Be the Gospel
About the Guest
How are you living the gospel? Bobby Conway, lead pastor of Life Fellowship Church in Charlotte, NC, reminds listeners that, while there are four gospels in the Bible, the 5th gospel -- the one we actually live out - is the gospel most people are ever likely to read. Bobby explains how we can walk as followers of Christ before an unbelieving and needy world.
Bobby ConwayBobby Conway is lead pastor of Life Fellowship Church near Charlotte, NC. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM) and Southern Evangelical Seminary (DMin) and the author of "Hell, Rob Bell, and What Happens When People Die?" Bobby is also the founder and host of the One-Minute Apologist (www.oneminuteapologist.com). In addition, he and his wife, Heather, serve on the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage conference speaking team.
Bobby Conway reminds listeners that, while there are four gospels in the Bible, the 5th gospel — the one we actually live out – is the gospel most people are ever likely to read.
Be the Gospel
Bob: Pastor and author, Bobby Conway, says, “As parents, our children need to, not only hear what we have to say about the gospel, but they need to see how the gospel reprioritizes our lives.”
Bobby: I remember driving home one night after church. I felt a sense of: “I want to model, as a dad, what it looks like to share Jesus with others before my kids. I don’t want them to grow up in a home and just have learned about a bunch of moral principles from me as their father. I want them to see what missional living looks like.”
So, I remember I was just driving. I just randomly said: “Haley, we’re going to stop in this gas station. Daddy is going to go in. I’m just going to look for someone to tell about Jesus, and I want you to pray.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 20th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Your life is communicating something about the gospel to your children. What kind of message is it? We’re going to explore that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You sure about this?—the fifth Gospel here?
Dennis: I am—got the author of it.
Bob: You’re going to have to explain to our audience why we have a fifth Gospel.
Dennis: We’ve got Bobby Conway joining us on FamilyLife Today—who has written The Fifth Gospel. Is that right? Have you done that?
Bobby: Well, I would not want to say that I’ve done that—no. There are four Gospels, but this is a fifth one—but it’s not an inspired one—but, hopefully, it is an inspiring one.
Dennis: We’ll get to that in a second. Bobby is a good friend. He is pastor of Life Fellowship Church near Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a graduate of The Dallas Theological Seminary.
Bob: We are adding the “The” to it now?
Dennis: We are. We are. Yes, I—
Bob: The Ohio State University.
Dennis: I think it’s good. I just think it’s good.
Bob: The Southern Baptist—
Dennis: I think it is.
Bob: Okay. I get it.
Dennis: He and his wife Heather serve on our FamilyLife Weekend to
Remember®marriage conference speaker team.
In fact, you’ve served for almost a decade; haven’t you?
Bobby: Yes, it’s been a long time. I think it’s going on nine years.
Dennis: Unbelievable. They have two children—a 15-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son. He is the author of The Fifth Gospel. Before you start calling the ECFA or someone to report us to for heresy—we’re going to find out from Bobby what he means by the fifth Gospel; okay?
Bobby: Well, several years ago, I heard a quote by the late British evangelist, Gypsy Smith, who once quipped, “There are five Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian.” Then, he said, “But most people never read the first four.” I was stunned by that quote. The more I thought about it—I thought, “Boy, this really has some relevance—especially in a culture where people do not read the Bible.”
Unfortunately, the church doesn’t always have the best reputation. So, just the whole idea of: “What would it look like to write a book called The Fifth Gospel—
—to challenge people to ask each other, “Are you a fifth Gospel Christian?” I just said a moment ago, “I’m not implying that this is an inspired Gospel or life but, hopefully, our lives are inspiring.” So, that’s the whole idea behind The Fifth Gospel. Again, I’m not saying that we just got to live this moral life and everybody is going to get saved because the gospel is meant to do more than be lived—it’s meant to leak.
So, as Paul says, “How can they hear unless someone tells them?” At the same token, our message will have such a greater impact if we really seek to follow the Messenger, Jesus Christ.
Dennis: And live it out in our homes—
Dennis: —and equip our kids to do the same. I think that’s a good bit of the reason why so many young people today are leaving the church. Their parents have talked about the Gospels and the gospel of Jesus Christ; but when it comes time to live it, the children have looked up and they’ve gone, “Not so much.”
Bob: Well, certainly, a lot of unbelievers have said:
“I’m not a Christian—those Christians are all a bunch of…” What’s the word that comes next?
Bob: Right. And so, in writing a book called The Fifth Gospel, you’re saying we’ve got to address the hypocrisy gap that’s there.
Dennis: In fact, you have a quote in your book by Gandhi. I don’t think I’ve ever read this before. He said: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Bobby: Yes, that’s exactly what he did say. I think that a lot of people would share that sentiment, Dennis. And so, for us, it’s important for us to figure out how we can really be the real deal.
I mean, when this book came out recently—even on the day it came out—I told my wife—I said, “I’m going to begin talking about this whole idea of the fifth Gospel, and I hope I’m a fifth Gospel Christian,” because I know what it feels like, even in the home, as Heather and I—we do these marriage conferences. I can remember a time I couldn’t get her out of the car at the airport—
—we were getting ready to go to a FamilyLife conference—because we were having an argument on the way to the airport.
Dennis: On your way to a marriage conference?!
Bobby: Yes, I didn’t want you to know because I figured you’d fire me—
Dennis: And you’re speaking—you’re speaking at our conferences?!
Bobby: Yes, probably—I probably shouldn’t have admitted this.
Dennis: Do you know how many times that has happened to Barbara and me? [Laughter]
Bobby: How did it happen?
Dennis: Oh my goodness! Some of our worst arguments have occurred on our way to do a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—it’s game time. You’re about to instruct several hundred couples—if not a thousand couples—in how to do marriage God’s way.
Bob: And maybe that’s one of the places we need to start in unpacking this idea of us being a fifth Gospel because, as you said, the first four are not only inspired—they are infallible / they’re perfect. Our fifth Gospel will never be perfect.
I think one of the things—when people say, “Well, Christians are hypocrites,” it’s because we are flawed and imperfect.
How can we be a legitimate representation of the gospel when our lives are as flawed as they are?
Dennis: You know, I’ve got to correct you, though, Bob. We will be perfect someday.
Bob: Well, okay, I’ll give you that. You’re right.
Dennis: Okay. There is a day when we are going to be perfect because we will be transformed. We will see Him as He is, and He will finish up the job of redeeming us and transforming us into His likeness.
Bob: And then—
Dennis: In the meantime, however,—
Bob: Yes. We’re not there yet. So, how can we be an accurate representation of the gospel when our lives are messy?
Bobby: Well, I think that we need to be honest and humble as Christians. I think that that’s one way that those we are trying to share Christ with—is that if we can just concede the fact that we don’t have life all together.
I had somebody go out to lunch with me several years ago. He wanted to sit down—and as we were talking, he said: “You know? What do you fear the most?”
Obviously, besides God—I fear myself the most because I know how fallen and flawed I am. Sometimes, the thought of living 40 or 50 more years and not messing this whole thing up—it’s a scary thought. I want to be faithful to Jesus, and I want to love Him. I want to give Him my life and surrender to Him, and I don’t want to give the world an excuse to blast Christ at the expense of my unsubmitted life.
At the same token, when I do blow it and when I mess up—maybe as we just talked about with my wife—to quickly say, “I’m sorry,” to repent / to remind my kids that “Daddy’s a work in progress,” to get on my knees before them and say, “Forgive me.” And so, asking for forgiveness—not—you know, you get into this whole thing called Christianity by admitting you’re a sinner. Then, many Christians go on spending the rest of their life acting like they’re not.
I think we need to remember the cross every day. A Fifth Gospel Christian needs to go before the cross to remember our need for Jesus and really live a God-dependent life.
As we live that way, hopefully, they’ll see that we are depending on something beyond ourselves for life.
Dennis: And I’m glad you started where you did—in the home. Truthfully, Chuck Swindoll said, “It’s at home, among family members, that life makes up its mind.” It’s at home, among family members, where our Christianity—our walk with Jesus Christ / our Christlikeness or our lack of it—will most often be displayed and be seen by our spouse and by our children.
Bob: Yes, that’s the proving ground; isn’t it?
Dennis: It is. And so, I’m so glad you started right there. Some listeners may be hearing us and go, “So, what does the fifth Gospel have to do with my marriage?—for me, as a parent / a grandparent?” And the answer is: “Everything.”
I want to read a verse that I want to make a comment about it—maybe the most often repeated verse here, in the last five years, here on FamilyLife Today. Maybe I’m learning something at home, myself, here. Ephesians 4:32:
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Back, last summer and fall, we did three I Still Do™ events in Washington, DC, Chicago, and Portland. We have—it’s not a ceremony, as such, but we have a moment that we come to—that’s a point of decision where we ask those in attendance if there is something they need to ask their spouse to forgive them for. I’m always amazed at this moment.
In one of the locations, we had about 4,000 people. We had about 1,000 roses on the table. We challenged people—if they have something they need to ask their spouse to forgive them for—to come forward, and to get a rose, and to take the rose back to their spouse and say, “Will you forgive me for such and such?” Then, wait.
I’m always amazed when we do this how many people come forward. We had very few of those roses—the 1,000 roses—at the end of the event.
I think what you just tapped into, Bobby—what you just talked about—of our need to ask for forgiveness / our need to forgive—is at the core of Christianity; but it’s also at the core of having a marriage that’s a fifth Gospel marriage that looks like Jesus Christ.
Bobby: That’s exactly right. It’s one of the ways that God distinguishes us in the world—is through forgiveness. Many people in the world, outside of a Christian worldview—they are all about justice. Jesus calls us to forgive. It happens to be that marriage is the greatest training ground for us to forgive.
In fact, think of it like this—we can’t even be like Jesus unless we forgive. So, that means God has to allow us to be hurt in life so that we can be like Jesus and forgive.
And the place where we are hurt the most often in life—
Bobby: —is in the home. As the disciples said: “How often should we forgive?—seven times?” And then, Jesus says, “Seven times seventy.” So, “Oh great—we can do the math. All we have to do is forgive each other 490 times!”—right? Well, obviously, he was saying, “Keep on doing it.”
You know what? Forgiveness is hard work, but we are never acting more like Jesus than when we say: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
Dennis: Okay, so, I’m just speaking theoretically here. Mind you, it’s not reality at all. Has there ever been a time when you wounded Heather and you needed to ask for forgiveness—
Bobby: No, not at all.
Dennis: —and you could share that story with our listeners to give them an illustration of what that looks like and what the process looks like of coming to the conclusion of asking for forgiveness?
Bobby: Yes, for a specific story—I can remember we were living in Dallas during our seminary days.
I grew up in a home where my mom was obsessive about ironing. I mean, she would iron our underwear. She would iron a curtain. She irons the sheets. I mean—anything. You’re going to get ironed if you are in her way. She loved ironing.
Heather—her philosophy—and she doesn’t mind me sharing this. She says, “Hey, why bother ironing it when you’re going to sit down and it’s going to get wrinkled up anyway?”
So, I go into this marital relationship with my bride. I go out, while we’re in seminary, where the laundry room is in the garage. I was looking for my jeans. I found my jeans all scrunched up. It looked like they’d be sitting in the dryer for about a month. I took these jeans—that now looked like toddler-sized jeans—and I walked into the kitchen where she was. I held the jeans up in front of her. I said this: “Do you plan on ironing these anytime soon?” [Laughter] Not a good statement; right?
Dennis: How long did that night last?
Bobby: Yes, I slept outside that night; right? [Laughter]
Well, she had me right where she wanted me because she knows that I equally hate mowing the lawn. The lawn got so high that—it got so high that I needed to wear long rubber boots to go out and mow it because I’m scared of snakes. If you think Indiana Jones hates snakes, you haven’t seen anything—I really hate snakes.
She looked over my shoulder as I was holding those jeans up, and she was looking out the window. She said, “Yes, I’ll plan on ironing those when you plan on mowing the lawn.” And you know? We just had this moment where we started laughing together. It was a tit for tat. I just realized that I’m calling her out on something that I was frustrated by; when on the same token, I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.
It just provided a good opportunity for me to kind of show more grace in the home—don’t walk around with a log in my own eye. Be a humble/forgiving kind of a husband, and ask for forgiveness.
Bob: Well, again, that’s back to: “What’s at the core of the gospel?”
You’ve received great grace from God for multiple offenses. Now, the question is: “Can you be a dispenser of that grace to others in your life?” or “Are you going to hold them to a standard that’s higher than the one God holds you to?”
Dennis: Yes, I’ve got a question for you. I know you are raising two teenagers right now. Nothing was as challenging as the teenage years for us; okay? I want to know—other than modeling—how are you teaching a teenage young lady, 15 / a young man, who is 13— to be a fifth-Gospel-practicing follower of Jesus Christ? How are you passing it on to them?
Bobby: Well, one of the things that I’ve done that was just so thrilling for me—last year, I took my son’s friends and I created a discipleship group. I discipled these boys—they were 12 and 13 last year, at the time—and spent an entire year. They would get dropped at our church offices, and I would just invest in them and talk to them about: “What is manhood? What does it mean to follow Jesus?
“How do you read your Bible? What does a life of prayer look like? How do you share the gospel? How do you be a leader amongst leaders?” Some of those discipleship principles were huge.
I remember driving home one night after church. I felt a sense of: “I want to model, as a dad, what it looks like to share Jesus with others before my kids. I don’t want them to grow up in a home and just learn about a bunch of moral principles from me as their father.” I remember I was just driving. I just randomly thought—and I’m not suggesting people need to go do this, but I felt like I needed to do it. I said: “Haley, we’re going to stop in this gas station. Daddy is going to go in. I’m just going to look for someone to tell about Jesus, and I want you to pray.” [Laughter] She probably thought, “This guy is nuts!” But that’s exactly what we did. We went into the gas station, and I went looking for an opportunity to do that.
Another time, Heather and I—we said, “Let’s just go”—
Bob: Now, wait. What happened in the gas station? Did you find somebody to talk to?
Bobby: Yes, I did. I just walked up to the person at the—
Bob: At the counter?
Bobby: —counter. I don’t remember what the person said.
It wasn’t anything magical. Sometimes, you don’t see—it’s not that the person ends up getting saved like we would like them to. It’s just that we were faithful / we were bold, and we did what we felt we needed to do.
Dennis: And you were doing something on purpose. You were intentional—
Dennis: —about being a part of the Great Commission.
Bobby: Exactly. There have been times where I feel like I’ve really missed out on those moments. But another thing that we did to model the Great Commission is—we went out, and we got a bunch of gift certificates one time. We said, “Okay, let’s just start driving into this real poor area,”—where we felt like we could be helpful and give need.
We started walking around, as a family, praying for the community. We said, “God, lead us to people outside who could use a gift certificate, and some prayer, and we could share the gospel with them,”—and just simple little things like that. There hasn’t been enough of those moments in our lives, but there has been some where they can hold on to a few stories where they can see that Mom and Dad tried to do more than just teach them moral behavior but missional living—giving our lives away.
Dennis: So, where did you catch this disease?
I mean, you are on a serious mission. You want to implant this disease in other followers of Christ, where they are like Christ—living out His life where they do theirs. Where did you get the picture for this? Who was the most influential person who passed this onto you?
Bobby: Dennis, I never heard the gospel until I was 19. I grew up in California. At about the age of 15, I started abusing alcohol—got into drugs—became very promiscuous / always looking for the next girl. My life was empty. I didn’t know why I existed. I remember taking LSD and saying, “I’m going to go find myself.” I was desperately looking for purpose.
I didn’t have any education. I was so uneducated I failed the ASVAB three times to get in the military to be an infantry man. In the United States Army, you needed a 28. I got a 27. I wanted to be a Marine—you needed a 31.
I was just utterly uneducated—full of guilt.
And I was playing baseball—and it was about the only thing in my life that protected me from imploding. I was playing at a community college, and a teammate took me hear an evangelist by the name of Greg Laurie. I resonated with Greg because he used words like, “Dude, cool, bro, and stoked.” He spoke in a vernacular that I could understand at that season of my life.
Bobby: I ended up placing my faith in Jesus. About a year-and-a-half after I got saved, I went to an AA meeting. I would go to an AA meeting on October 9, 1994. By God’s grace, I did over 400 meetings in my first year of sobriety; and I just came alive. I got engaged at Saddleback Church. I was part of Celebrate Recovery program there. I wanted to witness to everything that moved. I was working at the Ritz-Carlton as a valet parker. I started getting in trouble because people started complaining about the guy who is pulling up their car and putting it on the Christian radio stations.
[Laughter] So, then, I ended up having a powerful moment where I sensed the Lord calling me into fulltime ministry. Andy Stanley once said: “God gives you a vision. Then, He grows you into it.” I needed to get educated, and it was a long time coming for me to prepare to be a pastor because this empty head needed to be filled. I had a big heart and a small head. I went off to Bible college in Conway, Arkansas. I started witnessing, on my own, to 50 to 100 people per week. I said, “My burden took me and taught me.”
I can remember working in Conway at Virco, as a security guard. I had nobody to share the gospel with. I started opening up the white pages and randomly calling people, asking if I could share Jesus with them. I stood up on a bench at UCA, and I would share Jesus. People just thought, “This guy is nuts—he’s weird.” I wasn’t trying to be like the weirdo. I was so in love with Jesus Christ—and all of a sudden, that changed my life.
I started reading—not because I wanted to read—but because I loved God and reading was my ticket to knowing the God I loved. I started growing, and growing, and growing. My life was transformed. Now, I’ve been married for 18 years. I’ve got two kids, and I go on to Dallas Theological Seminary. Then, I go and graduate with my doctorate summa cum laude. Now, I’m in a Russell Group school in England. I’m working on my second doctorate in moral philosophy. It’s all God’s grace.
Dennis: And God has a plan for every listener, who is hearing this story. He wants to use you as well. It may not be the same route as He’s taken Bobby, but the point is—God does have a plan. He has a mission for you and an assignment for you. It may just be right there in your marriage / in your home—raising this brood of children who will follow Christ. That is a holy assignment. The issue is—you need to be helping them become followers of Christ. As Bobby Conway has written—they need to be the fifth Gospel.
Bob: Yes, Fifth Gospel Christians are those who live it out—who put the gospel on display where people see: “This makes a difference in how they live / it makes a difference in what they do when they mess up.” It’s not just that they live perfectly. It’s that, when they mess up—they confess, they repent, they turn around, and go in a different direction.
I love the way Paul says it in Titus, Chapter 2, when he says that our lives are supposed to adorn the doctrine of God. That is, our life should beautify that doctrine. And that’s what you’re talking about in the book, The Fifth Gospel, which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. In the upper left-hand corner of the screen, there is a link there that says, “GO DEEPER.” When you click that link, it’ll take you right to where you can order a copy of Bobby’s book, The Fifth Gospel. Again, our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” and order a copy of The Fifth Gospel online.
Or call to order—1-800-FL-TODAY—that’s the toll-free number—1-800-358-6329—1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, then, the word, “TODAY.”
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And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow when we’re going to continue our conversation with Bobby Conway about what it means to live out your life as a Fifth Gospel Christian. Hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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