Pastor, you need the gospel as much as your people do. You may carry the bread of life to the people but you need to eat it also.
Paul encouraged Timothy not to be “ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” but to “share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). In some ways, I think pastors have a willingness to fight for, defend, and even suffer for the gospel, but struggle with relying on the power of God in the gospel on a daily basis. In my own ministry, I have been guilty of “gospel amnesia.” Yet, as Tim Keller says, the gospel is not merely the A, B, C's of Christianity; it is the X, Y, Z of Christianity as well.
In other words, the gospel is not something that we need at first but then move beyond to something "deeper" or more spiritual. The gospel is something into which we go deeper and further the longer we follow Jesus. It is sufficient to address every issue of life. As a pastor, it is easy to forget that I need the gospel continually. I need the gospel every day. I need it as much as my people do.
Augustine explained this idea to his church like this:
“I feed you on what I am fed on myself. I am just a servant; I am not the head of the house. I set food before you from the pantry that I too live on, from the Lord’s storerooms, from the banquet of that householder who ‘for our sakes became poor, though he was rich, in order to enrich us from his poverty’ (2 Co. 8:9).”
In the gospel, we have salvation. In the gospel, we have security. In the gospel, we have the key to sanctification. In the gospel, the power of God is sufficient for everything we need.
Here are some practical implications the gospel has for me as a pastor:
1. The gospel frees me from needing to defend myself or find affirmation from people. God is already pleased with me because of what Christ has done on my behalf.
2. The gospel frees me from the vicious cycle of the “success syndrome.” Christ already achieved every victory I need. I can rest in His work.
3. The gospel frees me from serving my church out of a sense of obligation or guilt. Because of the cross, my motivation for ministry is joy not guilt.
4. The gospel frees me from serving my church for the purpose of being personally enriched. I have all “the riches of His grace” in Christ (Eph. 1:7), which means that I serve and bless others as I have been blessed.
5. The gospel frees me from the pressure to be the hero of the church. Jesus already occupies that seat. I need merely to point them to Him. I don’t have to be all things to all people. Christ is all they need.
6. The gospel frees me from feeling unworthy of my calling. The truth is, I am unworthy. But because of the imputed righteousness of Christ, I work from His worthiness. I am more unworthy than I can imagine, but I am also more loved than I can imagine. I can now find my worth in Christ.
7. The gospel frees me from "climbing the career ladder." The glory of Christ, not my own glory, is now the goal of my ministry. The mission of Christ, not my own mission, is the purpose of my ministry. My career objectives are now nothing more than to bring Him glory and fulfill His mission.
8. The gospel frees me from throwing others in ministry under the bus. Because I am a recipient of the love of Jesus, I can love others like Jesus. This means that I am no longer bound by the spirit of competition with other churches, pastors, or even fellow staff members. I can focus on building them up and encouraging them as I have been built up and encouraged.
9. The gospel frees me from being discouraged over ministry failure. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of the church. He promised to build it. He cares more deeply about the health and growth of my church than I do. Therefore, when I fail to meet expectations or goals, I can rest in the fact that He will take care of the church. He succeeds where I fail. He is the perfect Shepherd of the church. I can rest in Him.
Pastor, rely on the power of God through the gospel in your ministry. Run to the gospel again and again when you feel alone, neglected, worthless, prideful, hopeless, frustrated, tempted, discouraged, tired or burned out. Rest in what Jesus has done for you. Let your ministry flow from your experience of the grace of God in the gospel. Don’t pastor to gain God’s favor; pastor as a recipient of God’s favor. Don’t give people the bread you can bake. Taste the bread God gives and then feed it to your people.