ECO’s first value is Jesus Shaped identity. That means “Jesus Christ must be at the center of our lives and making disciples of Jesus at the core of our ministry.” What happens when Jesus is at the center of the communities within our church? It produces communities that are:
1. Shaped by Christ; and are
2. Displaying Christ
Being shaped by Christ is not about looking at Jesus primarily as our example and trying to live like Him, that will only crush us under the weight of His perfection. Being shaped by Christ is primarily about looking at Jesus as our rescuer. When He is your rescuer you worship Him, you adore Him, you love Him. When He is only your example you are ruined in the face of His perfection. Christ will never be at the center of a community if He is primarily just an example. In fact if He is only an example He will only be a reminder that you are a failure, which will force you to push Him away. However if Christ is your rescuer you can’t help but make Him center. You don’t push Him away you embrace Him.
Being gospel centered is about having daily encounters with your rescuer by experiencing how He has substituted Himself in your place by meditating on the gospel in prayer, reading God’s word, and preaching the gospel to yourself and being in a gospel accountability group that preaches the gospel into your sin and needs. This leads to inward transformation that is outwardly visible. While He is our example, He is primarily our rescuer. You imitate your rescuer not because He came into the world to show you how to live, but because He came into the world to die for you. That is your power to imitate Him. Being in awe of Him and His rescue gives you the power and motivation to live like Him. He is primarily shaping you by rescuing you. His rescue shapes you into someone new, with a new heart and new desires. The more you reflect on the truth of God’s grand rescue of you and your community the more you and your community are shaped by that truth.
A community of people is a portrait of what that community believes. As a community is shaped by the truth of the gospel it becomes a community that displays Christ more and more to the people around them, both in and outside the church. A gospel centered community will display what the gospel produces. For example, if your community has Christ at it’s center you will be more loving because you are tasting and experiencing Christ’s love for you. You can’t display a love that you aren’t experiencing. If a community is not growing in displaying Christ then that community does not have Christ at its center. When we are shaped by Jesus as individuals that is the Imago Dei (image of God) being restored. When we are shaped by Jesus as a community that is the corporate Imago Dei being restored. This is what Jesus means by a “City on a Hill” in Matthew 5:14. It’s a community of worshipers pointing to their rescuer. It’s about a community of people who don’t have it all together pointing people to the one who does. When sinners are pointing each other to their rescuer it produces a community of forgiveness and humility, reconciliation and patience.
When we live this way together a portrait of what the gospel produces begins to emerge. And when the portrait matches the message it brings validity to the message. Christian community is meant to be a painting of faith, hope, and love. While your city is lacking faith, it finds a community taking their hands off of their own lives and pointing to a God that can be trusted. While your city is lacking hope, it finds a community offering the greatest hope of a future resurrection that is invading the present. While your city is filled with people who long to be deeply loved, it finds a community that is pointing to the cross of Christ, the greatest love ever displayed.