In the world of non-denominationalism, the tendency is to scrape theology down to its bare minimum. I appreciate the spirit behind that move: to not create division where there shouldn’t be division. Why can’t we join together as a church in unity despite our minor disagreements?
New Life is swimming against that current. In a day and age many church’s doctrinal statements could be printed on written out on a napkin, we have a 37 page doctrinal statement.
I discovered New Life’s doctrinal statement when I began considering whether God might be calling apply to serve on staff. I was pretty surprised. I was also grateful. I’m even more grateful for the doctrinal statement today. Here are 7 reasons why:
1) Because doctrine matters
At its best, doctrine helps us understand God and ourselves better. It clarifies the purpose of the church and answers questions we have about all sorts of matters: from salvation to sovereignty to sexuality. The question isn’t whether or not the church has answers to pressing issues, it is how biblical, clear, and unified those answers are.
2) It is transparent
Have you ever had people leave your church after your pastor preached a sermon on a controversial topic? A doctrinal statement doesn’t mean that will never happen, but it helps. There shouldn’t ever be a sermon that is preached at New Life that the congregation feels sucker punched with if they are familiar with our doctrinal statement. It also means that anyone looking into our church can find an answer to almost any theological question they might have before they even visit us. We’re not hiding anything. The theological grounding and trajectory of our church is completely transparent to everyone.
3) Protects the church from internal pressures
Every pastor has their favorite books to preach from and topics to cover. Every church has internal pressure from congregants to cover their favorite books and topics. No pastor can cover every book and topic. A doctrinal statement reminds the pastors and elders the core truths to catechize the congregation in.
4) Protects the church from the external pressures
Just as there are internal pressures, there are always external pressures from the culture. Whether it is a world event or a political issue or a cultural happening, there is always pressure for the pastor to speak to some issue “out there.” But such preaching can lead to an anemic spiritual diet.
5) Preserves doctrine over time
The doctrinal grounding of non-denominationalism is typically at the mercy of the Senior Pastor. The good news is that the median tenure of pastors has risen to six years in a recent study.[i] But even a change in pastoral leadership every six years means that a congregation will be setting a new doctrinal course at every transition. A doctrinal statement sets the long-term trajectory of a congregation’s ministry and preserves its doctrinal distinctiveness for the long run. That will create more unity and leadership coherence over the decades.
6) Clarifies levels of necessary unity
Any incoming elder or staff member must sign off on our Elder, Staff, and Teaching Doctrinal Statement. This creates unity among the leaders. There is no question about what doctrine is being taught in children’s classrooms, Student Ministries, and connection groups. Congregants aren’t hearing one thing in service and their kids are hearing another thing down the hall. We don’t often have to re-engage doctrinal questions as they come up as elders because we already have alignment on those matters. To be clear, to become a member we only require that members agree with and commit to our 30 Core Competencies, a document that we believe any Christian should be able to affirm.
7) Helps to multiply teachers
It is our hope that God would raise up within the congregation those who would be utilizing their teaching gifts in all sorts of settings: at home, with their neighbors, in vocational ministry. Having a public doctrinal statement provides clear answers that are sure to arise for teachers of all sorts and in all sorts of settings.
I’m so grateful for being part of a church that is grounded on a robust doctrinal statement. The benefits of the work that Pastor Greg and the elders sowed into this document have reaped much fruit over the years and its fruit will continue to be reaped for many more decades to come.