This post is part 3 of 4 in a series explaining my vision to plant a church in the Stanwood-Camano community. Here are the other posts: part 1, part 2, and part 4.
Although future discussions with the community group will help lay out the exact nature and core distinctives of the church, my vision for the church includes the following four ideals:
Gospel-centered ministry. The central explanatory event of the Bible is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as God’s work to deal with sin and reconcile the world to himself. If this message is ignored or disconnected from other messages (however biblical), God’s ordained means to change lives and the world is forsaken. Thus, a gospel-centered church will include at least the following:
Preaching that connects everything back to the gospel. The Bible does have important things to say about morality, the renewal of the world, social justice, etc. However, these things must be understood as responses to the gospel rather than the gospel themselves.
Gospel-informed discipleship and counseling. A right understanding of the good news of the gospel brings freedom to acknowledge the depth of the bad news which made the gospel necessary. Thus, gospel-informed discipleship does not work from the premise that people are basically good and just need some advice or support (even church people), but that people are “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9) and continually need the gospel. Gospel-informed discipleship and counseling encourages honesty over hypocrisy, confession of sin rather than keeping up appearances, and reliance on God and the church body rather than self-sufficiency. It fosters an environment where messed up people (all of us) are welcome, but also where there is an expectation that the gospel will leave no one unchanged.
Intentional community. We live in the most individualized society in the world. We want to be self-sufficient and we cringe at the idea of letting others have any input into our decision making. Yet the Bible is clear that God calls believers to be in continual and close fellowship with other believers. God’s mission is not to create a bunch of isolated, individual Christians. Rather, his mission is to create the church, a term which has both local and universal implications.
The Bible uses the imagery of the physical body to paint the picture of what the church should look like. We are connected to Jesus as our head and ultimate authority, while also “members one of another” (Rom 12:5). Just as parts of the physical body are connected to and dependent on one another, so God orders the church in such a way that it relies on the contributions of every member to be a fully-functioning body.
God calls us to get involved in the often messy work of Christian community both for our health and growth and for that of the church body as a whole. Hence, the New Testament is full of corporate commands: “love one another,” “live in harmony with one another,” “comfort one another,” “submit to one another,” “speaking the truth in love” to one another, and many more. In other words, much of what it means to be a Christian can only be worked out in intentional Christian community.
What, then, are the characteristics of a biblical Christian community of believers?
a. People seek to be involved in each other’s lives beyond the regular church gatherings because they know that God works through these relationships.
b. The “work of ministry” is not seen as something reserved for church leaders or staff. Rather, the advancement of the gospel both within the church and beyond the church is seen as the calling of every believer (Eph. 4:11-13).
c. People encourage and support those hurting or in need, motivated by the grace and comfort that God has shown them.
d. People are motivated by grace to confess sins to one another. A culture of grace AND truth means that sin is not ignored, yet grace is never withheld.
e. Unconfessed sin is not ignored or covered up because people know the power of God’s grace to not only forgive sin, but redeem sinners. Unconfessed sin is also taken seriously because people care about the health of the church and its witness to the world.
Intentional engagement with the city and people of Stanwood-Camano. Although there is a high calling on the church to gather and live life as a community of believers, the church has ultimately failed at its mission if it does not also scatter and love those outside of the church. God saves people, in part, so that they can then proclaim his gospel and glory to others. God calls all Christians to join him on his mission to reconcile the world to himself, thereby spreading his glory.
Being a church that intentionally engages the Stanwood-Camano community involves:
Seeking to understand the unique culture of the Stanwood-Camano community
Seeking ways to truly love the community and people who call it home.
Getting involved in existing community activities to connect with people where they are.
Discussing how to communicate the gospel in a way that speaks into the unique ideals, fears, and idols of this community.
Consistently teaching what it means to be a Christian not just in private, but also in public.
Consistently teaching what it means to be a Christian in a secular society.
Keeping to a minimum programs and activities “inside the church walls” so that believers can spend time engaging unbelievers.
Theology-informed ministry. Every church has theology. And every church has particular ways of doing ministry. Yet not every church puts concentrated effort into connecting their theology to their particular ways of doing ministry. In many cases, a ministry model is chosen simply because of pragmatism or a current trend rather than as an outflow of beliefs about God’s character and ways.
A church with theology-informed ministry takes theology seriously. This is not because theology is the whole of the Christian life, but because the whole of the Christian life is informed by some form of theology, whether intentionally or not. What we believe is connected to how we live. Wrong beliefs about God lead to destructive patterns of behavior and thinking. Right beliefs about God lead to the life of grace and freedom that God intends. And where theology is minimized, the result is not a lack of theology, but the presence of bad theology. Thus, a theology-driven ministry seeks to understand all that God has revealed about himself, and then lets this understanding inform every facet of church life.
Of course, there is always a temptation to idolize theology, or to disconnect theology from godly living, or to use theology merely as a weapon to cause unnecessary division. Any pursuit of right thinking about God must also be a pursuit of humility and love to other believers. The goal is neither mere moral living divorced from right thinking about God, nor right thinking about God divorced from godly living. Right theology, when fully believed, leads to right living. This is the direction it always flows: right thinking to right living. The temptation to idolize theology does not at all diminish its importance for the life of the church.