An Expanded Look
Have we ever truly thought through why we are doing what we’re doing here at Community? Perhaps some have, but the truth is that most of us have never taken the time to sit down and think about our vision for ministry, much less write out a vision statement. We know our purpose (to glorify and enjoy God) and our mission (changed individuals, changed church, changed community/world) but a concrete expression of how we will fulfill our purpose and mission must be articulated.
What Community needs is a clearly defined vision statement! Such a statement can be used to motivate us to foster the dynamic unity and power necessary to carry out our purpose and mission. In other words, it puts us all on the same page in our understanding of why we’re here and what we’re trying to accomplish.
So what should our vision statement do for us? It should clearly, specifically, and concisely state for us what we believe God would have us to focus on in our efforts to glorify and enjoy God as well as carry out our mission. Now we must ask, "what should our vision statement be?"
To proclaim the Gospel to our Hearts, our Home, and the Hopeless.
If we as a church family would truly embrace this vision and let it permeate everything we think, plan, and do, then Community would see radical growth. Not just growth in numbers but spiritual growth as our members experience the life changing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The first question we must deal with in considering this vision is to define what we mean by the Gospel.
By it we mean that we are simultaneously far more sinful than we ever dared imagine yet far more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope for. The Gospel declares that we as sinners, deserving eternal condemnation, have received God’s gracious gift of eternal life through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Gospel is about what Christ accomplished for us on the cross – He died a gruesome death to pay the penalty for our sins so that we would stand completely forgiven before God; and He also imputed or credited to our account the perfect obedience He accomplished during His sinless life so that we would stand completely righteous before God. The Gospel declares that we are righteous, yet it is not a righteousness that we have earned. It is that which Christ has earned, accomplished, and granted to us.
What do we mean when we say we will proclaim the Gospel?
It means that we will do more than just acknowledge the truth of the Gospel. That’s not difficult – we’ve been doing that since we became a Christian. The problem is that on a daily basis we have a difficult time actually believing, trusting, and embracing the Gospel. Why do we say that? Because in practical terms we live everyday as an orphan as if we didn’t have a Heavenly Father rather than as a child of God (enjoying His love and favor earned for us through the finished work of Christ.) Therefore, our need is to every day, even several times a day, actually proclaim or preach the message of the Gospel to ourselves and to others. To proclaim the Gospel means that we will constantly think about it, talk about it, refer to it, write about it, base our teaching on it, mention it, declare it, and do any other thing possible to have it at the forefront of everything we do here at Community.
What would it look like in the heart, home, and hopeless as we "proclaim the Gospel" to them?
We would Delight in Christ in our Heart
We instinctively know what it means to delight in something! From early childhood days of delighting in an ice cream cone, a fresh snowfall, or a favorite toy we know what it means to have our hearts totally enamored with something outside ourselves. The person who honestly proclaims the Gospel to the heart will assuredly find their true delight and satisfaction in Christ. Another guaranteed result is that the person will begin to repent of wasting so much time seeking satisfaction in things other than Christ. Repentance obviously deals with where we have fallen short, but much of our repentance will focus on the supposedly "good things" we have done that we subconsciously use as a self-righteous substitute for Christ. We understand that the root of everything man thinks, says, and does is the heart. Therefore, in order to experience any real change we must address the heart. There are many behavioral techniques that can temporarily bring about compliance, but genuine movement toward Biblical obedience can only come about through the transformation of a person’s heart. Therefore, it is necessary to daily proclaim to our own hearts the truth of the Gospel – our sinfulness, need of repentance, forgiveness in Christ, belief in Christ’s triumph over sin and it’s reign in our lives, righteousness given by Christ.
We would Depend on Christ in our Home
Our use of the term "home" would have two applications. The first is our biological family. Our vision calls us to take the Gospel truth to our spouse, children, parents, etc. In our families we would deal with each other with grace. Each would recognize his/her own sin and not seek to blame and accuse others or defend self. Forgiveness, rather than condemnation, would characterize relationships. Our strength in relationships would not come from superior intellect or age or physical domination, but would come from our absolute dependence on Christ.
The second application is our church/spiritual family. Just because a person is a church member doesn’t mean they no longer need to hear about the Gospel matters of repentance and faith. In fact, church members often need to hear it more aggressively due to the numbing effect of years of exposure to church and religious activity. Believers often disconnect the process of sanctification from the event of justification. Sure, we theologically all believe that justification is by grace through faith; but we functionally believe that our works of obedience merit sanctification (or growth in Christ). We proclaim the Gospel in the church to one another by insuring that our sermons, class lessons, small group studies, and other such contexts are all faithful to promote the glorious truth that salvation, from start to finish, is all of God and by His grace. Again, our relationships in the church family would be dependent on Christ and His merit rather than our own superiority.
We would Declare Christ to the Hopeless
The hopeless are those who don’t know Christ. The Scripture speaks of these folks in Matthew 9 as being "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Knowing just a little about sheep we all know that a sheep without a shepherd is lost, hopeless, and condemned to die at the hands of a wild animal. A believer who truly remembers his or her own lost condition before knowing Christ and the utter horror of the consequences of sin and death he/she deserved, will overflow with thanksgiving for God saving him/her from that condemnation. This thanksgiving will naturally result in wanting to declare to others the grace found exclusively in Jesus Christ. As a believer continues to drink from the self-replenishing fountain of God’s grace, he/she will again naturally want to lead others to this fountain where they, too, may drink unto eternal life. If you as a believer hold to any degree the thought that you somehow merited God’s favor in salvation, then you will simply expect the unbeliever to perform to the level that you did, thus taking care of his or her need of redemption. Yet the believer who is absolutely convinced that salvation (justification, sanctification, glorification) is all of God’s unmerited favor and grace will surely want to point others to the cross where salvation can be found. We proclaim the Gospel to the hopeless through evangelism, inviting people to worship and other church functions, conversations at the store, visitation, counseling, etc.
If we wholeheartedly embrace this vision for ministry and allow it to penetrate everything we do, there will most certainly be an immediate impact. Practically every aspect of the church family will be affected. Here are some of the more obvious ones: Leadership - Evangelism - Discipleship - Worship - Fellowship - Mercy - Personal devotion - Children's and Youth Ministry - Relationships - Missions
The Gospel is about a Savior who is much more than a local deity. Jesus Christ is more than our mascot, urging us to cheer for the common cause of good and morality. Jesus didn’t just come to make us better people. Jesus came to establish peace between a holy God and sinful man. And even the most casual observer will note that we live in a world full of sinful men and women. Their only hope is Jesus Christ. Political reform is not sufficient – social welfare will not bring about redemption – economic prosperity will not establish a lasting kingdom. Only the Gospel message of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will bring actual hope and meaning to mankind. All else is temporary. This passion for the Gospel message will disturb us from our slumber and thrust us out of our comfort zone and into a world condemned to hell. We would do much more than simply send missionaries a check each month. Our desire would be to wrestle in prayer for them knowing they are on the front line of the battlefield. Yet we would also be stirred to see for ourselves what our God is doing around the world He has made. We would be taking frequent short-term missions trips and would even be seeing some from our own church family entering the missions field for the long-term. Knowing that heaven will be filled with believers from every ethnic group, nation, tribe, and language we would treasure the opportunities we have on this earth to get even a small taste of the kind of diverse praise that we will spend an eternity giving to our glorious Savior who has called us sinful men to Himself.
As we give focus to the Gospel on a personal level we experience the forgiveness and acceptance offered to us in Christ. We learn to accept ourselves, realizing that we have been forgiven and are continually being forgiven for our own sinfulness. Operating from the foundation that we cannot free ourselvesfrom the weight of our own sin will enable us to accept and forgive one another. We would see relationships characterized by humility. We would treasure the dignity of each individual and seek to treat one another as is suitable for an image bearer of Christ. We would be praying for one another realizing it is God who changes the hearts of people, thus drawing them to Himself. We would be a people slow to take up an offense, confessing our own failings first. We would be quick to forgive one another. And in conflict, we would first search our own hearts for sin, and only when necessary seek to correct others in a tone of love and repentance. When we must correct another, we would go to them sharing in their weaknesses as one who needs Christ’s renewing grace just as much as they do. We would see a people not characterized by defensiveness and blame shifting, but a people who own up to their own sin and accept the forgiveness that is readily offered.
The desire to share this triumphant grace would motivate those who long to see the lives of our children changed. We would long to see our children be filled with what we are only now beginning to taste. We would be excited about the prospect of participating in the work of sharing the faith with our children. We would have a congregation filled with people who want to share the truth, not based on whether they themselves feel worthy of sharing the message, but rather as those willing to invest their lives in others despite their own innate unworthiness. We would long to see our children grow in the truth of the gospel. We would see children who understand that our works are a response to the gospel – not what defines us. We would see children who know the magnitude of God’s love, not because they are such good children, but because they know our God is a lover of sinners. We would see people excited by our children’s struggle with sin, teaching them forgiveness and acceptance in the person of Christ. We would begin to see children who don’t just commit to be "good" but who actually understand how to grapple with sin, repent, and rest in the forgiveness that is always available to them in Christ. We would see eternal purpose in our time spent with children. In turn, we will see parents who long to be involved in the spiritual nurture of their children, not seeking to have "someone else" do it. When we realize that we are bigger sinners than we ever imagined and that God is a bigger lover of sinners than we dared hope for, we begin to delight in the Christ who bridges the gap between creation and Creator. We will see an authentic excitement in our children about being here. We would purpose to help our children see not only their individual sins but also their all-pervasive sinful nature. They would also recognize their true hopeless position before a holy God apart from Christ (not just at the point of justification but throughout the process of sanctification.) We would strive to remind ourselves as well as our children of the Gospel and its benefits, with the understanding that what we believe propels what we do.
Unfortunately, many of us have viewed personal devotion (quiet time, study time, devotions, personal worship, etc) as something on a checklist of Christian duties we must perform to keep God off our backs and hopefully gain a measure of blessing from this distant God. However, that idea is all wrong. The concept of "delight" was mentioned previously and personal devotion is actually nothing more than our "delighting" ourselves in our relationship with Christ. In response to God’s redeeming love for us in spite of our great sinfulness and the fact that we deserve complete and utter damnation, we will long to enjoy this personal relationship we have with our holy and sovereign God. As we go by faith to God through prayer, private worship, and by reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on His Word, we will be empowered by the Spirit to have a greater understanding of His unconditional and unmerited love for us. It is this personal time alone with God where we best savor the sweetness of who He is and who He has made us to be in Christ.
Mercy: Surely the Gospel would motivate us to help those in need. But we would do so not simply because we’re supposed to, or because those in need are so pitiful, or because it’s a blessing to help those in need. Our motivation would be our absolute amazement at the unadulterated riches of God’s grace He has lavished on us even though we were once His sworn enemies. We would be stunned over the fact that God has spiritually blessed us far beyond anything we could possibly think or imagine and now calls us and treats us as His children. In our overflowing abundance and resulting gratitude we would generously share with others in need, hoping that through our giving they, too, might catch a glimpse of God’s grace. Our greatest act mercy would not just be to shove some money their way, or fill up their pantry with food, or fill their car with gas (though these are areas where we would serve), but it would be communicate to them their worth and value in Christ. Our natural tendency is to find our worth in what we have, or at least in what we are given, but the Gospel tells us (and we would need to proclaim to the needy) that true worth comes from Christ and the perfect righteousness He earned but that He credits to those who believe.
Fellowship: The Gospel would melt away our need and desire to "look good" in front of others. Our concern would turn away from our vain attempts at self-righteousness and turn toward genuine care and passionate prayer. We will be able to be honest with one another about our sin and stop living superficial and fake lives. We would be others focused. We would seek to encourage each other, being transparent with our struggles with sin, praying for and with one another. We would no longer measure each other’s worth by their degree of worldly success or charisma. We would see ourselves as great sinners, thus encouraging us to approach others in humility and genuine concern. We would understand that all believers (ourselves and the other guy) need to go to and be taken to the cross for the strength to persevere.
Worship: Worship would become a natural thing as our hearts become captivated by the glory and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the realization of our rebellious sin and utter failure to please God, we would be astonished and overwhelmed by His grace as He grants to us the status of being His own beloved children. This stunning love of God would motivate us to want to offer Him the most praise and adoration we possibly could. It would be unthinkable of us to not offer praise and worship. Private worship would be a daily desire. It is in that worship where we would have the privilege of expressing to our Father the love that originated with His first loving us. Also, the opportunity to gather with other believers and exalt our Savior would become the highlight of our week. We would be inviting friends to our worship services so that they, too, might drink from this same fountain of grace where we found refreshment for our souls and salvation from our previous status of spiritual darkness and death. Our services would be characterized by both celebration and reflection. The need to celebrate would be strong as we embrace what Christ has done for us. Yet the need for reflection would also be mandated as we behold the incredible glory and majesty of our holy God. We would realize that sometimes the most appropriate response in worship is absolute silence as we behold our immense, infinite, holy, sovereign, and powerful Father. Yet in every phase of worship, no matter what the emotion, we would find deep and great satisfaction in calling out to this majestic God as our Abba, Father.
Spiritual Development: Discipleship would move away from being a "thing" we must do in order to get God to love us more. As we embrace the Gospel truth of being absolutely adored by God (due to the work of Christ) we will be eager to get involved in the discipleship process as simply a way to enjoy that love God has for us as His children. The goal of discipleship becomes to teach people to rediscover the Gospel and to learn how to enjoy life through repentance and faith. As we more and more understand that our position as sons and daughters of God is based on the imputed righteousness of Christ, we will be free to examine our own hearts and be transparent about our own sin. As we understand and believe that we are greater sinners than we could dare imagine and that God loves us more than we could ever hope for, the Holy Spirit will shape our wills and desires and produce the fruit of obedience in our lives. The curriculum used in our discipleship will be Gospel-driven, not a "try harder, do more, do better" approach. Our teacher training will focus on understanding, articulating, and applying the Gospel to our hearts first and then the hearts of those being discipled.
Evangelism: Our motivation to share the Gospel with others would never be out of guilt (it’s something I have to do) or performance (God will love me more if I do it), but would be out a sense of love. We would desire that others enjoy the same marvelous grace the Father. We would view those without Christ as they truly are (as we truly were before knowing Christ) – without hope, dead in sin, condemned. We would boldly share and would be free from the fear of ridicule or being hurt by others since the Gospel reminds us that our favor from God is secure in Christ, not man’s opinion. We would be humble in our dealings with others because we are fully aware that we are saved only by grace alone, not because of our superior intellect or character or faith capacity. We would be courteous in our manner. Coercion or pushing for a decision would be unnecessary since what we know is required for conversion is God’s grace rather than our eloquence of speech or determination or even the person’s openness. Yet we would persevere in our evangelistic efforts, even in the "hard" cases, since we’re again convinced that God alone sovereignly saves according to His pleasure and grace, not because a certain person is more likely to become a Christian. The fact that salvation is totally by God’s grace would compel us to pray for our unbelieving friends, knowing that our best evangelistic efforts aren’t sufficient to change a heart, but the work of the Holy Spirit is required for regeneration and conversion. All in all, we would be thrilled with every opportunity to talk about the person and work of Christ as we remind ourselves of where we came from and now who we are in Christ. The more satisfied we are in Him, the more we will naturally want to lead others to find this same satisfaction.
Leadership: There would be a pervasive sense of brokenness among our leaders. As our leaders recognize the true condition of their own hearts, they would be the first in our congregation to confess their sin and need of Christ. They would relish the opportunities to be transparent before others, allowing others to see their utter dependence on Christ. None would be pretending to be competent in their own abilities. It would seem, then, that it might be difficult to find leaders since it would then confront folks with their great sin and sinfulness. However, an authentic understanding of the Gospel would cause the opposite to be true. As our people would savor the Gospel they would be propelled into wanting to serve in leadership positions. This would happen as they sensed a thorough cleansing of their sin and a renewed confidence in the power of Christ working in and through them as they rested solely in the righteousness of Christ imputed to them. We would enjoy God’s grace by observing Him do things in and through us that we are absolutely incapable of doing.
As you can see, embracing the vision of proclaiming the Gospel to our heart, our home, and the hopeless will result in some radical changes both in our personal lives and in the corporate community of the church family. Are you ready? Do you believe the Gospel? Are you not ashamed of it? Do you believe it alone to be (along with nothing else) the power of God for salvation?
The leadership of Community Presbyterian Church believes that the Gospel is our only hope and strength for change. Our challenge to you is to embrace this Gospel and repent of "playing church," thinking that God will be satisfied with your religious work. We were created for the purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. As John Piper has so aptly stated, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." Proclaiming the Gospel to your heart, to your home, and to the hopeless will lead you to enjoy and be satisfied in God, thus fulfilling your purpose of glorifying Him. Embrace this vision!