The relationship between church members and their pastor is most healthy when the gospel defines that relationship. The moment we take our eye off the gospel, the view we have of each other (pastor and members) will be reduced to its lowest common denominator, and ugly stuff can happen. The gospel lets us overlook leadership style and personality, because we are driven by a shared desire and that is of Jesus’s overwhelming call and presence amongst us. If the pastor preaches the gospel, and the people are hungry for the gospel, little else will matter. I define the gospel as that wonderful story of Jesus who came to earth to save sinners who could never save themselves. John MacArthur describes it better in his book, Christ’s Call to Reform the Church. On the cross, God treated Christ as if He had lived my life of sin, so that He could treat me as if I had lived Christ’s life of righteousness.
That is the gospel.
That is what should matter.
THE PASTOR’S ONE TASK
Bottom line, if the pastor is committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the church body must support him wholeheartedly. The pastor who is committed to preaching the gospel from every page of scripture, on every line of scripture, is a pastor who is fulfilling his calling. The church that does not support, and even empower such a pastor is a church living in disobedience. The church in Acts, early on moved quickly to carve a lane for the Apostles to preach the gospel as their singular mission.Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.(Acts 6:3-4) Seven deacons were chosen as a result, to release the Apostles to their duty of prayer and preaching the Word, the Gospel.
The last church I pastored full time (I’ve done interim work since) was my hardest experience in ministry. I often joke, although it’s really not that funny, how in over 33 years I probably had ten people who didn’t seem to like me – and they were all from that one church. After leaving this church and moving on to another ministry, I would often reflect on what had gone wrong during those rough seven years. I figured it out one day when the District Superintendant called me to see how I was doing. During our conversation he said something that helped greatly. Mitch, one thing I hear from everyone, even those who did not like you, was that you were an excellent preacher and you stuck to the gospel message. I remember thinking, well then, what was the problem? Isn’t that what I was there to do?
There are churches who want certain things from a pastor and they will accept and call him even at the expense of the gospel. Something is wrong when being organizational, personal, relational, good leader, mobilize volunteers for the church’s programs and helping people to use their gifts, are listed on the profile for the right pastor, but little is said about his commitment to the gospel. These churches do not care if the pastor is preaching the gospel or not. I would argue that some would prefer he did not. To preach the gospel will mean stepping on toes. That makes some uncomfortable. They prefer an organization pastor, a life-coach, a motivational speaker with great personal skills who can preach with passion and attract many to the church with his charisma. I am not at all saying that a pastor should not be friendly, pastoral and good at leadership. In fact, if he is preaching the gospel to his congregation, he will also be preaching the gospel to himself. I argue that a pastor who is committed to preaching the gospel will be a good leader. He will be pastoral. It’s a win-win for the congregation. They get to hear the gospel from a man who is being transformed by that same message.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
I am at a point in my life where all I want is a pastor who will preach the gospel. Who will expound scripture in a way that points to Jesus and what he came to do for us. Who will remind us that we are sinners and we can never surrender ourselves enough, because Jesus surrendered himself before God for us. Much of preaching today is motivated by what some refer to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. According to Albert Mohler, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.” (Check Source here)
I would recommend you do a small assessment of your pastor. Listen for three weeks to his preaching to hear what his emphasis is.
Is it about you (Moralistic Deism) or Jesus (the Gospel).
Does he present scripture and stories from scripture as a motivation to live better, work harder, or does he remind you consistently that all your efforts are meaningless to God, filthy rags (Isa. 64:6), but Jesus lived the perfect life before God, the kind we could never live, and he did it so that God will accept us because we are in Jesus? We have placed our trust in his saving work, never in our own. Does your pastor remind you that you are a sinner, in need of a Savior, daily?
A GOSPEL SATURATED PROFILE
When a church puts together a profile of the man they want, I scan it quickly to see how much of it is about this, a man who is committed to one thing and who says like Paul in 1 Cor. 9:16 Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
At the risk of this blog becoming overly discouraging, I want to make a hard turn and talk about how the church can empower their pastor to be such a man. Where they have one commitment together, with him and that is to be a man who preaches the gospel. Here is how you can build up your pastor to be a gospel-driven preacher.
The best thing you can do for your pastor is to thank him for his commitment to the Word of God, the Gospel.
- Lower your expectations about everything else he does. If your measure of your pastor’s success is how often he visits you, you might be placing a bit too much on him. Certainly the church must visit the sick and provide help to the hurting, but this is best carried out by the collaboration of elders with their pastor.
- Give him a break the moment he steps down from the pulpit. Given that this man has spent fifteen hours to spill out a thirty minute sermon there is a very good chance he is spiritually and emotionally spent. I found out in my last church that someone left the church because I did not acknowledge her in the lobby. I was not friendly enough. There was a good chance I was exhausted and lacked the energy to be all things to all people at that moment.
- Let him know how his sermons are impacting your life, and even convicting you of your sins and giving you a desire for deeper holy living. Let him know you appreciate so much his pointing you to Jesus as the basis for your righteousness. He’s reminded you that you cannot be good enough, but Jesus was, and that is the basis for your holiness. When I hear that kind of preaching, I long to let the pastor know how much I appreciate it, because that is what I had prayed about for him. Also, it is often most encouraging when that expression of appreciation is made during the week, not just after he’s stepped down from the pulpit. Compliments in the lobby as people exit the building can seem perfunctory to the pastor. A call on Monday to encourage him about his sermon can be deeply renewing to a man who wonders if he is doing any good with his preaching.
Preaching is dangerous for both the preacher and the hearer. It is dangerous for the preacher because a great stewardship has been laid upon him, and with privilege comes great responsibility. He will be held accountable for every word, and his ministry will be examined and made manifest before the very judgment seat of Christ. Woe to us if we do not preach the gospel, and even greater woe if we preach it in error. Preaching is also dangerous for the hearer. A preacher’s authority does not come merely from his calling or anointing, but he has authority only to the degree that he correctly interprets and clearly proclaims the truths of Scriptures. When this happens, the hearer is privileged with a message from God and is bound to respond appropriately. In summary, the preacher will give an account for what he has said, and the hearer will give an account for what he has heard. Paul Washer