Our mission statement is “Experiencing, living and sharing the new life in Jesus Christ.” It is our Lord’s desire that every person experience His abundant life overflowing in their lives (John 10:10). New Life has been called by God to play a vital role in helping people both in our community and around the world experience that life!
What will it look like when a church family is truly living out this New Life in Jesus Christ together? We believe the model we are to follow in accomplishing this mission is that of the Early Church (Acts 2:42-47). From their example, we have identified seven traits of a church that God will use to reach the world for Christ. It is upon these seven “pillars” that we are likewise seeking to build our church:
A place of life-changing teaching
A place of contagious fellowship
A place of unceasing prayer
A place of faith-filled homes
A place of generous stewardship
A place of heartfelt worship
A place of world wide outreach
Our Preaching Team Method
Just as we can get different glimpses of God by reading the four different Gospel writers — Matthew, Mark, Luke, John — it is our conviction that God can speak to us in new and fresh ways through a team of preachers. While pastor Jeff Noble brings the majority of messages at New Life, we are also regularly blessed by messages from pastors Larry Snapp, Carson Greenhaw, and New Life’s Ethnic Pastors.
Our Vision Going Forward: The Antioch Vision
As I prayerfully look ahead to the future of New Life … I see both great challenges and also great opportunities. We are all aware that we live in a large, secular and spiritually-blinded city. And our city is changing every day … from suburban to urban, from white to diverse, from wealthier to poorer, just to name a few. Many churches in our situation have chosen one of two pathways – either to flee further out into the suburbs or remain and change nothing (resulting in eventual death). A few years ago, the leadership of New Life felt led by God to take the courageous, but challenging, third path of remaining where we are but changing how we minister to our rapidly-changing community. This is the road least travelled.
If we are going to remain in our city and change, we must have a plan for doing so, and there is no better place to turn for direction than the Scriptures. As I prayerfully searched the Scriptures on this matter, I was drawn to the example of the Church at Antioch in the book of Acts. Much like our ministry context here in Aurora, Antioch was a large, secular and ethnically-diverse city. It had a population of 500,000 people comprised of a multitude of ethnicities. It was a military, governmental and transportation center. It was filled with immorality and a diversity of religions. Yet, in the midst of that, God raised up a thriving church that became the epicenter of Christianity during the ministry years of the Apostle Paul.
As I have prayerfully studied and reflected upon the Antioch Church, I believe there are several key priorities that were vital to their success in that ministry context. Since our context is so similar to theirs, we would be wise to prioritize these same things over the next 3-5 years at New Life as well. These priorities include:
Priority 1 – Multi-Ethnic Engagement
(Acts 1:8, 8:1, 11:19-20)
After being given the Great Commission of Christ to reach all nations (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8), the Early Church did a fantastic job of reaching their fellow Jews in Acts 1-8, but failed to take the Gospel beyond their own ethnic group. God had to use the persecution of Acts 8:1 to drive them to fulfill the commission of Acts 1:8. Even after being driven out of their “comfort zone” of Jerusalem, some still only preached the Gospel to their own people, but there were others who got God’s point and began preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:19-20). And what astonishing results they witnessed in v. 21 … “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” In a similar manner, I believe God is making it clear that “His hand will be with us and a great number will believe” if we continue our journey towards reaching “all nations” (Greek “ethnos”) for Christ right here in our own city. By faith and the empowerment of His Spirit, we must continue to step out of our white, Anglo comfort zone and take intentional steps to become a multi-ethnic church that reflects the ethnic and socio-economic diversity of our city.
Having been on this journey for several years now, we have made good progress by God’s grace in breaking the ethnic barrier. In fact, New Life is increasingly known within both our community and denomination as being a model church in this area. We are seeing an increasing number of ethnic and immigrant people getting connected into the New Life family! But, there is still so much to learn and so many people to reach. While our ethnic ministry paradigm has been evolving over the past few years, I believe we have now discovered one that will serve us well into the future. It is known as the “Graduated Inclusion Model” as described by Pastor Mark Deymaz in his book “Ethnic Blends” (pp. 99-111). I believe that God can use this model to help us effectively reach and keep first, second and third generation immigrants. And thankfully, while it gives us a clear pathway going forward, it doesn’t involve a major overhaul of our current organizational structure … mostly just some tweaking. Pursuing this strategy is vital for us as we minister in a community that is now 53% non-white.
Priority 2 – Community Impact
As the Church at Antioch stepped out of their comfort zone and began reaching out to the Gentiles, “a great number” of people in that city came to believe in Christ (vv. 21, 24). Some of this was due to the fact that they were reaching ethnic groups who hadn’t been reached before, but it was also the result of them boldly sharing their faith. If we are to likewise see similar impact within our city, we must seek to be equipped to share our faith, emboldened by the Spirit’s power and engaged within the community. Far and away, our greatest number of opportunities to share our faith will take place within our own personal circle of friends and connections. Thus, it must be priority of New Life to offer ongoing training in personal evangelism and apologetics, in both our educational classes and from the pulpit.
We must also prayerfully identify a clear Community Outreach Strategy for reaching our community. At present, New Life is making some good impact through the outreach components of our Children’s, Youth, Adult, Ethnic and Externally-Focused Ministries. That being said, it is vital that we recruit and empower a Community Outreach Team that will provide leadership for this emphasis going forward. I envision them being key players in the expanding impact of New Life in the days ahead. In addition, I am greatly intrigued by the Multi-Site Model of church ministry and outreach. For example, what if New Life had other branches in various parts of the city, yet were all tied together as one church (i.e. One Church … Many Locations). I believe this could have significant potential for the future of New Life, especially with our unique multi-ethnic emphasis, and am actively researching the concept.
Priority 3 – Intentional Discipleship
As God provided an increasing number of converts for Christ in Antioch, Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to help them become grounded in their faith. It is vital that young Christians of any church or era grow deeper in their faith or they will be greatly vulnerable. In coming to Antioch, Barnabas rejoiced in what God was doing and then prayerfully developed a Discipleship Plan. He recruited Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) and the two of them began to teach the people and ground them in their faith. “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” (v. 26b). As you can see, Barnabas and Saul had a plan, were intentional and faithful to God’s Word, and it resulted in noticeable spiritual growth – e.g. “they were first called Christians.”
In the same way, we must continue to develop and cultivate an Intentional Strategy of Discipleship here at New Life. Many thanks to Pastor Paul and his work on this to this point! We are seeing some excellent fruit from the various classes that are being offered in our Deeper Life Classes at New Life. As in other areas, though, we must continue to refine and maximize this strategy going forward. Hopefully, the insights gained from the recently-completed Reveal Survey will provide strategies for the deepening of the saints here at New Life. And one final note … it is my deep conviction that we must do everything possible to prepare our people for the likelihood of future persecution here in the US. One specific plan I have for this is to promote church-wide the “Radical” Study (Fall 2013) and one-year “Radical Experiment” (2014). I believe that God can use this in a significant way to deepen our faith and prepare us for greater testing of our faith in the future.
Priority 4 – Sacrificial Generosity
Just like the church in our day, the First-Century Church faced various struggles in the area of financial resources. In Antioch’s day, it was “a great famine over all the world.” In our day, it’s been “a great economic collapse over all the nation.” How did the Church at Antioch respond? “So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.” (v. 29). As in these other areas, we would do well to follow their generous example. But, of course, we have this sizable mortgage that continues to hinder both our ministry and greater generosity beyond ourselves. So, it must be a priority for us these next several years to decrease the percentage of our financial resources going to our debt and increase the percentage going to ministry and missions (with salary restorations for our wonderful staff being of the highest priority). Not only can this be accomplished through the ongoing efforts of such excellent financial training as Financial Peace University, but we also must get our Capital Campaign off the ground as soon as possible. I would also highly recommend that we re-finance our mortgage with CIM as soon as we are able to free up additional dollars for current ministries, facilities improvement, accelerated debt reduction and increased missions. Personally, I would also love to see us devote 10% of our entire budget to Outreach and Missions as soon as possible.
Priority 5 – Leadership Multiplication
A key reason why the Church at Antioch was so effective in reaching their city for Christ was that they did an excellent job of growing, equipping and empowering leaders. You can see Barnabas’s effectiveness at doing this in working with Saul of Tarsus (Acts 11:25-26). It is also interesting to note that there was a very diverse teaching/leadership team at Antioch – e.g. Barnabas (Jew), Simeon called Niger (African Jew), Lucius of Cyrene (Roman North African). Manaen (Foster brother of Herod Antipas) and Saul (former Strict Jew and persecutor of the church.) This diverse team is likely a significant reason why they had such a diverse church. This was true in their day, and studies show that it is true in our day as well. For this reason, we are moving to a more diverse teaching/leadership team and we must be intentional in making sure that New Life has an increasing number of leaders from among various ethnic groups in the days ahead. Our recent joining together with IMC Korean Church is a significant step in this direction … be we still have a long ways to go.
One other vision I have for the future is to develop a Ministry Training Center here at New Life. I have gotten a glimpse of the potential of this through my teaching of the Gateway Theology Class and mentoring of some of our Ethnic Pastors. Our church and city are filled with potential leaders who lack the time and money to attend seminary or Bible school. That being said, they have spiritual gifts and callings from God and many also have flocks that they are shepherding. In fact, all over our city there are part-time immigrant pastors who are shepherding their flocks in house churches, store fronts, etc. How strategic it would be for us to offer a no-cost, comprehensive, ministry training program here at New Life for people such as these! Looking ahead, I envision New Life offering a full complement of training classes that would equip people to be lay leaders, pastors, church planters, missionaries, etc. Jesus said that “the harvest is plentiful … but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37). May New Life be a place that is continually launching new laborers into God’s harvest!
Priority 6 – Spirit-Filled Empowerment
As we noted during our recent series on the Book of Acts, some have identified its title as “The Acts of the Apostles,” while others identified it as “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Personally, I think both titles make sense, as the reason the Apostles did such extraordinary things was due to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. And the profound impact of the Church at Antioch was, likewise, due to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. As we noted back in Acts 11:21, “the hand of the Lord was with them.” Then, in Acts 13:2a, it states that “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” As you can see in these verses, the Church at Antioch was both guided and empowered to fulfill the work God had for them. Similarly, if we are to have maximum impact for Christ in our day, we must be both guided and empowered by God’s Spirit. And where can we turn to receive these things? Acts 13:2-3 tells us that it comes via worship, fasting and prayer. Going forward, if we are to discern where God wants to work and be empowered to play our role there, we must intentionally prioritize worship, fasting and prayer continually!
Priority 7 – Worldwide Impact
Not only was the Church at Antioch a place of evangelism, establishing and equipping … but it was also a place of empowering and sending. It says in Acts 13:3 – “That after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” And we all know the rest of the story … God used Paul and others to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, just as Christ had commanded back in Acts 1:8. It’s interesting to note that the Church at Antioch not only felt compelled by God to send missionaries to the ends of the earth, but they also gave of their choicest servants. I’m sure they could have argued their case before God to send leaders other than the mighty Barnabas and Saul, but that was who God had for the mission, so that was who they obediently sent off. If we are to follow their example and be a sending church in our day as well, we must be willing to do the same.
As stated previously, I prayerfully envision New Life to be a place that is continually sending out laborers into the harvest field (See Priority #5). Thankfully, God has been doing this down through the years via the many young people who have launched from our church and gone on to callings as missionaries, pastors, etc. But, via our Ministry Training Center above, I’d love to see us send out a steady stream of lay leaders, pastors, church planters, missionaries, etc. And, one other aspect of this that is unique to our multi-ethnic vision, I envision us sending short- and long-term missionaries to each of the 25+ countries from which our various immigrants have come. How strategic it could be to send out mission teams with people who already know the country, language, culture and even some of the people. A recent example of this is our growing partnership with the work in Pastor Andrew’s hometown in Uganda. The possibilities of this approach are endless!
In closing, as I stated before, I believe that New Life is currently facing a time of both great challenges and great opportunities. The challenges we face, both seen and unseen, would likely overwhelm us if we dwelt upon them too long. But, hasn’t that always been the case with God’s people? That’s why our Christian lives and ministries always require faith. And, as is often the case, the greater the danger the closer we are to God doing something great. As the leadership of New Life prayerfully looks towards the future, I would humbly submit these priorities for your serious consideration. Just as God used the Church at Antioch greatly in the 1st-Century, I believe He wants to do the same with New Life in the 21st Century!
Soli Deo Gloria – “To God Alone be the Glory!”