Not Just for Attractional-Model Churches: Why “The Gospel-Driven Church” is Needed for All Pastors & Leaders

A note from Tim to my regular readers: I have decided to do a book review from time to time, to point pastors and all believers to helpful resources for ministry and the Christian life.

Unlike Jared Wilson, I was not trained in the attractional-driven model of ministry. I am not trying to transition my church to a gospel-driven model because we are already a gospel-driven church and are trying to “excel still more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Yet, I desperately needed the message in The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church-Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace for my own soul and for my leadership as a pastor.

I enjoy reading, but it’s not often that I highlight something on almost every page of a book. There were so many solid points and wise nuances throughout the book that I found myself doing this but also often writing comments in the margin like “Wow! Yes. So true! Important.”

Here are three reasons that The Gospel-Driven Church is not just for pastors and leaders who are thinking of transitioning their church from being attractionally-driven to gospel-driven.

1. It is important to understand the differences between a church being attractionally-driven and gospel-driven.
Jared defines the attractional church as “a way of doing church ministry whose primary purpose is to make Christianity appealing.” He quickly explains that a growing church isn’t the problem. “It bears mentioning that people being attracted to church is not in itself a bad thing! But when attraction becomes the primary mission, you tend to use whatever works to attract them…the problem is that ‘doing whatever it takes to get people in the door’ can replace or undercut what we want them to be attracted to.” (25) We want them to be attracted to Jesus, who is perfectly displayed and believed in through the gospel!

Even churches and leaders who are striving to be gospel-driven can easily forget why, biblically, we do things the way we do. Wilson points out that the “operating system” of the attractional church is basically consumerism (drawing people to church primarily through what appeals to them rather than what they need), pragmatism (changing church to try to accomplish what “works” rather than what God has commanded), and legalism/moralism (“Legalism is what happens when you disconnect the Christian’s ‘do’ from Christ’s ‘done’ in the gospel.”). (28)

Wilson answers the question, “What is a gospel-driven church?” by explaining, “One that explicitly and intentionally connects its teaching, programs, ministry philosophy, and mission to the content of the gospel…A gospel-driven church knows that the gospel isn’t one feature of a church, one thing on a checklist, something useful in an evangelistic program. A gospel-driven church makes the gospel the unifying and motivating factor in everything they say and do.”

2. To not experience vision drift.
Just as a church can easily experience mission drift, forgetting why they ultimately exist, a church can also experience vision drift. It is easy to slowly but incrementally forget how the gospel shapes the way we view church, which will eventually play itself out in how we do church. As a pastor, I constantly have either well-meaning church attenders or advertisements on my browser, inbox, and mailbox that tell me, “This program will show us how to do church” or “This is what we need to help us grow.” While there are many things that churches should constantly be evaluating and growing in (such as how well they are ministering to children or married couples, or if there are factors unnecessarily driving away new visitors), it is so refreshing to read a book that reminds us that God’s Word and the gospel are enough.

“The Five Metrics That Matter Most,” Chapter 3, would be worth the price of the book just by itself. As a non-attractional church pastor, this was the chapter that I read the slowest and underlined the most. I will be returning to it to evaluate our church on a yearly basis, sharing it at our next Elder and Deacon meeting, and briefly discussing it at our next Member’s Meeting. It is that important because Wilson takes us out of the numbers game and points out that whether or not you are currently growing in numbers, the first question should be, “are we growing in grace?” He explains, “the more important a metric is the more difficult it is to quantify. This is one reason why Jesus appointed shepherds for his flock and not accountants.” (54)

In Chapter 3 Wilson basically takes Jonathan Edward’s “Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God,” and explains and applies them to churches today. The five characteristics of a genuine move of God’s Spirit that he considers are:  1) A growing esteem for Jesus Christ 2) A Discernible Spirit of Repentance 3) A Dogged Devotion to the Word of God 4) An Interest in Theology and Doctrine, and 5) An Evident Love for God and Neighbor. This chapter and others serve as a good check for how our church is doing in keeping the main things the main things.

3. To be encouraged and built up in how the gospel shapes church.
Jared Wilson has a gift for helping believers see how the gospel plays out in all of life. He also has a gift for helping pastors and church leaders see how the gospel plays out into church life. Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification was a lifeline to me a couple of years ago. For two months, I would read a chapter on Sunday night before going to sleep peacefully, being reminded that as a pastor I need the gospel just as much as those I minister to. In Gospel-Driven Church, Jared now explains in a “textbook” but not too-technical way, how the gospel should shape how we view the church. I found the book to be deep enough to be read in seminary classes, but straight-forward enough for a church leadership team to read together.

Reading a book that is focused on helping pastors who are in attractional-model churches transition to a gospel-driven church model may seem that it has little to offer those who are already gospel-driven. However, I found the opposite to be true. As my heart rejoiced in how God has designed the church, chapter by chapter I was challenged and reminded of what is most important for my church and kept asking the question, “Are we really letting the gospel shape our church? Right now?”

I would actually love to see many church members who are not even in leadership positions read this book, because it will remind them of why the church exists and why we want the gospel to drive all we do, from preaching (Chapter 5), to how we plan our worship service (Chapter 6), to how we interact in church community (Chapter 7), to how we go and share the gospel in our communities and world (Chapter 8: Turning the corner from “Come and see” to “Go and tell.”).

If you are looking for a convicting, refreshing, biblical, practical book on what should drive our churches, I highly recommend The Gospel-Driven Church. No matter what your training and model has been, you will benefit from it. Marinating in the gospel always benefits us.

As Wilson explains, “Preach grace and grace alone–and don’t give up!–and then watch as the metrics of grace emerge to become the measurement of your church’s health over time. Preaching the gospel is the first and most important way to give your church the power it needs to bear fruit for Christ.”

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. But it’s so good, I would have bought it!

Ordinary Christians Will End Abortion: Eight Ways You Can Help

 

This article originally appeared at DesiringGod.org and was featured at Challies.

When the Romans would leave unwanted newborns out to die, it was the Christians who would rescue and raise them. May our history become our legacy.

Our nation has been shocked in recent months by extreme abortion laws that seem to be hitting us one after the other, starting with New York passing a sweeping abortion law that loosened the requirement for who can be an abortionist, removed protections for unborn babies involved in violent crimes, and allowed abortions through all nine months of pregnancy.

Days later, the governor of Virginia talked about a bill that was in committee, and then calmly discussed how a survivor of a late-term abortion could be killed if the mother and doctor agreed. Then Senator Ben Sasse fast-tracked a bill protecting babies born alive during late-term abortions, saying that all US senators should be able to go on record against infanticide. It was shut down and continues to be.

I’m a pastor in Vermont, where we have been facing our own bill in state government, which some have called the most radical abortion legislation in the world. It has zero restrictions on abortion. Now they are working on passing a state constitutional amendment that would enshrine abortion as a right that “shall not be denied or infringed.” If only Vermont were alone in this. Multiple states now are considering similar legislation, even as other states are trying to protect preborn babies more.

How to Fight Such Evil

As Christians, who believe that God creates each human being — born or unborn — in his image, with the right to be protected, these swift events can be overwhelming. What can an ordinary Christian do in the face of so much evil?

1. Pray.
This is first and foremost. Let’s not dismiss this as a throwaway step to get to the real change. God, in answer to our prayers, does the impossible. Let’s continually ask him to do what only he can.

2. Study the Scriptures.

Recently, I made a list of fifteen sections of Scripture especially relevant to the pro-life cause to help me be better attuned with God’s heart on this subject before I would speak out against it: Genesis 1:27; Exodus 1:16–22; 4:11; 21:22–25; Job 10:11–12; 31:15; Psalm 14:4; 22:9–10; 127:3–5; 139:13–16; Isaiah 45:9–11; 49:15; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:41–44; Galatians 1:15. I found myself in tears as the weight and impact of Scripture built conviction, holy anger, love, and grace in my mind and heart. Let’s go deep in the Scriptures before we go wide in sharing our beliefs.

In particular, Isaiah 45:9–11 hit me in a fresh way in light of legislation being considered around the nation that acts as if a fetus is not a human baby until he or she begins to breathe — or even later. At one point, God says through the prophet, “Woe to him who says . . . to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” (Isaiah 45:10). Everybody knows that a pregnant woman is pregnant with a baby, a human being — regardless of what some of our legislators are proclaiming. Let’s have God’s word feed our minds and hearts, move our hands and feet, and open our mouths to speak for the unborn (Proverbs 31:8).

3. Share Scripture and your story.

Recently I had the opportunity to testify before a House committee. I not only shared Scripture with them, but I focused on the implications for those scriptural principles in our time and place. There is a time for legislators — as well as friends, relatives, or your fellow church members — to be educated on what God says about life before birth.

But we need also to think about how the fact that all human beings are created in God’s image impacts principles of law: like whether or not an abused pregnant woman should be able to seek justice for her baby, and whether or not insurance companies should be required to provide life-saving medicine and procedures to babies in the womb.

The House committee hearing was so impactful not because every person who spoke was a pastor (there were many), but also because of so many others who shared their story and expertise: women who regretted their abortion and had found forgiveness in Christ, nurses and doctors explaining their professional concerns, a lady who was conceived in rape explaining that her life matters and that the law helped her birth mom to do the right thing, and another mother, a social worker, who spoke to why women in poverty need to be encouraged toward the hope of adoption and motherhood.

4. Go testify, write, and visit your legislators.

If there is a public hearing, go on record in defense of the unborn, whether by written testimony or public speaking. I had never spoken in front of a government committee until recently. I was nervous before I got up to speak at the hearing. But when I began to talk about how the unborn have value given to us by God based on being human, not based on what they can offer, I was able to look the two co-writers of the bill in the eye confidently, and publicly declare that it is wrong to say that preborn babies have no rights. God will give you strength.

It is easy to write or call your government officials when abortion legislation is on the docket. If it is state legislation, go visit your elected legislators. When abortion decisions are being made at the US Supreme Court level, we feel there is nothing we can do other than to pray. But the new territory in the fight for life is now in your own neighborhood. You can go talk to your representatives and senators in person.

5. Support your local crisis-pregnancy center.

Your local crisis-pregnancy center does not receive tax dollars as they counsel women to consider adoption, providing them hope and help. They need our support, they need our encouragement, they need our prayers, and they need our volunteer hours. They are on the frontlines. Let’s join them.

6. Get involved with foster care and adoption.

When a courageous woman does give birth to a child who was in danger of being aborted, she and the child often need our support through foster care or adoption. This is one way we care for orphans in the United States. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).

7. Minister to women who have had abortions.

As a pastor, I have cried with women who tearfully have shared that they were deceived at some point in their life and had an abortion. It has been especially helpful to have women in the church who can be an additional listening ear and a reminder of Christ’s forgiveness to these women who need our love and support. Those who were considering abortion but made the brave decision to give birth also need our help in many practical ways.

8. Remember our duty to love.

Protecting the unborn is one way you can love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). But this also includes loving those we disagree with. Abortion is an emotional issue for both sides. But even as we confront those we disagree with, and don’t back down, we don’t call them names or ever threaten to harm them. They may be protecting the “right” to kill innocent children, but our duty to them is to tell them the truth, pray for them, and — as hard as it can be in this circumstance — to honor and love them (Romans 13:7–8). We also must never forget that the gospel ultimately is what changes hearts and minds.

Not to Act Is to Act

When I spoke to the House committee, I ended by telling them,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer pastored during a time that his government, the Nazis, claimed that an entire segment of humanity had no personhood. Bonhoeffer audaciously declared, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

We are speaking, and we are acting today, and we will continue to do so for those you are saying are non-people. You will continue to hear from us until every baby is not just given their rights back, but has an opportunity to have a birthday.

The question for us as Christians is, Will we continue to pray? Will we continue to speak? Will we continue to act? As a result of the love of Christ poured into our lives and hearts, the killing of babies in the womb cannot become white noise to us.