While the foundation of a church must not be unique, the culture and ministry practice must be.
While some car companies have been experts in luxury, Volkswagen has been about cars for everyday people. Volkswagen literally means “people’s car,” and they branded themselves with economic cars.
For example, the Volkswagen Beetle was a favorite during the hippie movement in the ’60s when many rebelled against extravagant spending. And when they are true to themselves, they do quite well. When their offerings flow from who they are, they make an impact.
But in 2005, Volkswagen decided they wanted to compete in the luxury market and came to the table with the Phaeton. While car critics lauded it as a masterpiece, it did not match Volkswagen’s identity and was a clear signal of drifting from the core. Few consumers bought the car.
In the same way, we must be careful that our churches do not drift from the core of who we are. We must continually ensure that what we offer our people and our communities deeply matches how God has reconciled us to Himself and who God has formed us to be.
A church is a localized gathering of the called out ones, a group of people Christ pursued and purchased for Himself with His own blood. A church is formed by the gospel of Jesus; therefore, if she offers anything that is not deeply rooted in Jesus, she is not being true to her fundamental identity.
In our individualized culture, we (church leaders included) often want an identity that is highly unique, one that is just for us, one that shows no one else is quite like us.
But we must be careful.
Our doctrine must not be unique. The foundation of our faith is something we have received. It is not something that we develop, create or improve. It is the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Longing to teach something or say something that no one else has ever said will inevitably lead to bad theology.
Martin Luther wrote, “It is the promises of God that make the church, and not the church that makes the promise of God. For the Word of God is incomparably superior to the church, and in this Word the church, being a creature, has nothing to decree, ordain or make, but only to be decreed, ordained and made. For who begets his own parent?”
So in all that you do, offer Jesus to your people, your families and your community. As you offer counseling, ministry to kids and students, worship gatherings, benevolence to the hurting, food and clothes to the poor, and a plethora of important mission-focused initiatives, offer people Jesus. Unless people are graciously given the good news of who He is and what He has done, we betray who we really are.
In terms of the foundation of our faith, your church — as part of the Church — must not be unique.
No matter the denomination, socio-economic makeup, ethnic mix, city or geographical region, a church must have Jesus as her foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11) and her chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-21). At the same time, a local church is a unique expression of God’s Church.
Tim Keller, in his book Center Church, writes:
Church models are in one sense unavoidable. The spiritual gifts and callings of a congregation’s leaders, together with their social context … will necessarily mean every church tends to be naturally better at fulfilling some metaphors [of the church] and doing some kinds of ministry.
While the foundation of a church must not be unique, the culture and ministry practice must be for at least three reasons:
1. The Local Community
Just as Christ stepped into our culture to rescue us, a church lives in a local community among people the Lord created and loves. A church on mission in her community is deeply connected to the needs, hurts and pains of the community. She listens, and her listening impacts how she serves and communicates. And because the needs in one community are unique and distinct from the needs in a different community, each local church should uniquely position her ministry to effectively serve the community.
Leadership implication: Love and listen to your local context. Realize that you lead a church in a local community surrounded by people the Lord, in His providence, has placed around your church.
2. The Passion of the Leaders
No matter a church’s system for “calling pastors and leaders,” God is the One who ultimately places leaders in different places of service. He is the One ultimately in charge, and He is the One who gives leaders gifts and passions to lead and serve His people. In time, a pastor’s (or team of pastors’) passion and focus should and will impact the culture of a local church. The more convinced a leadership team is on the specific mission and values of the church, typically the more pronounced the unique church culture is. If the leaders are all over the place without a clear sense of mission, the church will follow suit.
Leadership implication: Narrow your focus. How has the Lord gifted you (and your team) to serve? What is He calling you to do over the next several years in your context?
3. The Gifting of the Local Body
Pastors are not the only gifted ones in a local body. All men and women in the body of Christ are gifted by God to serve in the church and in the world. A church leader should pay attention to the people the Lord is bringing to the church. It is not by coincidence or accident. For example, if God is nudging a bunch of artists or a bunch of teachers or a bunch of students to a local church, what is He up to?
Leadership implication: Prayerfully consider the people the Lord has brought to your church. What does He want to accomplish in the body and in the community through these people?