This weekend I find myself near the geographical centre of BC in a town called, Vanderhoof. I have been serving as a transition pastor in a Mennonite Brethren church since about November 1st of 2016. We have completed the first three phases of this process that focus on relational, organizational and vision renewal, and are now well into the pastoral search phase. Since the search hasn’t resulted in anyone being appointed just yet, I am actually serving much more these days as the church’s pastor, albeit on an interim basis. This means that I’ve had to think seriously about how the church can move forward in its ministry here while waiting for the right person to be its resident pastor.
Coming out of a fairly extensive assessment process, it was agreed that the church wanted to retain a strong emphasis on inspiring services as well as a commitment to community engagement. As a result, we have concluded that the current vision of the church is to be a Christ-centered, community-serving church. Yesterday, we had a retreat of more than twenty leaders from the church that took half-a-day to think about the importance of such a vision and what it might mean for more intentional, effective ministry this fall. Everyone seems to be “on-sde” with respect to such a vision. The question is, what does it mean — especially since “community-service” is a bit of a buzz-word for most businesses at this time.
We are taking time in the Services these Sundays to consider indicators of what a “Christ-centered, community-serving church” might actually look like. It’s quite obvious that the vision breaks down into two main categories. One has to do with the nature of the church itself; the other with how the church can effectively reach into the community with its message and ministry. The two emphases are inter-dependent and intricately related. You can’t have one without the other. For sure, you can’t be an effective community-serving church without also very much being a Christ-centered church.
Christ-centeredness has to do with the church truly being the church as God intended. We need to give Christ that place in our own hearts that He has been revealed to be in the Scriptures — our Saviour from sin and its judgment in our lives, and the one who is worshipped as King of kings, and Lord of all lords. The church needs to be a vibrant centre of spiritual reality surrounding the work and presence of the Holy Spirit as He longs to work in accord with the Word. The Word itself and its explanation is a huge part of what it means to be a Christ-centered church. We are exploring all that is implied in being a Christ-centered church — a spiritual body bound together in Christ as expressed in Communion, where fellowship is rich and real, where worship is both personal and corporate, where there is a strong emphasis on what it means to be a Spirit-filled disciple of Christ, and where everyone learns how to serve Christ according to the spiritual gifts of ministry that have been given to them.
But of course, being Christ-centered is not something static or confined to what happens while everyone is together in the church-building for worship on Sunday morning. Though it has to do with the dynamic life of Christ in the individual people and in the church body as a whole, it is also about being His loyal and obedient disciples in making Him known in the community, the second part of our vision statement.
I have been thinking (and speaking) a lot about what seems to be evident in two aspects of Jesus’ mission. One was to expand Christ’s kingdom in the community in which the church exists; the other was to build His church. Jesus went about preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 4:23), but at the same time, He chose twelve disciples to be with Him in order that they might provide the leadership for the development of the church after Jesus was gone (Matthew 16:18). Jesus had a generic ministry of helping people discover the wonder of His kingdom, but He also had a specific ministry of making disciples and building the church. We can’t help but see this development in the chronology of the New Testament beginning with the calling of the disciples , the outpouring of the Spirit upon them, and the establishing of churches in various localities under qualified and appointed elder leadership.
The expansion of Christ’s kingdom could only happen effectively as the churches themselves were strong in their fellowship, their understanding, their application of God’s truth, and their commitment to make disciples otherwise. But the expansion of Christ’s kingdom was also to be a active and dynamic experience for individual Christians in their daily lives and also for the church as a body of believers within any particular community. Evidently God’s ultimate plan is to build a church to share heaven’s glory with Him, but also to use it bring about the eventual establishment of a kingdom of God on earth.
This is a subject, I believe, that is worth giving a good deal of attention to in these times — what it means for the church to be the church so that it can effectively expand Christ’s kingdom, or to prepare for the ultimate establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth when Jesus returns. I am interested in these two aspects of Christ’s work. I think they are separate, yet over-lapping. I think it would clear up some ways in which we go about church ministry if we understood more clearly how these are related and yet separate. It certainly is worthy of more serious study.