Dear Cedar Creek,
In the providence of God, thank you for the honor of serving as your next lead pastor. I am humbled and thrilled by this calling: humbled, because as the Apostle Paul asked rhetorically, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16); thrilled, because “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). This open door for gospel ministry at Cedar Creek is a stewardship of God’s grace that I plan to treat accordingly. I have been given a trust and, by God’s grace, I will be found faithful.
I want to share with you some remarks I gave to the leadership last Friday night as we began my candidating weekend. I was given fifteen minutes or so to share my heart for pastoral ministry at Cedar Creek as it relates to the broader evangelical landscape. I hope you find these pastoral emphases encouraging as we begin our life together in the gospel.
With you for the increase of Christ,
Cedar Creek Baptist Church and the Weight of Glory
March 31, 2017
If you were asked to isolate the “fundamental problem” in the evangelical world today, what would you say? I believe David Wells had it right when he outlined what ails evangelicalism today:
The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music, and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing to stanch the flow of blood that is spilling from its true wounds. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.” –David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 30.
Why is this? We could suggest several things that have contributed to evangelicalism’s embrace of a weightless god:
- The existence (although fading) of cultural Christianity. By this I mean adherence to a faith that puts no demands upon professing Christians beyond mere church attendance.
- The prevalence of the gospel of sentimentality — what Todd Brenneman demonstrates in his recent book, Homespun Gospel: The Triumph of Sentimentality in Contemporary American Evangelicalism. Brenneman argues that evangelicalism is being shaped by popular [read: famous] pastors with media empires that churn out books and videos and trinkets depicting God as infatuated with humans and desperate for our love. This, Brenneman concludes, is simply narcissism in the name of religion.
- The rise of “celebrity pastors” — ministers who build ministries around their charisma using the church for the advance not of the gospel, but of their own influence and fame.
- Well meaning churches that have adopted the lie that doctrine divides and, therefore, have avoided teaching the weightier matters of the Bible.
These are just some of the reasons God rests too inconsequentially upon the church in our day.
God, of course, is not pleased to be wieghtless, inconsequential, marginalized, or assumed. As God makes clear through the Psalmist, “I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). Therefore, if given the grace of pastoring at Cedar Creek I will use all of my vital energies to help ensure that God rests very consequentially upon us so that he is glorified as our lives are increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.
How will I begin to accomplish this audacious goal?
Thankfully, by God’s grace we are not starting from scratch. One of the great things about this fellowship of saints is that you already have a weighty God. Since 1792 Cedar Creek has labored for the gospel and sought to exalt Christ in word and deed. But now, at the dawn of a new season of ministry, we have the opportunity to build on your faithful work and the faithful work of others so that God rests still more consequentially upon us.
That said, I believe my contribution in Cedar Creek’s history must revolve around the following four essentials of pastoral ministry:
- By the grace of God, I will lead with a Godward vision. A Godward vision for the church recognizes the nature of our calling as Christians. Consider the Apostle Paul’s understanding of the Christian’s call: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). We are sojourners, pilgrims, and exiles in this world on our way to the Celestial City. Indeed, our calling is a heavenly calling; this world is not our home. We are being prepared for glory which is why we are to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). A pastor must feel this in the deepest recesses of his being so that his leadership has the aroma of heaven. My aim will be to lead you not to myself, but to Christ and the glory yet to be revealed.
- By the grace of God, I will preach expositionally. By this I mean what the Apostle Paul meant when he declared to the church in Corinth, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). To exposit the Bible is to declare God’s word — the only word that can give life to the spiritually dead and keep God’s people steadfast in the faith. I am acutely aware that only the Word of God by the Spirit of God can nourish your faith. Not my clever words, but only the Scriptures are “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Therefore, I will make it my aim to give you the Bible every Sunday.
- By the grace of God, I will teach sound doctrine. I long for us to be a people who grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Indeed, discipleship is at the heart of the Christian life. We are to be and make disciples, followers of Christ who are growing in spiritual maturity to the glory of God. And one of the primary ways we do this is by teaching sound doctrine. Note the connection Jesus makes between discipleship and teaching as he gives his “great commission”: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-19). We make disciples by teaching people all that Jesus commanded us. That is, the Bible. We see this same emphasis by the Apostle Paul as he gives instruction to Titus: “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Why? Because sound [read: biblical] doctrine makes for strong Christians — disciples who are no longer children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine . . . but those who are growing up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Cf., Ephesians 4:4-16).
- By the grace of God, I will care for this flock. I am struck by the fact that Jesus did not just minister to the crowds; he was not merely a “conference speaker.” Jesus, over a three-year period ministered to (among countless others) twelve unschooled, ordinary men; a woman at a well; a blind man by the side of the road; a tax-collector perched up in a tree; a desperately ill woman who had been bleeding internally for twelve years; a grieving father whose daughter had just died; a man dead for four days and his mourning sisters; two disciples on a road to Emmaus; and a once doubting Thomas. After all, it is Jesus who teaches us to not be satisfied if 99 out of 100 sheep are fine when one is lost. Jesus brought tailor-made grace to individual people and I believe he intends for his under-shepherds to do likewise. Therefore, I will make every effort to know the people of Cedar Creek so that I can minister the grace of God to you as precisely as possible.
All of this effort has as its goal that God rest very consequentially upon his church. And when this miracle happens, God’s truth will be near, his grace will be amazing, his judgment will be revered, his gospel will demand everything, and his Christ will be wonderful.
May the Lord confirm our steps as we together seek his heart for Cedar Creek this weekend.