Clearly Christ is extremely important and central in Scripture. He is the apex of God’s plan for humankind. His coming is prophesied in the Old Testament and described in the New. The word occurs well over 400 times in the New Testament, and “Jesus” appears another 1300+. Christ is the One through whom God is working out his plan for the world.
Because of his centrality, it is good and right for our lives and ministries to be Christ-centered. We need to allow him to shape and guide them, and we need to make him the emphasis.
Using the phrase “Christ-centered” to describe a person or ministry adds automatic credibility. We need to remember, however, that it is not sufficient to merely use the phrase. It must be genuinely true. I will mention five important ways our approach to God’s mission of changing the world should be Christ-centered and how we are seeking to do those things in the ministry of Empowering Subjects.
First, a Christ-centered approach to the mission means we will look to Christ himself for how to approach the mission. When it comes to the mission, we may sometimes feel more affinity with Acts and the Letters than with the Gospels. In some ways this is natural, since we are part of the church, as these first Christians were, and since we both live on this side of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. This affinity may lead us to look primarily to the second half of the New Testament and model our ministries on the what is said there about the church.
We need to remember, however, that the second half of the New Testament is based on and grows out of the first half. What Jesus “began to do and teach” in Luke is the basis for what he continued to do in Acts (see Acts 1:1). We most certainly need to be guided by God’s word in Acts-Revelation, but we can also go straight back to the original source for God’s work in the church, which is found in Christ in the Gospels.
When we do this, Jesus gives us a wonderful model for our lives and ministries. As to the mission, which we are focusing on in this series of posts, we see Jesus having a single-minded focus on it. We see him sacrificing himself for it. We see him praying earnestly about it (for God’s work in his mission see the previous post). We see him having compassion for people, instead of treating them like objects or numbers or poll results. We see him relating to individuals in various ways, instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach to all of them. Many more examples could be cited, and many other aspects of how he approached ministry will be include in this post as well as later in this series.
Second, a Christ-centered approach to the mission entails emphasizing the kingdom of God. Speaking generally, the way Jesus changed the world was by establishing and growing the kingdom of God.
God had said he would intervene in our world to rescue and restore humankind, and he described the work he was going to do as setting up a kingdom (Daniel 2:44). In the first century, hundreds of years later, the Jews were still looking for God to establish his kingdom (e.g., Mark 15:43). So when Jesus appeared and public and announced that the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God was at hand, it would have resonated deeply with them (Mark 1:14-15). Throughout his ministry, he continued to preach the good news that the kingdom was coming (Matthew 4:17, 23; Luke 4:43; 8:1). In the face of the Jews’ many distorted notions about the kingdom, Jesus also taught a great deal about its true nature. Scholars consistently say the kingdom was the primary theme of Jesus’ preaching and teaching.
What role does the kingdom of God play specifically in your life and ministry? One of my new favorite questions grows out of Jesus’ statement to a would-be disciple, “but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). If Jesus said that to you, would you know how to do it? Do you understand the kingdom of God well enough that you would know how to proclaim it to someone? What would your message to them be? If you wonder whether preaching the kingdom is something we still need to be doing or was intended only for the time of Jesus’ ministry, be sure to notice that there are five passages in Acts that clearly state that the early Christians, like Jesus, also proclaimed the kingdom (8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).
The kingdom of God is a major emphasis of Empowering Subjects. It is the primary subject of the weekend seminar. A concerted effort is made to help people understand what the kingdom is, how Jesus established it, and what its significance is for our lives. We believe a person needs to grasp and be moved by the truth of the kingdom as part of their preparation to share it with others. We don’t want to be like the celebrities who endorse a product they don’t even use. The kingdom continues to be an emphasis in the follow up materials as well.
A third way we will approach the mission if we are Christ-centered is to have the balance that Christ did. One kind of balance he clearly displayed was that between the working of his Father and his own efforts. Jesus made it very clear that his Father was working in and through him (John 5:17), but at the same time, he himself worked extremely hard (John 9:4). It is difficult to achieve such balance in our ministries, but continually focusing on Christ will help us do so.
Another important kind of balance we see in Jesus is that between good deeds, good news, and good teaching. Today we might refer to these as service/ministry; evangelism/sharing the news and discipleship/spiritual formation. You see all three of these as you look at what Jesus did. The importance of having a balance of all three is underscored by the fact that the Spirit twice inspired Matthew to summarize Jesus’ ministry by listing these three specific aspects (Matthew 4:23; 9:35).
Perhaps you have a gift in one of these three areas, but if you are going to be like Jesus you will give some attention to all of them. Some congregations, too, may excel in one of these three areas, but to be truly Christ-centered we need to include all three.
Matthew 9:35-38 is the key passage after which Empowering Subjects is modeled. The description of Jesus doing good deeds, telling good news, and giving good teaching (v. 35) has guided us to regularly mention them together so that all of them will be included. It also guided us to include a section in the follow-up materials on each one. The telling good news aspect receives a strong emphasis since it can be more difficult and since it is often neglected or downplayed today. But we must be careful to strive for balance among these three key activities in our ministries.
Fourth, and related to the previous, a Christ-centered approach to the mission means Christ will be the subject and emphasis of the message we speak. This is true of our messages to believers but I want to emphasize it in regard to speaking to non-Christians.
When we think of sharing the good news with non-Christians, we often end up focusing on the need for forgiveness and salvation or what we have to do to receive those blessings. Some even emphasize a self-centered approach of telling what they were like before, how they received Christ, and what difference it has made in their lives. There is a place for all of these things in our message, but none of them should be the emphasis and none are Christ-centered in the way the first Christians spoke the message to non-Christians in Acts.
Over and over in Acts the spokespersons gave an account of the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus and, based on those, stated Jesus’ special identity as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22-36). The focus was on helping people see who Jesus is (5:42). The blessings that are available are available in him, because of who he is (4:11-12; 5:29-31). What we are called on to do is a response to him (2:38; 10:43; 13:38). He is the focus of our message.
As noted in the second point (above), the spokespersons in Acts continued to proclaim the kingdom. When you look at their actual messages, however, you don’t see the word kingdom. But you do see the word Christ, which means anointed one and refers especially to a king (1 Samuel 16:13). Anytime you communicate that Jesus is the Christ, you are proclaiming the kingdom (Acts 2:38; 4:10; 8:12; 10:36; 28:31)
Empowering Subjects first helps us grasp the message of the kingdom and the kingship of Christ. When the follow-up materials begin to prepare us to tell the good news to others, they help us clarify the message focused on Jesus’ death, resurrection, and identity as Lord and Christ. It is a thoroughly Christ-centered message we
A fifth characteristic of a Christ-centered approach to mission is to equip workers to help in it. Jesus spent much of his time training the twelve. Teaching is a part of this, but note that equipping is broader and entails much more than just teaching. Jesus began to equip people for the mission by calling together a small group to focus on and telling them his purpose in doing so (Mark 3:13-15). In this way they had a front row seat to observe how he ministered to others. Immediately after mentioning the need to pray for additional workers (Matthew 9:37-38), Jesus provided yet more equipping (in chapter 10; remember there were no chapter divisions in the original). The additional equipping included giving them power to do miracles (Matthew 10:1), providing additional teaching about the mission (vv. 5-42), sending them out to get experience actually doing it (vv. 5-8), and then processing it with them afterward (cf. Mark 6:30 in reference to Mark 6:6-13).
When we have tried to get others to reach out to the lost, we have sometimes told them what they need to do without providing any actual equipping for doing so. That is not what Christ did. Other times we have tried to provide some on-the-job training but have given people little more than a script to follow. What Christ did is much more all-encompassing than that. He transformed their lives.
In Empowering Subjects we call together small groups of willing people and provide instruction, examples, support, encouragement, and opportunities to actually began doing some things for the mission. We empower people (provide courage and confidence) through the training and also point them to the ultimate source of real power, namely God and the Spirit. And we build in ways of checking up to see how everyone is doing. Through (1) the materials and structure provided by Empowering Subjects, (2) willing people can authentically offer their hearts to (3) God, who can equip them to do his will (Luke 6:40; Hebrews 13:20-21).
Which of these five aspects of approaching the mission in a Christ-centered way might you need to pray about and give more attention to?
For more on how Empowering Subjects is equipping believers to participate in God’s mission in the world, see here.