To be honest, I'm not sure what it means to be "gospel centered", but it sure sounds trendy. Doesn't everyone in ministry want the gospel?
"Gospel" is a word we Christians throw around a lot. We have gospel music, the gospel coalition, gospel bumper stickers the gospel tract and all other kinds of gospel things.
Over the last few years it seems discussion about the true gospel and what it means has become stylish and sexy. There are even conferences dedicated and focused on "gospel." For those who have been "gospel centered" for a long time (I hope I have been) I'm so thankful this discussion has gained momentum.
So I was wondering, are the ministries I oversee at my home church gospel centered? How do I consistently press upon us the importance of the gospel? What does it mean for us to be more gospel centered and grace focused? What do other ministries focus on to make sure they're consistently dependent on grace in their ministries?
First, we need to remember how simple but expansive the gospel is. From my limited perspective it seems "gospel" is a word often only associated with salvation. As it should be, people are taught they will be saved if they believe the gospel. Jesus said "repent and believe the gospel." Of course authentic belief in the good news of Jesus results in one's salvation. Paul says the gospel "is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes."
So it's obvious, the gospel is about salvation, but isn't it also about sanctification?
In many churches the inference is you come to Jesus by grace through faith but you grow through works. This results is moralistic and perhaps a legalistic approach to discipleship. And by the way moralism is the enemy of the gospel of grace.
Over the last few years this has been articulated well by University of Notre Dame's Christian Smith and the team at the Fuller Youth Institute. Each has done extensive research on how youth group students view their faith.
Part of what they've learned is that middle school and high school students generally believe that God loves them and accepts them based on their behavior. Acceptance from God is a result of what they do or don't do, not on what Jesus has already done and is currently doing. Students (and most adults in my opinion) have not embraced the truth that we are saved by grace but we also grow by grace. The result? Moralism not grace infuses the religion of our day.
On of my favorite verses about discipleship and growing in Christ comes from Titus chapter 2.
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
So, the grace of God that "brings salvation" is the grace that "teaches" us to live godly lives. This same grace that brings salvation is the grace that teaches us to live godly lives and grow in our faith and purity.
We must continually be in the process of thinking about ministry that is centered on the gospel of grace. I'm not just talking about bringing hurting kids and families to Jesus but seeing them continually transformed from the inside out because of God's work of grace in sanctification.
This is what I've been thinking about lately in my church context. Here are 3 questions we're exploring as we think about our Next Gen as it relates to gospel centeredness.
1. Is God Dependent Prayer Central?
If the gospel work is dependent on God it would seem our ministries would be marked by consistent focused prayer. For us it seems like prayer may be in addition to the work we do, not at the center. That wasn't true of the apostles in the Acts 2. When Luke describes what they did, prayer is listed right up there with giving attention to the Word.
If change in the hearts of students is truly supernatural and from the inside out, prayer cannot simply be an add on in our ministries, it must be a central part of our work.
2. Do We Use Grace Infused Language?
Focusing on virtues, behavior and character alone will never result in gospel transformation. For students we should consistently speak truth like...
"there is nothing you can do to get Jesus to love them more
and there is nothing you can do to cause Jesus to love you less".
Helping them understand that Jesus did for them what they could never do for themselves is so important and cuts against their natural moralistic beliefs. Consistently unpacking statements like this quote from Tim Keller...
“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
This isn't something we teach kids once and they get it. Remember, reward for performance is in the air they breath. Speaking the gospel of grace must be an ongoing drumbeat in our communication with students. Grace must infuse how we pray, how we relate and how we teach.
3. Is There An Environment of Repentance?
When kids hear the teaching of the Word and it exposes areas in their lives that are not pleasing to God they will naturally respond by thinking they must try harder. Unless we help them they will skip a crucial step that helps them tap into the grace of God; confession and repentance.
If they only respond by trying harder they will constantly fail but if we point them to repentance and help them understand their battle against sin is not natural but supernatural they begin to experience the grace of God "teaching them to live upright Godly lives in this present age".
To have an environment of repentance you must also have an environment where it's natural to admit one has sin. This transparency must be wisely modeled by the leader. It's important we as pastors appropriately share our own struggle, failure and need of repentance.
This is an ongoing journey and I know there are so many other characteristics of ministry that is centered on grace and the gospel.
What are a couple you might add and what are you learning as you lead ministry towards gospel centeredness?