LeaderLines – from Hillcrest Baptist Church, Austin, Texas  Contact Tom Goodman, Pastor
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"Finding and Following Jesus Together"
by Tom Goodman
March 23, 2007

Hillcrest is to be a place where northwest Austin can find and follow Jesus together.

Call it our vision, our mission, our calling—whatever the current jargon from management conferences, that's the church's task.

"Hillcrest is to be a place where northwest Austin can find and follow Jesus together."  Each word in that sentence is carefully chosen:

"Northwest Austin"
Of course, we have folks who drive in from south Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville, and elsewhere.  And we have folks in the region who watch our services on TV, and even people around the world who hear our sermons on podcasts.  We invite everyone, and everyone is welcome.  Still, the more we deliberately focus on the neighborhoods surrounding our church, the more effective we'll be.  As a leader, if you don't know much about the schools, businesses, and neighborhoods around Hillcrest, educate yourself.  To start with, pull out a map and identify the zip codes, schools, and subdivisions surrounding the church.  Patronize the restaurants and businesses in our area, and while you're there, engage people in conversation.  Do "prayer walks" or "prayer drives" through the area, familiarizing yourself with the streets and praying for the residents.  If you live in the area, join your neighborhood association, your school's PTA, and other civic clubs that will help you learn more about the area.
"Find Jesus"
Doesn't everyone believe that a church should be a place where seeking people can find Jesus?  Sadly, no.  While every Christian I've met believes in personal evangelism (at least in theory), few know or care about being "seeker sensitive" on Sunday mornings and at other church gatherings.  Now, there's a difference between being a church for seekers and being a seeker-sensitive church.  A church for seekers gears everything it does toward introducing the faith to non-believers.  When I read about church life in the New Testament, I don't find any seeker churches.  But I do find seeker-sensitive churches.  When I read Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14:23, I discover that Hillcrest should expect non-believers to be present when we gather to worship the Name and study the Word.  Not only should we expect seekers to participate with us, what we do should intrigue them and even convict them.  Worship and Bible study are "for believers," yes, but not just for believers.  Hillcrest is a place to find Jesus, like the Greeks who came to Philip in John 12:21 saying, "We want to meet Jesus."
"Follow Jesus"
As I said, Hillcrest isn't a "seeker" church where everything is designed simply to introduce nonbelievers to the faith.  What should nonbelievers see when they attend the ministries and activities of Hillcrest?  They should see people faithfully following Jesus.  We should be like the believers Paul commends in 2 Thessalonians 1:3, whose "faith is growing more and more."  So, we're a church where people challenge each other to (have you heard this before?) honor God, invite people to consider Jesus, love each other, and live the Word.  Every command in Scripture can be summarized in those four statements.
Don't leave out that word, "together."  We'll never be as effective alone as we will be together in our spiritual search or in our spiritual growth.  People figure out Christianity and grow in Christianity only as they discuss things together, challenge each other, pray with each other, and watch how others live the faith.
If we don't need to be together to find and follow Jesus, then we may as well sell our church property to a condominium developer.  If we can figure out who Jesus is just by doing Google searches on the internet, or if we can grow in Jesus just by reading Max Lucado books at home, then there's no need for all the stuff we do at the corner of Steck and Greenslope.
Neither our spiritual search nor our spiritual growth will go far unless it's done with others.

Some churches are very effective at helping people find Jesus, but they don't really focus on helping people grow once they've come to faith.  Other churches are very effective at helping people follow Jesus, but frankly they're uncomfortable with the issues and questions that seekers raise.  Our church needs to be where people can come together to meet Jesus and grow in him.

Tim Keller put this well in a lengthy interview for "The Cutting Edge" magazine.  Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and I tend to read and listen to anything the man releases, because he's got a lot to say about what he calls "city-center churches" like Hillcrest.  My thanks to Austin church planter, Chris Marlow, for posting it on his "Simply Missional" website.  Keller says:

In Acts 2 and 1 Cor. 14:23 we see non-believers attracted and challenged by worship.  We learn there that non-believers are expected in worship, and that non-believers must find worship challenging and comprehensible.  In city-centers where there are a mixture of world-views, it is crucial to include both Christians and non-Christians in the same service—even in many of the other meetings and ministries of the church. . . .  Why?  In a "mixed" group, when the preacher speaks somewhat more to non-Christians, the Christians present learn how to share the faith. . . .  On the other hand, when the preacher speaks more to Christians, the non-Christians present come to see how Christianity "works." . . .  In short, a center-city church should not simply "do mission" or "do evangelism."  Every part of its ministry should be geared routinely both to Christians and non-Christians, and expecting non-Christians to be "overhearing" whatever is said and done in any context.

. . . .

If you speak and discourse as if your whole neighborhood is present eventually more and more of your neighborhood will find their way in or be invited.  Why?  Most Christians, even when they are very edified in church, know intuitively that their non-Christian friends would not appreciate the service.  What you want is for a Christian to come to your church and say, "Oh!  I wish my non-Christian friend could see (or hear) this!"  If this is forgotten, soon even a growing church will be filled with Christians who commute in from various towns and communities far and wide rather than filling up with Christians and seekers from your church's immediate neighborhoods.

So, we are to be a church where northwest Austin can find and follow Jesus together.  Practically speaking, how do we do that?  In the next few weeks of LeaderLines, I'll try to answer that question.


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