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Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Matt Dabbs

Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of


It is nearly impossible to make accurate predictions looking ahead for churches of Christ. I don’t believe everything I am about to say will happen as I describe it, I do hope that in dreaming and discussing these things that some principles will be highlighted along the way that I believe will be a big part of the future of church culture, practice and doctrine in the years to come. Let us know what you think…which of these do you think get pretty close, which miss the mark entirely and what would you add?

1 – The power of story will result in renewed interests and openness: A renewed and intensified interest in story will bring a new generation into a deeper connection with the history of the church post first century. As we realize more and more that there wasn’t a vacuum in history between 70AD and the 1800s there will be a greater interest in the broader history and movement of the Christian faith and how we tie/tap into that. More and more churches of Christ will embrace things like the liturgical calendar. That same drive will also put us more in touch with New Testament narrative (the Gospels & Acts). It will also result in a shift in emphasis where Paul is brought in as a supplement or support to the Gospels rather than the other way around (which has traditionally been the case).

2 – A greater de-centering of authority in already autonomous churches. In a world where everyone has a voice and authority structures are interrogated with regularity there will be a flattening of the authority hierarchies that will spread our responsibilities and purposes over more people rather than isolating it among the privileged few. This will impact everything from gender roles to decision making and doctrine (see #8 below). Without an overarching denominational structure Churches of Christ can and should be more nimble to make needed adjustments looking ahead. The question is, will we as a whole?

3 – Re-thinking “church”: A generation is already rising up with more interest in Jesus than the church. The question is, how will that affect our expressions and definitions of “church” over the next 30 years? How much of our view of church is due to tradition, boxing up biblical expressions into orderly and controllable shells of what God intended and how much of our view is actually based on what we see in the New Testament? How do we take who they were and what they did and apply that to our context so that we aren’t robotically imitating someone else, while still respecting and following the teachings we do have. The focal point and access point will shift moving away from a church-centered (ecclesio-centered) approach to Trinity-centered (theocentric, Christocentric and Pneumacentric) and what flows out of that will be church rather than making church the primary access point to the Trinity.

4 – Universities and churches will compete against para-church ministries for “talent”: More and more, young ministers are faced with choosing between traditional routes to and through ministry vs non-traditional routes. Para-church/non-profit ministries are becoming more and more popular as they require less investment to participate in and get you into ministry much more quickly than most universities can manage. These organizations are flexible and efficient and that is often more attractive to young people than investing 4-8 years into education to begin ministry. In other words, it is more attractive to young people to dive right into a group that is already set on meeting a particular need or transforming lives than to jump into an established church that is calcified and inoculated against such things where one of the primary goals would be the hard (decades long) work of culture change in the local church that has no promise of ever happening.

5 – A move to simplicity & efficiency: Churches are going to have to simplify everything from ministries to giving/budget in order to better justify what they are doing in a world that is in a competition for dollars and minutes. People don’t want to see 80% of their giving go to overhead.

6 – Increase of “lay lead” churches: I believe a time is coming when some congregations are going to decide they can take up the ministry of the church with less staff and overhead and more grassroots involvement. With that move to para-church equipping (#4) comes a move toward simple (#5), lay-lead churches. This will be a jettisoning of multi-layer/complicated ministry models and a move toward less age-graded/segregated approaches to more wholistic and intergenerational approaches (think small groups and intergenerational classes and ministries). The more you segregate ministries by age the more hired staff it requires. This is a shift from “ministered to” to “minister with.”

7 – Intergenerational ministry: We will finally see the benefit of getting the generations back together and not be afraid to throw away obsolete ministry structures of the past. This will be driven by a few factors: the demonstrated effectiveness of those who are already doing this well, its simplicity, and the shift from more staff to less and leveraging those new resources toward ministry outside the church.

8 – A healthier hermeneutic will be embraced: CENI is good in some instances but it has its limitations. It also ignores #1 – that genre matters and not everything in scripture was intended as legal code. Christians have more bible study resources available to them on the phone in their pocket that past generations had available to them in print. We need to leverage our resources to embrace a healthier hermeneutic that is fair with the text (think historical-critical approach).

9 – People will move from “church shopping” to “small group shopping”: As views on what church is (#3) change people will be more open to the non-traditional route…that means small groups as independent congregations may become more popular and draw more people than traditional expressions of church.

10 – What is your #10?


This article is by Royce Money, Chancellor of Abilene Christian University. I have not personally had the privilege of meeting Dr. Money but as I was asking around to find out who was the right person to get an update on how God is on the move at ACU the name I heard over and over again was Royce Money. Listen in on the exciting things God is doing at ACU. One of the reasons we want to highlight the ministries we have been highlighting is because you may know someone or a church or an eldership who might benefit from some of these resources and our prayer at Wineskins is that this might be what God uses to get people connected. – Matt Dabbs


abilene_0Christian colleges offer a unique opportunity for ministry on a large scale that is significantly different from all other non-profit ministries. The most obvious difference is the sheer amount of students that are available resources to staff a wide variety of ministries. In fact, most of the students have chosen a Christian campus, such as Abilene Christian University or one of the other fine Christ-centered institutions, because they are interested in some form of ministry or outreach and expect such opportunities.

Another distinctive resource at Christian universities is a dedicated Christian faculty who have a broad grasp on what it means for believers to be salt and light in a world of darkness. They combine a personal commitment to Christ with specialized training in their academic disciplines. Many see their work at a Christian university as a significant part of their ministry. And they have connections—former students, professionals of various sorts, and at times information about funding for ministries. As an example, ACU’s College of Business Administration has a track for students interested in managing non-profit ministries.

I want to emphasize three particular programs at ACU that exemplify the great amount of good that can be done for the Kingdom from a Christian university campus. The first is the Halbert Institute for Missions. HIM, as we call it, is not really located in the Missions Department; it is designed to give opportunities for all the ACU students to be involved in some sort of missions. It is under the able direction of Dr. Chris Flanders, assisted by Larry Henderson and Dr. Gary Green. One of their purposes is to recruit and train global mission teams, averaging about four teams a year. They are also a great resource for missions to local congregations and to missionaries serving throughout the world.


They are best known on campus for their WorldWide Witness program (WWW). Each year the HIM team recruits 70-80 students to go throughout the world during the summer and serve as interns with experienced missionaries. I am impressed first of all that each student raises his or her own funds to cover expenses during the summer. While we have a Christian foundation that assists those who come up a little short, I am still impressed with the motivation of these students to invest time and energy into their own missions experience. I am also impressed that they come from a wide variety of departments within the university.

Our World Wide Witness program is unique in that students are required to participate in a 3-credit hour, semester-long course that provides the highest level of mission training available. In fact, the WWW program was recently recognized by Standards of Excellence at the MissioNexus OPEN Conference as a certified short-term missions program—the only one of its kind in the fellowship of Churches of Christ. Upon the students’ return, they are thoroughly debriefed, using Dr. Gary Green’s recent book on short-term missions strategy entitled Now What?: Spiritual Discernment for Cultural Encounters.

Recently 72 interns returned from 24 locations throughout the world. In its existence since 2002, 779 student interns have served in the program. Our research shows that 18% of them choose to do mission work full-time when they graduate. The rest of them are forever changed in their global perspective about the Kingdom. Of course, our most widely recognized former WWW interns are Dr. Kent Brantly and his wife, Amber. Both served as interns in the program in 2003.


The second ministry at ACU I will highlight is the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. Up until 2010, Dr. Charles Siburt served as ACU’s Vice President for Church Relations and practically everyone’s “church doctor,” as we called him. Charlie mentored hundreds of young ministers and was a constant friend to congregational leaders throughout the country. His untimely death two years ago left a large hole in offering assistance to ministers and elders. Dr. Phil Schubert asked me to establish what soon came to be known as the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry.


ElderLink, the long-running and successful weekend workshops for congregational elders, has now been incorporated into the Siburt Institute. Also under the same canopy are a wide array of ministry services: Ministry Transitions with several of our faculty assisting churches and ministers as vacancies occur; an active website, containing a variety of video and written resources for church leaders; Ministers Support Network, a weekend sabbatical retreat for ministry couples needing renewal; eConnections, a series of short, non-credit courses that are practical helps in various aspects of ministry; support and sponsorship of racial unity efforts within Churches of Christ; and hosting special workshops in a variety of locations with experts and noted authors in the ministry field. On and on the list goes.

In September 2014, Dr. Carson Reed assumed the leadership of the Siburt Institute, along with his faculty responsibilities as director of the Doctor of Ministry program at ACU. The Siburt Institute is also ably staffed by Curtis King and Karissa Herchenroeder. Also, Randy Harris, one of our faculty members in ACU’s College of Biblical Studies and the epitome of servant leadership, will play an increasing role in the months and years ahead with the Siburt Institute, focusing particularly on spiritual mentoring of young ministers in Churches of Christ.

Finally, I briefly mention ACU’s variety of undergraduate experiences and graduate programs that are now at CitySquare Ministries, located in the heart of downtown Dallas. Urban experiences abound, with plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning—still the most effective way of “getting it.” Check out ACU@CitySquare at either of these two links. The graduate programs are primarily hybrid ones, with a majority of the work done through distance learning.

CitySquare_RGB (2)

In years past, I often reminded the ACU community that we are involved in a Kingdom work. We still are, and we will be for a long time to come.

A synagogue leader named Jairus had a daughter who was dying. He went to find Jesus and when he found him, he fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come and heal his daughter. At that same time a woman who had suffered for 12 years with bleeding needed relief. She got close enough to Jesus, thinking if she could just touch the edge of his cloak she might be healed…she did and she was healed. Hearing about Jesus and his power to heal, a few guys couldn’t help but think of their paralyzed friend and how great it would be if he could walk again. Seeing the house Jesus was in was full and there was no way to carry their friend to Jesus, they climbed on the roof, made a hole in it and lowered their friend down to Jesus so he would get healed. Jesus healed him.

There are more stories like these but the point is the same – there was one common ingredient that drove each of these people to do what they did. This ingredient is one that I believe is missing from many churches and many Christians today but is something that, if we can reclaim it, would go a long way in the church thriving again.

That word is desperation.

These people were in situations that drove them to make a desperate attempt to seek out Jesus for help. Without Jesus they were doomed. Without Jesus they had no hope.

Whether we feel it or not and whether we realize it or not the same is true for us – we are desperate for Jesus. We just need to realize it. We need to reclaim it.

Too often churches and Christians have grown complacent and comfortable. We can pay our bills, pay the minister, and take care of the basics…so we coast along as if we have it all covered. Have we lost our desperation for Jesus? Have we lost our reliance on the Holy Spirit? Have we come to trust more in our own ability to take care of things than in God’s ability to use us in ways greater than what our own efforts can accomplish? In too many cases, the answer is yes.

What will it take for us to become desperate for God again?

iStock_000016927255Small This month’s issue of Wineskins is going to kick off a new trend here at the site. As the last post stated, we are going to be highlighting areas where we see God at work among His people. We are going to highlight ministries, missions, universities, individuals and congregations that are partnering with God to do some amazing work. In the process we hope to make you aware of some amazing ministries going on out there and shine a light on the good they are doing in the world and for the kingdom. Our prayer is that through this God will be glorified and that there will be a greater awareness given to some really great ministries out there that you or someone you know may be in need of contacting. This effort will go far beyond this issue of Wineskins and will be happening more and more in future issues as we try to identify places where God is at work, some expected and some place we might never have guessed he would be involved. We ask that you pray for these ministries as we highlight them and that we all might be encouraged by hearing “God stories” in the days, weeks and months to come. I have been greatly encouraged by the conversations I have had with various ministers and ministries regarding this focus and I am sure you will be encouraged as well!

2 Corinthians 4:7-18

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Let us humble ourselves and submit to God’s hands…his unrelenting, perfect and patient hands. Let us spend more time celebrating the shaping and transforming work of God when it is evident among us and even when it isn’t.

If you have followed Mike Cope’s blog for any length of time you may have noticed the subheading of his site “Sniffing Out God’s Work in the World…” I love that line and I love the fact that Mike ends that with ellipses. Those three little periods indicate that there is something more. When it comes to God there is always something more going on…something new that if you have your ear to the ground or your nose attuned to the air you will find evidence that God is still very much active in this world and in the lives of people.

In the Chronicles of Narnia there is a phrase that is said that just about gives me chills when I think about it…they say that “Aslan is on the move” and that means trouble for the witch and her minions. That means wrongs will be made right and heartache will be replaced with joy. Someone needs to be reminding us that Aslan is on the move. We want in on that conversation here at Wineskins. We are going give more attention to those who hear and see and smell the work of God so they can share it here at Wineskins.

One of our goals looking ahead for Wineskins is to highlight missions, non-profits, churches, lectures, ministries, church planters, universities, organizations and conferences where God is making an impact. We want to let them tell their stories so we can both rejoice with them, pray for them and learn from them. In the coming months we are going to be highlighting more and more of these, along with our typical theme articles and we hope you will be uplifted and encouraged by their stories and by what God is doing in their midst.

We just started a new forum on site called the Wineskins Marketplace. The goal is to create a space for the buying, selling and trading of books and materials related to faith, NT & OT studies, ministry, and related fields. I have posted a few things just to get the ball rolling but the goal is not to make this a place for me to sell my extra books but for you to have an outlet to to buy or sell books you are interested in (or no longer interested in 🙂 ). When you have a minute give it a look. It will become a greater and greater tool the more you are able to utilize it.

At the bottom of the page, if you are logged in, you will see an area where you can post to the marketplace. You can read all the posting guidelines here.

I hope this is a blessing to our readers and a place where we can engage with each other in a way that is mutually beneficial.



What is it that gets people stirred up with the body of believers you worship with? The answer to that question will reveal a lot about the core values of the congregation.

Do people get more riled up over someone being in “error” than they do with their own sin and mistakes? Do people get more upset over the violate of tradition than over lost people who aren’t being reached? Do people move to action more quickly over conversation of our country moving in the wrong direction than the church moving in the wrong direction?

When you put your finger on the hot button issues in a congregation, it gives you great insight into the culture, spirit and heart of the church for good or bad. And it isn’t always all good or all bad. We all have areas that we get worked up over that aren’t the main thing and we all have a few main thing items that should motivate us that don’t.

The question to keep in the back of your mind is this, “When you see people move to action with great fervor ask yourself, why?”

Sometimes we will find that the answer is has more to do with fear than with courage.

We see this online and we see it in the pews. It may not be reality but it often feels like there are more people who are trying to tear things down than build things up and more people who are ready to poke holes in things than people who are willing and able to build new entirely new things. Do we have a longer list of things we are afraid of and behaviors to avoid than we do things to be excited about and missions to be engaged in?

It is vitally important that churches and church leadership do not define their direction based on what they are running from but on Who they are running to and the vision and mission that God is calling us to. It will take insightful, humble, godly people to lead in that direction in a way that people will throw off the shackles of fear that have hindered the church in years past and take up the cause of Christ in visible, tangible and meaningful ways.

Let us renew within our fellowship the song of freedom and redemption found in Isaiah 35…let us speak these words over the people of God so they will truly know who they are and the hope they have as God’s children,

Isaiah 35

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

So be passionate, church, over the things God is calling us to. And let us together pursue with reckless abandon the call of Christ!

It is entirely possible to know the truth but have no joy. It is also possible to be an expert in doctrine but have no passion. We see truth without the Spirit and truth without grace. Some have become experts in engaging the head without much effort toward engaging the heart.

The problem runs deeper than our emphasis on knowledge and doctrine at the expense of the spiritual life. People are tired. They are tired of feeling like faith and church is like a running track…lap after lap but you haven’t really gone anywhere. The faith they read about in scripture is more of a cross country run than running laps and they are desperate to be a part of a community of faith that truly embraces the life and mission we have been called to. There are sights to see, adventures to be had and victories to be won…but is that obvious and if not, why not? If not, how are we going to change that?

It seems to me that in many cases and places we have lost our passion and need restoration…we are a movement that has restoration at the core of who we are but maybe our idea of what needs to be restored needs expanded. The kind of restoration we talk about usually involves patterns for doing church…authorization for church practice but should we have a desire to restore more than that? Having good doctrine is essential and a zeal for being biblical is important but we cannot get so good at that that we lose our soul…our passion…our deepest longings for God and transformation in the process.

When it comes to the Christian faith it is incredibly easy to major in minors. We can dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s without ever having a real passion for God. It is entirely possible to debate people online to be proven right rather than for God to shine through….having great zeal but aiming it at the wrong things. Having a true passion for God, for His people and for the things that God is passionate about is vitally important in the lives of Christians.

The August issue of Wineskins is going to examine what Christians can and should be truly passionate about. We will dive into how we reclaim having a passion for God and how we can put aside the distractions both the world and even the church calls our attention to. There is more competition than ever for the hearts of people in the world today.

What does God want us to be passionate about and how do we restore it? What is it going to take for people to get fired up again over their faith and for the God who has brought them out of darkness and into His wonderful light? It is vitally important that we have a story worth telling, a passion worthy displaying and a faith worth sharing. The good news is, it is all right here in front of us…we just have to embrace it.

There are many “one anothers” that we hesitate to practice because we don’t like tension, anxiety and uncomfortability that comes with making yourself vulnerable in front of others…expressing your true/authentic self. As much as we are about doing things in Bible ways it is rare that you find churches openly confessing sins one to another. To some, church might just feel like the least safe to be authentic…and that is a shame. So here is the question and let’s really discuss this and share practical ways to work through this,

What will it take for churches and church leadership to give more space to vulnerability and authenticity in congregational life and worship?

Paul tells us something in Romans 15 that I believe is central to why we have lost our young people,

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”[a] For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:1-6

Paul tells stronger (more mature) Christians that they need to bear with the weak (less mature Christians). He says that we do this not to please ourselves but to please our neighbors for their good…building them up. He says that through this we might have “one mind and one voice” to glorify God and Christ Jesus.

My experience has been that in many churches it is the other way around from what Paul says here. We have a developed a way of “doing church” that excludes and isolates our younger, weaker teenage Christians and then when it comes time for transition those who are “strong” implicitly demand that the young come over and do things that are the preferences of the stronger Christians.

We have done such a thorough job of making nearly everything a non-negotiable, right/wrong issue that there is no longer any need for weak/strong distinctions because you don’t have to yield if something is a sin. But Paul still talks like there are some issues that are negotiable and it is wise that we take him seriously on that. Not everything is black or white (see Romans 14).

Without actually saying it, we have communicated that the stronger more mature Christians are actually the weak ones, while expecting the real weaker brothers and sisters to be the strong ones. Again, we would never say that (although I have actually heard it said in order for one older Christian to get their way by actually claiming to be the weaker brother on just one occasion) but it is how many churches operate without ever thinking about what is actually being communicated here.

There is an attitude that once teens graduate out of the youth group that if they want to be a part of “big church” that they have to toe the line…they have to do everything the way it has always been done and play by the rules. The way it has always been done means to the liking of the older “more mature” Christians. I don’t think Paul would agree. Actually, I know Paul wouldn’t agree as he points us to the example of Christ and says “do what you see in him…embrace the attitude you find in him…follow the example of the one who didn’t exist to please himself but came to encourage others.”

I believe Paul would tell the older crowd that they need to take their role as the stronger brothers and sisters seriously and yield on the negotiables (yes they exist!) to the weaker Christians. You won’t always sing the songs you like. The sermon won’t always be addressed to you. There may not be a Bible class that is exactly what you need…well guess what, stronger Christians won’t be bothered by any of that but should be mature enough to recognize that there are plenty of other people benefiting from it all that their personal preference is not as important as those on the fringe. If you have been a Christian for decades and not getting your way bothers you, it is time for a checkup. Maybe we just haven’t done a good job growing believers to maturity in their faith and in following Christ and now we are reaping what we have sown?

Being the stronger Christians is a recognition of leadership and responsibility. Often people just want the first. We are losing people every day over this and those who are more mature have to take on the responsibility of leadership…that often means service and yielding to others.

In what ways have you seen the weak/strong issue being played out in church? How have you seen it used for good? How have you seen it manipulated? What is it going to take to take what Paul said seriously in the churches and what would happen if we did?