The Freedom that Comes from Being Boringly Biblical
“Come see my naked pastor.”
This was what the banner along the highway said. As people came home from work, dropped their kids off at soccer practice, ran to the grocery store, or went to see their abuelas on the weekend, they were being wooed by a local church. The draw? Apparently, this church employed a naked man as their pastor. The provocative sign promoted a new sermon series during which the pastor would be honest about his life and the challenges he had faced. This was supposed to help people relate to him and by association, the church, so they would feel comfortable and want to come back.
I wish I could tell you that this is a fictitious story. After all, aren’t pastors known for their made-up illustrations? But it’s true.
While this story might push the envelope for most outreach-oriented progressives, it nevertheless demonstrates how far some churches and their leaders are willing to go to “reach” people. From the promise of live animals on nativity sets, to helicopter Easter Egg drops, to free iPads, some churches pull out all the stops to make invitations difficult to deny.
You might wonder, aren’t such efforts good? After all, the church is called to be committed to outreach.
NOT SO FAST
Before you sign up for another conference promising a double portion of outreach blessing or beat yourself up for not being as creative as other churches around you, stop and ask some fundamental questions. What does God want your church services to look like? Can it fundamentally be reduced to outreach, or should we be mindful of other priorities? Are you, as a pastor, called to be the Chief Avant-Garde Officer? Or are you called to be a shepherd who must give an account to God for those he has put under your care?
We need to remember that the visible church is a gathering of Christians in a local assembly to worship the Lord. No longer offering animals on altars, we offer our lives as living sacrifices to our great God and King who loved us even while we were yet sinners and sent his Son to die for us (Romans 12:2; 5:8). We gather first and foremost to worship God for redeeming us in Christ. Problems will arise in our gatherings if we turn our gaze away from the risen Savior to the lost sinner. At best, we’ll be distracted. At worst, we’ll distort the bride of Christ who is being prepared for his return (Revelation 19:7).
This doesn’t mean we should ignore the non-Christians in our gatherings, nor should we invite them to come (1 Corinthians 14:23). But pastors, we would do well to renew our vows to our calling, namely “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). We are not called to lead a technique-based, gimmick-oriented, and sensory-driven church with all the candles and fragrance dispensers our allergies can handle. We are called to lead our churches with the ordinary means of grace, namely the Word, prayer, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We sing songs of lament because we know first-hand the effects of a sinful world, and we sing songs of praise as we take comfort in a triumphant and sovereign God who is working all things together for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28).
Is this a call to a boring, lifeless gathering? By no means! It’s a call to the full range of human experience. It takes into account the revelation God has given us through his Word.
WHERE DID ALL THE BIBLES GO?
Thankfully, our decoding of Instagram algorithms, our pioneering work on Tik-Tok, or our streaming content on Twitch will not be the secret-sauce we build upon. Our churches should instead bank our hope on the undiluted proclamation of God’s Word by undistracted pastors (2 Timothy 4:2). God’s Word is powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).
Pastors, do you believe this?
Here’s a test for us this coming Sunday: How much will your people need their Bibles to understand and navigate what is being sung, read, prayed, or taught to them? Will there be a “hat-tip” to the Creator and a passing citation of his Word? Is the preaching marked by emotion more than exposition, by culturally savvy one-liners more than targeted application? Or will you carve up the meat of God’s Word so much so that people need “doggy bags” to take it home? Will their hearts be full God’s Word sung, prayed, read, and preached? Will they have much to ponder themselves and talk about with others in the days ahead, both Christians and non-Christians?
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
One of my neighbors runs a small circus company (think a mini-me version of Cirque du Soleil). When he learned I was a pastor, he let me know that one of his clients was a local church that hired his company to come in and be a part of their sermon series, trapeze artists and all. I found myself at a loss of words. I wanted to express my appreciation that his company was doing well financially, but I was also sad to hear about a church who was supposed to be the pillar and buttress of truth resorting to such gimmicks (1 Timothy 3:15).
Pastor, there’s freedom in a simple philosophy of ministry. God hasn’t called you to creativity, or outpacing expectations. He’s called you to a ministry of proclamation where you preach God’s Word without reservation or hesitation. He’s called you to a ministry of shepherding, and he’s told you that you will give an account to God for the lives he has entrusted to you. He’s called you to a ministry of intercession, in which you ask for God’s will to be done in the lives of his people.
Whether in private counseling or public proclamation, pastors are called to put the glories of Christ before their people even as the tragedies of this world and the sin in their hearts try to trick them to believe the lies of the Evil One. Pastor, you are called to preach and pastor, shepherd and model, love and forgive. You’re called to remind them of the faith they articulated at their public baptism, and to renew that faith by regularly coming to the Lord’s table.
That’s your job description. Read it again, and then go to bed and sleep well. Rest in the truth that you have been faithful to what the Lord has called you to do today. Let God be God. Whatever he brings from your labor is his doing—and it is all of grace.