At the end of his earthly ministry, and before He ascended back to heaven, Jesus gave His followers a clear and unequivocal directive: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is our mandate as believers, and this is the purpose of the body known as The Shepherd’s Church. This mission must be central to our lives. It must be the reason for our existence as a church.
Biblically, as we prioritize the work of the Great Commission, we are called to advance the gospel at home and around the world. We are tasked with actively, intentionally, purposefully, and constantly sharing the life-saving message of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and eternal reign with the Father. We must clearly communicate that only through the “cross-work” of Jesus Christ can we obtain forgiveness of our sins and eternal life with the Father in Heaven. And because of Jesus’ directive to us, we are obligated to share that message with those around us.
The goal of advancing the gospel, as one writer puts it, is to spiritually multiply our ranks. We are to be a church full of people who, relying on God’s power to save, and through His revealed Word, labor to increase our number. And, those who come to faith must join the effort with us.
The real mark of a healthy, biblical church is not the size of the budget, not the skill of its staff, not the sound of its choir or orchestra, not the beauty of its facilities. No, the real measure of the church in Jesus’ eyes is the level of dedication to the advancement of the gospel; its dedication to sharing with people near and far the message of God’s unfathomable love for us, and the inexplicable sacrifice He made to save us through His Son, Jesus.
One of the four key elements of a biblical model for gospel impact is a commitment to advance the church. It’s easy to lose sight of the importance of the church with the proliferation of podcasts, video-based teaching and parachurch ministries. However, the local church will always be the primary means through which the body of Christ is displayed on Earth. When Paul used the analogy of a ‘body’ to describe the church, he certainly meant that Christ is the head of the global church. But 1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that Christ is the head of the local church. Paul speaks of individual members (the foot, hand, ear and eye) who are joined together under the authority of the head. The clear implication is that church membership is not optional–there are no unattached body parts.
God designed membership in the local church to be the means through which instruction, accountability and gospel ministry are achieved. Membership in a local church is a promise that says, “I’m committed to this body. We’re in this together, under the authority of our head, and I’m going to fulfill my God-given role in this body to which I belong.” As a local church, we hear God’s Word together, we participate in the ordinances together and we commit to obeying each of the “one another’ commands God gave us in His Word.
John MacArthur put it like this: “Active involvement in your local church is imperative to living a life without compromise. It is only through the ministry of the local church that a believer can receive the kind of teaching, accountability, and encouragement that is necessary for him to stand firm in his convictions. God has ordained that the church provide the kind of environment where an uncompromising life can thrive and His people can grow spiritually.”
Because God wants all believers connected to and serving in a local church, our outreach and mobilization priorities must advance the church. Shepherd’s actively pursues church planting as the primary means of reaching a local community with the gospel. We partner with organizations that are committed to strengthening the local church. We invest and serve the church by providing training and resources to equip church leaders. Christ loves His church. Our effort in advancing Christ’s gospel must involve advancing the church.
Here’s a fundamental question: “Why should I become a Christian?” Francis Schaeffer, a leading 20th-century Christian apologist, responded this way: “It is not because it will make me feel good . . . or that I get a big emotional boost out of it . . . [It is because] it is truth. The truth of what is . . . the reality of the total of life. On this basis, we should become a Christian.”
If Christianity is “the reality of the total of life,” then truth is not just about religion. In fact, it encompasses all fields of thought and activity including, to name a few, the liberal arts, science, mathematics, the fine arts, ethics, business, medicine and the handiwork of the tradesman. So when we approach any area of life from a God perspective, we advance the truth.
Moreover, the local church’s specific responsibility is found in the Great Commission. We are told to make disciples of all nations, baptize them, and teach them the truths of Scripture. Jesus himself, said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but through me” (John 14:6). Making disciples leads further to the planting of Bible-believing local churches that are “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
One of my former students, Alexey Kolomiytsev, pastors a church in Washington State composed of Russian immigrants. Its motto is “Truth That Transforms Lives.” Through commitment to this statement, his church has had remarkable growth in numbers, in spiritual maturity, and in worldwide impact. Like Alexey’s church, The Shepherd’s Church acknowledges that a biblical model for gospel impact must include the commitment to advance the truth. Indeed, it is God’s truth that transforms lives…a great reason to become a Christian.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV)
One of the four key elements of a biblical model for gospel impact is a commitment to advance biblical shalom. The prophet Jeremiah challenged the Israelites exiled in Babylon to “seek the welfare of the city” where God had placed them. The Hebrew word for welfare here is shalom, which has a rich depth of meaning. Shalom is more comprehensive than just “peace” or “welfare.” It means wholeness or completeness –physically, ethically and spiritually.
As sojourners and exiles where God has placed us, we likewise have a responsibility to bring shalom to a fallen world. The brokenness and confusion seems increasingly evident today. We have myriad opportunities to advance shalom among our neighbors, friends, co-workers and community. Certainly, this includes tending to physical needs such as hunger, disease, and poverty. But, it also means speaking biblical truth to a morally and ethically confused society, whether that be comforting or counseling a friend or neighbor in their time of need or standing for truth in your school or workplace. As John Piper so eloquently stated in his book Let the Nations Be Glad, “God is calling us to be conduits of his grace, not cul-de-sacs.”
While advancing shalom, we must not lose sight of the primary goal of making disciples. The ultimate shalom is spiritual completeness — peace with God. We must be faithful ambassadors for Christ in all that we do, imploring people to be reconciled to God.
LORD, wherever you have us go in service to You, may we be a people and a church that seek the welfare of the city where you have placed us so that Your name will be glorified.