Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gospel-Centered Assimilation

Pastor Joe Thorn has an interesting concept on his blog called Gospel-Centered Assimilation.
His concept is to tie all stages and aspects of assimilation of non-believers into new Christians and on into church membership and following Jesus under the Gospel message. He lists four stages:
Gospel Encounter
The first sphere is a gospel encounter. At every event, in all our gatherings and ministries, and in even our homes as we practice hospitality, we expect visitors to encounter the gospel in word and/or deed. This is something we are completely in control of. While we cannot ensure that an individual will embrace the gospel, we can ensure the gospel is demonstrated through works of mercy, preached in our worship gatherings, seen in our parenting, fellowship and dialog with the world.

The unchurched, non-Christian and the mature believer who has walked with Christ for decades will both encounter the gospel. A gospel encounter is not dependent on a particular program, but can use them as appropriate. The point is that in every point of entry to the body (worship gathering, mercy ministry, etc.) the gospel is exalted and people are in some way confronted with it.

Gospel Experience
The second stage of assimilation for us is experiencing the gospel. This is out of our control, but is the aim of all our ministry. By gospel experience I mean people are not only confronted with the gospel, but are in some way affected by it. Conviction of sin, seeking God, and eventually faith and repentance (conversion) are progressive goals. There is overlap between the gospel encounter and gospel experience, for some will have been prepared for this in advance, and some will be Christian. Therefore, some who come into our midst will encounter and experience the gospel immediately. Others will experience it later as they continue with us.

For many of our visitors, the first two stages of assimilation focus on the gospel and them as individuals and families. People are more the recipients of the gospel, rather than the servants of it.

Gospel Service
The second stage in assimilating into the church is gospel service - where people begin to see the gospel as something not just for them, but for everyone. Consequently they begin participating and serving with the church in her mission. It is our goal and expectation that everyone at Redeemer will participate in and serve both the body and the community with the gospel. At some point in this stage covenant membership is expected. How a church moves forward with membership varies greatly, but I like the idea of a class or classes to help in this aspect of assimilation.

Gospel Calling
As believers are growing in grace the church must work to help individuals identify their spiritual gift, mature as followers of Christ, be able to reproduce themselves via discipleship, lead in whatever capacity God has equipped them, and determine what God has called them to (in church life, family, vocation, etc.).
I like Joe's thinking - and also his cool hand-drawn diagrams! This post ties to his earlier one on his Full Church Paradigm ( again with a diagram!) which I wrote about here.

It's about time we all realized that the message of the cross is not just how we get into the Kingdom but where and how we live in the Kingdom. The church is the community of the Cross. The Gospel of the Cross is not just a bridge we cross over but a bridge between heaven and earth where we live.