Pastor, Keep Preaching the Gospel to Yourself!
Do you want to be a gospel-centered pastor? Just keep preaching the gospel. Doing so is much more than merely pinning John 3:16 to the tail of every sermon or conversation. The first person we must preach the gospel to is ourselves. The gospel must not merely be conceptualized as an abstract idea that we talk about but instead, what feeds our soul and compels our life and ministry. My ministry hero, Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), would often remind pastors, "The best way to hold fast the truth as a minister is to live upon it as a Christian."
A pastor's life must be built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ and his gospel. As a pastor, I have found that when I am most discouraged, and my ministry starts feeling like drudgery, often it is because I have stopped thinking about the fact that, by God's grace, I am a Christian. Sometimes my pastoral work and responsibilities eclipse the foundational reality that I am a child of God. When this tragic eclipse happens, my focus in pastoral ministry goes straight to performance, people-pleasing, failures, fears, and frustration.
Pastors must also commit to preach the gospel to our congregation relentlessly. Again, doing so is more than merely tacking Jesus and the gospel onto a sermon but rather preaching and applying the biblical message in light of Jesus. Why is this so important? Why can't the preacher simply say true things from the Scripture without showing how it fits together in Christ? It is because, apart from Christ, there are no promises, there is no good news. No passage from the Bible has been truly expounded until the particular message of the text is integrated with the climax of God's revelation in Jesus Christ.
When ethical and moral imperatives are proclaimed as sufficient, even abstracted from Jesus, the result is a crossless Christianity in which the central message becomes a soul-deadening abstracted exhortation to try harder in order to live according to God's rules. Where this moralistic approach to preaching is embraced, the hearers who possess a seared conscience are invited to adopt an attitude of self-righteousness: according to their judgment, they are adequately living by God's rules. Whereas faithful believers with tender consciences may despair because they know that they consistently fall short of God's standard.
Preaching the gospel from the entire Bible is required theologically, pastorally, and missiologically of Christ's undershepherds. Theologically, because all Scripture is centered on him and finds its meaning in him. Pastorally, because the only true obedience anyone can render is the obedience of faith in Christ and his gospel. Missiologically, because there is no salvation for anyone apart from Jesus Christ.
Pastors have a myriad of responsibilities, but none can replace the preaching of the gospel. In fact, all other activities must be permeated with the gospel message. Doing what matters most, and the only thing that ultimately matters for eternity is possible for every single preacher. Relentlessly preaching the gospel is not dependent on budgets, platforms, giftedness, technology, or anything else. All it takes to preach the gospel in a constant willingness.
A few years ago, I heard from a pastor who was in South America on a mission trip preaching the gospel when a weeping man approached him. The man verified his name and then asked the pastor his father's name. When the pastor told him the man his father's name exclaimed,
"Thank you, Jesus!" Then the man said, "Fifty years ago, your father came on a mission team and shared his testimony through a translator. One of the men in the crowd was my father, and though he said nothing at the time, he trusted Christ that night. He taught me the gospel, and I was called to preach the gospel. I know your father's name because my father thanked God in prayer for your father's faithfulness until the day he died."
Pastor, just keep preaching the gospel to yourself, your congregation, and the whole world.
David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.