Distinctives help answer the question, “What makes your church unique?”
The beauty of the body of Christ is that there are many expressions of it, and the various expressions of the body are beautifully distinct. In the culture of any church are areas of particular importance, and it’s vital for everyone in the church to know those distinct areas of emphasis. Below you’ll find four phrases we use to describe our distinctives.
- DISTINCTIVE 1: PARENTS PASTOR
THERE IS THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH.
When you hear the word “church” most people think of a building, a denomination, or at least a geographically based Bible study with a biblically qualified leader. While this thought is accurate, it is also incomplete. The Bible speaks many times of “the church” in both broader and more specific terms than this definition allows. For example, in Hebrews we find the church described like an “assembly” that is in heaven!
Hebrews 12:22-23, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect."
This passage obviously reveals that the church is much more than a building or a geographically-centered group of believers. The Bible also talks about Jesus being the “head” of the church (Eph. 1:22) or the “chief shepherd” or pastor of the church (1 Peter 5:4), so clearly there is a bigger “church” than the one we attend weekly. This idea of church is what is called the “universal church”, and it includes all believers who have ever lived for all time. Jesus is the pastor of this church and this is the “church” to which Jesus refers to in Matthew 16:18 where he tells Peter that he will build His church and the “gates of hell” will never prevail against it. While local churches collapse every year, the universal church will never close its’ doors and will never fail!
THERE IS THE LOCAL CHURCH.
Within the universal church there also exists the local church. The local church is the church you attend every week. Each local church has a pastor and a group of elders to lead them, protect them, and guide them under the guidance of the Chief Shepherd Jesus. There are numerous examples of the local church in Scripture.
- Church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1)
- Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2)
- Church in Galatia (Galatians 1:2)
- Church in Thessalonica (1 Thes. 1:1)
- Church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1)
The local churches in the New Testament are numerable and the role of the local church is essential within the context of the universal church. While our redemption and mission are given as a universal body our missional context, pastoral care, and mutual accountability are given within the local church. Every believer in Christ is commanded to attend a local church.
Hebrews 10:23-25, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some,but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near."
THERE IS THE FAMILIAL CHURCH.
While the necessity of the local church cannot be overemphasized, the depth of a local church body is dependent on the depth of the individual families that make up that church. The Bible is very direct in relating the local church to the familial church, even calling the local church the “household of God” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
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.
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. The primary spiritual shaping force in a child’s life is the family, not the local church (consider Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
MOST DO LOCAL CHURCH AT THE EXPENSE OF THE UNIVERSAL & FAMILIAL CHURCH.
At Stonegate Church we believe that the critical mission of the local church is two-fold: to expand and grow the universal church and to strengthen the familial churches. Our church is built around this distinctive. In many churches you would find very diverse programming with a busy weekly schedule, but we work diligently to provide simple opportunities for men, women, and children to be equipped to worship as a family. In other words, we want our church to pull families together, not push families apart. We want to call and equip our men to become great pastors in their home (or familial church), who lead their families toward Jesus.
1 Timothy 3:4-5, "He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)."
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 happen by a loving, sacrificial husband and father. Likewise, our women are commanded in the Scriptures to live exemplary lives that produce kingdom-valued children. They are called to be good stewards of their family’s resources, talents, and time.
Proverbs 31:10, "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels."
Proverbs 31:25, "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future."
Proverbs 31:27, "She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness."
This description of an excellent wife in Proverbs 31:28-31 concludes with this remark:
"Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: 'Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.' Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates."
The husband/father and wife/mother of a family have a divine calling and responsibility for the spiritual well being of one another and their children. We wholeheartedly believe that the strength of the local church is dependent on the strength of our familial churches. Everything begins with the family. This distinctive impacts the philosophy in every area of our church. We will always ask the question, “Does what we are doing help parents pastor their families?”
- DISTINCTIVE 2: REDEMPTION RECONCILES.
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 re-birth (or by God’s rescue) is more real and more lasting than our family by birth. In other words, it’s our family by rebirth (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, 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 your pastors, we want to do everything we can to prepare you, 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’d slay his own Son to redeem them. To say it another way, 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 an 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 their life. We hope some will be called toward that, but it will not be for 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, the other, that God sent his Son to redeem. God’s heart for the outsider and the other now beats in us, the people of Stonegate Church.
- DISTINCTIVE 3: CHURCHES PLANT CHURCHES.
Matthew 28:16-20, "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples, Jesus clarifies the disciple-making mission for His church. The book of Acts then gives us a sense of how the early church interpreted the mission. In short, here’s the pattern that emerges:
The disciples made disciples and planted churches.
The first church was planted in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7). And then a monumental moment occurred in church history, Christians from Jerusalem planted a multi-racial (Gentile-Jewish) church in Antioch (Acts 11:20-21). This church embraced the disciple-making mission of Jesus. Not only did they make disciples in their community, the church planted churches. While the church in Jerusalem became increasingly inward, the church in Antioch became the first great missionary sending church. As a church family, we want to be like the church in Antioch, not the church in Jerusalem. If you keep reading in Acts 13-14, the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas, two of their best leaders, to preach Jesus, see people meet Jesus, and to plant churches. Paul would then train up leaders in the new church, entrust the church to them, go to another city, and do it again. Many of these New Testament churches became sending churches. This is how the great commission was carried out. Matthew 28 was obeyed by disciples making disciples, and churches planting churches. Missiologist, Ed Stetzer, says it this way:
"The accounts and details we’ve considered in Acts demonstrate that Paul and other early Christians believed in and practiced church planting as a normal part of their lives – and specifically in response to the commands of Jesus. Planting new churches was not a novel or unique concept for zealous believers. Rather, church starting was the normal expression of New Testament missiology. Intentional church planting, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was the method of the early churches. Church planting explains how the early church exploded across the Roman Empire during the decades following the resurrection of Jesus. The life of Paul and the action of the early church demonstrate that church planting was a primary activity. And any church wishing to rediscover the dynamic nature of the early church should consider planting new churches."
As a church, we want to be clear in how we corporately want to obey the great commission.
We are a church-planting church.
We help church plants (and planters) on many levels from financial assistance, to training and sending. One way all of these aspects come together is our Church Planting Residency Program. Stonegate’s Residency Program fulfills many valuable roles: it provides future church planters with hands-on experience as they serve Stonegate in various ministry roles, equips them with the skills needed to plant a church, educates them on potentially devastating pitfalls, contributes to startup funds, and potentially provides people as our Stonegate family prays about relocating with a perspective Church Planting Resident.
- DISTINCTIVE 4: WE VALUE THE VULNERABLE
James 1:27, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."
James uses a word we want to draw special attention to – orphan. It is used forty-one times in the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament. Orphan usually means that both parents have died, but depending on the context, could also mean that only a child’s father has died. But more generally, the word is used to represent the most vulnerable, those living on a razors edge, without the normal safety nets of parents and family. This is the reason James says we are to “visit” them “in their affliction.” The word commonly appears in a triad – orphan, widow, and alien (foreigner). And those three words combined represent the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. As a church, we value the vulnerable.
We value the vulnerable, with a special emphasis on foster care and adoption.
In America we don’t have orphanages, so it’s easy for Americans to think we have no orphan crisis (especially when “orphan” is understood as representing those who are especially vulnerable, not just those without parents). But that’s not true. Our orphan crisis works through our foster system, where there are currently some 500,000 children. Of those children, roughly 130,000 are currently awaiting adoption. And each year, some 18,000 kids age out of foster care. Of those aging out of the foster system, fifty percent won’t have a high school diploma or GED, almost half will be convicted of a violent crime, and twenty percent will be homeless at some point in their life.
As a church, we care about these things because God cares. God, through James, tells us that one way we can test the authenticity of our faith is to ask, “Do I care about the vulnerable?” When James talks about “visiting” orphans and widows in their affliction, redemptive overtones abound. It’s the same word used in Exodus 4:31, “The LORD had visited the children of Israel [in Egypt], and he had looked upon their affliction.” To visit, God had to come down into the hopelessness of their situation. To visit, God took the burdens of His people upon His back. In the same way, for us to visit the vulnerable requires us to get close enough to allow our life to be wrapped up in the cause of the vulnerable. To visit, we have to enter in, bear another’s burden, to make another person’s problems our problems. This is the sort of life we’re inviting you into.
A life of valuing the vulnerable is a life embracing risk, or faith. Rosaria Butterfield says in her book, Secrets of an Unlikely Convert, “To put the hands of the hurting into the hand of the Savior, you have to be close enough to get hurt yourself.” This is the sort of Gospel culture we’re seeking to create. We want to be a people who are continually taking vulnerable hands and putting them into the steady hands of our Savior, but that can only be done by men and women willing to become vulnerable themselves. As Rosaria goes on to say, this is “an often over looked spiritual truth: betrayal and risk are at the heart of the gospel life.”
Over the next decade, we’re praying for hundreds of adoptions and for hundreds of families involved in the foster system. Rather than the foster system waiting for Jesus-loving families, we’re praying for Jesus-loving families to be waiting on children who need to be fostered.
For Jesus sake, we value the vulnerable.