When you visit a church in America, you can usually tell within a few minutes what really drives the congregation.
The activity-driven church has a list of all its upcoming events in the bulletin, and you need a microscope to read it, because there are 10 to 20 activities every day of the week. The experience-driven church sings every song eight or 10 times, and when you talk to people during greeting time, they start every other sentence with “God told me. ...” The social/political-action-driven church has a table in the lobby with, depending on its political persuasion, either (1) family-values voter information guides or (2) fair-trade coffee that was hand-roasted by widows in a remote village in South America. The counseling-driven church has a rack on the wall advertising recov ery groups for caffeine addiction and every other dependency under the sun. The family-driven church has entire rows taken up by families with five or six kids since there are no children’s programs that might split families apart. The Bible-driven church hands you a bulletin as thick as your thumb, containing the pastor’s seven-page sermon outline (plus 14 pages of footnotes).
How many of those characteristics mark your own church? We can see three or four in our own! Few of these things are necessarily wrong, and many of them are attractive to us because they emphasize an implication of the gospel. God calls us to study his Word, to experience him through worship and prayer, to shepherd our families, and to influence our culture. The problem comes when you reduce the gospel to any of these things. Then your church becomes the family worship church down the street from the social justice church, rather than simply being a gospel church.
This kind of reductionism is a particularly strong temptation for churches that work together in kingdom ministry, because kingdom partnerships are usually focused on one specific gospel implication: assisting the poor locally or overseas; influencing one area of culture, such as the arts; or teaching biblical interpretation to rising church leaders. Gospel implications may be the focus of a partnership, but they cannot be the foundation. When a single implication of the gospel is all that’s holding us together, rather than the gospel itself, the ministry will fall apart as soon as the money runs out or differences arise, as they always do.
Kingdom partnerships must be built on the gospel alone. This means that there should be a direct line between the aims of the partnership and Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. As the implications of what Jesus has done are worked out in our churches, we will be compelled to partner with other churches to make the gospel and its implications clear across our cities and around the world.
Excerpted from Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion, by Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks (M.Div. ’04), Crossway, August 2014. Used by permission of Crossway, www.crossway.org.