When John Irving writes a novel, he begins with the final sentence.
Here's how Irving himself words it:
"For 12 novels the last sentence has come first, and not even the punctuation has changed. From that last sentence I make my way in reverse through the plot, because there always is a plot—I love plot—to where I think the story should begin."
It's evidently a successful format, as The World According To Garp, A Prayer For Owen Meany, and The Cider House Rules are some of the signature novels of our time.
But beginning at the end is a good strategy for more than writing novels. Whether it's preparing a sermon, designing a church ministry, or investing in personal discipleship, it's wise to ask, "what outcome would most honor God in this?"
What do I want people to feel/think/do as a result of the sermon they encounter?
What do we want people to learn and what habits do we want them to adopt as a result of the church ministry in which they take part?
What discipleship practices do I want this person I am counseling to embrace?
We get a lot of this wrong at Good Shepherd, as we often jump into a sermon, program, or ministry without a clear destination in mind.
So to help ourselves stay aligned with the mission of inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ, we've tried to spell out in broad brush what that "living relationship" looks like.
That way, if we know what we hope to grow in people -- in other words, what our spiritual goal is -- then we can better design ways to help people get there.
Here, then, are the marks of a living relationship with Jesus Christ:
Saved By Grace.
People in a living relationship with Christ embrace the Gospel truth that they are saved by grace. For some, this will happen in a decisive encounter while for others it will be a gradual realization. For all, it results in gratitude for Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Filled With The Spirit.
And then they will be filled with him again. And again. Through fervent prayer and passionate worship, people encounter the supernatural power of the Spirit who sends them into ministry.
Maturing In Faith.
People with a living relationship with Christ continually mature in their discipleship. For many, but not all, Life Groups will be a primary venue for spiritual maturity.
Serving In Love.
People with a living relationship with Christ develop a servant life-style by joining in Serve Teams which help both church and community.
Consistent In Relationships.
People with a living relationship with Christ live their faith in their homes first of all. The people of Good Shepherd preserve marriages, honor parents, and encourage children.
Generous With Resources
People with a living relationship with Christ recognize that all they have comes from God and so are glad to give generously to his work.
Sharing The Gospel.
People with a living relationship with Christ acknowledge eternal realities and share the Gospel and its life-giving power with people far from Christ wherever they live. The invited become inviters.