Six years ago, I sat down with a friend who had planted a couple of churches and told him that in my next season of ministry I was thinking of starting a church.
“What will your church be about?” He said.
“What I want to do is build a church focused on developing deeply surrendered disciples of Jesus.” I was glad he asked.
“The trouble is, Jesse, I don’t really know what that is. Can you tell me what that is?”
I provided a bunch of words, a number of activities, and a heap of superlatives. But the more I talked, the more confused he looked. And I was talking with a pastor. I had to admit, what I was saying wasn’t clear to him because it wasn’t clear to me.
My friend told me, “I don’t think you can do that because you don’t really know what you want to do.”
The truth hurts. And the truth helps. A year later, still before starting LoveFirst Coast, I was able to say with much more clarity what we were going to be doing, how we were going to do it, and how we’d know if we were making progress. We have kept trying and learning. What we are about has continued to grow clearer.
Here’s the latest iteration on what we’re doing in terms of mission, strategy, and goal.
Mission: Our mission is to be a part of God’s mission. We recognize that our church doesn’t really have, doesn’t really own a mission. The mission belongs to God and God’s mission has a church. God is at work making all things new. Also, there is only so much we can do and so much only God can do. In his grace, God allows us to be a part of it! This means we have to stay close to God. We have to pray and pay attention. The mission unfolds as we walk with God. If we neglect our relationship with God and with one another, we’ll miss it.
Strategy: Our strategy is to adopt Jesus’ strategy. The strategy that Jesus focused on was to equip a small group of people, teaching them how to live like he did. The word for this is discipleship. There is much misunderstanding about discipleship. We have found Dallas Willard’s definition is very helpful. Discipleship is learning from Jesus how to live like Jesus. It’s about imitating Jesus and to help others do the same. Jesus discipled twelve guys until they could imitate him. After a season, he empowered them and authorized them to represent him and to help others to the same. They received the promise of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus sent them (and still sends them) out to do the same things they had seen him do. They were equipped and motivated to be disciples who could make more.
Putting mission and strategy together, you get this: At LoveFirst Coast we want to be a part of God’s mission by learning to imitate Christ and helping others do the same.
We also have a goal. And as both the mission and strategy belong to God so too does the goal. Most churches adopt something they want to address, like developing programs that attract young families. Their goal (usually) is to grow the church younger to keep it going. Not a bad goal. Good things happen when that’s the goal. But such a goal is just very small – worthy of a swim and racquet club, maybe, but not worthy of the church of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ goal was big and straightforward. He told his disciples that the church, his church, would prevail against the very gates of hell. Hell, Jesus implied, would be no match for the church. But we see it hanging around in our city. If you live here, you probably see it, too. And I hope you see God’s Kingdom advancing as well. Let me say a little more.
First, by hell, I’m not suggesting a fiery dungeon of punishment led by a foreboding figure with a mask and red cape. I speaking of something more in keeping with our daily experience. Hell is on display at any place, in any relationship, and in any organization where the will of God is thwarted, ignored, or discarded.
Hell seeks to negate heaven and where hell is prevailing, you see broken relationships, divorce, poverty, despair, ignorance, division, factions, distrust, violence, and fear. This is not okay with Jesus, and it’s not okay for us to ignore it, either. Where hell prevails, you see addiction, abuse, broken families, unemployment, fear, hopelessness, and crime. When hell prevails in a family, marriages get cold and bitter, parents abuse and neglect children, leaving them wounded and raising themselves, and grandparents are forgotten, left to grieve and die alone. When hell prevails in a church or neighborhood, community is lost. People get divided, suspicious, and isolated by generation, race, politics, and personal preference. When hell prevails in the halls of justice and government, cynicism, suspicion, and factions dominate. Resources get horded. Needs get neglected. The common good is supplanted by greed. When hell prevails in a city, people begin to live in fear, afraid to connect, to speak, to create, and to share. Crime grows. Neighborhoods, even whole zip codes become too dangerous to go out in alone. When hell prevails, work places become dehumanizing and fear based. Beauty is corrupted. Honor is torn down. Truth is twisted. Virtue is mocked. It’s not okay with Jesus. This is not how he wants things to go in the world he loves. When hell prevails in a heart, isolation sets in. The suffering and hardship of others is ignored, explained away, even dismissed. When hell prevails, people lose sight of the truth. They begin to disbelieve in God, or worse to believe terrible things about him. And they begin to believe terrible, false, enslaving things about themselves, about others, and about the world. Hope fades. Joy is lost. Faith shrinks. Love grows cold. When hell prevails in a church (and it happens) people can become deceived, cold, selfish, afraid, and ineffective in the battle against the gates of hell. It is not okay with Jesus that hell prevails anywhere.
And it won’t. Hell won’t prevail when and where the Church of Jesus operates in the love, grace, and power of God. And as Jesus’ Church overcomes hell’s gates, God’s Kingdom is advances. What will that look like?
Where God’s Kingdom advances, people are valued, loved, and remembered. As God’s Kingdom advances, children are loved, wanted, noticed, educated, cherished. Parents give and receive grace. Generations support and encourage one another, care for one another, serve one another in good times and bad. Grandparents are remembered and celebrated in love. Marriages are held in honor, protected, encouraged, and sustained. As God’s kingdom advances, unity breaks out and conversations are marked by kindness, grace and truth spoken in love. Racial and ethnic perspectives are valued, too. Differences are celebrated. People – all people – are valued and appreciated. Men and women work together in unity, in trust, and in purity, encouraging and protecting one another, honoring one another’s commitments, learning to live as brothers and sisters should. The differences people bring (and each of us is unique) are valued, celebrated, and appreciated. Each person’s gifts are released for service according to God’s work in their lives. In God’s Kingdom, the resources God has graciously entrusted to us are shared, wisely managed, and provide more than enough. In God’s Kingdom, work has meaning and purpose, and the workplace is a place of thriving, of provision, and of living out our callings. Work itself grows constructive, dignifying, joy-giving, more noble, and worthy. In God’s kingdom, families are places where family members are celebrated and built up. It is where virtue is affirmed, sin is confessed, forgiveness is granted, grace abounds. It is a place for the healing of bodies, hearts, minds, souls. Moreover, it is a place of healing for families, neighborhoods, churches, cities, and the nations. As God’s Kingdom advances, faith is sustained, hope is renewed, beauty is revealed, and love grows warm. People know, each person knows, that they matter to others and matter to God.
It’s not just an idea. God’s Kingdom is an advancing reality ushered in by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God, the maker of heaven and earth. If you ever pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, you’ve prayed for it: “…Your Kingdom come; Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
So that’s our goal. To phrase it directly. We want to see hell kicked out of Jacksonville and see the Kingdom of God advancing in power, here!
So let me summarize.
At LoveFirst Coast this is what were about: We want to be a part of God’s mission by learning to imitate Christ and helping others do the same until the Church of Jesus prevails and God’s Kingdom is revealed in every square inch of our city.
How about you? That line up with anything you are up to? If so, we’re rowing in the same direction!
If you want to be equipped and encouraged for your part of God’s mission here, come join us for a worship gathering. Our next one is October 7 at 6:30 pm at 320 S Buck Board, 32259.