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How we introduce the church to people has a lot to do with how they interpret church. We introduce the church poorly to people when we leave “church” out of our weekday conversations. We introduce the church poorly when we just tell people “how to get there” on a website. How we introduce people to the church, especially on Sundays, is important if we want to re-arrange their expectations around a gospel view of the church.
Here are a few ways we’ve done it. I’m not being dogmatic, just suggestive. I think this is important, but I also think you should introduce people both theologically and contextually. In other words, rearrange their view of the church around the gospel, but do it in language that is true to your vision and your context.
Introducing Church on Sundays
Over the past couple of years we’ve changed the way we introduce people to the church on a Sunday morning, but all in all we’ve had minor variations. We used to say stuff like:
“If you’re visiting today, we’re so glad you came. We hope this is the last time you come to church, because this building isn’t the church. These people are.“
Early on this certainly weeded out the consumer, but probably also ran off a few potential disciples. With time we softened our introduction to tell people that:
“The best way you can get to know the church is to visit a City Group, where the church is the church to one another and the city.”
This was more welcoming and still community affirming. It mixed more grace into the welcome. However, as we continued to reflect on this introduction, we still felt like it was, at times, intimidating for front door visitors. Why? Because we pushed City Groups so hard. You’re bound to feel out of place if you aren’t in one, especially since the majority of our church is. We wanted to relieve the person who unreligously visited out Sunday gatherings once every 4-5 weeks, while remaining true to our vision of the church.
So we went this this, roughly. People laugh every time they hear it (the bold part), but I can tell they love it. They tell me so.
Welcome to Austin City Life. My name is ____, and I am one of the Partners with our church. If you’re visiting, we’re really glad you found us. We would love to meet you, so hang around afterwards over coffee, join us for lunch, or fill out a visitor form on a lap top.
You should know up front that we are a very imperfect church. We will disappoint you, but we’ll do our best to point you to a perfect Savior. That’s the Gospel, and we believe it converts us to Christ, to Church and to Mission. It’s why we’re here, to be the church to one another and to the city. To be in the city and for the city, redemptively engaging peoples and cultures.
The best place to figure this all out is in our City Groups, gospel communities that serve one another and our city. You can check them out right here by hanging around afterward and chatting in the back, by our sign, or learn more online at austincitylife.org.
Introducing Church on Websites
Your introduction to the Church on Sundays should resonate with what you say on your website and, most importantly, your small group/missional community experience. We’ve changed our web wording to reflect our actual gathering, keeping the non-Christian in mind.
Sundays Gatherings are an important part of being the church at Austin City Life. Although we want to avoid the mistake of seeing Sunday as “the Church”, we believe it is important to gather every Sunday for worship, preaching, communion, and community.
On Sundays you’ll find an interesting juxtaposition of theological depth and cultural expression. We are in line with historic, orthodox Christianity, but express that Christian faith progressively, in a venue on Austin’s renown 6th Street.
What is Sunday Like?
We gather every Sunday at The Parish, one of the best music venues on 6th, where you’ll hear our musicians play rich, stirring, God-focused music, not as a performance but as an act of worship. You’ll also hear substantive gospel messages that regularly engage cultural issues. Best of all, you’ll get to meet a community gathered around Jesus that loves our city.
These people are like you in many ways. They are citizens, creatives, moms, dads, young marrieds, professionals, college students, and singles. They are Christian and not Christian. We are all imperfect people looking to a perfect Christ.
This certainly isn’t the last “word”, and introducing people to the church is so much more than what you say. But what you say also affects how you live.
We spend just enough time “at church” to be religious, but nowhere near enough time to be family.
Read the rest of my new article here.
Frank Viola writes with a passion for the Church. His recent book From Eternity to Here is no exception. In it you’ll find a mix of provocative ideas, biblical reflections, and a sincere voice. Some of Frank’s work doesn’t stand up to academic exegesis and theology, a strength and a weakness. He’s willing to be simple about church. I recently asked him a few questions about From Eternity to Here as a part of a blog circuit. Here they are. I think you will find his answers interesting:
1. In chapters three and four you repeatedly talk about the Church as God’s “frustrated passion”, “desperate love”, “most captivating thing”, “hidden masterpiece”, etc. Does your description of the Church border on idolatry of church? Isn’t God most captivated with Himself?
One of the most frequent comments by readers is how the book extols, magnifies, and exalts the Lord Jesus Christ beyond telling. Equally so, it presents how the New Testament portrays the ekklesia of God. According to the New Testaments, she is God’s masterpiece, the Bride of Christ, bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, the mystery that has been hidden in God before time, and the Lord’s very inheritance. These are all Paul’s words in Ephesians. My book explores those texts.
Consider this: If someone talked about the wonders and beauty of a man’s wife and explained how the man cherished her and was out of his head in love with her, I don’t think anyone would misconstrue that to mean that the man was somehow being slighted. Quite the contrary, it would bless his heart, for she is his passion.
It is the same way with Christ and the church. Thus, a person cannot properly love Jesus Christ and ignore or neglect His much-loved Bride, which is at the center of His purpose. Instead, they will eventually see her in the same way that He sees her and treasure her just as He does. To love Christ is to love what He loves, hence the reason why a revelation of Jesus Christ will always lead to loving His people and His church. Paul connects faith in Christ with love for the saints consistently in his epistles.
While the church doesn’t replace Christ, and Christ is certainly distinct from the church, He is not separate from her. She’s the bottom half of our Lord – His body. She’s His very Bride, the most beautiful girl in the world.
You can’t cherish the Lord and not cherish His church. This is the teaching of Ephesians.
Seeing this has an incredibly liberating effect on Christians. When they see themselves, their brothers and sisters, and the church as God sees her, it changes everything. The church, according to the New Testament, isn’t a technique, a form, a structure, an organization, a denomination, a service, or any of the things we think of when we hear the word “church.” She the community that God has had in mind from before time. The very expansion of the Godhead from eternity to eternity. The effects of receiving a revelation of the eternal purpose are amazing. Discipleship, mission, church practice, spiritual formation and devotion all take on a new meaning and experience as a result.
2. In your final chapter you advocate a “deep ecclesiology” centered on Jesus. Some would say this isn’t deep at all, that a “Jesus band aid” doesn’t make much difference. How do you recommend deep ecclesiology address the deep issues of sin and brokenness in the church?
Jesus Christ is not a band-aid. He’s the Sum of all spiritual things. And everything in this universe is moving toward Him being All and All. He is the issue, period. For a person to separate the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the visible image of the invisible God – full of grace and truth – from the healing of deep sin and brokenness is to betray the fact that such a person doesn’t quite know who this glorious Person is.
Such a view of Jesus reflects an anemic, flannel board version of the Lord over against knowing Him as the FULLNESS of the Godhead bodily. For this reason, Paul’s passion was “to know Him” … to know this incredible Christ in a living way. Jesus Himself said eternal life is knowing God the Father and Himself, for He is LIFE and REALITY.
Jesus Christ is God’s answer to all human needs, and more.
Every time I’ve seen the fullness of Christ revealed, displayed, magnified and ministered, people’s lives have been changed drastically.
“The look that melted Peter, the face that Stephen saw, the heart that wept with Mary, can alone from idols draw.”
Jesus is no band-aid.
He’s the heartthrob of God the Father and the center of His eternal plan.
3. How do you define the Gospel?
I don’t define it. The Gospel is a Person. It is Christ. The early apostles preached a Person, not a theory, a theology, or a plan. As John said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us … that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.”
Preaching the gospel is to preach Christ. To give Christ. To reveal Christ. To declare Christ. Always has been; always will be.
4. What are your “marks of the church”? What is the bare minimum for the church to be the church?
I describe those specifically in my book REIMAGINING CHURCH. In short, it’s the same marks that we find in the fellowship of the Godhead. When a group of people have met the Lord Jesus Christ experientially and are learning to live by His indwelling life together, then you have the ekklesia expressed and experienced visibly.
OTHER BLOGS PARTICIPATING IN THE “FROM ETERNITY TO HERE” BLOG CIRCUIT
Today (June 9th), the following blogs are discussing Frank Viola’s new bestselling book “From Eternity to Here” (David C. Cook, 2009). The book just hit the May CBA Bestseller List. Some are posting Q & A with Frank; others are posting full reviews of the book. To read more reviews and order a copy at a 33% discount, go to Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Eternity-Here-Rediscovering-Ageless-Purpose/dp/1434768708/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1233609867&sr=1-4
For more resources, such as downloadable audios, the free Discussion Guide, the Facebook Group page, etc. go to the official website: http://www.FromEternitytoHere.org
Enjoy the reviews and the Q and A:
This is an important question: “When is a missional community a church?” It gets at the root of our essential ecclesiology—what makes church, church. Some would emphasize the presence of elders, others would emphasize the presence of people, others the gospel and sacraments, still others a people on mission. Where do you fall? When are missional communities considered churches? When are missional core teams considered “a church”?
Check out the answers to this question here.
The audio is up for my recent talk at Acts 29 Dallas Bootcamp on Spirit-led Ecclesiology: Following the Spirit thru Church Planting. This talk explores how planters lean away from the Spirit-led center of church planting and addresses how they can practically apply a biblical theology of the Spirit to the challenges of unplanned change in planting churches. Perhaps a timely topic given the buzz over renaming church planting to gospel planting.
Inspired by Steve McCoy’s series, I’d like to know what your top 5 books on ecclesiology are. I know this is a broad topic, but just feel free to choose the 5 most influential books on the church that you have read.
A new church-focused theological society is starting up calledThe Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology (SAET). SAET is a network of evangelical thinkers committed to resurrecting the pastor-scholar paradigm for the renewal of the local church.
The pursue this mission through fellowships, conferences, papers, and so on. In addition, the SAET Journal is published twice a year, an online book review journal with a distinctly pastoral focus. Scholarly works relevant to evangelical theology are reviewed with a view to pastoral ministry.
In his monograph, Mission-Commitment in Ancient Judaism and in the Pauline Communities, John Dickson challenges the prevailing evangelical view that every Christian should be an evangelist. Instead, he argues from Judaism and from the Pauline letters that Paul viewed the church, not as a band of evangelists, but as a partner in mission. More specifically, that churches “be actively involved in local outreach via authorized heralds (e.g., evangelists) and in the larger mission of the gospel via partnership with Paul.” (Review: Kent Yinger). So, Dickson redefines evangelism within the larger mission of the gospel and its expression within the church of Christ.
Yinger notes: “He discounts popular proof-texts traditionally taken to reflect an expectation that Paul’s churches (= every believer) would actively engage in local and regional mission (so O’Brien; cf. 1 Thess. 1.8; Phil. 1.27; 2.15-16; Eph. 6.15, 17). This sets the stage for a ‘two dimensional view of mission’ (p. 177): apostolic heralds proclaimed, congregations partnered with them in a variety of ways (i.e., promoted mission).”
Dickson redefines the role of the church in evangelism as supporting apostles, prophets and evangelists and by participating in the larger activities of mission. In the Pauline epistles, such ways include:
- financial help
- commending the gospel by mixing in society
- adorning the gospel with honorable behavior
- showing and telling the truth
- in public worship
- ad hoc conversations with outsiders
In summary, Dickson claims that Paul expected his converts to work not only for the success of Paul’s mission but also for the salvation of those within their local sphere of influence, but through less than conventional means.
Dickson will be speaking at the Promoting the Gospel conference.
A Review: in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27.1 (2004)
We are praying and laboring for two conversions—one to Christ and one to the Church. One of the problems with American Christianity is that it conceives of Christian faith too narrowly. There is far too much room for one to be a “Christian” without being part of the Church. The notion of a private faith in Christ is not found in the New Testament. On the other hand, there are far too many “Christians” who go to a church but are not part of the Church. The fact of church “attendance” should not comfort a pastor’s soul that he is, in fact, shepherding the church. Now, by “church” I do not mean a building, denomination, or membership roll. Rather, I am thinking of the people of God who confess and submit to Jesus as Lord. In other words, to be a Christian is to be converted to the Head and to the Body, to embrace the people of Christ as you have embraced the Christ of the people.
However, we are not merely converted to Christ and consequently the Church. The reason that there is no place for private Christian faith, a faith that doesn’t embrace baptism into a body of believers is that there is one Lord. That Lord is not Jesus alone. 1 Corinthians 8:6 reads: “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” The oneness shared between the Father and Son is expressed in a common identity as Lord. This text is a Pauline reworking of the Great Shema, the Jewish confession and daily prayer that YHWH was one: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one” (Deut 6:4). Here Paul in locating the Jesus in the identity of YHWH; they are both Lord. This shared lordship, witnessed to by the Holy Spirit in human hearts, is proof that we are converted, not to Christ but to the triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit. True conversion, then, produces a new creation that lives in communion with the Divine Community. We are converted to one Lord who is three. We are converted to Community. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the New Testament repeatedly conceives of true community as a salvation project, something that springs from faith in the one Lord. There are two conversions, one Lord. To quote Leslie Newbigin, “true conversion involves both a new creation from above, which is not merely an act of extension of the existing community, and also a relationship with the existing community of believers.” (The Finality of Christ, 107).
Church is not Optional
Therefore, church is not optional; they are essential. Fellowship, service, love, and mission with the family of God is critical to fruit-bearing faith. Just as salvation is a community project (we rely on others to persevere in our faith), so also community is a salvation project (the gospel of Christ converts us to a community gathered around a common Lord, common faith, and common baptism, Eph 4). In other words, the gospel produces two conversions. Conversion to the Lord and conversion to the Church, but Jesus alone is the atoning power for both, with his Spirit supplying all the grace needed to love, serve, and share life with an imperfect people saved by a perfect Christ.