What kind of culture will it shape if we say it that way? – Adoption and Missions
Let me provide a couple of other practical examples about maintaining a consistent Gospel accent in the routine activity of congregational life. The way we speak about what we do shapes the way the congregation thinks about the ministries and activities we are involved in as a church. In other words, the way we say it helps creates a culture surrounding it. Andy Crouch helpfully defines culture as, “what we make of the world and how we make sense of the world.” Because we desire a culture that is “in step with the Gospel” (Gal 2:14) it is not unusual for our pastors and staff to spend several hours thinking about how we will communicate a ministry and church activity to the church in terms of our Gospel-centered threefold lens. We decide on precise language and phrases we will use to speak about a ministry or activity to the congregation that will help create the Gospel culture we desire.
An example of this is how we speak to the congregation about adoption and orphan care in the church. When we began focusing on reflecting the Gospel through adoption and orphan care we did not want it to be an isolated focus of a few adoptive families in the church. We believe that all Christians have been spiritually adopted as sons by the grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:15, 23, Gal 4:5, Eph 1:5). Therefore, we believe that adoption and orphan care are a fundamental way in which all Christians reflect the Gospel and demonstrate their faith (James 1:27).
Our desire was to call the entire congregation to be involved in adoption an orphan care. Our end goal was an adoption culture in the church, which involved every member of the congregation. We decided it would be counterproductive for us to say we were beginning an adoption ministry because of the way people tend to associate that language with a particular group of people. We did not want people to segment adoption and orphan care to a select group in the congregation but rather see the church itself as the adoption and orphan care ministry. This meant that as we spoke about adoption and orphan care we would not use limiting language. We also casted a vision about adoption and orphan care that would empower all groups within the congregation to see how they fit into the adoption culture.
We decided that it would be unhelpful to what we were trying to accomplish to ever say something like, “If you are interested in adoption we will have an adoption meeting we would like for you to attend.” Rather, we say things like, “Since all believers have been adopted in Christ and we have the responsibility to reflect his love in practical ways in the world we are going to talk about ways in which everyone in our church can be involved in cultivating an adoption and orphan care culture.” God has been gracious to allow our congregation to latch onto this vision of an adoption and orphan care culture. I know children in our congregation who have opened lemonade stands so they could give the proceeds to families raising money for adoption. Senior adult ladies knit quilts for adopted children, teens take side jobs to raise money, Bible Fellowship Groups give adoption showers for families, and the congregation provides a fund for interest-free loans for adopting families. Our entire congregation helps rescue and care for orphans and a few become adoptive or fostering families.
This is the same thing we attempt to do with missions and other service that we would understand as an imperative for all believers. For instance, we would not say, “A mission team from our church went to serve among an unreached people in Cordova, Peru.” Instead, we say, “In our congregational mission to reach the unreached we have a group on the ground in Cordova, Peru right now who are serving as our hands, eyes, feet, and mouths to proclaim the Gospel there and we must do our part in this mission effort and labor for them and with them in prayer. When they return we will be excited to hear about what God did through our efforts.” We want the congregation to see the church itself as the mission ministry in which every person has a vital role in our Great Commission efforts so our language must reflect our theology. Our “out of the pulpit” proclamation is not neutral.
Our approach also leads us to officially promote fewer things as a church but pursue them in a focused and strategic way that is clearly tethered to our Gospel identity. There are countless good things believers can do and be involved in but from the standpoint of church leadership we want to congregationally focus on those things we count as most strategic to cultivate a congregational Gospel identity and accent. Therefore, we focus on those things that constitute congregational imperatives. The Gospel should certainly shape our weekly pulpit sermons but it should shape our weekly ministry as well and how we talk about it to the congregation. We must be intentional about our sermons and the sermons between the sermons as well.