Today’s church can center itself on many things. It can be tradition-centered, program-centered, cause-centered, needs-centered, or even church-centered. Though these may be worthy of attaining some of the focus of our churches, we are to be set apart for the Gospel; churches centered on the good news of Jesus Christ. In Gospel-Centred Church: Becoming the Community God Wants You to Be, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, founders The Crowded House and The Porterbrook Network, have written a practical and insightful workbook to help individuals, small groups, and churches to think “radically about our understanding of church.” “Our aim,” Timmis and Chester write, “has been to go back to our roots-the gospel-and see what kind of community it should create.” The results could truly be radical.
Gospel-Centred Church is divided into three parts: the priority of mission, the priority of people, and the priority of community. Each short chapter gives a central principle, opening scenario, Scripture passage with questions, explanation of the concept, discussion questions, and ideas for action. Part one: the priority of mission places gospel mission as the central purpose of the church, an objective not just for the collective or for a specialized few, but for all believers. As every saint worships God in all of life, not just when they gather, they will naturally serve as witnesses to the gospel in word and deed. Timmis and Chester firmly believe that the effects of truly embracing the gospel, will drive them from their safe, cozy lives to live as missionaries who are “contemporary, daring, and biblical.”
In part two: the priority of people, Timmis and Chester argue that the church exists wherever believers are covenanted together under the authority of the word of God. These churches are effective in gospel ministry as they remain long-term, low-key, and relational. Successful ministry is not sudden and glamorous. It happens as believers share their lives with other believers and unbelievers alike, speaking and reflecting the gospel, being involved together to shape culture and engage unbelievers as the “ordinary” Christian takes responsibility to do the work of ministry. Rather than being driven by programs, church activity is centered on people, and their own particular gifting. Furthermore, Timmis and Chester maintain that people are essential to Gospel ministry while buildings are not. Churches should be defined by the lives of believers rather than on meeting spaces or architecture.
The third priority considered is that of community. Timmis and Chester suggest that the church should be viewed as an extended family that authentically lives out the gospel together, not just gathering once a week to proclaim it from a pulpit, but to reflect it daily as they share in life together. This kind of community creates a sense of belonging and is very persuasive to non-Christians. They add that the church must be a community that is inclusive, welcoming unbelievers, speaking in ways that they can understand, and allowing them to feel as if they belong. Just as extended families grow by producing new nuclear families, local churches grow by starting new churches. According to Timmis and Chester, “the best way to link church and mission is through church planting.” The Gospel-Centred Church concludes with an evaluative thought: All church structures and activities should be evaluated by how they help the spread of the gospel.
I have come to love the way in which, time and again, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, challenge the modern day perception of church. The Gospel-Centred Church, like their other works, is no exception. The discussion, questions, and ideas for action persuasively motivate the ordinary Christian from viewing themselves as a bystander to actively engaging in the mission of the gospel community right where they are. Its focus is biblical: God’s people in community, engaged in the mission of God. It challenges us to cut the fat from our churches by way of buildings, programs, events, and traditions and to redirect our efforts to what God clearly reveals in his Word: to make disciples of all nations.
The one question I have (and this comes more from not experiencing firsthand how this vision is lived out) is: “How is the true church made visible?” Scripture is clear that there is a distinction between those that are inside and those who are outside the church (Acts 2:40–47; 5:12–13; 1 Cor. 5:12; 14:23–24). It is taught and governed by leadership that clearly does more than “creating an environment in which people can flourish” (Acts 6:1–7; Eph. 4:11–13; 1 Tim. 2:15; 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9; Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12–13). The New Testament also gives instances of church discipline (Matt. 18:15–17; 1 Cor. 5:1–13), nominating and voting (Acts 6:1–7; 2 Cor. 2:6), and counting believers (Acts 2:41; 1 Tim. 5:9–12).
One of the ways the church makes the gospel visible is by showing the distinction between those who are Christians and those who are not. Practically, I would like to see how this is played out within their structure of a welcoming and inclusive community. Of course the church should be open and inviting toward outsiders, but within the high emphasis on the church as an extended family and the view that unbelievers embrace the Gospel after they feel a sense of belonging, I am curious how this is done to the degree they suggest while exhibiting the clear distinction of the true church. Regardless of ecclesiological differences, Gospel-Centred Church is a challenging and thought-provoking, easy-to-use resource to help individuals, groups of believers, or entire churches embrace Christ’s mission together as a community of those he has redeemed. It is a recommended read for all desiring to become the community God wants you to be.