by Andy Constable
I am very privileged to work in an environment that is gospel focused. I came onto the Niddrie team 2 years ago and one of the reasons for doing so was because Mez’s vision was and is to bring the gospel to bear in his life, the life of the church and into the community of Niddrie. I haven’t had to build a gospel community because the building blocks were already in place when I came and God was and still is blessing and using that gospel vision. Here are some things that I have learned that are key to building this sort of gospel community.
Gospel Centred Leaders. If you want to build a gospel community then the leaders driving that vision must be gospel centred. Leaders as much, probably more, than anybody else in the church need to live and breathe the gospel. This means that leaders need to preach the gospel to themselves each and everyday. The gospel is what excites them. The gospel is what drives them. If a leader isn’t gospel focused then they will either burn out or build a community that is religious. As leaders we need to guard our souls and make sure that we remind ourselves daily that we are not justified by the amount of work we do, the amount of meetings we attend, how good our sermons are or how nice we are to our congregation, but by the blood of the lamb. We are justified by the good news that on the cross Christ bore the punishment for us and died the death we deserved to bring us to God.
Gospel Centred Preaching. If a leader is gospel centred then by necessity their preaching should be gospel centred to. The Bible is one big story unfolding God’s redemption story culminating in Jesus Christ. This means that all of scripture points to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to set the agenda for our vision by preaching the gospel from the pulpit. We do not want a congregation who are little law abiders but have no deep change in their hearts. But we want people who are being changed daily by the grace of God. We want a people who are recognising their sin daily and their need for repentance but also a people who know the love of God shown to them in Jesus Christ deeply and intimately. We set the agenda through our preaching and it must be gospel centred. The gospel is not just for non-Christians but for Christians too. As Tim Keller reminds us “the gospel isn’t just the the ABC of the Bible but the A through Z.”
Gospel Centred Evangelism. If we are preaching the gospel to ourselves and to our church then, by necessity, our evangelism will be gospel centred as well. We need to proclaim to all we meet that there is judgment to come unless people repent and believe the good news. We need to proclaim this good news with sorrow in our hearts for those who are perishing but also with great joy because it is good news! Many Christians are not set on fire by the good news of Jesus Christ and so find it hard to get excited about the gospel. But it is good news to those who believe. It liberates the captives and is the only way to salvation!
Gospel Centred Discipleship. It is easy, particularly in schemes, to preach the gospel and then give people a whole load of laws to follow after. For example with a drug addict we can slip into legalism by sharing that they are saved through Jesus Christ and then give them plan x, y and z to get off their drugs. We want to be very careful that those who come to Christ are then counselled through the gospel. I really recommend CCEF material here as they are gospel saturated in their counselling approach. We must remind ourselves that it is the gospel that brings us to Christ and then continues to transform us. It is the only thing that can truly transform our hearts. If we teach people gospel + legalism then we will create a lot of self-righteous disciples. Eugene Peterson calls these Christians iatrogenic* disciples. They come in with one problem like drugs but then they pick up another – self-righteousness. They go around thinking that because they have come off their addiction that they are suddenly better than everybody else. They become legalists. If we want to build a gospel centred community then our counselling needs to be gospel centred to.
Gospel Centred Fellowship. The gospel should characterize us when we meet socially as well. If we want to build a gospel church then we need to spend concerted effort getting to know each other. Too many churches meet on a Sunday and Wednesday and then don’t see each other between. The early church was characterised by praying together regularly and sharing everything they had so that no-one is in need. When did we turn community into this individualised thing where we never meet! If we are gospel focused then we should meet regularly and share fellowship because we love Jesus and we love each other. This again is something that can’t be forced by telling everyone from the front to have fun and hang out with each other. This is something that happens organically as barriers are broken through the gospel and as leaders model it. We should not be scared to meet socially and hang out and have fun. We are a community of sinners who have been saved by the grace of God and are called to love each other. This happens as we spend time with people’s families and in people’s homes.
I am encouraged at Niddrie because I am seeing these elements worked out in the life of the church. We are seeing people come to Christ. We are seeing people having their lives changed. We are seeing a greater sense of community as people move into the area and get to know each other. This is not our work but God’s of course but he blesses the foundation of the gospel that is being preached and lived. Pray that we would continue to hold dear to the gospel in Niddrie and that this would continue to build a community that reflects the church that God’s wants us to be.
*this is a medical term describing people who come into hospital to get sorted for one problem and then pick up another problem while they are there e.g. MRI virus!