I’ve been asked on a couple of occasions the describe the “vision”of our church. This is a fair question, I think. Yet, my experience in crafting and re-crafting…and re-re-crafting vision statements is that they are inescapably reductionistic. Sometimes, a follow-up question to the vision question goes something like this: “I mean, who are you going after?” Or they might say, “What is going to make your church different than other churches in town?”
Honestly, I still don’t know how to answer those questions. Perhaps the lack of a succinct and unique vision statement is an indictment on my leadership, but I don’t think so. I realize that targeting a certain slice of the demographic pie (let’s say young, upwardly mobile, hipster creatives, for instance), and catering to the felt needs of that particular group is a proven technique for growing an organization. I also realize that people are attracted to something new and unique, so how are we infiltrating an otherwise untapped market through creativity and innovation?
All good questions…if you’re starting a new burger joint, coffee shop, or clothing store. I’m just not convinced that these questions are as relevant for the ministry of local churches.
Actually, I hope that North Point Church looks and sounds a lot like other local churches that are committed to equipping the saints for contextually faithful evangelism, word-centered discipleship, and discerning ministries of mercy in the community. On the other hand, I hope that North Point is “different than other churches in town” if those churches have rejected biblical authority, have ceased preaching the gospel, and abandoned Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” for other kinds of culturally influenced, politically-motivated initiatives (as well-intentioned as they might be). So yes, I hope that North Point Church resembles all that is good and God-glorifying in other local churches while rejecting that which brings shame to the name of Jesus.
That being said, there are at least five petitions I give to God regarding the character of our congregation. I’m hope over time that God, through His Word, would expand our vision for the local church and continue to shape the nature of our requests to what we see in the Bible.
1. “God, help the congregation of North Point cling to your Word as the sole source for spiritual life.”
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of “church growth” philosophies out there. Ministry structures and systems, like the withering grass and the fading flower, enjoy short and relatively ineffective life spans – regardless of how impressive they may appear when fully formed! Yet, “the word of our God will stand forever (Is. 40:6-8).” God says “my word…goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Is. 55:11).”
I love the account of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37, when God, causes dead, dry bones to come to life through the power of his Word alone. God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” To which Ezekiel responded, “O Lord God, you know.” Then God said, “Prophesy over the bones, and say them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live…and you shall know that I am the Lord (Ezek 37:1-6).” Astoundingly, four verses later, after Ezekiel obeyed God by preaching to the bones, the text says, “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army (v.10).”
The word of God alone can give spiritual life that that which was once spiritually dead. I pray that the army of saints that are North Point church would cling to “every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 5:4, cf. Duet 8:3)” even over their daily bread as the sole means of their sustenance, satisfaction, and sanctification.
2. “God, help the congregation of North Point be faithful to share with others the good news of the gospel.”
While I regularly ask that God would graciously convert sinners through our church’s gospel proclamation, I don’t ask God to make conversion part of the character or responsibility of our church, because the Bible teaches that conversion is a prerogative that belongs to God alone. We don’t convert people. God converts people. Yet God has wisely chosen to make his people the means by which others “hear” the gospel through which they may be saved – after all, “faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10).” This is the chief mission of the church: that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations (Lk 24:47).”
I pray that we would be faithful seed scatterers (Mark 4:26-29). That our days would be spent sowing the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of those around us and that we would sleep well each night, trusting that, apart from our own efforts, “the seed sprouts and grows…first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” I pray we would faithful scatterers, resting well in the fact that God alone is the one who causes growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7).
3. “God, help the congregation of North Point have a heart for the nations.”
I love Denton – the culture, the people, the campuses. Kathy and I partially returned to our fair city to plant a church for this very reason. Yet, there is a temptation, when you live in a town as fun and unique and community-driven as our town, to become communally narcissistic in focus. There is a temptation to become so locked-in on our town in particular, that we become unwittingly myopic toward the rest of the world in general. Yet, the gospel of Jesus Christ brings God’s vision for the nations into focus.
Whether serving and discipling international students on our campuses (which comprise more than 10% of total enrollment at local universities) or partnering with and providing for like-minded, gospel-centered, church-planting ministries around the world, I pray that God gives North Point Church a robust vision to “make disciples of all nations.” I pray that we would be a church-planting church both here and around the world, as the establishment of new congregations is always the natural and normative result of the Great Commission being fulfilled.
4. “God, help the congregation of North Point live good and just lives as they scatter into the world.”
The apostle Peter writes, “Keep you conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (2 Pt 2:12, cf. Matt 5:16).” Christians, more than anyone, should care about their reputation in the world. Not because we fear men, but because we fear God and humbly recognize the sobering reality that Jesus’ reputation is attached to our reputation. If Jesus was the “image of the invisible God (Col 1:15)” and the church is the “body” of the now-invisible Jesus, then the transformed lives of Christians in the context of a local church is the primary means by which the glorious character of God is now being “imaged” to the world: “…through the church the manifold wisdom of God is being made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:10).”
I pray that the believers comprising North Point Church would together aim to reflect God in the world by loving what he loves (holiness), whom he loves (sinners), and by hating what he hates (sin and Satan). Individual Christians should be, more than anyone, laboring in the world through political, social, financial and other means to see the image of God restored in others — especially the poor and disadvantaged — through acts of mercy that both flow out of and return back to the transforming power of the gospel.
I do not pray that North Point would embrace a gospel-less philanthropy.
Rather, I pray that each member of our church would conscientiously and deliberately aim to live just and merciful lives that seek to affirm and uphold the dignity, value, and worth afforded to others by virtue of having been created in God’s image. Most importantly, that we would labor to see God begin reversing the effects of the fall and restoring His image in people through the converting power of the gospel until Jesus comes again and makes “all thing new (Rev 21:5).”
5. “God, help the congregation of North Point have a heart for gospel unity amidst diversity.”
There are really two petitions here: (1) make us diverse, and (2) grant us unity in the gospel. All of us tend to gravitate toward those who are similar to us in age, season of life and personal interests. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. Being connected to an empathetic community that similarly enjoys some of God’s common graces is a sweet gift from God! Yet, the preservation of that community at the expense or neglect of others who are different — be it ethnically, generationally, socio-economically, or physically — is to enjoy an idolatrous attachment to homogeny. I pray that God would give us grace, humility, and wisdom through his Spirit, according to his Word, to practically and deliberately pursue those who are different from us.
I pray that years from now, God will have fashioned such a community that others would recognize our sole commonality — the one thing we all have in common and that which binds us together — is that we have been adopted into God’s family (Mark 3: 31-35, Rom 8:15, Eph 2: 19; Gal 4:4-6), in Christ alone by faith alone (Gal 3:23-28, Ephesians 1:5), and are united together through the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:3-4). I hope they see that we “love one another, as [Christ] has loved [us]…that way the world will know that we are his disciples (John 13:34-35).
If we only have Christ in common, then we have all that we need.