Over the past twenty years I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of young men who are going into the ministry. Basically, I would place categorize these young men into one of two broad categories — planters and revitalizers. What I mean by this is that some of them have been gifted and called to plant new churches while the others are called and gifted to be involved in revitalizing older, existing churches. Both of these kind of Pastors are needed in the Kingdom and over the next week I would like to focus on some of the traits that go into making a successful revitalizing Pastor. The first of these is:
An Unwavering commitment to the gospel:
In Romans 1:16 the Apostle Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” As a revitalizing Pastor, you will quickly discover that Satan and the world will conspire against you to rob you of your trust in the sufficiency of gospel. By offering us a wide array of distractions and alternatives, Satan relentlessly tries to separate us from the one thing that he fears the most — the gospel. By doing so, he is able to keep us from the unleashing the power of God upon our congregations.
Most of the young pastors that I have known start out with a strong commitment to the gospel and begin their ministry with strong and clear preaching. But at some point in every revitalization process there will arise opposition from within the congregation and most of the time it will have something to do with the preaching. There will be people within the congregation who complain about the preaching and others will point to preachers in television or in the area who are more successful. Often these other preachers will have already compromised the gospel and given into a more pragmatic and human centered form of preaching. The problem, of course, is that many times those who have compromised will have a great deal of numerical success and, therefore, it is very easy in these situations for a young Pastor to fall into the temptation of compromising the message for the sake of church growth. But this is always a mistake.
Healthy churches are built upon a robust preaching and teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to focus our primary attention not on metrics but on our faithfulness to the gospel. The bottom line is that we can build the largest church in our town or in America for that matter but if we are not faithful to the gospel we have nothing. Therefore, the first and more important trait of a revitalizing Pastor is an unwavering commitment to the gospel. This means that not only being committed to the truth of the message of the gospel but also to its sufficiency. What I mean is that we understand that the gospel is sufficient to accomplish God’s purpose and plan within the life of our congregation. Therefore, our primary purpose as Pastors is to preach, teach and live the gospel in front of our congregations and to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to its message throughout every area of our ministry.
One of the greatest dangers in the life of the Pastor is unconfessed sin. It will rob you of your intimacy with God and steal your spiritual power. Over the next three days I want to share with you three steps that every Pastor needs to take in order to guard our hearts against unconfessed sin.
STEP 1: Focus on Your Relationship with God
It may seem strange to those who are not in the ministry but nearly every Pastor I know will tell you that they struggle with their own relationship with God. It is an inherent occupational hazard that the more time we spend dealing with other people’s spiritual lives the less time we will focus on our own. This often leads us to having blind spots in our lives when it comes to our own sin. The cure, of course, is to spend more time focused on our own relationship with God.
During my ordination service one of the Pastors who laid hands and prayed over me was named John Hayes. Over the course of his ministry Pastor John had planted over a dozen Southern Baptist Churches including Open Door Baptist Church in Colliers, WV where I was being called to Pastor. I will never forget when John knelt down and whispered in my ear, “No matter what else happens, never let Satan steal your time alone with God. This is the most important time of your day.” Over the past two decades of ministry I haven’t always succeeded in maintaining this important aspect of my relationship with God, but I have clearly learned its importance. When we spend time alone with God it allows two important things to happen in our lives.
First, the more we focus on our relationship with God the more aware we become of our own sinfulness. I am not suggesting here that we fall into the trap of having a morbid obsession over our sin, but the simple truth is that as we draw near to God the light of His presence will reveal sin in our lives. In fact, I am convinced that one of the reasons that I often neglect my spiritual life is that I do not want to be made aware of my sin. Before you judge me too harshly, I would urge you to take a look at your own heart and see if this is not a struggle in your life as well. The good news is that never reveals our sin without at the same time offering us His mercy and grace through the gospel.
That brings me to the second things that happens when we focus on our relationship with God — we are drawn into a deeper appreciation and understanding of the gospel. The simple truth of the matter is that before God called us to be preachers of the gospel, He called us to be partakes in the gospel. In reality no Christian ever grows beyond their daily need to preach the gospel to themselves — and that includes you and me. As pastors and ministry leaders we stand in daily need of preaching the gospel to ourselves and applying its blessed truth to our lives. This constant focus on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ will not only expose every sinful act and idol in our hearts but it will also drive us deep into the arms of Christ where we find grace and forgiveness.