I attended SOMA One Day training this week in Toronto and experienced something I didn’t expect: the gospel applied to ministry.
This isn’t a new thing, of course. But I’ve realized that many of us (myself included) preach salvation by grace, and have started to preach sanctification by grace (including grace-driven effort) but have not yet come to preach and apply the gospel of pastoring and serving by grace. It’s why we’re so tired, discouraged about the ministry. It’s why we feel we need to measure up and get things done.
I rarely go to a conference or read a ministry book without experiencing ministry by works.
I scribbled down some of Jeff Vanderstelt’s quotes from the training:
If you are afraid, you are living out of what you have done, not what Christ has done.
You’re putting too much weight on yourself. It’s unbearable.
Do ministry out of Jesus’ love, not to earn Jesus’ love.
Do you cover up your shame with the fig leaves of ministry?
The number one starting point for ministry is the Spirit testifying in your heart that you are beloved.
Ministry will kill you if you are living for the approval of other people.
Toronto is not on your back; it’s on Jesus’ back.
It’s hard to even capture the weight that was lifted off our shoulders as Jeff preached ministry by grace, which is not opposed to effort but is opposed to earning. What if pastors really got this? What if church cultures became places in which ministry took place without the weight of having to measure up on our own strength?
I was surprised, then, to read this post by Ray Ortlund yesterday that talked about the same thing:
Two things should be happening in every gospel-centered church every Sunday. One, the gospel should be preached. Two, the gospel should be experienced.
What I mean by the second, experiencing the gospel, is a social environment that feels like the grace of God. It is an obvious alternative to what we experience throughout the week. Every day we swim in an ocean of harsh criticisms, merciless comparisons and never measuring up, soaking us in sadness while also telling us to keep faking happiness. This is the “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom of the world (James 3:15). It doesn’t work.
Then Sunday comes, and we step into church, where the victory of Jesus redefines everything, even to the furthest reaches of the universe. In any church with a confidence that big, the vibe will be obviously different from the world. Every Sunday in that kind of church we will be rediscovering the mercy of God, our union with Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the amazing promises of the gospel. As that good news lands on us afresh and the joy of it all breaks upon our hearts — that’s what the new creation feels like right now. It is the Lord himself enveloping us in his new community, surrounding us “with shouts of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).
If all a church does is preach gospel doctrine, without also cultivating a gospel culture, the impact will be diminished. However “biblical” the message might be, it will not seem plausible or satisfying. The doctrine will seem theoretical, and the church will seem hypocritical. But when the gospel is clear in any church at both levels simultaneously, both the gracious theological message and the humane relational culture, there is power. It is the wisdom that comes down from above (James 3:15). It works.
Man, I want this. I long for a gospel culture that swims against the harshness and the sense that we never measure up. It begins again with looking at Jesus and believing and applying the gospel not only in my salvation and sanctification, but also my ministry. We need an ecclesiology by grace, not the ecclesiology by works that kills.