No matter the denomination, socio-economic makeup, ethnic mix, city or geographical region, a church must have Jesus as her foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11) and her chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-21). At the same time, a local church is a unique expression of God’s church. Tim Keller speaks of the local church’s uniqueness in his book Center Church:
Church models are in one sense unavoidable. The spiritual gifts and callings of a congregation’s leaders, together with their social context … will necessarily mean every church tends to be naturally better at fulfilling some metaphors [of the church] and doing some kinds of ministry.
While the foundation of a church must not be unique, the culture and ministry practice must be, for at least three reasons:
1. The Local Community
Just as Christ stepped into our culture to rescue us, a church lives in a local community among people the Lord created and loves. A church on mission in her community is deeply connected to the needs, hurts and pains of the community. She listens, and her listening impacts how she serves and communicates. And because the needs in one community are unique and distinct from the needs in a different community, each local church should uniquely position her ministry to effectively serve the community.
Leadership implication: Love and listen to your local context. Realize that you lead a church in a local community surrounded by people the Lord, in His providence, has placed around your church.
2. The Passion of the Leaders
No matter a church’s system for “calling pastors and leaders,” God is the One who ultimately places leaders in different places of service. He is the One ultimately in charge, and He is the One who gives leaders gifts and passions to lead and serve His people. In time, a pastor’s (or team of pastors’) passion and focus should and will impact the culture of a local church. The more convinced a leadership team is on the specific mission and values of the church, typically the more pronounced the unique church culture is. If the leaders are all over the place without a clear sense of mission, the church will follow suit.
Leadership implication: Narrow your focus. How has the Lord gifted you (and your team) to serve? What is He calling you to do over the next several years in your context?
3. The Gifting of the Local Body
Pastors are not the only gifted ones in a local body. All men and women in the body of Christ are gifted by God to serve in the church and in the world. A church leader should pay attention to the people the Lord is bringing to the church. It is not by coincidence or accident. For example, if God is nudging a bunch of artists or a bunch of teachers or a bunch of students to a local church, what is He up to?
Leadership implication: Prayerfully consider the people the Lord has brought to your church. What does He want to accomplish in the body and in the community through these people?