The Church as God’s Family

If you’re like me (and let’s hope you’re not), you might find that sometimes you say things without giving thoughtful consideration to what you’re saying. As I have sought to communicate the vision for developing disciples in the context of community, I have said more than one time, “This is not about planting a church.” Now having heard myself repeat that phrase several times I want to seek to clarify, which is something I find myself undertaking quite too often.

The phrase “missional community” was coined back in the 80’s to articulate what was believed to be a more authentic expression of a Christian community of faith rather than the institutional model which is most prevalently recognized in the Western world. Simply put, when the pioneers of missional communities looked at the modern church, in their biblically informed opinions, it did not resemble the church of 2000 years ago. Now, I know what you’re thinking, much has changed in 2000 years. However, what has not changed is how and why God gathers and sends His people.

The church is a family. It is the family of God. God is our Father. This is not an accidental distinction. God is continuing to this day the work He begin in the garden with our original parents. He is building a family through adoption made possible by the sinless life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sadly, we have reduced Christianity to a “decision” which we make in order to secure a spot in heaven when we die. You and I must redeem a biblical understanding of what it means to be part of the family of God TODAY!! Sure, the thought of eternity in a renewed heaven and earth is glorious but what about today? “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called the children of God and such WE ARE” (1 John 3:1). John does not say, “we will be.” He says we are presently, children of God and members of His family. But what does it look like to live in our present culture and context as part of the family? Here in lies the problem. It’s difficult to look at what the church has become and see a healthy reflection of what God’s family is. I believe that needs to change and the only way that we can recapture a biblical model of church is by immersing ourselves in the scriptures.

God invites his children to join in the family mission of enlarging the family (or another picture …expanding the borders of the kingdom) and being the instruments through which other children are brought into the clan. We accomplish this mission through discipleship but all the while the mission is carried out as a family which always seeks to honor our Father. This family is called the church. The Father ordained the church. The Son lived and died for the church. The Spirit fills, convicts, protects and empowers the church. And we should love the church as well. In my repeated comments about “this not being about church planting” I have attempted to emphasis the priority of discipleship and community. The order is essential. Discipleship comes first. This must be our focus. I desire and believe God desires to birth New City Church in Anderson and NCC will worship, teach, fellowship, pray, baptize and share communion as a body as we participate in our Father’s mission. This is the church! But I believe this happens as a RESULT of discipleship, which is what we were called to do by Christ in Matthew 28:19. Discipleship is a community endeavor and the seeds of discipleship which are planted in community will produce new children and churches all over the world beginning with us.

We are praying that God births a healthy church (family) which we all are a part of. But we plead with God that by his grace, New City Church becomes and continues to be a healthy reflection of his eternal family and not a man centered institution which lacks power and has no impact in our world.

Work and Mission

Work as Gospel Opportunity

Regardless of your vocation or location, our mission is to be the sent people of God who display his presence, words, and actions to the world. There is beauty and brokenness in our various industries, and you can be used to spread blessing in your field. When you seek the kingdom and his righteousness, people benefit and humanity flourishes. And most of all, he is glorified.

I want to create space for this conversation at my chuch. I want to help business people create networks that strive to demonstrate the kingdom in their vocational domains. And I want to help disciple them for their public and professional lives.

A few years ago, when I pastored in New York City, we had a special service where we talked about neighborhoods, networks, and nations. I asked Jamie, one of our church members who’s an educator in the public school system, to share how he’s trying to put the kingdom of God on display. Here’s what he said:

My vocation in education becomes not about teaching kids to pass tests, but promoting their flourishing as persons by seeking to shape their characters as well as their minds. It means creating classrooms of community and peace; restoring a vocabulary that includes words like mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and justice. Tilling the soil of their hearts in hopes that the Spirit would plant faith.

The gospel makes office politics become less about advancing my status and guarding my reputation and more about seeking the good of my co-workers, even the ones I don’t like. We stay late, not in hopes of a promotion but to help someone struggling to finish their work.

As people of peace, we foster reconciliation between co-workers, offer counsel and comfort because Christ brought us counsel and comfort in abundance. We willingly labor, often in obscurity, so our actions and words might reintroduce the language of the gospel into our workplace. We would be people of mercy, forgiveness, humility, and wisdom.

What you are doing in your vocation matters. Leverage it for worship and witness. That is how we will advance the mission.

This excerpt is adapted from Work as Worship: How the CEOs of Interstate Batteries, Hobby Lobby, PepsiCo, Tyson Foods, and more Bring Meaning to Their Work. Copyright © 2012. Used by permission of Mark L. Russell Media.

Editors’ note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a regular column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.

J. R. Vassar serves as the lead pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas. From 2005 to 2013, he served as the founding and lead pastor of Apostles Church in New York City. He is a graduate of Dallas Seminary, is married to Ginger, has three children, and is the author of Glory Hunger: God, the Gospel and Our Quest for MoreYou can follow him on Twitter.

Children and the Church

As word gets out that our family is working with the Evangelical Free Church to plant a church of missional communities in the upstate of South Carolina, I find myself fielding a myriad of questions usually regarding the typical “why”, “when” and “where” questions about church planting. I do my best to explain that our church planting model is much more focused on building relationships than buildings and is driven by mission more than programs but I’m confident that I’ve done nothing but confuse those I’m talking to. In my attempt to give sense to our endeavor, I have been met with some resistance from one certain category of people: parents. It has been very sobering to listen to some of the rationale why parents would not consider participating in a missional community and I feel the need to challenge some of the parental thinking that seems to prevail regarding children and the church in general but may also shape a parent’s thinking toward participating in a church plant in particular.

The response that I often hear goes something like this. “We need to be in a church where our children’s needs are met. We want a church that offers wonderful programs which our children love and which fosters in them a desire to participate and enjoy the church experience. We desire a church that offers great programs, great teaching and fun activities which leaves our children wanting to return the following Sunday.” Now let me be perfectly clear. I don’t believe that everyone who is uninterested in launching out and planting a new church is wrong for not being willing to do so. I do however, think that parents need to rethink what they are teaching their children about the church and then take radical steps to reorient their families to the gospel and gospel driven mission.

The problems:

  1. We are likely teaching an entire generation of children that “having fun” and being catered to is the main objective of the church. Instead, children should be taught by their parents that nothing is more important than living in obedience to God’s word and leading others to know Christ by serving others and laying their lives down for the sake of the gospel.
  2. We are reinforcing a sinful nature in our children who already are made to think that the world revolves are them rather than teaching them that God is the center of His universe and He has invited us to join Him in His mission and that should be the very core of our existence.
  3. Parents think more like consumers than “saints striving to build up the body of Christ” while growing up into maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:12).
  4. We think the church is an organization that exist for us. Generally speaking, our culture has little biblical understanding of the church and the mission for which it was founded. We “join” churches using much the same criteria that we would use in searching for a gym, daycare or school. We ask, “Does the church teach the things I believe. Do they play the music I enjoy? Do they provide the programs for my children that attract and keep their attention? Are there plenty of activities for my children to be involved? Are our needs met here?

The Solution:

  1. Realize that Christ created, lived and died for his church and we must become much more diligent about understanding what the role of the church is in our generation and every generation that follows. The church exists in order to fulfill the mission of God to bring about the very reconciliation and redemption of all of God’s creation (2 Cor.5:20).
  2. Realize that the church does not exist to serve, entertain or satisfy your children (Mat 28:19). You have Disney World for that.
  3. Pray, repent of self-worship and look for ways to engage culture as a family. Raise your children to be selfless heralds of the gospel and not those who put their needs above those of others. Parents should model a love of Christ that drives them into the world and culture. Children should be raised to function within culture rather than insulating them against it.
  4. Make it a priority to cultivate Christian community in your family. Our children need nothing more than to belong to an intimate fellowship of believers of every age and culture. More than entertainment, our children need to see their parents interacting and living within the body of Christ AND the world. How will our children grow up to love the church and how will they know how to function within the community of saints if they do not see it modeled in their parents?

In Deuteronomy 6:7 the Bible explicitly articulates what every page of the Bible affirms regarding a parent’s responsibility to their children and that is, “You shall teach them (God’s law) diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Our children don’t need us to teach them how to “go to church.” They need their parents to teach and model for them what a life and family saturated with the gospel and consumed with the mission of God looks like and the only way to do this is in Christian community. Is it any wonder that so many young adults abandoned the church when they are own their own? It’s not enough to show our children that church is a big part of our lives. We must pray and help them develop a deep, abiding love for Christ and all of his creation and train them to be faithful “ambassadors for Christ” who are servant minded rather than consumers looking to have their needs met.

There may be many reasons why we would not subject our family to the trials and troubles of church planting (though I can’t think of a legitimate reason at the moment), but our children’s comfort and social needs should not be one of those reasons.

The Church is a PEOPLE not a PLACE.

We are seeking to create a culture where families and individuals can build meaningful relationships which are shaped by God’s word while getting to know God more intimately by studying the Bible together. As this happens, this growing family will naturally and intentionally begin to serve their communities and cities in ways which have never been considered before. The Bible calls this family a community, a fellowship, a kingdom and most commonly a church. Tradition and empty ritual can’t define it. Taste and personal preferences must not define it. The Bible, alone defines the church and its mission. What would happen if a group of passionate followers of Christ were more committed to the mission of God than we often are to developing polished, weekly worship events that are more focused on man than God?

Though we are not interested in gathering a group of church members who are unsatisfied in their present church, we recognize that in this early stage we need partners who long to see the gospel impact their communities through a more simple, authentic expression of the gospel. We are praying for 3 or 4 families who feel called to multiply missional communities across the upstate through disciple making where we already are. This video and the one in the left column clearly communicate our vision for Anderson, but our vision is not for Anderson alone. Our passion is to see missional communities (not satellite campuses) planted across the nation and world for the glory of Christ.

Please pray with us and know that I welcome the opportunity to enter dialogue with you about this vision. Please take a few moments to view these very important videos and I look forward to your comments.

What is the Church?

What does church mean to you? Oh, I don’t mean to drag you down to some deep philosophical introspection. I just want you to consider what comes to your mind when you hear the word “church”. If you’re like most people, when you think of “church”, you probably think of Sunday, preaching, singing, a particular building and a certain group of people. But do these things accurately mirror what the Bible says the church is to be? What is the purpose of your church, and what is your role in the church, and… (this is a different question) what is the church’s role in your life?

For too many people church is a place that they “go to” but not a family they belong to. Church may be a part of their lives in the same way that school or work may comprise a part of their lives. However, church is nothing more than another compartment that can easily exist independently of the other compartments and has no impact or influence on the other parts of their lives.

Because of our present efforts to start New City Church, the identity, purpose and value of the church is on my mind a lot. In the next few weeks I will attempt to share some brief thoughts with you to possibly deepen your understanding of what the church is and intensify your desire to belong to a healthy church. You will hear this phrase an awful lot as I write, and I trust that the health of the church will become a consuming passion for us all.

So according to the Bible what is the church?

  1. The church is something that Jesus, himself, is responsible for building (Mt. 16:18). The very first time the word “church” is used, Jesus used it to refer to something that he “would build.” You probably can guess that Jesus was not referring to a building here when referring to the church.
  2. The Bible refers to the church in 1 Corinthians 12 as a body. But it is not just any body. It is the body of Christ. Again, much greater attention will be given to this idea later, but for now it is important to understand that the church is the body of Christ. The body of Christ is one body consisting of many members who have been added through saving faith in the finished work of Christ alone. This is far more than mere membership in a club or organization. Entrance into this body comes only as the Holy Spirit awakens in us an awareness that we are separated from our Creator because of sin and deserving of wrath. However, because of his deep love for us, Christ, who is our only hope of reconciliation and restoration, unites us with himself in order that we might reign with him for all eternity.

In the same way that a physical body is made up of many different parts with unique functions and roles to play, the singular, united body of Christ consists of many different people with various gifts and roles to play in the building up of the body (Ephesians 4) and the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. Only as all the different parts work in harmony together is Christ magnified and his mission advanced.

3.   The church is a fellowship. If you grew up in the same culture as I did, you are probably thinking about fried chicken, mashed potatoes and banana pudding right now. In the South a fellowship is not a fellowship without theses essentials. Though there can be a legit argument made  for the presence of each of these delicacies, this is not exactly what the Bible means when it speaks of the fellowship of the church. Here is how Acts 2 describes the early church and its identity and activity.

  1. The people were devoted to the teaching of the Bible.
  2. The people were devoted to “the fellowship” (the community, the body).
  3. The people were eating together.
  4. The people were praying together.
  5. The people were amazed by the evidence of God’s presence among them.
  6. The people were making great financial sacrifices to help meet the basic needs of those who had need.
  7. They worshipped together.
  8. The people were “continually” together.
  9. The people frequented the homes of the other believers and their homes were always opened to hospitality.
  10. The people were glad and generous.
  11. The people praised God together.
  12. The Lord “daily” added to their number.

 

If I were to ask you to describe the church you belong to, would it sound like the above description or would you talk more about a place, event and programs designed to attract and entertain?

More to come…

Introducing New City Church

Can I get a drum roll please? In 2016 the upstate of South Carolina will welcome the arrival of a new church called New City Church! Ok, I know exactly what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Another church? You must be kidding me. Are there not enough churches in the upstate of South Carolina?” Fair enough. In fact, if I were reading this for the first time I would be thinking the exact same thing. That’s why I am writing this explanation. We want to be very clear about what motivates us and why the conception, birth and health of New City Church is important to Anderson, SC and the surrounding counties.

So let’s b4-1024x400egin by talking about what New City Church IS NOT.

1. The birthing of New City is not a reaction or a protest against other local churches. Many a new congregation has been started because of discord, dissension or just plain dissatisfaction with existing churches. This is not that.

2. The birthing of New City is not an effort to provide a “better option” for people who desire a type of church experience somewhere between cutting edge mega church and small town traditionalism.

3. The birthing of New City is not being driven by an arrogant belief that we somehow know how to “do church” better than those around us.

4. As much as this may sound like a contradiction in terms, the birthing of New City Church is not motivated at all by a desire to establish another local congregation. I’ll explain this in a moment if you’ll hang in there.

So what is New City Church and how have we determined that this is God’s purpose?

In recent years there has been a great revival of church planting across the nation as all of us are aware. Many of those plants have grown into healthy, self-supporting congregations which are effectively and fruitfully proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. I am encouraged by these congregations, however, not all are born out of a desire to serve the same purpose.

As you read the scriptures there are two major perspectives which come into focus regarding the planting of churches. I won’t take the time to give a detailed defense of either at this point, only introduce the philosophies for the sake of explanation. A) Some people strongly believe that new church plants are the key to reaching and discipling people who likely will never be reached by existing churches. Therefore, the argument sounds like this. Let’s plant a church in “area A” in order that we might be able to reach the people in “area A.” The planting becomes the cause and the disciple-making is the effect. B) The other philosophy sounds like this. Let’s faithfully and intentionally seek to “make disciples” and as we do this (the one thing Christ calls us all to do – Mt. 28:19), Jesus, himself, will build his church and grow it in his time and by his own way.

When we speak of planting a church, I am afraid that most of us have developed a preconceived notion of what that means. Commonly, it means buying or renting a building, hanging a sign, forming a band and striving to create a marketable experience for worshippers on the Lord’s Day. And if, in time, we are

able to gather a crowd and provide a quality worship experience that causes people to return and bring their friends, then we have achieved a level of success that many church planters would be happy with, even if the growth of the plant is entirely transfer growth of people moving from other congregations. This is a much different approach than what we see in the Acts and epistles of the New Testament.

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In Acts 13 the Bible says the church in Antioch set apart and sent out Paul, Barnabas and their other partners to do the work of the ministry. What follows in the subsequent chapters is a window into the earliest church planting movement in the world and it should serve as the blueprint as the 21st century church navigates the path to gospel advancement worldwide.

A Few Observations from Acts 13…

1. The church led the way (1). Churches plant churches. People don’t plant churches.

2. The Holy Spirit initiated the work of Paul and Barnabas and affirmed this work through the local church (2)

3. Prayer and fasting played a major role in the church knowing God’s will (3).

4. Paul and Barnabas were sent by The Holy Spirit through the church (4).

5. The ministry to which these men were called and sent was the ministry of the word (5).

It doesn’t appear that planting congregations across Asia Minor was ever the intent of the Holy Spirit, the church, or Paul and his associates. However, we do know that wherever Paul ministered churches sprang up like daffodils on a warm spring day. Throughout Acts 13-16 the teaching of the word is the central focus and purpose of Paul’s missionary effort. As he and Barnabas were faithful to proclaim the truth of God’s word into the lives of common, everyday people in the marketplace, synagogues and every place in between, the Spirit opened the hearts of the people to “respond to the things spoken by Paul” (16:14). Consequently, churches came to life where disciples were being made.

Much more could and probably should be said, but for now let me humbly suggest that the church needs to focus more of our effort and resources on biblical discipleship which germinates best in the context of Christian community (another post will be necessary to talk about the importance of community in discipleship) and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish what our man-centered efforts never will.

With this background let me offer a few distinctives to describe what New City is intended to be.

1. New City is more of a discipleship movement than an effort to populate the area with more congregations.

2. New City will be focused on developing AND multiplying missional communities (not small groups) through which discipleship and Christian community will become the dominant characteristics of the church.

3. New City will be focused on church health and multiplication while depending on the Holy Spirit for growth.

4. The preaching and teaching of the Word of God will be the very heartbeat and breath of this body, permeating every facet of church life. The teaching ministry of New City will be committed to framing scripture against the backdrop of biblical theology which helps us make sense of the Bible with a view on the storyline of redemptive history. Simply put, the Bible is God’s story of Himself and His mission. The only way to make sense of our lives is to see our story as part of God’s story and allow it to inform every opinion and belief.

5. New City will be committed to impacting our cities through service and community involvement (Jer. 29:7). This is what makes “missional communities” missional.

6. If you are thinking that maybe New City Church might “meet the needs” of your family we are probably not the place for you.

We are presently developing a core group of individuals and families who understand that God didn’t give the church a mission to fulfill, but rather he created the church to fulfill His mission. The mission existed first and the church has been called and empowered to be the instrument which God uses to redeem and restore His world to the glorious splendor which He originally intended before the fall.

We are not consumers shopping for the best product and service for our families. We are kings and priests who desire to see the “word of the Lord continue to grow and multiply” across the world for the glory of Christ. Without a doubt, we desire to be a blessing to those who make up this body, but by God’s grace we will always be more committed to pleasing our God than we are in pleasing ourselves.

7. New City Church will be deeply relational and never program oriented.

8. New City Church is being planted in partnership with The Evangelical Free Church in America (www.efca.org).

In the days to follow, I will attempt to give a more detailed explanation to each of these characteristics and likely will add a few more than I will speak to now. Please pray for God’s direction and provisions to accomplish his work well here in the days to come.