One Thing I Did Right in Ministry: “I Centered on Christ”

One Thing I Did Right in Ministry: "I Centered on Christ"

Actually, I tried to center on Christ, but am still very much learning to do so. When I was first called to pastoral ministry, I remember feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of it all. I thought being a good pastor meant being a good administrator, an excellent student, a sound theologian, good with people, a gripping public speaker, a strong leader, a humble servant and so on. I wasn’t sure I could do all of those things well. Soon, the Lord graciously sent influences into my life to teach me that pastoral ministry isn’t ultimately about me and my abilities. My pastoral mentor, Fred Malone, taught me that the greatest hindrance to pastoral ministry is the pastor himself and that faithful pastors preach and minister Jesus Christ. A pastor’s highest responsibility is to commend Jesus. I also remember attending a National Founders Conference where I met Geoff Thomas, an older pastor whom I highly respect. He said to me, “At my age, I have nothing left to prove, only to speak warmly of the Savior, but that’s the hardest thing to do, isn’t it?” That statement resonated deeply with me, and “speaking warmly of the Savior” has remained the greatest goal of my ministry.

1. Christ-Centered Preaching Leads Christians to Worship. Preachers are required to explain the text so that distinct doctrinal ideas are formed in the minds of their hearers. But the preacher must also always turn the sermon to Jesus Christ, showing how Christ Himself is on display in the Scriptures. The Bible teaches us to preach Christ-centered sermons (Acts 8:12; 8:27; 17:3; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Colossians 1:28). In my experience as a preacher, at the point in the sermon when I make the connection to Christ, people’s faces light up with joy and gratitude or reverence and awe, depending on the text. I’m convinced that the end of preaching is not simply teaching people to understand or believe sound doctrine. Nor is it simply getting people to do what the Bible says. The end goal of preaching is worship, and a sermon can only lead people to worship if Jesus Christ is preached because Jesus is the fullest revelation of God to men (John 1:18; Colossians 2:1, 9).

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus opened the Scriptures and began to teach His disciples. “And beginning with all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). The disciples responded to Christ’s own Christ-centered teaching with heartfelt worship. “They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?’” (Luke 24:32). People sometimes tell me that a clear sight of Christ has helped them to persevere as Christians. They tell me that they love seeing Christ in all the Scriptures and being exhorted in His graces and encouraged to trust Him and love Him more. Believers say along with those who came to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).

2. Christ-Centered Counseling Encourages Godly Change. Often when people come to me for counseling, they simply want relief of some kind. People who are depressed often just want the depression to stop. Those who are struggling in their marriages are sometimes willing to do whatever it takes to have a happier marriage. And very subtly, people can be motivated to make changes in their lives simply to get relief from pain. Spouses are willing to make changes to find rest from the constant conflict that is taking place in their marriage. And it would be very easy for a pastoral counselor simply to tell people, “If you believe and do what the Bible says, then the problems you’re experiencing in your life will get better.” And, if people believe and do what the Bible says, they may indeed get some relief from their pain.

But the pastoral counselor’s job is to lead people to worship and grow in Christ, regardless of the temporal results of their obedience. That means a pastor is to point people to Jesus, and exhort them to change because they believe Him and love Him. Often in marriage counseling, both the husband and the wife say that the problem is with the other person. The other person won’t change. They sometimes blame one another. And each of them is waiting on the other to make the first move. And if one of them does change, that one gets discouraged because the other isn’t changing too. The only way forward is to exhort both spouses in Jesus Christ. They both need a great vision of the beauty, goodness, love, and grace of Jesus Christ. And they both need to humble themselves before Christ, trust Him and obey Him, no matter what the other person does. The goal of counseling isn’t to give people a better life in this world. It’s to lead people to know Christ more deeply, to suffer with Him if necessary, and to obey Him faithfully for His glory, no matter what other people do. This is the only way I’ve seen any real progress in counseling. And it has been one of my greatest joys in pastoral ministry to watch people renew their love for Christ and be willing to submit to Him, no matter what else changes.

3. Christ-Centered Ministry is Good for the Minister. Striving to be centered on Christ in my heart, home and ministry has helped to check the proud and sinful tendencies in my own heart. Christ reminds me that I can’t save anyone and that He alone is the Savior. I don’t have to get my way among the other elders because the church belongs to Christ, not to me. I’m to speak the truth in love and serve my brother pastors. I don’t have to try to convince the congregation of sound doctrine because Christ alone rules their minds and hearts. I am responsible faithfully to declare what I have received and leave the results to Jesus. I don’t have to try to make people obey Christ because Christ alone is powerful to work holiness in the hearts of His people. In discipline situations, I have sometimes been tempted to become angry and frustrated when people are destroying their lives and the lives of others. But I’m reminded that I too have broken God’s law and deserve hell, just like those under discipline and that my only hope is redemption in Christ. The kindness of God leads us to repentance. And so I am to minister Christ, to stay on Christ, remembering His grace to me, and never tiring of holding out the same message of hope and life in Him to others.

The more focused I am on Jesus, the less likely I am to think that ministry is about me or that my efforts can accomplish the work that Jesus alone can accomplish. When my thinking is centered on Jesus, I find that He is the most powerful motive to diligence and hard work in the ministry. My work is not in vain. The outcome is in His hands, not mine. When my eyes are fixed upon Jesus, I work, not to change people, not to build my own kingdom, not to be a good pastor, but to love Christ and glorify Him.

Tom serves as the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Clinton, LA. He’s married to Joy, and they have four children: Sophie, Karlie, Rebekah, and David. He received his MDiv and PhD degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a major in Church History, emphasis on Baptists, and with a minor in Systematic Theology. Tom is the author of The Doctrine of Justification in the Theologies of Richard Baxter and Benjamin Keach (PhD diss, SBTS). He serves on the board of directors for Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary and is an adjunct professor of historical theology for the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies.
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