The audio from my talk at The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference is now available. It has also been released on the TGC podcast.
Below are some quotes from the workshop.
The Problem with Pessimism
Part of the challenge for pastors and church leaders today is to help people mourn for the fallen state of the world while remaining courageous and cheerful with the hope of the gospel. Pessimism must never become our default. An overly pessimistic view of the world leads to a defensive posture. A defensive posture leads to defensive decision-making. We start making decisions based on maintenance rather than mission. Holding on to what we have holds us back from moving forward with confidence in the power of the gospel.
Surrounded By Witnesses
Do not let people fall for the false idea that we must somehow face spiritual and cultural challenges on our own. Sometimes it may feel like we are embattled and pressed from all sides. We hear about religious liberty challenges. We are concerned about the coarsening of our culture. We consider the political dysfunction in our society and the decline of morals and character among people who hold office. We feel surrounded by the ideology of the Sexual Revolution, inculcated through movies and music or, increasingly, our schools and colleges. It’s easy feel alone. Surrounded and alone.
But Hebrews 12 would have us see the world differently, to recognize that we are indeed surrounded, but not by cultural challenges nor the gospel’s enemies. We are surrounded by the large cloud of witnesses. We are not alone. We stand in a long line of saints who have gone before us, who now are seated in the heavenly coliseum, cheering us on as we run the race before us.
The Importance of the Church
One of the ways we equip believers to bear the stigma of standing for Christ is by doing so together, as the family of God. It’s one thing to be a lone individual taking a stand. It’s another thing to know that your church is behind you, a great cloud of witnesses is above you, and a global remnant of faithful believers is around you.
While sin and struggle may hinder us, they do not define us. The author of Hebrews goes on to say: Let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. I love this emphasis on casting off weights, putting struggles and obstacles behind us, untangling ourselves from the sins that would cause us to slip up. Christians still slip and fall, but we should be best known for running. We are saints who sometimes sin, racers who sometimes stumble. But sins and struggles no longer define us. The Christian is not defined by the sins of the past, nor the struggle of the present, but by the vision of the future. You see the finish line, and you run to win the prize.
Gratitude, Not Grumbling
Faithfulness starts with gratitude. This is our time. Holding firm to the word of life is a thrilling adventure. We’re not digging in, like cranks who resent societal shifts or cultural changes. No, we’re standing, with the smile of faith that knows God is good and sovereign and that his everlasting joy will spread to all peoples.
The Race We Are In
As pastors and church leaders, we are to constantly remind Christians of the true race we are in. It’s not what we call the “rat race,” a world of ladder-climbing for career, a race to accumulate the most stuff, or a race to achieve status or success. It’s a race to become like Jesus and make Jesus known. We are given a mission.
Marching to Zion
The gospel blows up pessimism. If you truly believe the Word of God has authority—that it will accomplish God’s purpose and will not return empty, if you truly believe that God has a church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, then you fortify yourself for spiritual battle, not for surviving a spiritual siege. We are marching to Zion, not retreating to the barracks. We are on a mission.
So, what will mission in our century look like? Somehow, we must be able to help our congregations sift through songs about believing in yourself, following your dreams, looking inside to find the hero within, or learning to love yourself. We have to help them see through books and movies where the main character casts off anything from the outside that pressures him or her into conformity. We have to take that vision of the world, that moralistic therapeutic deism, and say, Jesus is better than that. He is better. Not only point out the flaws, but show how the gospel tells a better story.
No Golden Era
We must not fall for the myth of decline, as if there were a golden age in the past that we are to find and be faithful to. Church history is a treasure box, not a map. We do not honor our forefathers and mothers by seeking to return to their times; rather, we honor them by receiving their wisdom and learning from their victories and failures. We retrieve from the past the elements and tools needed for faithfulness today. No golden age of Christianity existed in the past, only an unbroken line of broken sinners saved by the grace of God and empowered to transmit the gospel to the next generation.