Why doesn’t our church emphasize _____ more?

I’ve heard a dozen different variations on that question, usually from people who came from churches or listen to podcasts by churches that seem driven by a certain thing. I’ve visited many of those kinds of churches before.

  • The activity-driven church has a list of all its upcoming events in the bulletin, and you need a microscope to read it, because there are ten or twenty activities every day of the week.
  • The experience-driven church sings every song eight or ten times, and when you talk to people during greeting time, they start every other sentence with “God told me . . .”
  • The social/political-action-driven church has a table in the lobby with, depending on its political persuasion, either (1) conservative voter information guides or (2) fair-trade coffee that was hand-roasted by one-legged widows in a remote village in South America.
  • The counseling-driven church has a rack on the wall advertising recovery groups for caffeine addiction and every other dependency under the sun.
  • The family-driven church has entire rows taken up by families with five or six kids since there are no children’s programs that might split families apart.
  • The Bible-driven church hands you a bulletin as thick as your thumb, containing the pastor’s seven-page sermon outline (plus fourteen pages of footnotes).

Many of those things are attractive to us because they emphasize an implication of the gospel. God calls us to study his Word, to experience him through worship and prayer, to shepherd our families, and to influence our culture.

The problem comes when we reduce the gospel to any of these things. Then our church becomes the family-worship church down the street from the social-justice church, rather than simply being a gospel church.

As Bryan Chapell has summarized the epic story of the gospel, “God has fulfilled his promise to send a Savior to rescue broken people, restore creation’s glory, and rule over all with compassion and justice.” That means the gospel isn’t just a visa stamp on your passport to show the immigration officer when you get to heaven. It shapes every aspect of life and ministry now: “The gospel has come to you and it is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace” (Colossians 1:5-6).

Unfortunately, the gospel just isn’t enough for many Christians. We’re always trying to add something to God’s grace. Soon, the issues that drive a church (like strengthening families, pursuing social justice, or even a particular method for studying the Bible) can start to take on gospel-level importance in our minds. But as D.A. Carson says, “If the gospel is merely assumed, while relatively peripheral issues ignite our passion, we will train a new generation to downplay the gospel and focus zeal on the periphery.”

Before we know it, the periphery can lead us to create entirely new belief systems, such as the prosperity gospel, the social gospel, the ethno-nationalist gospel, and many more “gospels” that try to complete what some people believe is lacking in Christianity.

So at Harbor Church it might always seem like we’re not emphasizing something enough (and the thing will be different for each person), but that’s so we can keep emphasizing the gospel above all.

For more about how the gospel shapes everything in life, check out The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges.