A gospel-saturated church is a church that soaks in the Scriptures and is saturated with the gospel. The gospel message penetrates down deep into the church, like a marinade that flavors and tenderizes a piece of meat. A gospel-saturated church then takes the gospel into its culture.
A gospel-saturated congregation proclaims that Jesus is Lord. The fundamental claim of Christianity is summed up by Paul in Romans 11:36. “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Of course, the “him” is Jesus, and the radical nature of such a statement cannot be overemphasized. As Alan Hirsch says well, proclaiming that Jesus is comprehensively Lord, the one who reigns over every area of everything, touches “the epicenter of the biblical consciousness of God to which we must return if we are to renew the church in our day.”
A gospel-saturated congregation distills Christian life to a simple form: Jesus is Lord over every area of individual and corporate life. In other words, there is no safe haven from the scandalous invasion of Christ on any and every other claim to a Christian’s loyalty. Not only does the radical claim of Jesus’ lordship shape the theology, life, and practice of the church, but its simplicity makes it easy to pass on.
A gospel-saturated congregation knows itself, and therefore it knows how to enter into culture without losing its Christian distinctiveness. By telling, retelling, and rehearsing the true story of human longing and fulfillment found only in the gospel, followers of Jesus know their true identity in Christ and are able to interpret the prevailing cultural ethic, ideas, philosophies, art, and stories in light of the gospel. Therefore, modern-day missionaries maintain appropriate moral boundaries within culture because they view prevailing cultural values with healthy skepticism. Good missionaries see how cultural values serve merely to point people toward the ultimate fulfillment and purpose that is only found in Christ.
A gospel-saturated congregation knows its neighborhood. It knows how the people they are trying to reach define “good news.” They ask questions like:
- What are the dominant values of this neighborhood and how does the gospel redeem or reject these values?
- What are the “third places” in my neighborhood where people gather for community and conversation?
- What are the unique political, zoning, educational, and commercial concerns of the people in my neighborhood?
A gospel-saturated church is a church that exists not for itself but for its city, neighborhood, and block. In fact, the whole point of contextualization is to determine how the folks in a given context might most naturally understand and receive the gospel. Contextualization is an inherently “other-centered” exercise because it forces a missionary to consider those outside the church in order to provide a welcoming environment for them inside the church. A church for its city must continuously assess whether it is accounting for the uniqueness and eccentricities of its neighborhoods as it seeks to minister to it.
A church for its city contextualizes the gospel to those they want to reach, even if the target group is not yet represented within the congregation. It’s what I call the “Field of Dreams Principle:” If you preach it, they will come.” In other words, if you preach as if there are non-Christians in your seats, soon there will be. If you preach as if there are artists or jocks or young parents or movie buffs in your church, there soon will be. This is the beauty of preaching the pure gospel. It is always for the benefit of believers and nonbelievers. If Christians are to grow, they need to hear and apply the gospel. If those far from God are to be brought near, they need to hear and apply the gospel.
Churches must return, again and again, to the heart of the gospel for renewal and for empowerment in order to proclaim it confidently to the culture. A gospel-saturated church seeking the good of its city will continually return to these five principles. This is a continuous process, not simply a one-time event. A church that fails to reflect on these key questions will eventually move away from the gospel and begin following a cultural agenda or the personal agenda of its leaders. Either way, they will have lost the heart of God’s agenda—gospel truth delivered to the culture through the church, in a way that leads to transformation and renewal.
This is an excerpt adapted from Matt Carter and Darrin Patrick’s book, For The City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel.
Matt Carter is the senior pastor of Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, one of the fastest growing churches in America. Matt currently lives in Austin with his wife, Jennifer, and his three children, John Daniel, Annie, and Samuel.
Darrin Patrick is lead pastor of Journey Church in St. Louis, Missouri, which he planted in 2002 and currently has over three thousand people and five campuses. He is also the vice president of Acts 29, a missional church-planting network. He has been married to his wife, Amie, since 1993 and has four children, Glory, Gracie, Drew, and Delainey.