(or: How I Spent My Extended Summer Vacation, 2011 version)
Buckle up, friends—this’un’s gonna be almost as autobiographical as informative. But the back story does inform the official one. So bear with me….
For the final 4 1/2 years I was with my last major employer, a group of us guys from work got together every Friday morning, and got our “Bible fix” via a study called Gospel Transformation, put out by World Harvest Mission. Great content, all about our identity in Christ and how to live out of that. Rock-solid theology, but also very useful in terms of “the rubber hitting the road.” (For that matter, WHM founder Jack Miller’s Outgrowing the Ingrown Church has been a regular “re-read” of mine for 10 years now.)
One issue, though: The content was so substantial (both depthwise and pagewise) that it took us three years to work through it. By the time we finished, it was an entirely different group (aside from Brent [our leader] and me). Thus, after trying a more “small-group friendly” WHM study in vain, Brent suggested, “Hey, WHM has a new edition of Gospel Transformation; let’s go through that again.” So we ordered our new editions and got re-started. And then, in January 2011, the axe fell. We tried keeping the group going at my house (since half of us were now unemployed), but it fizzled out after a couple months.
During this same time, however, I received an e-mail from WHM (as re-purchasing GT got me on their mailing list), announcing that all their products would now be handled by a certain New Growth Press. Never heard of them, so I checked them out. What struck me off the bat was a) they had a healthy small-group section, and b) one of their resources was a study that went with the very book I was re-reading at that moment (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, by Paul David Tripp).
So, being the enterprising soul I am, I shot out an e-mail, asking if they could use some editorial/small-group help. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail back from NGP editorial director Barbara Miller Juliani (who, I discovered months later, is Jack Miller’s daughter), saying that, yeah, she might have something for me in the future.
About four months later, Barbara e-mails me, indicating that World Harvest Mission wants to turn Gospel Transformation into a small-group series, and would I like to take on the project? And need you guess my answer?
So that’s the back story. Now, on to the real story—the series itself, and why you oughta run to your nearest Internet and buy it:
• Gospel Identity: Discovering Who You Really Are.
• Gospel Growth: Becoming a Faith-Filled Person.
• Gospel Love: Grace, Relationships, and Everything That Gets in the Way. Each 128p., $12.99. New Growth Press.
Each study can be worked through separately, but there is a sequence going on here, and we tend to skip over the focus of the first study (and ultimately, the entire series): Everything we do emanates out of our identity in Christ—or our obliviousness to that. And the fact that we so often ignore that we’re new creations in Christ trips us up further down the road.
Gospel Identity directly addresses this issue, starting with how we tend to justify ourselves apart from Jesus—which only serves to illustrate how thoroughly we do need Jesus. From there, this first study examines the blessings we’ve been given through our new identity and new life in Jesus—justification, adoption, unity with Christ—how that helps us overcome our self-centeredness and idolatry, and how it pushes us outward so others can also see and experience new life in Jesus.
The second study, Gospel Growth, helps us better see how the gospel transforms us more into Jesus’ likeness. And as you grow deeper in your relationship with Jesus, you’ll discover how the Spirit desires to extend that growth far beyond you. Over the course of this study you’ll look at such topics as living by faith; spiritual disciplines; the hand-in-hand roles of faith and repentance in transformation; the meaning and importance of living in power of the Spirit; the goal of sanctification in our lives; and our increasing identification with the suffering, death, and resurrection life of Christ.
Which brings us to the most overtly ”missional” of the three, Gospel Love—although again, without first knowing and growing in Christ, it’s mostly just “doing” instead of truly living out of our life in Christ. Thus, you’ll learn how the gospel frees you to actively love and accept everyone God puts in your path—because those people are your path. You’ll learn that you’re part of a new family—the Body of Christ. You’ll discover what living incarnationally looks like, exploring the importance of love in community; loving and forgiving those who are difficult to love; extending grace in our relationships; loving honestly, even in conflict; the role of the Spirit in growing the Body of Christ, and finally, exploring opportunities to extend your new family by bringing the gospel to others.
So, what’s changed from the original Gospel Transformation, aside from the more deliberate grouping of themes into more manageable-size studies? Quite a bit, actually. Again, the beating heart has been successfully transplanted here, but into a quicker, more agile body. As opposed to the 15-20 questions and several long reading passages of each of the original GT sessions, the small-group sessions are built to run 75 minutes a pop. Thus, each session sticks to 8-12 questions; and shorter leader transitions have replaced the longer narratives. There’s also a lot more group interaction built in, so subgroups can better interact with the material—and with each other.
Each session concludes with a series of optional weekly challenges that group members are encouraged to take on (and discuss with one another during the week), so that the lesson is something actually put into practice, not just discussed then dismissed.
In addition, a) there’s been a lot of resequencing of the original material, and b) several of the sessions are either brand new or complete overhauls of the originals. It’s far more than just a condensation of the original GT. Honestly, I’d say close to half of the material here is brand new. (You’re welcome. )
But again, this didn’t come about ex nihilo. The message and intent of the original Gospel Transformation (from Jack and Paul Miller, through Neil Williams) is very much intact here. Likewise, there’s still plenty of scriptural and theological meat to chew on here—it’s just significantly easier to digest in one sitting. Think of it as a series of filet mignons, rather than a 32-ounce porterhouse. (But if you’ve got that kind of appetite, looks like the original GT is still available here; I believe WHM/NGP are planning on making it available electronically as well, in due time.)
I’ve said it a number of times before, but now I’ll say it “officially”: This is the proudest I’ve been of my work on a product not called Growing Out. Again, I had great material to work with—as well as great people, particularly Barbara at NGP and Patric Knaak at WHM. And at the end of the day, we all felt that I was able to take all that great material and make it a lot more manageable for a small-group audience, without compromising the integrity of the message itself—and make it a lot more applicational in the process.
But you be the judge. Follow those links above, and prepare to have your life changed.