Monday, October 22, 2012

A Word for Pastors, from Jared Wilson's Gospel Wakefulness

A Word to Pastors (and Eavesdroppers)
From “Gospel Wakefulness” by Jared Wilson

My greatest caution to pastors who are excited about the concept of gospel-wakefulness is to make sure you are more excited about the gospel than any concept related to it. Be more excited about Jesus’s lordship than your own leadership. The humility and confidence intrinsic to gospel wakefulness precludes turning the concept into a meritorious measur-ing stick or means of success. Faithfulness ought to be your measure of success. If you struggle with this, check to make sure you are actually gospel-wakened and not merely enthused about something that seems new and “catchy.” 

The work of a pastor is difficult. Very few Christians lose sleep over the state of their church, the spiritual health of the body, the collective faithfulness or unfaithfulness of the congregation. But pastors do. This is something very few people who aren’t pastors can understand, isn’t it? While pastors carry the weight of their own struggles, and likely the weight of the struggles of their friends and family, they also carry the weight of the struggles of an entire church.
They are responsible for more; they are accountable for much. All that being said, gospel-wakened pas-tors get less frustrated with people for not behaving in convenient ways. We know sin well, but also the wonders of grace. And we know this isn’t something we can just hand to people. We must lead them again and again to the well. But we can’t make them drink.

Pastor, if I could tell you anything about gospel wakefulness that would apply specifically to the work of pastoral care, it would be this: the work is not yours. You be faithful, you be diligent, you be holy. But leave the results to the Holy Spirit. If you would have gospel wakefulness in your church, there is nothing you can do to make it happen for others except to seek it out yourself in daily dwelling in the gospel and to ask God to use your example as an effective witness to astonishment. The work of gospel wakefulness is not yours, but the work of witness to it is. In 1 Thessalonians 1:4–6, Paul writes:
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit. The Thessalonians became imitators of the apostles and of Christ after they “received the word in much affliction, with”—and this is key—“the joy of the Holy Spirit.” They experienced gospel wakefulness. We see the recipe for it in that very verse: they received the good news while in the midst of brokenness.
How did they get it?
Verse 5: “our gospel came to you not only in word . . .” Not only in word, but certainly in word. Brother pastor, you must preach. Preach the gospel. Don’t dillydally, don’t load up on video clips and music, don’t trust the power of your community service programs, don’t rely on marketing. Preach not yourselves, or you will veil the gospel. Preach what, then? The word. What word? The gospel word in the Bible word. Get your Bibles out and share the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is amazing the lengths some preachers will go in order not to preach the Bible! We labor week in and week out for years and years to craft the most dynamic, most exciting, most relevant, most creative messages, fitting some Bible verses into the points we think are really important, and then we wonder why we’ve gotten loads of decisions but made no disciples.

When Willow Creek Community Church, one of the largest churches in North America, discovered the discipleship gap in their own church, they went back to the drawing board, investing in serious research to determine the prescription for what ailed their people. The results of the research revealed that the number-one catalyst to spiritual growth was Bible study. The word of God is able to make a Christian thoroughly equipped (2 Tim. 3:16–17). So pour it thick on your church. We’re not cracking open fortune cookies here or Bartlett’s Quotations. We’re wielding fire. The only reason not to preach God’s word is if you think your own words are better.

But the word Paul and his comrades preached to the Thessalonians came with something: “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit . . .” (1:5). Power and the Holy Spirit belong together here. They are not separate components, really, for the latter explains the source of the former. The gospel is power in itself—meaning, it is not made powerful by us; it is power sourced by the Holy Spirit and power applied by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of God’s elect.  Pastor, this is affirmation yet again that the work is God’s, not yours.  In Acts 13:44–48 we see that “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” Paul and Barnabas preached to the gathering “boldly.” And when the Gentiles heard the gospel, they began rejoicing and glorifying God, and, the passage tells us, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

To repeat: The whole city gathered. Paul and Barnabas preached to the whole lot of them. Those who were appointed by God to believe believed. It is the duty of every pastor, just as it is the duty of every Christian, to preach the gospel to as many as we can. But it is the Spirit’s role to awaken hearts to receive the message. Pastor, put the gospel out there; cast the seed far and wide. Preach boldly and relentlessly. But remember that you are charged with preach-ing, not regenerating. First Thessalonians 1:5 continues: “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” It did not come with an inkling. It did not come accompanied by a hunch. It came with conviction. And a full one! The gospel came to them with full conviction—meaning, it grasped them totally. It shook away the doubt; it created its own assurance. In order for this full conviction to happen, the preacher must preach with it. First Thessalonians 1:5 is double-bladed. The best way to preach for full conviction is to preach with full conviction.

Brothers, take up this mantle with reverence and awe. Take yourself lightly, but take the gospel word heavily. This is serious business. For this reason, Paul instructs Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16); and “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and
self-control” (2 Tim. 1:6–7). Preach the gospel with full conviction that it is the power of salvation for all who believe. You don’t want the Holy Spirit to produce inklings but convictions, so don’t preach with inklings but with convictions. You don’t have to make anything happen; you just have to make sure it’s happened to you.

This will come out in your preaching. Be excited about the Scriptures, feel them as you read and preach them. Preach with passion. Exult over the Scriptures. Preach with unction. Some may ask, isn’t this just performing? Yes, if you’re faking it.In Christopher Ash’s invaluable little book, The Priority of Preaching, we find these good words:
We must not equate passion with style. But we must have hearts aflame with passion. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously defined preaching as, “Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! . . . Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” The story is told that when W. E. Sangster was interviewing
a candidate for the ministry, the nervous young man explained that he was quite shy and not the sort of person ever to set the River Thames on fire. “My dear young brother,” responded Sangster, “I’m not interested to know if you could set the Thames on fire. What I want to know is this: if I picked
you up by the scruff of your neck and dropped you into the Thames, would
it sizzle?” Never mind his eloquence; was he himself on fire?

From my ministry context in New England and from my affection for literary fiction, Ash’s illustrations remind me of a passage from John Updike’s beginning to the Rabbit Angstrom series, Rabbit, Run. One
character is upbraiding a namby-pamby, mealy-mouthed New England preacher who is mired in moral therapeutic deism, of which there are still many within most New England villages:
I know what they teach you at seminary now: this psychology and that. But I don’t agree with it. You think now your job is to be an unpaid doctor, to run around and plug up the holes and make everything smooth. I don’t think that. I don’t think that’s your job. . . . I say you don’t know what your role is or you’d be home locked in prayer. . . . In running back and forth you run from the duty given you by God, to make your faith powerful. . . . When on Sunday morning then, when we go before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ, hot with Christ . . . on fire: burn them with the force of our belief.  My brother pastor, don’t worry about “bringing the heat.” Just be hot. Fan the flame in yourself into full conviction. I fear for some churches, because their shepherds do not know the strength of God perfected in their weakness. But there’s really nothing they can do about that, I think, except hold the hand of Jesus and wait for trouble to come. When it does, they will want to be standing with him. Are you the kind of man who will hold hands with the Son of Man?

What kind of man are you?
First Thessalonians 1:5 resumes: “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” God, please raise up more of these kinds of men in the world today! Look what happens when these kinds of men, banking on the predes-tining purposes of God, preach the gospel in word, in power, in the Holy Spirit, with full conviction: “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6).
Gospel wakefulness in a pastor is contagious.

Gospel Wakefulness, pages 192-196