A gospel-centered church in Austin, Texas

We live in a culture that prizes individualism as the key to the good life. This, more than anything, is responsible for the fact that we define freedom in terms of independence. We pride ourselves on our ability to deal with our problems without help from others – trading relationship for convenience and knowledge. But there is hope. Hope to be free, to be valued, to be known, to be significant. There is hope for redemption.

A redeemed community is marked by God’s love, poured into our hearts, allowing us to truly care for one another. It’s God’s forgiveness, deeply healing us and freeing us to forgive each other. It’s God’s acceptance, allowing us to live in the light, broken as we are. Redemption unleashes us to be who we really are, no matter who is watching, because we are already known and loved by God.

But we have been looking at redemption through the lens of individualism. Spiritual growth today is largely undertaken through self-help methods, which are characterized by our tendency to measure maturity by how much we do, how much we know, and how spiritual people think we are. The value we derive from such achievement is short-term at best, and it is ultimately undermined by the impression that one can accomplish spiritual maturity in isolation from other people. If we can grow on our own, even with God’s help, then we have something to boast about before others. But if we need each other to grow, then our boasting is turned into humility. This is how community exposes our inadequacies and magnifies the power of the gospel as our only hope for personal and cultural transformation.

The thing about redemption – the thing that gets lost on us – is that it takes place in the context of community. The commands of Scripture are largely lived out in relationships. In community, we feel the effects of our humanity: the nobility of being made in God’s image, and the pain of being selfish and broken. This is how we learn to repent of always wanting to be served, and begin to serve. The Gospel sets us free for this, to be slaves to one another, this time in love. We are to make our way in this fallen world together, bearing with one another, pushing toward restoration. Our church is a people on that journey.

Like a natural family, a church community has family values, events, and oddities.

Values

Our family values speak to the kind of people we want to be:

  • Humility: People whose confession and worship exalts the work of Jesus to reconcile sinners to a holy God.
  • Creativity: People who image God’s wisdom and beauty in their speech, art, imagination, resourcefulness, and service.
  • Cleansing: People who walk in the light with one another, forgiving others as God has forgiven them in Christ.
  • Hospitality: People who look for and welcome the outsider, the skeptic, and the hurting.
  • Prayer: People who are dedicated to gospel-saturated, kingdom-advancing, Spirit-directed prayer.
  • Movement: People who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and are committed do their part.

Events

Family events are points of connection, displays of God’s glory through our diversity and unity, and a means of serving the community. Regular events include:

  • Covenant Renewal Worship: The people of God are his chosen possession. They are “called out of darkness into his marvelous light” so that they may “proclaim the excellencies of him who called them” (1 Peter 2:9-10). We live in this called/sent rhythm each week as God calls us together for worship and then sends us out as the light of the world. When we come together on Sundays, we are renewing our covenant with God through worship, word, and sacrament. The elements of our service tell the story of God drawing his people into his presence, cleansing them of their sins, reminding them of their covenant obligations, and sending them back into his world as his representatives.
  • Gospel Communities: This is what we call our “small groups,” but gospel community is primarily a value, and secondarily a structure. So don’t think of gospel community as a meeting, but rather a context for growth and ministry—a group of people with whom I am going to pursue spiritual formation and mission. That’s the value. As a structure, GCs form around geography, affinity, and missional focus. These groups are not something different than missional life, but rather a communal expression of it. They consist of Christians who are missionaries in their culture, newer Christians who are learning to live on mission, and sojourners who are not yet convinced of the gospel of Jesus. GCs meet regularly for vision, prayer, study, fellowship, care, and accountability. In an ongoing way, GCs are doing life together, pursuing intentional mission together, and serving the church alongside one another.
  • Member Meetings: Church membership is not like a country club. It is like a family. So we have regular family meetings where we eat together, talk about what is going on in the life of our church, dream about the future, and pray for God’s continued presence, protection, and power.

Oddities

Of course, every family has its oddities. There is always a strange uncle or wayward sibling, traditions that seem really meaningful to everyone in the family but ridiculous to everyone else, and a whole set of lingo that you would need classes to understand. I have no doubt that our church has these kinds of blemishes and peculiarities. Part of the reason is that we are broken people. We want to be honest, but we also want to be impressive. We want to be helpful, but we are also selfish. This is not an excuse, but rather a confession and a constant reminder of our desire to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Beyond our sin and imperfection, there is also the reality that families are just weird, but in such a wonderful way.

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