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John Calvin, Richard Baxter and other ecumenical Protestants have rightly insisted that only a united body of Christ in each region can effectively design and carry out ministry. – Richard Lovelace
- No single church has the gifts and resources to do gospel ministry effectively to all the diverse people in one community and region
- A vision for renewal includes churches working in partnership with other churches called “networks” and “alliances”
- A vision for networks and alliances that birth “gospel renewal movements”
Just prior to his ascension to the right hand of God, the resurrected Jesus told his disciples they should soon expect to receive power from the Holy Spirit. The result would be a movement that would spread from Jerusalem to the surrounding regions, and then to the whole world.
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
The remaining chapters in the book of Acts show us how the early Christian movement spread from a local gathering of believers in Jerusalem to the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria, and throughout the world.
Likewise, our vision for renewal must include not only our local church gathering of believers, but also many churches in our nearby regions, and throughout the world. The vision is to see the world become a better place by being saturated with healthy churches through which people and societies are renewed and flourish.
This vision includes starting and developing healthy churches (church planting and renewal) that transform lives (personal renewal) and communities (community renewal) that birth gospel renewal movements. This is the heart of God’s plan to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:16-20).
History has shown that when healthy churches flourish, people and societies flourish. This is because a healthy church is the single most effective way to renew the lives of people and communities under heaven. And this is because healthy churches are the most effective method for evangelism, discipleship, and mercy ministry under heaven.
The Apostle Paul saw the new churches he planted throughout the world as kingdom outposts, through which the spreading flame of the gospel, in word and deed, would be released to make God’s invisible kingdom visible over, not only individual human hearts, but also all spheres of community life.
Paul’s vision was not only to help start and develop one church as a lone kingdom outpost in a region, but to help start and develop clusters of churches in the surrounding regions that would have a much greater kingdom impact than just one church. G. Campbell Morgan describes Paul’s vision and strategy at Ephesus:
Paul at Ephesus was making tents, conducting a great course of apologetics for Christianity, fulfilling the function of the pastor, watching over the flock, admonishing with tears and teaching from house to house; but he was also directing a great missionary enterprise to that whole region round about Ephesus.
Since no single church has the gifts and resources to do gospel ministry effectively to all the diverse people in one community and region, a vision for renewal includes churches working in partnership with other churches.
Richard Lovelace writes, “John Calvin, Richard Baxter and other ecumenical Protestants have rightly insisted that only a united body of Christ in each region can effectively design and carry out ministry.”
A vision for renewal includes a unified church in every region where local churches collaborate in gospel ministry.
In the New Testament, the word translated “church” (ekklesia) refers to a group of people who are “called out.” The word can refer to an individual church, but it most often refers to clusters of churches in cities and regions (Acts 9:31, 2 Cor 1:1).
But the problem is that most churches, especially in the Western world, neglect or oppose intentional collaboration between local churches in a community or region. The reasons include fear of theological compromise or losing church members to other churches. But most often it’s because churches don’t see how partnering with other churches would benefit their ministry.
At the end of Jesus’ life and ministry, he prayed to the Father for the oneness of all his followers. (John 17:11) After generations of church divisions and strife, there are now more than 33,000 Christian denominations in the world. The Apostles would be appalled to find the church so horribly divided.
John Frame calls this “the curse of denominationalism that defames our Lord and enfeebles our witness.” He writes, “We must first be assured that Jesus Christ established on earth one church, not many denominations. Further, the unity of the church is not merely ‘spiritual,’ but also ‘organizational.’” Lovelace describes today’s church as the “kingdom divided, a body broken, bruised and constricted at every point by tourniquets of division which cut off the flow of vital fluids.”
So we should not be surprised to learn that, despite the remarkable spread of Christianity worldwide, spiritual darkness, cultural and societal decay are reaching unprecedented levels. Even where the church is growing most rapidly (in Asia, Africa and Latin America) the results are often forms of Christianity with little or no true renewal of individuals and communities. Lovelace writes:
If we tried to run a thousand-acre farm the way the Christian church runs local mission, we would harvest only a hundred acres worth of crops, because the fields would be a hodgepodge of independent plantings and reapings.
Of course there are legitimate concerns, costs, and risks involved in intentional collaboration between local churches in a region. But we must not allow these concerns to justify our lack of vision for a united body of Christ in each community and region that can do ministry more effectively together than alone.
From a practical perspective, it can be helpful for a church to think of partnering with other churches in their community and region by forming a church network and church alliance to help birth a gospel renewal movement.
A church network is an intentional partnership between two or more local churches and ministries that share a denominational and/or theological tradition and a common kingdom vision for renewal in their city and region. The network’s purpose is to fulfill this vision by helping one another start and develop healthy churches that renew people and communities in their city and region.
Since no single network has the ability to do gospel ministry effectively in service to all the diverse people in one community and region, these networks must form a church alliance with other likeminded networks and ministries in their city and region.
A church alliance is an intentional partnership between church networks, churches, and organizations that do not necessarily share a denominational and/or theological tradition, but do share a common vision for kingdom renewal in their city and region. An alliance partnership involves mostly collaborative kingdom prayer and acts of mercy for the common good of their community and region.
When networks and alliances pray fervently for their communities and regions and serve them wholeheartedly through gospel ministries of word and deed, this is the means God normally uses to birth a widespread spiritual awakening, called a gospel renewal movement.
Churches should not only work hard to establish strong, healthy networks and alliances in their communities and regions, but also pray hard, asking God to do what only he can do by his Spirit – birth gospel renewal movements through them.
A gospel renewal movement is a supernatural work of God’s Spirit that glorifies his name and advances his kingdom through his church by the power of his gospel in word and deed. It increases philanthropy and advances all forms of mercy and justice. It makes places of work more humane and reconciliation more hopeful.
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