As we gathered in Phoenix for the 2017 Pastor’s Conference, we joined pastors dating back nearly nine decades who have gathered prior to the start of the annual meeting for a time of challenge and encouragement.
This year, on the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, I am reminded of Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” In this classic, Luther references Scripture and the power of the Gospel as “That Word Above All Earthly Powers.” With the many challenges we face in ministry, we do so with a conviction that the gospel remains the power of God unto salvation, and that the call of every pastor is to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ. With cultural pressures demanding that we remain silent, this is a time for courage and clarity in proclaiming and living the Gospel.
In this brief article, I would like to offer a few words of encouragement to my fellow pastors as it relates to our obligation, our confidence, and our hope as preachers of God’s word.
The Gospel Is Our Obligation
The legacy of the apostle Paul is preserved for us and is instructive to us. We learn from a biblical survey of his life that we are debtors. Paul wrote to the Romans, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (Romans 1:14-15) Paul was not speaking of an obligation akin to a galley slave shuffling to his oars, but rather to a determined commitment to honor Christ and to make known the hope of eternal life. Paul indicated that he was obligated to all peoples and possessed a burden for their life, soul, and destiny. Our preaching should carry this same urgency.
The Gospel Is Our Confidence
Not only did Paul have a joyful obligation, he also possessed a sure confidence in the Gospel. In 2 Corinthians 3:4, he wrote, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” Our preaching is to be rooted and grounded in this same confidence.
Paul would also express his assurance in the Good News by declaring, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) We never graduate from this glorious message. The redemptive story of God through his son Jesus Christ is the epicenter of history and must be the centerpiece of our preaching.
The Gospel Is Our Hope
Our gathering this week is accompanied with prayer that the Lord would visit us with His power and presence, and that He would send us forth with great hope as we face the work at hand. We have been given the same promises and assurance that the apostle Paul received in the varied challenges of his ministry.
From the pages of the book of Acts, we are able to walk with Paul into such cities as Philippi, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus. Ministry in these first century cities was dangerous and demanding. We know from the biblical account that Paul experienced a full range of trials and struggles with which every pastor can identify in some measure.
In Philippi, Paul preached the gospel and was troubled by spiritual warfare that left him wrongly accused, beaten with rods, and placed in a prison cell. However, he was not without hope, or joy. As he sang praises with Silas, an earthquake shook the city to its foundations, and unexpectedly created a Gospel connection with a shattered jailer. Paul said to him in this crisis, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)
When Paul walked into Athens, he was provoked in his spirit by a city smothered in idols (Acts 17:16). Here, in this pagan and intellectual hub of the world, Paul plants a gospel seed by proclaiming to the elite of this city that God has overlooked times of ignorance, “but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)
From Athens to Corinth, we find the ministry struggle shift from provocation to fear.
In Corinth, Paul was afraid, however he received from the Lord a message to keep on preaching because God had many people in that city. (Acts 18:9,10)
In Ephesus, he was alert to the spiritual challenges in a city that was sustained by the manufacturing of idols. In Acts 19, Paul witnessed the entire city of Ephesus upended as many laid down their idols as an expression of repentance and faith.
While the experiences of the apostle Paul are unique in many respects, nevertheless every pastor deals in some measure with being troubled, provoked, afraid, and alert in the course of ministry. These encounters of Paul are instructive to those of us called to plant and shepherd the church of Jesus Christ.
How does a pastor impact a city with the Gospel? The answer is to plant our lives in that field and sow biblical truth in season and out of season. As we listen to the messages of this conference, may we leave with a determination to declare that word above all earthly powers. It is what is needed most. It is what we have been called to do.
James B. Law, Ph.D., has served as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Gonzales, LA since 1993 and is the East Asia Coordinator for Advance International. This article, with slight modification, first appeared in the program for the 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference.