There has been a lot of debate about what it really means to be gospel-centered. Some pastors whom I greatly respect, have taken this term too far. So what does it really mean to be gospel-centered? I define gospel-centered ministry as a ministry that is focused on Jesus and partnering with him in his mission to make disciples. This definition leaves a lot of room for nuance and this is on purpose. Each of us is going to approach ministry differently and that is not only okay — it’s needed!
How I am planting City Church in Denton, Texas may be completely different from how you’re leading your church in inner city Detroit. The way I preach may be different than the way you preach. But at the end of the day, my hope is that we can all agree to focus on Christ and partner with him to make disciples. This, of course, may require us to get rid of some superfluous things that we do in ministry. It may also require us to add things in order to reach our communities. The most important thing is that we make much of Jesus and what it means to be a follower of Christ. But how does that actually happen?
Examine the conversations
If you want to change, you first have to examine where you are currently at. Conversations are the roadmap you need to figure out where you are. This happens on a few different levels depending on who is having the conversations, but each level paints a vivid picture of how your church is doing at gospel-centered ministry.
Churches that excel at gospel-centered ministry primarily have conversations about Jesus. This is true at the staff level, at the ministry level, and in the general congregation. Sure, they may still talk about other things, but those things are always secondary to the main thing: Jesus. The churches that I have experienced this done well at are truly life-giving. Everyone feels encouraged to follow Jesus more fervently. It creates an environment where Christ’s lordship is unquestioned and that makes a giant impact on Christians and non-Christians alike.
Making this shift is not something that is easy. It takes intentionality. Changing the status quo is a difficult process, but it is often one that yields extraordinary results. Let’s dive into some way to shape conversations in your church.
Senior leader conversations with staff
Everything starts here. It is also one of the hardest areas to truly be honest about. We all want to say that we’re doing a good job at leading our staff, but a lot of times this is not what is happening in reality. We may do a good job of helping them accomplish tasks, figuring out how to do things, and motivating them to do tough things. However, unless you are being very intentional, you’re likely not have gospel-centered conversations about Jesus.
Gospel-centered conversations are ones that are focused on relationality with Christ. We often focus our conversations on doing things for Christ, but conversations about Christ are not the norm. Remember how I said this is the hardest area to be honest about? Don’t dismiss this yet. Think through the conversations that you have had with your staff team over the last couple of weeks. Were they focused on Jesus and what he is doing in your life or the other person’s life? Did you talk about scripture or something that God revealed to you through prayer? Have you discussed theology with anyone on your team?
If you answered no to those questions, don’t lose heart! You can begin to make a shift in your approach to conversations with others. I once had a friend who would often ask me what the Lord had been showing me lately. I had a love/hate relationship with this question because it made me truly think about my time (or lack thereof) with the Lord. Yet, I was incredibly grateful for his question because it made me shift from other things back to Christ. This is a simple thing that you can add to your conversations that will make a big impact!
Moving to the congregation
Once you have developed a culture of gospel-centered conversations at the staff level, the outflow of that practice naturally impacts the congregation. As pastors, we typically look to our desired end result and try to directly influence that result. Yet, if we were to look at how change typically happens, it is a long process that is always multi-faceted. Creating a culture of gospel-centered ministry is going to take time. I leave you with this quote from Robert Kellemen in his book Gospel-Centered Counseling:
“Every gospel conversation we have with each other as Christians should encourage and empower us so that we can have gospel conversations with those who do not yet know Christ. The church is the place where gospel talk is so natural that it becomes the training ground for gospel talk with those who do not know the gospel.”
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