A Mobile People

For months now our church family has been looking together at what it means to be the church based on the biblical model rather than the mandates of our culture. Sadly, what the church has become in many places around the globe, not only the Western culture, does not resemble the church in the New Testament. But in order to get a thorough understanding of what it means to be the people of God, one must look at more than just the New Testament. In Exodus 19:4-6 we have a very important image of God’s purpose for His people.  [4] ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. [5] Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; [6] and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:4-6 ESV)

This reference to God’s people as “my treasured possession among all peoples” is very important and key to understanding God’s purpose for His church on earth in our generation. If you had been alive in the day of Moses and Hebrew was your language, you would have had a choice of words to use when referring to a personal possession. If you were to speak of a possession which was “movable” (donkey, plow, chair, etc.) you would use one Hebrew word. But if you were to speak of  an “immovable” possession (land) you would use another word. Here in Ex. 19:4 Moses uses the word to describe God’s people as a “movable” possession “among all peoples.” God’s people were to represent their Creator to all the other nations and as “priests” their lives were to serve a mediatory purpose as they lived and spoke in such a way to point other nations to God.

Tragically, the church in our culture has become little more than an immovable building filled with programs and events. We might use the right language, but our actions clearly indicate that many churches have little understanding of the gospel, God’s mission or the responsibility of God’s people to be a light piercing the darkness to all nations. We hunker down in our state of the art, million dollar music halls and we invite the lost and wayward to come. We call this “going to church.” The problem is this does not reflect the biblical movement of God’s people. The people of God are the ones moving and going to where the people are. We are the ones who must engage our communities and impact our culture by participating in it as God instructed the exiles to do in Babylon (Jeremiah 29).

For too long Christians have sought to create exclusive Christian societies where we don’t have to come in contact with the bad, sinful people around us. We create “Christian” clubs, “Christian” coffee shops, “Christian” sports leagues because we desire to surround ourselves with those who believe, think and live as we do. The nations will be drawn to God only as they see His glory in our marriages, homes, and communities, but they will never see and know if we do not truly move into the communities where we’ve already resided for years in order that the nations might know our God.

Where will God move you today? Do you see yourself and your family as missionary ambassadors who live, speak and act on behalf of your God? We are citizens of another country, but for now we, ourselves, are exiles in a land that desperately needs to be impacted by the people of God. This will only happen as God daily “moves” us deeply into a dying world to rescue those who will never be drawn to our Sunday performances.


Our Greater Possession

Prison_MinistryIt seems like all the talk these days is about how the church is in decline and some say, dying, and if that is an overstatement then at the very least the church seems to be quickly losing its influence in our culture. Things are certainly changing at an alarming rate and though I won’t take the time and space required to flesh out this opinion, I want to say that I believe neither of these things are true. May I remind you that the church is the very body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and by virtue of who he is, the resurrected, reigning King of Glory who has defeated death, his body can neither decline nor weaken. If this is true, and of course, I believe it is, then it begs the question, “Why does there seem to be such a vast gulf between the impact of the early church on its culture and the impact of the 21st century church on our post-Christian culture?”  I will offer two possibilities but will develop and support only one of these suggestions.

The church seems to be on the receiving end of the world’s influence rather than being “salt and light” in our culture, and one of the reasons is because many churc
h members have no apparent relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t get excited. I’m moving on from this one soon. Remember the “wheat and the tares” thing in Matthew 13:24-30. There you go. This may be one of the few examples in which the “walk like a duck, quack like a duck” principle doesn’t apply. Daily I encounter church members who cannot articulate the gospel even in the most basic form and who have no evidence of a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. On the authority of the Word of God, this person is not a follower of Christ, no matter how many gallons of water have been used to baptize him and no righteous fruit will ever hang from the limbs of this tree until it is engrafted into Christ, the true vine. Our society has been deceived into believing that gathering goats and making disciples are the same thing, but of course that’s not the case. The church has opted for worldly success rather than gospel advancement, and we employ whatever method that enables the church to effectively compete with other markets. What we end up with is a religious entertainment product that we disguise as church. Much more needs to be said about this but this is not the focus of this post..

The masquerading of unbelievers as children of God is nothing new, but there is a more significant reason why there is such a divergent quality between the contemporary church and its pioneer counterpart. We suffer from spiritual near-sightedness. The future is a blur to those who are truly born again, and because our vision of our glorious future is dim, it neither drives us nor shapes our present perspectives.

If you knew that by simply associating with a particular group of people you would risk the certain plunder and seizure of your homes and property, what would you do? What if that group of people were in prison and they depended on you for food and care, would you risk your livelihood and ability to care for your children to serve them? What if this group of people happened to be brothers and sisters in Christ who were imprisoned merely because of their faith in Jesus Christ? Would you go to them to care for them if you knew that to do so would mean deep loss and possibly greater suffering for you? The first recipients of this Hebrew sermon which is The Book of Hebrews faced such a quandary and they did not hesitate. The Bible says they “endured great conflict of sufferings” and “became sharers with those who were prisoners…” and “joyfully accepted the seizure of their property” because of their care for the imprisoned believers. Can you imagine having everything you’ve worked so hard for seized by the government just because you lived out your Christian faith in a radically public manner? What would cause a person to hold so loosely to the material possessions of this world and place such little value on the very things so many people treasure. The answer is very simple. Those who live this way possess something which they value more than the tangible things they hold in their hands. Listen closely to this. “You accepted joyfully the seizure of your property KNOWING that you have a BETTER POSSESSION and a LASTING one” (Heb.10:34). It appears that many people who fill our church buildings week after week are not convinced that there is a better possession and a greater reward than the one they seek to create on their own. And for those who claim to possess the same “better possession” as the Hebrew believers, I would challenge them to describe that possession and hope. How can my love, joy and passion be shaped by something that I know so little about?

The Bible explicitly shows us that the early followers of Christ and even the Old Testament patriarchs were driven by a reality that is foreign in our advanced society. Abraham was willing to live “as a alien in the land of promise dwelling in tents…for he was looking for a city (see Rev. 21:2) which has foundations (physical, not mythical city) whose architect and builder is God” (11:10). Also, Moses is said to have “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ GREATER RICHES than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (11:25-26). Hebrews 11 concludes with the pronouncement that many followers of Christ experienced mocking, scourging, chains, prison, stoning, some were sawn in two, etc. And we are left asking, “What would cause such radical, reckless abandonment of health, safety, family and possessions?” There can be only one explanation. They had laid up their treasures in heaven.  Their hearts cherished the promise and reality of a renewed heaven and earth where death would be abolished and Christ our Savior would reign and rule over all creation and his glory would illumine the entire cosmos. This is our better possession.

In a culture that values size over substance, performance over power and technique over truth, the church must reorient its vision to the “living hope” of our inheritance which is “imperishable, and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4). Don’t misunderstand Peter and the other biblical authors. The reward is not heaven. The great reward is Christ Himself and the creation-wide redemption that He as secured by His own blood. When this becomes the target in our sights, our lives will be radically different and they must be different. The world does not salivate for what we have because what the church holds up as its great reward looks suspiciously like the American dream, and our Western culture has obtained that already. Where are the people transformed by the power of the gospel and who are daily being shaped by its truth who will live lives of sacrifice and humility, driven daily by a crystal clear vision of a redeemed world no longer ruled by the curse of sin?

With the Apostle Paul, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints…” (Ephesians 1:18).




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…