Read with an Eye Toward the Gospel

I read a lot of blogs and magazine articles by Christian authors, and I appreciate how much I learn from this. Sometimes these authors clarify an issue or a point of doctrine. Sometimes they give an opinion I don’t agree with, and I have to think about why. Often, they encourage me. It really is an amazing age that the Church is living in.

A trend I’ve noticed lately in the Christian magazine/blogging world is articles titled something like this:

  • Ten Things Pastors Can Do to Increase Giving
  • Five Lessons We Can Learn From the Mistakes of (Fill-in-the-Blank Church or Pastor)
  • Four Steps to a Productive Personal Quiet Time
  • Eight Strategies for Getting People to Serve
  • Three Indicators You Should Leave Your Church

Personally, I’m drawn to articles like this. I’m a self-proclaimed structure-fiend and list-maker. I was a technical editor for years, and my goal was to boil information down, create easy-to-follow steps, and be concise. But I think there are some dangers in articles like this. As the Church continues to navigate the Information Age, we need to be prayerful, discerning readers who read with an eye toward the Gospel.

It’s never really that simple

Whether you’re a pastor helping a congregation wrestle with the idol of money, a church body that’s been through a scandal, or an individual making the decision to leave a church, it’s never as simple as list-style articles make it seem. There are always more factors and details than the writer could ever convey. Will the writer give you some things to consider? Yes. But is what they wrote all you should consider? No.

If we follow four, eight, or ten simple rules, strategies, or lessons, we’ll have enough money and enough missionaries, and we’ll look healthier than the church down the street.

This style of article can also give the impression that all we have to do is follow the rules and avoid all the snares, and nothing messy will happen in our churches. If we follow four, eight, or ten simple rules, strategies, or lessons, we’ll have enough money and enough missionaries, and we’ll look healthier than the church down the street.

My church was recently the case study for a lessons-we-can-learn article. Were the four lessons the author pointed out good lessons? Yes. But was the crisis my church went through really that simple? Not on your life. There were much more than four lessons to be learned. And if someone came in to my church, or any other church, and made sure these lessons were learned, would it fix everything? Not by a mile.

People are not projects

As an editor, I also wore the project manager hat, so naturally, I like lists, and articles written in this list style make me want to start checking off boxes. Is my pastor doing X, Y, and Z for missions? Is my congregation giving X amount of dollars based on our size? Check! Check! Check! Woo hoo! But when we think in terms of checklists, we often make people into projects, and we start thinking about how we can fix them or get more results from them rather than about how we can love them. Jesus loves his church from the collective Church spread throughout the world, to local congregations, down to each individual—and none of them can be boiled down to a simple project.

When we think in terms of checklists, we often make people into projects, and we start thinking about how we can fix them or get more results from them rather than about how we can love them.

Articles cannot replace the counsel found in reading God’s word, praying, and gathering with God’s people

The here-you-go, problem-solved tone of most list-style articles often makes it feel like you don’t need to look anywhere else for counsel. And that is appealing. Why? Because it takes work to read, understand, and apply God’s Word. Prayer often doesn’t give the instant answers or insights we want. And being part of God’s family on a local, tangible level is messier than being part of God’s family on the Internet. But these—the Bible, prayer, and community—are the primary means by which God speaks, and reading articles should just be a small part of that larger context.

Only the Gospel can transform

Whether it’s a list of strategies, steps, or lessons learned, no list has the power to change people; the most a list can do is point us to the One who can. Moses brought the ultimate list down from the mountain, and no one but Jesus could check everything off. When we boil things down to a simple list, we can miss the opportunity for the Gospel to shine through the weaknesses of our churches, pastors, leaders, and members. We think we can fix our church’s giving problem, erase our pastor’s scandal, convince people to serve, or have the perfect quiet time, and we make ourselves the judges of the progress.

There is so much good and helpful information for us to read, and the Holy Spirit can use list-style articles to bring clarity, to help us reflect, and to convict us of sin, so read all the three-things-you-should-do articles you want, but don’t lose your Gospel focus as you do.

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