The Gospel changes everything; starting inside and flowing out.
It is the good news of Christ’s finished work that transforms how we think, feel, and live. This “Living Word” promises to redeem, renew, and reconcile not only hearts, but lives, communities, and cultures. As God the Father sent His Son, Jesus then invites and sends us, a broken and imperfect people, to join Him as He restores, redeems, and reconciles every part of creation & culture. While only He consummates the process, we must act in faith, with our eyes upward and our trajectory outward, into our neighborhoods, communities, nation and world, armed with both word and deed that reflect the life and light of Christ, bringing glory to God our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). As the Holy Spirit works through and outside of us, He promises to simultaneously be working in us, growing us in grace and intimacy with our Savior.
The local church has a responsibility to impact culture in a manner that reflects the character of God and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Refresh Community Church vision points to a future where not only are our heart refreshed, our relationships renewed and our lives rebuilt, but our COMMUNITIES are RESTORED. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are commissioned beyond the local church context to proceed as a sent people, for His own possession (John 20:21, Isaiah 6:8, 1 Peter 2:9), called to be “streams of living water” wherever we go (John 7:38).
We want to be a church that is sent and sends others out into the world to be “streams of living water”, bringing blessing to the relationships and places of which we are a part.
What must we do?
Gospel Proclamation, Justice and Mercy, and Cultivation and Creation are all necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbor, and our obedience to Jesus Christ and are integral aspects of our faith in Him.
Gospel Proclamation, or evangelism, is the communication of the Gospel (the good news of the cosmic victory of God’s salvation, accomplished through the life and work of Christ) with an aim to convince the listener.
We see the foretelling of this proclamation in the Old Testament. With the election of Israel through the promises made to Abraham, God foretells that salvation for the nations will come through Israel (Genesis 12:1-3). Though Israel was called to relate to other nations through a “come and see” paradigm in which they showed the love and care of God through physical, emotional, and spiritual reconciliation, they were to explicitly proclaim the glory of God to the nations around them (Exodus 19:6). The proclamation of coming salvation is most clearly exemplified in the prophecies of Isaiah (40:9-11; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1), as he predicts the fullness of redemption for both Israel and the nations that will come through the Messiah. This understanding of “good news” is the foundation for the term “gospel” as it is used in the New Testament.
In the Gospels, Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom and the victory foretold in the Old Testament, is imminent and is coming through his fulfillment of the Messiah role. In His life, death, and resurrection He IS the good news, the proof of victory over sin, death, and hell, and the declaration of all that is to come in His consummating return. The church is given the explicit command to proclaim this good news to both Jews and Gentiles, even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ teaching denotes world evangelism as a reality that will occur between His initial coming and His future return (Matthew 24:14/Mark 13:10; Matthew 26:13/Mark 14:9).
We want to be a church who proclaims the Gospel as a rhythm of life, in ways planned and spontaneous, to our friends, families, neighbors, and the strangers we come across.
Justice and Mercy
As our knowledge and love of others grows and deepens, and we seek to discern spiritual need, we will inevitably encounter physical needs. The same love that propels us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus must then drive us to seek the physical flourishing of those we encounter.
Justice is used to describe two Hebrew words in scripture. The first, mishpat, is repeated across the Old Testament, and translates most simply into treating people equitably and giving people what they are due, whether it be protection, punishment, care, or rights (Isaiah 61:8a, Proverbs 31:8, Jeremiah 22:3, Psalm 68:4-5). The second Hebrew word used, and often accompanying mishpat, is tzadeqah, and can be described as being right with God and therefore committed to putting right all other relationships in life. This kind of justice is sometimes described as “primary” justice because if it was widely and rightly applied, it would render mishpat or “rectifying” justice unnecessary.
Ultimate justice and freedom from oppression can only be found in the gospel. Yet God calls us to live justly here on earth to “correct” oppression, and pursue justice for those who cannot do so themselves (Luke 4:18-19; Ephesians 2:14-16; Isaiah 1:16-17; John 17:23). Though we are ALL inclined to prioritize our own interest, it is the “underprivileged” and “underrepresented” that are most vulnerable to oppression and injustice, while those with social power are challenged to take the largest share of responsibility. This is because injustice negatively impacts ALL of us, not ONLY the oppressed. (Zechariah 7:10, Luke 12:48b, Proverb 29:4 ). Scripture calls us to share God’s mercy, His special concern for those in human society who are especially vulnerable to mistreatment, both individual and systemic. As such, we are instructed to walk humbly, seek justice, correct oppression, and work to restore dignity to the marginalized until Christ’s return. Scripture specifically highlights widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor as the most vulnerable in those societies and they continue to be in ours (James 1:27, Isaiah 1:17, 1 Timothy 5:1-6, Psalm 68:5, James 2:14-17).
We want to be a church made up of people who do justice as an ethic of life; who live in right relationships with their neighbors, but also seek to make wrong things right for those who have been oppressed, abused, and marginalized.
Cultivation and Creativity
A desire for the holistic flourishing of individuals and communities should also motivate our desires to steward well our world, as well as the gifts and talents we possess that can make it better. Culture can be defined as what people make of the world. God is both a Creator and a Cultivator. In His creation, we see His particular value for uniqueness, diversity, and beauty. Yet the care, precision, and interdependence with which He formed and placed each part of creation highlights His value for order. Daily He cultivates our world, tending and nourishing what is good and weeding out what brings harm.
In Genesis 1, God gave Adam dominion over the earth and invited him to participate in both the cultivation and creativity that would continue to point to the splendor of the One whose image we bear. Followers of Jesus must seek to be image-bearers in this respect as well, mirroring the Father’s intentions. When we are attentive to where we are, what is there, and what we bring, our posture toward our “work” can be purposeful. We are invited to tend and nourish what is best in our culture, approaching the world not as consumers or even as custodians, but as those who have something worthwhile to contribute. Our ability to be creative and to cultivate, using our gifts and talents, are evidence of His kindness and example. When we make something of the world He gave us, we participate in His redeeming work and bring God glory.
We want to be a church who promotes and encourages cultivation and creation as a posture toward our gifts, talents, and work. We want to be a community made up of people whose joy in their “work” is palpable and contagious and who intentionally seek to make much of what they have been given.
We want to be a church that desperately longs for the flourishing of all those who bear the image of God and the restoration of the world where we dwell.
Where must we go?
We must first go where we already are. God sent Jesus to be born into a context, a culture and among a people. His ministry began there. God, in His sovereignty, also placed us into a context--a family, a neighborhood, a workplace. This is our inaugural mission field. This is the culture we must learn to engage first, in large part because these are the places in which we spend the most time. Here we have the greatest opportunities to build relationships, identify and meet needs, and live lives that can be observed over time.
We want to be a church that disciples people toward intentional investment where they are.
As the Holy Spirit stirs and grows our passions for the people and place where we are, they should overflow and expand to contexts beyond our immediate surroundings; often first to contexts just outside of our own, and further outward over time, and sometimes in reverse order. God invites us to a broader view of His kingdom by repeatedly reminding us to make Him known in our cities, regions, and ultimately to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). As followers of Jesus, we are each invited and called to participate in restorative work, both near and far. This means not only considering our connection to our immediate context but also identifying and cultivating kingdom interdependence, from neighborhoods to nations, as together, we pursue salvation and flourishing for all who bear His image.
We want to be a church made up of disciples whose love for their contexts overflows into a love for those beyond it, seeing themselves as participants in God’s global mission.
How must we go?
As we join God in His work of restoring, we must follow Christ’s example of ongoing communication with the Father. Entering into the brokenness, hardship, injustice, and spiritual blindness of others and of our culture can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis. We must draw our hope and strength from the one who has already overcome the world (John 16:33). As we seek Scriptural guidance for wisdom and frameworks for bringing healing to brokenness, our prayers will be more aligned with God’s plan for redemption, restoration and reconciliation. If we are not committed to intentional prayer, our own preferences and comfort will guide our engagement of culture rather than God’s design for human flourishing (1 Chronicles 16:11, Proverbs 3:5-6, Colossians 4:2).
We want to be a church who devotes ourselves to intentional prayer and prioritizes prayer as our most powerful resource in engaging culture.
In His earthly ministry, Jesus drew near to those in proximity to him and cultivated a love for them that included a knowledge of both the individuals with which He was in relationship, but also the place of which He was a part. He drew near, and continues to draw near, in intimacy, with His beloved. In order to effectively Engage Culture, love must be the antecedent and the impetus; Not a general and generic love, but one specific to a people and/or a place, that drives us into deep relationships that overflow and impact how we see understand God and how we engage with the world around us.
We want to be a church that possesses and demonstrates a genuine love for the people and place to which He has called us.
With Contextual Accuracy
Loving a people and place requires study of it, seeking to know and understand its complexities, past, present, hopes, fears, beliefs and objections. In Acts 17, Paul relentlessly studies the cultural context of Athens. He studies their way of life in an effort to better understand the people to which he’s been called. In seeking to know them, he looks at their behaviors but also beyond them to compassionately investigate their motivations, their deepest longings, and their most pertinent questions. When we participate in this cultural exegesis, we are better equipped to identify both the beauty and the brokenness before us and respond in Gospel-centered and contextualized ways.
We want to be a church that encourages ongoing learning about the people and the contexts to which God has called us.
With Cultural Humility and Repentance
As we pursue understanding of contexts and cultures not our own, our aim should be that of humility rather than competency (Philippians 2:3-5). Even in an effort to better understand people and environments outside ours, we must actively resist the urge to feel and behave as if we have arrived at cultural understanding. Rather, we must see cultural humility as a permanent posture beginning with self-evaluation, examination and the recognition that even with the very best intentions, the impact of our own cultures is pervasive and sometimes even hurtful to others.
We must enter contexts having considered that our history is ripe with patterns of both systemic and individual sins against one another. These sins have left a legacy of pain, anger, distrust, guilt, and shame, particularly in the Church. These consequences have resulted in a compromised witness to the unbelieving world. It is impossible to predict all of the ways that these sins and pains have created barriers in the relationships we want to pursue. Yet, considering this will help to curb our assumptions, make us more slow to speak and quick to listen.
These reflections and interactions should lead us to identify and repent of our implicit biases, blind spots and overt prejudices toward fellow image bearers. They should also lead us to repent of our sins of unforgiveness and vengeance toward those fellow image bearers who have sinned against us. Scripture convicts that reconciliation with members in the body of Christ must be a priority, even before we seek to worship and participate in religious practices (Matthew 5:21-25, Hosea 6:6, Matthew 6:6, Matthew 12:7). Willingness to confess, admit wrong, and acknowledge the hurt we have caused to both God and our fellow man is a priority to God (Proverbs 28:13, James 5:16). Reconciliation must also be sought with a posture of humility and a motivation of love rather than vengeance or obligation. (Proverbs 10:12, Galatians 6:1-5, and Ephesians 4:1-3, 25, 29-31). This two-way transaction is a process whereby the offender humbly admits wrongdoing and seeks forgiveness and the offended releases their right to seek ultimate punishment for the one who has sinned against them.
Exposure to other cultures can be a means of God’s grace in our lives, for as we interact with more of His image bearers we can better understand them, ourselves and most importantly, the character of God Himself.
We want to be a church that enters into the cultures of others with curiosity and humility, never behaving or responding as if our learning is complete. Rather, we want to regularly examine ourselves, consider and repent of the unconscious and conscious sins we bring to every context.
With Others and “the Other”
By God’s design, this work is as much about our own ongoing sanctification and spiritual growth as it is about those with which we are engaging. Therefore intentional inclusion of others in the body of Christ and more specifically, in the local body of believers, will result in better and broader outcomes than anything we can do as individuals (Ephesians 4:15-16). While it is not always easier to include those who are different than we are, the diversity of our personalities, experiences, cultures, and perspectives will enrich our experiences and likely, our effectiveness.
By nature, we are partial to our own comfort, interests and preferences and prone to conflict with those who are different from us (Romans 3: 23, 24, James 4:1-2, Deuteronomy 16:19). So while we may desire for our community to reflect the diversity of the kingdom of Heaven, our natural tendencies tempt us toward the sins of exclusivity and selfishness. These predispositions and preferences tempt us to commune with those that are most like ourselves and exclude those whose differences make us uncomfortable. However, we believe that because of the person and work of Jesus, people from all groups have been ransomed and redeemed by the power of the Gospel (Galatians 3:28, Revelation 5:9) Diversity, in this case, becomes not only an end, but rather, a means by which we celebrate the most beautiful part of God’s creation. It is a platform from which we connect with the people dwelling in the communities surrounding our local church. At its core, diversity is one means by which we demonstrate to the world the redeeming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We want to be a church in which collective efforts to engage culture are prioritized and preferred to individual ones, but out of which individual relationships are formed.
We want to be a church that intentionally pursues diversity of giftedness, background, and perspective in every context. We want to be a church that intentionally pursues diverse inclusion, where people of many racial, cultural, and socioeconomic groups experience authentic relationships, empowered participation, leadership, and a true sense of belonging.
With Affirmation and Confrontation
When we begin to look more closely at the contexts to which God has called us, we must ask the Holy Spirit to train our eyes to see individuals and cultures as He does and to respond out of that wisdom. Because God’s law is written on the hearts of each individual (Romans 2:14-15) even while we are all marred by sin, each human being and thus, every human culture, contains both elements that need to be affirmed and others that must be confronted. Each “is an extremely complex mixture of brilliant truth, marred half-truths, and over resistance to the truth. Every culture will have some idolatrous discourse within it. And yet every culture will have some witness to God’s truth in it” (Tim Keller, Loving the City, p.51). Therefore we should actively recognize, celebrate, and affirm the beauty, insights, and expressions that are reflections of their Creator, God, in every context we enter. Simultaneously we must actively recognize, grieve, and be willing to confront the specific distortions of the Gospel that are an impediment to their true flourishing.
We want to be a church whose stance toward culture is one of palpable enjoyment and wise dissent.