How Can Pastors Have a Gospel-Centered Ministry?

by Owen Strachan July 14, 2017

There is much talk about being “gospel-centered” today. I’m thrilled that there is.

But what does it mean, precisely, for a pastor to minister in a “gospel-centered” way? Here are three quick thoughts.

First, the pastor’s theology is gospel-shaped. In other words, the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very fountainhead of all the pastor’s thinking. For the glory of God, the pastor labors to make the message of Christ’s finished work known to needy, hell-bound sinners. He calls for repentance and faith based on this “good news.” He recognizes that the gospel is what the Old Testament points to (and teaches in seed form) and the New Testament fully unveils (Rom. 5:12-21). This salvific truth is the core of Christian doctrine; it is not merely the mechanism that solves the problem of redemption, it is the heart of biblical teaching.

Second, the pastor’s character is gospel-shaped. The pastor is a man who lives a gospel-shaped life. He regularly confesses his sin and repents of it, first to God, and secondly to man. The pastor is not simply an impressive leader who gets a church to drive it on some vague spiritual mission. The pastor is a holy man, a mystic. He is more like John the Baptist in the wilderness than he is a Fortune 100 CEO. A gospel-shaped pastor is not a man who has figured out some new way to be Christian. He is a man you look at and think, “His Savior has changed him, and he is humble, kind, convictional, honorable, self-controlled, and loving” (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Only the gospel can accomplish such a personal revolution.

Third, the pastor’s ministry is gospel-shaped. The pastor, full stop, does not put his hope in ministry practices, passing fads, or worldly devices. He trusts to the Word. He preaches the whole counsel of God, with the work of Christ at the burning center, and leaves it to God to sort out the metrics. Faced with a cascading wave of problems on the part of his members, with opposition without and within, he resolves to minister Christ in every situation. This is the center of his work: the grace that is in Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1). In counseling, discipleship, doctrinal training, leadership situations, the pastor unfolds the beauty and power and sufficiency of the Word and the gospel.

This is not a problem; this does not leave him powerless and ineffectual in the big bad secular world. If we have the gospel, we have the very power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). There is no stronger force in the cosmos. There is no greater conqueror of sin. The pastor who preaches Christ and applies Christic grace in a thousand ministry predicaments is not himself the warrior-king from heaven, but he proclaims the one who is.

This vision of gospel-centered ministry (and theology and character) is strikingly different than other models of ministry, which center the horsepower of pastoral labor in attractional bells and whistles, appealing programs, political postures, cultural forms, and a thousand other non-gospel-centered means of drawing people.

Editor's Note: This originally published at Strachan's blog, Thought Life.