What A Gospel-Centered Church Is and Isn’t
July 22, 2015 | By Jerel Kuravackal
What does it mean to be a gospel-centered church? This was a question posed on an online forum which brought about some interesting and even controversial responses. I’d like to use this to echo and build upon some particularly helpful responses that were given. Before discussing the topic of a gospel-centered church though, it would be helpful to define what we mean by gospel and gospel-centered. These days using the term “gospel-centered” has almost become trendy. There are books on everything from gospel-centered parenting to gospel-centered funerals. We are told that the gospel must be central to all we are and all we do. This, in and of itself, I believe is a good thing, because God really does intend for the gospel to be central to the lives of His people and certainly at the center of His church. Confusion may arise however when one author uses the term differently than another.
So here is what we mean by “the gospel” and “gospel-centered” at Crossroad.
The Gospel and Gospel-Centered
The gospel is the outrageous good news that what God requires of us (sinless perfection) He graciously provides for us through His Son, Jesus. He the Son of God, fully God and fully man – yet without sin, delights to switch places with guilty sinners. The only one to walk this earth and deserve heaven, willingly endured the wrath of hell so that those who deserve wrath can have heaven. Those who accept this free gift of salvation are disciples of Jesus, redeemed by His blood and awaiting final restoration because of his life, death and resurrection on our behalf. This redemption and restoration not only includes humans but also means that creation itself will be restored to God’s original plan and purposes. This is a redemptive story of grace that began before the foundation of the world, culminates in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and has no end as we will live forever in glory with our risen Savior. Therefore when we speak of the gospel it refers not only to the fact that Jesus died for sinners, but also to all the movements of this grand story (Gal 3:7), and the implications of this grace-filled story upon our lives (Gal 2:14).
To be gospel-centered then means that the gospel is our…
- Message – The good news that we herald.
- Model – i.e. “Forgive as God in Christ forgave you”
- Motivation – Why do what we do? For the sake of the Gospel, to spread the fame of His name, not our names/agendas.
- Means – How do we live in obedience to our King? By the power of Christ in us from the Gospel.
- Mission –We are sent on mission to declare and demonstrate this gospel (Jn 20:21; Mt 28:19).
A Gospel-Centered Church
So then, what does it mean to be a gospel-centered church? It means we recognize that we exist by the Gospel (because of what Jesus has done) and for the Gospel (for the sake of Jesus and His glory). Jesus, His redeeming rescue and gracious Lordship therefore defines everything we do, both as we are gathered formally, and as we scatter during the week. The Gospel determines our values and priorities. In essence a gospel-centered church is a church that is about Jesus above all else. This may seem obvious but when we speak of gospel-centrality as a church we are recognizing our tendency to focus on many other things (often good and important things) instead of Jesus. Often it’s helpful when defining something to know what it is not, so we’ll attempt to layout here both what a gospel-centered church is and what it is not.
What a gospel-centered church is
- We are all constantly seeking to respond and help each other respond to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, radically re-orientating our lives around Him and His glory.
- We are committed to growing in our understanding of the depths of the Gospel through the study and application of God’s Word formally and informally, individually and corporately.
- We are constantly being changed inwardly and outwardly as we embrace the power of the Gospel – the grace of God
- We are committed to bearing witness to its renewing power by being and speaking ‘good news’ to the society around us in the context of community.
What a gospel-centered church is not
- Pastor or staff-centered: Often churches are centered around a pastor or pastoral staff. The staff do all the work of ministry while the congregation looks on or consumes the ‘products’ the staff ‘produce.’ In contrast, in a Gospel-centered church, every member of the body is involved in the Gospel work of discipling one another and those who have not yet come to faith in Christ.
- Pulpit-centered: In a pulpit-centered church, everything revolves around the preaching of the Word from the pulpit on Sundays. Church is defined simply as people gathering to hear God’s Word preached, and that gathering around the pulpit is the sum total of the expression of what it means to be church. However, being Gospel-centered means that the Gospel is permeating our everyday life together and it is spoken, taught and applied to each other by each other (not just the preacher) throughout the week.
- Program-centered: Frequently the health of the church is determined by the number of programs it has to offer and the number of people involved in those programs. The more programs, the healthier the church is seen to be and the more programs an individual is involved in the more mature he is seen to be. A Gospel-centered church is not opposed to programs, but recognizes that the Gospel concerns people, not programs and that the goal is the discipling of people, not the running of programs.
- Performance-centered: Very often we reduce church to a performance. The Sunday service is essentially a performance by musicians and the pastor. Furthermore, people feel they need to perform and seek others approval when they gather with other Christians. In contrast while recognizing that we must not be sloppy or lazy, a Gospel-centered church is a community driven by grace. The various meetings are simply a part of the life of a grace-driven community, rather than shows. Furthermore, since we are accepted in Christ, people have the freedom to be vulnerable and honest and to seek help with their brokenness and sin.
- Tradition-centered: Often churches are functionally controlled by their traditions and structures. Instead of the traditions and structures constantly being evaluated by the Gospel and adapted to suit the spread thereof, they ultimately shape how the church does things or structures itself. In contrast Gospel-centered churches allow everything to be shaped by the Gospel, constantly adapting structures and traditions to best suit the never changing Gospel.