A Pastor and the Gospel-centered life
We live in an era where the internet causes constant spiritual noise. Christianity is defined multiple times a minute! Christians are thought to be supporters of a particular party, politician, or agenda. Churches are supposed to look a certain way, and have a distinguished kind of growth. As pastors it is easy to fall prey to human ideologies about a divine enterprise; humans dictating what God wants us to do, say, or think. We live in a country that is deeply divided, and sadly we may be allowing that kind of division among our own brothers and sisters in the Lord.
It is time to stop thinking that we know, and allow ourselves to admit that we don’t know—only God knows everything. There are conferences that will teach you about politics, apologetics, preaching, and church growth. The tools are all here—they claim. We have all the answers—they believe. Admittedly, ideas are great! There is nothing worse than a leader who does not envision, dream, improve. But christian leadership is not business leadership. The church is not a business. The pastor is not a CEO. It has never been like that—quite the opposite actually. Jesus said that in His kingdom, things do not work as they do in the world. Growth, health, vision, programs, and leadership simply cannot be like that of the world. Jesus explained, “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister,” Mark 10:42-43.
So, while I do get excited that our church is growing at a rapid rate, or that we will have to look for a place to purchase, or that we will expand to plant more churches in our country, I need to be reminded constantly what makes me a Gospel-centered pastor. May I share these ideas with you?
Centrality of confession of sin
We forget about this all the time, but the Gospel of God is for believers as well! I need the Gospel every day. I implore His cleansing every day. I need to be reminded that I am not a pastor because I preach, I am a pastor because I am forgiven. His forgiveness has changed my life, has given me a new direction and purpose. However, I still sin. My eyes, my thoughts, my tongue, and my heart are all infected with this terrible disease. The mortification of sin is daily, and at times burdensome. And yet, even on my “best day” I am a sinner. That is why I desperately need confession of sins. I John 1:9 reminds us that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Therefore, if I am not confessing my sins daily, I am not being a Gospel-centered pastor. At best, I have become a me-centered pastor, and at worst, I am preaching another gospel. I still argue with my wife, I struggle with my Bible reading, and I am lacking in many ways as a father and pastor. Confession of sin places me in the right place—I am the sinner, He is the forgiver of my sins. Confession of sins humbles me and reminds me that I am indeed weak but He is strong. It reminds me that I am human, He is God. It reminds me that I am not perfect and my people are not either. Confession of sins hones my preaching because my sermons will flow out of a broken heart, not out of a prideful one. His arms are open wide, let us not close our lips anymore—confess your sin.
Centrality of Gospel vision
My sending church is a healthy church. And healthy churches tend to grow, albeit there are some cases that this is not true. But generally speaking, healthy churches grow in time. However, my sending church is growing fast—maybe too fast! God is blessing and entrusting my pastor with sheep that need Gospel preaching and healthy care. However, as I planted Abundant Grace Baptist a few years ago, the benchmark for me was too high. No one placed it there, I did. It is inevitable at times—it is not an excuse—but it is truly difficult not to compare yourself with others.
It is exactly for this reason that I need to remember constantly that my goal is not numbers for growth, but that I need the Gospel to grow. There is a huge difference—believe me. It is not the same to do everything I can to make my church grow, as doing everything I can to allow the Gospel to grow the church. I want the Gospel to grow families, deepen relationships, nurture souls, and feed the hungry. I want the Gospel to save the lost, rescue the sinners, captivate their souls, and transform their lives.
That is why my preaching has found refuge in biblical theology and expository preaching. Only a clear understanding of the whole Bible can make someone fall wholly in love with the Bible. Biblical theology helps the pastor understand the central theme of the Bible: redemption. Biblical theology protects the preacher from the evil enemy of moralism. Expository preaching will align your words with His thoughts. True expository preaching will wittingly unfold biblical theology and all of its fullness. People need to see the radiance of the glory of God in Scriptures—that is your duty.
Don’t fall in the two extremes of not “wanting to focus on numbers,” or “focusing only on numbers.” Growth is necessary and expected, so don’t fight it or ignore it. Do not make it your idol either. But I truly believe that the problem is not that we focus too much or too little on growth. The problem is that we don’t focus at all on Gospel growth.
Centrality of the Kingdom of Heaven
Finally, beware that “your church” is not “your church.” This is not the expansion of our kingdom, this is the expansion of His kingdom. We are but channels by which His voice is heard. Don’t be confused, it is not about preparing “your sermon,” it is about proclaiming His Word. The success of the church is not measured in how many buildings there are, how many services you have, how many people come on Sunday morning, how many children, or how many plans, dreams, or ideas you may have. The success of the church was achieved at the Cross and through His resurrection. The enthronement of the Lord marked the success of the church. His ascension guarantees his majestic victory. With that in mind, if I had fifty or nine-hundred people on Sunday morning may make me feel discouraged or like the king of the world! But in either case, His victory is not more beautified by my achievements. This is about His Kingdom, and His Kingdom is doing just fine with or without my input. Jesus said it like this in Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I want to be a contributor of His kingdom not a competitor. I want to be a part of His kingdom, not a builder of it. He is the chief architect, not I. I need Him, not viceversa. In the words of John the baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” John 3:30.