Salvation is Hard

After writing my last post, “Salvation is Now,” I’ve read this article in Leadership Journal interviewing Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church. You can read the whole article here.

However, here is the snippet that correlates with my previous post. On one hand, people need to “war against sin” and seek change, transformation, and growth. It is possible — that is clear. But what the following below shows is that it can be difficult as well. Life transformation like Jesus is possible. But it requires discipline and grace.

Interview with Matt Chandler:

How did that change the way you seek growth?

It started making me very frustrated with the church. If you’re struggling with anger or lust and the church’s answer is a four-point sermon on how to get rid of it, and you do those four points and it doesn’t work, it leaves you frustrated. You feel like the church is either lying or is irrelevant, or you are more broken than anyone else.

That quick-fix methodology was so prevalent back then, and it was even evident in the testimonies that people shared. They were always unbelievably victorious. There was always a guy who drank for 30 years, came to Christ, and never wanted to drink again. But I drank for less than a year before being saved, and I still craved a drink once in a while. When stories of miraculous deliverance are presented as normative, it makes the rest of us wonder if we are truly converted.

How has that experience impacted the way you pursue growth at The Village Church?

We acknowledge that most of us do struggle with sin. Most of us wrestle. We work really hard to create an environment that says, “It’s okay to not be okay.” I’ll give you an example. On Sunday morning during the worship set, we’ll show a three or four minute video testimony. A few months ago the video was really powerful. The guy was in a bad spot, frustrated with sin, nowhere near where he wanted to be. In the middle of his story, he just started crying, wiped his tears, and stopped the recording. He couldn’t say anything else.

We used the video because we thought it would help people understand the reality of growth. It’s a process. Sanctification isn’t instantaneous. That’s a healthy message for the congregation.

A lot of churches wouldn’t have shown that video.

There are people I love and respect, good friends, who strongly disagree with my perspective. They believe that if you create an environment where it’s okay to not be okay, you will discourage growth. I disagree. We want to say, “Its okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay there.”

So how have you created an environment of growth that doesn’t make people feel crushed?

We’ve pursued a model we call the Greenhouse. It’s organic but it’s also controlled. I was at a conference with my friend Darren Patrick, pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, where two church leaders spoke about different spiritual growth strategies. The first guy was very West Coast—flower shirt and flip flops. His approach was very organic. He wants people connected to the Bible and connected in groups. That’s it. Everything else will take care of itself.

The other presenter was from the Dallas area—pleated pants with multiple phones and beepers on his waist like a Bat-belt. His approach was very linear and mechanical. He showed us a three-volume, one-year classroom curriculum. But at the end of the year only 23 people out of 4,000 at his church completed the program. That is a lot of work for not a lot of return. That night Darren and I listed the pros and cons of both models—the organic and the mechanical. We wanted to develop a strategy that would take the best of both and avoid the pitfalls of each. That’s where the Greenhouse idea came from. We wanted to take the good, relational elements of the organic model and put them into the structure of a system.

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