6 Ways to Begin Developing a Gospel-Centered Culture

Over the last several years, there have been numerous ministries, books, conferences, blogs, and churches gravitating toward gospel-centered ministry. Thankfully, I was blessed to be a member of one of those churches during seminary. Through that church I came to understand that the gospel must be what all our ministries are based on, empowered by, and result from. After seeing that modeled for three years, when I left for my first pastorate, I immediately began working to create a gospel-centered culture within my church. Three and a half years later I am still working, but by God’s grace a lot of progress has been made.

Recently, I was asked what exactly I am doing to help create a gospel-centered culture here at Sycamore. Although my ministry and I are imperfect, I want to share with you six things I have been doing over my time here.

6 Ways to Begin Developing a Gospel-Centered Culture

(1) Preach the gospel

Pastor, your pulpit ministry has a huge influence over your church, which means if you want your church to be gospel-centered, your preaching must be gospel-centered. Gospel-centered preaching involves more than tacking the gospel on to the end of your sermon, as if it was an after thought. Instead gospel-centered preaching involves the gospel taking center-stage. You know that has happened when you use the gospel to encourage; convict; draw out; spur on; and promote joy, hope, and courage among your flock. So if you desire to create a gospel-centered culture in your church, make the gospel the center of your preaching.

(2) Counsel with the gospel

A pastor’s ministry doesn’t end after he steps out of the pulpit. In most cases, it is just beginning. That’s because faithfully preaching the gospel week in and week out will inevitable draw questions and sin to the surface, questions and sin that must be dealt with in the counseling room. Just like in the pulpit, the gospel must take center-stage in your counseling. You must not motivate your people to change through positive thinking and bootstrap mentality. You have to motivate them with the gospel. Doing so is not only what is best for them, but also it’s what will help create a gospel-centered culture in your church. As your people see the power and benefit of the gospel for both salvation and sanctification, they will begin applying it not only to themselves, but to those around them as well.

(3) Motivate with the gospel

When it comes to motivation, the tactic most people default to is guilt. I think that is because it works, and it is what comes natural to us. While guilt can motivate in the short-term, it can’t and doesn’t produce lasting and healthy results. That’s because it leaves our people feeling beaten up and, at times, depressed. I know you don’t want that for your people, which means you have to use something other than guilt to motivate them. You have to use the gospel. So the next time you need to motivate your flock to volunteer, tithe, reach the lost, or deal with their sin, apply the gospel, rather than guilt. It is not only what’s best for them, but also it is what will help create a gospel-centered culture in your church.

 (4) Talk about the gospel

I don’t know who said it first, but whoever said, “Your people aren’t really hearing what you are saying, until you are tired of saying it”, was right. Which means, if you want to create a gospel-centered culture in your church, you can never tire of talking about the gospel.

(5) Give gospel-centered resources 

If you are anything like me, you not only grew in your knowledge of gospel-centered ministry through your local church, but also through books, podcasts, videos, and articles. Just as you benefit, your people will as well. So as often as you can, give your people gospel-centered resources to read, listen to, and watch.

(6) Pray for a gospel-centered culture

Prayer is powerful; it truly can change things. It can change the hearts of men, it can bring about healing, and it can change the culture in your church. Often times I believe we forget the power of prayer. When we do, we begin to rely on our own strength, know-how, and ingenuity. But that alone won’t do when it comes to creating a gospel-centered culture because people’s hearts and minds need to be changed. The only way that is going to truly happen is if God changes them. So if you want a gospel-centered culture to take root in your church, go to the Lord in prayer, asking Him not only to change your own heart and mind, but those of your congregation as well.

Question for Reflection

  1. How are you working to create a gospel-centered culture in your church?

Resource

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Authority Isn’t A Bad Thing

Authority. The first thing most people do when they hear the word is cringe or prepare to reject it at all costs.

Rejecting authority is our natural reaction. It has been ingrained in us since the beginning. Our first parent’s Adam and Eve rejected God’s authority for their own, leading us to do the same ever since. So it is only natural we buck at the idea of authority.

Everyone is Under Authority

While that is our natural reaction, God tells us everyone is under authority.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor. 11:3).

God’s authority structure is arranged so that:

  • The head of every man is Jesus Christ.
  • The head of every wife is her husband.
  • The head of Jesus Christ is God.

An Objection

Immediately, upon reflecting on this list, some, especially those in the feminist movement, look at this structure and say, “God thinks woman are less valuable than men because they are subjected to them.” But that is not true. God’s structure isn’t based on worth, it’s based on roles.

Tax season ended several months ago. I don’t know about you but that is one of two seasons I don’t look forward to — summer in Texas being the other. But, as we all know, those are two seasons you can’t avoid, because they come back year after year.

When you finally sit down to fill out those dreaded tax forms, one question that appears on your form is: Are you the head of the household?

When the IRS asks that question, they don’t mean to imply that your children, or even your spouse, is of lesser value than you. They simple want to know the role you play in your family.

In a similar way, God’s authority structure is also based on the role we play in our family, which means men are not of greater value than women, they just play a different role. A role assigned by God, as the head of the family.

Digging Deeper Into the Structure

As we dig deeper into God’s ordained structure, we learn:

(1) Men must submit to Jesus

Men are not given absolute authority. Instead, men must act under Jesus’ directive because He is our head.

With Jesus as our head, we must allow Him to guide us, to lead us. As well as we must exercise our role of authority as Jesus would.

A good example of how Jesus exercises His authority is found in Ephesians 5:25-30

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” (Eph 5:25–30)

Ephesians 5 teaches men several things about leadership – how we are supposed to lead and what our role as the head of the family looks like.

According to Ephesians 5, men are to love, sacrifice for, provide for, care for, and protect their families, their wives. We aren’t to dominate them with a heavy hand. Nor are we to abuse, or use them. Instead, we are to love them as Jesus loves the church, giving of ourselves for them. We are to do everything in our power to care for them, protect them, and provide for them. We should also nourish them with the Word of God, leading them spiritually.

We should do all this, while at the same time allowing Jesus to lead us. He should continually be our example of headship, as well as our leader.

(2) Wives must submit to their husbands

I am fully aware that this is a controversial statement, especially in this day and age. But we are going to tackle it anyways.

What does it mean for a wife to submit to her husband?

Let me start with what it doesn’t mean, because I think that will clear up some misunderstanding.

  • It doesn’t mean you are to be dominated by your husband.
  • It doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with or even challenge your husbands ideas.
  • It doesn’t mean your husband can use and abuse you and you must take it willingly.
  • It doesn’t mean you can’t call your husband out on his sin.
  • It can’t mean any of those things because a husband is supposed to lead like Jesus.

Instead, what it means for a wife to submit to her husband is that:

  • She willingly accepts her God give role as her husband’s helper.
  • She willingly allows him to lovingly lead her, as Jesus is leading him.
  • She willingly accepts his decisions, as he seeks to do what is best for his family both physically and spiritually.

We know this is what it means for a wife to submit to her husband because her submission is based on Jesus’ submission to His father.

A wife’s submission is modeled by Jesus 

Even though Jesus is equal with the Father and God Himself, He willingly accepted His position as the Son, submitting to His Father. In doing so:

  • He accepted His role as Christ — the One who died for the sins of mankind.
  • He willingly allowed the Father to lead and guide Him, even to the cross.
  • He willingly accepted the Father’s will, allowing His decisions to be final.

Just as a husband is to be led by Jesus as he leads his family, a wife is to be led by Jesus as she submits to her husband. We are to live in obedience to the roles we are given in God’s authority structure.

Submission As A Reflection of the Gospel & God’s Wisdom

When both husband and wife submit according to God’s good design, two things happen.

(1) We Reflect the Gospel – by sacrificing our will for God’s will, just like Jesus sacrificed His will and His self for us.

(2) We Reflect God’s Wisdom – by showing the world that things go well when we function within our roles.

Before I accepted my first full-time pastorate, I worked for a staffing and recruiting company based out of Atlanta.

Relatively early in my tenure, I had the opportunity to move to Dallas and help open the companies first satellite office. When we moved, the owners did something I would never do. They didn’t appoint a manager for the office. Their thought was that a leader would naturally rise to the top that others in the office would follow. When that happened, they would promote that person to office manager.

In theory, that sounds good. In reality, it didn’t work. The result was an unproductive work environment that kept the office from thriving.

No one knew who “really” was in charge, who they were supposed to take orders from, or even their own role. The result was chaos, conflict, and an office that didn’t run as a well oiled machine.

Likewise, there is chaos and conflict in the family, when individual family members operate outside their God given roles. On the other hand, when we function within our God given roles, things run smoothly.

When we really think hard about it, we realize authority isn’t such a bad thing, it is instead a good thing that shouldn’t be despised, cringed at, or rejected. It’s something that should be embraced as a means of grace by which God provides for His people.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you think of God’s authority as a means of grace?

Resources

Post adapted from my recent sermon God’s Authority Structurewhich can be listened to in its entirety here.

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Surviving the Challenges of the Pastorate

If you think back over your life, there are bound to be a few days you hold as special; days that have shaped you. In my life there are a little more than a handful of days that are extremely special to me; days I will never forget.

Those days include: High School, College, and Seminary graduation. The day my wife and I were married. The birth of our two sons – Camden and Bryson. My call to the pastorate, and the day I was ordained. Those are all special days for me. Days I will never forget. Days that have shaped my life.

While each of those days were joyous occasions, each also brought with them new challenges. One day, or one journey, that has been joyous yet challenging is the call to the pastorate.  I have been extremely blessed by the people I pastor, but I have also been extremely challenged.

For the those who are thinking of entering the pastorate, just starting out, or are seasoned pastors there are three things that will help you survive the challenges of the pastorate.

Surviving the Challenges of the Pastorate

(1) Love Jesus

You must love Jesus above anything else in your life. When you love Jesus more than anything else, you will pursue Him more than anything else. It is necessary that you pursue Jesus because you will need Him to strengthen you for the task at hand.

There will be times when you will have to console those who are hurting, pray for those who are sick, apply godly counsel and wisdom to sensitive and difficult situations in the church, and much more. You can’t do those things in your own power, nor must you attempt to. Doing so is the surest way to set yourself and your church up for failure.

So in order for you to serve the Lord in the way He has called you to serve Him, you will need to love Jesus more than anything else in your life, so that you will pursue Him to a greater extent than anything else in this world.

When I talk about pursuing Jesus, I mean for you to pursue Him in prayer, Bible study, and worship. Which are all necessary if you are going to lead and serve the church according to God’s Will.

In order to know God’s will, you must be in His Word as often as possible. In order to apply His will, you must pray. In order to grow in your love for God so that you will continue to pursue Him more and more in prayer and Bible study, you need to worship the Lord, so that your affections are stirred for Him more and more each and everyday.

Let me encourage you to make it a point to read God’s Word as often as you have opportunity. Not just for sermon preparation, but for personal devotion. Allow God to nurture your own soul as you meet with Him daily in His Word.

Pray each and every time you have a question to answer, a situation to handle, a decision to make, or a sermon to write.

Be involved in the worship service, attentive and worshipping alongside your congregation. It is easy to find projects to complete, people to talk to, or notes to review before you step in the pulpit. Avoid doing those things and worship alongside your congregation, not only as an example to them of the importance of worship, but also for your own soul.

As well as take moments throughout your day to worship the Lord for the many ways He is working in your life, for the awe of His creation, and the prayers He has answered in your life and the life of your church.

(2) Love Your Church

Love is an interesting word in our modern vocabulary. By it people often mean they have a certain feeling about someone or something, which usually arises because that something or someone makes them feel good. So for instance when I say I love coffee. What I really mean is that it makes me feel good, so good that it invokes a response out of me.

However, when I talk about loving the church, I don’t have that same type of love in mind. Instead I have in mind the love that Christ has for us. In 1 John 3:16, we read,

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 Jn 3:16)

Jesus’ love for us is self-sacrificial, and it is not based on feelings or what we can do for Him. We know that is true because Jesus died for us while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:7-8).

It is important we have that type of love for the church because there will be times when the church doesn’t make us feel good. But here is the thing, we aren’t called to serve the church, to love it’s people, to only give of our time, money, and resources when they are making us feel good. Instead, we are called to love the church at all times regardless of how it makes us feel.

Unless you love your church with the same self-sacrificial love that Christ has for us, you will not stick in there. The first bout of controversy, difficulty, or lack of perceived success that can easily creep in will cause you to give a little less of your time, your emotions, and your heart to the people you are called to serve. It might even cause you to start looking elsewhere for greener pastures.

(3) Love Your Family

With all the demands that are put on you in the work of ministry, the one thing that is easy to but something you can’t do is neglect your own families. You must love, care for, and continue to nurture them, even while you are loving and serving the church.

In fact, you should see your family as your first church. The way you love, serve, and minister to them should be a reflection of how you will love and serve your second church – the one you are called to pastor. So don’t neglect your families to do the work of ministry.

This is something I have had to learn in my ministry. I love pastoring, teaching, and preaching.  In the past, I have neglected my family to do those things. Thankfully, by the grace of God I learned quickly that was not the way things should be. As a result, I quickly set some parameters. Parameters my wife helps me to keep.

So yes, love your church, sacrifice for and serve your church, but don’t do it to the neglect of your family because your family is your first church and there is nothing more important than taking care of them.

I am convinced that if you do these three things – (1) Love Jesus, (2) Love your Church, and (3) Love your Family – you will be an effective pastor, who will serve the church well for many years to come.

Question for Reflection

  1. What advice would you offer to those facing the unique challenges of pastoral ministry?

Resource

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6 Practical Ways Fathers Can Man Up

An epidemic of epic proportions is occurring right before our eyes. An epidemic we have the power to do something about.

What’s happening?

Fathers are not only abandoning their families – 17.4 million children grow up in fatherless homes – they are also abandoning their God-given responsibility as the spiritual leader in their homes. As a result, millions of boys are growing up unprepared to lead their families.

What we need, then, is for fathers to man up and lead their families. But how? How can we lead our families.

6 Practical Ways Fathers Can Man Up

(1) When at home, be at home

After a long days work, it is easy to retire to the work bench, study, den, or lose yourself in social media or the TV, but we have to resist that temptation. We have to engage our children in some meaningful way when we are home. We have to actually be at home, when we are home.

(2) Eat dinner together

When I say eat dinner together, I don’t mean for us to sit in the living room watching TV together with dinner plates in hand. When we do that, we might be eating dinner at the same time and in the same room, but we aren’t eating together.

No, what I am talking about is actually turning off the TV, setting our phones aside, and sitting around the dinner table together talking with one another.

For those of you with teenagers, this might be the only time you have their undivided attention. It might be the only time you have to build into them. Don’t waste that opportunity because your favorite TV show is on.

Watching TV together does not have the same impact as talking together.

(3) Read the Bible together

I know what you are thinking, we don’t have the time for that. How am I ever going to get everyone in my family together at the same time? If that is you, you might need to cut some activities out of your schedule, so you will have the time. What’s more important: That your child participate in yet another extra-curricular activity, or you read God’s Word together?

In all reality, you may not even need to cut your schedule because I am not talking about an extensive hour long devotional every night. I am instead talking about devoting 5-10 minutes to reading the Word and praying together.

5-10 minutes is not a lot of time, and it is something we can all do. Just take the time you spend scrolling through your Facebook feed and watching cat videos, and devote it to your family.

While 5-10 minutes is not a lot of time, it does take discipline. It does take a little planning and motivation. It does take putting down the remote, turning off the game, and setting your phone or tablet aside for a few minutes.

If you want to know the secret to accomplishing a family devotional each day, make it apart of your routine. It has worked for our family. Reading God’s Word as a family happens every night after we brush our son’s teeth and before we put him to bed. Since it is apart of our routine, we do it. If we don’t do it, it feels like something is missing.

Surely, there is some place you can add a 5 minute devotional to your daily routine.

(4) Play together

Carving out fun time is important because it’s one way to build a relationship with your kids. Relationships are key if we are going to lead our children.

Don’t think play time is all fun and games. Even during play time, questions and opportunities to talk about God come up. It may only be for a minute or two while resting, but those couple of minutes over the years add up. Who knows, maybe that conversation will be replayed over and over in your child’s mind for the next couple of days.

(5) Memorize Scripture together

Not too long ago my Sunday School teacher challenged the class to memorize Scripture together as a family. What a novel idea!

Memorizing Scripture together not only motivates the parents to hide God’s Word in their heart, but it also motivates the child to do the same. As well as it’s another way to stimulate conversation around God’s Word.

(6) Don’t quit ministering

That’s true even after your kids have left home. Things are going to look different, but keep at it. Share with them what you are learning in God’s Word. Send them a blog post or sermon you liked. Give them a book. Tell them you are praying for them. Encourage them to train their kids. Whatever it may be, keep at it. Don’t stop ministering!

Challenge

I can’t stress how important it is for our society and churches that fathers lead their families in a biblical way. If we want to turn our country around, fathers have to train their children. If we want to raise up another generation of leaders in the church, fathers have to train their children. If we want to kill the current epidemic happening in our country, fathers have to train their children.

Fathers, it’s time we man up! It’s time we take God’s Word seriously. It’s time we be involved in our kids lives, training them, instructing them, and teaching them to be future spiritual leaders.

Question for Reflection

  1. Fathers, are you manning up?

Resources

Post developed from the sermon: Fathers, Man Up!

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Relationships with Flawed People

Everyone…is a flawed human being still in need of redemption. No one around you has a completely pure heart. No one is totally free of sinful thoughts, desires, cravings, or motives. No one always says the right thing. No one always makes the right choices. No one is always noble in his intentions. No one is free from acts of selfishness or self-aggrandizement. No one is completely loyal. No one always has your back.

Because of this, relationships in the body of Christ are messy and unpredictable.

They are the places where we experience some of our most gratifying joys and heart-wrenching pains. It is godly and responsible to be afraid of how sin can create power struggles, divisive ally groups, critical and judgmental attitudes, self-centered complaining, disloyalty, and ultimately division.

Question for Reflection

  1. How have you grown from relationships with flawed people?

Resources

Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling, Confronting the unique challenges of pastoral ministry127-28.

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Proper Christian Growth

It is all too easy for us to think that once we know the basics of the gospel we must then move beyond them for true spiritual growth. Yet it is not extra-biblical revelations and methods that mature us, nor is it the search for esoteric meanings and codes in Scripture. Instead, it is the continual attempt to plumb the depths of the gospel message and its application to all of life, which is, in fact, the story of the Bible.

Question for Reflection

  1. How do you pursue Christian growth

Resources

Table Talk Magazine, Proper Christian Growth, January 6 2011.

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