The need for a leader to be effective in gospel communication is a non-negotiable for leading with influence. Why? Well, think about the huge shifts of the 21st century.
There are major shifts in Globalization (demographic shifts, technology that allows people from around the globe to teach, conduct business and otherwise communicate in real time, face to face), Pluralism (media saturation, complexity, tolerance, sexual openness), Secularism (entitlement, antagonism to religion, rules and laws), Statism (reliance on governments to care for individuals, imposition of the political and elite class’s will on others), Polarization (Red/Blue States), and Materialism (culture’s craving for affluence and its belief that the world is completely and only material matter).
A New York Times op-ed explained our current moral universe this way; “In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punch line: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths” (Justin McBrayer, NYTIMES.com Op-ed. March 2, 2015). We regularly hear people talk today about “My truth.”
However, in another sense, we are living similar to those in the first century, when the Church burst onto the scene. Moral and philosophical questions abounded in the first century as well. Varied religions existed, all with their own moral teachings for life. Greek philosophy permeated the classes. And certainly the State of Rome had quite a say in behavior. First century people didn’t know Christianity or the Gospel Story. The first church leaders worked among the biased and the unbiased. They entered cities and towns with rampant, culturally accepted polytheism and traditional moral religious systems mixed together. Sexual liberty proliferated along with cultic and demonic idolatry.
If you are a pastor, church planter, or ministry leader, you feel the weight of all the ism’s and tions’ mentioned above and possibly wonder if we have anything worth saying?
Leaders in the 21st century face formidable head winds in culture and one of the primary tools or gifts we have for people is the gospel. The gospel is not just how people become Christians but it is also how they mature as followers in Christ. It transforms life, producing a new relationship with God — as a child with a Father rather than a slave owner to a slave. Believers in Christ have a whole new motivational structure for following and obeying God. The gospel is not simply “accept Jesus as your savior”. It is that, but it is more, for “The Just shall live by faith.”
We also find, through the gospel a whole new approach to our self-identity. It’s not based on what others think of us or even what we think of ourselves, but on what God has revealed; we are made by God, as image bearers, with dignity, beauty and meaning (good news); but because we cursed and enslaved by our guilt (bad news), we were rescued by Christ from the penalty and power of sin in life; and we are, by His Spirit, being renewed day by day (very good news).
How does the gospel play itself out in leadership?
Our first leadership essential in leading is Gospel Communication. “We communicate the good news about Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:4-5; 12,35; 17:1-3. I Cor. 15:1-4, 11).
There are two points in communication. One is preaching and the other is clarity or what we might say is being compelling in communication. Preaching is, at the very least, one primary way people get the gospel. If you are a pastor or weekly teacher, you should consider yourself willing to grow and mature in your communication competency. It will take prayer and faithful work; time, practice and experimentation.
Do you know the Gospel Story? Can you explain it clearly and concisely? You are communicating to a mixture of various religious beliefs and a post-everything culture. And it is in all our cities, suburbs and small towns. A Christian narrative (Gospel Story) no longer exists in the North American culture. Gospel Story is lost to our current generation and unknown to cultures moving into our western cities. What is left of any semblance of Christianity is negative. Christians are seen as haters and hypocrites.
It is important leaders know a gospel model for communicating Christ. There’s more than one way and it is uniquely more than having a call at the end of a sermon. Pastor Rodney Anderson reminds us, “If you find that Jesus isn’t pertinent to our content, you are probably teaching a great sermon on parenting, or giving, or moral uprightness or some needed act of service, but it isn’t a gospel message. It’s simply teaching people to try harder, to better follow this rule, and you can be your own savior…Jesus is what sets our points and our sermons apart. He isn’t just the person we tag onto the end of our sermons, his work on the cross is the only way we can do anything…Pastors should move beyond Biblical principles to the gospel, bringing every message back to the Gospel and Jesus.”
Leaders that teach for behavioral change tend to elevate the rules or middle class values to the level of godliness and work hard for external change and conformity. However, the root of all our problems is that something other than Christ is what we are really orbiting around to give life. Churched people may be singing “Christ is enough for me”, but inside they are thinking, “I also need a new job, or new spouse, or better kids, or nicer car.”
Gospel communication that is compelling and cohesive motivates with grace, truth and love, not guilt, shame or fear. Gospel communication (preaching, teaching, disciple-making, coaching, mentoring) is not simply telling people they are breaking the rules but that they, through unbelief in God, are relying on something or someone else for life but instead are utterly lost. The reality is that both the person who is trusting in their obedience to God’s rules and the person who doesn’t care about God’s rules are both rejecting God and relying in their own ability to have life apart from Christ.
So, what can we do to work on communicating the gospel? Work hard at getting to the point. Explain the Story to the audience (God made you as his image bearer for relationship/love, with purpose and dignity. But our first parents, and us along with them, have committed cosmic treason, rejecting him and have come under the Curse. Yet God loved so much, he provided a way back by sending His Son--God in human flesh--to both take the Curse and be the Cursed one, and anyone who believes in Him will have the curse removed and all the rightness of God himself given graciously to him/her). We have the most compelling story to tell.
Using the Gospel Story (which is good news, bad news and very good news, provides a context), mix it up with good humor, the wonder and beauty of Christ in an apologetical and joyful manner and practical application for life. Pray that God brings both Christian and non-Christians to hear it and believe it.
Gospel Coaching is a practical way to sharpen your communication competency and a CMM Gospel Coach can help guide you and your ministry through a process of identifying and implementing practical, measurable, gospel-focused ministry practices that sharpen the God given mission and improve your leadership health Learn more today!
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Dr. Tom Wood
I've been in the Church Planting business my entire career. I want you to know, you don't have to plant a church alone!