Mark Dever talking my kind of language:
I was in a meeting not too long ago in which a pastor said that he was going to lead his church to be the first church in history that fulfilled the great commission.
That’s a breathtaking claim.
And it reminded me of many other such vision-casting mission statements. One of the most famous slogans has to be the watchword of the Student Volunteer Movement, from over a century ago—“The evangelization of the world in this generation!” That stirring call was used by God to send thousands of evangelical Christians from the English-speaking world around the globe to share the gospel in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
But I have to be honest—I’ve always thought that famous slogan was a mixed bag. I love the call to the evangelization of the world! That stirs my heart, and I mean to be giving my life to that work. But the second half feels vaguely manipulative. I can imagine young people especially getting excited by the unique way theirgeneration will do what all others have failed to do. (Maybe like one church doing what all other churches have failed to do?)
HOW APOSTOLIC ARE WE?
I want to tread carefully here. Evangelization is vital. Yet I cannot fail to notice the difference between the nineteenth-century “watchword” and Christ’s own great commission. Jesus mentioned not the apostles’ generation only, but instead promised to be with them until the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20). Such a world-wide, age-long charge should encourage us to be humble before the crushing omnipotence required for such a task. This humility should drive us to utter reliance upon God even as we give ourselves fully. And, of course, it’s this utter reliance upon God that gives us the very boldness we need to undertake and continue in this great task.
I also notice how none of the apostles turned to the others and said in naïve exuberance—“I’m going to do this myself! I’m going to take the gospel to all nations, and I’ll do it all by myself!” The disciples became Christ-sent messengers, heralding the gospel to all. And they worked together, one going to one place, another to another (cf. Gal. 2:9). They encouraged and helped one another in their common work.
How apostolic are we in our work as pastors? Do you actively work to partner with other local churches to fulfill the great commission? Or do you act as if your church can take the gospel to the ends of the earth all by yourselves?
DREAM BIG—BIGGER THAN THE FOUR WALLS OF YOUR CHURCH
I love being a pastor and I love pastors. I thank God for pastors and try to work to serve them as he gives me opportunity.
Perhaps it’s because of this very love that sometimes I also find myself saddened by pastors. How many times have pastors made remarks that seem to show that their dreams and hopes begin and end at the doors of their own church? While there is sometimes admirable contentment and humility in this, I fear that other times it is self-absorption and small-mindedness.
Some pastors’ hopes seem to be otherwise distorted—like pastors who root for their denominations like fans do for their sports teams! I remember one pastor telling me with excitement what percentage of people in his state were members of his denomination, trends of growth, and an array of other denominational statistics. When I asked him about percentages of people in his state who claimed to be evangelical Christians—that is, they claim to believe the same gospel we do—he had no idea. He seemed not to have thought of the question before.
Brother pastors, how is it that we can be more concerned about who is in our denomination than about who is in Christ’s kingdom? Do we think more in terms of swelling the number of those in our congregation, or of those in the church of God, whichever local congregation they may be a member of?
I long for God to raise up more pastors who care more about conversions than the numerical growth of their own congregations.
I long for God to raise up more pastors who will work to develop a culture of care for and cooperation with other churches.
I long for God to raise up pastors who pray for revival for years, and who are not disappointed when God answers their prayers at another local church.
HOW CAN WE BE “APOSTOLIC PASTORS”?
How can we be such “apostolic pastors”—pastors who work with not only their own congregation in view, but with the non-Christians in their neighborhood and their city in view, loving all true gospel work?
And how can we lead our congregations to enlarge their vision and be excited for gospel work in our areas?
- Pray privately for other local pastors and congregations.
- Set an example for our churches by publicly praying for God’s blessing on other Bible-believing and Bible-preaching churches in our area.
- Encourage ministers of other evangelical denominations to preach from time to time in our pulpits. As occasion may arise, accept invitations to preach in theirs.
- Invite a fellow pastor to your church’s prayer meeting. Interview him about the work in his congregation, and pray for him and his church.
- Discipline yourself to speak well of other churches. If a warning must be given, speak with great care.
- Be willing to encourage members who live a distance from your church to join likeminded congregations closer to their home.
There is so much you can do!
STRATEGIZE TO HELP OTHER PASTORS
Whatever form it may take, strategize to help other pastors. Gather them. Pray with them. Give them books. Let them know that, as best you can be, you’re there for them.
Look especially for those pastors who will themselves work to bless other pastors. This is a kind of pastoral version of 2 Timothy 2:2, training faithful pastors who will in turn train other faithful pastors. And as God raises up such a company of godly ministers of his Word in your area and mine, may the lost be saved, churches be built, and God’s name be honored.
In every generation, that’s how the great commission has been, is being, and will be fulfilled.
Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and is the author of The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (B&H, 2012), and Preach: Theology Meets Practice (B&H, 2012).
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