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How We Engage With the Gospel

Plural Leadership, Radical Hospitality, and Thoughtful Mission

A talk given by Zach Carter at Redeemer's "Third Sunday" Interest Meeting, June 18, 2023.
⏱ 17 min. read

This is part three in a series of presentations on our nine core convictions. You can read about our convictions on worship here. And you can read our convictions about discipleship here.

What Even Are Convictions?

What are these convictions? Let me start be telling you what they are not:

  • Convictions are different from beliefs in that they do not regulate what we do what do.
  • Convictions are different from values in that they do not influence why we do what we do.
  • Our convictions tell us how we will do what we want to do.

In other words, these nine convictions are like the bumpers on a bowling lane. If our aim is to magnify the sovereign grace and glory of God, these convictions keep our best shots from being wasted in the gutter.

Plural Leadership

One of the horrifying podcasts that Morgan and I have listened to recently has been “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” I’ve listened to the fall episodes a couple of times now and am listening through the whole thing.

If you aren’t familiar, it is a podcast about a church in the Seattle area that has a dream to have fifty campuses and over fifty-thousand people gathered on Sundays. It starts as a plant in the late 90s from Antioch Bible Church, grows the platform of its senior pastor, Mark Driscoll astronomically, and then, it evaporates in 2014 because the elders have to hold Driscoll accountable for his pattern of belligerency and spiritual abuse.

One of Mike Cosper’s had a clear diagnosis of the problem at Mars Hill. They ultimately believed that the success of a church rises and falls upon one leader’s communication style, leadership insights, or strategic vision. But, one man does not build the church.

Plural leadership is the conviction that Jesus Christ designed his church to submit to Him via his Word correctly taught, judged, and applied by qualified men.

Let’s reflect on Acts 20:17-38:

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” 36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

Here, Paul gives his final words to the elders (plural) at Ephesus. What did Paul command these elders to do?

  • Imitate his pattern of never shrinking back from “declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
  • Pay careful attention to their lives and care for the lives of the Ephesians, who God “obtained by his own blood.”
  • Be alert for the wolves who will speak twisted things to draw disciples away from the truth.
  • Pray earnestly for the people God has put under your charge.

The Bible assumes plural leadership at every turn.

Paul tells Titus that appointing qualified men is why he was in Crete. “5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—”

Outside of the Biblical witness, there are practical reasons too. These are from Dever and Alexander’s How to Build a Healthy Church:

  1. Balance of pastoral weakness.
  2. Diffuses congregational criticism.
  3. Adds pastoral wisdom
  4. Indigenizes leadership among the congregation—i.e., reminds the congregation that the church will be okay if something awful happened to the pastor.
  5. Enables corrective discipline
  6. Diffuses “us vs. him”
But the leadership of elders is complimented by the leadership of the congregation! My friend Sam Emadi calls congregational authority a “holy handbrake.” Jesus Christ made you all priests of God as well, able to search the Scriptures and discern biblical leadership from false or disordered leadership (Acts 17:10-15). Each of you will give an account one day how you too stewarded Christ’s church. 

Practically, this means that the congregation has a few key authorities and responsibilities in the life of Redeemer. We’ll have quarterly members meeting, where the congregation will hear the resolutions of the elders, receive new members, and encourage one another in good works. The specific details of our members’ meetings are covered in our by-laws, which we’ll cover at a future date.


Radical Hospitality

I’ve talked about this before, but America has a loneliness epidemic. According to the Surgeon General, it is one of the greatest health risks posed to Americans.

  • Loneliness has the same disastrous effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Loneliness has the same effect as six alcoholic drinks a day.

The USSG office is asking community leaders to address this issue, but in general, most cannot respond for a variety of reasons.

The Church of Jesus Christ alone seems positioned to respond to the crisis because a church is the one community where you get in based on someone else’s performance and you inherit a family because He said so.

This hits right at the distinctions we were drawing back in March. We have to reject the temptation to be a gospel-plus community and embrace our opportunity to be gospel-revealing community.

Radical hospitality is the conviction that God created our community to reveal his generous love.

You have heard this verse now a dozen times, but Jesus says: “35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Here in John 13, he is not talking about some universal brotherhood of man to which we owe love. Instead, Jesus is looking at his disciples and saying there has to be a love about you and between you that is the proof of the gospel-revealing community my atonement accomplishes.


What does this mean practically?

It means then that we know that people won’t hear us unless they feel our love. And they won’t feel our love unless they are invited into the spaces where that greater story has its greatest impact: our backyards, kitchen counter, and living room couch. It is in these spaces that people will hear the greatest story that leads to human flourishing: that God became man to bring humanity into his abundant life.

Let me tell you an interesting fact from church history, that from the beginning, Christians were first and foremost a hospitable people.

This is not simply because the earliest associations took place within homes (Cf., Acts 16:40 “40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.”). In fact, by the second century, Christians were not predominately worshiping in homes. In fact, they so often gathered in catacombs that some Romans believed Christianity to be a burial society. Roman critic Celsus assumed so because Christians worshiped in catacombs and they believed their God had died and come back to life. 

Instead, the Romans found Christian religion suspect because it took place around a meal, focused on moral teaching, and like Celsus wrote, their worship was not directly related to matters of the state. Celsus thought Christianity was a direct threat to Rome, the kingdom of the world. See, the Romans were religiously tolerant provided the religion did not undermine the state’s use of religion. Even Celsus was religiously tolerant. His problem with Christianity was not that it had different beliefs. No, his problem was that it “severed the bond between religion and a ‘nation’ or a people.” That is, by making Jesus Lord of all, there were no rank, class, or ethnic divisions, which he believed would upend Roman social order. Christians would collapse the pagan order by making Jesus greater than Caesar in their worship.

Why? All because they invited everyone who wished to observe them sharing their meals and see their shared devotion to Jesus Christ. Yet, not everyone could join their associations. Christians were remarkably exclusive—repentance and baptism were required to join, but anyone who wanted to observe their love for one another was welcome to do so.

So, what is the prescription for our current public religion? Only one which again upends a social order by living the holy, independent and alternative lifestyle of self-sacrificing hospitality. It will again collapse the pagan order by showing Jesus alone is Lord.

Thoughtful Mission

Thoughtful mission is the conviction that we will have to craft opportunities to evangelize our neighbors because they will likely no longer wander into our gatherings.


Personal Evangelism

Ultimately, the mission of Redeemer will be accomplished through the personal evangelism of its individual members. The mission of the church is accomplished through your discipling relationships between your friends and your family. 

But, how does the Redeemer involve itself?

On the first part, when your non-Christian friends come to Redeemer they will hear and see the gospel in our preaching and the ordinances. On the second part, Redeemer will train members to share the gospel in our equip classes and facilitate ministries the both share the gospel and introduce the church to your neighbors. Redeemer will also organize evangelistic bible studies at our Big Three: downtown, Research Park, and the Arsenal.


For Huntsville

In Jeremiah 29:7, God commands his point to “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Here is an area we hope to develop in the coming years. But in the short-term, how can Redeemer expand its influence in the city?

By encouraging faith+work initiatives and civic engagement.

  • Begin whole-life discipleship that addresses job training, vocation celebrating, etc. work.
  • Commissioning services for teachers, nurses, doctors, plumbers, soldiers, etc. who are exercising their gifts in service to the kingdom as well.
  • Encourage members to seek political office to seek the good of the city, sit on local boards to ensure flourishing neighborhoods, etc.
  • Have mentorship programs for people who need help getting jobs, etc.

This ensures that our neighbors know us and we are making a positive impact in the place God has called us to at this very moment in history. We are incarnate in Huntsville for such a time as this.


Domestic and International Church Planting

Until roughly a century ago, church planting and “missions” were synonymous.

At Redeemer, we currently earmark around 10% of our annual budget for missions and have our application in for a network for church planting. For international church planting, we are exploring how the church planting networks will fund missionaries who are committed to planting healthy churches internationally.

Redeemer is also a part of a local network of churches in north Alabama called the Healthy Church Collective.

But how do we have this culture bubbling over?

  • Double-down on intense discipleship, really lean into our covenant membership to call people to become disciples who make disciples.
  • Institute an elder training program that would identify interested men to serve as elders at Redeemer.

This ensures that we always have young men who are eager to move on to plant more churches. We need to send planters with qualified elders and equipped members for maximal impact.

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Mark Dever & Paul Alexander, How to Build A Healthy Church: A Practical Guide for Deliberate Leadership, 2nd ed. (Crossway, 2021).

Robert Louis Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 2nd ed. (1984; Yale University Press, 2003).

Additionally, the nine priorities are inspired in part and partially adapted from River City Baptist Church, “Priorities,”

Photo by pure julia on Unsplash

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