Over the past decade there has been a great resurgence of the gospel in church ministry. As one writer put it, “There has been an explosion of gospel-centeredness.” On the whole, this is a very encouraging development. And yet there’s a danger that the word “gospel” can simply turn into the latest buzzword or church-growth trend where the word is used so much that it loses its meaning and value. So, what does a healthy and effective gospel ministry look like in a church? How can church leaders and church members tell if their ministry really is gospel-centered? In the beginning of 1 Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul defended his gospel ministry in that church and, in turn, described the motives and manner of healthy gospel ministry for any church.
The motives of gospel ministry.
Effective leaders do not show up to be seen; they show up to be heard.
When Paul and his leadership team came into a city they didn’t come “empty handed,” just wanting to show their faces. They came with the costly message of the gospel. Imagine a team of fire fighters showing up to a burning building without any hoses, fire extinguishers or ladders, and saying, “Hey, aren’t you glad we’re here? Look at our big red truck and cool uniforms!” Paul didn’t do that. He came with the needed tool to fix the problem. He came with the good news of Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. He came with the message of how anyone who comes to God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone can be reconciled to God forever and enter the kingdom of God. What’s the gospel ministry without the gospel being clearly proclaimed? It’s just a big red truck and uniforms, and that’s not going to save anybody.
Effective leaders do not seek to please men, but seek to please God.
Paul didn’t come with a false and flattering message in order to please people but a true and often offensive message that pleased God. As John Stott put it, “They didn’t conceal the cost of discipleship or offer false comfort either.” Now, it’s not wrong to please people; it’s wrong to make pleasing people your aim, to let the approval of man be the driving motivation in ministry.
Effective leaders are not there to get something, but to give something.
Paul’s leadership team wasn’t preaching out of greed in order to get people’s money. They were there to freely share the gospel and their very lives with people in order to benefit them spiritually.
Effective leaders do not aim to be popular; they aim to be faithful.
Paul was not seeking glory from people because being faithful, not being famous, is the mark of true ministry success. Gospel-centered leaders are not living to make a name for themselves but to make a name for Jesus. This will mean a willingness to do the small mundane thankless tasks and to resist rivalry and envy when others get noticed instead of you. Those are some of the motives that leaders should seek to avoid, and now let’s consider the manner of gospel ministry that leaders should seek to apply.
The Manner of Gospel Ministry
Like a nursing mother
Paul said, “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” When it comes to God’s truth and wanting to help people to grasp it, leaders need to be gentle and patient. Moreover, there’s something about mothers that when they hear a baby crying, even if that baby is not their own, they can’t take it; immediately they want to respond and help. That’s exactly the way that church leaders should be when they hear the cries for help from God’s people.
A hard worker
Paul was willing to do by-vocational ministry, working day and night if need be to get churches started. Effective ministry is hard and tiring work. There are times when you don’t want to make that extra phone call, visit with that person or help with that project, but that’s the moment that separates the imitators from the leaders, the talkers from the doers. Leaders are not called to do everything, to burn out or to neglect their families, but effective ministry work is difficult and requires hard work.
A godly example
Paul said, “Our conduct was holy, righteous and blameless among you.” Now obviously that didn’t mean that they were perfect, but clearly there is a call upon leaders to live as examples of godliness that attract people to the grace and beauty of Christ.
A strong father
Lastly, Paul compared their ministry to a father who exhorts and encourages his children. Healthy ministry is not just motherly; it’s fatherly. Leaders are meant to bring exhortation and encouragement, conviction and comfort, warning and teaching. Simply put, they are to speak up and lead.
So according to Paul, those are the motives that leaders should seek to avoid and the manner that they need to take for effective gospel ministry. Will any church leader do this perfectly? Of course not. But when leaders passionately pursue this, then “gospel-centered” becomes more than simply a catch phrase plastered on a website, it becomes the beating heart of the entire ministry.