Summer Series: Marks of Maturity

This past spring, our church completed its first sermon series by going through the book of Ephesians. Many scholars view Ephesians as the foundational document of the church, a type of New Testament “constitution”, making it a timely and helpful guide for our newly formed community.

As we transition into the summer months, when many of our people are temporarily scattered from the body, we wanted to preach a series that focused less on the life of the community and more on individual maturity - with the hope that the more mature each disciple becomes, the healthier the entire church becomes.

While there are dozens of biblical marks of Christian maturity, these 9 were specifically curated for our community, aided by inventories used in other Acts 29 and Soma churches (specifically Bob Thune and company at Coram Deo Church in Omaha, Nebraska). This hybrid collection has resulted in a 9-week sermon series that we hope acts as an index of sorts for our members to measure their proficiency and commitment to Union Church’s core values of Gospel, Family and Mission. We hope that a deeper dive into these 9 characteristics over the summer will increase our commitment to following Jesus and a healthier church to serve Auburn.

Week 1 - Self Awareness

Week 2 - First-Hand Knowledge of Jesus

Week 3 - Fruit of the Spirit

Week 4 - Gospel Fluency

Week 5 - Deep Friendships Inside and Outside the Church

Week 6 - Faithful Presence

Week 7 - Servant Posture

Week 8 - Generosity

Week 9 - Courage

Sermons will be posted weekly at unionchurchao.com.

Lent: A Season of Prayer and Fasting

Description:

Lent is a season of prayer, fasting and contemplation leading to Easter. Many Christians commit to abstaining from certain foods, habits or luxuries as a spiritual tool to sharpen prayer and declutter the mind in anticipation of Jesus’ resurrection. Lent lasts for 40 days (mirroring Jesus’ 40 days of fasting prior to his public ministry), beginning on Ash Wednesday (March 6) and ending on Holy Saturday (April 20). Lent incorporates 46 calendar days (the six Sundays during Lent are considered feast days and therefore not counted in the 40 days of Lent).

Theology:

Because of our union with Christ, we understand that we cannot earn the forgiveness of sin or the approval of God through fasting or sacrifice – these things have already been permanently credited to us by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Therefore, spiritual disciplines do not make us more precious to God but can be an effective tool to help make God more precious to us. Furthermore, we understand that some spiritual breakthroughs, victory over demonic opposition and kingdom advancement can only come through prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29).

Purpose:

There are many reasons to participate in corporate fasting, perhaps the most crucial are 1) an increased devotion to and margin for prayer - particularly in areas well beyond the resources and capacities of our church (e.g. revival on campus, racial reconciliation, the salvation of our friends and neighbors), 2) a symbolic but meaningful declaration that our desire to see the Spirit move supersedes our physical cravings, and 3) a shared investment in the spiritual health of our church. 

Logistics:

·      Start Date: March 6

·      End Date: April 20

·      Abstain from a singular food, habit or luxury (coffee, sugar, bread, Instagram, Netflix, etc.) for the duration of Lent in order to devote that time/awareness/margin to prayer.

·      One day a week – fast from one meal – use time for specific prayer.

·      Sundays – Feast and pray together at 9am Prayer Breakfasts (March 10, 17, 24, 31, April 7, 14)

Prayer Emphases:

Personal

·      Pray for a unique understanding of your union with Christ.

·      Pray for a special sensitivity to the Spirit.

·      Pray for courage.

Church

·      Pray for increased racial diversity at Union Church.

·      Pray for width (increased Sunday attendance, House Church participation, relational growth).

·      Pray for depth (increased gospel fluency, spiritual maturity, community intimacy).

City

·      Pray for specific unbelieving friends to be saved.

·      Pray for revival on campus and in Auburn/Opelika.

·      Pray for racial harmony across Auburn/Opelika.

 

 

 

Their Wedding and The Wedding

Ultimately, Christianity is a wedding feast. It is a marriage.

 And if you don’t understand that, you are missing out on the greatest hope humanity has ever known.

 “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure…” Revelation 19:6-8

If you are a believer, this is your future. This day is coming.

I went to a wedding recently that reminded me of this wedding to come. The wedding was incredibly Christ centered, but the bride’s entrance is what most stuck out to me.

As soon at the doors swung open, She began crying and laughing uncontrollably – at the same time. She laughed and cried, the entire walk down the aisle.

The. Entire. Walk.

 The crowd couldn’t help but join with her. It was such a genuine response to the situation. How often she had dreamed of this day! How much had she gone through to get to this moment! What else could she do but cry? What else could she do but laugh? I can’t think of two more authentic reactions. Her joy was palpable. It was almost like there was a feeling of relief in the room. I can imagine her thinking it now.

“Finally this day has come. Finally, it is here.”

Dressed in pure white, she passed row after row of joyful, teary-eyed faces (mine included) towards her adoring husband who waited for her eagerly. Who waited for her with excitement. Never have I seen such joy in a wedding. Never have I seen such unadulterated happiness.

People think crying is synonymous with bad. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. We cry because we care. And when we care about something that makes us happy, we cry and smile. That day, smiles and tears abounded.

I think that is what it’s going to be like at the wedding of the Lamb. I think we, The Church, Jesus’s bride, are going to be laughing and crying the whole way down the aisle. I think the heavenly hosts will join in with us as they see us walking down the aisle towards our Savior. 

This is our hope. The wedding feast of the Lamb, where God and Man will one day be reunited forever is coming. The hope of that day is how we get through this day.

And on that day, all of the fear, all of the tears, all of the failures – on that day we will realize it was all worth it. The pain will disappear. The long night will be over. “The joy set before us” will finally be before us. It will be before us because He will be before us.

 “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called." Isaiah 54:5

P.S – Taylor and Brandy, you (and your wedding) are truly inspiring. Thanks for everything. 

- Drew Mixson

Weekly Worship Gatherings

As this semester cranks back up and the city and campus come back to life, we are making the transition from a monthly worship gathering to a weekly one. We are excited about this strategic move for three primary reasons:

1. It will provide us with 17 consecutive opportunities (January to early May) to invite friends and neighbors, preach exegetically through the entire book of Ephesians, and enjoy a regular rhythm of worship and communion. Our house churches are designed to be familial and intimate which can actually can make it a difficult introduction for those used to a more traditional, Southern church expression. Weekly gatherings are an easy first step for most Southerners and function as a gateway towards the house church where the majority of our discipleship takes place.


2. It will allow our house churches (we're expanding to a second one in February - our living room is already maxed out at 40) to function as a pure missional community and not carry the weight of being the only weekly point-of-contact for the body. This shift will allow our groups to become more localized as we begin to more specifically engage in local neighborhoods.


3. It will provide more opportunities for the body to serve and assume leadership roles as the scope and complexity of the church expands. Transitioning to weekly worship gatherings will force our members into new roles as kids volunteers, greeters, musicians, audio technicians, etc. These are all roles that must be regularly filled and provide an opportunity for our people to serve and invest rather than watch and consume.

From day one, our vision has been to be a church that exists primarily as a network of scattered missionary teams that reunite each Sunday to worship Jesus. We are in the middle of transitioning from a single family, to a family of families and we are excited to see this evolution take shape.

Union Church is growing and we're so thankful that the Lord has put this new family together. We covet your prayers as our leaders, systems, and structures grow along with it.

Silent Night and the Loud Man in Front of Me

I went to a candle light service on Christmas Eve.

And just like many of you, my favorite part was at the end of the service - holding my candle high while singing Silent Night. With relief, longing, and joy, everyone’s voices rise in unison to sing out “Chriiiiiist theeeeee Savioooorr is boooorn”.

But this year’s rendition of Silent Night was different. And honestly, looking back I’m glad it didn’t go as smoothly as it normally does. It was better this way.

There was a man with special needs sitting a few pews in front of me and he was singing. Loudly. Like, really loudly. And he wasn’t getting the words exactly right, and his timing was off.

And I won’t lie to you.  At first I wasn’t super pumped about it. I’m not asking for much. Remember, Silent Night is my thing. I didn’t want to have to deal with a really loud guy in front of me singing off key. No hiccups. No missteps. Just a perfect Silent Night. I wanted it my way.

But by God’s grace, I quickly saw the beauty of it all.

I realized that him singing super loudly wasn’t a hiccup or a misstep. It wasn’t distracting – it was disarming, unrestricted, and relatable. The guy was singing his heart out. More than anyone else in there that night, that man was genuinely celebrating the birth of Christ.

The man with special needs in front of me is exactly what worship is all about. He meant the words he was singing. He was excited. He was present. He was there to worship. It’s irrelevant if he had the words right or if his pitch was perfect. Is the point of singing Silent Night to sound “good”?  No.          

The point is that Christ the Savior is born.

The point is that Jesus Christ is finally here.

The Son of God, the living breathing actual Son of God has been born onto planet earth.

The one promised to save us from all of our sorrows, the one who’s going to defeat death itself? Yeah, he’s here. We should sing loudly.

I’m so thankful God put that man in front of me Christmas Eve. God used his authentic worship to show me how inauthentic mine had been. Honestly I came in wanting a perfect performance. I came into church wanting Silent Night checked off the list of Christmas traditions. I came in worried about myself.

I left filled with wonder – Jesus Christ, the promised savior of all mankind, the one we’ve been waiting for was born two thousand years ago. He was born in the humblest of ways – on a silent sight in a manger in a stable in Bethlehem. He’s here. He has come.

Christ the Savior is born.

Let’s sing loudly.

- Drew Mixson

The Gospel, brought to you by Chevrolet...

Not to be a grinch, but the commercials leading up to Christmas are out of control. These things usually fall into two categories. First, is the gratuitous sex and violence category. I can’t watch the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (an American tradition we all should cherish and clear our schedules for…) without covering my 3-year-old’s eyes 4 or 5 times a half to shield him from video game ads. What the heck? Additionally, have perfume ads always been this explicit? Why does selling cologne require people to be half-dressed and soaking wet all the time (its a predominately visual medium why are we selling fragrances on here anyway)? The second category is less offensive but somehow more annoying; in what universe are these young couples buying luxury cars for each other? What economy are these cats living in? What 29 year-old is buying a Jaguar for his wife? How is this, in any way relatable to a normal person in 2018?

Anyway, I’m ranting now but the point is I’m having to stay on my toes now during commercial breaks; which is why I was particularly engaged, and strangely encouraged when Chevy tried to sell me a truck over the weekend.

Just in time for the Christmas holiday, Chevrolet is now offering employee discounts to the general public. Real, live Chevy employees (not actors) decked out in flannel and mittens, making Christmas cookies and selecting Christmas trees said, “My mom works for Chevy, we’re part of the Chevy family and right now… so are you.” The hook is simple, what is normally available only to insiders is now available to outsiders as well. This is good news.

Consciously or not, Chevy has waded into theological waters. The logic of the Gospel (which literally is fleshed out at Christmas) says that outsiders, enemies, and traitors like us are now welcomed into God’s family and treated as if we actually deserve to be there. Because of our union with Christ, we are not treated like the rebellious orphans we are but instead, receive all the rights and privileges of the one true son of God.

Im probably not going to buy my wife a car, but Chevy did remind me of the gospel this week and considering what I usually get from commercials… I’ll take it.

“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…” Eph 2:12-13

The Method of Christmas

Sunday evening we will gather again for worship, but this time, we will gather through the specific lens of the Advent Season. Advent (which simply means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’) is the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas and is reserved to intentionally reflect on the arrival of Christ.

Because of the overwhelming pomp and circumstance of Christmas in the Bible Belt, it’s difficult to not be aware of the arrival of Christ (the message of Christmas) but few of us consider how Jesus’ coming affects our going (the method of Christmas).

The incarnation (God taking on flesh) is a mind-bending doctrine. A cosmic deity voluntarily becomes a local, physical person is a staggering truth. But it is far more than just orthodox information to be aware of - the incarnation should shape how we interact with the world.

Here are three ways that the incarnation, that we uniquely celebrate at Christmas should affect our everyday Christian walk.

  1. This was an intentional act, a direct mission of God, therefore we shouldn’t be casual or haphazard about reaching out to our lost friends. We should have a specific and thoughtful approach to loving our friends. Jesus did not enter the world as a generic human - he came as a first century, Aramaic speaking, Jewish man. Therefore we do not have generic, stock gospel presentations, instead we spend time listening and interacting with our friends and neighbors - specifically looking to understand their questions, concerns, wounds and insecurities.

  2. This takes time. While there is a real urgency to share the gospel, there is not a single instance in Scripture where Jesus is described as frantic or rushed. In fact, Jesus worked in relative obscurity for 30 of his 33 years as a local carpenter before beginning his public ministry. The incarnation reassures us that it is God who saves. Spiritual birth and growth will not be rushed.

  3. Jesus did not enter the world as a conquering king, he didn’t even enter as an adult – he came to us as an infant. This suggests to me that the church should always assume a posture of humility, vulnerability and service. Philippians 2:6-8 says, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…”

The church does not need rock stars to make the gospel relevant, she doesn’t need celebrities to make the gospel popular, she just needs obscure local carpenters that will be faithful… that’s how our founder did it.

Jesus is the best thing I’ve ever come across.

Jesus is the best thing I’ve ever come across.

He’s perfect. Not just in a moral sense (though he is and his purity is a theological necessity) but he’s the perfect mix of awe-inspiring strength and tear-jerking mercy. He always demands justice while maintaining a posture of unmerited kindness. He puts the arrogant in their place and yet gently coxes the outcasts out of hiding. He is unflappable in the face of overwhelming opposition; he naps in the face of hurricanes.

He’s the most interesting man in the world.

He is unlike anything we have ever seen and yet is accessible, relatable. He’s intensely serious yet relaxed, unhurried. He has every right to be judgmental, dismissive and distant and yet moves into our neighborhood, lives in obscurity, voluntarily submits himself to fabricated accusations, corrupt proceedings and excruciating torture – as a ransom for those who don’t deserve it.

He had no personal agenda, never once did he make a calculated effort to advance his career. He assumed the role of a servant, even though he was the anointed king.

Jesus is the literal, historical incarnation of the best parts of every fictional hero ever written.

He’s Robin Hood.  He’s Luke Skywalker. He’s Superman.

Except he’s real.

What kind of hero dies for the villains?

But even more than that, he’s MLK without the sexual impropriety, He’s Lincoln without the political calculus. He’s the better version of Jonah, Moses, David…

He’s Adam 2.0.

He is the prototype that every politician, CEO, parent, coach, doctor should aspire to.

I love him. I want to be just like him. I want to be on his team and walk next to him every day.

I can’t believe the good news that I am functionally, spiritually, legally connected to him. My Union with Christ is a mystery and a blessing to profound too comprehend.

If the Houston Astros planted a church...

I have been a Houston Astros fan my entire life – a birthright handed down to me by my father, who, as a brand-new Texas resident, not knowing a soul in the entire state, would drive around his new city with only the Astros radio broadcast as company. As a family, we have endured decades of futility and disappointment but, last October, we experienced one glorious season as World Champions! We have wandered with the ‘Stros through the wilderness and have finally emerged in the promised land!

2014 was about as bad as it had ever been - the Astros were in the middle of 3 consecutive, 100-loss seasons – widely regarded as the laughing stock of Major League Baseball. That was the context of the now famous prediction that was made on the June 30, 2014 cover of Sports Illustrated - the historically pathetic Houston Astros would win the 2017 World Series, just three seasons away. I still have a copy of that magazine. I devoured that article – curious to see if this was a tongue-in-cheek jab at my team or a bold sports prophecy.

What I learned (and what was fleshed out in greater detail in a book called “Astroball,” published after the World Series) had led to the author’s confidence to make such an outrageous claim, was the Astros organization’s commitment to looking at baseball through a completely new lens.

More than any other sport, baseball has the largest (and loudest) base of purists and traditionalists. This segment believes the game has a certain pace, a certain history and a certain system of values that sets it apart from other sports and therefore, should be revered and left untainted. This attitude (combined with the economic realities of small market teams, salary caps, luxury taxes, etc.) has led to an environment where innovation is not a driving force.

As a result, the Astros, as a part of the larger baseball culture, were steeped in these values, suspicious of change and largely fine with operating inside the status quo. This also meant however, that little to no progress toward winning was being made.

There were, however, a handful of baseball revolutionaries – reformers, who were challenging this system. This crusade is well documented in the book “Moneyball” – which catalogues the history of the sabermetric movement through the eyes of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. The Astros were one of the first teams to take the principles of Moneyball and implement them throughout the entire organization.

The Astros’ shift in philosophy began with the admission that the old-school wing or the traditionalists inside the organization had a limited or at least a heavily biased view of how to win baseball games and therefore managed pitch counts, evaluated talent and drafted players with limited or biased metrics in mind.  Because their values were short-sided, their measurements were skewed. The Astros had the presence of mind to take a step back and say, “this is how it’s always been done but is there a different way – an alternative value system that will go unnoticed by other teams and give us a competitive advantage?

This is where my worlds began to collide as a diehard Astros fan and as a church planter in the South. What if, in the same way, that the baseball purist misses the value of a player with a less-than-ideal size, but walks regularly and steals bases – could the religious establishment miss the value in neighborhood based missional communities or bi-vocational pastors or a non-revenue-producing college ministry?

Has the Church developed blind spots because of tenure or fatigue or tradition? Has this led to flawed metrics of success or a misdiagnosis of the culture? What if the Church had become too intimate with partisan politics or too comfortable with middle-class sensibilities to notice that the values (and therefore the measurements) of the kingdom of heaven should be overtly different than the status quo of the surrounding culture?

The metaphors for Jesus’s kingdom in the New Testament suggest that the reality of normative gospel growth is small, slow and incremental and yet our worship environments are built to be large, flashy and professional. Jesus, our founder took the posture of a foot-washing servant while our leaders are promoted as celebrity gurus. The early church grew among the messy margins of society while we continually value strategic platforms and cold pragmatism. We verbally assent to the doctrine “of priesthood of all believers” and yet structure our churches so only professional clergy can meaningfully participate. We claim to value missional sending and yet all of our measurements of success revolve around seating capacity. The Bible clearly upholds ethnic harmony as a kingdom value and yet the Church remains as segregated as any other social institution.

The Church is supposed to be a counter-culture, an alternative city within the city and yet we measure success the same way that any Fortune 500 company would understand. How can this be? Is this vicious hypocrisy or sloppy inconsistency? To quote Billy Beane, “It's hard not to be romantic about baseball. This kind of thing, it's fun for the fans. It sells tickets and hot dogs. Doesn't mean anything...”

Martin Luther and the reformers wrote the ecclesial version of Moneyball 500 years ago, perhaps it’s time for the Church in the South to be like the Astros and actually implement these things and stop worrying about tickets and hot dogs.

Go ‘Stros.

 

The Resistance

I was speaking recently with another minister in our city, lamenting the fact that so much of Southern Christianity is shallow at best and counterfeit at worst. Christianity in the South is largely viewed as an accessory to be added to a life already filled with accessories aimed at cultivating an aura of wealth and propriety (to be fair, all people from all cultures chase these idols but it is a uniquely Southern instinct - in our secular age - do this with church life instead of jettisoning it altogether).

Perhaps it is because Christianity has held a place of prominence and prestige for so long in the South, that the gospel has become domesticated from its offensive roots. So much of the church’s messaging is now targeted toward comfort and safety (despite living in one of the most luxurious and secure times and places in the world). The Church, in large part, has become therapy for stressed out, white suburbanites where social and political ideologies are massaged and not challenged. In a real sense, the church has presented spiritual reality as a portfolio to be managed rather than a war to fight. And therein lies the real danger, most Christians are living in a way that is incongruent with not only their true identity (in Christ) but the urgent reality of spiritual warfare.

During World War II, Vichy France was the headquarters of the displaced French government after Paris was occupied by the Third Reich. Vichy came to represent the legally recognized administration of France while in actuality, the Vichy government were de facto Nazi collaborators who assisted in advancing Hitler’s agenda. What politically and militarily happened in France in the 1940s has spiritually happened in the South – nominal Christianity has capitulated to the enemy (materialism, white nationalism, systemic injustice, secularization, etc.) and now promotes that agenda rather than the kingdom of heaven.

If the “front lines” of missionary activity are pioneer efforts into unreached contexts, then perhaps ministry in the American Bible Belt is more akin to a civilian resistance during enemy occupation. In the same way that the French Resistance or the “Maquis” laid the ground work for the eventual Allied advancement - not only by fighting the enemy but providing hope that there is a different way to live - so should the church.

Rather than existing as the spiritual chaplain for the cultural status quo, what if the church postured herself as the resistance movement? What if the church was the counterculture that refused to give in to the dominate force of the day? What if there were communities that didn’t surrender to the Left and didn’t capitulate to the Right - that simultaneously stood up for the underprivileged and maintained historic orthodoxy?

This is a much more difficult way of doing church, and it’s hard to consistently swim against the current, but one day The Liberator will come. Until then may we fight the good fight and remain faithful to the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



                   

 

 

 

Our Southern, Christian Heritage

It is easy to be disoriented by the South. Underneath the charm of sweet tea and bow ties, sear sucker onesies and SEC tailgates lies a devastated region. At its foundation, Southern culture was designed to accrue wealth for Christians – with a work force that was considered to be sub-human. This stunningly efficient economic strategy was able to flourish because of a predominate worldview that normalized and then institutionalized Christian hypocrisy. To a large degree, the church in the South either directly promoted or passively allowed the creation of a society that required (at minimum):

·      The systematic abduction of African people.

·      The enslavement of those people into an uncompensated labor force.

·      The political will to secede from the United States in order to maintain control of this economic model.

·      The human and material resources dedicated towards the violent overthrow the United States government.

This was apparently done with enough cultural consent that the general public saw no inconsistency with Biblical doctrine or ethics.

The ripple effects of this theological compromise on the current spiritual landscape of the South cannot be overstated. Obviously, tremendous strides have been made - both socially and legislatively to correct many of the evils born out of this theological perversion and there are notable examples of prophetic resistance, but the fact remains that the South’s original sin of slavery (and the theological foundation that justified it) set into motion the perfect storm of white supremacy and nominal Christianity.

This paradigm is responsible for the current church dynamic that largely identifies as a white, middle-class, conservative voting bloc, rather than the multi-ethnic missionary movement described in Ephesians or the eschatological reality revealed in Revelation. To be clear, every church in the South is not inherently racist or theologically compromised, but it must be noted that the “Christian” heritage of the Bible Belt carries significant barriers to or at least a great deal of confusion about the gospel of Jesus.

In order to be a faithful witness of the gospel and develop disciples that actually embody what Jesus stood for, we must be aware of these specific cultural blind spots:

·      the legitimization of nominal Christianity

·      the normalization of mono-ethnic communities

·      the ignorance of or apathy towards social justice

·      the separation of doctrine from its ethical implications

As we work to plant new churches and established churches refine their ministries so that the South can be saturated with the gospel - we must directly confront these areas or the same worldview that justified slavery will come for us too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anchor # 10 - House Churches

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 10   - House Churches

We are committed to a missional community (house church) model and rhythms. One of the largest impediments to holistic discipleship is the cultural misunderstanding of church as a weekly event to attend rather than a missional family to belong to. The former sees Jesus as simply one aspect of life that can be catered to the particular preferences of the individual. The latter sees Jesus as Lord of all – Monday through Saturday, where preferences are set aside for the health of the group.

In an effort to dismantle that paradigm we want to be intentional with our language – we don’t “go to church,” we “go to the worship gathering,” for example. If our basic theology defines the church as a “gospel community on mission” then small groups of 10-25 people constitute a church as well (on a micro-level). We see this “house church” language used multiple times in the New Testament (Philemon 1:2, Acts 2:46, 1 Cor. 16:19, Col. 4:15). Our vision for Union Church is not to only be a weekly assembly of believers but rather a network of house churches, strategically scattered around Auburn and Opelika and the AU campus, missionally investing in neighborhoods, apartment complexes and schools in specific ways so that every person in Auburn and Opelika has a daily encounter with Jesus in word and deed.

Under the banner of holistic discipleship, we want the house churches to be more than an additional midweek meeting. We want these micro churches to Eat, Listen, Story, Bless, Celebrate and Recreate alongside one another as well as the unbelievers in their contexts. These missional rhythms will both stretch and encourage the believers and consistently display the gospel to those in their circles of influence. Within each house church there are gender specific groups of three called “fight clubs.” Fight clubs act as small discipleship groups that help fight against sin and fight for joy by pushing one another to embrace depth and consistency in our identities as Gospel Learners, Family Members and Kingdom Ambassadors.

 

Anchor # 9 - College Ministry and Church Planting

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 9   - College Ministry and Church Planting

We are committed to strategic college ministry and church planting. Locally, Auburn University is a mission field unto itself. Of the 90,000+ people in the Auburn/Opelika area, 30% are students (27,000) in a very unique season of life, which requires a very unique missionary strategy. We want to faithfully engage this people group that occupies such a prominent yet temporary place in our city.

Regionally, the current generation of students will one day occupy positions of leadership and influence in Alabama, the South and beyond. A large percentage of students will move to pursue careers in Houston, Atlanta, Nashville and Birmingham after graduation. If our goal is to completely saturate our region with the gospel and make the South reflect more of the Kingdom, then college towns become strategic sending centers. What is absorbed and valued in college towns like Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Oxford and Starkville will eventually be taught and practiced in places like New Orleans, Jackson, Orlando and Huntsville. We want the college ministry of Union Church to essentially be the developmental “minor league” system that prepares students to make disciples and plant churches in their future, professional contexts. We want to take this same approach with international students and global church planting. The nations have come to Auburn and we want to particularly invest in them – especially those who come from predominately non-Christian or even restricted-access countries where church planting is illegal.

While we want to see hundreds of churches planted in the regional hub cities that many, if not most of our students will eventually live in, we particularly want to invest in church planting in other college towns across the country. Not only do we feel that college towns are uniquely positioned to have a “downstream” impact on the culture at large but because of the peculiar rhythms of college towns (highly transient population, lower income streams, liberal bent of academia, seasonal attendance, etc.) they require specialized approaches that are different from urban and suburban churches.

 

Anchor # 8 - Prayer Meeting

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 8   - Prayer Meeting

We are committed to regular corporate praying. Every church at least theoretically is committed to prayer, but we want to be systematically organized to be praying – with the same amount of time, energy and resources put toward prayer as the Sunday worship gathering and the scattering of the house churches. A weekly, corporate prayer meeting will be the centerpiece – the engine – of Union Church. As Spurgeon once said, “The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if He be not there, one of the first tokens of His absence will be a slothfulness in prayer!”

The effectiveness of Union Church will be proportional to our investment in prayer. The talent of the leaders, the commitment of the members, and the size of the budget are all insufficient to accomplish what lies before us; the racial reconciliation in the South, the death of religious consumerism, and spiritual revival on college campuses can only be accomplished through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus, Himself taught us, some spiritual breakthroughs can only be accomplished through prayer (Mark 9:29). The New Testament describes God’s power as almost an involuntary reaction to faith (Luke 8:46), so as a church we need to regularly stop working in our areas of ministry and intentionally spend time placing our faith in Him. Our regular prayer meetings will serve as a corporate posture of dependence and faith in the One who can accomplish more that we could ever manufacture through human effort. This will be our collective effort to “abide” in Christ, “apart from whom, we can do nothing” (John 15:5). We are not only committed to the weekly prayer meeting as a built-in rhythm but we are also committed to making prayer a high priority within the Sunday gathering, individual house churches and leadership meetings.

Anchor # 7 - Racial Reconciliation

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 7  - Racial Reconciliation

We are committed to the racial reconciliation of the family. Salvation can only be achieved through belief in the gospel and any attempt to earn salvation through social justice or minority advocacy campaigns (instead of the gospel) will always fall short. However, given the violent history, systemic biases and political climate of the South, we believe that racial reconciliation is both an urgent implication of the gospel in our specific context as well as a normative pattern found in Scripture. The multiethnic church was Paul’s primary means of gospel advancement in the New Testament – intentionally designed to minimize (not eliminate) the ethnic identity of Jew and Gentile and maximize the new identity of being united with Christ (Gal.3:28).

We also believe that the church should be a prophetic voice within the culture – the lead advocate for justice and defender of the powerless (Isaiah 1:17). The church should also be a forerunner of the Kingdom of Heaven which currently exists as a theologically united yet ethnically diverse community (Rev. 7:9-10). We are signatories to the Charlottesville Declaration – a document calling the church to occupy its rightful place a prophetic institution that condemns both racial superiority and racial apathy.

While every church has a biblical mandate to pursue reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-19), not every community’s barriers to unity exist along racial lines. However, in praying for God’s will to be done in Auburn/Opelika as it is in Heaven, we feel that racial reconciliation must be a top priority and specific ministry of Union Church.

Anchor # 6 - Covenant Membership

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 6  - Covenant Membership

We are committed to covenant membership as a logistical method of organizing as a family. While we are spiritually connected to the universal Church, there must be particular distinctions made at the local level around theological interpretations, pastoral oversight, discipleship metrics and social expectations in order to fulfill the responsibilities of the local body of Christ. For both leaders (who must one day give an account for those they shepherd) and members (who have a responsibility to care for one another), covenant membership provides clear expectations concerning theological unity, pastoral involvement, financial giving and missional responsibilities.

Covenant membership at Union Church is simply the relational framework where holistic discipleship takes place. It is a commitment to be discipled and make disciples inside the environments, structures, and rhythms of this local body so that the church can be held accountable to externally live out what is internally believed.

 

 

Anchor # 5 - Function as Family

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 5 - Function as Family

We are committed to functionally organizing and operating as a local family. The church is like a bride (Eph. 5:25-27), like a body (1 Cor. 12:12), even like a temple (1 Cor. 3:16), but she is not like a family, she is a family (John 1:12). More specific than a generic community and more intimate than a nation-state, the family is the Bible’s overarching metaphor for the people of God, capturing both the doctrine of spiritual adoption (Rom. 8:14-17) as well as the practical aspects of discipleship and pastoral care. Therefore, the family is not a token analogy but the primary organizing principle of our ecclesiology.

Before there is any biblical example of human community we see the holy Trinity eternally existing as a spiritual family – Father, Son, and Spirit. It is this Trinitarian God that created the world and deemed it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). And it was people, male and female, not an individual person, that reflects this divine community’s image as earth’s crowning achievement (Gen. 1:27).  God ordains this family to be intentionally set apart (by laws and rituals) and gives them the responsibility of both caring for one another (Lev. 19:9-18) and blessing the whole world (Gen. 12:2) in order to fulfill the original mandate - to fill the earth and cultivate it (Gen. 1:28).

The Apostles use the family to articulate the New Testament church’s foundational theology, structure and objectives. Both Peter and Paul use familial (1 Peter 2:13-3:9, Titus 2:2-10) and marital (Eph. 5:22-33) language to establish normative expectations for interpersonal relationships within the Church. James’ primary understanding of the church’s mission is to extend the internal care within the family to those outside of it – claiming the very essence of the Christian religion is to care for those who do not have access to the benefits of family life (James 1:27). This family dynamic is so important to Paul, that his primary qualifications for senior church leadership include having the temperament and reputation of being a good father (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). Elders/pastors, therefore, function as local dads – leading, feeding, caring for and protecting the family of God, who then train and deputize mature sons and daughters (as deacons) to lead various ministries of the church.

The Old Testament law and the New Testament logic states that if God is our collective Father, then individual Christians, by definition, are brothers and sisters, who have an obligation to love one another (John 13:35). This love not only serves as an apologetic witness to those outside the family but also accurately reflects the Father’s care for His children.

Our church is organized to take this dynamic seriously. This is reflected in how we assess and train leaders, the size and capacity of our small groups, our membership process and the role of the Sunday worship gathering. 

Anchor # 4 - Gospel-Centered Equipping

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 4 - Gospel-Centered Equipping

We are committed to developing the particular skill sets of the saints for the advancement of the Kingdom rather than capitalizing on the free labor of generic Christian volunteers for the growth of our local church. The primary role of church leadership is not necessarily to do ministry but to equip the saints to do ministry (Eph. 4:11-14). By definition, the church “body” is made up of multiple parts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers), and when each part is developed to maturity it produces a multi-faceted ministry that more closely resembles Jesus’s perfect ministry. Because of this, we will prioritize leadership development, ministry coaching, and pastoral oversight to create a community where "the priesthood of the believer" is functionally embodied.

In our culture, Christian busyness flows out of either a wrong understanding of salvation (we believe we are saved by our works) or an overemphasis on quantitative production. Ministry cannot be measured solely by productivity. Our goals are both width (more people reached, more care given) and depth (greater spiritual maturity, greater gospel fluency). This means “success” is measured by organic, small, ordinary and slow growth not large, famous and fast production (as our culture would have us believe). Physical projects and behavior modification are easier to quantify but miss the holistic tone of gospel-centered ministry, which requires supernatural intervention, time and reflection. This type of work is difficult and requires special training that is unique from other lines of work.

We do not believe generic disciples can be made through cookie cutter programs. We want to encourage and equip the unique gifts within the body to serve in unique contexts. We are committed to using the church to grow people not using people to grow the church.

Anchor # 3 - Union with Christ

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 3 - Union with Christ

We are committed to emphasizing Union with Christ as the fullest description of the gospel. In our Bible Belt context, “gospel” is, in many ways, religious white noise – a term that is so generic and overused that it carries unnecessary connotations. We do not want to abandon this biblical language but as missionaries, we need to clarify our terms in order to be both biblically accurate and contextually appropriate.

Union with Christ is the New Testament’s primary description of the gospel. Salvation is not simply a theological event, it is the reality of being permanently and exclusively attached to the Savior, thereby receiving the rights, privileges, and benefits of the true Son of God. This idea is so massive that it necessitates multiple images and metaphors to tease out. There are over 200 references to and expressions of Union with Christ in the New Testament, representing the centerpiece of Christian theology. This phrase captures our “oneness” with Jesus – our relationship in, with and through Him. The depth of this union can be viewed from two directions: our identity in Christ and Christ’s presence in us.

Our Identity in Christ: Without Christ, our default identity is found in Adam, our forefather and representative head. His original sin triggered a curse that infected his entire lineage. This curse affects every area of our lives, tainting even our noblest attempts at righteousness and making them unacceptable before a holy God, leaving us condemned and in need of a savior outside of Adam’s line. Because of Jesus’ virgin birth, His origin remains unaffected by the curse and His perfect obedience fulfills all the requirements placed on humanity. Therefore, he is a pure representative head as well as an acceptable sacrificial substitute. In the same way that Adam’s family (humanity) was made unrighteous by their attachment to his failure, Jesus’ family (the Church) is made righteous by their attachment to His perfection. As believers, our primary identity now is found “in Christ.” His achievement is now ours, His victory is credited to us, His status as a beloved son is transferred to us. This is our justification – the root of our salvation (Rom. 6:23, Rom. 8:1, 1 Cor. 1:2, Eph. 2:5, Col. 3:1).

Christ’s Presence in Us: Not only are we saved because we are found in Him but He is intimately connected to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Our permanent connection to Christ produces the foundation of our salvation while His active presence in us produces the fruit of our salvation. His Spirit guides, directs, convicts, rebukes and comforts the believer into a deeper understanding of our identity which leads into a deeper obedience and loyalty. This is our sanctification – the fruit of our salvation (1 Cor. 3:16, 2 Cor. 6:16, Ezk. 36:27, 2 Tim. 1:14, Rom. 8:11).

To the degree that we understand our union with Christ - that our attachment to Him protects us from God's judgment - we realize that we are no longer attached to our sin, freeing us from guilt, shame, and humiliation. When we come to realize that we are credited with his obedience and clothed in his righteousness - we are no longer associated with our accomplishments, freeing us from pride, comparison, and jealousy. Union with Christ is the explanation for how believers can, with full integrity, walk in peace, joy, contentment, humility, generosity, and sacrifice. We already have everything we need. We are free to give instead of take, create instead of consume, serve instead of being served. 

 

Anchor # 2 - Authority of Scripture

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 2 - Authority of Scripture

We are committed to using the Bible as our highest authority. The Bible is the “supreme court” for all matters of faith and conduct. “We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness, and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. We also affirm the power of God’s word to accomplish His purpose of salvation. The message of the Bible is addressed to all mankind. For God’s revelation in Christ and in Scripture is unchangeable. Through it, the Holy Spirit still speaks today. He illumines the minds of God’s people in every culture to perceive its truth freshly through their own eyes and thus discloses to the whole church ever more of the many-colored wisdom of God…” (The Lausanne Covenant, Article Two, 1974).

We find ourselves in a context that is experiencing significant social change. Hyper individuality, shifting cultural norms, and subjective morality dominate our post-Christian landscape. In many ways, this is the perfect recipe for creating gods in our own image - that love what we love and hate what we hate. We hold up the Scriptures as authoritative and submit to them because we recognize that God is outside of time and space and His wisdom spans far beyond what "seems right" in our eyes. If we give ourselves the freedom pick and choose only what we like out of the Bible then in reality, we do not worship and trust God, we worship and trust ourselves. We are committed to holding up Jesus as both savior and lord and a high view of the Bible keeps us from re-fashioning him in our image.