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Home Church Planting/Missional What Is a Gospel-Centered Missional Church and Why Do We Need One?

What Is a Gospel-Centered Missional Church and Why Do We Need One?

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What Is a Gospel-Centered Missional Church and Why Do We Need One?

Matt Chandler

For most of the last 1500 years, at least in the Western world, the Christian
church held a position of power and favored status amongst society at-large. So
profound was the church's influence on culture for most of this time that the
church actually defined, developed, and prescribed the prevailing societal
institutions and normative behaviors of culture. The term used to describe
culture during the first 1000 years of this time frame reflects the nature of the
relationship between the church and culture: Christendom, which literally
means "a Christian world." Since public institutions were so heavily influenced
and even regulated by the church, one of the major implications of
Christendom was that society did an excellent job of "Christianizing" the
citizenry. In other words, people learned the language and behavior of
Christianity simply by growing up in the West.[1]

Christendom was positive in that the language and symbols of Christianity were
commonly understood and provided the foundation for public discourse on
matters of morality. But the obvious flaw of Christendom is that it promoted a
lifestyle of Christianity that was easily separated from a true encounter with
and understanding of the Gospel of Jesus. Christendom could only reform
culture; the Gospel alone can transform culture. With the radical heart-change
brought about by the Gospel no longer required, the Christianized life became,
at best, a moral framework out of which to operate. At worst, the Christianized
life fueled evil power structures that used Christian morality to cruelly oppress
those on the margins of society.

For the last 200 years, numerous military conflicts (two of which were called
"World Wars"), several periods of global economic instability, and scientific and
industrial revolutions have brought Western society into a staggering awareness
of its bleak condition. People have become aware that a Christianized society
does not produce the lasting peace it blindly promised. The result has been
the rapid demise of Christendom. The problem is, no one alerted the church to
Christendom's demise. Actually, the fault lies with the church, for while
culture became increasingly non-Christian, the church failed to adapt to this
important shift. The church continued to operate under the false assumption
that the language and behavioral norms of Christianity made sense to the
broader culture. Sadly, because of its inability, and often unwillingness, to
adapt to its surroundings, the church lost its point of contact with culture, and
with that, its voice and influence.

Thus the need for what we call a Gospel-centered missional church. Simply
put, a Gospel-centered missional church is one that recognizes that:

1) Authentic heart-transformation cannot happen apart from the Gospel;

2) Culture is not the enemy of the church; rather it is a broken treasure God
has gone to great lengths to restore.


The Journey is a Gospel-centered church because:

1) The Gospel is the engine that propels our mission.

The Gospel is the good news that God, the only perfect and righteous being,
lovingly entered a broken, sinful world in order to bring us into right standing
with himself. God has revealed himself to us through the person of Jesus and
the Bible. The holistic purpose of the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments)
is to glorify God by telling the story of Jesus (Luke 24:25-27 ; 1 Corinthians 1:22 -
24; 2:2): his life, ministry, death and resurrection, and to communicate God's
desire for people to experience him through Jesus. It is entirely accurate to say,
then, that the Bible is the Gospel, and that the Gospel is Jesus himself (Luke
24:44-47; John 1:1 ; 14:6).

We affirm with Colossians 1:17-18 that Jesus is "before all things, and in him
all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the
beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be
preeminent." Since Jesus is the Gospel, and since all things find their purpose
and meaning in him, we recognize that we are only accomplishing "ministry"
when Jesus is the driving force of our efforts.

2) The Gospel is the primary lens through which we view the world and
the people and things in it.

The Bible, which is the Gospel story, is our ultimate authority on matters
concerning the world and everything and everyone in it. This means that a
right understanding of the world and the people in it, and how to address all
needs and problems, will emanate from the Gospel.
Like the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2 , we profess that there is nothing in
life more important than knowing "Jesus Christ and him crucified." If, by the
aid of God's Spirit, we view all things through the lens of Christ, if we submit
all our decisions and ministry to Jesus, we will bring glory to God through our

3) The Gospel is the only message we are called to teach.

Being a Gospel-centered missional church is not a strategy for growth or a selfhelp
philosophy aimed at being a "better Christian." It is in large part an
awareness that the only hope we have for transforming the world is Jesus and
the Gospel that bears his name. The fundamental need of every person,
Christians and non-Christians, is to hear and know the Gospel at each moment
in their life. As Pastor Tim Keller has written, "All our problems come from a
failure to apply the Gospel." Therefore, the primary calling of our church is to
equip Christians and inform and encourage non-Christians through the teaching
of the Gospel in our worship services, sermons, community groups, classes, so
that they will live out the Gospel of grace in all of their relationships and
contexts (family, friends, career, leisure, etc). Our desire is to uphold the
essentiality of the Gospel both as the means to salvation and the pathway to

The Church is to be missional because we consider and engage culture as we
communicate our core message, the Gospel. We find the story of Jesus' life,
death and resurrection to be so compelling and life-giving, that we are willing
to let it shape everything we do-our methodology-in order to communicate the
Gospel in a way that makes sense to the culture around us.

1) Primarily, a missional church recognizes the centrality of the Gospel as
its people live out the calling to be "for" the culture. This means a church must
derive its purpose from the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ); it must be a servant
of the Gospel that glorifies God by telling people the story of Jesus through
word and action (1 John 3:16-17 ). A Gospel-centered church's ministry cannot
be separated from the person of Jesus, nor can its mission be defined or
performed apart from the Gospel. The Gospel is the ultimate guide and
authority for how we function and minister as a church. Said another way, a
missional church embraces God's call to be a sender of missionaries to its own
culture (Matthew. 4:19; Acts 16:20 ; 17:6).

2) Because the relationship between "the world" and the church can be
difficult to navigate, a missional church absolutely must be grounded in the
authority of the inerrant and inspired Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:14-17 ). Indeed,
the Scriptures provide the foundation for and inform all God-honoring mission
work. After all, what is it except God's truth that we are communicating to
culture anyway?

3) A missional church is willing to boldly adapt its methodology, while
holding firmly to the core truth of its message, in order to participate in God's
transformation and redemption of culture (Luke 7:34 ; Acts 16:20-21 ). Note the
distinction: the method does not drive the message; rather the message
propels the method. In other words, the solid, unchanging foundation of the
Gospel renders the method of communication flexible, so long as that method
does not contradict the Gospel as articulated in Scripture and illumined by the
Holy Spirit.
4) A missional church expects every member to be a missionary to the
people they come into contact with (family, friends, co-workers, etc).
Therefore, a missional church spends a large amount of time and resources
equipping members through Bible study, community groups, worship services
and forums so that they can engage their specific contexts with the Gospel
(Ephesians 4:11-16 ).

5) A missional church seeks to understand the stories of culture (through
popular film, music, literature, etc) in order to better understand the hopes,
dreams and fears of people, so that it can re-tell culture's story in the light of
Jesus.[2] One of the primary ways a missional church honors God is by
creatively and fearlessly taking Christ into the broken world that needs Him
most (Matthew 28:18-20 ). It does not see church as an end in itself, but rather
a means to an end. That end is "Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2 ).

6) A missional church worships God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24 ). We
worship in truth by communicating God's truth in a way that makes sense in our
day and time, avoiding pious religious language that creates an "us" vs. "them"
mentality. We worship authentically, not relying on sentimental religious
language to set a "spiritual tone."[3] We worship in spirit by relying on God's
Spirit as we help people discover the truth of the Gospel in their own way and
timing, trusting ultimately that God is sovereign and working ceaselessly
toward restoration of the created order (Romans 8:26-30 ).

Matt Chandler – Copyright

[1] Insights regarding the history of Christendom come from Tim Keller's article
"The Missional Church."
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.


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