“I was 11 and had this profound sense in my soul that God said, ‘You are going to be a speaker to your generation.'”
With the Jesus Is ___ ? campaign how did you show people, not tell them?
In this campaign, it was “Jesus is” projects. No preaching involved. It was anything from feeding the poor, picking up trash, moving people from one place to another, raising money to help for medical bills. There were so many different projects, which we still do and will continue to do. It’s part of the life of our church now.
I think the premise we’re working from is, a lot of people don’t want to hear about Jesus. So, how do we open the conversation? It doesn’t happen with words at first. Demonstration starts it. Now the question comes naturally: “Why are you mowing my lawn?” Our agenda is not because you need to come to our church or because you need to walk and talk like us. It’s because the love of God compels us. The person of Jesus has changed us and more than anything in the world, our passion and our drive is to show people who Jesus is.
You are 35 years old, how does the church reach the next generation? What is the changing landscape?
At our church, we are leveraging everything not on performance, but on who Jesus is. I see people deciding to follow Jesus at an extraordinary rate in our community. It’s not difficult when Jesus is demonstrated and people are hungry to find some connection to something bigger than the 75 years they live on earth. In my opinion, there’s an enormous appetite and hunger for these ideas of God and purpose and design.
In the youth do you find a deep antagonism to Christianity? Explain the popularity of people like Richard Dawkins among high school students?
I think anything that is overt and clear and dogmatic works for us and not against us. I’d much rather live in the black and white than the gray patchwork. I think the black and white is so to our advantage. In response to anything overtly anti-Jesus we don’t need to be defensive. We need to let people process and believe. At the same time, it’s imperative for Jesus followers to know what we believe, which is the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Our message only comes as a gift of grace, and is only sustained by grace. It’s a message of power and presence, a message that is completely contingent on Jesus being God.
How do we best communicate who Jesus really is?
If it’s a mental ascent, then we lose. If you just say to someone: “This is what you need to believe” then we will do more damage than good. We need more dialogue and less monologue. Either God is God or he’s not. If he is, he can reach even people who shake their fists at him. Living in a very cerebral environment that’s been anti-God, God will show up for himself and according to his grace will give the revelation of himself. That understanding of grace frees us to love, which is the very thing God calls us to do.
In the high school culture of today, there is the term Gender Fluid. It basically means you can sleep with whoever—and however many—you want. How do you engage a culture of no absolutes?
Maybe there was a sense that everything goes and rejecting the validity of right and wrong, inventing a world with no absolutes. The pendulum is swinging. Seattle is a very cerebral, very intellectual city, which I love. People are probing into this idea that no absolutes ends in a sense of hopelessness. It’s so abstract, you can’t land anywhere, and that’s dissatisfying. The pursuit of pleasure is so paramount in our culture. We need to let people understand God is pro-pleasure and set up all of his principles for our ultimate and lasting pleasure. He created sex, for crying out loud. God wants us to have pleasure. If I can’t argue the teaching of Jesus from a right and wrong perspective, that’s fine. We can talk from a point of joy and satisfaction. Is this making you happy and fulfilled? The issue for the church is that people want to see and come to understand that search in a very authentic and genuine environment. They don’t want to hear because-my-Bible-tells-you-so stuff. They want dialogue.
Are you optimistic for the church to engage the next generation?
I get excited. Anytime there’s a search, we win. When people are searching, this is where God shows up. I love the search. Perfect, here comes God in the middle of your search.
How important is story to City Church?
It’s imperative. I’m not the only guy making a case for this, Jesus was a story-teller. Jesus told current, up to date stories. He referenced things going on in that cul-ture. He used parables, stories, but more than anything, Jesus’ own story pointed to a love story. The whole story points us to love personified, which is that God demonstrates his love for us while we were still sinners.
How is outreach different when understood in the context of grace?
Paul said: The love of God compels me. The message of grace is undeserved, unearned love and favor. I was saying to our church on Sunday, the gospel is practical. Think about how God sent his good news into the world: two feet, two hands, two eyeballs, a mouth, hair, a beard, and the gospel was a person. The gospel healed people, the gospel touched people, the gospel served people. It’s practical, literal, visible; it’s all about life.
The pursuit is not knowledge; the pursuit is knowing God. When you know God, you walk with God. The Bible talks about being led by the Spirit, moving with God, journeying with God. I’m a proponent that everywhere we go, we’re on mission. It’s just living and seeing like Jesus and being genuine. Being considerate and looking out for broken people, and loving people. Any time we separate grace and mission, we pull apart Jesus himself. It’s impossible to have one without the other. If you meet God, it will change the way you live.
I refuse to obsess over anything other than grace and the gospel. Everything flows. We are saved by grace through faith, set apart for good works. It’s always grace first. It’s always God first. Everything flows from a place of gratitude in light of the gift we receive in Jesus. My life should naturally flow in love and care for humanity because of what God has done in the person of Jesus, which brings us back to grace.