Welcome to another free, public edition of The Payneful Truth. (I’m now sending these freebies out in the third week of each month.) Here’s what you might have missed over the past month:
10,000 reasons our songs are changing: how should we think about the unmistakable trend towards slower, more emotionally intense congregational songs?
Singing and the affections: a follow-up post on emotions, affections and singing, including a re-reading of a well-known Jonathan Edwards quote.
You knitted me together: a fresh take on the value and personhood of unborn children, and how we might talk to our friends about this.
Is Christianity a locked room?: some thoughts on whether Christian truth is a circular argument.
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Anyway, on to today’s post …
Move right, look left
There’s a moment in Trellis-and-Vine related ministry workshops or talks when the same joke always seems to show up. Like an old friend approaching on the street, I see him coming, and give him a warm slap on the back as he arrives and passes by.
It’s when we get to discussing the ‘moving to the right’ diagram. I mean this one:
For those not familiar: the basic idea is that becoming a disciple of Christ and growing as his disciple is like ‘moving to the right’ on this diagram—being rescued out of the domain of darkness into his kingdom, and then being transformed into the likeness of Christ our king. And all Christian ministry, therefore, has the same essential character, whether it’s more down the ‘evangelistic’ end of the diagram or at the ‘transformational’ end, and whether it’s being practised by the most experienced pastor or the newest Christian disciple. All Christian ministry simply seeks to move every single person around us—in church, at home, in our neighbourhood, in our small groups—one step to the right.
The method for moving people to the right is also the same all across the diagram—it’s through the four Ps: Presenting or Proclaiming God’s gospel Word in some form; Praying in the Spirit that it would be effective; all this being done in and through God’s People; and continuing to Practice this, Perseveringly, with our lives serving as a lived example of the word we’re speaking.
Many of you will have read or heard this. (If you do want to explore the ‘move to the right’ thing further, pages 43-152 of The Vine Project lay it all out in detail.)
Anyway. The joke that always turns up in this discussion trades on the discomfort people feel about casting the Christian life as a relentless movement to the ‘right’.
“Don’t worry, friends”, I say. “This is not a journey away from CNN and towards Fox News. You don’t have to turn off the ABC news and turn on Paul Murray Live. It’s not a transfer of allegiance from (current left-wing Politician) to (current right-wing Politician).”
General tittering and laughter.
“No, the left-right language is not about politics; it’s for entirely Scriptural reasons”, I say with a solemn expression, “Ecclesiastes 10:2—A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left.”
More general tittering, and elbow-jabbing of each other.
And then I reassure them that if they’re still a bit uncomfortable not to worry—the ‘left’ is about to get its revenge.
That’s because one of the key moments—perhaps the key moment—in the growth of every Christian disciple is when he or she starts to look left.
The growth that God works in the hearts of Christians (through the four Ps) is a transformation into the character of Christ, and the single word that best describes that character is ‘love’. As I move to the right as a Christian, my faith becomes more active in love (as Galatians 5:6 puts it). I begin to realise with a dawning horror just how self-focused my life has been, even my Christian life. I start to see that my life—the Christian life—is not about me. It’s about all the people God has given me to love.
I begin, in other words, to look left.
I lift my head up, and open my eyes, and see the multitudes all around me that need to move to the right—to take steps towards knowing Christ or growing in Christ. And I realise that God has called me, in my own weak and faltering way, with my own particular relationships and opportunities, to help those people take one step in that rightward direction.
This penny-drop moment (and it can be a drawn-out moment for some) is a turning point in Christian growth. It can happen early in the Christian life, or sometimes after many decades of comfortable, slow-moving Christian existence.
It’s also the essential foundation for what we call ‘training’ or ‘equipping’ or ‘ministry’. Learning to be active in disciple-making or ministry (to help other people move to the right) is not primarily about acquiring particular skills, or becoming involved in particular teams or activities. Those things are important. But the essential thing is convictional. It’s a change of vision and heart. The more we fix our eyes on Christ, and love others in Christ, the more we will long and pray and work to see Christ formed also in them.
The more we move right, the more we look left.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself: “If only I was more like that!”
And (if you’re a ministry leader) you may also be thinking: “If only there were more people in my congregation like that!”
This is indeed a besetting problem for many churches—that perennial search for more people who are willing to step up and become active partners in ministry.
The underlying problem is a deficit in Christian maturity. We need more people who have moved sufficiently to the right that they start to look left.
Which leads to the next question: How does that happen?
How can we see more people reach that key moment in Christian maturity?
The answer might already be obvious. But in case it isn’t, I’ll turn to it in next week’s Payneful Truth.
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Also, thanks for the comments and encouragement that many of you have sent in recently. When I record the first Q&A interview shortly, there’ll be plenty to talk about!