As a church plant, we've come a very long way in our first year. By God's grace, and seemingly overnight, we've gone from a fledgling community of 20 families to a church of over 150 people who consider The Table their home. Through countless conversations and opportunities to live out our vision to "savor and share the Life of Jesus in every person, place, and thing," we've realized that this vision is... well... lacking. Sure, it sounds decent and accurately describes much of what we're about, but it isn't quite connecting to the ethos or heart of the passion we have for our broader community (also, nobody could remember it anyway, so that was a problem too). Thus, you'll notice that our current vision now reads:
The two expressions are definitely similar, but now there is a comprehensive totality, a God-sized fulness, scope, and focus that has been lacking. This Fall, we'll be spending 8 weeks in a sermon series called "Made to Flourish: Uncommon Grace for the Common Good," where we will unpack all the beauty, glory, and mess of what we are convinced God is calling us to - both individually and communally. We'll spend the vast majority of that time filling out all the concrete, collective, and personal implications of this vision, and this post will lay a foundation for it all.
To start, you'll notice there are two halves of this vision statement - one answers the "what," and the other answers the "where."
What are we called to?
"... the flourishing presence of Jesus... "
The church does not exist for it's own sake. A "selfish church" is as oxymoronic and nonsensical as a "football bat" (yup, exactly). Yet, much of the American evangelical church has uncritically embraced consumerism (the idea that the "good life" is an ever-increasing consumption of goods & services) as way of doing life and ministry, implying that the church is both the provider of spiritual goods and services, and primarily and ultimately for Christians. This has led to Christians using language like "getting fed" by church's worship service, or "church shopping" when they first move to a new area. But don't hear what I'm not saying! Being spiritually nourished with the Gospel and prayerfully discerning where God is calling you to serve in a local body are good and important things!
... but can you hear the very different and powerful assumptions embedded within those two ways of describing it?
God blesses (another word for "flourish") His people. The purpose of any and all flourishing is for the good of those around us - especially and primarily our broader community. Period. No qualifier. The Church is not for Christians. The Church is a community of Christians whose fundamental orientation is toward both our God and our neighbor. Those two are so explicitly and intrinsically linked by Jesus' teachings that they are inseparable: you can't "love God" and not love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor is itself an essential and non-negotiable act of Christian worship.
God has already blessed us in full. He has flourished us already (and yes, that's a real word). We are made to flourish - made both to receive His flourishing and to flourish others. If we only do one of those, we're not living into our full humanity, and we're not living in light of Jesus' Gospel love... and we also aren't acting like a church as described in scripture.
Where are we called to be this presence?
"... in every sphere of life."
The American evangelical church is often (and rightly, for the most part) criticized for being all about spiritual brokenness (hyper focused on evangelism & the Great Commission), while severely neglecting or outright ignoring the physical & social brokenness of the world (e.g. poverty or racism). While we of course agree that the Great Commission is vital to what it means to be a Christian, it is not even close to the full picture. Let me explain...
A woman at The Table recently described to me how, when she was growing up, it was always the international missionaries who were really doing God's work. This view sees our careers, our families, and every other “ordinary” aspect of life as merely the necessary means to the end of "real" spiritual work (evangelism). This is as tragic as it is ineffective because it is driven by an urgency and fear of “not doing enough for God” that our non-Christian friends, family, and neighbors can absolutely sense and feel (and are thus alienated from Jesus). Even more importantly, it ignores the original and holistic definition of what it means to be human in the first place.
God is as concerned with (and burdened for) the physical as much as He is the spiritual. Thus, He does not ONLY call us to leverage our spiritual flourishing for the good of others, but all of our flourishing - vocational, social, financial, circumstantial, political, educational, or otherwise. It is not just the good news of the Gospel we are called to invite our neighbors into, but the goodness of friendship, economic opportunity, hospitality, emotional health, etc. Christians serving as pastors, plumbers, teachers, stock brokers, mothers & fathers, PhD's and high school dropouts all have an equally-valuable contribution to flourishing in ways unique to how God has called them.
This is the difference between a church functioning like a weed (which kills and crowds out other growth and exists only to multiply itself) and a church that flourishes as a fruit tree (whose fruit both sows new life and nourishes surrounding life).
Putting it all together: Uncommon Grace for the Common Good
And if after all this you're still not convinced, God, in His genius, has designed us in such a way that our greatest good, our holistic flourishing, our spiritual health, is all found in living toward the common good:
Above, I stated rather bluntly that" the church is not for Christians." This is true insofar as it is not our primary activity or purpose, but serving others is the most self-serving thing we can do! You see, in God's upside-down creation the only way to be fully satisfied is not through unrestrained selfishness, but in giving ourselves away (which is what Jesus Himself did and modeled for us).
In other words, God has made human beings in such a way (in His Image) that we will really, truly, and fully flourish only when we flourish others. When we are (even imperfectly) "the flourishing presence of Jesus in every sphere of life," things change. Both we and our neighbors flourish. The Church grows and our neighbors are grateful for our presence - whether they believe or not!
God's church has unique and incredible contributions to make in this world that ONLY we can offer. Not because we are particularly gifted, but because we are especially gifted - and that gift is Jesus Himself. That gift of grace transcends and is magnified by our every blemish, it is the impetus of our every love. In Jesus, we risk nothing, want nothing, and lack nothing. What do you have to lose? Nothing. It is He that the church offers in/underneath/through/above all that we do.
Resources for Deeper Engagement
Much of this Fall's sermon series (as well as the "flourishing" language embedded in our new vision statement) was inspired by several pastors, leaders, and authors. Many of those are listed below, but one we want to especially recommend to you is a short DVD curriculum called For the Life of the World. I could write another blog post just to sing the praises of this work and it's contribution to the local church, but I won't. Instead, just know that it is easily the most beautiful, full, and accessible expression (watch this with your kids!) of our vision that we have found. Here's the trailer:
You can either purchase it via their website here (with the optional but fantastic "Field Guide" here), or if you have Amazon Prime, they are FREE to watch online. If you have any questions, let us know!
(For parents) Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, by Kara Powell and Chap Clark. Note: We're encouraging all parents to read this book early this Fall, and then we'll host an open discussion about it in NOV/DEC (date still TBD) to explain how it informs The Table's approach to children's ministry.
The Six Practices of the Church (6-Episode Podcast - Short trailer here) and The Burning Church (Talk) by Greg Thompson
Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (Book) by Steven Garber (who also stars in the For the Life of the World)