Woe to us if we are going to labor in global church planting, in training leaders for the church, and in ministering to the church, without asking the question “what would an ideal church be?”
Of course there is no actual ideal church. But what are we aiming at? The impossibility of perfection must not stop the productivity of direction.
The definition of an ideal church (IC) will vary from one place to another. But, thinking of the kind of urban, 10-40 Window, context in which I live, here’s my best start.
The ideal church (IC) in this region is:
Explicitly Biblical: Based on the conviction that there is one God and he has spoken in his word, the IC submits to the authority of Scripture with explicit exegetical logic (NOT assumed validity, or proof-texting) driving every facet of the ministry philosophy, ministry vision, and ministry practice.
Gospel-Centered: The exegetical logic of the IC effects a focus on God’s plan of redemption culminating in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. The IC avoids the errors of legalism and license with gospel-centered teaching and discipleship.
Purposefully Urban: The IC embraces the opportunities and limitations presented by its urban setting. The IC looks like the city; it is as multi-cultural as its community. The IC finds ways to serve a population that is culturally and socioeconomically diverse, busy with work and other activities, and geographically dispersed around an urban center.
Internally Healthy: The IC has the characteristics of a healthy church. As summarized by Mark Dever: 1) Expositional Preaching, 2) Biblical Theology, 3) The Gospel, 4) A Biblical Understanding of Conversion, 5) A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism, 6) A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership, 7) Biblical Church Discipline, 8) A Concern for Discipleship and Growth, 9) Biblical Church Leadership.
Externally Engaged: While diligent about church health, teaching, and discipleship (see above), the IC cannot be accused of being “internally-focused.” The IC faithfully carries out the biblical mission of God’s people by walking in holiness as a faithful “light of the world,” by preaching the gospel, by evangelism, and by loving their neighbors.
Graciously Discerning: The IC is discerning with respect to the other religions and dominant idols of its host culture. It engages these teachings and confronts these idols with the truth of God’s word. Also, the IC does not embrace everything that identifies as Christian: indeed, it is vigilant to clearly warn about doctrinal error that poses threats to its people. Yet in all matters, communication shows both graciousness and gospel clarity.
Faithfully Contextualizing: The IC is not uncontextualized: it does not import a foreign church model and use it without modification. The IC does not practice “contextualization in a box,” by following a template someone else said would work in their context. The IC is not overcontextualized, by allowing the need of contextualization to move it from biblical faithfulness. Instead, the IC is always contextualizing by continually assessing ministry and communication style in light of its context, and is doing so faithfully, with explicit exegetical logic driving faithfulness to Scripture in that context.
Ministering Primarily: Many CP models are content to promote derivative ministry, in which the role of the leader is to implement tertiary structures and content designed elsewhere. This kind of ministry is easier to start but creates dependency on the source materials, enslavement to the source culture, and often under-development of character and conviction in the ministry leader. But, in contrast, an IC carries out a primary ministry in which the leadership goes directly to the primary source (i.e. Scripture), and does what is necessary to put that that ministry and its people directly under the authority of Scripture. A primary ministry can adapt to any situation and any different and changing context.
Self-Sustaining: The IC is financially independent; its ministries and any staff are financially supported by the people of the church, not by resources external to the church.
Strategically Leading: The IC is a hub church for the advance of the gospel. It actively engages other local churches, promotes healthy ministry, and propagates sound doctrine. The IC leads movements, seeking to advance the gospel in its city and its region by training men and planting churches.
There is no ideal church. But a church moving in these directions is likely to be a church making great progress in the mission of making disciples among the nations.
But I’m sure the list could grow. What else would you add?