Prior to launching New Life Irvine, my family and I visited many, many churches between March and September of 2011. This was a rare treat for us especially since we did not have the opportunity to visit other churches after nine years of serving at our own church! My poor wife had to basically endure my preaching all these years. Talk about perseverance of the saints!
In any case, we intentionally visited churches that represented the full gamut of the evangelical landscape. We visited mega-churches, mid-sized churches, and mini-churches. We visited traditional, not-so-traditional, conservative, and liberal churches. We visited one church that met in a conference room and another church whose children’s ministry had an aquarium the size of that conference room. For the most part, we were blessed by our visits and sometimes even puzzled. I’ll never forget the life-sized Optimus Prime and Bumble Bee that walked on stage in order to promote their children’s ministry. Suffice it to say, we got a chance to taste a little bit of everything here in Orange County.
Helen and I would often assess what we saw, mainly focusing on the positives. Certain churches had an amazing children’s ministry. Others had an awesome music ministry. Some impressed us with their warm and friendly reception, while others inspired us with their commitment to social justice. Each church had its unique strengths and emphases.
This caused me to ask, “What kind of church do I want New Life Irvine to be known for? What kind of reputation do I want us to have?” Then I remembered what one of my heroes, D. A. Carson, once shared at a conference:
If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again.
He reminds us that what people tend to walk away with is what you are most excited, enthusiastic, and passionate about. That is, how you teach makes more of an impression than what you teach. Over the course of many years, I will be addressing a wide range of different topics and subjects. But what people will remember, what will stay with them, is what I am most passionate about.
As a church, God has tasked us with many responsibilities. We hope to have soul-stirring, God-exalting times of praise. We hope to have a thriving children’s ministry (New Life Sprouts). We hope to experience genuine, authentic community as a family of God. We hope to constantly look for ways to build bridges with the non-believing community. We hope to serve and show compassion to the needy and the under-privileged. These are all biblical mandates we hope to pursue with excellence.
But it is my prayer that we will not be known for any of these things. It is my prayer that we will not be known for our great praise, preaching, children’s program, or missions program. Rather, it is my prayer that our church will be known for one thing and one thing only: our passion and love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want New Life to be known for its grasp and consequent joy of the Gospel. That would be the highest compliment.
If the Gospel is our greatest joy and passion, then everything else will follow. The more we grasp the Gospel, the louder our singing will be. The more we grasp the Gospel, the more authentic and genuine our fellowship will be. The more we grasp the Gospel, the greater our compassion for the lost will be. If we keep first things first, if we root ourselves in the rich soil of the Gospel, then the fruits of our church will naturally grow.
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