I was a senior pastor for 37 years, and frankly, I’ve been glad I’ve not been serving in that role over the past six months. I doubt I would have adapted as well as many of you to preaching to a camera in a room with perhaps a videographer and sound person. Stuffed animals or cardboard cutouts surely wouldn’t have helped me.
Added to all that, you’ve had to make seemingly endless logistical adjustments in order to stay up with government mandates and CDC guidelines, all the while trying to continue to fulfill your God-given mission which includes helping your staff and congregants stay well. You’ve had to answer the questions: Do we open or not? Do we close after we’ve just opened? You’ve probably received less-than-complimentary letters from congregants who have not appreciated your efforts. And those ever-present financial pressures have continued to weigh on you. And all that doesn’t include the normal burdens of ministry that must be carried even in “better” times.
On and on it goes. I don’t mean to add to the weight you carry! I do want to say that I have a small inkling of what you’re dealing with and a great regard for you. My prayers go up for you…often. You have impressed me with your resilience, your continuing reliance on the Lord, and your creative approaches to ministry in difficult times. Thank you for leading us during this difficult season of numerous crises: pandemic, racial tension, political strife and accelerating decline in Christian belief and practice.
But I don’t want to simply acknowledge the difficulties you’re facing. While you might welcome a bit of sympathy, it won’t help you much in the long run. I want to encourage you. And I want to do that by reminding you that you are partners (fellow-workers) with God in the most valuable and redemptive enterprise that the world has ever known, or could ever know – the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is still – and always will be – the power of God for salvation. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” says Paul, and he has given to us “the ministry of reconciliation,” a reconciliation that will one day include “all things under Christ.”
The gospel – unmixed and undiluted – is (I know you know this) the unabashedly best news anyone could ever hear. You get to preach it (and demonstrate to others its ability to transform their lives). You could not be attached to a more worthwhile endeavor than advancing the gospel. It is pure grace. It is the joyful message the angels announced on the night of the birth of Christ: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Jesus is Lord, declares the gospel – over sin, death, Satan and all the “principalities and powers” (spiritual, material, political, institutional, technological). Christ is the complete “embodiment of the deity,” “the fulness of God,” the coming-in-the-flesh of God’s unimaginable, inescapable, irrepressible, unrelenting love for us (Romans 8:39).
So, for your sake and the sake of your people…
1. STAY IMMERSED IN THE GOSPEL YOURSELF.
You know it, but surely you and I can grow even more passionately attached to Christ who is the “mystery of the gospel.” There’s always more to see of God’s redemptive heart and plan. That’s true even for us who’ve known the truth from childhood. Pour over the gospel and let it pour over you. Pray over it. Relish it. Rejoice in it. Be refreshed by it. Rest in it. Enjoy its multi-faceted splendor. Ponder its implications. Live it and feel its power. We can live out the gospel best if we first live in it – making it the air we breathe, gratefully and joyfully accepting it for ourselves so we can share it more enthusiastically with others. It’s good for the soul – yours too.
2. PREACH AND TEACH IT ALWAYS
Yes, in season and out. Yes, even from the Old Testament. It’s on every page. Jack Klumpenhower has helped me with this through his Show them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids which is more than about teaching kids. Tim Keller reminds us that the gospel is good news not good advice. Has your teaching and preaching been mostly good advice recently? Try more good news. Remember what Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “You also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (1:13).
3. KEEP IT AT THE CENTER OF ALL YOU AND YOUR CHURCH DO
If the church doesn’t proclaim and live out the gospel, who will? There is a countless number of good things you and your congregation can do, but unless those things serve as a gateway to or an expression of the gospel, they fall short of Christ’s design for us as his people. Sharing and showing the gospel is the best thing you can do for those you love. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important for us to do for them. And somewhere deep inside of them, there is a yearning for what only the gospel can provide. Let’s, again, make it our mission to share it with them by our preaching and our practice.