Through a continuous belief and appropriation of the Gospel, Jesus
makes us a people for others. As we grow in our grasp of the good
news, we no longer exist in a survival mode or with a maintenance
mindset. We become missional, a church that exists not for ourselves
but for others. Because of the fall we are all curved in upon ourselves. Only the freedom we find in the Gospel allows us to be curved out toward others. Luther put it this way—once we rest from our striving and works to find a gracious God and receive by grace alien righteousness we then are freed to use that energy, formerly used to justify ourselves, to love our neighbor. Freed from the pride, exhaustion and despair of our self justification strategies we can give ourselves away in love to others. The Gospel gives us deep respect and a great hope for all of our non-Christian neighbors and associates. The Gospel makes us a people and place where grace has a face, i.e. where non-Christians are expected, welcomed and respected. Their questions and objections are invited and heard. Their struggles and doubts are taken seriously. They are loved not that we might evangelize them, but we evangelize them because we love them. At Spring we will are always thinking of new ways in which we can be a people and a place where grace has a face.
Structure of the Big Picture: A Working Proposal
In view of the structural markers we have surveyed, I propose that we piece together a frame such as the following to guide us as we seek to assemble the rest of the puzzle:
The third obstacle to an outward, gracious face is just plain, garden-variety fear and insecurity. We clam up and refuse to share the Gospel of love and grace because we fear rejection, criticism or the inconvenience or discomfort. The Gospel overcomes this when we know a love so great that it casts out all of our fear. Secure in His acceptance and love we can love others with a reckless abandon.
How will we at Spring Meadows flesh out this outward gracious face? What will it look like? First, we will take a relational and not a confrontational approach. We will utilize our network of relationships God has already given us to build bridges for the hearing of the Gospel. We will not arrogantly buttonhole or abrasively confront (you are going to hell), but we will seek to present the Gospel in word and deed through authentic relationships.
Another way is to take a process rather than an event approach. We believe that people need multiple exposures to the Gospel. We will communicate not only what we believe but also why we believe it. We want to invite questions and engage in respectful dialogue. People need to see how Christianity relates to where they are.
And we will take a presuppositional approach. This means that we believe every person already believes in God (Romans 1:28). God has already been witnessing to them. Therefore we will help them find “God pointers” (insights into truth) that they already have and use them not to put them down but to direct them back to their Creator and Savior.
Finally, we want to have a “before the nations” perspective in all that we say and do. We will always be expecting and hoping that unbelievers will be “looking on and listening in” wherever we are as a body of believers. In our day-to-day lives we will love our neighbors. Through the testimony of a transformed life, and deeds of love, mercy, kindness and hospitality we will actively cultivate authentic relationships with non-Christians. We will invite them to church that they may meets Jesus.
In our worship services we will be intentionally conscious of and welcoming to non-Christians in our midst. We want our worship to be intelligible, inclusive and easily understood (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). We will try to check our tendency to elitism and distinctivism (reformed stuff) at the door. We will try through our community groups to reach out to unbelievers and strive to make them places where they can “try on” Christianity.
The bottom line of an outward-face core value is that the Gospel will make us a community where Christians say “this is the place to bring my non-Christian friends.” So our hope is that God will fashion us into a “people and a place where grace has a face”.