Developing a Gospel-Centered Vision.
I will never forget the question. I had been the pastor of our church for all of two weeks when a leader in our church approached me after a service and asked, “So Pastor, where is our church heading?” It felt strange and awkward, then heavy and humbling. Real people with real lives were now looking to me to set a course for the future of their church. I had long heard of pastors with great vision who seemed to know exactly where God was going to take their congregations. Pictures of grandeur flashed into my mind. There should be new ministries or visionary building programs to begin, but I truly had no real concept of what God was going to do. We were a struggling, small congregation with few volunteers to serve in the ministries, no money, and because of our congregation size, we did not have a need for more auditorium space. Looking back, I don’t even remember how I responded. I knew exactly what kind of church “I” wanted to pastor. And if I am honest, my “vision” was just to develop a church that “I” would like to attend myself. My vision was nothing more than my own list of preferences. It was assuredly nothing of doctrinal substance, but I went home that afternoon with a new prayer. God, where do you want us to go?
Over the course of a few weeks, God began to grant me that perspective. I was ashamedly surprised that His plans were far more about what He desired New Hope to be internally than how New Hope would look externally. I didn’t gain a list of programs or steps, but I did adopt a vision for the kind of church God wanted to build in our community—a Gospel-centered vision. A church that would be known for what Christians should always be known: the Cross of Jesus and His saving Gospel. It wasn’t catchy or marketable, but I had a direction that brought a new confidence to lead. For me, church vision has become a direction—a desired destination. I found in my study that the majority of passages concerning what our church was to be were focused on two end goals—spiritual maturity and evangelistic fruitfulness. Those two destinations have been the ultimate direction (vision) of our church ever since.
Ephesians 4:11–16 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Paul writes to the church at Ephesus that his heart’s desire was for their church body to “grow up” into the image of Christ. He actually says that the very reason God gave pastors to the church was to develop spiritual maturity in the congregation. And how long exactly should we focus on spiritual maturity? Paul says, “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Eph 4:13). The church is to be a place where individual Christians uniquely gifted by God are able to come together to the increase of their own spiritual maturity as well as the rest of the body. This became our goal. We typed spiritual maturity into our church’s invisible GPS and have allowed that to set a course for ministry in our church. Will “______” help to develop New Hope into the image of Christ? If not, then we will simply not adopt that program, activity, or ministry.
Matthew 28:19–20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Jesus’s last command to His followers was to take the truth that had been shared with them to everyone. Men much smarter than I am, have long argued whether evangelization is to be an emphasis within the gathered church or the efforts of individual Christians outside of it. From my perspective, that may be a false dichotomy. The gathered church body is a group of Christians who are clearly commanded to share the gospel with others. Why not do it together?
At that point in our church’s history, we had little to no evangelistic fruit. I wasn’t fully aware of where God wanted to take us, but I knew it was His plan for our church to be a place where lost people were regularly finding Christ. These two purposes have driven every major decision we have made in the past five years. We continue to ask how can we continue to develop spiritual maturity and more effectively reach those who do not know God. If God allows me to pastor here for the rest of my life, I pray that we are still aiming for these two targets.
I’ve got the direction. How do I share it?
Understanding the vision God has given for your church is one thing. Casting that vision is quite another. We have Sundays dedicated to the presentation of future plans for our church. We have taken special offerings towards new initiatives and buildings. But in our church context, the most effective way to clearly cast the vision of our church has been repetition. In sermon applications, in church announcements, in church business meetings, we instill into the minds of our church what New Hope is all about. It will get to the point where those who are faithfully attending the church will clearly understand where you are going and what you are about.
Pastor friends, this post is intended to describe what God has done in our church. I wouldn’t assume your church context, but I pray that God gives you clarity from His Word so that you know, that at the end of the day, a Gospel-centered vision for your church is truly the only way your church will experience healthy growth.
Andrew Browning has served as the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Torrington, Connecticut since 2014. He and his wife Sarah are graduates of West Coast Baptist College and have two children, Graham and Reese.