A gospel-centered community is a group of people that love to include Jesus in everything they do. It never feels forced, but a meal with friends often drifts towards conversation about the person and life of Jesus. If community can be characterized by anything it will be characterized by who Jesus is and what he has done for us. His life, work, and character is woven into the language and practice of every authentic expression of community. The good news of Jesus is what makes the community, builds it, and motivates it.

There are many signs that a community is built on the foundation of the gospel. As we labored to start multiple communities in Portland, the healthy and thriving ones always have these characteristics and qualities. These are not seven easy steps or a how-to. In fact, the “how to” is to make the gospel central and to pray in dependance for God to do his work. These are the consistent elements I see expressed when communities are established in the gospel. They are also the seven elements that war against our own selfish desires for independence.

1. GENEROUS HOSPITALITY.

In Matthew 25 Jesus describes his spirit of hospitality.  “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”  Authentic community involves lots of food! It involves taking the time and space to incorporate others in your life. This is often found at the kitchen table and this is nothing new. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was almost always on his way to a meal, coming from a meal, or at a meal. Authentic communities are regularly sharing meals with one another and those outside the community. Their generous hospitality is noticeable from the outside and others desire it.

2. A PEOPLE WHERE INFLUENCE IS EARNED BY SERVING.

You know you have found gospel-centered community when you find selfless giving and constant blessing toward each other and those outside the church. Jesus told us the world will know us by our “love for one another.” It’s true. When Jesus is the center, community is characterized by humble service to Jesus as Lord and King.

3. ACCOUNTABLE AND REPENTANT

Community will bring everything into the light. By that I mean, we are honest with who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. It means the community will not let us live a lie or false identity. The Scriptures, truth of the gospel, and the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin and unbelief in gracious and merciful ways. In repentance, communities return to the gospel and are reminded of their identity in Christ.

4. LED BY QUALIFIED LEADERS

Christian community has leadership. The leaders carry the tremendous weight of caring for the believers, and equipping the body for service and mission. You will know you are in the community when the leaders are the servants among the community who are training and releasing everyone else into the world. They will be characterized by humility, hospitality, faithfulness, self-control, prayer, and belief in the gospel.

5. ON MISSION

Any expression of gospel-centered community will be on mission seeking the good of their neighborhood, nation, and globe. Make no mistake about it, the mission is making disciples. Jesus-centered community proclaims the hope and truth of the gospel to the lost and broken. The presence of Jesus Christ is the most attractive thing to the human heart – and the presence of Jesus is found in its most potent form in a group of people that love him and love each other well. This is what Jesus said in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Community grows and multiplies. Gospel-centered communities send their best people out into new areas of mission and service. However, life is added to community not subtracted. It has been like this from the very beginning. The command was to spread and be witnesses of Jesus from “Jerusalem to Samaria to Judea to the ends of the earth.” And it did. In a world without twitter, youtube, satellites, or pamphlets churches sprung up in houses and temples in three continents in only a few years. Your Jesus-centered community has the same potential and calling.

6. ACTIVE IN CULTURE

Christian community will be in the public square where goods and ideas are exchanged. Their activity will be defined by love, grace, and truth. They will have jobs, create art, and seek the good of their part of the city through justice. They will do these things not from a point of power and greed but from a point of service and empowerment by the Spirit.

7. DIVERSE

It will be made up of rich and poor, men and women, young and old, black and white, immigrant and native, married and single. You will welcome everyone and you won’t be made up of “people like me” and “at my stage of life.” Instead you embrace those who are different from you. There will be no way to describe you other than to say, “Christian Community.” Christianity is unlike any other religion, even in its inception it was completely diverse. Up to that point in history religion was connected to race, status, and origin. In fact, your outside differences will tell the story of God’s work to create you into a people.

Crater Lake

STORY OF COMMUNITY

I met Mark (name changed) at a poker game. It was a mishmash of people and he was obviously nervous to be around so many new folks. He was an introvert like me and we connected. He was going to law school and was the smartest guy in the room. The next time we hung out, he was eating dinner at my house. Our missional community was getting together for a meal and sharing stories of what God had done in our lives. He had just heard the gospel from the guy who hosted the poker game and he was beginning to make sense of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The next day we shoveled fertilizer together at the elementary school as part of a neighborhood wide clean-up project. He wanted to know how to pray to Jesus. Mark was part of our community and began spending lots of life with us. I got to baptize him a year ago. As we spend time together and grew in understanding of the gospel, he shared that he came to our city as a refugee, not as a student. He was running from home and the destructive life he had there.  As he read the parable of the prodigal son, he couldn’t help but identify with him. “I messed so much stuff up,” he would say. At the age of twelve, he gave his life to drugs. It truly stole his life. No friends, no community, and ultimately his family gave up on him. Yet, at 26, Mark was a new man in Jesus. His words to our church before he was baptized, “Before Christ I was headed no where, I didn’t have any friends and did a bunch of bad stuff. Now I have a community and a life to live.” Three months later, he took an internship at an Indian reservation in another state seven hours away. He took a stack of books and planned to finish reading the Bible (he read two thirds of it in his first months following Jesus). We prayed for him and talked as often as we could and were planning on having several of the guys in the community taking a weekend trip to hang out with him.

At 11:00 pm on the fourth of July, we got a phone call from Mark. He was in trouble and we left immediately. It was the longest seven hour drive of our lives as we tried to piece together the short and chaotic phone calls we had with Mark in the early hours of the morning. We couldn’t figure out if he was in real danger or hallucinating. There was a stretch of four hours when we heard nothing from him. As we pulled into the town we found him surrounded by three police cars in a diner parking lot. He had spent the night outside running from terrifying and accusative hallucinations. He was barefoot and his pajamas were torn to pieces. His hands and feet were scarred and bleeding. But he was alive and he recognized us. The police allowed us to take him into our care. We cleaned him up, packed his bags, cleaned up his apartment, and brought him home. The coming days and weeks were hard, but he had a community around him who gave him a place to stay, took him to the hospital, fed him, and spoke the truth of resurrection to him. We paid his debts for him and cared for his heart. Mark’s words when he was baptized were true: “Before Christ I was headed no where, I didn’t have any friends and did a bunch of bad stuff. Now I have a community and a life to live.”

LOVE FOR THE CHURCH

If you are a leader, I pray you will be known for you love of the community of God and that you will excel at pointing to God’s love for it. Don’t allow cultural expectations and the idolatry of community to take your eyes of the gospel. Keep the gospel primary and never stray from it. Pursue community that is unashamedly centered on Jesus.

This was originally posted at GospelCenteredDiscipleship.com 

Brad A. Watson serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon where he develops, coaches, and trains leaders to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is passionate about helping people live lives that reflect their belief and hope in Jesus. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their three kids.