"Treasure In Clay Jars" series


typical world map upside down world map Story of Jack Russell welding in the mag-cell plant. [An experienced welder on first encountering a work site within a powerful magnetic field cannot accomplish seemingly simple repair work by doing the job "by the book."] What do you do when everything you know no longer works? What do you do when the world as you know it turns upside down?

What happened to Jack in the mag-cell plant is similar to the church’s experience in our culture. Some of us can remember when faith and Christian values were held in high esteem in our culture. Chick-Fil-A is regarded as exceptional for closing on Sundays, but there was a time when every store closed on Sunday. Some time ago evangelism and outreach were aided by a society that embraced religion in public life. Now faith is considered a private matter and the subject is rarely approached in public.

A worldview includes the presuppositions, beliefs, and values that shape how we see reality and determines how we will think and act. Our worldview is often shaped by our culture. Our culture is changing, and that means that worldviews are changing.

What do we do? Is the church threatened by a shift in culture? Should we be concerned or worried because worldviews are changing? Throughout the ages the church has survived and sometimes even thrived in cultures that were hostile to the Christian worldview or in cultures that had a plurality of worldviews. A good example is the city of Rome in the first century. How could the church in Rome live in a culture ingrained in idolatry, pluralism, and permissive morals? The apostle Paul writes to the churches in Rome saying ... (Read Romans 12:1-2)

Regardless of the worldview of this age, the church is conformed to God’s will – not the pattern of this age. There is no age, culture, or worldview in any society that the church requires to live within God’s rule. In fact, a particular culture or worldview that we prefer or feel comfortable with might be more of a problem than one that is hostile to Christian faith. Why? Because we are tempted to conform to “the pattern of this age” rather than be transformed by the will of God. It is risky to be conformed to the pattern of this age because the pattern of the age will always be shifting and changing.

And that’s what is happening in our culture. We are transitioning between a modern and a postmodern worldview. The modern worldview is the result of the age of reason that followed the renaissance in western civilization. The universe and human existence were explained in rational and scientific terms. That doesn’t sound so odd to us, but at the time it was a major shift in worldview. The assumption in the modern age was that humanity would continue to progress and science and reason would usher in an enlightened utopian age. But as the 20th century rolled along and science and technology led to anything but utopia and enlightenment, people began to lose confidence in the modern worldview. So now we are entering into a new age. Now one is sure what the foundation of this new age really is. In fact the only thing we seem to know is that there isn’t a foundation. All we know is that it is after the modern, or postmodern. So here we are living in a culture that draws from both worldviews. As I have said before, it is like wearing eyeglasses that have two different lenses. Such a mixed perspective is sure to give us headaches!

We needn’t be forced to choose either the modern or postmodern worldview. The shift from one to the other is inevitable. It will not be stopped and there’s no reason to stop it. There is much that was good about the modern worldview, but much that was not good. There’s much to be concerned about with the postmodern worldview, but don’t assume that it is all bad – there’s much that is hopeful in it. Yet, neither of these is THE worldview that the church requires. We can thrive in either worldview is we are shaped by the gospel rather the culture or worldview. The church is transformed and renewed by the gospel and we are able to test and approve what God’s will is. We have new lenses that enable us to look with discernment on all worldviews and cultures. Paul was able to do this in Athens when he stood among idols and immorality and say, “Well, it seems that you folks are quite religious.” And out of that renewed and transformed outlook, Paul was able to participate in God’s mission to Athens. Like Paul, we too can live out God’s will within the worldview wherever we are. So let’s not be conformed to the pattern of this age or any other age, but let’s be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

We are clay jars that carry the treasure of the gospel. We are shaped by the potter. In the weeks ahead we are going to consider the patterns that are imprinted upon our life together by God. We should not think of these patterns as specific qualities that must be present in exactly the same way in every congregation and always as it was in every age. Rather, these are distinct patterns – they are recognizable, but they vary.

For instance, take a look at this pattern.
What is it?

And what is this one?

(Also plaid)
And what is this?

(Again plaid)

You recognize all three as plaid, but they look different.

In this image you see what?

(Clay jars)

You recognize them all as clay jars but they each look different. There is something basic about “jarness” that we recognize despite the variation. Conforming to a pattern is not the same thing as reproduction.
Applying this to our congregation we need to understand that our congregation will not look exactly like any other congregation, but there are basic characteristics that show how we are “transformed by God.” Not only will we not look like every other congregation, but over time this congregation will not always look the same – but that doesn’t mean we have deviated from God’s pattern. As the church we are always being renewed and transformed according to God’s will.

As long as we participate in God’s mission to the world, we are always a work in progress. We are being molded and shaped by the potter. Like every good artist, we recognize in God’s work certain patterns that identify us as his work. We will consider eight of these that have something to do with being faithful participants in God’s mission – in other words, these are patterns that show us to be missional. 1) Following God’s call; 2) being shaped by scripture; 3) contrasting against the culture as a different community; 4) living out God’s intent for the world; 5) worshipping God for the sake of the world; 6) Depending on God’s spirit; 7) pointing toward the kingdom; 8) shepherding leadership.

Yesterday, our shepherds gathered for a day of prayer and serious conversation. They didn’t do this to set out a grand agenda or make plans and set budgets. They did this to draw closer to God and one another. They believe, as we all should, that this congregation is not shaped by their personalities or agenda, but that it is shaped by God. They believe, as we all should, that God is active in our lives and our life together and we fills us with the treasure of the gospel. They believe, as we all should, that they need God every day. I am thankful that we have shepherds who humbly yet without apology turn to God and follow God’s call to serve others. I want to affirm that their lives are an example for all of us and we should not only lift them up, but we ought to follow their example and turn to the Lord, the potter, who shapes all of us and fills all of us with the gospel treasure.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 12 February 2006

Treasure in Clay Jars
Lesson One (alternative A) – Feb. 12, 2006
“Finding Our Way in the Story in Which We Find Ourselves”

Outcome Objectives
  1. Group will examine a Christian worldview that endures through every shift and change in cultural worldviews.
  2. Group will identify ways in which the revelation of God provides disciples of Jesus with a biblical worldview that is based on seeing the world the way God sees it.
  3. Group will distinguish the difference between a modern worldview and a post-modern worldview.
  4. Group will identify how influence and power were vested in Christendom from the fourth century through the twentieth century.
  5. Group will examine the tendency of congregations to entrench in a world of modernity rather than courageously take the gospel to the prevailing culture.
Opening Discussion
[Note: Rather than go over all these in detail, be selective in what discussions are most interesting and beneficial in your group. The opening discussion should only last for about one-quarter of your time together.]
  1. Observe that one’s worldview includes the presuppositions, beliefs, and values that shape how one see reality and determines how one will think and act, yet Scripture endures through every shift and change in cultural worldviews.
    • The apostle Paul addresses the importance of living in whatever worldview one finds oneself as disciples of Jesus, with a biblical worldview based on seeing the world as God sees it.
    • Christians are to test every worldview according to Romans 12:1-2, and to base their worldview in Christ (“the renewing of your mind”). Discussion question – “Have you ever changed your mind? Give an example of a time you changed your mind about something and it influenced what you did thereafter.”
    • 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 contrasts the wisdom of God with the wisdom on humanity. Verse 31 instructs Christians to boast only in the Lord.
    • 2 Corinthians 5:16 declares a Christian worldview, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Through we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
  2. Observe that scripture provides disciples of Jesus with a biblical worldview. Naturally Christians live in the world, but we are not to be of the world. How are disciples of Jesus to exist in the world, remain true to God, but not isolate themselves from living out the gospel in the culture in which they find themselves?
  3. Historians describe four major worldviews: 1) classic, 2) middle-ages, 3)modern and 4) postmodern, which have formed worldviews throughout the history of humankind in Western Civilization. To investigate how contemporary Christians will live out the mission of God in the culture in which we find ourselves, it is important to review the two most recent worldviews: modern and postmodern
  4. Define a modern worldview by giving examples such as [note that a modern worldview isn’t really so “modern!”]:
    • The Enlightenment (18th century) ushered in a worldview of rational thought and reason. Education, knowledge, literacy, belief, progress and scientific reasoning replaced the irrationality, superstition, and tyranny of the middle ages.
    • The Restoration Movement began in the early 19th century firmly rooted in rationality, reasoning, and right beliefs. Early on, the movement invited all people to “come and reason together.” Since reason and science were seen as the ultimate absolutes, leaders of the Restoration Movement (Campbell, Lipscomb) made a case for a rational and reasonable basis for gospel and religion.
    • Churches of Christ that emerged from the Restoration Movement interacted successfully with the modern worldview in early America. They were successful on the American frontier, emphasized Bible study, biblical preaching, and scripture memorization. Rational thought, biblical literacy, and an emphasis of always going back to the Bible were the hallmarks of the movement. Compare this to the worldview of the “Founding Fathers” who worked to establish a reasonable and rational set of laws and constitutional government in America.
  5. Define a postmodern worldview by giving examples such as:
    • In the later part of the 20th century, philosophers and social scientists began to describe a worldview turning toward globalization, consumerism, fragmentation of authority, deconstruction, and relativism.
    • In the modern worldview science was seen as a means to a better future. After two world wars in the 20th century, science was seen as the potential means of destruction of the human race.
    • Some have described this worldview change by stating that “the golden dome of rationality” collapsed. No single canopy emerged to replace rationalism.
    • Postmodernism rejected any single absolute, such as reason. In a world of no absolutes, diversity, tolerance, and multiculturalism carry the day.
    • In postmodernism, nothing can claim to be totally absolute, but neither can anything be proven to be totally invalid. All claims are considered.
  6. Additional information to distinguish the difference between a modern worldview and a post-modern worldview is available on the attached chart (Attachment 1)
    • The important thing to remember is that King David enlisted the men of Issachar because they understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (I Chronicles 12:32) As the biblical passage notes, Christians live to the glory of God, and are charged with living out the mission of God in the culture, in the dominate worldview in which they find themselves.

  1. Identify the genesis of Christendom and provide a historical overview of Christendom from the 4th century through the 20th century.
    • Constantine the Great, Roman emperor in the 4th century, made Christianity the religion of the state, which before that time had suffered persecution.
    • Instead of martyrdom and persecution, Christians were welcomed into the center of power and influence. Cathedrals, positioned near the city center, provided clergy with a strong voice in political affairs and in all aspects of society.
    • The political kingdoms of the world were equated with the spiritual kingdom of God. This is the meaning of “Christendom.” So, the Roman Empire became known in time as the Holy Roman Empire. In time treaties drawn up in Europe established that the religion of a territory was determined by the religion of the ruler. For seventeen centuries (4th through the 20th), Christendom enjoyed authority and significance in Western thought.
    • America, founded in the dawn of the Enlightenment, in the 17th century, emphasized freedom of religion. Clergy provided an influential voice in schools, government, and commerce. Currency proclaimed “In God We Trust.”
    • As the worldview turned toward post-modernity in the late 20th century, Christendom’s voice weakened and society began to marginalize Christendom. Churches became one of many influences in society, no longer providing a sacred canopy over the state.
  2. Display the graphic found on Attachment 2, and invite the group to identify ways in which they observe Christendom being marginalized (pushed to the side) in the 21st century. Possible responses include banning prayer in schools, nativity scenes removed from Courthouse lawns, and the Ten Commandments removed from some public venues. How are these both a challenge and opportunity for the church?

  1. Congregations today may reflect characteristics of modernity more than post-modernity. For more than a quarter of a century, Churches of Christ have asked questions about our identity as a movement. This period may have served as a time of forging a new missional identity for our movement. The book of Exodus tells of the people of Israel serving as slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, and when freed by God through Moses, spent forty years wondering in the wilderness. Could it be that God was forging a new “identity” for his chosen people? Did he allow them to travel for years in the desert to rid themselves of their identity as slaves and take on a new identity of free people in the promised land? Could God have used the time to cause the people of Israel to claim the Spirit of God in living daily as his chosen people?
  2. Could it be that the cultural turning from a modern to a post-modern worldview during the past thirty or so years has forged a new missional identity for God’s people? Is our current state as failure and loss, or is the Spirit of God inviting us to rediscover a missional heart in unimagined and unexpected places.
  3. Consider this statement by author Alan Roxburgh: “One fears that in North America, rather than hearing this call of the Spirit to embrace and listen to the voice of God in a place of strangeness, the churches are continuing to work hard at rediscovering modes of existence and symbols of power that will move them back to an imaginary center. A return to a remembered Christendom or the old detent with modernity is impossible.”
    Alan J. Roxburgh, The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality, (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997).
  4. Roxburgh challenges readers with the observation that, “The only meaningful way forward lies in understanding and embracing our new position in the culture, in society. We must live with confusion and humiliation, as a hopeful people ready to discover the new things the Spirit will birth. The continued assumption of cultural symbols of power and success will only produce an inauthentic church with little gospel, much religion, and no mission.”
  5. Respond to Roxburgh’s claims about the current status of congregations in a postmodern world by answering the following questions:
    • Which of Roxburgh’s claims do you agree with?
    • Which of his claims do you disagree with or challenge?
    • In what ways is our congregation successfully taking the gospel to the post-modern culture?
    • Where do you see the Spirit of God leading us in regards to taking the gospel to this culture?

Attachment 1
Missional Church in Post-Modernity
“Understanding the Times”
I Chronicles 12:32

“... men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (I Chronicles 12:32) “... you can tell the weather by looking at the sky, but you are unable to read the signs of the times!” (Matthew 13:6)
Attachments compiled by David W. Wray, Abilene Christian University (2005)




Organizing Principle







Propositional/Right Answers (Absolutes)

Experiences/Story (Narrative)


Commitment to the truth of Scripture–nurture by church

Abstract concept, shaped by one’s own reality and understanding


A place where something happens (Provider of “goods and services”) “Build it and they will come”

Living the reign of God as a community of disciples prayerfully joining together for missions, ministry and worship


Sending of missionaries to distant lands

Missional lives being lived by all of us in our  families, marketplaces, in every context


Husband (father), wife (mother), marriage, children

Pluralistic lifestyles (same sex attraction, co-habitation, traditional family, etc.)

Christian Education- “Bible School”

Informational (literacy), formal classroom, curriculum, manuals (rationality primary)

Relational, narrative, non-formal (small groups, retreats, children’s musicals, Bible Time  Marketplace)

Spiritual Leadership

Administrators, Managers, Trustees, Protectors

Shepherds, Visionaries, Strategic, Missional, Authentic Lives,


Christendom, Center of Power and Influence

Post-Christian, Marginalized, Center moving to Africa, China


Centered in congregation, led by staff over each division

Every member a minister, living out practices of Jesus in all of life.

Spiritual Formation

Dependent on Sermons, Sunday School, home devotionals, Lectureships, and Christian society

Events (feasts, celebrations, fasts as in O.T.), relationships, and journeying together

Attachment 2

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 12 February 2006

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