In yesterday’s post we highlighted the interview with Wess Stafford as he addressed the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ being at the center of one’s life and ministry. This does not just happen but requires being convinced of its priority in doctrine and practice, and being intentional and purposeful in ensuring that the gospel is at the center of everything. Often the best “test” of this is to ask others what they observe about your passion, what they hear from your lips, and what they observe in your life. To get to the heart of this is to ask what you are most excited and passionate about. That will reveal what is at the center of your heart and priorities.
Often we say the gospel is, but then we press on to other things that are perceived to be important, and they probably are, and the next thing that is necessary to do. But the gospel is never not to be at the center of all of life and ministry. One never moves beyond it or moves on to other issues and ministries. Instead one embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ and then works, ponders and prays toward the application of that gospel to all of life and ministry. It is always foundational. This is why that one must acknowledge, affirm, proclaim and live both the centrality of the gospel in doctrine, in proclamation and in life and ministry, i.e. its functional centrality.
In light of this important truth, and building on what we learned yesterday about finishing well, here are additional questions:
- For those who are young, just beginning in ministry, what are the disciplines and habits you are establishing to ensure this happens? From whom are you learning? Be assured it will not happen by default, but it will by Spirit-prompted/empowered design.
- For those who are somewhere in the middle ages of life, those who have been in ministry for a number of years, what do the disciplines and habits reveal? Have you established a good path, or is it necessary to make some mid-stream adjustments? If you do not, will there be gospel regret when you reach the end? Be reassured it is not too late to make those changes. At this point, the temptation is to take an attitude of “been there done that” without even needing to seek the Lord or to remain dependent on Him or to trust that the gospel is the power of God.
- For those who are towards the end of the ministry race, those who are soon to retire, what is required to ensure you finish and transition well? What does your life and ministry reveal about the gospel and its centrality? What are you doing to ensure that the centrality of the gospel does not end with you or your ministry? There are two kinds of temptation at this stage. One is to think that it is either too late to change or to make corrections or confessions. All of these are not signs of weakness but of strength, recognizing that ministry is not about the pastor but about the Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. The other is to think that everything that remains was about the pastor and to conclude that as long as everything is running smoothly and there are no major problems, all is well. There may be some truth to that, but if people don’t love the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel more than you, the pastor, you have laid the wrong foundation. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the only foundation. There is no other.
- For those who are retired from vocational ministry, what can you continue to do to give your life and service, though probably in a non-vocational capacity, to the gospel, in life, in proclamation and in ministry? There are also a couple of temptations for those in this stage of life. One temptation is to think I have “paid my dues,” I am going to enjoy retirement. There is no such retirement! There is another temptation in which a retired pastor senses a need to be preeminent or is jealous for the people’s love or affection. This is misplaced in that for the one who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel, what matters is that the Lord and the gospel are preeminent, not self, and we are grateful to be stewards of it in whatever capacity serves the gospel best. We are jars of clay, and grateful to be so, for in this reality the surpassing power and greatness of God’s gospel is seen in our own weakness, dependency, and delighting in this truth.
Where are you in these various stages? How would you respond to these questions?
“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7).
“But one thing I do: ‘forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13b-14).