Distinctives help answer the question, “What makes your church unique?” Churches, like people, have unique DNA. The beauty of the body of Christ is that there are many expressions of it. It is amazing to observe how little direction is given to the details of how “to do” church. God has not called every church to operate within the same structure and philosophy. Our distinctives help us verbalize some of our unique DNA as a church.
- DISTINCTIVE 1: EVERYTHING BEGINS IN THE FAMILY
Your church is only as strong as the ________________ that make up the church.
That blank determines a great deal of your philosophy as a church. We believe the answer to that question is “families.” A church is only as strong as their individual churches, or families. Therefore, the family is very important to God and to the church. In light of that, we want our church to pull families together, not push families apart.
That explains why we will be very intentional about building God-pursuing, truth-seeking, family-loving men to serve their wives and children as pastors. We want to call our men toward becoming, and equip them to become, great pastors in their homes (or familial church), who lead their families toward Jesus. This is why we stress men studying their Bibles and praying with their wives, because the job of pastoral care and the provision of direction and wisdom should primarily come from a loving, sacrificial husband and father. Likewise, our women are commanded by the Scriptures to live exemplary lives that produce kingdom-valued children. They are called to be good stewards of their families’ resources, talents, and time. Moreover, the Bible is clear that the primary spiritual shaping force in a child’s life is the family, not the local church (consider Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
- DISTINCTIVE 2: EVERYTHING SERVES THE MISSION
Our mission lays a grid over our church to help us make decisions. Every decision we make must serve the mission God has given us of making disciples.
The way services are structured must serve the mission. The way ministries operate must serve the mission. The way we preach and teach must serve the mission. The way we run student and children’s ministry must serve the mission. The way we do home groups must serve the mission. Everything is about the mission of making disciples.
Our goal is to have a simple and clear disciple-making strategy.
In every area of our church, we want our disciple-making strategy to be easily understood, hard to get lost in, and reflective of the hard work that is included in life-change. In a word, we strive for “simplicity.” We want to avoid clutter, confusion, and complexity. As a church, we have made a concerted effort to keep things simple. Here’s why:
Reason 1: A simple disciple-making strategy promotes spiritual maturity.
Without constant care, a church can find itself doing many good things while missing the main thing—disciple-making. We want to keep the main thing the main thing. We don’t want our time, energy, or resources to be divided. Instead, we want them invested into the few things that produce the best fruit (or spiritual maturity) within our church family. We want to be sure that everything we do fits into a clear disciple-making strategy. In summary, we want to be simple in our disciple-making strategy to be most effective in making disciples.
Reason 2: A simple disciple-making strategy promotes families.
We want to be a church that pulls families together. However, the more complex and cluttered with events our church becomes, the more likely we are to push families apart. Every event, program, or ministry requires volunteers; and volunteer time comes at the expense of family time and time to engage a lost world. In light of that, we are very cautious to add anything to the calendar that does not fit into a simple disciple-making strategy. In summary, we want to be simple in our disciple-making strategy to serve our families.
Reason 3: A simple disciple-making strategy promotes Gospel expansion.
A cluttered calendar with multiple events per week is one enemy of missional living. Every night you spend at a church event is a night you will not spend in your neighborhood and among your neighbors. The more we keep you at church events the more we prohibit our church family from befriending people who desperately need the Gospel. In summary, we want to be simple in our disciple-making strategy so we can free you to engage others during the week.
- DISTINCTIVE 3: EVERYTHING ENDS IN MULTIPLICATION
Just as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) leads individuals to multiply their lives, it also leads churches to multiply themselves, or plant other churches.
We are a church-planting church.
We help church plants on many levels, from financial assistance, to training, to sending. One way all of these aspects come together is our Church-Planting Residency Program. Stonegate’s Residency Program provides future church planters with hands-on experience as they serve Stonegate in various ministry roles. It equips them with the skills needed to plant a church, educates them on potentially devastating mistakes, provides startup funds, and potentially provides personnel as our Stonegate family prays about relocating with a perspective Church-Planting Resident.
- DISTINCTIVE 4: REDEMPTION LEADS TO RACIAL RECONCILIATION
Paul speaks with unbelievable clarity when he calls the Gospel the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). The implications of the Gospel spill out into every crack and crevice of the world (and our lives). One beautiful reality of the Gospel is that it redefines our family. In fact, according to Jesus, every Christian has two families, a family by birth and a family by re-birth, or God’s rescue (Mark 3:31-35). While we want to put great emphasis on parents pastoring their family by birth, we also want to hold up the importance of our family by re-birth, or our church family. The Bible’s teaching on our family by re-birth is breathtaking. According to the Scriptures, our family by rebirth (or by God’s rescue) is more real and more lasting than our family by birth. In other words, it’s our family by re-birth (not necessarily by birth) that we’ll spend all eternity with. But what’s even more shocking is the multi-colored diversity of our family by re-birth. Consider Revelation 5:9-10,
“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
This passage shows God’s intent to rescue people from every ethnicity. Heaven will be wonderfully diverse, full of people from every color, language, and culture. As a church, we want to do everything possible to prepare the people of Stonegate to enjoy this future reality. Secondly, this passage reveals what it cost God to accomplish his intent, namely, the blood of his Son (v.9). God doesn’t just tolerate other races and ethnicities. Rather, God celebrates, embraces, and loves all ethnicities to the point that He slayed his own Son to redeem them. Embracing men and women from every race and ethnicity is so important to God that He’d planned and purposed the death of his Son to accomplish it. That leaves us with a really important question.
If racial reconciliation is that important to God, shouldn’t it be important to us?
We believe so. However, the sad reality is that the church is as racially divided today as it has ever been. The sad words of Martin Luther King Jr, spoken over fifty years ago, still ring true today, “We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o’clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America…and the most segregated school is Sunday school.”
Diversity in churches is often measured by the 80/20 rule. A diverse church is a church that has no more than 80% of a single ethnicity. Using that measure, only 2.5% of all the Jesus loving churches in America would be considered ethnically diverse. We believe that really does sadden the heart of God and masks the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to unite people of all cultures (Ephesians 2). In light of that, we want to be very clear of our intention to pursue racial diversity. We want to be a church family that does more than tolerate other cultures, we want to actually embrace and celebrate other cultures. We have a deep desire to reflect the heart of God in this way.
On a personal level, we are not saying that everyone in our church needs to make racial reconciliation the number one emphasis of your life. We hope some will be called toward that-but know it will not be all. But, we are asking you to make it an emphasis of your life. Our goal is for more than a diverse worship gathering. Our goal is for our church family to have diverse dinner tables.
In a racially charged world, there are few pictures of the Gospel more powerful than a diverse church. And as hard as that sounds, it is possible (see Ephesians 2). Let these words of John Piper encourage you,
“The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. The death and resurrection of the Son of God for sinners is the only sufficient power to bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross.”
The cross of Christ is the great leveler. The cross shows us that before God, culture and color gain nothing. Rather, Jesus, and Him alone, gains us everything. Racial reconciliation is rooted in and empowered by the Gospel. We were the outsider and the other that God sent his Son to redeem, and that heart for the outsider and the other now beats in us, the people of Stonegate Church.