by Chris Poblete – This article first appeared on The Gospel Coalition website.
The unplanned birth of The Gospel for OC happened in April 2009. I was 35,000 feet in the air flying home to Orange County, California, from The Gospel Coalition’s 2009 national conference. God was using Tim Keller’s plenary session "The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and Idolatry" to stir in me a fresh desire to reach our cities for the gospel. In standard Keller-esque manner, he challenged us to discern our culture’s idols, expose them as false saviors, and proclaim Christ as the only true Savior. Keller also noted that when Christians turn from their idols and give themselves to the idol-shattering power of the gospel, an entire culture can turn upside down, redeemed to the glory of God (Acts 19:25-26). That whole flight home, I kept thinking to myself, “Orange County . . . we certainly have our share of idols. I want what Keller was talking about to happen back home.” I still daydream about what that would look like.
Orange County is an interesting place to do ministry. It’s a hybrid urban/suburban battleground that is known for its cul-de-sac communities and also its cultural influence. The region is saturated with megachurches, and this poises a unique challenge. Now, I’m not one of the anti-megachurch variety (in fact, I got saved at one), but having a lot of big churches and a rich history of evangelical movements (Purpose-Driven, Calvary Chapel, Crystal Cathedral, Vineyard, etc.) has its own subtle side effects. Someone once described Orange County as “the new Bible Belt,” observing that the gospel is now assumed in our churches, not adored. Ours is a consumer-driven, church-hopping society, where many attend church simply because it’s “good for business,” “good for the family,” or “they’ve got good programs.” The gospel—the glorious good news of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus—has sadly been politicized. Many church planters find it difficult to navigate this spiritual climate, and their ministries are short lived. Pastor Nick Bogardus of the Mars Hill Church campus here calls Orange County “one of the darkest places in America.” He explains, “It is a place marked by a massive population but where people are not really known, a vast culture of consumption but without any kind of genuine fulfillment, and a Christianity that often doesn’t have Jesus.” He’s right. And those sentiments fueled my prayers on that plane ride home, “Lord, revive us and use us. Make us thirsty for a knowledge of the living God. May the Jesus of the Bible be famous throughout Orange County as more people come to know him, love him, and worship him as God.”
So before the plane landed, I decided to start a blog because that’s what we young, restless, and Reformed writers do; we take on the world through our self-hosted blogs. I wanted accountability and shared vision, so I invited my friends Mark Dodd and Jon Chenot to write with me. Together, we decided to call our blog The Gospel for OC. Little did I know what God had planned for us. Within a few short months, we began receiving emails from pastors and deacons serving at churches I didn’t even know existed. These pastors stumbled upon the blog and were actually encouraged by it. We praised God for that! A few of these emails were inquiries as to how their churches could get involved in our “ministry.” My response was the same every time: “Get involved in what? We’re just a blog!” But this conversation repeated itself enough times that I began asking God if he was calling us to something more. The pastors I began meeting with knew that a revival of gospel-centered life and ministry is what our churches needed. We wanted to redeem our culture’s understanding of what the gospel is and proclaim its sufficiency for all of a Christian’s life. Without the gospel, what does the Christian have? It’s the central message of our faith. We need to get it right . . . and get it out.
Collaborating with a few local pastors, The Gospel for OC started a church-to-church network so like-minded pastors and church planters could reach across denominational lines to share resources, pray with one another, encourage one another, and hold each other accountable to preach the word faithfully and make disciples. Today, The Gospel for OC network has grown to include eleven churches from eight different denominations. And we continue to grow. A couple of the churches are serving in Eastern Africa together this summer, and a few others are collaborating to host a conference this fall. Additionally, the churches in our network provide a combined total of 17 contributing authors who write on our blog, promoting gospel-centered life and ministry. We’ve also enjoyed the privilege of partnering with ministries such as Safe Harbor International, Blue Letter Bible, The Gospel Coalition, and Desiring God. Matt Kyser, a local pastor in our network, says, “People who really possess the gospel will partner together for the gospel.” I love that. And that’s what we are: churches partnered in the gospel. The churches in our network certainly have their differences. The pastors range in age from 35 to 90. One guy preaches in suits on Sundays while another may preach in shorts. We have churches who baptize by dunking adults, while others sprinkle infants. Church affiliations include PCA, CRC, Evangelical Free, Sovereign Grace, Acts 29, and others. Despite these differences, we all have one common thread that cannot be broken: God’s sovereign redemptive plan for sinners through the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ.
More recently, a local nonprofit hired me full time and actually pays me to serve as one of the directors of The Gospel for OC. Needless to say, we are amazed by what God has done over the last couple years. I can’t wait to see what’s next. D.A. Carson has said, “The first generation has the gospel, the second generation assumes the gospel, and the third generation loses the gospel.” Together in Orange County, we are partnering to fight against that slippery slope and praying to the God of all grace for an idol-shattering and Christ-exalting revival in our land. Would you join us in that prayer? And if you’re not already doing so, would you consider praying for other churches in your city and asking the Lord to provide partners in the gospel? We’ll pray together that God will bless such efforts in the same way he has blessed ours.
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:7)