10 Ways the Church Needs to Reform, if the Simple Gospel Is Central

At the heart of the Reformation is justification by faith alone. This means that, though human beings stand guilty and condemned, God offers acceptance as a free gift based on what Jesus has done. Closely related is the fact that God also transforms those who are justified to make them more like Jesus (often called sanctification).

This is the simple Gospel that was emphasized and put back at the center of the church by Martin Luther and the other Reformers.

This is what had first place in the New Testament Church: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4).

It’s still easy for us to make other things of secondary, tertiary, or no importance central. I still struggle to keep the simple Gospel central. For a long time in my ministry, I did a terrible job of it. Even when I preached the simple Gospel, my actions often said that other things were just as important or more important.

When I left New Covenant Presbyterian in Spearfish in 2015, I preached from 1 Cor. 15:3–4. I explained ten things that I had tried to do, ten reforms that I had tried to make that were based on making the simple gospel central. I said, whatever else I had done, this was my vision and what I had wanted to do.

A man in the church came over to me afterwards and said, “You need to make that the first sermon you preach at your next church.” I changed what I was preaching on based on his advice.

And this is still my vision. This Sunday, I’m preaching on the Reformation. It’s on justification by faith alone. I’m going to share 10 reforms I think the church needs to make, if the simple gospel is central to her life.

  1. If the simple gospel is central, then it gives us an outward focus. The people outside the church are not that different from us. They are just one act of faith away from being fundamentally where we are.
  2. If the simple gospel is central, then all that is necessary to be a member of the church is to embrace the simple gospel. We can’t make entrance into the church higher than entering into the kingdom of God. This is what captivated me in Presbyterian history. Presbyterians aren’t perfect, but they have historically understood this.
  3. If the simple gospel is central, then we cannot let other preferences or other truths crowd it out. If other doctrines, ethical principles, church principles, or anything else gets talked about more than the simple gospel, people will believe what you talk about is the most central. We should not do that.
  4. If the simple gospel is central, then everything we do must be formatted around it. We cannot say one thing & then show another. We can’t say Christ’s love is free and then not care whether or not people can find our building. We can’t say Christ is hospitable but then be inhospitable.
  5. If the simple gospel is central, there is unity of believers in the local church. We may be at different levels in our spiritual journey or knowledge, but we all sit down around the table and let Jesus wash our feet. That gives us a powerful unity.
  6. If the simple gospel is central, then the church is composed of a variety of people from a variety of different backgrounds at a variety of different levels. Each should be valued as a believer in Christ. Thus, the worship and the sermons should be designed to include everybody and give them all sense of being part of the people of God.
  7. If the simple gospel is central, then we will value children in our church because the simple gospel is simple enough for a child to grasp and embrace.
  8. If the simple gospel is central, there is a unity with all believers. It is no longer just about the believers in our church, it is about believers everywhere because we all believe together that which we value most.
  9. If the simple gospel is central, then we can and should work together with all churches who preach this simple gospel. We share a basic unity that transcends other differences.
  10. If the simple gospel is central, then this is what we need most in order to grow. We must preach the gospel to ourselves when we see our sin, when we need guidance, when we are struggling with our circumstances, and when we are struggling with people. What does Paul write to the churches? The Gospel.

The Reformation was about clarifying the Gospel and bringing it back to the center of the church. This is not a completed act. It is not a pristine period in history. It is a continual call to make Christ and Him crucified the center of our lives, churches, and hearts.

A Pastor’s Response to Disaster

Last December, I stood next to a woman looking with sad eyes at the burned out remains of a building. “Did you live here?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. She then went on to tell me about how she had escaped the fires that overwhelmed the town of Gatlinburg. She had left her pets behind, fleeing for her life.

I told her that I was a Pastor and that I would like to pray with her.

After the prayer she asked me, “Since you’re a Pastor, can you tell me, was God punishing me by taking away my pets because I left them behind?”

I assured her that though we all had sins, God had shown His love for us by sending his Son to die on the cross, and that if we believed in Him, we could be certain that all of our sins were forgiven and that we stood before God as if we had done everything right. She said that she believed, and I assured her of God’s love for her, even though times were tough right now.

I prayed with her again. I gave her my card. I left, and she left. I was gratified a few weeks later to get a text from her. “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. It really helped.”

On November 23, 2016, fires worked their way down the mountains to the town of Gatlinburg and destroyed 2400 buildings, killed 14, and left thousands displaced. It was a disaster like I had never experienced before.

The next few days were filled with making sure our members were alright, crying with people, watching the news to get updates, and trying to figure out what to do.

Over the next few months, I had a lot of opportunities to work with and talk to people affected by the fires. One was the woman I mentioned in the opening story.

As I watch another disaster unfold in South Texas, my mind has gone back to those days in Gatlinburg, and tears have returned to my eyes as I think of the trauma of them. It’s still hard to believe.

I think of Pastors who will be confronting this disaster in Texas. I think of other Pastors who will experience similar disasters. To them, I’d like to offer here a few lessons I learned from living through disaster.

1. Call your congregation together for prayer and worship. The fires were Monday. We had a worship service on Wednesday. The fires on everyone’s mind. We needed to give ourselves a proper outlet for the horror we had just witnessed.

2. Drop what you’re doing and make the disaster a priority. The fires gave me opportunities to connect with people I never would have been able to connect with. The whole experience was very difficult, but it provided some amazing opportunities to experience the love of Christ given and received. Continue reading “A Pastor’s Response to Disaster”

Why Your Church Needs Small Group Ministry & Two Ways to Make It Better

Simply put: small groups allow interaction and building of relationships that cannot exist in the large group setting of worship.

Small groups are simply smaller groups of people (typically 12 or less) that gather together to accomplish some specific purpose. In the church, these purposes generally include worship, prayer, ministry, outreach, study, or fellowship.

Many people put their own definition of small groups into the word “small group.” They may think it is a home Bible study, a time of fellowship, a group that doesn’t meet on Sunday, or a group that is like a little church. None of these things are necessary to the concept of small groups.

When you realize that a small group is a just a small group of people gathering together for a specific purpose, then you realize that every church has small groups. Sometimes they call them Sunday schools. Sometimes they call them boards. Sometimes they call them committees. Sometimes they call them Bible studies. But all of them are small groups.

The universality of small groups in churches demonstrates that virtually all Christians believe that small groups are necessary for the health of the local church. There is a level of discipleship that requires a more intimate group, and ministry is best organized by a small group of people.

So, the question is not really whether or not you will have small groups. The question is whether you are using your small groups to their full potential. Continue reading “Why Your Church Needs Small Group Ministry & Two Ways to Make It Better”