I know I got a chance to share some parting words during service a little over a week ago, but Michael graciously gave me the chance to write some more thoughts.
During my first church service back at my home church in LA, I realized how much I valued IGC and how much I will miss it. And while there are lots of things I appreciated about IGC, I’ll just share three thoughts according to IGC’s core values.
(1) We are gospel-driven (UP)
Luther once said that the default mode of the human heart is religion – us trying to do things to reach God. And I see this to be true in my own heart and even in so many churches and ministries that I’ve been a part of. We are tempted to put the focus squarely on us, on what we do rather than on Christ and what he has done. Christianity is about God reaching down to us and sending Christ in his condescending love for us – not primarily about what we do for him.
I love the gospel and my time at IGC has helped me to love the gospel even more. It has taught me that the gospel must drive everything that we do. Any other motive will only create pride or despair. Only love for God produced by God’s love for us can sustain joy even through hardships and toil.
This is by far the most important thing I cherish about IGC. I love how the gospel remains central to everything that we do. My prayer is that we wouldn’t stop now, but that we would continue to keep it central – not in a trite and dull kind of way, where we talk about it in a boring and mundane tone – but in a way that produces fresh zeal, sustains our hopes and joy, moves us to new affections and risky endeavors, and creates a pleasing aroma to God and the people around us.
(2) We are a new community (IN)
The importance of the local body of believers continues to surprise me. I’m often tempted to do my own thing, and be accountable to no one. And while that may sound pleasing to some, Christianity calls us to something much greater: mutual interdependence.
And while our church has our fair share of problems when it comes to living out the privilege of being part of Christ’s body, I’m grateful that we are in constant conversation about the importance of community. I’m grateful that we aren’t content with where we are at, but want to strive towards loving the social outcasts rather than gossiping about them. That we want to learn how to be open to correction and encouragement, rather than keeping ourselves walled off from the body of Christ. That we want to learn how to mentor and help each other grow, rather than keeping our conversations only worldly and shallow.
I love that about IGC. The centrality of the gospel doesn’t just happen on a pastoral or staff level, but it happens in community. It happens throughout the week in our small groups, in our Facebook postings, and in our conversations on What’s App. My prayer is that we would find it a joy to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29)
(3) We are for others (OUT)
This is another aspect of IGC that I love. I love that mercy ministry is at the forefront of what IGC is wanting to accomplish. That church is not merely about ourselves and our own comfort, but that we also exist to be a light and a voice of truth to a world that is blind and confused.
Even in how we talk about mercy ministry, the gospel must be kept at the center. So many churches and ministries talk about loving the poor and marginalized as something we do because God showed mercy on us and now we are obligated to show mercy to others. And while this is true on some level, I love that IGC doesn’t just leave it at that. Instead we say that mercy ministry is gospel reenactment. This means that we show mercy, not only because God showed us mercy, but in order to understand God’s mercy for us more deeply. As we serve and love others at some personal cost, we are shown just how much more God served and loved us and how much more it cost him in order to do so. Mercy ministry is for us as much as it is for others.
This perspective is so freeing because now we don’t have to wait. We don’t have to wait until we have some great emotional experience of God’s love (who knows when that will happen?) before we go and extend his love to others. It is in the act of extending God’s love that we experience his love. And that is my prayer for the church. That the gospel would not just be some theoretical truth that we conceptually agree with, but that we would go and live out its implications and thereby come to believe it more wholly and joyfully.
Thank you for being a church that has taught me so much in these past two years. As I go into seminary and eventually land at a church, these lessons will powerfully shape my own ministry. I only pray that you will continue running the good race for our Lord Jesus Christ!