Q & A With Jonathan Storment and Josh Ross about their new book “Bringing Heaven to Earth”

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Bringingheaven2earthAfter reading Jonathan and Josh’s new book “Bringing Heaven to Earth” I had a few questions to bounce off of them. Their responses reflect much of the reason that you will want to read this book. These two live what they teach…it exudes from them.

This post also serves as part of our book giveaway…comment at the bottom of the post for a chance to win a copy of their book!

The heart of your book is in many ways about culture change…how do you think we move churches from local church centered (even self-centered at times) to a more kingdom centered focus?

I think we do it the same way we do everything in Churches of Christ, theologically, and by going back to the Bible. Nothing we are saying is new, in fact it’s as old as Genesis 12. I read something by G.K. Chesterton recently “all the people in history who have really done anything with the future have had their eyes fixed upon the past…in history there is no Revolution that is not a Restoration.” I like that language. It is restoration language; a move back to something that has been lost. What we’re trying to do in the book is be faithful to this radical idea that we’ve inherited about the Kingdom of God and being like the earliest Christians, and caring what they cared about which was of course “The Kingdom of God.” I think most people who grew up in church have probably had moments where they asked themselves, “Is all there is to following Jesus really rest on this 1 hour a week?” And many Christians have lived into the Kingdom of God and probably not even known that’s what they were doing. 

This is a book that moves…you feel like you are on a raft rushing down a river. The stories that are told and the pace that the book keeps is fast. In short. It is engaging. How do you feel like the kingdom of God (focusing on how heaven is affecting this world right now) moves at a faster pace than we often realize? How do we get more in tune with what God is up to all around us?

Great question. My first response is, do we look for it?

There were two chapters in the book were we deal with the need to be present and attentive for the Lord. In Chapter 7 (Guilty Parties) and Chapter 8 (A Symphony of Grace), we wrestle with what it means to be still before God, because if we are not rooted, we will not bear fruit. At times, the Kingdom of God comes in a downpour, but most of the time, it is more like a drip of grace. It comes. It is consistent. Yet, if we do not realize that we are in a fast-paced, noisy, chaotic, distracting world, we will continue to miss how God is gifting this world with His grace and presence every day.

Much of your book was about big perspective but small, everyday, doable practices. How do you really think we engage in what God is doing…not on the mountaintop level…the mission trip/camp level…but on the wake up every day and do our routine kind of level?

I (Jonathan) grew up in a 10-person church, and much of my church experience growing up would never make the Christian Chronicle or Leadership magazine. From the outside looking in, there was nothing impressive about our church. But from the inside these people captured my imagination and heart by the way they lived out the Kingdom of God. The daily sacrifices that they made for each other (including me), the way the Kingdom of God had changed their daily lives was radical. You wouldn’t point to a 7th grade math teacher as a mountain top experience, but Bro. Foy (the patriarch of the church) had been convicted by God that he was a racist and moved into an all African-American community to teach math. It would be radical to some, but after a few decades of it, it was as normal to him as breathing.

Also, something miraculous and transforming happens when we see forms of brokenness, pain, and blight around us as opportunities for restoration and redevelopment. Christians who are rooted in the hope of resurrection need to inherit a holy ache for every strand of brokenness to be redeemed. This means something for the soul that doesn’t know Christ, to the local school, to the boarded up building. The gospel breathes into all things that reflect death and decay.

One of the big points of the book was about bringing heaven from there to here and it made me wonder just how much of the actual bringing of heaven is my responsibility or even possible for me to do vs. God doing the bringing and me doing the participating/partnering work in what God is already up to…how do you tease that apart?

Great question, and one that I think is really important. We don’t believe that it’s our responsibility to bring Heaven to Earth. That leads to a new form of legalism. I’ve noticed that when we forget this, when we talk about the Kingdom of God as if it’s something we build or advance, we often find ourselves becoming angry. The Bible never talks about the Kingdom of God as something we build or advance, but as something we receive. To use N.T. Wright’s language “We build for the Kingdom.” We don’t build the Kingdom. That’s God’s job, and it’s all grace. 

Many churches are dwindling. The numbers are falling and it is hard to turn the ship. You spent some time on our fear of failing. What kingdom metrics might help churches measure actual growth vs typical corporate growth metrics (contribution, attendance, etc)?

This is such an important question. We are not anti-numbers. Both of our churches still count people and contribution, but both of our churches also use other metrics to determine health and vitality. These numbers may tell us something about spiritual growth, but they don’t tell us much about it.

Measuring sticks that seem to align with the coming Kingdom are things like: discipleship relationships, prayer culture, adopted schools, presence in the community, the willingness for a church to give up home-field advantage, thriving marriages, and how much a local church reflects its community.

How might principles like kingdom, resurrection and new creation help bring new life to struggling churches and even struggling church leaders?

There is nothing God can’t redeem.

Hear me closely on this, because churches never want to lose people. But we can afford to lose people way more than we can afford to lose our joy. When we lose our joy; we lose our witness and sense of mission. Joy is rooted in the heart and mission of God. Resurrection and new creation may not mean 50% growth in church attendance, but it could mean the extension of resources so that others can experience life and restoration. If you and your church want to find new life, then take a dive into it. Take a risk. Run into God’s great adventure.

You talked a lot about Jesus and parties…How might we do a better job of celebrating together?

This takes up the large portion of section 2 in our book. We push hard for the church to rediscover the spiritual discipline of celebration. It is very Biblical. In fact, we believe restoration is at its best when it is celebrated well. One of the goals of the Sycamore View Church in 2015 is to celebrate more faithfully. We threw a party for our 10 Strategic Partners (you can read about it on the homepage of our website www.sycamoreview.org). Once a month, we celebrate a ministry in our church. We clap, we rejoice, and we lean into how God is breaking into the present.

We would love to hear how other churches are celebrating the movement of God in their own context. We need these stories.

As a minister/preacher I was also left with the practical question of “how on earth (or “on earth as it is in heaven”) do you remember so many stories? How do you go about pulling out or remembering illustrations? Also how do you know when/how to transition illustrations? How do you strike a balance between getting the point across without going on and on vs. making the point so quickly and moving on that it doesn’t have time to sink in?

This is such a good question for teachers, preachers, and pastors. Neither of us are pros at this. Far from it.

Here is what we love about Bringing Heaven to Earth; in a way, our churches and cities wrote the book, we just got our names on the front cover.

A good bit of this book were sermons we preached at our local churches. Now, what is challenging about that is there is a big difference between writing for the eye and writing for the ear. Stories are told differently. Punch lines aren’t the same.

One thing we believe about good stories is that they give a face and a name to a truth that needs to be relayed. Of course the danger is that people will remember the story more than what it points too.

For both of us, we want to tell good stories because we live them. And good stories are best lived while in a community that is eager to search out the deep things of God.

Last, how does this kingdom conversation impact ministers? How does it impact “church goers” and what can a typical church start doing right now to begin moving in this direction?

Well, one thing churches can do is buy the book, read it, and then use the small group questions in the back of the book for their small groups. (Joking)

At the risk of sounding simplistic, it is wise to take seriously the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and to ask God how we might live into the heart of this prayer. When we pray this from the heart, something will begin to happen to us. It can often be scary and dangerous, because who knows what sacrifices it may lead too. But the counter-story is that we will play it safe, and never take risks with our time, energy, and resources.

We are giving away two copies of their new book…just comment on this post for a chance to win. We will randomly pick two winners this Saturday at noon Eastern. Thanks for reading!

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