The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
The church slowly but surely tends to move away from the gospel just as our bodies slowly but surely move away from health.
The history of the church as well as observation of the contemporary church show that God’s people always suffer from gospel drift. That is, the church slowly but surely tends to move away from the gospel just as our bodies slowly but surely move away from health.
God so loved the world that he sent his Son on a rescue mission to lead people from death to spiritual life. His mission required a flint-like focus on destination Calvary. Yes, there are many other aspects and facets to that mission, but if you lose the cross you lose the mission. As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sent his followers… into the same spiritually dead world, with a message to speak that souls might be rescued, disciples made and multiplication of the mission maintained. But the church drifts.
We drift into lesser projects and, if we are not careful, we start to call them the mission. After all, it always feels better to be successful at something we can do, rather than keeping focused on something we struggle to do. The lesser projects are often not unimportant. The lesser projects should be supportive of the great mission. But when they become identified with the mission, that is a sure sign that drift is occurring.
How often do churches become so consumed with a building project that they lose sight of the greater mission? What about making the church program the best it can be? What about trying to live good lives as a silent witness (and therefore, eventually, no witness at all)? What about improve-human-life projects so that the poor can be less poor? What about political activism that seeks to right wrongs somewhere? Every one of these things is important, and hopefully Jesus would be central to our motivation for each one, but if we are not careful, we will lose Christ’s flint-focus on the mission.
As preachers, we lead and influence. So here are 7 quick ideas to stay gospel sharp in your ministry:
1. Restore your gospel focus in your Bible reading – if you are in the Old Testament, watch the gospel trajectories that lead to Christ; if you are in the Gospels, watch Christ’s mission unfold; if you are in Acts, watch the message spreading; if you are in the epistles, watch the application of the gospel to the challenges facing the church.
2. Purposefully pray beyond your own sphere – be sure that you invest time in prayer that is not focused solely on your life, your ministry, your family, your church, your country. Pray for the lost. Name some. Pray for the cross-focused mission of the church both locally and globally. Pray for some people you will never meet in this life.
3. Sacrificially give to gospel-specific mission – recognize that many good causes can and do raise money from outside (and inside) the church, but who else will give to support evangelistic missions work, Bible translation, church planting, introducing the unreached to Jesus? Giving tends to focus our hearts. If you can, lead your church to give to something outside themselves that only spiritually alive Christians would give to.
4. Read something stimulating – as a preacher we can easily spend a lot of time reading commentaries, and perhaps we make sure we are reading in order to stay current and understand our culture. But what about a missionary biography like God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew, or Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot? You may even have a classic or two on your shelf (there are some great newer ones too, of course!)
5. Identify and persist with a gospel target – I have worked for years with Operation Mobilization, a missionary organization that traces it roots back to one elderly lady who prayed for years for the high school across the street. She could not reach those thousands of students with the good news about Jesus, but she knew who could, so she prayed to Him. She knew what they needed was more than a better school, so she prayed. She sent a gospel of John to a notorious student, and he got saved and co-launched a global missions movement that has impacted millions of lives.
6. Exit your bubble – Prayerfully ask God to help you see the bubble that exists or is forming around your life and ministry. Can you go into the city-centre and see some genuine gospel mission in action? Can you stay in touch with a friend who is overseas telling people about Jesus? Can you visit? The mission of God required and requires the crossing of cultural and national borders … even if your ministry is local, look for ways to cross borders and boundaries so that your bubble does not become a cocoon.
7. Preach bigger than you can achieve – I have deliberately left preaching until the end of the list. If we are to stay gospel sharp it begins in our personal lives, not in our pulpit presentations. But when you preach, don’t settle for achievable goals (such as informing, educating, encouraging, leading, etc.) Be sure that in some way you present Christ and him crucified such that listeners might be saved, and believers might be stirred. True preaching must go beyond what our abilities can achieve and rely on the Spirit of God to bring new spiritual life and new spiritual fruit!
What else would you add? What have you found helpful to avoid gospel drift in your life and ministry?