Gospel community flourishes when individual members embrace their gospel-responsibility for one another. Our dream in the Pillar Network is to see thriving, healthy churches multiplying. We pray for churches that affirm the authority of Scripture and express this authority in gospel community. Gospel community is expressed through a culture of change where members are helping one another to follow Jesus by seeking to keep His Word in every area of our lives.
Milton Vincent helpfully demonstrates one way Christians apply the gospel in community:
“The more I experience the gospel, the more there develops within me a yearning affection for my fellow-Christians who are also participating in the glories of the gospel. This affection for them comes loaded with confidence in their continued spiritual growth and ultimate glorification, and it becomes my pleasure to express to them this loving confidence regarding the ongoing work of God in their lives.” Vincent, Milton (2013-01-07). A Gospel Primer for Christians (Kindle Locations 253-255). Focus Publishing. Kindle Edition.
CONSUMERS, SERVANTS, AND SHEPHERDS
Yet, many times, this rich gospel community seems illusive and impractical, especially in new church plants. Individual sentiments such as “I have enough problems of my own,” or “Who am I to counsel a brother when I am struggling, too?” creep in and stunt collective spiritual growth. Other believers see church through consumerist lenses in which they come, receive, and go on their way. Some “more committed” Christians are servants in the church. They align with the vision and joyfully pass out bulletins or hold babies for an hour a week. To these Christians, church is a place and a time. While gospel community will reflect faithful commitment to gather and serve, it is extends beyond these obligatory service on Sundays. Both of these mindsets miss the Biblical call to gospel community.
A church that expresses gospel community is composed of members who recognize that their union to Christ has also placed them in vital union with His body (1 John 1:3, 6-7). Members identify with one another in covenant community in such a way that they share responsibility for one another.
SHEPHERDING IS NOT JUST FOR THE SHEPHERDS
Hebrews 4 explains that gospel community is God’s very context to foster Christians’ perseverance in faith: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 4:13). Gospel community in the church means Christians share responsibility for one another – thus rendering every member to have a shepherding responsibility for others. We are to be “exhorting one another every day.”
Even at the cost of personal comfort and convenience, Christians in koinonia participate in each other’s common life in Christ and take ownership for one another. Shepherding in the church is not just for the shepherds. Christians must shoulder the glorious privilege and responsibility of caring for the needs of the body.
Likewise, after explaining that the “word of truth” is “the gospel of your salvation” (Eph 1:13), Paul explains that churches will be healthy and fruitful when each member is committed to the practice of speaking the gospel into its fellow members. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
In staggering contrast from the individualistic and consumer-oriented perspective most Christians in America embrace, healthy churches flourish to the degree that its individual members embrace their gospel-responsibility for one another.
CULTIVATING A CULTURE OF GOSPEL COMMUNITY
As we continue to plant new churches across the dark corners of North America and the world, I’d like to suggest a few ways we might promote a culture that moves people from consumerism toward a healthy gospel community in which members are taking responsibility to faithfully give care and counsel to one another.
- Personally model gospel community. Nothing crushes a movement more than a leader who tries to point people to some philosophy that is not expressed in his own life. As you give (and receive) Hebrews 4:13 exhortation, you will remain nearer to the merciful heart of the Savior by which the Lord will mature you and your vision for the church. This will result in your preaching and shepherding being more authentic and faithful.
- Ingrain gospel community in your church’s DNA. This vision of biblical fellowship must ooze through your values and strategic plan. People involved in the church should hear of this vision early and often.
- Prioritize gospel community in your budget. This means that over time, the church will invest less in the up-front stage and more in shepherd-leaders who can multiply shepherd-leaders with a vision and practice of gospel community.
- Facilitate a robust congregational ecclesiology. The doctrine of the church explains who we are as the body of Christ and what Jesus calls us to do. Carefully guard the front door through regenerate church membership. Teach this through a meaningful membership class. Train your leaders. Integrate a faithful church covenant into the life of the church.
- Make the counter-intuitive shift to give away authority as early as you can. Let me explain: Early on, things move fast on a church planting team. You’ve prayed for years, built a planting team, adopted a strategic plan, raised money, and gotten frustrated by logistical matters.The early days of a church plant require strong leadership, clear vision, and fast-paced decision-making. Functionally, a successful church plant must have strong top-down leadership in order to survive the grueling early months.
But the longer it operates this way, harder it will be to develop a culture of gospel community. As soon as possible, the wise church planter will do something counter-intuitive – he will purposefully decrease his authority and increase the responsibility on the church family. This will not only more quickly develop other leaders, but will more consistently align the community with a biblical ecclesiology.
So yes, lead the church plant with a clear and compelling top-down vision. But don’t delay giving away authority to the congregation, empowering other qualified leaders, and living out gospel community together.
Having responsibility for others in gospel community is sweet but often comes with pain, panic, burden and sacrifice. Christians are mistaken to believe the Christian life is only about “our Heavenly Father and us.” When we are united to Christ, we are united to his household as well.
It’s this sort of community – one that takes vital responsibility for one another as also for our selves – that sets the church apart from any other club or institution. It’s this agape love – that stoops to care for others as Christ stooped to us at the cross – which is the expression of true fellowship.