Clarifying a church vision is like carving a statue. You start with a huge block of stone and cut away all that doesn't belong to the final product. You trim away the excess, anything that prevents the statue from having all the lines and clarity you want. Finally, the statue is left, much smaller than the original block, but communicating much more at the same time.
Two years ago the elders began the process of carving out our church vision. We identified the key elements, but never quite chiseled it to the essentials. We think we have done that now. Here it is:
Loving God, Loving One Another, Loving Our Neighbor
What is it we want to be about at Sovereign Grace Church? Loving God, Loving One Another, Loving our Neighbor. This is what we want every ministry, meeting, and event to do. This captures for us the three sides of the Christian life—God, the church, and the lost (those outside the church). It also brings to mind the centrality of love in each of these areas. Remember, Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God, the second is to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39), and the "new commandment" in the church is "love one another" (John 13:34; cf. 1 John 3:11; 4:7; etc.).
Now let's look briefly at each part of the vision statement.
"Loving God" speaks to our worship and our growth in discipleship, both of which have God as their focus and inspiration. In our love for God we want to glorify him above all things, and worship is central to this (1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Peter 2:9-10). Further, in our love for God, we want to obey him and become like him (Matt. 28:20; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:1-2). Thus, the Christian life is to be one of ongoing growth in discipleship, something that happens gradually over a long period of time. Putting sin to death and walking in obedience do not happen overnight, but instead through a life of progressive sanctification. All of this expresses a love for God.
Loving One Another
"Loving One Another" points to our corporate life together. Church members are, for us, the "one another's" of the New Testament: "love one another" (1 John 4:7), "serve one another" (Gal. 5:3), "build up one another" (1 Thess. 5:11), and "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2). Our love for one another means we have affection for one another, we are committed to one another, we are living life together, and we are using our God-given gifts to serve others in our church. Our home groups and many of our ministry teams fit into this part of our vision.
Loving Our Neighbor
"Loving Our Neighbor" captures our engagement with those outside the church. Jesus explained what it means to love our neighbor by pointing to the Good Samaritan who cared for someone in great need who came into his life unexpectedly (Luke 10:25-37). Through service and evangelism we want to express God's love to the world around us. This starts right where we are—the co-workers, friends, relatives, and literal neighbors God has given to us. But this means we are committed to the neighbors we don't even know by church planting locally, nationally, and internationally as God allows (we planted Redeeming Grace Church in Durham in 2011). We believe God has not called us to be a mega-church, but to be a church-planting church (setting aside for a minute that we could never be a mega-church!).
Our church's focus on "every-member ministry" is essential to accomplishing this vision. We started using this phrase a year ago to capture the idea that every Christian is uniquely gifted by God and is to be equipped to minister in that gifting (Eph. 4:7-12). Growth in the fruitful use of our gifts is part of our discipleship (love for God), how we can love one another in the church, and how we touch those outside the church (especially if our gifts include evangelism and mercy).
Finally, we love God, love one another, and love our neighbors for the glory of God, whose name is greater than any name, whose purposes encompass all things, and whose gospel provides the only hope for humanity. God help us to be a people that reflects his glory in the midst of the darkness, death, and decay around us. God help us to love him, love one another, and love our neighbors.