You can probably name a church in your community with a reputation for courageous defense of biblical truth. The preaching is strong, and discipleship involves a lot of good books from dead theologians. Another church you know is beloved for its compassion. Its food pantry is always stocked, and no one walks away empty-handed. Yet another church is all about fulfilling the Great Commission. They have the latest technology, the most energetic worship services, the most creative outreach strategies.
But where are the churches that are courageous, compassionate, and commissioned, all at the same time and among the same people? Where are the gospel-shaped churches that teach the Bible, love the poor, and reach the lost? If God’s Word is our timeless guide, then churches seeking after Jesus ought to share this core DNA even if they don’t agree on every theological detail, even if they’re located on opposite sides of the world.
The Gospel Coalition Theological Vision of Ministry was drafted, edited, and adopted by our Council of pastors, who began meeting 10 years ago. This document says that gospel-shaped churches will be characterized by five dynamics:
- Empowered corporate worship
- Evangelistic effectiveness
- Counter-cultural community
- The integration of faith and work
- The doing of justice and mercy
We admit that such well-rounded ministry is relatively rare today. As the Council observes, “while in God’s grace, there is an encouraging number of bright spots in the church, we see no broad movement yet of this gospel–centered ministry.” So we pray for more “churches with winsome and theologically substantial preaching, dynamic evangelism and apologetics, and church growth and church planting.” Ultimately we pray for God to send revival. And in the meantime we seek to reform our ministry practices so they conform to Scripture. We want more gospel-shaped churches.
We seek to shape churches with daily publishing on our website. We seek to shape churches through national and regional events. But we recognize these efforts sometimes only reach the pastors and other highly motivated church leaders. So we wanted to develop a resource church leaders could share with members, something they could study together in Sunday schools and small groups, something that would show them what the Bible teaches about gospel-centered ministry. So we decided to develop Gospel Shaped Church and recruited five of the most faithful and effective pastors we know to produce a series of group studies with written and video teaching that would walk churches through these essentials. These pastors know the difficulty of casting church vision, of planting a new congregation, and of revitalizing an old one. So they know how to come alongside and assist you in the task of aligning your church with the priorities of God as revealed in his Word.
Because we believe all churches no matter their context should share a core gospel DNA, we sought to partner with an international publisher who could expose some of our blind spots and ensure we spoke to a global audience. So we’re delighted to work with The Good Book Company, based in London, England; Sydney, Australia; and Purcelville, Virginia. They have an excellent track record of publishing biblical material for ordinary church members. You may have encountered their work through Christianity Explored, Bible studies such as Galatians for You by Tim Keller, and timely books such as Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry. We have been expertly guided in this process by the trans-Atlantic team of Tim Thornborough, Carl Laferton, Alison Mitchell, and Brad Byrd. We know the final product is stronger because they’re concerned to publish something that works for churches in Sydney, Singapore, and Southampton as well as it does in Syracuse, Seattle, and St. Louis.
The first two tracks of Gospel Shaped Church have been published in time for The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference. They have been written by two TGC bloggers: Jared Wilson addresses Gospel Shaped Worship, and Erik Raymond considers Gospel Shaped Outreach. The next installment in this major multi-year initiative comes this fall from Vermon Pierre on living in community, and then in 2016 TGC Council members Tom Nelson and Stephen Um cover work and mercy, respectively. In selecting these authors we gave special attention to geographic, denominational, and ethnic diversity because we understand the same gospel priorities will take different shapes depending on these and other factors. Nevertheless, the same Spirit works the same basic outcomes—repentance, personal renewal, and holiness of life.
We’re praying for a movement of churches that longs to know more than the content of the gospel. We want Christians to know the joy of living at peace with God, with their neighbors, and with one another as they live in light of Christ’s work. We are hoping that God will be pleased to use Gospel Shaped Church throughout our nation and the world, and perhaps in your church, to further this end. By God’s grace in another 10 years we’ll scan the globe and find that such gospel-shaped churches are no longer rare.