Several people have written about the factors derailing the mission of Christ in North America, but these efforts don’t “seem to be moving the needle,” says Jeff Christopherson.
So he wrote a novel.
“I wanted something that would roll around in peoples’ hearts and minds and maybe cause a different response,” Christopherson said about why he wrote “Once You See: Seven Temptations of the Western Church.”
“If leaders could see and feel the staggering difference, then maybe change would be easier,” he asserted.
Published in December 2022, “Once You See” is his third major book, following “Kingdom Matrix: Designing a Church for the Kingdom of God” in 2012 and “Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements” in 2015.
“When a church exists to serve the Kingdom of God, it is powerful,” Christopherson said. “When a church exists to serve itself, it becomes idolatrous and powerless.”
The idea for all his books, Christopherson said, came from the men who guided his spiritual journey as a teen in Saskatchewan, Canada. “It started with Jack [Conner] and Henry [Blackaby] — seeing how they gave themselves away for the sake of the Kingdom. They weren’t saving themselves. They were giving themselves away.”
Christopherson was a pastor and church planter for 20 years, and is now the executive director of both the Canadian National Baptist Convention and Church Planting Canada, a collaboration of more than 25 evangelical denominations and church planting networks within Canada. Previously he served as vice president of the North American Mission Board for the Send Network, and he co-founded the Church Multiplication Institute.
He said he sees some of his own struggles in the pastorate being repeated in various contexts, cultures and generations.
“We all seem to struggle at the same place, the temptation to ‘seek first our kingdoms,’” Christopherson said. “And that is having a corrosive effect on our gospel witness.
“But I’ve seen something else as well,” he continued. “I’ve experienced incredible power in ministry when my hands were opened wide, and everything was yielded to the mission of Christ.”
The storyline of “Once You See” opens with Luca Lewis mourning the recent death of his father, the pastor of a struggling inner-city church. Luca resents the church that “killed” his father, yet he has a compelling inclination to experience something different, something truer.
Next Dr. Jimmy Norris enters the story. Norris is the pastor of a waning Atlanta megachurch whose best years occurred twenty years ago. Norris knows the church needs to change, but how?
Norris and Lewis then cross paths with a Yemeni refugee whose family betrayed him for his newfound Christian faith.
The story unfolds as these men’s lives and ministries intersect, illustrating the seven temptations of the western church:
- Philosophicalism — “We are a Bible-believing people.”
- Professionalism — “We have a gifted pastoral team.”
- Presentationalism — “Our worship is inspiring, and our preaching is strong.”
- Passivism — “Everybody is welcome.”
- Pragmatism — “We are one of the fastest growing churches.”
- Partisanism — “We love our country.”
- Paternalism — “We train pastors around the world.”
“Once You See” offers the Kingdom correctives to the seven temptations.
“Jeff Christopherson has an unusual capacity to see things others miss,” notes Richard Blackaby, president of Blackaby Ministries International, in his endorsement of the book. “He relentlessly gets to the root of the problem. His conclusions may shock, enlighten, inspire or offend you, but once you read this captivating book, you will never view the church the same way again.”
“The global church is expanding at a rapid pace — and in the midst of persecution in many cases — while the church in the West is declining at a pretty good clip,” Christopherson said. “As I began to analyze the two, I saw the clear missiological differences that distinguish our opposing approaches.”
The local church, individual local gatherings of believers “devoted to the courageous and sacrificial search and rescue mission of Christ,” is unsurpassed in its importance in the world, Christopherson said.
“It’s God’s primary vehicle for revealing His kingdom, and yet for too many of us in the West, the church is primarily about a worship service. That’s not a New Testament picture, and that’s not the way we see God moving around the world.
“In many ways, Canada is the canary in the coal mine,” Christopherson said. “The declines in evangelical affiliation have been breathtakingly rapid. Between World War II and 2016, we averaged 12% to 14%. Now, six years later, it’s fallen off a cliff to under 5%. Most of the reasons, in my opinion, are related to our yielding to these seven temptations.”
Change not easy
The United States has greater religious memory, which offers a bit of a short-term buffer, but most spiritual trends in the U.S. point in a similar direction, Christopherson noted. And the precipitous drop that awaits isn’t something that ‘church as worship service’ can fix.
“Bottom line, too many of us in North America have a 16th century picture of church which includes the 16th century assumptions of Christendom,” Christopherson continued. “Assumptions that did not include ‘mission.’ We look back to that era as if it were the high point in Christian history, when in reality it was the beginning of a change within one of the lowest points of our history.
“But what is required is a first century picture, a New Testament church, one that doesn’t consolidate and institutionalize for its own ends, but lives openhandedly for the mission of Christ. The tension between the seven temptations and Kingdom correctives is ever present.”
Christopherson said he understands that change isn’t easy.
“Unlearning, repentance and relearning are the steps needed to change, and that’s not always easy. Biblical repentance, ‘metanoia,’ is a new mind, a changed mind. But when God blows our minds with His ideas, we want to exchange our pathetic ways. So once you see, it’s spiritually natural to let go and follow His headship.”
Pastors need encouragement from their brothers in the fight, Christopherson continued. The ending of his book is designed with spiritual leaders in mind, for peer mentoring and for conversation.
“I think courage is transferred that way,” Christopherson said. “The whole book is about helping people see and feel the difference between which side of those temptations we fall. They’re life and death. My hope is that people will say, ‘Shoot, I really want the other thing,’ and ‘How do I get there?’”
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