The Cost of Moving a Church Toward Gospel-Centeredness
August 25, 2007, 8:00 am
Filed under: church

I read the following excerpt in an article entitled, “Crucial Issues in Gospel and Community” by Jeff Louie. I was simultaneously challenged and encouraged by these words, and find that I am going to need much prayer for the task ahead of me. Furthermore, I realize how much my life will need to be transformed in this process — I need strength, patience, perseverance, and I must “bleed the gospel ideals”. Hmmmph. Although I am early in this process of moving Immanuel Community Church toward gospel-centeredness, I wholeheartedly agree with what he says towards the end : “But is it worth it? Definitely, yes!” Amen! May the Lord grant that my joy would not just be wrapped up in my own grasping of the beautiful gospel, but also in seeing my precious brothers and sisters embracing it in their hearts and lives.

The Cost of Moving a Church Toward Gospel-Centeredness

The transformation of an existing church toward a gospel-centeredness will require a high degree of commitment, and perseverance by the leadership and especially by the lead pastor. It can take months, but more like years of commitment. The lead pastor must not only support the gospel ideals, but he must bleed the gospel ideals. He is not to relegate the work to an assistant pastor, but must be totally committed and involve himself.

The leadership needs to have a high degree of spiritual strength, as many in the congregation will not understand where you are taking them. There will be those who catch on quickly, those in the middle who will follow whatever happens, but also those who are resistant to change. People attached themselves to an existing church, because they liked that church’s culture when they joined. If that culture is being changed, you will hear disparaging comments.

You will hear all sorts of excuses:

“We can’t show compassion, because we are not ready.” When will you be ready? Isn’t “loving our neighbor” the second greatest commandment? It is not an option. Beware that you don’t use this excuse, only to discover that nothing is done 5 years later.

“We are too small of a church.” It is not a matter whether you can implement ministries to change your community. We are not called to “change” our community. But we are called to “love” the people around us. We may, or may not bring a lasting effect. That is up to God. Some churches are bigger and can do more. Churches with lots of strong adults can do more building. Churches with seniors can do more mentoring. Congregations with intellectuals can do more tutoring.

“We won’t be effective, because the people in our neighborhood are different from the people at the church; we would do better to help our own kind.” There are aspects of effectiveness in ministry when the person you help is like yourself. But if you limit yourself to this, and use it as an excuse to do nothing toward the immediate needs of the people around you, then something is wrong. This is not what the second greatest commandment is about. I can’t imagine the Good Samaritan saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak your language. I show compassion, but only to my own kind; it’s a matter of effectiveness.” Beware that we do not make “cultural-pride” and “effectiveness” synonymous.

The lead pastor may need to risk his own job for the sake of gospel transformation. This is not another ministry to be added on top of what usually happens at the church. Some will not understand why you are declaring bold truths. Other will claim that you are headed toward a liberal social gospel. There will be times of misunderstanding, bouts of sadness. In the seventeen years at Sunset Church, I estimate that I have been sad at least 25% of the time.

But is it worth it? Definitely, yes! We do not serve ourselves, or institutions. We serve the living God who will judge the works of our hands. We need to stand before the Lord knowing that we strove to represent him in the fullness of his gospel.

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