Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community


The world forms its view of Jesus by looking at Christians

How do we ‘do church’ in a postmodern and post-Christian world?
– In a easy-to-see, easy-to-understand, ‘come-and-join-me’ kind of way?


  • Church as a production line of programs and people?
  • Church too hard – too many rules of engagement, too many responsibilities?
  • Does Christian maturity make you look and feel less and less alive?
  • Why is there such a dividing wall between the insiders (Christians) and outsiders?

Key principles

Two centres:

  1. Gospel is content
  2. Community is context

Evangelical church can be too truth focused, without application (community)
Emerging church can be too community focused, without being guided by the truth (God’s word)

What this might look like:

  • Church as identity, rather than a place/responsibility
  • Less events and more life shared
  • Growing by planting, rather than by getting bigger
  • More mess, more real, less pretending

1. Why Gospel?

  • God rules through his word, and extends his rule through his word
  • We trust and obey his word, and are a light to gentiles
  • You cannot be committed to gospel without proclaiming it
  • The spirit applies God’s word
  • Head and heart
  • All of life is living the gospel – every place, every relationship
  • ‘Train and release’, rather than ‘convert and retain’
  • Model ‘whole-life, gospel-centred missional living’

2. Why community?

Christ died for his people, and we are saved when by faith when join those people

Christian distinctives:

  • I am a child of God by grace
  • I am to love God and love others
  • I am a person-in-community (as God is three-in-one)

God’s primary missionary method is his covenant people

In order for church to be a light to the world, it needs to be distinctive – a radical living collective community. Just another community club won’t do. Needs to be a reality that can’t be explained by anything other than the gospel, and thus can’t result in anything by praise to Father in heaven.

What to do? Start about working out what community looks like in your own practice, without being a pain to others and complaining.

3. Evangelism

The gospel is good news, a message, a truth, words, a story – it needs to be told.

Before you are a teacher/church planter/preacher, you are a lover i.e. Jesus commands to his followers at the Last Supper.
Our ‘cross-love’ for each other proclaims the gospel i.e. the gospel community is central to evangelism

People are usually attracted to the Christian community, before they are attracted to Christian message
Christian community is hermenutic/apologetic of the gospel.

Don’t be concerned that your community is not perfect. We are not witness to perfect community but to grace of God so it is precisely because we are not always loveable yet are loved that is powerful.

3 strands:

  1. building relationships,
  2. sharing gospel,
  3. introducing people to community.

This is not a sequence. Shows the role of community in different members contributing different roles e.g. clear gospel explainer, social organiser, community member i.e. evangelism is a community project

Gospel ministry is ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality. Goes beyond events, schedules, but is 24/7 i.e. gospel saturated life.

Must aim clearly to reach the point in relationship when the bible can be opened, or else it’s not evangelism

Meetings feel more like family gathering than religious service

There is desperate need for authentic, bold, credible communities of God i.e. churches, living as an outpost of Heaven as a watching and apathetic and skeptical world looks on.

4. Social involvement

The first will be last and the last will be first – God’s future great role-reversal. We need to align ourselves with the grace of God to the marginalised, weak, despised, poor.

Within Christian community we are more able to live radical (reversed) lives

Danger of ministry becoming our idol.

Evangelism and social action inseperable. The distinctive Christian position is to reconcile the poor through the proclamation of the gospel.
Start with felt needs, but move to the gospel.

If our churches are filled with respectable people, have we grasped the grace of God? Church has become for the middle class professional.
Why across the world is the church growing in disadvantaged areas, but not in Western church?
God gives the gift of faith unproportionally to the poor

The poor do not just need something now – need to address their isolation, vulnerability, powerlessness. Do this thru community!

5. Church planting

A strong emphasis on church planting as the mission of the church. Church planting was mission for Paul

Is the purpose of church ‘worship’, or ‘mission’. Both. i.e. we worship God by singing God’s praises to the nations.

Over time churches move to maintenance mode – so many jobs need to be done just to keep the place going i.e. trellis i.e. move from mission to maintenance. Church planting is a way to shift focus back to mission.

Church is not a convenient way of organising and associating God’s elect – the church is the bride of Christ

NT presupposes community as context for Christian life.

Church planting is the link between church and mission.

Puts strong emphasis on Christian community and it’s character of love and unity as being most significant hermeneutic of the gospel. Christian community makes the gospel a plausible contender to the false normality of modernity/plurality/secularisation.

Christian buildings were not around till after 2nd century. The early church grew by planting churches in houses i.e. household churches.

Note that small household churches mitigate against the risk of large churches falling into maintenance mode. They are also more inclusive, intimate – expressive of the priesthood of all believers.

A vision for church growth must be a vision of church planting.

Don’t assume church plant needs to be a clone of it’s parent. Don’t bring assumptions about what church should do i.e. failure to church plant can be failure of imagination, of thinking outside the norm e.g. bigger is NOT better i.e. less than 10% of people attend church. Why replicate models of current church if they aren’t working!

Through mission the church can break free of external conformity to culture, and internal conformity to tradition.

We don’t want 2nd generation Christians. These are those who have lost the gospel edge. A 50th church anniversary may be cause to lament i.e. lost it’s mission i.e. teach and release, not convert and retain

Every local church should be in a cycle of transplanting churches. To grow is to plant

6. World Mission

The vision of Isaiah which is then taken up by Apostle Paul is for all the nations to come to God. See also Psalm 67
Taken up by JC in great commission also.

Mission flows from the logic of JC death and resurrection.

We demonstrate by our lives together what it means to live under the lordship of JC, and we invite others to do so also.
Proclamation of the gospel word must be central.

The very best we can do for others is to turn their gaze towards eternity.

A good apple tree is proven by it’s fruit. Same too of Christian church.

The church is God’s mission strategy.
Mission was part of earlychurch’s DNA. Paul assumes churches he plants will be planting missional churches

Consider effectiveness of terrorist cells – hard to contain small groups of likeminded motivated people.

7. Discipleship and training

Evangelism and discipleship are the same process i.e. good news that converts is the good news that transforms. Same as ‘faith’

The disciples response to Great Commission was to plant churches

Experience teaches – inverse rule of relationships – the larger the group, the more superficial the relationship

It’s easy to make a club, it’s hard to create a community i.e. love, trust, sharing, accepting etc

Being ‘word-centred’ is more than being ‘sermon-centred’
cf. Jesus method of teaching – discussion, stories, dialogue
The word ‘preach’ means proclaim gospel – not necessarily in sermon but any form of communication

Sermons arose after establishment of Christendom when large numbers of nominal Christians came to church and therefore no longer possible to reliably have small groups of Christians discuss God’s word together

Great teaching means nothing. Putting it into practice means everything i.e. concentrate on good learning and good putting into practice.
i.e. bring teaching from the pulpit and embed in everyday life.
Again, looking to Jesus’ ministry is instructive.

Truth cannot effectively be taught outside of close relationships, because truth is dynamic

Formal college education vs learning on the job. Consider the demographic of most trained theological candidates vs early church mix!

Apostle Paul defines leaders based on character, rather than skills. The only skill is teaching i.e. applying God’s word to life i.e. not necessarily sermon

Full discipleship – living life together essential to training

How to be accountable to each other? share life together.
But more than this, take responsibility for each others godliness i.e. speak the truth in love.

Need a day off from church? Do you need a day off from family as well? Isn’t it a sign of disfunction?

8. Pastoral care

The word of God, skillfully applied by the Spirit of God among the people of God is sufficient for all needs
The gospel word and the gospel community do not fail us when it comes to pastoral care

Is the gospel sufficient for all of life and godliness, including all pastoral care issues?
Or is there an element of ‘natural’ law as well i.e. science, psychology etc that needs to be applied
2 Peter 1:3-4 says ‘everything we need for life and godliness’

We need to hold the gospel and the power of God as sovereign over all other factors of influence in our lives
The other factors may be significant, and may involve a daily struggle, but they are not supreme factors.

I may not always understand but the cross assures me that he is altogether good and his grace is magnificently sufficient

Consider the temporal troubles of Paul – 2 Cor 4:8-18 but he makes no mention of anything but the gospel sufficiency

Prevantative pastoral care i.e. occurs during ordinary life – intentional about exhorting with the gospel

9. Spirituality

Biblical spirituality is not contemplative and silent, but focused on the gospel word in mission/community
i.e. biblical spirituality cannot be separated from the word of God

Spirituality based on contemplation/reflection/solitude is works-based.

Spirituality is not withdrawal from the world. Biblical view is that material and spiritual are interwined – both now and in future i.e. biblical spirituality is of the everyday
Biblical spirituality is activity of mission i.e. declare His praises.

The beauty of the faith in prayers of supplication

Consider telling the gospel story – individualistically vs family/community/nation i.e. difference between an invitation to accept Christ, and an invitation to accept Christ and in so doing join the people of God.
i.e. I have a relationship with God because we have a relationship with God

In practice:

  • Pray more in public with others (over alone)
  • Don’t separate my relationship with God from relationship with others
  • Daily exhort/encourage/live with others i.e. gospel people reminding each other of gospel grace

Need to be Christians daily, always, in all relationships, in real life – open, intimate, real

10. Theology

Missionary encounters creates need to do theology
Theology = dynamic as you encounter living God in his word

Theology is the task of the church/all believers

The bible text is only properly understood in community i.e. community hermeneutic
Theology needs to be done at the coalface i.e. connected to life i.e. theology must pass from head to heart to hand, or else be useless to us.

11. Apologetics

We know God because God graciously reveals himself to us in the message of the cross.

The role of rational apologetics is not to convince people they are wrong, but to demonstrate that unbelief is a problem of the heart rather than a problem of the head i.e. strip away excuses and expose rebellious hearts.
It is not a rational problem, it is a relational problem, and if relational, requires a relational apologetic:
i.e. our relationships with each other are what the world uses to judge whether our message is true.

* often less important what you say, than how you say it i.e. with love, graciousness and respect

The medium is the message i.e. the people of Israel were the medium of God i.e. holy priests, and also the message.

Apologetics is answering the questions raised by our lives i.e. this is not individualistic but collective.

A list of proofs for Christianity won’t convince people if their hearts are against God. We need to make it attractive first, before it is desirable, before it is believable.

12. Children and young people

God does his work through his word, so measure of good youth work is not attendance but gospel fruit

The church is a phenomenon that can only be explained by the operative grace of the Holy Spirit

Rule of thumb – if you do it as a family, do it as a church

13. Success

Smaller groups make it easier for ‘one anothering’

church/community vs a ‘preaching centre’ i.e. large church where you hear a sermon, nobody knows you, and you leave

Planting churches offers most biblical and most effective way to reach our town for Christ

Model the grace of God rather than the goodness of me

Leadership as performance is sinking sand

Success is to be faithful to Christ and his word

We are wholly dependant on the soverign grace of God

Small, poor, unseen – remember Jesus’ images of Kingdom of God are all small.

Conclusion: A passion for God

Glory of God and grace of God are hearbeat of church

Christianity is not a strategy or principles but a relationship
It all needs to come as a heart response to God

Simply: love God more than the world.

Gospel is not information but a relationship with Christ.
Community is central to bring gospel to bear in our lives

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