If you want to see the power of the Gospel according to the Great Commission go to Niddrie Community Church (http://www.niddrie.org). I say "see" because Gospel transformation is so evident there. In my ten days with their pastor, Mez McConnell, his leaders, and the people of the area, I saw three come to faith in Christ. I did Bible studies with men and women who are recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol but, more importantly, who have been cleansed of their sin by the blood of Christ. I preached to an evening congregation who sang with passion and joy to a merciful God, and with a gratefulness for forgiven sin that was refreshing. You see they understand grace in Niddrie because they know they have been forgiven much. The doctrines of sin and Hell are not disputed, so the doctrines of grace are more gladly received. The veneer of middle class life which covers up so many people's sin so that it feels like there is no need for Christ is not prevalent there. In Niddrie, people have experienced the effects of sin from the outside through poverty, suffering and abuse and, in many cases, through the consequences of their own misdemeanours. Though not perfect, there are no masks. What's the point? The masks don't look that good anyway. So that leaves people free to make much of Christ and the robe of his righteousness, knowing that God smiles upon us in him.
So why is this happening here? What's so "special" about Niddrie and Mez McConnell's ministry?
Well, I certainly think God has raised up a man like Mez for a time such as this. Anyone who knows Mez knows that he was a man on the wrong side of the law who was saved by the Gospel of Christ through the faithful ministry of Christian men who came into his life. (Check out his testimony here http://t4g.org/media/2012/04/testimonies-mez-mcconnell/).
He also understands the schemes in which he ministers. The local people respect him and give him a hearing. He is profoundly theological yet able to convey the truth in an understandable way. There is thought and structure below the organic nature of weekly routine in Niddrie, through the preaching, Bible studies, Recover groups, and life on life ministry. People may see a tough guy in Mez, but I see a family man who loves and leads his wife and two daughters, a man who has deep deep compassion for the lost and the deprived in this world and a man who loves God above all else. I have made a good friend in Mez and hold a deep affection for his people. But lest this article turn into hagiography, the key is that in Niddrie new converts are being made. There are twenty people waiting to be baptized. This is not a place of Christian "shuffling" where believers are moving from one church to another. Here God's Spirit is moving and indigenous people are coming to the Lord. Hence Mez's initiative to plant/revitalize 20 churches in 20 schemes by raising up men and women to do the work (http://www.20schemes.com).
Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-20 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. This is the ground for us to go and make and grow disciples of all the nations. He also says that he will be with us to the end of the age. What's the link between Christ's authority that tells us to go and the promised presence of Christ with us?
Don Carson puts it this way: "It is not surprising that as we discharge this commission, the promised presence of Jesus is cherished all the more. Because we know him and his transforming presence in our own lives, we evangelize, baptize, instruct, disciple- and know him all the better, and experience all the more his transforming presence in our own lives. His promise to be with us to the end of the age is thus the matrix out of which we obey the Great Commission, simultaneously the ground and the goal, the basis and the reward. How could it be otherwise? We serve him because we love him and long to hear his blessed "Well done!" at the end of our course"
Belief in the saving and transforming power of the Gospel Christ is what makes Niddrie Community Church a living church and it is why 20schemes will succeed and it is how the Great Commission will happen. The sovereign power and presence of Lord Jesus is then the ground and the goal for Church growth, church planting and the ingathering of the elect from all the nations. He will build his church and the sheep will hear his voice and come when they hear the Gospel.
Satan couldn't care less whether you are rich or poor as long as you ignore Christ. It's just that it's hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Many may look at a deprived area like Niddrie with an "us and them" mentality, all the while secretly and damningly saying with the Pharisee, "God I thank you that I'm not like other, extortioners, unjust adulterers, or even like this tax collector" (Luke 18:11). But the Gospel levels the playing field and strips back any veneer to reveal the desperate state and poverty of each human heart before a holy God so that all fall short and need Christ and all are equal in his sight. What's so special about Niddrie? Ultimately the "special" thing about Niddrie is a sense of God's holiness, and a sense of sin, and a sense of grace, which gives rise to a faithfulness to fulfill the Great Commission by proclaiming the explicit Gospel of Christ. The Gospel community testifies to the surrounding unbelieving community by Gospel proclamation. And transformed life on life missional living lends authenticity to that proclamation. So Niddrie Community Church is an imperfect community of grace. Imperfect, yes. But a community knit together in love by the Gospel grace of God in Christ. We need more churches like this in which you can already hear the echo of a divine, "Well done".