A Conversation With John Dobbs (Jan 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Fred Peatross

John Dobbs began preaching for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, LA, in February of 2008. He and his wife Maggy have been married for 24 years. They have a daughter, Nicole, who lives in Georgia. Nicole has two children, Claire (13) and Blake (4). John and Maggy also have a son, John Robert, who was killed while walking along a road in early 2008 at the age of 18. At his previous preaching home in Pascagoula, MS, he and his church became instrumental in the relief of refugees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 though his own house — like many of theirs — had been destroyed. You can find John online at:

Facebook | Blog | Twitter

John is available to do a four-part seminar on the subject of grief called Acquainted With Grief. Contact him to arrange a seminar for your church /community.

Fred: When it comes to serving others I always wondered if one’s genetic pool plays a bigger role for those who seem to find it natural. I know some who, even though they’re not believers, are serving, patiently waiting on others day in and day out, sitting with the sick and they do it consistently. As one who is more a thinker than a feeler, I find serving outside my comfort zone, so this intrigues me. When I serve I find it drains my energy as opposed to giving me energy. I’d love to hear your thoughts …

John:I would like to say that when one puts on Christ that feelings about serving others changes. If so, it is a slow and gradual Spirit-led change. I do think some people are more inclined to enjoy serving than others. Genetics? Family history? Gifted? I would not know. Personally I approach serving with trepidation, and leave with satisfaction. I’m not sure anyone enjoys walking into a hospital to sit with a family during surgery or to visit someone who is ill – but something transforms that event once a personal touch is made, a prayer is offered, or a listening ear is employed.

Having a serving spirit is enhanced (produced, perhaps) by the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I am sure there are many who are not committed to Christ who have a serving heart. Those who do have a serving heart have an opportunity to be great leaders, inspiring even those who might not usually serve. I think I fall into the category of someone who is convicted of the need to serve, who sees the benefits of serving, and who is willing to serve but functions better as a follower in this area. (Is that three categories?)

Fred: Can you give me your perspective on what a missional church would look like.

John: A missional church may not be recognized so much by it’s Sunday service as it’s Monday – Saturday services. The assembly is affected by the missional viewpoint in terms of message, warmth, and energizing for service. The missional church is less about how to make our one hour a week together a stellar experience, and more about celebrating what God is doing through outreach efforts. A missional church has it’s eyes on service springing from a commitment to Christ with the intention of sharing Christ with others. The missional mindset is not reserved for service only, though.

We must consider ourselves always ‘on mission’ in the workplace, school, marketplace, and home. In all of those places we have opportunities to participate in the answering of prayer without even knowing it. Perhaps someone is asking, seeking, knocking – and we are to be the answer. Devotion, attention to inward matters of the heart, is essential for discipleship.

Worship together is God’s gift of solidarity and lifting up each other. For too many Christians, that is enough. The missional mindset calls on us to allow discipleship and worship (search for holiness) to move us to love those around us in tangible ways (actions of holiness). In my experience it is difficult to get Christians involved in regular, ongoing acts of service. Special events or one-time service projects are easier. For now my emphasis is on being a missionary in the places you already find yourself – rather than projects.

Fred: In my years of leadership what I’ve seen practiced is the encouragement from the pulpit and classroom to “live responsibility outside the Christian community (little to NO – 101 training). We corporately rely upon programs (we call them ministries) – invite, invite, invite your friends and family to come and “worship with us” — “attend Friend’s Day” – “attend our Easter Program” in our building and on our territory. Your thoughts?

John:I think it is a false dichotomy to place ‘missional’ and ‘attractional’ in opposition to one another. I encourage people to invite their friends to to church because of surveys that suggest that many people would accept an invitation to worship with a friend if they received one. People are reached in a variety of ways – and there are some people for whom attending a special day at a church is a first step.

A big crowd at the assembly certainly does not, however, mean that evangelism is taking place. So I’m all for some special days – as long as this is not the bedrock of the ministry. We have to talk more about how to be a Christian at work (without being a nuisance). We need to continually remind ourselves that the mission field is right here … in front of our noses. Generally we are much too private (loss of hospitality) and much too busy (loss of focus) to be salt and light in the world around us. Our challenge is that the culture around us is also much too private and busy.

Fred: Can the missional church model co-exist with the conventional western church model (attractional church) without major changes – including a re-writing of job descriptions?

John: As I indicated before, I do think there is room to co-exist. There are, today, many churches (most churches?) who rely on the attractional model primarily – and this is a mistake. I do not believe you can rewrite the script in one day – but transition to a more missional attitude is to be encouraged. And I do think it has a lot to do with attitude – mindset – perspective. The call to be a missional church isn’t a call to be a 21st Century shiny new church – it is a call to the ancient teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. I generally see ‘major changes’ – at least those that are brought in swiftly – as dangerous to the local Body and potentially catastrophic to the weak in faith. But that does not suggest we ignore the need to reach our contemporary world. Not sure what you mean about the re-writing of job descriptions. That does bring to mind that most preachers are so busy being pastors to the flock that they have little time to engage those outside the church.

Fred: A relationship is normally viewed as a connection between two humans. Relationships can be romantic, intimate, or a parent–child relationship. There can be relationships with groups of people, such as the relationship between a pastor and his congregation, an uncle and a family, or a mayor and a town. Even nations can have relations with each other, this of a much broader domain than individual and group relationships. I mention the above to remind us how familiar we are with human relationships. We understand them because we’re human. We live in the same dimension.

But how do humans relate to a God of another dimension? It’s certainly is not in the same manner. We refer to it as a spiritual relationship. But what exactly does a “relationship with God” look like? Many Christians act as if there’s certainty in their spiritual relationship…but for me it’s “Lord, have mercy.” The soul passion of ever Christian is to get closer to Christ each day. But what is that? What does it look like? Are our spiritual relationships in reality mental relationships? Books, Bibles, sermons and words? I know what we mean when we say we have a relationship with Christ, but what is the bare truth. In our most honest moments how would we characterize a relationship with Jesus? Can we do that without being influenced to repeat the churchy phrases we’ve listen to for years?

Even when I believed my relationship with Jesus existed in some objective reality independent of my thoughts, there was the problem of not knowing for sure. Why? Because I, and no one else, ever has access to a purely objective viewpoint. We all view our relationship with Jesus through the lens of our own consciousness. The closest you can get to being objective is to imagine being objective, but that is in no way the same thing as true objectivity. So, again I ask, are the foundations of our spiritual relationship built on books, bibles, sermons and words? Your thoughts?

John:  How to answer this… as important as the question is, every time I try to respond I start squirming. Beyond the tangible disciplines we practice, our relationship with God rests on Trust (Faith). But not just “faith,” a word that seems to be used a hundred different ways. Specifically trust.

Trust is exhibited in a multitude of ways when life turns sour. I’m not sure how my faith has survived a couple of up close and personal disasters, except that at the end of agonizing and questioning and wondering I have two choices. I can trust ME or I can trust GOD. I know me too well. That is a dead end. I suppose I could choose to trust NOTHING, but that seems a little too much like trusting ME.

So is trusting GOD simplistic? Not at all. You mention ‘mercy’ in your question, and we certainly need all of that He can send our way. A relationship with God built on trust is a continual conversation. Communication about how I feel and what I think but also with input from GOD via circumstances or His Word, or those moments that make you smile and know that God is near. Or when you’re weeping and in agony desiring Him to just take you from this life with it’s pain and suffering, and later in the day you find yourself trying to bless someone else. How to put it into words… not sure.

Not trust that everything is going to be OK. If I understand my Bible nothing is going to be OK until He returns. Can I hang on to Him until then…knowing that THEN is coming. We live in the UNTIL. I don’t know how to give that up and turn to something else. What would it be? So I trust…and that is my relationship with Him now.

Fred: In my humble opinion, we have spent more time with ideas that rely upon the pulpit and the classroom in pursuing transformation rather than getting our hands dirty in the time-consuming work of discipleship. Your thoughts on the current state of discipleship?

John: What I think of as classical discipleship (one man discipling another) is in danger. I went to a great conference called Men at the Cross. It was all about men doing Bible study and living it out, specifically influencing other men. I bought the idea. I prayed about it. I started trying to find men who would commit to go through the course with me. Not successful. I think that’s why things fall back on the pulpit/class – it’s about the only time you can get together with people. But that is not sufficient and the church has suffered because of it.

We cannot give up on the idea of bringing others along with us on the journey – but just have to be creative and maybe even confrontational about it. Our families have crammed every second of every day with activity. Few of those activities are pointing to the place of Christ in their lives. Ministers do it too.

There is a surge of interest in lifestyle discipleship among young pastors that I see today. Books and conferences are full of discipleship

talk. I think that there may be a renewal of interest in working alongside each other in serving other people, in praying together, and in purposefully growing in Christ. I think that’s because it pinpoints what people do not like about church.

Complaints about church center around… boredom … not related to my life … content to sit and endure the service … or ever changing to try to reach every person’s personal interest. Perhaps we’ve reached a time in Christianity in America when there’s a number of people who aren’t content with that and know that they need a stronger connection to God and each other. I hope so.

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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