Recently I asked pastors in Sovereign Grace to write about the core values that shape our family of churches and how those values get lived out in their local church. These men have done a great job of explaining our reformed soteriology, gospel-centered doctrine and preaching, continuationist pneumatology, complementarian leadership, elder-governed and -led churches, and national and international outreach and church planting. However, it is our last value that binds all of these together and makes them work among our family of churches. We are a family of interdependent churches united in fellowship, mission and governance. Let me explain a bit about what each of these phrases mean.
We Are a Family of Interdependent Churches
Since the ratification of our new polity and book of church order, I’ve been asked several times if Sovereign Grace is a “denomination” now. Well, in one sense I guess we are, but I’m not a big fan of that term. Not because it’s a wrong term, but because it sounds so formal and doesn’t capture the reality that we have always sought and will continue to seek to build our family of churches relationally.
We are truly a “family of churches.” We know one another, encourage one another, care for one another, and pray for one another. We share meals together, stay in one another’s homes, attend conferences together, and visit other Sovereign Grace churches. It is this “relational” value that will make our new polity and book of church order work. Without it we will simply be a denomination with all of its formalities, and not a family of churches shaped by our seven values and united in a common mission to make the gospel known.
And it’s our mission to make Jesus known that heightens our need to depend on one another, to be a family of “interdependent churches.” Like the churches we read about in the New Testament who joined together to build and plant churches, we likewise need each other to fulfill the Great Commission Christ has given us.
United In Fellowship
We are a family of churches who not only build relationally but are a family of churches who share Christ together. The main thing that unites us isn’t our friendships, but Jesus. When the members of our churches are together, there is conversation filled with laughter and joy. But more than that, it’s conversation about the grace of Christ at work in their lives.
In about a week, the pastors in Sovereign Grace are gathering in Orlando for our annual Pastors Conference. Meals will be shared. Laughter will abound. Encouragement will be shared. They will pray for one another. But most importantly, a fellowship that bears one another’s burdens and honors Christ will mark their conversations. Why? Because it’s always been a part of our DNA, and I pray it always will be. You see, biblical fellowship not only deepens our relationships, it strengthens them for mission.
United In Mission
Not only are we united in friendship and fellowship, we are also united in our mission. We are a family of churches who help one another fulfill the Great Commission of going and making disciples of all nations. Together we sacrificially send pastors and members of our churches, who are dear friends, to other cities to form church planting teams. We sacrificially give our money so those teams can be supported financially. It’s this sacrificial mindset of sending our best people and giving generously that has always marked our family of churches and I pray by God’s grace it always will.
Let me illustrate this sacrificial mindset with a story. Grace Community Church in Souderton, Pennsylvania, led by Jeremy Bell, recently sent Emmanuel Suarez and about 15–20 members of their church to plant a church in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Mission accomplished, right? Not quite. There’s more. Just three months prior, Grace Community sent Ed O’Mara, a dearly loved pastor, and a handful of folks (including their worship leader and Jeremy’s administrative assistant), to replant New Covenant Church in Arnold, MD. Why would Jeremy and Grace Community Church make these deep sacrifices? Because Jeremy and his church share our love for the gospel and have a heartfelt desire to make Jesus known.
United in Governance
Finally, we are a family of churches united in governance. I know, I know, governance is a stiff word. Like “denomination,” governance sounds formal and stodgy. It conjures up thoughts of structures, policies, and procedures. It certainly doesn’t sound relational, and it makes you wonder if it will hinder our mission.
What we’re learning, however, is that governance holds the potential to strengthen our relationships and propel our mission forward. Our new governance (polity) calls for our family of churches to be organized into geographic regions. Each region forms a Regional Assembly of Elders, which simply means that every ordained elder in those regional churches is a part of the Regional Assembly. Our governance will actually strengthen our union of churches and serve our mission.
Like every other family, we don’t always get along. We will inevitably have conflicts. When a local church, or a local church eldership, can’t resolve conflict, it can turn to its Regional Assembly of Elders where, with the help of the Regional Leader, a committee of elders will serve them.
So what about governance propelling mission? This may sound crazy, but I think our regionally-oriented governance will actually help Sovereign Grace be more effective in mission. Under our new polity, church plants within a region are approved by the Regional Assembly of Elders. Who knows better where to plant churches than the elders of a given region? And because of the geographic proximity, the members of our churches will know better the church planters and members of church planting teams who are planting churches, and therefore everyone will feel more a part of the mission that we share together!
Sovereign Grace is a family of interdependent churches who rely on each other. As we move forward together, I have great hope that we will continue to help one another to go and make disciples of all nations for the glory of Jesus Christ!
Mark Prater is the executive director of Sovereign Grace, leading us in our mission to plant and build churches with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mark has served as an elder at Covenant Fellowship Church since 2002. In 1996, he led a church-planting team to Pittsburgh in order to begin Providence Church. Mark has also served as the director for the Sovereign Grace Church Planting Group and regional representative overseeing the Northeast region of churches in the United States.