The idea of Saturate is to inspire God’s people to be more than an institutionalized religion driven by events. What is so good about this book is that it describes more than a model, but a mindset and a “model” that flows from it. If we look at what Vanderstelt suggests at the end, we may wonder what is so different from what we usually see, but the mindset makes the difference.
The reflection starts with Jesus at the center. Vanderstelt does not seek to justify his vision with verses, but rather, he seeks to open our eyes on what Jesus-saturated people are like. He seeks to remove the barrier between what is sacred and secular.
In some ways, I believe this compartmentalization has been greatly influenced by the institutionalization of local churches. The fact that we create models and organizations shapes our perspective on what the church is. The word “church” currently refers more often to an institution than people, and our language reflects our worldview. For instance:
- We go to church
- When is church service?
- What does the church believe?
- Does the church have any mercy ministry?
- Does the church have a constitution and bylaws?
I am not saying organized religion is wrong. It is actually impossible to have group activities without structure. The law of Moses given by God organized the religious practices of Israel, but just as the Jews ended up with empty rituals, we must not be surprised we are also inclined to fall in the same trap. Considering church as an institution eventually creates a gap in our beliefs between what is sacred and what is secular. When we go to church, we enter the sacred realm; and when we leave, we enter the secular one. The challenge is to structure a church in a way that remains what it is supposed to be.
That is why I believe Vanderstelt reminds us that we as people are the Church. It is not a building or an organization. And rather than laying out the perfect structure, he points to the perfect savior. The Gospel must be at the center of our lives as individuals as well as churches. From there comes a renewed mindset on what a church could be. I prefer to use “mindset” referring to being than “model” or “strategy” which implies doing.
“Jesus makes life better. Jesus brings the better wine. He takes empty religion and ritual, and brings it to life for everyday people. He takes what many deem holy (like the water in the ceremonial cleansing jars) and brings it to the party. He breaks down the barrier between what people might call sacred and secular. Jesus makes all things sacred—including wine at a party.” (Kindle Locations 429-431)
Jesus is better: We need Jesus to be the savior. We are not the saviors. We do not need to be Jesus. Let God be God!
“Our job is not to be Jesus. Our job is to believe Jesus, depend on Jesus, and submit to Jesus working in and through us to accomplish his work. We are not meant to carry the weight of the world or the mission of Jesus on our shoulders. Jesus came to seek and save. He doesn’t expect us to become the saviors.” (Kindle Locations 615-617)
- Jesus did it better:
We were broken, but good news! God uses weak things. We have been saved and that is our message to others. The Gospel is displayed in our need for Christ. The message of the Church is not: “Join us because we are better. We have our lives together,” but it is “We cannot make it on our own. We need Jesus.”
“Sometimes I think we believe we have to have it all together to be effective on mission. Actually, the Scriptures tell us the opposite.” (Kindle Locations 762-763)
- Jesus does it better:
Not only we have been saved, but we are being saved. We still need the Gospel in our present days. We cannot be like Jesus without Jesus. We must stop trying to do His work without Him, and let Him do the work.
“I needed to believe the gospel for my present, not just for my past or future. I needed to believe that Jesus is alive and living in me today, able to do all the work he wants to do in and through me, and able to do the work he wants to do through our church family as well. He wasn’t asking us to try to be like him without his power and presence. He was asking us to let him work in and through us. This is how Jesus saturation works—Jesus in you and working through you.” (Kindle Locations 842-846)
- Jesus will make it better:
We will be saved and it gives us confidence to live for Christ with a radical love for others. We do not need to fear rejection, because we are rooted in the Gospel.
“Fear is an interesting thing. It’s not about what is happening. It’s about what we believe will happen. It’s connected to what we believe about the future.” (Kindle Locations 884-885)
“ ‘For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21). In order to step out into God’s mission to see Jesus saturation happen, you have to believe this. Fear of any other paralyzes you. But the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord set you free to live a wildly courageous life of radical love for others.” (Kindle Locations 965-967)
The church was commissioned by Jesus to make disciples of all nations baptizing them and teaching them to obey (Matt 28:19-20). Discipleship is our mission, and Vanderstelt defines it:
“That is what discipleship is all about. It is the ongoing process of submitting all of life to Jesus, and seeing him saturate your entire life and world with his presence and power. It’s a process of daily growing in your awareness of your need for him in the everyday stuff of life. It is walking with Jesus, being filled with Jesus, and being led by Jesus in every place and in every way.” (Kindle Locations 1011-1014)
There are three keys environments to develop discipleship (Kindle Locations 1097-1100):
- “Life on life, where our lives are visible and accessible to one another.”
- The idea is to do life together (ex: eating together, helping each other) and be a family. The time spent together allows exposure to who we truly and how much we need Jesus.
- “Life in community, where more than one person is developing another.”
- The community disciples its own members, rather than a unique mentor doing it. Vanderstelt practices this in small “DNA” groups where DNA refers to the process they follow to disciple each other:
“we read (discover), repent of ignorance, unbelief, or rebellion, and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ (nurture). Then we obey and tell someone (act).” (Kindle Locations 1316-1317)
- “Life on mission, where we experience making disciples and, while doing so, come to realize how much we need God’s power.”
- We are most effective in community
- We display what people are invited to be part of.
After giving a definition of discipleship and environments that foster it, Vanderstelt dedicates the rest of the book to explain what we do in principles and practice. What I found extremely important is how he centers what we do in our Gospel identity: You do who you are.
“All of our behaviors are the result of what we believe about who God is as revealed through what God does, leading to what we believe about who we are. God’s work in Jesus Christ grants us a whole new identity, and this new identity leads to a whole new way of living. We do what we do because of who we are. You do who you are. Being precedes doing.” (Kindle Locations 1501-1504)
He explains what we do as Christians in our “baptismal identity” following a four step method:
“We only need to believe, that is, to trust in (1) what God has revealed about himself (his Word), (2) what he has done (his work), and (3) who he has made us to be (his workmanship). If we believe in his Word and work, we will do what God would have us do (our work).” (Kindle Locations 1548-1550)
- Because God is our father, we are family, and we love others like family
“Who is God? He is our Father. What has he done? He has loved us by sending his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. Who are we? We are the dearly loved children of God—God’s family. If we believe this, what do we do? We love one another as brothers and sisters in the same way God has loved us.” (Kindle Locations 1675-1677)
- Because God is our King, we are servants, and we serve others as an act of worship
“Who is God? He is our King (the Son). What has he done? He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Who are we? We are servants of the King of kings. If we believe this, what do we do? We serve the least of the people of the world as an act of worship of our King.” (Kindle Locations 1802-1805)
- Because God is Spirit, we are empowered as missionaries, and we proclaim the Good News.
“Who is God? He is Spirit. What has he done? He sent and empowered Jesus the Son to take on flesh and to seek and save what was lost. Who are we? We are missionaries, sent and empowered by the same Spirit. If we believe this, what do we do? We make disciples of Jesus through proclaiming the gospel in the power of the Spirit.” (Kindle Locations 1981-1983)
Those principles are great, but how does it look like in the every day stuff? How can we live with gospel intentionality every day? Vanderstelt and his church ended up listing six activities we do: “Eat, Listen, Story, Bless, Celebrate, and ReCreate.” (Kindle Location 2093).
- Eating meals brings people (Christians and non-Christians) together and encourages sharing.
- Listening is an activity we do when we care for others. We learn from others.
- Knowing God’s story and others’ stories allows us to share how God’s story can restore everyone’s story.
- Blessing others is done through serving them – even in small ways.
- Celebrating events such as birthday parties, superbowl party, etc. are great ways to display our joy flowing from the Gospel.
- Recreating comes from the idea of resting and create/play. It is about stopping the busyness, trusting in God’s work and enjoying life with others.
Instead of envisioning church programs and events, now the everyday life becomes the program.
What strikes me is how all those activities do not define boundaries between believers and non-believers. All are invited to participate to the every day life. There is no more compartmentalization.
The everyday stuff needs a regular check. Reviewing is important not to lose focus on the mission. Their groups have their own covenants based on the church’s definition of missional communities. Vanderstelt suggests the following steps to refocus:
- Start with remembering the Gospel
- Clarify the mission
- Review the group’s specific mission focus depending on the context (ex: school, homeless people, immigrants, etc.)
- What are the rhythms of the people in that context?
- Form a plan based on our identity (be practical). My personal thoughts are that it is necessary to have a plan, but that we are not limited by a plan. Also a plan does not have to be immovable, nor detail everything (ex: we want to show love to our school community, instead of we are going to do 1/ 2/ 3/ etc.)
- Reform the covenant
After reading this book, I had this growing desire to love people and to love them well. I want to care for them, invite them to eat, listen to their stories, laugh and cry with them, and show them how good the Good News truly is!
However, this kind of strategy is especially challenging for minorities because:
- Reaching out to minorities require being in places where there are minorities, implying:
- Less neighborhood options
- Not necessarily the best place where to live
- It requires adaptability because minorities are not a monolith.
- It requires courage to love! The issues minorities and immigrants often encounter are related to a lack of acceptance, and loving is a huge effort that we may not be willing to make!
- It requires willingness to get involved with the majority (whether other churches or the local communities).
But isn’t it what we all are called to do? Minorities cannot use any excuse if they want to make disciples of all nations. We cannot live in seclusion and fear of what others think of us. We must remember our identity in Christ. We do not fear not because we are strong, but because we are well rooted in the One who loves us.