The following is a guest post by Daniel Darling, Christian author and pastor.
One of the most destructive myths in our families and our churches is the false idea that we, mere sinful fallen humans, can by our own effort manufacture disciples of Jesus. We see this idea refuted clearly articulated at the very beginning of John’s gospel, where the aging Apostle writes that spiritual life comes, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
Humans cannot produce spiritual maturity; this is solely the job of the Holy Spirit as He applies the Word of God to the hearts of people.
So the job of a parent, a pastor, or anyone tasked with discipleship is to be faithful and create a culture where faith can grow. Here are three keys to a healthy, authentic gospel greenhouse — the keys to creating authentic faith communities:
1) Celebrate, Emphasize, and Reward Expressions of the Gospel. What we celebrate is what we worship. What we worship is what we believe. It’s that simple. And quite often in our families and homes, our preferences, distinctives, and methodologies become the thing that drives us. These are important, but they can never eclipse, in worship and emphasis, the good news of the gospel. Preferences change. Distinctives shift. Methodologies become outdated. But the news that God has revealed Himself through the Person of Jesus and has delivered salvation to His people? This must always be what we are most passionate about. This is the only thing that is contagious from generation to generation. Here’s the thing, though. For the gospel to permeate your culture, it has to be more than simply your statement of faith. Most Christian organizations and churches would easily sign on to Christian orthodoxy. But what is the thing that, for lack of a better term, “gets them up in the morning?” What angers them? What expressions receive rewards? Is it anything to do with the gospel? If not, like the Ephesus church, we’ve lost our first love.
2) Embed Repentance and Forgiveness in the Culture. To live out the gospel, to make it visible daily, repentance and forgiveness must be at the center of the organization’s DNA. This means the leaders with the most authority must regularly admit their failings, repent, and seek forgiveness. They must also be quick to dispense grace and offer forgiveness. When leaders model repentance and forgiveness, they demonstrate the their followers that they, too, are sinners desperate for God’s mercy. Too often, Christian organizations are so fixed to the leader’s vision that the leader is set up as someone who doesn’t fail. But human relationships require the wash cycle of repentance and forgiveness. Even the best of us fail and need grace. Leaders who have the courage to apologize when wrong and forgive when wronged don’t lose respect. They gain it in bucketfuls. Humility empowers leaders at all levels, from parents to pastors. This is the secret sauce to establishing cultural unity.
3) Prioritize Relationships over Rules. Rules in a family and in an organization are essential. God Himself is a God of order. Jesus fulfilled all the tenets of the Old Testament law. And God has empowered leaders at all levels with the authority to establish rules. But our rules must never be more important than our relationships. For instance, a parent of a teenager must not be so fixed on making a point with his teenager that he’s willing to damage the relationship. He must not love his point more than he loves his kid. Healthy cultures have sensible rules and guidelines, but are places of refuge and grace. It’s the same in our churches and small groups and other places of community. A humble, Christ-centered leader is able to establish his authority, communicate his vision, and still allow for disagreement, failure, and humanity. God isn’t simply a God who pronounces moral absolutes. He’s a God who visits His people, intercedes for them, and ultimately invites them into a lifelong relationship. Gospel cultures model this.
Daniel Darling is a pastor, author, and speaker. He currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church. Daniel is the author of several books, including iFaith and Real, Owning Your Christian Faith. His work is a regular contributor to several evangelical publications and blogs regularly at danieldarling.com. He and his wife, Angela, have four children and live in the Chicago suburbs.