The memory popped up on my Facebook page reminding me of one of the busiest and most important days in my life: on that day ten years ago I stepped into the pulpit of a small country Baptist church in rural South Australia and delivered my first sermon. I then rushed to the little regional airport, jumped in a tiny plane, flew back to my home city of Adelaide, baptized one of the teenage boys in my youth group (another first), and jumped on another plane to Melbourne so I could visit the American consulate to secure a visa for a 14 month internship at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.
Three life defining and altering events in one day. But only one of them was one I would do consistently over the next ten years: preaching – heralding the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are few things any of us do consistently over a decade. I’d like to say going to the gym and eating right are one of them, but that’s not the case for me. One thing I have done consistently over the past ten years is preach the Gospel. Whether it be from the pulpit on a Sunday morning, in small groups, or in one-on-one interactions, I have continued to share the Gospel: Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection for sinners so we might have hope in this life and eternal life in the age to come.
Ministry leaders: consistency in the Gospel is absolutely necessary to last in ministry. There has never been a time where I have shared the Gospel in any setting where I didn’t need to hear that Good News myself. No matter the situation, sin, or struggle, the Gospel has been the lifeblood of not only my ministry, but my very life since I met Jesus. If we bypass the Gospel in search of hope, we put ourselves on the fast track out of ministry and, like many, potentially shipwreck our faith.
Keeping the same emotional engagement in any profound truth is a challenge for even the most deep feeling of us. When it comes to preaching the Gospel, if we are always moved in the exact same way every single time for a whole decade, it might be phony.
The emotional experience in preaching the Gospel changes over time as preachers mature and connect with the Lord in different ways. But, awe that God himself would take on flesh and give himself to redeem what is his is not something that should dwindle over the years. Although our emotions might shift surrounding that great news, our souls should never be less than absolutely captivated by it.
The more glorious I have seen Jesus and been enthralled by his Good News, the more convicted by my own sinfulness I continue to be. It is not that I am a worse sinner than before — my sin is just as bad as it was when Jesus first saved me. It’s that I am more and more aware, especially in my preaching, of the deep and broken ways I have been impacted by sin and participated in it. Sin is more far reaching than I ever could have comprehended when I first began preaching. Likewise, the Gospel reaches further in its Good News than I ever thought possible.
These truths make me a more merciful and compassionate preacher. I am not sure if my message would have meaningfully engaged the abuse survivor, the post abortive woman, or those trapped in same sex attraction when I began preaching — my applications weren’t shaped by the lives of those I pastored. But as I matured to see the brokenness of sin, the conviction to proclaim Jesus as a balm to every ailment also matured.
My first ever sermon was out of 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 and in an early copy of my will, I added the instruction that the text I wanted preached at my funeral would also be these verses:
But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (CSB)
I pray that never, and I mean never, would the Lord allow me to miss the centrality of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in any message I preach for whatever duration of time God gives me to keep preaching. May the same be true for you too.