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 the shape of leadership

The Power of a Gospel-Centered Church

Five practices that will transform your church

Doug Clay on April 12, 2021

In January, a Christian journalist interviewed me about the state of the Church. He asked if I thought “the left” was trying to “hijack” the Church. My radar went up, wondering whether he was more interested in politics than the Church.

The journalist started talking about dangers confronting the Church, the evangelical “identity crisis,” and emerging threats to religious freedom. Had I not interrupted him, the writer might have continued, as if he were making an argument rather than asking a question.

Finally, I looked at him and asked, “Do you believe we are saved by grace through faith in Christ?”

He said, “Yes.”

“Do you believe the Church is the primary instrument Christ uses to advance His kingdom on Earth?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe Christ is the Head of the Church?”

He sat quietly.

I told him, “It’s possible to be committed to the Church but not to Christ, but you cannot be committed to Christ and not the Church.”

In other words, this person was concerned about the Church’s loss of power, but he had forgotten that power comes from the Lord. According to Ephesians 1:18–20, the power at work in us right now is the same power that raised Christ from the dead.

A church that fixes its eyes on Christ is a gospel-centered church, and it has tremendous power. That power takes many forms, but here are five:

1. The power of evangelism. Evangelism is not apologetics, social action, or political involvement. There’s a place for all these activities, of course, but they’re not evangelism.

Evangelism is presenting the gospel and calling for conversion. The gospel is literally “good news,” the only good news that offers hope of eternal life. It is God’s gracious solution to our sinful problem.

God designed the Church for evangelism. It’s on display when we gather for worship, whether we are singing, celebrating baptisms, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, or hearing Bible teaching.

Recently on a Sunday morning, after preaching a missions-themed message with an emphasis on giving, I concluded with a salvation invitation. Two adults responded and received Christ as Savior for the first time. Once again, I was reminded of the gospel’s power — and that it is only good news when people hear it in time.

God so loved the world that He sent His Son to save it (John 3:16). Now His Son sends us to share that good news outside our church walls (John 20:21).

Does your church operate in the power of evangelism? Do you?

2. The power of discipleship. The New Testament Church grew widely through conversion, but it also grew deeply through devotion to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:41–42). Church growth should not come at the expense of spiritual health, in other words. Evangelism must lead to discipleship.

Discipleship is how people go deep in Christ. Some people experience surface-level conversions because the ground of their hearts is shallow (Mark 4:16–17). A gospel-centered church cannot be satisfied with this. We want fruitfulness.

As Jesus put it, “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop — some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown” (Mark 4:20).

What is fruitfulness? It is change of attitude leading to change of action. In Galatians 5:22–23, Paul described the “fruit of the Spirit” as “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” And in Colossians 1:10, he linked fruitfulness with “every good work.”

The gospel saves souls, but it also changes lives from the inside out — a lifelong process.

In a gospel-centered church, the focus of worship is God, not human performance or personalities.

Are our lives changing? Are the lives of others changing because of us?

3. The power of worship. The New Testament Church was a fruitful church, but it was also an awe-full one. “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles,” Luke writes (Acts 2:43). This was God’s doing, which is why the Jerusalem church praised Him, rather than the apostles (Acts 2:47).

In a gospel-centered church, the focus of worship is God, not human performance or personalities. Our worship should point to God’s character and actions.

Do people who attend our worship services feel God’s attributes because of the experience?

4. The power of release. Throughout the Book of Acts, God performs signs and wonders through the ministries of ordinary people.

An article I read recently in Acts 29 Europe pointed out that most of the miracles in the Book of Acts happened outside of church gatherings. The article went on to say this:

When persecution rose up against the church, the church was scattered around the world preaching the gospel. ... These anonymous Christians were so effective in ministry that when Paul showed up in Rome ... he was greeted by “the brothers” (Acts 28:15).

A gospel-centered church is not about recognizing the gifted but gifting the unrecognized. Church leaders who understand this won’t try to build their churches around a handful of talented stars; leaders will dedicate themselves to equipping the whole church for ministry (Ephesians 4:11–13). Their scorecard for success is sending capacity, not seating capacity.

When I look back on my upbringing in the local church, it was equipped-and-released laity — Sunday School teachers, Royal Rangers commanders, youth sponsors, and small group leaders — who had a profound and sustained impact on my spiritual formation.

Does your church release other people to the ministries God has given them? Do you?

5. The power of generosity. According to Galatians 5:22, love is a fruit of the Spirit.

According to John 3:16, the essence of the gospel is a loving God who gives His Son for us. A church that has experienced the power of the gospel will be a generous church because God is a generous God. Love gives.

When I think of generosity, work and stewardship come to mind.

In Romans 1:11, Paul writes about the work of ministry: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.” I love this image! Pastoring is not just a paid profession; it is a calling to be enjoyed. It is a well-wrapped gift that should bring fulfillment. I pray we work hard to present others with such a spiritual gift.

Generosity also has to do with money. I am concerned that many believers no longer practice tithing. In fact, a pastor shared with me that a survey of his church revealed less than one-fourth of the members tithe.

Many worry they will not have enough if they are generous, but a gospel-centered perspective knows the economy of God:

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 9:10–11).

Are we generous with our time, talent and treasure? Do we teach our congregations generosity?

At the end of the journalist’s interview with me, he asked about my desire for the Assemblies of God.

I replied, “My desire for the Assemblies of God hasn’t changed since the day I took office. I pray that every AG congregation will be a gospel-centered church, known for Bible engagement, Spirit empowerment, and participation in missions.”

As we keep our eyes on Jesus, He will give us the anointing to build and multiply gospel-centered churches.

This article appears in the April–June 2021 edition of Influence magazine.

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