You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me. But you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life. (John 5:39-40 CSB)
When most people think of what it means to be a gospel-centered pastor, what the pastor preaches quickly comes to mind. A gospel-centered pastor takes Jesus’ warning to the Jewish leaders in John 5:39-40 seriously and recognizes that preaching the Scriptures faithfully means preaching Jesus faithfully—each and every time, from all of the Scriptures.
While preaching the gospel—the one story of Scripture of God’s plan to redeem people from sin through Jesus—is critical, it is not all a pastor does, therefore it is not the only area where a pastor needs to be gospel-centered. Here are four ways for a pastor to be gospel-centered beyond the pulpit.
1. Filter all your church does through a gospel lens.
When we understand that every book, chapter, and passage of Scripture is part of God’s story of redemption through Jesus, it doesn’t take long to realize that every part of our lives is designed to connect to that story too. And that means a pastor needs to hold gospel-centrality as a core conviction of everything his church does.
We can tell quite a bit about what a church values by its calendar and budget. Time and financial resources are two of our greatest treasures, so they serve as windows to the heart of a church (Lk. 12:34). What does your calendar and budget reveal? Every event scheduled and every dollar spent should connect to at least one of three core purposes: 1) communicating the gospel story, 2) facilitating gospel transformation, or 3) releasing for gospel mission. If an event or a budget line does not connect to one of these three goals, ask why it exists, and consider striking it.
2. Develop the right heart for missions.
Here is something to ponder: Unless you are reading this article from Jerusalem (and perhaps not even then), you are a direct result of the church’s global missionary endeavor. It was obedience to Christ and missionary zeal that carried the gospel from Jerusalem to the utmost parts of the world, which is where most of us live. And, now, we are called on to play our role in continuing that expansion.
Remembering that we are benefactors of the faithfulness of others is vital because our motivation matters in our missions efforts. It’s not just a matter of what we do, but why we do what we do as well. If our people see missions as an opportunity for the mighty Western Church to be the savior of the poor, needy world (double-meaning intended), they will rob God of His glory in their efforts, and those efforts will not stand. Instead, our people need to view missions with deep humility and gratitude. At one time, in an act of grace, God sent beautiful feet to bring good news to us (Rom. 10:15). And now, because of the kindness of Christ, He makes our feet beautiful—not because of who we are and what we can offer—but because of the gospel we bear. Our mission efforts—international, national, and local—then, are not to be acts of our charity, but joyful, grateful responses to God’s charity to us.
3. Share your struggles in appropriate ways.
Let’s be honest: most people in your church have placed you on a pedestal—whether you want that to be the case or not. You are an example of spiritual maturity; a picture of what they aspire to be. And let’s continue being honest: a good portion of that is rightful and deserved. We are supposed to lift up more mature believers as examples of what faithful living looks like. That’s the purpose of Hebrews 11, isn’t it?
But let’s be honest once more: we often fall into the trap of believing that our people need to see nothing from us but positive examples of our faithfulness. And so, we shield parts of our lives and wear plastic masks. We hide the difficulties we have as husbands or fathers and play the role of super-husband or super-dad instead. We don’t talk about parts of Scripture and theology that we struggle to understand—or believe—and play the role of super-theologian instead. We never mention our grappling with temptation and sin and play the role of super-saint instead.
And in doing so, we take what is good—others looking toward us for encouragement—and turn it into bad—giving others the impression that spiritual maturity means having everything together. Instead, we need to be appropriately vulnerable with our people. We need to let them behind the curtain and see that we are a work in progress as well—that is what sanctification is all about. That we are just as in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace—the gospel—as the day we first believed.
4. Rest as a rhythm of life.
God hard-wired us for rest. You need rest and your people need to see you resting. And it isn’t just a matter of preventing ministry burnout and protecting time with your family, as vital as those are. Your people need to see you rest so that they can be reminded that your church cannot be dependent on you; it needs to depend on Christ alone. What do you communicate if you position yourself as indispensable? That nothing can take place without your input or without your presence? Whether you mean to or not, you are telling your people that your church needs you above everything else. But the truth is, your people do not need you; they need Jesus who is in you. And Jesus is not found in just you, but in all of those who have trusted in Him.
So don’t just find time to rest, make time for it. Guard your calendar tenaciously. Delegate. Develop a pipeline to raise up new leaders. Attend church events where you have no leadership role. Remind your people through your actions and non-actions that the gospel is not about what we can do for Christ, but resting in what Christ has done for us and what He continues to do through us—every person in the church.
Brian Dembowczyk serves as Managing Editor of The Gospel Project and is the author of Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry and Cornerstones: 200 Questions and Answers to Teach Truth. Before coming to Lifeway, he served in church ministry for 17 years. Brian earned a DMin from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, an MDiv from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is pursuing a PhD from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow Brian on Twitter at @briandembo.