The gospel is not a message it is a reality. The gospel is not an idea or ideology. We are not called to convince or outwit others into belief of the gospel. The gospel is reality. We recognize this reality through Christ—God incarnate. The gospel is both evident and mysterious, both compelling and elusive, it sustains and births hope, the gospel is God preceding us, God with us, and God before us. This is the reality of the Mission of God.
How does the gospel encounter us in the everyday reality of our lives? The gospel is ever present as the Spirit draws us into community and shapes us into who we are created to be in Christ. Let us not forget the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus in his humanity submitted himself to the power of God through the Holy Spirit and through his example shows us what it means to be fully human. When we speak of spiritual formation or discipleship it this fact that we hold as the point of formation—that we will become fully human (by the power of the Spirit) participating in full relationship with God and others. That is why we are formed in Christ. Christ in his humanity lived in full relationship with God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospel draws us into this transforming relationship through the mediation of Christ.
The reality of the gospel calls us to witness. Dr. Ray Anderson the late senior professor of Theology at Fuller Seminary taught me that the action of witness holds together three things—community, proclamation, and service. Witness is the embodying of the reality of the gospel in community, in proclamation, in service. Witness is to be holistic, encompassing our entire reality, our entire being. This is why I love a quote by Bishop Graham Cray of the Church of England, “The gospel is a seed that plants a church.” But how does the seed of the gospel grow into church? Here are some practical steps that I have learned from the Fresh Expressions movement in the UK.
Listening: this is underpinned by prayer, waiting, and ongoing listening while being in relationship with the wider church
Loving and serving: serve the community in which you find yourself, identify with them as fellow humans created in the image of God
Build community: intentionally build relationships with those you encounter each day, sometimes as you embody the gospel and serve—community forms
Exploration and discipleship: be a place for questions, be a place of listeners, explore Gods revelation in word and deed in the community and world and believe and follow
Recognize church taking shape: realize that you serve and know people in your community; you live with people in your community, and begin to do and be church together
Do this again and again: the gospel bares fruit
1 Corinthians 3: 5-9 (The Message)—Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working.