The gospel grounds and shapes all of the pastor’s life and work, remind evangelical pastors at T4G
The centrality of the gospel to the Christian life is a mark of evangelical Christian belief. It is all but a truism that evangelicals are gospel people. But, the gospel message that Jesus Christ died as a substitute for those who come to him by faith not only serves as the life-blood of the Christian life: the gospel shapes the pastor’s life, it grounds his ministry, and it provides the foundation and content of his ministry. Pastors are, as the theme for the 2020 Together for the Gospel conference states, “entrusted with the gospel.” The task to which ministers must give undivided focus is preaching and teaching the gospel, starting with believing it and living in light of it themselves.
The 2020 Together for the Gospel conference (April 14–16) was unlike any of the previous years. Due to travel restrictions and social distancing in response to COVID-19, the conference moved online. The conference still “aims to encourage and aid ministry leaders with three days of biblical preaching, fellowship, books, and singing.” But fulfilling that aim in the midst of a global pandemic looked different than what took place at the seven previous conferences.
At this year's conference, a live-feed was made available to registrants, and they could share their registrant link with ten other people. There were over 35,000 unique viewers in 115 countries. The plenary talks, break-out sessions, and most of the panels were pre-recorded in the days leading up to the conference and streamed on the live feed.
The pastor captured by Christ
Churches desperately need shepherds who are acquainted with the heavenly joy, said Richard Chin at the opening session of Together for the Gospel. Chin, who serves as the National Director of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students, noted in his talk “A Gospel Imperative: The Pastor Captured by Christ” that the gospel must serve as the “subterranean waters” of everything pastors do.
Chin’s text was Colossians 3:1–4, where Paul reminded the Colossians that the truth of the gospel is what should motivate them to live the imperatives of the Christian life. The Christian’s identity, and therefore the pastor’s identity, is that of someone who has been raised with Christ.
“Our reality is tied to Christ’s reality. We died with him. We rose with him. ...The new age of God’s kingdom has begun, and we who have received Christ as Lord, we are hidden in Christ, and we will be revealed with him in glory.”
Too often pastors immediately jump to what they should be doing, before reflecting on what God has done for them in Christ, but “gospel imperatives only arise when we understand the gospel,” Chin said. Once the pastor meditates on these truths, he will naturally want his life to be marked by an out-flow of gospel action. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” (Col. 3:1).
The call to lead the flock of God flows from love for God
In a time of pandemic, the church is helped by reflecting on the nature of pastoral ministry, because it is even more necessary for pastors to be the kinds of shepherds who build up their congregations in the faith, said David Platt, Pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. Platt preached from 1 Peter 5:1–4, one of the passages that provides a blue-print for ministry, and he asked eight questions to reflect on the passage with those listening.
The pastor is like the keeper of a lighthouse, helping to keep God’s people from being shipwrecked on the treacherous obstacles that threaten to undo them.
Similar to Chin’s talk, Platt first focused on the spiritual health of the pastor.
“Leadership in the church is given to those with affection for the Lord of the Church,” Platt said.
Furthermore, Platt noted how those same affections are what should motivate a pastor to continue in his labor. “Don’t manufacture a heart for ministry and miss a heart for Jesus.” A theme throughout the talk was the distinction between ministering as a profession with a standard set of checklists and ministering as an out-pouring of love for God and his people.
“Is pastoring a job for you to perform, or is it a passion for you to fulfill. ...Are you driven by what you get in ministry or by what you give in ministry?,” Platt asked.
Concluding with Peter, Platt asked, “does the way you pastor make no sense on this earth, but make total sense in heaven?”
The heart of the gospel
Jesus, as the Great High Priest and as the King of Israel, died to save his people–and the gospel cannot be explained without proclaiming that truth, said Greg Gilbert, Senior Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky, and author of What is the Gospel? (Crossway, 2010). Gilbert’s talk focused on clarifying what Christians mean when talking about the gospel, showing how the biblical storyline describes how God will reconcile his people to himself. This reconciliation is done through Christ, who is both a suffering Savior and a glorious King.
Christ’s suffering on the cross is part of the display of his kingship, contrary to some of the modern attempts to explain the gospel, Gilbert argued. “His salvation of his people is tied to his kingship. The simple fact that Jesus is King and he is working to reconcile all things to himself does not capture the Bible’s teaching on the gospel.”
“In your proclamation of the gospel, you should absolutely proclaim the gospel that Jesus is King, but you cannot rightly do that without proclaiming what that King does,” Gilbert said. “He stands in his peoples’ place, and he suffers and dies in their stead in order to save them from their rebellion against God.”
Gilbert explained this by walking through the biblical storyline in four points: the King in the garden, the King in Israel, the King in the prophets, and the King in his beauty. Beginning with Genesis 1, Gilbert explained how the Bible uses language to describe Adam as the Priest-King of Eden. The one who would undo what Adam did would likewise have to be a Priest-King, Gilbert argued.
In the life of Israel, it becomes clear that the King would also suffer for his people. “Stripes and the crown go together.” Ultimately, the Prophets picked up the various promises that had been made throughout the Old Testament, and they tell of one man who would be an anointed, conquering King who was also a servant. The crown of Israel and the crown of thorns would fall on to his head.
The New Testament demonstrates how these promises culminate in Jesus as both King and Priest, and it is through his atoning work that his people are saved.
“The only way to receive the blessings of the kingdom is through the cross of the King.”
The glorious gospel of the blessed God
Two terms that are often used in evangelical life that require definition are glory and gospel. Often, evangelicals use these terms in ways that do not sufficiently capture the weight of how the Bible describes them, argued R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. But “how do we define gospel and how do we define glory?,” Mohler asked.
The gospel is the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to sinners who by faith look to him and his atoning work as their only hope of reconciliation to God. God’s glory, Mohler argued, is “the weight of God,” or “gravitas.”
The gospel and the glory of God go hand in hand. “The glory of God is revealed in the glory of Christ,” Mohler said referencing 2 Corinthians 4:1–6, where Paul describes Christ’s work as “the gospel of the glory of Christ” and where Paul wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
“The gospel with which we are entrusted is a glorious gospel. The cross is the display of God’s righteousness as both the just and justifier.”
Build your sermon on the cross
Pastors should strive to preach the whole Bible, because the whole Bible is profitable for the Christian life, and preachers should do that by asking, “how can I see what this author sees? What divine realities might the author have for me?,” said John Piper, Founder and Teacher of Desiring God and Chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
“Wrestle with the words and sentences until you see the reality that is in those words.”
Piper noted that it has been said that the preacher should go quickly to the cross no matter what biblical text they are preaching. This is insufficient, said Piper. “Instead of taking your text and making a beeline for the cross, start at the cross and run towards your text.”
The cross should be the foundation of every sermon, Piper argued. Similar to Chin’s reminder that gospel realities drive gospel imperatives, Piper noted that the gospel also undergirds preaching.
“Every biblical topic, every text that we take up and worshipfully explain and offer to our people for their profit, is based on the cross, the crucified one. [The text] could never be true without [the cross].”
The display of God’s beauty
The gospel puts on display both God’s glory and God’s beauty. In fact, said Trip Lee, Young Adult Pastor at Concord Church, Dallas, Texas, “the good news is the greatest, most clear display of God’s beauty.” The truth of the gospel–that God the Son took on flesh, lived a perfect life, was crucified as an atoning sacrifice, was raised to newness of life as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, and even now intercedes for his own–is a captivatingly beautiful message. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).
And yet, pastors can often forget how beautiful that truth is, and they can in turn forget to remind their congregations of how beautiful that message is. In a time when people reject the idea that human beings are by nature sinful and in need of a Savior, the gospel of Christ can feel uncomfortable to share.
“One of the things we as pastors have to do is remind our people that the gospel is beautiful,” said Lee. “Of course it is true–it is the way we get connected with God. But it is also beautiful. Because what can happen is, we can have people who say ‘yes, that’s true,’ but they almost seem ashamed of it.”
“We don’t want to be apologetic about the good news.”
The gospel shows the love of God, freeing us from our sins by his blood and demonstrating that God reigns. We know God loves his people because God has demonstrated it finally and fully in the person and work of Jesus.
“There are people in your church who are being pulled away from God and for what his love is,” Lee said. “We want to remind them of the beauty of God, shown in the love of God in what Jesus did to come get us.”
Building up the body of Christ
Faithful pastors are a gracious gift to local churches, because faithful pastors are called to equip the people of God for better understanding and living out of the word of God, said J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary.
“Jesus has given his church godly, gifted men to serve as pastor teachers,” said Duncan. “That’s the gift and he’s done this in order to do three things: to prepare or equip the church, to do the work of ministry (to serve the people of God), in order to edify the body of Christ.”
In his talk on Ephesians 4:11–13, entitled “Equipping the Saints: The Ministers of the Church as the Son’s Gift and the Spirit’s Servants for the Realization of Jeremiah’s New Covenant Prophecy in the Life of the Congregation,” Duncan reflected on what is the non-negotiable work a pastor must be about. In short, he argued, a pastor must teach the Bible to their people.
“May we resolve that our people will be taught the Bible,” Duncan said.
Teaching the Bible should do three things in the life of the local church, Duncan argued: to equip, serve, and edify the saints. And these three ends likewise bring about three parallel goals: unity as the body of Christ, maturity to discern truth from error, and conformity to the image of Christ.
“What is the goal of [the pastor’s] activity: so that each and every one of us attains to the unity and the maturity and the conformity to Christ that God has purposed for us in his great plan.”
A theology of God’s goodness
God’s goodness is the blessing and bounty of God, argued Kevin Deyoung, Senior Pastor at Christ Covenant Church and Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte Campus.
“Divine goodness is the overflowing bounty of God, by which he who receives nothing and lacks nothing communicates blessings to his creation and to his creatures.”
A key component of God’s goodness is that nothing outside of himself forces him to demonstrate kindness to his creation. “The freedom of God to dispense his mercy to whomever he pleases apart from any constraint outside of his own will is what it means for God to be glorious and for God to be good.” God’s goodness is displayed in three key ways: creation, providence, and redemption.
“[God] runs to us faster than we run to him–that’s the goodness of God.”
The proper response to the goodness of God is to be quick to pray to him, to demonstrate goodness to others, and to meditate on who God is.
“God is delighted to open his hand to us. ...Let our hearts be large for others, and let us be especially liberal to those who despise us.”
The joy of being a pastor
Pastors must recognize the joy in being a pastor of a local church, said Ed Moore, Pastor of North Shore Baptist Church, Bayside, New York. In his talk explaining 2 Timothy 4:5, Moore provided encouragement for pastors by focusing on “fulfill your ministry.” Pastors can fulfill their ministry for one reason:
“Only because Jesus finished his ministry, can we fulfill our ministry. That which enables us to fulfill our work is the objective reality and experiential reality that Christ died for our sins, all of them. ...If you are discouraged, you have to latch on to Christ.
A primary source of discouragement is comparing one’s current church to other pastors’ churches. “One way we combat discouragement is by joyfully accepting where God in his providence and in his sovereignty has placed us right now.”
Moore concluded by reminding pastors that the pastor is not primarily called to fulfill the task of an executive within the local church. The pastor wages war against the forces that would ensnare their congregation and tempt them to depart from the faith. In that work, pastors must not rely on their own strength, but Christ’s to finish the battle.
“Ministry is war, and Jesus is the captain of the Lord’s army.”
Pastor with eyes focused on heaven
H.B. Charles Jr., Pastor of Shiloh Church in Jacksonville, FL, encouraged pastors to lift their eyes off of earthly realities and to set them on Christ’s heavenly kingdom. “Perspective changes everything,” said Charles. Preaching from 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, Charles said “minister to win an imperishable prize.”
“You cannot joyfully live the Christian life or faithfully execute Christian ministry without an eternal perspective. Your ‘uplook’ must determine your outlook. The world beyond us must shape our view of the world around us. We should live and minister with the hope that one day we will receive an imperishable prize.”
Two challenges for pastors arise from 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, Charles noted. First, that pastors must “challenge the saints to run to win the prize.” This running is marked by self-control. “There is no reason to expect success without self discipline.”
The second challenge for pastors is to “live with spiritual determination and holy fear.” The pastor ought to be an example of running the race well.
“It should be our desire to end our ministry in the same ways as Paul.”
The pastor and the day of judgement
Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C., and Duke K. McCall Professor of Pastoral Leadership at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reminded pastors that they cannot only preach the gospel, they must believe it. In his talk concluding the conference, Dever explained what the Bible says about what the pastor can expect on the day of judgement. Though pastors are not a special class of Christians, they will receive a stricter judgement on that day. Yet, Dever said, that should be a motivation to pastor faithfully now and it also should not be a cause of despair.
“If at any point you are tempted to feel hard done by by the stricter judgement we do bear, do remember how Christ has made himself accountable to endure an even stricter judgement for us.”
A pastor who labors earnestly to present his local church in purity to God is a pastor who can also find deep joy.
“Faithful pastor, on the last day we may expect to rest and to be confirmed, to be vindicated and even rewarded, to be humbled and surprised, to be reunited and to give an account, and we may expect to love and be loved and to know a joy in God that we have never known before and that will have no end. What do the Proverbs say? ‘The hope of the righteous brings joy (Prv. 10:28).’”
T4G20 resources will be available to the public on May 14.