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A Word of Encouragement to Pastors

Kevin DeYoung recently taught an intensive at Queensland Theological College on three things we must know in ministry. These things aren’t intended to be limited to those who preach and pastor, but rather they are an exhortation to all of us as fellow ministers of the gospel in the community of faith that God has placed us in.
This following post is based on my notes from session one.

The Rock on which the Church is Built

Those who are called to church leadership in its various forms feel the weight of shepherding the people of God faithfully. Whether it be through careful selection of songs with lyrics that take focus off of self and make much of Christ; teaching and exhorting through faithfully expounding Scripture; or walking the journey of this obedience of faith next to others as we grow together into mature disciples of Christ. However there is also rest to be found here because it is God’s plan and not ours that we are participating in. The most important truth for us to keep in mind is this: long before we came along, and long after we are gone, Christ will build his church.

The Rock on which the Church is Built

Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this
rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13–20, ESV)

What exactly is the rock on which Christ will build the church? For starters, let’s be clear: it’s not Peter. He hardly shows himself to be a rock. Further, Jesus has no problem addressing Peter as you multiple times in the surrounding verses, so why would Jesus suddenly shift to this rock if he was still speaking directly to Peter? Rather, most Reformation-rooted interpretations of this passage will say that this rock is, in fact, Christ himself. When you get right down to it, some people say it’s more accurate to say that the rock on which the church will be built is actually the confession that Jesus is the Christ; but there’s really very little difference between this rock being Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ; or this rock being Christ himself, as the one confessed.

The fact that it isn’t Peter (or the Papacy that supposedly started with Peter) is clear. The rock is used 12 times in the New Testament, and never of anyone other than Christ.

  • For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)
  • and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)
  • The stone [same word] that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Matthew 21:42)
  • Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. (Romans 9:33)
  • This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:11-12)

Further, surely it’s of some significance what Peter himself says about Christ the rock in 1 Peter 2:4-8. The rock upon which the church is built is most clearly understood as Christ.

Why is Jesus the Rock so Important?

Figuring out this theological reality is of immense importance, encouragement, and strength for pastors and preachers as they pour their lives out to make disciples of Jesus Christ. What is this reality? That the church is not built by you or me. I’m not called upon to build the church. Our denomination isn’t called upon to build the church. Our pastors are not called upon to build the church. It is only Jesus that will build the church. We often need reminding that if we know how to accomplish our plans without the ministering of the Word and through prayer—if we can grow numbers apart from requiring Jesus to do the work through the Holy Spirit—then we are about the wrong thing. There are all sorts of churches that are impressive and can gather a crowd without requiring Jesus to build their church. May we never be.

There is a wonderful parable in Mark 4 about a sower who sows seed that serves as an example to all of us. What does the sower do? He sows, and he sleeps. He keeps sowing, then he sleeps. That’s it. 1 Cor 3:6–7 reminds us that while we sow, it is God who gives growth. Trust Jesus. Sow faithfully. He has promised that he will build his church.

We would do well to take a leaf out of the book of John the Baptist in his confession that begins in John 1:19. This confession must be more important to us than the Apostles’ Creed or the Westminster Confession; he confessed: “I am not the Christ.”

The Challenge, and the Good News

When it comes to the daily grind of life in ministry, there are often two poles that pastors are in danger of gravitating towards; the Messiah complex, or the Martyr complex. The former motivates the pastor to work every second (often to the point of burnout) expending every bit of time and energy working to play the role of Christ to their congregation. They seek to meet every need, to have a complete answer to every question, and often believe themselves to be worthy of the congregations’ complete devotion because of how hard they work and how much they know. The challenge: you are not Christ. And you don’t have to be. Sow and rest. Sow, then rest. Trust God to bring the growth. The latter danger is the martyr: “I’m doing a terrible job”, “Everyone hates me”, “I’m not qualified to be here.” What Kevin DeYoung labeled the Eeyore of ministry.

So what is the good news? You are not the Christ. That’s the most wonderful news there is because we have a saviour who is everything we’re not. He’s infinitely loving, infinitely wise, infinitely patient. He knows all things, sees all things, ministers perfectly to all people, and he guides all of human history towards his good and perfect end. Your congregation coming to Christian maturity doesn’t depend on your knowledge of Biblical Greek. The good news is this: we are not the point. We are only pointers. The degree to which our ministries will flourish will be the degree to which we can say “don’t look at me, look at Christ.”

So keep preaching. Keep loving. Keep sowing. Keep pointing. The thing about the parable of the sower was this: the sower was profligate in his sowing. He sows and sows and sows everywhere. On concrete. On weeds. On good soil. Faithfully.
Trust God to make it grow. Trust Jesus to build his church.

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