explore these observations, we find that honor and shame link several critical themes within Romans.

In recent decades, New Testament scholars have debated the purpose and theology of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Some align with the “New Perspective” on Paul, which emphasizes the corporate dimensions of salvation, while others prefer an older understanding that stresses individual guilt and atonement. How does your interpretation relate to these conversations?

I agree with several scholars who argue that both “perspectives” are right but in different ways. It’s not necessary for us to pick one over the other.

I believe Romans has a strong collectivist bent. Group identity is a fundamental theme throughout the letter. This point is consistent with the so-called “New Perspective.” However, there is much to affirm with respect to the “Old” or “Traditional” perspective. Paul’s message very much concerns individual salvation. While Romans certainly deals with the matter of church unity, that concern does not set aside questions about what it means to be justified through faith in Christ.

Reading Romans with an Eastern lens helps bring the two perspectives into balance. The two views complement one another, akin to a “yin-yang” relationship. Paul rebuts the notion that salvation is limited to a particular socio-ethnic identity. With the coming of Christ, belonging to one particular nation, like Israel, does not confer saving benefits that are denied to outsiders. Wedding the two “perspectives” in this way yields many other helpful insights.

People sometimes observe how honor and shame are becoming more prevalent in American culture, particularly among millennials. How might Western believers benefit from an Eastern perspective on Romans?

All cultures are infused with honor-shame dynamics, not merely East Asian cultures. However, it’s sometimes hard to see the cultural subtleties of our own context. By intentionally taking on an “Eastern” perspective, we become more attuned to similar aspects of honor-shame within an American setting.

Within an American context, several applications come to mind. For instance, we can express the meaning of faith in ways that reflect the ideas in Romans. We have faith in the One whom we want to honor and whose praise we seek. To have faith in Christ entails pursuing his glory and praise. Furthermore, the gospel transforms our perspective about what is worthy of praise or shame. Like Christ, we seek God’s glory in ways that redefine social honor or status.

Also, reading Romans from an Eastern perspective alerts us to the central importance of the church, our fundamental group identity as followers of Christ. In fact, we regain a long-forgotten truth among Christians, that salvation entails a change in collective identity. The gospel transforms how we distinguish insiders and outsiders. What’s more, if we really want to love others, we need a proper sense of shame and must grasp the importance of honoring others, as Paul explains throughout Romans.

“Motives for Steadfastness”

By Phillip Ort Aug 13, 2019





For Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Apostle Paul was the “great master of doctrine.” Spurgeon said that “if you want the Christian creed elaborated, and its details laid out in order, you must turn to the epistles of Paul.” But at the same time, Spurgeon also believed that Paul was “always a practical teacher.”

In Spurgeon’s view, Paul as not “like those who hew down trees and square them by rule and system, but forget to build the house therewith.” Rather, Paul possessed the “habitual custom of making practical use” of the doctrines he established. Thus, when Paul used his famous “therefore” in his letters, this was to be understood as “an inference of godliness.”

Spurgeon took Paul’s example as a lesson, and urged his congregation to “never reckon that we have learned a doctrine till we have seen its bearing upon our lives.” Indeed, “Whatever we discover in God’s word,” the believer was to pray that “the Holy Spirit to make us feel the sanctifying influence of it.” In short, Biblical doctrine is good, but doctrine applied is better.

In the first section of his sermon, Spurgeon examined at length “The two great points of Christian character.” In his first “great point” Spurgeon focused on the phrase “‘be ye stedfastunmoveable.’” Here he noted that “two things are wanted in a good soldier, steadiness under fire, and enthusiasm during a charge.”

Spurgeon affirmed that “we want the dashing courage which can carry a position by storm” but emphasized that “the most essential virtue for victory is for a soldier to know how to keep his place, and ‘having done all to stand.’”

Spurgeon wanted his congregation to remain “stedfast” and urged them on in a number of ways. First, he charged them “be ye stedfast in the doctrines of the gospel.” He told them plainly to “know what you know, and knowing it cling to it.” While some in the culture thought it the “highest wisdom to suspect the truth of everything” the Christian was to “buy the truth at any price and sell it at no price,” and to avoid the seduction of doubt.

Second, Spurgeon urged his congregation to be “stedfast in character.” He noted that “right in the middle of the chapter upon the resurrection [Paul] speaks about character.” The inference was that the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection would affect the way that Christians lived. Here Spurgeon lamented, “How many professors were once [exceedingly] zealous, but now are careless! the fire of their love burns dimly, its coal all but quenched.” Indeed, Christians could not let their character be stained or their love for Christ be quenched.

In his second “great point,” Spurgeon described Christians as “‘always abounding in the work of the Lord.’” Here he asserted that “We should all have work to do for our divine Master.” In fact, he insisted that “every Christian should be labouring in the Lord in some sphere of holy service.” Whether at home, at work, or in any occupation Spurgeon would ask “What are you doing for Jesus?”

Furthermore, Spurgeon wanted believers to “abound” in serving the Lord. He urged all who could hear him to “do much, very much, all you can do, and a little more.” Since he believed that “our vessels are never full till they run over” Spurgeon wanted to fill his life with service for Christ in every possible capacity. He wanted his whole life to be dedicated to serving Jesus Christ.

In the second, and final, section of his sermon, Spurgeon examined “The motive which urges us to these two duties.” Here Spurgeon offered a word of warning to his hearers. He said that “if we derive our motives for Christian labour or stedfastness from the things which we see, our spirit will oscillate from ardour to coldness, it will rise and fall with the circumstances around us.”

Rather, Spurgeon believed that to “get such a faithfulness” as seen in his text, “we must disentangle ourselves from the idea of being rewarded here.” Since “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead” the believer was not “fighting for a dead man’s cause” or for rewards limited to this life. Indeed, Spurgeon knew that “our work of faith is not in vain, because we shall rise again.” And so, to persevere in Christian stedfastness, the believer must look to the risen Christ and the promised consummation of his coming kingdom.

Why you should take up and read:

For Charles Spurgeon, the Apostle Paul was the “great master of doctrine.” In light of Paul’s example, Spurgeon believed that we must “never reckon that we have learned a doctrine till we have seen its bearing upon our lives.” In this sermon, Spurgeon laboured to help his congregation understand the implications of the promised resurrection and how that should urge them to stedfastness. For those desiring likewise please take up and read.


Phillip Ort serves as the Director of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City while studying in The Residency Ph.D. program.

Devil’s Lane

June 28, 2019 by jccast

The east boundary of the place where we live has two fences side-by-side about twenty feet apart, running the length of the property. When I asked about it, I found there was an error in the original survey that was corrected when the place was bought. This is quite common since a more accurate way of surveying is now used, but the appearance of a narrow strip of land between neighbor’s fences has been a historical evidence of a problem, called in some areas, the Devil’s Lane.

My dad, just in recent years, told me of such a lane he knew about in his community when he was a boy. The neighbors could not agree on the line for their fence, so each man stepped back and built his own fence. This Devil’s Lane was a testimony to everyone that they couldn’t agree and public knowledge of this gave credit to the origin of the conflict to the devil. Each man refusing to give an inch for a life time made a sad commentary of disagreement, discord, and division.

We would like to say that we do not have this fault today, where a relationship problem has become public, but it has been a human problem from the beginning, and still is. Paul addressed the issue in letters to Corinth, Rome, and Galatia. In the letter to the Philippians he pleaded with two women by name to deal with the problem of disharmony. “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1-2). He told them to “stand firm in the Lord.” They were to put aside their personal position and determine where the Lord stood. “Now stand firm.” We need to apply this, not stand firm on Baptist tradition, or stand firm with my group, or stand firm for what I want. It’s amazing how the Lord’s name tends to bring a different way of looking at things when He is the main subject of the issue. Then Paul addressed them separately, “I urge Euodia, and I urge Syntyche.” He was probably saying that there was fault on both sides and that they were to find common ground and learn to live in harmony. To harmonize means two people singing different notes, but the notes must be agreeably related. Each person is to consider his own position in relation to the Lord and in relation to each other. In our study of Experiencing God, Blackaby states, “You cannot be in fellowship with God and His Son, Jesus, and not walk in godly fellowship with one another.” There is no doubt about this being the teaching of the Scripture. Even though we believe this, it sometimes becomes necessary to get a mediator to see how it could possibly work for us. Paul called on a brother in the church, “a loyal yoke fellow” to “help these women.”

These women were important to the church and had shared in the gospel with Paul. They were important as testimonies of God’s grace, but now their conflict was hurting the testimony of the church. It needed resolution. Their dispute was public knowledge.

Something must be done for everyone could see that they had each staked their fence line and had built a Devil’s Lane.


[Retired pastor, Allen Elston, has graciously given me permission to reprint a collection of inspiring newsletter articles he authored from 1994-1996 (like this one). I thank him for his generosity.]


Original here

The Christian in Secular Society


by John MacArthur, June 5, 2019

By most modern metrics of church growth, Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill could easily be deemed ineffective and unfruitful. Acts 17:34 names only two converts from the gathering he drew in Athens—Dionysius and a woman named Damaris. That small harvest somehow looks less spectacular than the revivals Paul saw in Antioch or Thessalonica.

But Paul had a dramatic effect on the city at the top level. He exposed its highest court to the knowledge of the true God. This event planted a church in Athens and launched Paul’s ministry in nearby Corinth. Paul also opened up more opportunities to preach (“We shall hear you again concerning this”). Although the response of the Areopagus court may not have been as sensational as Paul’s preaching had provoked elsewhere, we can be certain that God’s purposes were accomplished and the Word did not return void. The threefold response of that day—contempt, curiosity, and conversion—is typical whenever and wherever the gospel is faithfully preached.

It was immediately after the Areopagus incident that Paul went to Corinth. Years later, he wrote, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1–2). Some interpreters believe Paul was renouncing the approach he had employed at the Areopagus. That view undoubtedly reads too much into 1 Corinthians 2. Paul nowhere indicates that he viewed his Athens ministry as a failure. I reject the notion that his sermon at the Areopagus miscarried. From all we are told in Scripture, it was totally consistent with Paul’s approach to ministry everywhere else. Nevertheless, this much is clear from 1 Corinthians 2, as well as the rest of Paul’s pastoral epistles: Paul did not believe the secret to his powerful ministry lay in his ability to quote Greek poets. You don’t see him counseling Timothy or Titus to bone up on secular culture, learn to quote the classics, or study philosophy so they could engage in debates with the intellectual elite. He simply commanded them to preach the Word, in season and out of season—and to be prepared to face the world’s hostility if they were faithful in that task.

Acts chapter 17 proves that while Paul adjusted his style in speaking, he never adapted his message. Most significantly, he never adopted the spirit of his age. In 1984, near the end of his life, Francis Schaeffer observed: “To accommodate to the world spirit about us in our age is the most gross form of worldliness in the proper definition of the world.” [1] Schaeffer added:

Unhappily, today we must say that in general the evangelical establishment has been accommodating to the forms of the world spirit as it finds expression in our day. I would say this with tears—and we must not in any way give up hoping and praying. We must with regret remember that many of those with whom we have a basic disagreement over these issues of accommodation are brothers and sisters in Christ. But in the most basic sense, the evangelical establishment has become deeply worldly. [2]

That is precisely what many today are doing—but what Paul would not do. He never conformed himself—and more importantly he never tried to conform the God he declared—to the tastes and expectations of his audience. He was content—as we must be—to allow the power of the gospel to speak for itself.

(Adapted from Ashamed of the Gospel)

The Church is on the Move

Christianity is and always will be a mobile faith.

The Church is on the Move

Often, we forget to consider the spread of Christianity across the globe from a geographical perspective. We read the New Testament with eyes and ears that are largely ignorant to the places Luke mentions in Acts or Paul writes about in the prison epistles.

Most Christians have heard of Jerusalem—the place where Jesus was crucified and risen. The geographical center of the Christian faith was clearly, early on, in and around Israel.

But while the Ancient Near East was the birthplace of our faith, it didn’t just stay there. By God’s grace, the gospel began to spread all around the world. We read about the Ethiopian eunuch who first heard the gospel message from Philip. Some disciples went to Asia Minor, Thomas goes as far as India, Paul tries to get to Spain, etc. Places like Cyprus, Caesarea, Damascus, Greece, Rome, and Carthage are mentioned throughout the book of Acts as Paul and his followers embark on four long missionary journeys.

All that to say, the gospel has been moving and spreading for centuries. The Holy Spirit has compelled believers everywhere to share the message of Christ crucified and risen in places both near and far. As demonstrated by Paul and Christ’s own disciples, this was to include continents and people groups far from the place where the Christian faith was first founded.

Despite this, Christianity has for centuries been associated with the West. Going back just a century ago, Pew Research found that “about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe.” This, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, is “where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium.”

But today, these numbers have changed considerably. In 2010, almost a decade ago now, Pew Research found that only a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (roughly 26 percent).

Thankfully, what we’re seeing is not that Christianity is disappearing—instead, it’s spreading and shifting its geographical center.

In 1910, Europe and North America (the West) contained 80 percent of the world’s self-identified Christians. Today, it’s 40 percent and declining. Meanwhile in the 21st century, almost 24 percent of the world’s Christians live in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to less than 2 percent a hundred years earlier.

These changes shouldn’t surprise or alarm us for many reasons. The first of which is this: Christianity is and always will be a message on the move.

This isn’t the first time in the history of the faith that its geographical center has shifted and it likely will not be the last. For centuries, Europe was the center, but after the reformation and the spread of European missionaries and immigrants to the Americas, many would say that the center of density moved to North America.

Now we’re seeing a reengagement of the Southern Hemisphere in the practicing of the Christian faith. At this point, there will likely be more evangelicals in Brazil by 2040 than there are in the United States. I’ve stood on the beach at João Pessoa with 10,000 Brazilians who put their hands out and prayed that they would be a part of a mission for the faith to reach the rest of the world—Africa, Asia, and beyond.

Of course, North America was uniquely impactful on the condition of global Christianity as it currently stands today—few would dispute that. But, the presence of believers and vitality of churches in North America and Europe nonetheless continue to decline in comparison to their respective growth in the Southern Hemisphere.

For those of us living in the West, we must remember never to despair. What we observe happening in our culture and to the life of the church isn’t a done deal—these things are always changing and shifting. The gospel is continuing to spread and people are accepting the message even if it’s becoming harder and harder to see God at work in our own communities.

For our brothers and sisters in the Global South, we pray for God’s continued blessing on the growth of the church. When appropriate, we might even find ways to use our time and resources to contribute to the work that God is already doing in these places.

Believers—wherever they live—should ultimately concern themselves not only with the health and well-being of their place of worship down the street, but with that of the global church all across the world.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.


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VIDEO One Man Against a City, Astounding Conversion

May 15, 2019 by John MacArthur

In 1 Samuel 16:7, the Lord revealed the futility of human appraisal when compared to His divine insight. He exhorted His prophet Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

By God’s grace, He has granted His people a similar spiritual insight. While we cannot see into the hearts of men, we are able to look at the world through the lens of God’s Word, seeing past mere externals to the spiritual realities disguised beneath. Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, we don’t need to be enticed by glitz, glamour, and outward appearance—we can see through those feeble façades. The apostle Paul’s time in Athens is a good example of how believers should not be swayed by those things the world finds important or impressive.

Paul (formerly Saul) was brought up under the strictest Pharisaical discipline. “A Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God” (Acts 22:3); “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee . . . as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:5–6). He was also a Roman citizen, with knowledge of military and political matters. Tarsus, where Paul grew up and was trained, was very cosmopolitan, so Paul’s rich education equipped and acclimated him for almost any culture in the Roman Empire. Even Athens, for several centuries the very heart of the intellectual and art world, was no exception. Paul was thoroughly familiar with Greek culture, manners, religion, art, and philosophy. He was a scholar, well-read and well-traveled. By God’s design Paul’s entire life had equipped him for situations like the one he encountered on Mars’ Hill (cf. Acts 17:16–34).

In the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. Athens was considered by many the greatest city in the world. Some aspects of Athenian culture have never been equaled. Athens reached the pinnacle in art, literature, architecture, and philosophy. Never in history has any one city achieved the height of glory in those fields that was seen in Athens during the golden age of the Greek Empire. Athens was in the province of Achaia, where Corinth, not far away, was the capital city. But Athens was still the center of the cultural and intellectual world, just as Rome was the political center. Athens was sometimes referred to as the university of the world—all the great minds of the world congregated there.

Athens also offered a home to the pantheon of gods in Greek mythology. Every civic building in Athens was a shrine to a god. The place where public records were kept, for example, was dedicated to the Mother of the Gods. The centerpiece of the city council building was an idol of Apollo. A popular saying was, “It is easier to find a god in Athens than a man.” The city was pagan to the core; although they had gods for everything, they did not know the one true God.

It is interesting to note how Athens affected Paul. You might think that with his cultural and educational background, Paul would have been fascinated to see Athens. The city was filled with magnificent temples, glorious artwork, majestic buildings, engaging orators, ingenious philosophers, and spectacular sights to interest a scholar like Paul. And in Paul’s day the marble and gold still glittered.

What was Paul’s response to Athens? “His spirit was being provoked within him as he was beholding the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Instead of being awed by all the marvelous sights, Paul saw foremost a city full of idols, and it grieved him greatly.

A nineteenth-century Bible dictionary says,

Paul had at his feet the Theseion [a spectacular marble temple near the marketplace], and on his right hand the Akropolis, with its splendid temples intact. Such surroundings would fill with enthusiasm every cultured Christian of to-day. Wherever St. Paul turned, his glance must have fallen on the severe and lovely works of art which still adorned the decadent city. Thus a table was spread before him of which nineteenth century humanists are laboriously but thankfully gathering up the scattered crumbs. To St. Paul’s Semitic imagination nothing of all this appealed. It was to him just gold or silver or stone, graven by art and man’s device, the work of a period of ignorance at which God had mercifully winked. [1]

One writer who lived in Paul’s time visited Athens and wrote six volumes describing the glories of the city. If Paul had been writing a travelogue, he would have said simply, “It’s full of idols.” Period. Obviously Paul was not obtuse or insensible. It wasn’t that he lacked the knowledge to appreciate Athenian culture; on the contrary, here was a man who was ideally suited for such a city. But he had a higher calling and more serious business than tourism, or curiosity, or even academic research. He saw deeper than the city’s glittering façade or the well-dressed, well-bred Athenian intellectuals. And what he saw were people on the precipice of hell.

Athens stirred Paul’s emotions. The phrase “his spirit was being provoked within him” employs a Greek word, paroxunō (“provoked”), which speaks of intense agitation. Our word paroxysm comes from this root. Paul was saddened, grieved, indignant, and outraged at the widespread idolatry he saw. He knew these people were giving stone idols glory, which rightfully belongs to God alone.

Paul could not maintain his silence in the face of such an affront to the one true God. Provoked to his godly core, he was about to unleash an amazing evangelistic sermon to his unbelieving audience.

(Adapted from Ashamed of the Gospel)


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The Astounding Conversion of Paul

Fundamentals for Pastoral Ministry

There needs to be a shift from pastor as resident-expert to pastor as player-coach.

by Matt Rogers

Fundamentals for Pastoral Ministry

Last week we discussed the necessity of certain missionary fundamentals for kingdom disciples. Much like the basic skills of any sport, those committed to living and loving like Jesus must return to the fundamentals of faith-fueled prayer, intentional relationships, and Jesus centrality. Repeated daily, these habits are the baseline for the work of church planters, missionaries, pastors, and everyday disciple-makers. Any hope of sustained movement in North America depends on the cultivation of these fundamentals among all of God’s people.

Much has been written about the role of pastors and church leaders in propelling the church outward into God’s great mission. Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian church help clarify a central leadership fundamental for pastors that must coincide with the missionary fundamentals of the church that we mentioned last week. Paul provides a job description of sorts when he says that these leaders exist “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).

This equipping function is disorienting for many leaders who’ve been trained, or simply assumed, that the role of pastor amounted to being the resident expert on all things spiritual. In many cases these leaders have spent years thinking about refined theological ideas and engaging in intramural banter around these themes. Also, assuming the best about these leaders, many of them were elevated to a position of leadership because of deep convictions about God and His Word and consistent character derived from a vibrant intimacy with the Father.

There are expectations to this type of leader, of course. Some are unqualified, unprepared, or ungodly. Let’s leave this group to the side for the time being. The remaining leaders are the kind of people we want leading the church. They are zealous for God. They’ve thought deeply about the things of God. And their lives demonstrate a love for God and His people. Praise God for such leaders.

But there’s often still a problem. Even good leaders struggle to integrate their passionate pursuit of God with their calling to equip God’s people for ministry and mission. The parallel to sports is once again helpful: It’s one thing to know how to play the game yourself, it’s a vastly different thing to effectively coach others to do what you naturally do.

The model of a player-coach is what we’re after. We don’t simply want a coach who’s yelling at the players from the sidelines to do things that the coach isn’t also doing. No one wants to be exhorted to share the gospel by someone who clearly isn’t pursuing such a lifestyle personally. We want coaches in the church who are in the game alongside of their team—teaching and modeling for others the type of life patterns essential for kingdom-living. The shift from pastor as resident-expert to pastor as player-coach will require a number of competencies from current or future leaders.

Strive to Articulate Unconscious Competencies

Effective leaders have developed missional habits that come natural to them. They know how to develop a relationship with a non-believer. They understand how to turn a conversation to spiritual matters. They’ve organized their home to promote strategic hospitality. These practices are unconscious because of consistent use but they are not equally habitual for the average person sitting in church buildings each Sunday.

No number of compelling sermons is going to help the average church member move from their current reality to God’s preferred future unless they have a loving coach come alongside of them and help them take the tedious steps necessary to move in the right direction. Leaders must learn to take unconscious habits of kingdom-living and coach others to follow their pattern.

Fight for Simplicity

There’s a certain kind of simplicity that’s actually indicative of laziness, but there’s another that’s actually the mark of great wisdom and maturity. The latter group are able to scale the mountain of complexity that is theology, missiology, and ecclesiology and come down on the other side and make those great truths understandable and approachable to the broader church.

This act need not mean watered-down theological drivel. Leaders can, and must, fight to equip the saints in the great truths of Scripture in a way that their unique church context can grasp what God is saying and what they are to do with that truth. Supposedly “deep” teaching that leaves the hearer more confused than equipped might do more harm than good because it further entrenches the clergy-laity divide that posits the pastor as the necessary mediator between God and man. Simplicity counters this trend and helps the church see the commonality we all share in the work of kingdom living.

Discover or Develop Fundamental Tools

Leaders have a basis understanding of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We all need to know how to steward our relationship with God through prayer and Bible reading. We need help in pursuing unity with God’s people and working through conflict. We need tools to live on mission and share the gospel effectively. Yes, we can teach to these themes, but such work should be supplemented with the development of strategic tools that help God’s people establish the foundational marks of a disciple.

One such example in the Seven Arrows method for Bible reading that I’ve developed to equip the church. This approach provides the church with a simple, sticky, reproducible model for Bible reading and is a perfect supplement for a vibrant preaching ministry in the church. Leaders should either grab tools like this that already exist or work to develop their own simple and scalable methods of disciple-formation.

Teach in Action

Finally, pastors as player-coaches strive to teach in action whenever possible. They follow the pattern of Jesus who infused his daily missionary practices with sidebar conversations with his disciples. In these moments he was able to speak to critical theological matters and do so using real-life examples of success or failure. Pastors intent on equipping will strategically press themselves out of the study and take their teaching ministry on the road, inviting various members of the church into the rhythms of their missionary practices.

The return on investment of such teaching in action will likely far exceed that found in the average Sunday sermon. Even better, leaders can model the themes of their weekly teaching in the week’s that follow and practically say to the church, “Come with me and watch what it looks like to apply the ideas we considered on Sunday.” Not only would such practice hold the pastor accountable and combat hypocrisy, but it would also further instill truth in those leaders entrusted to equip.

The work of equipping is difficult, make no mistake. It’s far easier to lob truth from a distance rather than get embroiled in the messy lives of others. But such player-coaches are the types of leaders who will lead the future church in North America in whatever form that church might take.

Matt Rogers is a father of five living in Greenville, South Carolina. He pastors The Church at Cherrydale and serves as an assistant professor of Church Planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt writes and speaks throughout the United States on issues ranging from discipleship, church leadership, and missions.