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What’s the Mission, Pastor?

There’s no question that engaging in social ministries is the hot thing for the evangelical church today. Some might even argue it’s the line of demarcation for being missional or emerging or emergent…sorry, I tend to get it all mixed up. I’ve briefly posted on this issue before but ran across some great thinking in a little book I read over the Christmas holiday (thanks Jeff) which I believe is very germane to the discussion of what the church (specifically the pastor) is called to do with the Gospel. The book is Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner.

What’s also great about this book is that it was written in 1977 by a minister/author whose denomination (PCUSA) was learning to make waves in the “Social Gospel” waters and today could easily teach swimming lessons to other churches and denominations. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” While Lewis was calling us to read books outside our century, Buechner’s work has had enough birthdays to put it outside the current circle of debate on what the church should be doing in order to be missional. With that being said, Buechner’s thinking is insightful in word if not prophetic in spirit.

Read and ponder…

To speak the truth with love is to run the risk always of speaking only the truths that people love to hear you speak, and the preacher’s temptation, among others, is to deal with those problems only to which there is, however complex and hard to arrive at, a solution. The pressure on the preacher is to be topical and contemporary, to speak out like the prophets against injustice and unrighteousness, and it is right that he should do so, crucial even, and if he does not goad to righteous action he fails both God and man. But he must remember the ones he is speaking to who beneath the clothes they wear are the poor, bare, forked animals who labor and are heavy laden under the burden of their own lives let along the world’s tragic life…For the preacher to be relevant to the staggering problems of history is to risk being irrelevant to the staggering problems of the ones who sit there listening out of their own histories. To deal with the problems to which there is a possible solution can be a way of avoiding the problems to which humanly speaking there is no solution. (34-35)

It is not the great public issues that Jesus traded in but the great private issues, not the struggles of the world without but the struggles of the world within. (62)

I believe these are good words for preachers who feel the temptation tailor what they preach solely for the need to be seen as relevant by either their parishoners (maybe they’ll think our church actually is making an impact, see us as culture current, like my sermons better because they are so practical, etc.) or other preachers (maybe the cool, “with it”, hip pastors will see me as a [insert whatever aspirations of ego you have here] missional? emergent? emerging? “with it” leader too!).

May we, as pastors and those pastored, live for God’s Kingdom by sharing with all the Good News of how Christ’s work at the Cross has overcome their humanly hopeless condition of the soul.

Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

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