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One-on-One with Justin Schell on Being Under-Gospeled and Finding God as He Is

Ed: How long have you been involved in Lausanne International, and what is your current role?

Justin: I have been serving as director of executive projects for the past five years. Our CEO, Michael Oh, recruited me when he was preparing to take on leadership of the Movement.

Ed: Tell me about your current roll and what you do.

Justin: I help design and launch new initiatives within the movement. In that process, we determine what the end goal is and how to get there. We wrestle over: who else needs to be at the table with us? Who needs to speak into this initiative? With whom should we partner?

Typically, it also means building a team or recruiting a long-term director for the initiative, and seeing it through to launch. Every project is different, which makes it both fun and frustrating. I’ve gotten to help launch recent initiatives like Lausanne Global Classroom, Younger Leaders Generation and initiatives within that, and am now working on an initiative to see affordable, robust theological education made available to anyone, anywhere. Pray for me and for Lausanne.

Ed: Tell me about the gospel and the church in your part of the world.

Justin: After serving on the mission field, I am now in Tulsa, OK. Tulsa is in need of reformation. The leadership of my church here often says that, as a city, it is “over-churched, but under-gospeled.”

Being in the Bible Belt, it’s common to see men and women looking for salvation in all sorts of places – usually drastic departures from the living, good, triune God and the faith we find in Scripture.

Some confuse Christianity with being American – a cultural Christianity. So, you get a politicized, ethnocentric faith. Others have been taught that Jesus wants to make them healthy and wealthy: Christ the cosmic piggy bank will (or has to) provide their wants if they pray the right prayers, think positively, or conjure up enough faith. It’s a heavy burden to them and defames the name of Christ.

Still a third group labors under the weight of seeing God as a cosmic tyrant who demands performance or perfection before he will accept them. Many are withering under the pressure of pleasing what seems to be an unloving God.

There are signs of renewal, though, with new churches being planted…churches that want to hold up the Gospel clearly, boldly, and consistently, and that are finding ways to meet the practical needs around them. Some other churches are experiencing revitalization through a renewed emphasis on the gospel and its power in all of life.

Ed: What is your impression of how the church is doing when it comes to sharing the gospel today?

Justin: In general, very poorly. Many here believe evangelism is still the unique purview of the professional evangelist or, perhaps, the pastor. Paul said in 2 Corinthians, “We believe and so we speak.” What does it say about our faith when we share it/speak it so little?

Having said that, networks like No Place Left are serving the church in wonderful ways, both calling all Christians to the harvest and equipping them for the harvest. One church here has trained about a quarter of their body so far, and they have a vision to see 1,000 people come to Christ through personal evangelism in the next nine years.

Ed: What advice would you give to Christian leaders in how to lead well in the complexities of today’s world?

Justin: I think it was Ken Sande who said that very few leaders in Christian ministry are fired for competency issues. It’s almost always character that brings about our demise.

I think that’s right. So, I make it my ambition, when with Christians, to seek to stir up in them a clearer picture of the goodness of God and the glory of Christ.

Richard Sibbes asked in the 1600s, “What will we do for Christ if we will not feast with Him?” Indeed! We must learn to enjoy Christ, to see the clear sunbeams of the heart of God the Father, shining on us.

Many Christians, leaders included, still have a lingering suspicion that Jesus is nice, but the Father seems a little dark and a little distant. But that’s as unbiblical an idea as one can find. Jesus came to reveal the Father!

So, when he washes the disciples’ feet, he’s showing us what the Father is like…a God who always has stooped low for the good of his people. When he goes to the cross, Jesus is showing us the Father who has always given what’s most precious of himself for his people. He is much more kind, tender, and warm towards us than we can imagine!

So, if you want to lead well, feast with Christ, and teach your people, your team, your organization to do that, say to them, as Sibbes would, “Let us open our mouth wide, since Christ is so ready to fill it.”

Ed Stetzer on Vimeo
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