Last week an acquaintance came to visit me to seek some counsel about his church. This man is a senior citizen, part of a church that could fairly be labelled “generally evangelical” but not “gospel-centered.” As I listened, I found myself praising God for his grace toward Coram Deo, even with all its faults – and gripped with a renewed vision to influence as many churches as possible toward “gospel DNA.”
In one sense, this man was a trademark church consumer, annoyed that his church had changed some of his favorite programs and emphases. But as I pressed into his consuming tendencies, a number of other challenges became apparent.
- The lack of a strong, masculine, biblical eldership in a church leaves people like this man floundering. Without a high view of eldership and a rigorous assessment process, elders become keepers of the status quo, more concerned to deflect criticism and placate people than to lovingly engage and seek to answer biblical questions, confront sin, and assist in forming godly character.
- The lack of a strong commitment to biblical authority in a church leaves people like this man floundering. Why did he come to see me? At first I suspected he was interested in fomenting division or in finding an ear for his critiques. But I was forced to repent of those prejudices. He came to me because he sees me as someone who studies the Bible. And many of his questions and concerns were simply questions about the Bible – questions that the elders at his church were unable or unwilling to tackle. I was able to hear his complaints, direct him to specific passages in the Bible that speak to them, urge him to submit to the elders of his church, and gently rebuke him for the sin reflected in his criticisms.
- The lack of a gospel grid for spiritual formation leaves people like this man floundering. Our conversation ended with him opening up about his past and explaining how life has shaped him into someone who’s “a little rebellious.” Were he in gospel-centered community, an insightful leader or pastor could now carry forward the work of gospel transformation. But since he’s in a church without gospel DNA, that probably won’t happen… which means he will miss out on the beauty and life of deep spiritual transformation, and his church will miss out on the chance to unleash his gifts and talents for the work of gospel renewal in others.
A church centered on the gospel is not just a “good idea.” The gospel is not one of many possible models and strategies; it is quite literally the church’s only hope. The gospel changes everything.