Where Changing Church Culture Begins

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The following is an excerpt of The Vine Project by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. Read 25 of the best quotes.


[Changing culture in our churches] starts us with us, and our own personal growth in learning Christ.

We are firstly a ‘learning community of one’ before we are a learning community with others. We each stand before our God as one who has been singled out for his kingdom and purposes, with the privilege of responding to this grace by walking according to our calling.

If you are reading this book and have read this far, there is a reasonable likelihood that you already know quite a bit about walking the Christian walk. You may be a church pastor or ministry worker, or part of a team that is seeking to lead change in your church or fellowship group. Whatever your role or stage of life, chances are that you would be regarded as a solidly mature believer.

How should mature Christian believers approach their own growth in Christ?

Perhaps counter-intuitively, we need to answer “with urgency”, for this is the example that Paul sets us and that we should set for others. This extraordinary passage from Philippians is worth mulling over at length:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:8-17)

Paul highlights one of the glorious paradoxes of the Christian life. The further along the road we are, the more we long to pick up our pace. The more mature we are, the more urgently we see the need to leave behind our old life, to count as loss all that we previously regarded as gain, and to strain forward to what lies ahead—because the more mature we are in Christ, the more starkly we perceive the contrast between the darkness that still lingers in our lives and the light-filled kingdom of his Son into which he has transferred us.

But how exactly do we press on, and strain forward, and keep putting to death the remnants of our old lives?

Our convictions tell us that the ‘how’ is through the word of God, applied regularly and vigorously to our hearts by the Spirit of God, producing a transformed mind and life, step by step, over time. And because you are a mature Christian who has been around the block several times, you know precisely what is coming next: an exhortation to read your Bible more—and who could argue with that?

This time around, however, we’d like to suggest a variation on that familiar theme. We’d like to suggest not that you read your Bible more but that you inwardly digest your Bible more. This phrase comes from one of the most beautiful and profound prayers of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It reads:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This prayer articulates what we have already been learning about learning—that it is not just a matter of hearing or reading the words that God has caused to be written, but of marking, learning and inwardly digesting them.

This prayer asks that God would grant us a growing intensity of engagement with the word that he has caused to be written “for our learning”—that we would not just hear it, but read it for ourselves; that we would not just read it, but mark it (i.e. take heed of it, pay careful attention to it—as in the expression ‘Mark my words!’); that this careful attention would lead us to learn the Scriptures, to know them thoroughly and intimately, so that we can readily recall and remember their teaching; and that this learning would penetrate to our souls and become part of us, that we would inwardly digest the nourishment of his word.

If your Christian life is anything like ours, there is no shortage of opportunity to hear and read the word of God. In church we hear the Bible read and a sermon preached. Most of us would attend at least one other group in the week where the Bible is opened and read and discussed. Many of us would be regularly studying it at some depth in preparation for leading a Bible study or preaching. We may be reading a Christian book that expounds and explains God’s word. And there is our own personal Bible reading that we will be seeking to maintain (usually with some difficulty).

For most of us, the deficiency is not in hearing or reading, but in marking, learning and inwardly digesting. We hear and read lots of Bible, but we spend too little time prayerfully mulling it over, allowing it to sink in, doggedly re-reading and rethinking those parts we don’t understand until God gives us understanding, pondering how this word opposes or displaces the worldly thinking we currently default to, thinking about how this particular word speaks to our sins and our character, reflecting on the hope this word holds out to us, writing down or committing to memory key verses or insights we want to remember, and above all praying earnestly that God might mould and shape and transform our lives in light of this word.

Hearing, reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting need not be a solitary endeavour. Any and all parts of the process can be very usefully practised in fellowship with others; that is after all why God has given us each other—to help us hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.

But even with the help and fellowship of others, there is a point at which we stand alone before God, with our own sins and struggles and victories and failures. Someone can lead us to food, cook it for us, and even cut it up into small pieces and feed it to us, but in the end we have to chew and digest it for ourselves for it to have any nutritional value for us.

Some of the Puritans called this practice of allowing the word of Scripture to penetrate deeply into our hearts ‘divine meditation’. For them, it was a vital part of the spiritual life. As Thomas White put it: “It is better to hear one sermon only and meditate on that, than to hear two sermons and meditate on neither”.

“It is better to hear one sermon only and meditate on that, than to hear two sermons and meditate on neither”. —Thomas White

If there is one practical suggestion we would make in moving to the right in our own personal learning of Christ it would be this: for every hour you spend hearing and reading God’s word, spend an hour prayerfully marking, learning and inwardly digesting it.

For example, on Monday, don’t read a fresh passage of Scripture. Take out your notes from the sermon the day before (whether you were a listener or the preacher!). Read over the passage a few more times; dwell on the key words and sentences; mull over the most important truths and challenges; give thanks for all those blessings and gifts that the passage reminds you of; pray over all that it prompts you to request for your own life and for those around you; and so on.

For every hour you spend hearing and reading God’s word, spend an hour prayerfully marking, learning and inwardly digesting it. —Colin Marshall

Over time this practice of prayerful ‘inward digestion’ will bear rich fruit. Indeed, it may be something that you would like to see become part of the culture of your church. But of course, for that ever to happen, it must start with you. If we wish everyone in our congregation to be feeding on and digesting and praying over the word of God, then we cannot ignore the importance of doing so ourselves.

We started by quoting a Reformed Anglican prayer, and we should conclude by returning to prayer. We pray for God to “grant us” this kind of listening ear and mind and heart, knowing that in turn it will lead to more prayer. The more we absorb and digest the truth of God’s word, and the more our trust and dependence upon it is nourished and strengthened, the more we will be moved to cry out to God in intercession for our families, our neighbours, our friends, and for the whole community of Christ-learners that we are blessed to belong to.

Prayer comes before transformation, as we beg for God to change us by his Spirit; and prayer follows transformation, as we verbalize and express our growing trust in Christ. —Colin Marshall

We have said this already, and will do so again in what follows, but it can hardly be repeated too often: there is no transformation without prayer. Prayer comes before transformation, as we beg for God to change us by his Spirit; and prayer follows transformation, as we verbalize and express our growing trust in Christ. All the thinking and evaluating and planning and strategizing that we’re undertaking in our Vine Project must be underpinned by constant prayer for God to do what we cannot plan or strategize for—the transformation of hearts.


Excerpt from The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple-Making by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, pages 161-165.

 

25 Quotes from The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple-Making

The Vine Project - Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple-Making Book Cover

Our friends Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, authors of The Trellis and the Vine, have recently released a “sequel” to the book that Mark Dever called “The best book I’ve read on the nature of church ministry.”

The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple-Making seeks to sharpen and build upon the principles shared in The Trellis and the Vine to comprehensively and practically answer the question, “How can we shift the whole culture of our church in the direction of disciple-making?”

The quotes below give a snapshot into the heart and content of The Vine Project. Learn more about The Vine Project in our review.

This book does come with a minor language warning: several times American readers will be shocked by an extra “u” in a word like “behavior”, referring to “mom” as “mum”, or calling a shopping cart a “trolley.” We sincerely hope you can overlook the peccadillos of our friends ;).

Order The Vine Project on Amazon or through Matthias Media’s website.


We long for Great-Commission style ‘vine work’ to be the normal agenda and priority within our churches. We yearn for every member of our congregation to grasp this and to live it—to pray for and reach out to those around them to make new disciples, and to nurture and edify and encourage one another to maturity in Christ. (15)

How can we shift the whole culture of our church in the direction of disciple-making? That’s the question that The Vine Project is aiming to answer. (16)

Disciple-making is really about calling people to faith and hope in Jesus Christ in the midst of this present evil age, with all its pressures. To become a church more focused on disciple-making is to become a fellowship that understands more clearly why life is often hard, and what resources God has given us to grow in faith and hope and love in the midst of the struggle. A disciple-making church is actually better able to handle the crises and pressures of everyday life. (17)

You can’t usually change culture by trying to change culture. You must change deeply held beliefs/convictions that underpin culture (even underlying ones) and activities, practices, structures that express those beliefs. (31)

This is why we want to make more and more disciples of Jesus Christ: because God’s goal for the whole world and the whole of human history is to glorify his beloved Son in the midst of the people he has rescued and transformed. (58)

Making disciples is not primarily a human activity with goals that we set (although it is those things in a subsidiary sense). Whatever happens in Christian ministry and in church, and whatever happens in our neighbour hoods and families and work places, is part of what God is doing to move all things inexorably towards their goal and end—which is Jesus Christ. (59)

The people Jesus calls to be ‘learners’ don’t have a blank slate. Their slate is very full—of foolish, darkened, enslaved thinking that is opposed to learning Jesus at every point. Becoming a learner of Christ therefore requires a radical change. It requires a great work of God to rescue us from the dark domain in which we were enslaved, and to transfer us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. From our side, it requires repentance—that is, a dying to the web of lies that our lives once were built on. (67)

Everything we do as God’s gathered people (as ‘church’) should be an exercise in the transformative learning of Christ. (71)

What is a disciple? A forgiven sinner who is learning Christ in repentance and faith. (74)

Disciples are made by the persevering proclamation of the word of God by the people of God in prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God. (83)

In the New Testament, the proclamation of the word is the basic means for creating and growing ‘Christ-learners’. You could even say that there is only one central activity in making disciples—the speaking of the word of God —and that all the other elements describe in what Spirit, by which people, and in what manner that speaking is done. (84)

One symptom of a congregational culture that is weak in ‘disciple-making’ is that there are few contexts or instances beyond the Sunday sermon in which the Bible’s word is regularly being spoken.(86)

Prayerlessness, like Wordlessness, is a classic symptom of a sick disciple-making culture. (90)

The goal of every form of Christian ministry could be summarized simply as seeking to help each person, wherever they happen to be…to come closer towards hearing the gospel and being transferred out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom; and then to press forward towards maturity in Christ in every aspect of their lives. (96-97)

Moving to the Right Graphic from The Vine Project - Trellis and the Vine

With confidence that God will work through his word and Spirit, even slowly and gradually over time, we can all do our part in helping everyone around us take a step forward in Christ. (99)

In a church where the four Ps are being widely practised by many believers across the congregation, the sermon is an occasion not just where one man speaks, but where he teaches a multitude to speak. In his preaching, a pastor sounds the tuning fork so that the whole orchestra knows in what key to play. He teaches and guards the sound deposit of the gospel so that all may know it clearly and thoroughly (for how else will they speak it?). He shows them not only what the Bible says, but how they can read and speak that truth for themselves. He constantly teaches the sound doctrinal framework that shapes the Bible reading and speaking of the whole congregation. (117)

The Expository Church Diagram — Colin Marshall

If we want a church culture of transformative learning, our households need to reflect this vision, and our families need to be taught and encouraged and equipped to embrace it. The connection between home-based and church-based disciple-making is very close. The one will nurture the other. (140)

“It is better to hear one sermon only and meditate on that, than to hear two sermons and meditate on neither.” Thomas White (164)

If we wish everyone in our congregation to be feeding on and digesting and praying over the word of God, then we cannot ignore the importance of doing so ourselves. (165)

Prayer comes before transformation, as we beg for God to change us by his Spirit; and prayer follows transformation, as we verbalize and express our growing trust in Christ. (165)

A successful activity/program in the church: an activity or program is ‘effective’ to the extent that it facilitates the prayerful speaking of the word of God (in whatever way) over time with the result that people ‘move to the right’. (187)

Christianity does not have two messages, one for the outsider and one for the insider. The gospel word that builds someone into the church is the same word that builds them up in the church. (214)

Small groups have enormous potential to move people to the right—but their frequent failure to do so is in very large measure due to poor quality leadership. Whatever energy or resources we put into recruiting and equipping small group leaders will pay enormous dividends over time. (277)

Strategic planning is actually the easy part. Execution is where nearly everyone falls down. The truly challenging stage in driving any deep culture change is actually executing your plans—persistently, flexibly and effectively over the considerable period of time that will be required for any real change to take place. (315)

Pastoral leadership flourishes and is effective when pastors are constantly seeking to invest in and deploy new pastors and co-workers to serve alongside them, whether as volunteers, part-timers or full-time staff. We need more pastors (not less) who can teach the faith, nurture spiritual maturity, and take responsibility to lead and equip the saints in all aspects of Christian living and 4P ministry. (323)


We recommend these other great resources from Matthias Media:

Six of the Best Books on Prayer for Pastors and Leaders

List of Best Books on Prayer for Pastors and Leaders

“The wheels of all machinery for extending the gospel are moved by prayer.” —J.C. Ryle

The importance of prayer in the life of a pastor or ministry leader cannot be overstated.

Without prayerful dependence on God Almighty for wisdom, grace, and gospel fruit in ministry, we are tempted to serve in our own strength. To make a lasting impact ministering God’s Word to a lost world, we must be people of prayer.

The Bible is by far the best way to learn and grow regarding the topic of prayer. In addition to the Bible, Leadership Resources recommends the following books that have helped us better understand the crucial subject of prayer.

1. Prayer and the Voice of God by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne.

This is a simple, yet profound introduction to prayer. It covers a whole range of questions people have about prayer in a very clear, concise (125 pages), biblical manner.

Description from the Amazon page:

Prayer doesn’t have to be a mystery or a burden. In this Guidebook for Life, Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne open up what God himself says to us in the Scriptures about prayer, including what prayer really is, why we should do it and why we often don’t. This insightful, practical book offers powerful motivations to get us back on our knees and praying, as well as helpful discussions of what to pray for.

Buy on MatthiasMedia.com.

2. The God Who Hears by W. Bingham Hunter.

This is a thorough, yet easy to read book on prayer. LRI staff member Phil Smith recommends this and enjoyed Hunter’s focus on the nature of God informing us on how and why we pray.

  • “If God really cared he would answer my prayer.”
  • “I hesitate to ask him anything.”
  • “I can’t understand why he continues to ignore my deepest needs.”

Bingham Hunter recognizes that most believers have these thoughts from time to time. He encourages us to look at prayer from the standpoint of who God is. The true aim of prayer is intimacy with God. We pray effectively when we make him the desire of our hearts, Hunter answers our questions about prayer by directing us to the nature and attributes of God and to our own lives. God responds not to our prayers but to who we are–what we think, feel, will and do. Prayer is communication from the whole person to the Wholeness that is the living God.

3. Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson.

What better way to grow in prayer than a deep study of how the apostle Paul prayed? In Praying with Paul, D.A. Carson expounds the New Testament prayers of Paul in a way that encourages and equips readers to conform their prayers to the priorities of Scripture as modeled by Paul.

God doesn’t demand hectic church programs and frenetic schedules; he only wants his people to know him more intimately. The apostle Paul found that spiritual closeness in his own fellowship with the Father. Praying with Paul calls believers to reject superficiality and revolutionize their lives by embracing a God-guided approach to prayer. By following Paul’s life-shaping principles, we can hear God speak to us today.

4. Language of the Heart: 20 Worship Prompters & Meditations on Prayer by Bill Mills, Founder of Leadership Resources.

LRI Founder Bill Mills presents twenty worship prompters and meditations on prayer to lead readers into a rich experience of awe and wonder as they contemplate God’s deep and marvelous mysteries.

If you are looking for a book to stir your heart to pray and enjoy communion with your loving heavenly Father, Language of the Heart is the book for you. Read a sample of the book or buy the book in our web store.

5. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions edited by Arthur Bennett

This collection of Puritan prayers features prayers from the works of Thomas Shepherd, Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, William Williams, Philip Doddridge, William Romaine, David Brainerd, Augustus Toplady, Christmas Evans, William Jay, Henry Law, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and more. Reading and praying The Valley of Vision is the next best thing to like joining a prayer group with spiritual giants of yesteryear.

I personally enjoy praying The Valley of Vision to help me add rich, biblically-rooted substance to my prayers. The deep Trinitarian theology and gospel focus stir my heart and fill me with renewed affection for God while expressing those thoughts to the Creator.

You can also read these prayers online for free.

6. Prayer by John Bunyan

John Bunyan’s blood has been described as “bibline.” That bibline blood comes through in this short, two-part book on prayer. The publisher’s description:

Two works on prayer are here brought together. In Praying in the Spirit Bunyan defines what it means to pray with the spirit and with the understanding, and deals with difficulties in prayer. In The Throne of Grace, he explains how to approach God’s throne in prayer and opens up the blessings God’s people receive from the high priestly ministry of Jesus Christ.


Six of the Best Books on Prayer for Pastors and Leaders

While we’re on the topic:

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