When I talk to pastors or sessions and I hear about the challenges they face, I...
The gospel must be our main focus
The gospel is both missional and attractional. Therefore, when thinking about how our denomination and our churches can make this shift, we must see the gospel as being of first importance.
The desire to be more attractional or more missional will not be productive if we’re not making the gospel our top priority. Not only do we need to make sure that we are getting the truth of the gospel right, but we also need to take it two steps further. We have to do the job of helping people within our churches experience the gospel and also apply the gospel. When we do that, I believe our churches will become more missional and more attractional. After all, there is nothing more attractional and missional than the gospel.
The gospel is the news that God has come into the world (missional) to bring about the redemption and restoration of sinners and this world (attractive). If we are seeking to be missional and attractional outside of the gospel message, we will fail. The gospel is our true motivation and power to move our churches in a more missional and attractional direction.
Gospel-centered missional communities are communities within the church who are on mission together where they live, work, and play. So what does it look like to build gospel-centered missional communities? Let’s look to look at three aspects of these types of communities.
1. Communities on mission for the gospel
When we think about community in the context of mission what we must understand is evangelism can be communal. We typically think of evangelism as one-on-one relationships, and that is good, but it seems to me that most of the evangelism that happened within the early church was communal. This creates opportunities for others to learn how to evangelize and it becomes less daunting because we are figuring it out together.
When we think about being on mission it’s helpful to think of ourselves as ambassadors as Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 5. An ambassador is someone from one country living in another country representing their home country. Therefore, we are citizens of heaven, living on earth, representing heaven to the world around us. As ambassadors we enter into the world of those we are reaching out to while remaining distinct, just as Christ came into our world yet remained distinct. As ambassadors, we sacrifice for others because Christ has sacrificed for us.
This is about building relationships with your neighbors and co-workers, and then inviting them into a community of Christians who love and accept them. It’s about creating a space where Christian and non-Christians can become friends. When this happens, those you are reaching out to are able to look in and see a community that only the gospel can produce. This is a display of the gospel.
2. Communities displaying the gospel
When a community is centered in the gospel it starts to be formed and shaped by the gospel. This produces a community of people who love and accept each other exactly the way they are but love each other enough to encourage each other to be changed by the power of the gospel. It’s a community of people who are in a covenant together. They will never leave or forsake each other. This kind of community is attractive and missional. It’s attractive because the world longs for true covenant community and it is missional because it displays the gospel. Jesus calls this a City on a Hill (Matthew 5:14).
The mere act of welcoming those outside of Christianity into Christian community won’t save them, but it offers them a glimpse of something only the gospel can produce while bringing validity to the message of the gospel once we begin to share it with them.
3. Communities proclaiming the gospel
When our new friends, who don’t yet know Christ, have seen the affects the gospel has on a community they can become more intrigued by what the community believes. They will also feel much more comfortable coming into a bible study setting because they are already friends with those in the covenant community. If they understand you accept them just the way they are, but also love them enough to encourage them to go to Christ to be healed and transformed, they will then be honest about their objections and will be honest about their struggles. This can lead to both group and individual conversations to help move them in a direction toward Christ. When someone comes to faith, the next step is to teach them to walk alongside others and help them come to faith the same way you walked next to them to help bring them to faith.
There is much more to be said about this. If you would like further reading on building gospel-centered missional communities, I would recommend two titles to you: Total Church and Everyday Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis.