The Importance of Sonship

By Pastor Barry Henning of New City Fellowship, St. Louis

New City Fellowship of St. Louis was started in July, 1992. In the nearly seven years since then we have seen God do far beyond what we ever hoped or imagined he would do with this church plant. And yet, the story is far from over. We have greater anticipation and hope of what is yet in store in seeing the power of God’s love in Christ continue to transform and change the lives of many more, both here in St. Louis and all over the world.

Although there are many factors that have contributed to God’s work at this particular church, there are two defining issues that have been at the very center of our work together: 1) the people of God being intentionally discipled in the Gospel, and 2) those same people being intentionally equipped to carry the Gospel to the world through the development of ministry teams.

We held our first church services in July of 92, our first Team Ministry work in August (diaconal mercy projects in the inner-city community for elderly widows and single moms) and formally began the Sonship and Team Ministry training in September. I took the new core members through Sonship Training on Sunday evenings during the Fall, and then Team Ministry Training the following Spring. Probably a little less than half the core team (about 40 adults) really grabbed hold of this essential issue: the Gospel is the central driving force in the life of the believer and the church. Interestingly, most of those who did immediately catch on were women. Almost nobody deeply connected with the Team Ministry issues the first time around. However, the seed of the Gospel was deeply re-planted in their hearts and at every occasion, in the preaching of the Word on Sundays, in the Worship, in adult Sunday school classes, at every ministry turn, we relentlessly pressed home these two issues: the grace of God and his absolute delight in us as his people, and the corresponding delight and commitment of God to unleash his people in proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed through the development of ministry teams.

As I and others modeled the Gospel for the church through our own many repentances and bold claims of God’s blessings for us as a free gift of his grace because of Christ’s work, other believers began to catch on. As they were renewed in their confidence of God’s love for them, the freedom to step out in new areas of ministry increased. And then as they committed themselves to those areas of ministry, the need for the Gospel (first for themselves) became all the more pointed, as well as the need for re-considering the issues of Team Ministry. People began re-taking the Sonship and Team courses regularly, not because they needed more information, but because they genuinely needed the Gospel to go deeper. Faith comes by hearing.

Part of what is amazing and delightful is to see how the core issues of the Gospel are absolutely the same for everyone – the need for confident acceptance before God based on the forgiveness and righteousness of Christ alone, and also how the freedom of the love of God unleashed in our hearts produces the same result – a deep desire to serve God with joy and freedom.

The momentum of a Gospel focus that leads into effective team ministry and a broad unleashing of the gifts of God’s people began to grow. Every year we follow this cycle of Sonship and Team Ministry training as the key discipleship tool for the church. Many members have taken both tracks repeatedly as they continue to wrestle and struggle and grow in maturity in their faith. And new members and new believers are constantly directed into these discipleship programs.

One very key element that makes this work, and not have it become a “so what, here it is again” experience, is the constant call to the Gospel of the Kingdom; that every church member is a missionary, and that God’s intention for the elders is to equip God’s people for works of service that lead to the bold proclamation of the Gospel. Currently, New City has some 14 different outreach ministries (including an after school tutoring program, a housing development corporation, monthly diaconal community work teams, a ministry focused on single moms, foreign mission works in Mexico and Kenya) as well as numerous inwardly focused ministries (Sunday School, Youth, House Churches, etc.) that are all staffed by volunteers from the body at large, freely giving their time and resources (sometimes at great sacrifice) because they are nourished from the Gospel and being equipped to minister as a body (team). We have started two church plants in St. Louis, and are assisting in the development of New City Fellowship of Nairobi.

The confidence before God to pursue these ministries and to ask him for what we wish, is totally rooted in our Gospel focus, and in the very practical application of the Gospel through the team ministry training Sundays, the congregation is fed a steady diet of grace centered worship and grace centered preaching. Monday mornings are spent in staff prayer times, mentoring our ministry leaders in the Gospel and believing God=s promises together in worship and fellowship with God (especially after many tough spiritual battles over the weekend). Throughout the week, as the leaders equip and minister the love of God with the various ministry teams, they in turn lead them in times of prayer and faith and laying hold of the Gospel, and, to quote the hymn writer, “go to a world that is dying, his perfect salvation to tell.”

New City has nothing to boast in. No amazing leaders (everyone one of our Session members have suffered some great spiritual failure in their lives); no pool of skilled knowledge (one of the most common, oft repeated phrases at New City is: “I don’t know what I am doing”); and no brave hearts (staff members and ministry team members take turns each week, at least for the past seven years anyway, saying they are ready to quit); and not much money (average salary is around $28,000 and every single ministry is way underfunded). We have nothing to boast in. Except this: Christ Alone. And in Him we have fellowship with the Father and the sure blessing of the Spirit. And with that, we have it all.