The Biblical Basis for Partnership

Over the next two posts, I’m going to focus on church membership (which we call “Partnership” at The Austin Stone) from a few different angles:

For many in the missional church conversation, this particular topic tends to take a back seat, but there is a strong warrant for membership biblically and necessity as a church on mission over time.

The Biblical Basis for Church Membership

Our church leadership calls people to become a partner at the Austin Stone, and believes other churches should thoughtfully pursue church membership.  While there is no direct command to “join a church” in Scripture, we see God commanding us to join or partner with the local church in two ways:

The Church is Publicly Visible

Jesus established the church to be a visible, public collection of people gathered to worship Him and make His name great. This is more than a loose collection or even a movement; God is calling us to closely affiliate with one another confessionally, to be on the same mission together, and to serve together. This is why we use the term partnership at the Austin Stone. (Matthew 16:18–19, Matthew 18:15–20)

Christians Submit to Leadership and One Another

Scripture repeatedly commands us as Christians to submit to our leaders, which requires that we have intentionally placed ourselves under the care, leadership, and oversight of specific leaders – the elders of a local church. Through partnership at the Austin Stone, we express our desire to be counted as a part of this community, and the leaders of this community become spiritually accountable for us. (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

Other Resources

For more information on the biblical basis for partnership or church membership, I would recommend:

  • Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway 2012).
  • John Piper, The Meaning of Membership and Church Accountability, Desiring God,
missional community review

A New Year, A New Direction


Although we’re already almost a month into the new year, I’m just now getting my ducks around the blogosphere.  Looking back, I focused a great deal of time and attention on the practical aspects of missional communities.  

In this coming year, I’m going to continue writing content in the theological, philosophical and practical world of missional communities, but also want to expand the conversation here into broader issues of ecclesiology and leadership.

As far as topics go, here are some things I’ll be writing on:

  • Covenant Membership in the Church
  • Church Discipline
  • A Theology of the Church
  • Practical Issues on Hiring and Interviewing
  • Team and Culture Development

If there are things you’d be interested in hearing about, go ahead and post them here in the comments!

austin stone missional community stories

A History of Missional Communities – Sermons, Curriculum and Stories

Things have gone pretty quiet around this blog…the holidays and the hectic pace of life have kept me from writing.  As i have been preparing for this new year of ministry, I spent some time looking back over the past few years and came across some old resources.

It’s simultaneously humorous and enjoyable to see how our team has grown and changed in our understanding of missional communities.  Below is a historical look at how missional communities have developed through preaching, curriculum and storytelling. I pray they are encouraging and helpful to you!

Sermon Series

Fall 2007 Vision Series – We are the Church Together

This is where we started moving toward missional communities rather than small groups.  We accompanied it with our first alignment curriculum, using our existing values language which is still a significant part of our ministry today.

Fall 2008 Vision Series – A Church for the City

This is where we defined missional communities as being “For the City”, and full-scale started calling them missional communities.  One of the later lessons in the curriculum was most helpful in helping people go from “small group” to missional community.

Spring 2011 Preaching Series – Missional Community

This sermon series was a fun collaborative project with several of our pastors who focused primarily on cultivating missional communities at The Austin Stone.  You can hear how many of our thoughts had matured and changed up to that point.

Fall 2013 Vision Series – This Matters

Most recently, we spent some time as a church focusing on the core values that shape our missional community life together.  The curriculum was meant to define these values and reinforce the core practices of missional communities at The Austin Stone.

Other Sermons

In addition to the series above, there have been several different sermons dedicated to missional communities at The Austin Stone…here are a few that were unique and especially powerful.

Stories of Mission by Stew and Joey Shaw – April 2008

Although we don’t have the video that accompanied this sermon, this was a different way of presenting the vision through simple stories of what folks in our body were doing.  Additionally, we integrated stories of both local and global engagement, reinforcing our commitment to making disciples of all people.

Missional Community by Stew – January 2009

This sermon was a vision refresher, focusing on mission as the catalyst for community.  It became very important for one of our important ideas: “if you aim for community, you rarely get mission, but if you aim for mission, you almost always get community”.

Community vs. Biblical Community by Matt Carter – October 2009

Matt powerfully unpacks the distinction between worldy community and authentic biblical community in this sermon.

Stories of Missional Communities

Finally, you can clearly see the development and learning in our journey towards missional communities by the stories we have told over the years.

Fall 2008

These stories emphasized strongly the theme of demonstrating the gospel through tangible acts of service.  As a church, we were discovering the imperative of engaging in the ministries of mercy and justice.

Fall 2009

The first story is a wonderful snapshot of a group doing prison ministry.  It was about this time we realized how much we had focused on serving, while we were missing the primary thread of disciple-making.  Jon and Morgan’s story is an excellent piece explaining how a young couple pursues mission in their everyday life.

Fall 2010

In response to the stories and emphasis of the past two years, we wanted to return to the “every day missionary” idea and tell stories of normal people living intentional, everyday lives for the fame of Jesus.

Spring 2012

We had finally arrived at a core set of practices, and this story puts them on display incredibly well.

It’s been an incredible ride to learn, grow, and lead through the transition to missional communities at The Austin Stone, and I pray these resources encourage you to pursue Christ and greater faithfulness to His mission!


Merry Christmas from the Engstrom Family

I pray you are reminded of the infinite value of our Savior this Christmas…may He bring you joy and rest!  I’ll be picking back up blogging after the new year, so until then, enjoy a fun picture of my kids:

Engstrom kids Santa 2013


Remembering Ronnie Smith

Ronnie Smith Memorial Slide

The last week has been like nothing I have ever experienced before.  My friend Ronnie Smith went to be with The Lord on December 5th.  He was seeking to be a blessing to the Libyan people, and gave his life so that people might know Jesus. There is nothing quite so surreal as hearing a friend who has been far away was killed.  The sense of emptiness that sets in and the emotional paralysis only highlights for me that we were never intended to taste death.  I am praising God, however, that Ronnie is now face to face with our King Jesus, and experiencing a joy that is inexpressible.

Ronnie was one of the sharpest men I knew.  His quick tongue could make you laugh in an instant.  His last tweet to me was not exactly profound, but certainly captures him well:

Despite the fact that Ronnie loved Michigan football (the occasion for the tweet above), the gospel has torn down the dividing wall of hostility, and we learned to love each other in Christ.

Ronnie also shared my love of Chemistry (yes, there are people who love chemistry), and was a scientist as well as a theologian.  I am grateful for walking through the transition to vocational ministry from the academic world with him, and grateful that, while very similar to one another, God also wired us very differently.  Often it is only through people who are very different than you that you can understand who you really are.

Ronnie’s ministry was brief but powerful.  He devoted himself to knowing God’s word, and teaching God’s people to treasure God’s promises.  Although we often disagreed on the practice of how that worked out (I still remember arguing over it!), Ronnie taught me to treasure the future promises of God as a sure foundation for the believer.  Ronnie’s willingness to go overseas is still a testimony of God’s power to me.  The fact that an introverted man who loved the comforts of the first world (namely air conditioning and convenient food) would consider moving himself and his family to a war torn country makes no sense apart from the value of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.  I continue to be encouraged by Ronnie’s faith to go.

This past Sunday, we had the opportunity to remember my friend with our church community.  We listened to one of Ronnie’s most powerful sermons, grieved with one another, and encouraged one another to persevere in living all of our life to God’s glory.  As I’ve been processing through this loss, I have come to realize how paltry my everyday fears are in light of our eternal hope.  Ronnie faced perhaps the greatest fear that many of us have, and through his death he has shown me there is nothing at all to fear.  For those who are in Christ, to die is indeed gain, and though we hurt for a little while here, we will be fully healed when Jesus takes us home.

The death of a loved one, whether they are in Christ or not, seems to bring our life into focus.  Things that seemed like the most important tasks quickly become insignificant.  Arguments that cause relationships to fracture now seem like stupid spats not worth getting frustrated over.  Distraction from God’s word and sharing it with others becomes far more urgent, and far less fearful.  Pursuit of your own kingdom and accolades becomes far less appealing that pursuing Christ’s kingdom and His glory.  In these times, the eternal purpose of our lives is seen clearly, and our mistaken priorities are brought to the light.

Thank you Ronnie, for challenging us through your faith, and for showing us the incomparable riches of Christ in your death.

May I never live a moment without a sense of urgency for the glory of God, and may I carry on the legacy of my friend who counted all things as a loss for the sake of knowing Christ.

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If you’d like to support Ronnie’s family, you can find out more here: