How Are You Different?

One of the questions that I consistently get in this church planting journey is, “How are you different from every other church out there?”

As I’ve thought about it, it’s a great question. It’s a great question not just for church planters and church plants but also for every local church. What is it about your local church that distinguishes it from every other church?

Years ago, I heard a friend and colleague ask the question (and I’ve blogged about this before), “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?” We may not always have that answer at our ready, but it’s one that we certainly should think about because, whether we admit it or not, there should be something unique about us.

All that being said, I was asked this by someone on my team last week. It got me to thinking about it and wondering, what’s the answer to this?

Our experiences are going to dictate our response and approach to the present and the future. That’s certainly the case with church planting as well. The things that I have experienced over the years as I have been a part of churches as a volunteer, an attender, a staff member, and a pastor, those things will dictate how I move forward and what things become most important to me.

As I’ve thought about it, there are five things that I’ve distinguished as different. Now, when I say different, I don’t mean that there are no churches out there that do these things, it’s just that in my experience, they are not always the norm among churches.

The other thing that I think it’s important to point out, these things are not an indictment of every church that I have ever been a part of. Identifying these things does not mean that all the churches that I have been a part of in the past have lacked these qualities, it just means that these are the five things that I have identified as important.

Without further ado, the five qualities and distinguishing factors that I have identified are:

  • Who we are for
  • A redefined mission
  • Partnership is key
  • Trust matters
  • A parish model

Over the next few weeks, I will look at these qualities. So, hope you come back to read what I have to say about these as the weeks go on.

 

Unparalleled – A Book Review

unparalleledWe live in a world where anything goes when it comes to beliefs. It’s okay for you to believe in what you believe as long as it works for you and doesn’t negatively impact me. The problem when we embrace this is that we can quickly devolve into people who lack any real conviction, who aren’t quite sure what they believe, and who don’t legitimately think for ourselves when it comes to our beliefs.

In the area of beliefs and faith, Christians have always spoken about the uniqueness of their faith. When confronted with the idea that all paths lead to God, Christians will swiftly respond by saying that Christianity is unique as it stands in the lineup alongside all of the other major world religions. Jared Wilson takes this idea a step further in his book “Unparalleled” by saying that the uniqueness of Christianity is also the thing that makes it so compelling.

Out of the gate, Wilson writes that, “Christianity has never made converts primarily by winning arguments but rather by capturing hearts.” Although this book falls into the category of apologetics, Wilson isn’t out to win arguments, he is convinced that the truths of Christianity will be as compelling for others as they have been for him. He writes with a style that doesn’t beat down, but gently leads along.

Throughout “Unparalleled” Wilson hits on some of the main, unique tenets of Christianity. He writes about the Trinity, the three persons of God, speaking to their uniqueness and how the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit give us a better understanding of our own human need for connection and intimacy.

Wilson writes of the uniqueness of Jesus, asking the question as to whether the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is the same God. He arrives at the conclusion that, “…to worship God at the exclusion of Jesus is to worship another god altogether.” For those who are seeking to be more inclusive, this conclusion will not be very appealing. Wilson goes on to write, “If one does not affirm that Jesus is God, one does not worship the same God as Christians.” It is through the uniqueness of Christ that we understand the essence of Christianity and the salvation that is offered.

We are all created in the image of God, and that, Wilson says, should impact the way that we look at others. Not only should it impact the way that we look at others, but is should also impact how we treat others as well. He writes, “Human life is sacred because God created it in his own image.” But Wilson is quick to point out, acknowledge, and confess that, “There have been too many prominent examples of professing Christians treating others as less-than-human.” In other words, while this is how we should act and view others, we certainly don’t always get it right. I appreciated this admission and the humility behind it.

Wilson covers the idea of grace, salvation, and the end of all things. He speaks to the impact of sin in this fallen world and the fact that salvation within Christian theology is something that comes from outside of ourselves. This external salvation is a unique concept compared to most other major religions who teach of a salvation through the efforts of the individual.

At one point, as Wilson writes about the brokenness of humanity, he writes, “The worst storms I have faced in my life have not occurred outside of me but rather have been found inside of me.” While I think I understand what Wilson is getting at, I’m not sure that I can completely agree with his statement. Yes, I can attest to the fact that, oftentimes, I am my own worst enemy, but in my own life, there have been significant storms that I have encountered that have occurred outside of me. These storms are a result of living in a fallen and broken world, there was no individual cause for some of them, and I would argue that they didn’t happen inside of me.

There is nothing in “Unparalleled” that is groundbreaking or new to me. Wilson has an engaging writing style and he gets his points across with clarity. While I was reading the book, I kept wondering to whom the book was written. Was it written for believers in Christ, those who are already convinced? Was it written to those who need to be convinced? It seems that it could be beneficial for those who are searching, not yet having come to the conclusion that Christianity is both convincing and compelling.

To those who believe in Christ and accept the claims of Christianity, Jesus is unparalleled, as is the salvation that he offers. If you are in a place of searching, needing to be convinced of Christianity’s claims, this might give you an overview or a snapshot of these claims. There are far deeper and more exhaustive books on the claims of Christianity that may serve you better, but for a basic overview, this might work. It’s not a must read, in my opinion, and anyone who is seeking something more academic may best be served elsewhere.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)