The Lord called me to plant a church in spring of 2011 in one of America’s worst cities, Camden, NJ. Camden is severely impoverished. We have one of the most inefficient and depleted public school systems. Our single-parent home situation is at pandemic proportions. Our unemployment rate tops the charts as one of the worst in the nation. And yes, we are the per capita murder capitol of the USA.
And yet there is seemingly an enormous amount of assistance for everything lacking in my city. Like many cities in America, we are inundated with many promises (many of them consistently broken) from politicians, people, and programs. Needless to say, these programs are not all proving to be effective.
So as a pastor and church planter, and one who grew up in the inner-city of Paterson, NJ, I recognize that people are fed up with well-intended broken promises from some fairly nice people. Folks in my city of Camden, and in every city, township, and borough in the world need to hear regularly about the unbroken promise from the perfect promise-keeper: Jesus, who is the Christ.
In the past I have been tasked with speaking about the necessity of gospel-centered preaching. As I took in hand to put together my message I said to myself, “a gospel-centered message, what else would we preach? I mean we’re Acts 29; we’re Bible guys, pumping the doctrines of grace, Christ crucified, raised, and coming again! Hallelujah! Right?”
Our past commitment or faithfulness to gospel-centered preaching does not guarantee present or future faithfulness.
I have been blessed and encouraged by the faithful preaching of men in Acts 29 churches. However, our past commitment or faithfulness to gospel-centered preaching does not guarantee present faithfulness, let alone future faithfulness to gospel-centered preaching. The daily, grinding demands of pastoral ministry distract us from the labor of preaching. Our public commitment to gospel-centered preaching is meaningless unless every pastor, every Monday morning prayerfully renews his commitment to preach the gospel afresh from the text now before him.
And in the midst of my pondering on this matter, I was reading Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon. In Spurgeon’s chapter on “Sermons—Their Matter,” he sums up the chapter to his students with these profound words:
“My brethren, preach Christ, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His Person, offices, and work must be our one great, all comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Saviour, and of the way to reach him.”
Oh what a gospel-centered reminder from the great Prince of Preachers! Christ and him alone is to be preached by the man that would dare say he were called to be a pastor! Spurgeon echoes all of scripture and particularly 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, where Paul, too, writes a letter to a troubled church that he planted to remind them of their task to preach Christ regularly and robustly! They are to preach the gospel of which Christ is the sum and hope! Christ who is the gain and glory of the gospel! Christ, he is the whole gospel.
We must never forget that Christ saved and sent us to declare his name, not just plant a cool church.
As a church-planter we can easily get caught up in the conundrum of components needed to plant a church: raise support, hire staff, get good graphics, and web stuff. However, we must never forget that Christ saved and sent us to declare his name and not just plant a cool church. We are to daily preach his message—the Good News; it is the only message of hope!
I started by saying that in my city Camden and in every city there are a barrage of broken promises. People are heartbroken and crushed daily by the unkept promises of politicians, people, and programs that in many ways dig deeper into the crevasses of their desperation and pain. Let us regularly be reminded that people in our cities have heard a lot and been hurt a lot. An authentic gospel message has in it the brokenness of this world and the beauty that Christ brings and is bringing through the cross and resurrection. People are looking and listening for an authentic message of hope! The problems of our lives are not permanent because the gospel is a promissory note to the powerful presence of God’s guarantee of comprehensive renewal.
Folks are hurting and they need a word from the Lord Christ, who never breaks his promise. They need to know assuredly that Jesus can transform them by his marvelous grace! They need to know that the precious sacrificial blood that poured out of our King from the cross reaches to the lowest valley! That Christ’s love and forgiveness is everlasting! They need to hear a gospel-centered message with Christ as the hero! The message that needs to be continually and consistently heard from our members, our pulpit, and our lives, is that Christ is the embodiment of our hope! This message, as the Apostle Paul states, was delivered as top priority.
…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3b-4)
So might we heroically preach about our hero – Jesus! And as we do, we pray that many churches will spring out from us into the darkest areas of our country and beyond. And might all of our preaching be centered in our great king and reigning redeemer. Anything less is a mess, because Christ is the whole gospel.