We thank you again to Jason Allen and the whole Midwestern community for having us here. You all are always wonderful hosts and arranging that Superbowl win right before this was just spectacular. Thank you for that brother. I tell you, the baseball teams that you’ve come here, the football team, it’s been a good partnership. You guys with Midwestern and it’s going well. And thank you all for coming. Kinda like PBS news hour says, “and viewers like you.” This conference would not exist if you guys didn’t come. The speakers, would not fly in together just to talk to each other as much as we like each other. We’re here for you and the fact that you come really makes this conference happen. So thank you for that. Thank you. Also to the speakers for taking time to be here, coming in from all over the place like Philadelphia and Los Angeles and Los Angeles and Maryland.
And and thank you, especially to Zach Schlegel. He is the pastor of a local church. He has a very full time job. And for him to take extra time throughout the year to work on this conference is a benefit and encouragement to many people. Thank you Zach, for taking that time. Friends, I have a very simple talk to get us started today. I think the other brothers are going to have wonderful things to set in front of us through the day. I’m going to have a very simple message with three simple parts. Number one, what’s the gospel? Number two, what’s the church? And number three, what are things we can do to keep the gospel central in our local church, with just 16 practical suggestions. So, let me begin by defining a couple of terms. First, the gospel. It’s always healthy to think, “how would you define the gospel?”
I have been in meetings before where trying to get people to agree on what the gospel is has actually broken up the meeting. So, never assume that everyone knows and understands what the good news is. It’s always good to have people rehearse it. So I would say the good news is that God through Christ is reconciling sinners to himself so that all who repent of their sins and trust in Christ alone for their salvation are forgiven for their sins, that the punishments due them have fallen on Christ our substitute, who was crucified, died, buried, was raised and ascended and is returning. And we respond rightly to this amazing news by turning from our sins and trusting ourselves entirely to Christ, we are regenerated and renewed by the Holy spirit of God in connection with our hearing of this news. And God’s fruit then begins to appear in our life.
This great work having begun, God will continue to work in us and through us until he brings us finally and fully back to himself forever. This is the good news and I took about 40 seconds say that to you. So there is no reason that you can’t, in your own fellowship of Christians, often remind each other of what the good news is. Make sure the good news is clear. Many ways it can be said, but the news itself is wonderful. All right, that was point 1. Now, turning to point 2, what is the church? What is the church? Well, let’s open our Bibles to first Timothy chapter three, first Timothy chapter three.
Paul is writing to Timothy the pastor, not a surprising place to find the church discussed. We read in verse 14, First Timothy chapter three verse 14. “I hope to come to you soon, but I’m writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” A number of images used there for the church. The church is the pillar and buttress of the truth. Well, what’s the truth that he’s referring to? It’s the gospel we just talked about. The gospel is the truth that the church is about. If you look back in Colossians chapter one verse five, Paul refers to “the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth,” comma, “the gospel.”
So when Paul refers to “the truth,” definite, “the truth,” not a lot of other context. He almost certainly is going to mean by that the gospel, the gospel. Or he speaks very similarly in Ephesians, you turn back a few pages to Ephesians chapter one, you’ll see Paul’s using this phrase again, or this idea in verse 13, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth,” comma, “the gospel of your salvation.” Now, friends, this is a pastors conference. I assume that if you’re here, you’re saved. I assume you’re here, you are trusting savingly in Christ. But if you’re here because a friend convinced you to come and spend a day at a pastor’s conference, though you yourself know yourself to not be a Christian. I am a little skeptical that you exist, but just in case you’re here and you’re not a Christian, I do want you to know this is really good news for you and you’re going to be hearing about this sort of throughout the day,
it’ll be ricocheting around. This idea that you were made in the image of God, and that you can actually be forgiven for your sins and be reconciled to the relationship with God that you were made to have. If you want to know more about that, just please talk to anybody around you in the room throughout the day, we would love to help you understand more of what this means for you. But friends, this gospel is what the church has at the very center and core of our identity. So how can we best define the church? I don’t know about you, but I generally find that in English it’s generally good to begin with the words of Thomas Cranmer and then just amend if I need to. And I often don’t need to. So, if I’m trying to talk about anything about Christianity, I’ll just begin with Cranmer and then I change it around if I need to in some ways.
So, the 39 articles on the church, article 19 of the 39 articles, “The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly [ad]ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the church of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.” That’s the 19th of the 39 articles of the church of England. And I think it gives a surprisingly good statement on what the church is. Or, given the room, if you would feel more comfortable with a Baptist definition, Benjamin Keach, writing in the late 16 hundreds gives a superb definition of the church. “A church of Christ, according to the Gospel-Institution, is a Congregation of Godly Christians,” He’s copying Cranmer right there, “who as a Stated-Assembly (being first baptized upon the profession of Faith)” That’s where he moves over from the Anglican to Baptist right there. Yes. We’re a fan of that. All right. “do by mutual agreement and consent,” Interesting. That’s where you see he’s Congregationalist. So that’s an important amendment, “do by mutual agreement and consent give themselves unto the Lord, and one to another, according to the will of God; and do ordinarily meet together in one Place,”
Just telling you what Baptists have always thought, “for the Public Service and Worship of God; [and] among whom the Word of God and Sacraments,” Baptists didn’t used to be scared of the word ‘Sacraments,’ “the Word of God and Sacraments are duly administered, according to Christ’s Institution.” It’s a good definition. It’s one of the earliest Baptist sort of church polities written 1697. I’ll read it through one more time without the pauses so you can hear it together. A church of Christ, according to the Gospel-Institution, is a Congregation of Godly Christians, who as a Stated-Assembly (being first baptized upon the profession of Faith) do by mutual agreement and consent, give themselves unto the Lord, and one to another, according to the Will of God and do ordinarily meet together in one Place, for the Public Service and Worship of God; and among whom the Word of God and Sacraments are duly administered, according to Christ’s Institution.”
Just a few distinctions that Christians over the years have found helpful when speaking of the local church. Let me share three of them with you. The idea of a true church or a false church. Everything that calls itself a church we do not understand to be a church. This came to the fore at the reformation when the church of Rome was obviously presenting itself as not just a but the true church. And a painful truth, the reformers came to each individually in their own journeys was that it was actually a false church because it did not have the gospel at the center. And so the true church is marked out by possession of the gospel that we were just thinking of. So true or false. But, leaving the false ones aside, another distinction Christians have found useful in thinking of the church is for the true churches, there can be regular and irregular churches, regular and irregular churches.
So, regular simply means according to what the speaker thinks, God’s word says about all the particulars in the life of the church. An irregular, an irregular true church is how I talk about your church. You know? So if you have the gospel, right, so I think you’re a true church. You’re not a false church. You have a true church, but I think you’re really off on something according to the regula, Latin rule, which is scripture. Let’s say you don’t have elders and deacons. These are new Testament offices, or let’s say, like our salvation army friends, you don’t practice baptism. You think it was all just a spiritual reality. The physical practice was in the first century, these days, you don’t practice baptism. I might say you’re a true church because you do have the gospel, but I’ll call you irregular. Our Presbyterian friends, I would say true but irregular.
They’re not according to the rule when it comes to the baptism, the issue of baptism and of church government. Or multi-site, I would say you know, true but irregular. You know, you can keep going with a number of things and and how, how important does it need to be before you call it irregular? I, I leave that to you and your own conversations. But that’s been an important distinction because sometimes when friends have begun to study the doctrine of the church, they lose perspective on how important the differences between them are. And it is super important to keep the true-false distinction. That’s gigantic. That’s the gospel. That’s everything. And the regular-irregular, well those can be important matters. Those can even be somewhat less important matters. But you want to take note of them because if you do think God has revealed himself on the fact that say normally a church would have a plurality of elders in the local church, then if a church decides not to do that, when you think God has revealed himself on it, then you would call that irregular or not to baptize people if they’ve been baptized as infants when you know that scripture does not teach infant baptism and therefore the problem is really not even so much the infant baptism, kind of wet baby dedication.
But the problem is more that that person now will never obey the command of Christ to be Baptized. And so that becomes a problem. But you know, they still preach the gospel and frankly they seem to preach it better than in many of our more regular churches. So you want to acknowledge to a true church, but they are irregular on some significant matters that God has revealed his will on. And one other dichotomy that’s useful. It’s more of a spectrum really. It’s just more or less healthy, more or less healthy. So I might, you know, look at a church. Jeremy, are you guys multi-site? No, but let’s say you were multisite. You’re in LA, so you could be right.
You’re multi-service. You’re multi-service, right? Boom. Gotcha. Okay. So Jeremy, Jeremy, he divides the church into multiple churches and yet he calls it one church. So I think that’s irregular, but I think Jeremy preaches the gospel. We’ve had members of our church move to LA and be part of Jeremy’s church and prosper spiritually at my encouragement. So there’s an idea of a church that I would call irregular, but it’s true. And on this irregular but true thing, you’ve got very unhealthy churches, but pretty healthy churches. And I think from what I know about Jeremy’s church, it’d be a pretty healthy church. So we might have somebody move to an area where there’s the only gospel preaching church is a Presbyterian church. What would I tell a person not to go there? I would not tell a person not to go there. You know, it can be a true irregular, but comparatively healthy church when you look at the other churches in the area.
So that’s been another scale or another lens you can click on to get a more accurate view, more or less healthy. All right, so true or false, regular, irregular, more or less healthy for larger discussion to these, you can see Edmund Clowney’s book, “The Church,” which a InterVarsity Press published back in the seventies or eighties. It’s a wonderful book. He’s a Presbyterian, but he’s, he’s written it in such a way that it’s very inclusive of Baptist and others. He’s written very accurately, “The Church,” or book I wrote called, “The Church.” You could also read, which is not as good as not as well written as Ed Clowney’s book, but wherever we disagree, my book is better, just being honest. So, defining that and now we’re moving onto the third and final part of this morning message. Defining the relationship of the gospel to the church is kind of like trying to figure out the chicken and the egg, you know, which comes first, which gives rise to which. Obviously, theologically the gospel is prior. I mean, the gospel is- there would be no church without the gospel. So, praise God for what he’s done for us in Christ. If, if he hasn’t done this in Christ, we don’t need to assemble, you know, whether it altogether at 11 or at 8:30 and 10 I mean we just, we don’t need to assemble if he’s not done that. But, but if he has, then we know that that’s why we’re together.
But there also then is a special responsibility that the church has for being shaped by and preserving the gospel. So ,once Christianity gets going in an area, once there are churches, well then the church is, as Paul says, a pillar and a foundation of the truth. The church has a certain obligation to the gospel. So, I just want to think very practically with you about how you as pastors, how we as pastors can be good stewards of that trust that our local churches have in the gospel. That is how can you make sure that the gospel is appropriately held and influential in the life of your local church. And I just got 16 practical suggestions for you. All right. 16 practical suggestions. Number one, you want to have a statement of faith for your church and you want to find, you want to find in your statement of faith a clear explanation of scripture, of God, of humanity, which would include both the idea that we’re made in the image of God and that were also sinful.
You want to make sure Christ’s person and his work is clear in your statement of faith and the necessity of repentance and of faith. And this should be clear on your churches website. Do not make people have to guess. Hold it out there. I think having your sermons on the website can be helpful too cause they can see what it is that you really are teaching regularly. So, I would say it’s a very practical way to try to make sure the gospel is clear and shaping your church. Number two, have a church covenant. That is, if the statement of faith is what we believe the church covenant says, how we will live, how we are pledging to God and to each other, we will live. And a church covenant should be clear enough to evidence repentance, but wide ranging enough to allow Christian Liberty of conscience.
So, I think it’s very important to protect the gospel from unique and creeping legalisms. So for example, when I got to our church in 1994, we had enacted in 1878 at our first meeting a church covenant which said nothing about alcohol. And then as they revised their church covenant every 20 or 30 years, it seems one got in, in the 1940s, which forbid, the use of alcohol as a beverage. Now I myself am a teetotaler and am an advocate of that position, but I’m not an advocate of that position saying the Bible teaches that. And I felt that that was a wrong constraint on our church. So I actually suggested to the church that we change the church covenant and we take that part out. That was not an attempt by me to get everybody to start drinking. That was just saying, I’m trying to be honest with scripture.
I’m still going to have my position and advocate it, but I feel wrong telling somebody they can’t come to the Lord’s table here unless they agree with this unbiblical conclusion. So, and requiring it of people. Many of those individuals may come to that conclusion, but trying to require something that scripture doesn’t require, I think we have to avoid that in our church covenants. And there are many kinds of things that would be common behaviors we agree on, but they’re not required by scripture. The church actually voted unanimously for that. And so that’s just kinda been a non issue in our church. But it’s an example of how the church covenant can be very, can be very useful in summarizing our ethical agreements with each other. I’m just curious, if you have a statement of faith at your church, put up your hand if you have a statement of faith. Keep your hands up, look around for a moment so you can see that’s most, most of the people here. Keep your hand up if that statement of faith is on your church website. A few hands go down, but okay, they’re largely up. Okay, now put your hand up if you have a church covenant.
I’m seeing some different hands go up, but keep your hand up if you have a church covenant, but no statement of faith. One. Okay. Okay. Yeah. Two. Okay, interesting. I encourage you guys to look at them, Church covenants are hugely useful. We can talk about that more if you have more questions about it. Number three, the explicit recognition of the right preaching of the word of God and particularly of the gospel as a criterion for the validity of a church’s baptism of a prospective member or of a church resigning membership to go to another church that is, at our members meetings, the main thing we do is take people into membership and put people out of membership. So I think our January members meeting- we have meetings every other month- our membership went from like 950 to 944, something like that. But we dealt with 70 people.
You know, we had a lot, we had one church discipline case. We had a lot of resignations, mainly people moving elsewhere, joining other churches, and we had a lot of new members. So every single one of those then comes up to membership at the meeting. There’s a motion from the elders. There’s opportunity, there’s, there’s an opportunity for discussion and just both on coming in and going out, we want to make sure to highlight the gospel in this incident is somebody is coming to us and they’re already a member of another church, so let’s say they’ve moved to DC and now they’re joining our church. We want to make sure, if they tell us that they’ve been baptized as a believer, we want to know, well, where were you baptized? Were you baptized in connection with the preaching of the gospel?
Because if you were not baptized in connection with the preaching the gospel, we don’t think you’ve been baptized. You know, a Mormon baptism is not a true baptism. I don’t care what you think about your own heart. A Roman Catholic baptism is not a true baptism. Even if you yourself were a believer when that action happened because it publicly is not in connection with the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s no baptism. On the other hand, going out, let’s say we have somebody who wants to move to a PC USA church where the resurrection, the bodily resurrection is flatly denied, very public about it. We would not allow a person to do that. Now, I want to say we wouldn’t allow, I don’t mean we coercively physically don’t allow the person to leave our building and go to that building. No, they can do whatever they want.
They’re free in that sense legally. But with our approval, with our continuing testimony to their Christian life, we can’t do that. We would excommunicate them if they left us to go to a church that denied the bodily resurrection. What if they leave us to go to a church, let’s say a charismatic Methodist Wesleyan fellowship that would have a number of differences with us, but where they preach the gospel, they do believe Jesus is fully God fully man, was raised from the dead, died on the cross as substitute for our sin. We would, we would certainly let them go. You know, with our blessings and you’re welcome back anytime. So that would be a true but irregular church. Well, what we have done in both the way we evaluate somebody’s baptism coming in and in the way we see the members out, we’ve made the gospel central.
We’ve made the church have to wrestle with the gospel. In fact, there was one time years ago when there was one guy who had been a member of our church fairly briefly, and he left to go to another church. And, on behalf the elders, I was just bringing so and so’s left and gone to such and such church. We move that you accept his resignation. And Christopher put up his hand, one of our members, and he just said, Mark, I don’t think that church believes in the Trinity. Well, I didn’t know that. So I was like, mm, that’s embarrassing. So I looked at a couple of the other elders. They go, I thought they did. So I said, okay, we’ll do it. I think I’ll Chris, are you pretty sure about that? And he said, yeah.
I said, okay, let me withdraw our recommendation. We will do some more work on that. Christopher, you might want to help us, and then we’ll get back to it in our next member’s meeting. Because if someone denies the Trinity, they’re not affirming the gospel. Right? So, that’s a place where our polity, our congregations really helped us. We would have wrongly and falsely assured that guy of his salvation, if we had just done that in our ignorance. But instead we were really blessed by the brother who sat there on his own and said, Mark, I don’t think that church believes in the Trinity. I didn’t know that. Okay. So in the very way we do our membership, we can help functionally make the gospel integral to our church. Number four, super simple one, sermons should always present the gospel clearly. Sermons should always present the gospel clearly.
I think this is more important than anything else you’ll learn at seminary. Sermons should always present the gospel clearly. I took a lot of classes at Duke divinity school and I never learned this there. I took classes at Gordon Conwell for my MDiv and I think they probably denied this. They probably disagreed with that. I took classes at Southern seminary, back when it was more liberal theologically, and they didn’t believe the gospel, let alone tell you you should put it in every sermon. And I did a PhD at Cambridge and certainly nobody there told me this. I learned this from a lay member of our church. He came up to me after I preached one time and just said, “Hey, good sermon. I don’t think you preached the gospel.”
And being my sanctified self, I assured Bill he was wrong. And then went back and looked over my notes and tried to recall that afternoon and I thought like, I think he’s right. I don’t think I did preach the gospel. So, in that sense, Bill taught me more important stuff than any of my four degrees had taught me. Preach the gospel in every sermon. Why are you standing up there on your hind legs, making everybody be quiet for half an hour to an hour, if you’re not even going to tell them about Jesus. Tell them the gospel. I have one good friend’s mom who grew up in LA in the 1930’s and 40’s and she did not grow up in a Christian home, but the Holy Spirit convicted her about her sins and so she knew she should become a Christian. So she started going around all kinds of- she went to AngelList temple.
I mean she started going to all kinds of places trying to find out how can I be saved? And she went to church after church and no one would tell her the gospel. They would assume the gospel or they’d say false things, but she said she was always struck by the fact that she went to, I don’t know how many churches, five, six, seven, eight, nine and couldn’t- no one would, no one said the gospel, and she didn’t have any religious resources in her own family to figure it out. Brother preacher, I would just tell you, be the church where that kind of pain ends. Every Sunday, tell people the good news of Jesus Christ in your sermon. Make it clear. Number five, in expositional preaching through all of the Bible, show how all of it is naturally related to the gospel. If you want to figure this out, look at Luke 24. That may give you confidence.
I think as you preach through the Bible, you will help your whole congregation improve in evangelism. If you help them see how everything in the Bible is connected to the gospel. So I’m in the book of Ezra right now. That’s in the Old Testament. All right? It’s not a letter of Paul. It’s not one of the pastorals. It’s the Old Testament. It’s a story about Old Testament Bible scholar, Jewish Bible scholar who goes from Babylon back to Jerusalem and he recounts the history of God’s dealing with his people in the last couple of generations and ending the exile. And it is a beautiful picture of God’s mercy after judgment.
It’s a wonderful underscore of part of the gospel. When you preach it, you need to preach that as part of how we understand it. This is crucial to our ministry in the pulpit. Preaching, showing how it’s natural related to the gospel. And by the way, have any of you registered to come to T4G in April? Raise your hand if you have registered to come to the T4G in April. Great. I’m glad all six of you are coming. A few more want to come, you’d be welcome. We do have space to the Yum Center in Louisville. We’d like to fill it up. John Piper, Lord willing to be speaking there. And John says, what he wants to talk about is how Spurgeon- Uh Oh, you be careful, here we come, criticism of Spurgeon, here it comes from John Piper- How Spurgeon kinda got it backwards. Uh Oh, what are we saying? Okay, hear him out. It is John Piper. You know, if we got a Spurgeon its him, I mean, I, you know, so he says that Spurgeon said you need to make a beeline from every text to the gospel and Piper going to be arguing in his message at T4G that instead you want to move from the gospel to each text of scripture. Sounds clever. If Piper asks, I have no idea what he means, but I’m looking forward to hearing it at T4G. So that’s coming up in April. All right, number six.
I think you want to address non-Christians explicitly in the sermon. That is, when you’re talking, say if you’re here today and you’re not a Christian, you know, you’re a Hindu, you’re a Muslim, you’re Jewish, you’re not religious. We’re very glad you’re here. You’re always welcome. Here’s a question I would have for you. Or here’s something I’d like you to think about more. Here’s something I want to make clear that we do or that we don’t think. Speak clearly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thanked at the door after church by Muslim, Jew, Hindu, for saying, Hey, thank you for mentioning, it let me know I was welcome here. So, so just this yesterday or day before yesterday at church in the morning, we had a Benedictine monk sitting there in full habit, you know, long Brown robe, rope around the waist, the whole thing. Now he had a coat on over it, which was helpful.
Thank you, Ignacio. But I talked to him before. I knew he was coming and just trying to make things clear to him. In the evening Pooja said goodbye. Pooja is a Hindu feminist who came to Christ at our church maybe three years ago. Did she, was she, were you with us? No. So when did you leave? So probably three years ago, Pooja comes to Christ. She starts coming to our Wednesday night Bible study. Woman, very sharp, in her mid thirties. Very secular basically, but strong Hindu culturally. Anyway, she was saying goodbye to us on Sunday. Like she’s moved to LA and they’re involved with the church there. I think when you address the non-Christian explicitly, you let them know it’s okay for them to be there and your congregation gets to hear how you talk to a non-Christian. So what you don’t ever want to do is talk about those bad people out there. You don’t want to just decry the world like, Oh, in this terrible world we live in today,
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I mean, I think everything you said is probably true, but I don’t know that you’re helping anybody in the congregation to think through how to have better conversations with their non-Christian daughter or their non-Christian employer or their non-Christian neighbor. So I think you want to be very careful, thinking about how you can improve the way your congregation is able to share the gospel with non Christian family and friends by the way, you preach. Number seven, sermons should not be the first time the congregation has gotten to relish and exalt in the gospel, in the service. The whole shape of the service should be gospel-ish. So, I really am a preacher. I really am a pastor. You can tell by everything that’s just stuck to my Bible. Okay. I’ve got this conference thing going on. I’ve got something paper, I’ve got my sermon notes from Sunday.
There it is, Ezra 6. I’ve got the Sunday evening service, the notes to lead it, and actually the previous Sunday evening, that’s embarrassing. A letter I need to answer. Ah, here we go. Sunday mornings bulletin. All right, so here’s Sunday mornings bulletin. It’s like a filing cabinet and I carry around with me. All right, we got three preparations songs- The Crown, 10,000 Reasons, and Cornerstone. So already when people are coming in, we’re singing and we’re singing gospel truth. And then we’ve got the welcome by Ryan Townsend and, and I gave a suggestion for how he could’ve done that more evangelistickley. Call to worship, Psalm 149 is read out. Then we pray the Lord’s prayer. And then we’ve got three hymns- Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor, Come Ye Sinners- You know, I will arise and go to Jesus- and All Glory be to Christ.
Wonderful gospel saturated songs. Then a prayer praise where Dave just helped us to see who God is and he praised God. And then we read from first Timothy 2, scripture, and then James, one of our pastors came in and let us let us in a prayer of confession, where we’re confessing our sins to God. So you got God, man, Christ in the hymns. The response, the assurance of pardon was Ephesians 2:8. Then we sang, Oh Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended, wonderful him on substitutionary atonement. Then the pastoral prayer where I came and led in interceding, then my Worth is Not in What I Own, a prayer of thanks offertory message where I preached, and then a final hymn, Afflicted Saint to Christ Draw Near. So before you ever get to the sermon, you want your service to make the good news clear.
You want it just to be saturated with it so that people hear and understand it. The hymns and scripture readings and prayers should evoke God’s greatness and holiness and love. They should make our need clear. The, the importance then it should be clear of prayers, whether you’re praising God to make clear who he is, you’re confessing to make clear who we are. That scriptural assurance of pardon. I just grabbed something from the Bible that assures us of the forgiveness that we can have in Christ. I think, in our service, we even have like 60 seconds of silence between the announcements and the call to worship at the beginning and about 60 seconds of silence after the final benediction where we just say let’s be seated now and take a few moments for quiet reflection before we have our time together or to reflect on what the Lord has has done among us today. And even that time of silence can just cause the gospel to echo in people’s minds. Whoever is leading your service should have an eye to the gospel and the gospel being clear in all of his comments. Number eight, if you want to join our church, you have to take a membership class. One of those classes is going to be on our statement of faith. In our statement of faith. The gospel is really clear.
Number nine, membership interviews. If you want to join our church, you have to have an interview with an elder. Now when I got to our church in 1994 and I brought up this idea, there were some people who felt like, what is this? The country club? You’ve got to have an interview. I don’t even have to do that at Costco. An interview, really? Well, in the Providence of God, Mark the history nerd was looking around through our church archives and what did I find in December of 1994 but an interview form to our church from January of 1895, and you see what they ask. It’s all the same questions I was asking. Name, address, what do you do? How’d you come to Christ? You know, have you a statement of faith, church covenant, share your testimony. It’s all the same stuff we ask. So at our church newsletter back then, before internet was quite as big. We had a physical newsletter that came up once a month and on the very front of our January, 1995 newsletter, I just put the January, 1895 membership application form to our church, just to make it clear that the young preacher didn’t have any new ideas. I was just reminding them why Baptist churches did what they did. There were really good biblical reasons. And friends, when you have an interview with everybody who wants to join your church, you can ask them, what’s the gospel?
I would say 60 seconds or less. Tell me the gospel. What’s the good news of Jesus Christ? And then you can listen to them and you can put on your best pastoral ears. You can ask follow up questions. You don’t want to scare them. You’re not trying to intimidate them. You want to understand what are they relying on for their soul’s salvation. Who are they trusting? You can help them to make the gospel clearer in their own experience. The membership interview is a place where we require them not simply to agree with the statement of faith and the church covenant, though those things are important- we ask them to sign them, but we also ask them to present the gospel clearly. That makes sure that they understand it. It gives them practice in expressing it. It lets us know more of how they are spiritually. Number 10, share experiences of evangelism on Sunday evening. So our Sunday evening service is our prayer meeting, literally most of our members come back at five o’clock on Sunday afternoon to pray together.
So if we’ll have a thousand people there on Sunday morning and of those, let’s say 800 of them are members, we will have, by God’s grace, 500 back, maybe 600 on Sunday night to pray. Others as well, we’ll have visitors as well. But one of the things I want to do in the Sunday evening prayer meetings is I want to hear stories from women or men in the congregation, especially not on staff, especially just in their normal lives with their families, with their neighborhoods at work, at school where they have strategized to share the gospel. And I want them to come up and in one or two minutes share that story and then I want us to pray for that. Because I want the people they’ve been sharing the gospel with to be converted. And I want all of us to feel guilty and instructed, you know, in how we could be better stewards of the gospel.
Right. And rather than just preachers getting up there and saying that, we have our own utility to the Lord, fellow members saying that can be super helpful in giving people ideas about this, and it helps make the gospel very practically central to our lives together. Number 11, in your prayer meeting- and notice how I’m assuming that your church does meet to pray. Christians have done this for a long time. In South Korea, they buy entire mountains to do this together. Alright. You can pray specifically as a church. Regularly lead people to pray for godly gospel centered conversations with each other.
So I, we really do often pray about this in our church, that the Lord would allow us. It’s not that we don’t want to talk about the Chiefs. It’s fine talking about the chiefs. It’s not that we don’t want to talk with the new building. This is a lovely building. It’s a great space to meet in. There’s so many good things. We talk about our kids, our kids are doing. The weather, it’s okay to talk about the weather, but it should also not be weird at your church for people to want to talk about God and the gospel. If a conversation- if it’s sincere conversation about Jesus and me being surprised and freshly moved that he would die for me. If that sounds like somebody emotionally unstable in your congregation, the problem is probably with your congregation. You want your congregation to be a place where you can naturally speak of Jesus in the gospel. You want to encourage those kinds of conversations.
Number 12, make it clear in your own conversations, your own life or public prayers, that you understand your own life to be the business of your members and their lives to be the business of you and each other as members. And that will tilt toward some serious transparency and will help to create practice in having significantly gospel friendly conversations. Because when you all just put on your church selves, your church closed your church face with each other, and kind of hide from each other, and you kind of have your religious like bump into each other once a week and you feel better, it’s not helping the gospel. What helps the gospel is when you’re honest with each other about your lives and people know you feel like your life is a waste at your current job. You’ve been trying to get out of it for five years.
You just can’t find a way out. You feel like you need to make a little more money. And even if you had the more money, you’re just wanting to be more meaningful to do with your life. And if you’re not telling people around you that they don’t understand where the Holy Spirit and where the Lord Jesus Christ is meeting you and providing for you. You have got to work for a culture of honesty and transparency in your church because the fact that you were able to sing joyfully when your wife is in the hospital helps them to see the reality of the gospel. You need to be more transparent in your churches. And pastors, you’ve got to lead out in that. You’ve got to be the ones who make that vulnerability important and to realize how that is friendly to the gospel, how that encourages adherence to Christ alone for our salvation.
And can I have those books? You want to recommend and give out good books to clarify the gospel and its implications and applications in our lives. So, for the last 25 years, literally brothers and sisters, 25 years, I have every Sunday night and every Wednesday night given away free books. It’ll be things like JI Packer, Knowing God, RC Sproul, the Holiness of God; the JC Royal, Holiness; Michael Lawrence, Conversion; David Wells, The Person of Christ; Greg Gilbert, who is Jesus or What is the gospel? JI Packer, In My Place Condemned He stood, or Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God; My book on the gospel and personal evangelism; John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus; Trip Lee, The Good Life; Mack Stiles, Evangelism; Will Metzker, Tell the Truth; JI Packer, Quest for Godliness. We also have a church library. We have a church book stall, where such books can be borrowed or bought.
When I meet with other pastors, I love to bring good books that they should be thinking about getting copies of to give out themselves. So I’ve got two copies of Jonathan Lehman’s book, Understanding the Congregation’s Authority. So Jeremy, you get one of these in case you don’t have one. Where’s campus pastor dude? What’s your name? Andrew, okay you get one of these Andrew. But this, I give this out to members of my church. It’s good for them to understand how as local church members, they are taking responsibility before the Lord for all the other members of their church that they see regularly because every week they assemble together, just like in Hebrews 10, they all get together every week, just saying. It’s in the Bible. It’s Baptist. I don’t know, anyway. Good thing to give out. Sharon James is super sharp sister in England. She’s written a great book on gender ideology.
What do Christians need to know? The chapters, the global sexual revolution. Can we really change sex and other FAQ? What is gender theory? Where did gender theory come from? Male and female by design. The transgendering of children. How should we respond? A call to respect. I’ve got four copies of this. I’m happy to give these to somebody who’s going to read it soon and maybe give it out to others. You can come forward right now. This is a get a free book invitational. Yes. Okay. Here we go. I guess we’re seeing some of the advantages of sitting close by. Yep. Here we go. Here we go. Yes, brother. Right here. Yup. A brother who really wanted one. If you come to T4G, we’re going to give that one out at T4G. Okay. This is officially black history month.
Let’s say. You just happen to not be black here in the Midwest, that’ll be a few of you. I want to challenge you particularly as Christians to realize every month that your church should be black history month, the story of how African Americans in this country endured slavery from Christians, defended by Christians, and still accepted the Christian gospel themselves, may be the most amazing sort of mass gospel story I know of in world history. You have riches underneath your nose that you’re ignoring if you think black history is for black people. Much of black history in America is Christian history. It is history for us as Christians to know and relish how God has been incredibly faithful. So I am always trying to promote understanding more of African American experience in the United States. It’s good for us as Christians, whether we’re black or not. Mark Sidwell has written a little book called Free Indeed: Heroes of Black Christian History. John Moran, George Lyon, Richard Allen, Limial Haynes, John Chavis, John Stewart, Lot Kerry, John Jasper, Daniel Payne, Samuel Morris, Matthew Anderson, Francis Grimke, Charles Tinley, Charles Price Jones, brief biographies. This is the kind of stuff you want to know. You want to know increasingly, and you want to encourage members of your church to know if they’re going to be encouraged to follow Jesus. So I got two copies of this. You got to come forward if you’re going to get it. Here we are, two copies of this. Okay. Sister right here is after it, excellent. I’ve got another one. Are you coming sneaking in from the back. Alright.
Oh right. Okay. All right. All right. Last one of these. Just as examples. A lot of you know Rosaria Butterfield. Yup. She was a lesbian feminist Literary Professor at Syracuse University in New York. Became a Christian, most unlikely to convert. She tells her story, the Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professors Journey Into Christian Faith. This has gospely stuff. You pass this out in your congregation regularly. People will relish the gospel, get copies, pastor, spend your money on books for your people and just keep giving them good books for 25 years. It’s going, I love it. Quiet, sneaky. Well, yes. Excellent. Sorry guys. Rosaria Butterfield. Okay. That’s good stuff to do. I need to be closing up here, friends. Number 14, have a membership directory. Pray through it regularly for your church. So I prayed through two pages of mine this morning. The, my most important book, my Bible, I second most important book, my church membership directory.
So I don’t really feel accountable for you guys. I’m happy to be here. My blood pressure does not go up before I do this. But before I preach at my church on Sundays, I mean it’s, I’d better not eat anything. You know, it’s just okay, this is a serious deal. I’m standing in the place of God in front of these people as I administer God’s word to them. Hebrews 13 tells me I’m going to give a special account of them. That’s, pastors, that’s what I’m speaking on at T4G this year. Lord willing, the accounting that I expect to give to God at the end of time, and before the judgment seat for the people of my church. That membership directory, you can thank God for Christ bearing the rejection and judgment that we have deserved. You can relish the gospel in your own prayer life.
Number 15, have those about to be baptized share their testimonies about how they came to Christ with the congregation before they’re baptized and make sure that the gospel is explicit in those testimonies. Number 16, have a good understanding of the Christian freedom that we read of in Romans 14 and of the role of the individual conscience. What can we all disagree on and still have a local church together? Can you vote for Biden and be welcome to communion at your church? Can you vote for Trump and be welcome to communion at your church? I’m on Capitol Hill. Maybe those things are big to me. Can you root for the 40 Niners and be welcomed communion at your church? Well, that’s, this the stuff you need to make clearer, you know, is that wherever is serious no, then you’re not a Christian Church. So I mean, you just got to realize that you want to see, as the pastor, particularly what can be disagreed on and you should have this clear in your own preaching and teaching. Andy Naselli’s recent book on the conscience can be really helpful for stuff like that. Friends, we’ve run out of time. I hope those are going to be some useful things to help you think about how the gospel can be more and more clear in your local church and you can keep it clear. Let me pray for us. Lord, we thank you for every witness. You give us of the truth of your word. Make us faithful stewards in our churches, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.