How the gospel transforms a church—and a community
By Daryl Crouch
Total darkness never scares us at home because we know where the furniture sits. Our eyes adjust to the darkness, and we settle in until the morning light.
This illustrates a great challenge for the church. By grace, our eyes have been opened to the gospel, but we often forget how dark the darkness really is.
We forget what it was like to be, as the apostle Paul said, “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12b).
When Jesus approached Jerusalem before Passover, however, He saw the darkness of the city, wept over the city—and then stepped into the city at great sacrifice to offer a tangible and lasting hope (Luke 19).
That kind of eyes-wide-open compassion creates a gospel-centered culture in churches that changes lives and transforms entire cities.
As God works in the church I pastor, He is cultivating a fresh love for souls and for our city. We can see the destructive force of sin, but we can also see how great the light of the gospel is to dispel the darkest dark.
As we learn to walk in the light, God is using these five lessons to grow me as a pastor and to use our church for greater kingdom impact.
Listen before leading
At one point early in my tenure, a leader approached me with a desire to serve homeless people in our community.
While I appreciated his compassion for people, his proposal didn’t fit into my vision for ministry. Our church was struggling to find its identity, and I wanted to reserve every possible dollar and volunteer to serve my vision.I didn’t bring Jesus to the church with me. He had been working there for a long time.But after further conversations, I conceded. Then I discovered many in the congregation already saw the city with compassion and were ready to serve.
I took a hint from Henry Blackaby’s classic study, Experiencing God. I found out where God was working, and I joined Him. I didn’t bring Jesus to the church with me. He had been working there for a long time.
In churches of every size and style, the Holy Spirit is at work shaping hearts, opening eyes, and preparing people to join His mission. So before I could lead, I needed to listen and learn.
Sure, there were layers of dysfunction in the congregation, but under the surface were remnants of a gospel-rich culture waiting to be unleashed. Before attempting to create a new culture, it’s a good idea to discover what God is already doing.
Preach to spur action
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved!” (1 Corinthians 1:18, exclamation point mine). The gospel is the good news that moves people from death to life in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.Few are awed by a single sermon, but consistent, biblical preaching is powerful to challenge our affections and change our priorities.So biblical preaching is more than inherently evangelistic. In a very practical way, biblical preaching lays the gospel over every area of the Christian’s life.
As I led our church to the Bible through expository sermons filled with biblical vocabulary, plainly spoken but robust theological themes, and gospel-oriented application, people responded with fresh enthusiasm and intentionality.
Few are awed by a single sermon, but consistent, biblical preaching is powerful to challenge our affections and change our priorities. When the message we preach connects to the mission we model, the gospel shapes our church culture and transforms our community.
Send generosity ahead
Our medium-sized church had experienced 10 difficult years prior to my arrival. When I became pastor, money was tight. Part of that was simple math, but part of it was a loss of vision.
When paying bills is a strain for the church each week, generosity is not the natural, go-to strategy. Instead, we tend to buckle down and aspire to simply survive. But for a gospel-centered church, survival alone is too small of a vision.For a gospel-centered church, survival alone is too small of a vision.Rather than tightening our grip, we opened our hands and gave beyond our own needs. We began giving to denominational causes.
We established a mission fund that would allow us to invest in our community and build a network of church planting partnerships around the world. I preached on generous living and connected it to the great work God had called us to join.
By faith, we sent generosity ahead of our ability. Our people not only gave their tithes and offerings but also, as the apostle Paul said of the Macedonians, gave of themselves first.
Paying the bills remained a challenge for a while, but God allowed us to bless our city’s first responders and schools, and even help plant a church in the western United States.
We didn’t just send our money—we sent ourselves. We engaged in relationships and gospel work that went beyond our congregation. God transformed us from survivalists to senders.
When we open our hands, God opens new opportunities to advance His kingdom.
Love the people who come
A mentor told me early on in my tenure, “Just love and preach to the ones who come.” His words rang out to me as I bemoaned our slow progress and my own insecurities.
This advice isn’t just therapy for the disheartened pastor. Instead, it is foundational to our mission.
Jesus prayed in John 17 for our unity, but not for sentimentality’s sake. Our mutual love and oneness are megaphones that introduce Jesus to the world. In Acts 2, the witness of the church was amplified not by their education or skill but by their Spirit-born unity of heart.
As Peter instructed, pastors “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:2). As stewards of God’s grace, we love the people who come, cultivate genuine fellowship, care for the brokenhearted, and discipline wayward members who distract from the mission.
But we don’t do this alone. The Holy Spirit helps us and unites every believer to elevate the glory of Jesus and the beauty of the gospel.
The wonder of unity, however, is no abstract notion. Instead, it emerges in the common, everyday—sometimes gritty—relationships around a lunch table or in the living room of a broken family. It takes shape in shared experiences on the mission field, at the ball field, or beside a hospital bed.
In a relationally disconnected culture, the redeeming work of Jesus connects believers into a fellowship of mutual responsibility and accountability that shines light and welcomes unbelievers into a whole new life in Christ.
Show love with questions and solutions
Followers of Jesus know that ultimately everyone needs Christ, but unless we ask, we don’t know what else they need. So our church keeps asking our community, “How can we serve you?”
As Jesus turned His ambitious leaders into servant-leaders, He said, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).Asking good questions gets you noticed, but doing something about the honest answers makes an impact.Jesus consistently shared the gospel with words and works. His ministry was marked by practical compassion for hurting people, but Jesus’ service was never a bait-and-switch. It was never a marketing gimmick. He genuinely loved His neighbors, and He often gave Himself to people who never loved Him in return.
If we believe every person is created in the image of God and possesses dignity and worth, our love will look like Jesus’ love. If we care about people, we will care about the things people care about.
When we began asking, “How can we serve you?” we quickly saw the needs: 1 out of 4 children in the local public schools face food shortage at home, the opioid epidemic is growing, and almost 200 children need a foster home.
Asking good questions gets you noticed, but doing something about the honest answers makes an impact. As we responded to those answers, God reshaped our priorities.
Food programs, first responder support, school partnerships, and other community initiatives have become a part of our church culture. It’s fueled by gospel intentionality, prayer, financial generosity, community collaboration, and volunteer hours, which God uses to change both our community and our church family.
The assistance people receive and the new friendships they enjoy build a meaningful platform for the gospel to turn tangible help into lasting hope.
DARYL CROUCH (@darylcrouch) is senior pastor of Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.