One of the biggest tensions regarding philosophy of gathered services is the issue of breadth and depth, or who should be the priority and focus of the ministry. Obviously, everything we do should be first and foremost with a focus and passion for the honor and glory of God. But the question we are usually asking is this: “Should our gathered services be evangelistic, focusing on unbelievers, or edifying, focusing on believers?”
Yesterday, Tim Keller answered the question by referencing Martyn Lloyd’Jones by saying “both.” Keller concludes:
The lesson I eventually learned from him was—don’t preach to your congregation for spiritual growth thinking everyone there is a Christian—and don’t preach the gospel evangelistically thinking that Christians cannot grow from it. In other words—evangelize as you edify, and edify as you evangelize.
I agree with MLJ and Keller completely.
The “seeker” churches will emphasize that everything should be catered toward the lost, and the experience is often very man-centered. The more “traditional” churches will emphasize that everything should be catered toward the believer, and while it is often God-centered, much is assumed in language and experience. One of the benefits of the recovery of the gospel in local churches is how such a renewed focus corrects the tendencies of both camps.
The greatest thing an unbeliever needs to hear is the gospel. They need to be evangelized with the good news of Jesus Christ. The great thing a believer needs to hear is the gospel. They need to be edified with the good news of Jesus Christ. When there is a robust commitment to preaching Christ from all of Scriptures, unbelievers will be evangelized and believers will be edified.
On the one hand, a gospel-centered focus in gatherings corrects the seeker’s man-centered emphasis and often times watering down truth; on the other hand, it corrects the traditionalists assumptions and closed-mindedness in their planning and communication. When rightly used theological terms are used, they are careful to explain those terms in ways that children can comprehend them, not just expecting those in attendance to have a certain level of theological education. As Keller explained in his prior articles on a missional church, when you preach as if you entire neighborhood/community is there, they will eventually show up. Why? Because church members will realize that the same message they are being edified is the same message that is good for their neighbor’s evangelization.
This is particularly instructive for church planters and new church starts. There is much to reject both from seekers and traditionalists. However, there are things in both that should be appreciated. We should appreciate the heart and desire for seeker churches to reach the lost and their attempts at contextualization. Likewise,we should appreciate the heart and desire for traditional churches to strengthen believers with passion for truth and a pursuing a pure church. But as I have argued in the past, Christ is both the builder and perfecter of the church. In that article, my arguments were very similar:
For the Christian, the sanctified lifestyle and sent lifestyle go hand in hand. To pursue holiness apart from mission or to pursue mission apart from holiness is to pursue a path contrary to the way of Christ. On the one hand, too much cultural adaptation misses the call to holiness (Christ the perfecter); on the other hand, too much cultural isolation misses the call to mission (Christ the builder). The promise of Christ’s building through mission and the purchase of Christ’s bride for purity should be held together.
So what MLJ and Keller are arguing with the dual, gospel-centered emphasis of evangelization and edification is nothing short of seeing Christ fulfill His promises in church growth and church health, evangelization and edification.