Skip to main content

We worshipped "at" Pillar Church in Holland. Our family was battling a bit of illness so we joined online

My favorite is a monster cookie and if you break them in half all the calories fall out

Hi Mavis,

Thanks for taking the time to interact with this post.

The idea of a personal relationship with Jesus has spilled more than a bit of internet ink over the years. Some who have spilled that ink point out the personal language of the Scripture, the friendship ideas and familial pictures in scripture are also lifted up.

Others who spill the ink point out that the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus is an 19th century innovation that finds its first mention in the work of Horace Bushnell (1864) 

"In this coming again of Christ by the Spirit, there is included also the fact that he will be known by the disciple, not only socially, but as the Christ, in such a way as to put us in a personal relationship with him, even as his own disciples were in their outward society with him."

When it comes to scripture this crew points out that there is little personal language in the scripture that is not plural in nature--so the focus is more on God's relationship to the community and less to the individual.

You can find a good conversation on this at

One of the things that can happen in using the language of a personal relationship with Jesus idea is what is mentioned in the blog--a self-focus that leads to a "me and Jesus", where Jesus is my personal Jesus who gives me what I want. This is not, of course, a foregone conclusion such language as you so aptly point out, but the words of Grice show that it has become reality for some. 

Into this space Paul's "union with Christ" speaks. J. Todd Billings in his book Union with Christ says, 

"Union with Christ is a central New Testament description of Christian identity, the life of salvation in Christ. It entails giving a new identity such that in Christ, forgiveness and new life are received through the Spirit. Union with Christ involves abiding in the Vine. It means that through the Spirit, sinners are adopted into the household of God as co-heirs with Christ. It means that God's Spirit is poured out to make the life and teachings of Jesus real to us. It implicates our worship, our vocation in the world, and our witness as the church. Union with Christ is theological shorthand for the gospel itself--a key image that pulls together numerous motifs in the biblical witness."

Later in speak of Calvin and Union with Christ Billings notes, 

"The images of union with Christ, ingrafting into Christ, partaking of Christ, and adoption were drawn from Paul and Johannine writings in the New Testament and were deeply woven into the fabric of [Calvin's] soteriology. In the broad portrait of his soteriology, Calvin claims that created human nature is good and that Adam was 'united to God' and 'enjoyed participation in God.' Human beings have been alienated from God and from their true, created nature by the fall. But the final end and goal for humanity is a re-union (emphasis original) of humanity with God in the second Adam, a union even higher than the first. This trinitarian process unites believers to Christ by the Spirit in order to serve the Father in gratitude. In union with Christ, believers are 'participants not only in all his benefits but also in himself.'"

Union with Christ is a wide ranging concept that speaks of being incorporated into God's big story of creation, fall, redemption, recreation; being adopted into God's family, enjoying the benefits of and being called to the responsibilities of that family life. 

Union with Christ does not negate the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus (rightly understood and lived) but it is larger and more communal that a personal relationship with Jesus (again, depending on your definition of what a personal relationship entails ;0) ).

So I would begin with union with Christ and use that as a doorway to defining personal relationship with Jesus--recognizing that personal relationship has for some become simply "me and Jesus" (see Ken Mededma's song from many years ago, "Personal Savior").

Again, thanks so much for joining this conversation. I appreciate your throughful response.

Larry Doornbos

Director, Vibrant Congregations

The congregation I served most recently had Two morning services. Our policy was $300 for the morning if the pastor chose his/her own text. If we requested a text to be part of a series we paid $500. 
My experience in preaching in West Michigan is typical compensation is 100.00 to 150.00


Thanks for a great list of books! Looking forward to exploring them, beginning with Urban Apologetics.

Barna along with Stadia Church Planting has produced a study and suggestions on how to help churches become Phygital (Physical + Digital). The idea is that it is not simply about putting worship services on YouTube, but how do we do evangelism (some churches are seeing great success here) and discipleship online. Most congregations in the U.S. are taking first steps in all of this, but it is an amazing opportunity that is before us.

If anyone would like to explore this more you can connect with Vibrant Congregations. We are in the first stages of learning and looking into the future of Phygital. 

Governance models differ to a certain extent around the size of congregations. In his book "One Size Doesn't Fit All" Gary Macintosh points out that different size congregations need to think about governance in different ways. The challenge is to discern how to live out those differences within Reformed polity. 

At least as important as a good governance model is the way the leadership views itself. Is it basically a non-profit board, a gatekeeper, or do they view themselves as a community of Spiritual leaders discerning God's call to mission for the local church and how God is calling them to care for one another. Charles Olson’s book Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders looks into how councils/boards view themselves (see this post on Vibrant Congregations) and why it matters. You can find a summary of his book in a series of blog posts at Vibrant Congregations

If you'd like to explore this more in terms of councils and church size  and spiritual communities you can connect with me via the Vibrant Congregations website. We have a one hour PPT presentation that explains church size and governance. 

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post