The Gospel and the Local Church: A Call to Disciple-making
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
This is the Great Commission, the central work God has called us to do. Wherever God has us now – the places we live, work and play – and wherever He calls us in the future, whether that is our hometown or across the world, God has called us to the friends, neighbors & coworkers around us.
God also calls us into community with other believers. First, for our own growth and encouragement as the writer of Hebrews exhorts the early church “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) or as we see in the Proverbs, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17). But secondly because it is in the context of Christian community that our faith is confirmed to those who don’t know Christ, as Jesus said to his disciples, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”(John 13:35). It is in the context of Christian community that our faith goes beyond just our own ideas to something larger. It is in the context of our Christian community that our non-Christian friends see what we’re really about and their picture of God is expanded as they see the full expression of the body.
The easiest way for your friends that don’t know Christ to see you in the context of Christian community is for your Christian community to be in the same community as your non-Christian friends, which means one of the most effective ways to reach your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers for Christ is for there to be a Gospel-centered church in your community.
For most of us, our first instinct when looking for or evaluating churches, aside from maybe assessing theology, is to do so through the lens of what they offer to us:
- Do they have small groups?
- What do they have for my kids?
- Do I like the Pastor’s preaching?
- What is the worship like?
- Do they have a ministry for the cause(s) I’m passionate about?
- Is there a place I can use “x” gift of mine?
And some of that is because many churches spend far more time communicating what they offer than what they are about.
But what if instead, we started looking for and evaluating churches in terms of kingdom impact?
- What if our lens was how does being a part of this church help me reach my unbelieving family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers – is this a community where we encourage one another to be engaged in relationships with those that don’t know Christ?
- Is this a community where we regularly pray for our unbelieving friends and family?
- Is this a community where we work to love one another well?
- Is this church in a location that will allow my unbelieving friends to see me in a Christian community, not just if I invite them to something at church, but around the community – at the park, in the grocery store, at the favorite local restaurants, at community events?
Now, depending on where you live and the church density of your community, this may not be a big issue. If you have several gospel-centered churches in your community, then the first set of questions can be helpful in determining which of those churches God is calling you to serve at. For those of us in areas where the church density is a little more sparse, however, focusing on the first set of questions without ever considering the second, could lead us to a church that while excellent, will make it more challenging to reach those who don’t know Christ in our community.
If the Great Commission of the church is to make disciples and one of the main purposes of a Christian community is to help us fulfill that commission, then shouldn’t we be focused first on that criteria when choosing a church, even if it means sacrificing our preferences and desires?
What are we willing to do to reach the lost?
Are we willing to help ensure there is a thriving gospel-centered church in our community for the sake of the lost? As churches, are we willing to work & partner with other churches in our area to ensure there is a thriving gospel-centered church in each community, even if it means foregoing some of our own “growth,” recognizing our ability to reach the lost outside of our community is more limited?
If our mission as a church is truly the Great Commission and a local gospel-centered church is an important part of accomplishing that, then the answer should be a resounding yes. Now there may be any number of reasons that God would call someone to a church outside the community they live in, but when we ask the first set of questions, it makes our church decisions self-focused, likely hinders our effectiveness in making disciples and potentially creates an atmosphere of competition. When we approach church with the second set, it reminds us that as the body of Christ, we are all on the same team, no matter what church we attend, and the enemy is Satan, not each other. It allows us to engage as a laborer for the Kingdom and it brings disciple-making to the forefront. If we are to reach the lost, we must do so together. As Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,” (Matthew 9:37-38) and ask Him how & where He would have you labor.