The Sermons between the Sermons – Part 1


My wife Judi has a wonderfully Southern accent. It is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world to me. It is not something she works on or thinks about it is simply who she is as a girl from Alabama. Few things are worse and more insulting than a put-on Southern accent. Most Hollywood portrayals of Southern accents are embarrassingly overdone and leave genuine Southerners simply saying, “Bless your heart.” Most Southerners delight in their distinctive regional identity, things like grits, football, and barbeque. But Southern distinctiveness is most readily noticeable via the pervasive and almost poetical accents of the South.

I mention this because many evangelical preachers I know preach sermons that are permeated by a wonderful Gospel accent. Whatever portion of the Bible they are preaching is rightly influenced by the thick Gospel accent of Scripture. As a Gospel preacher, they know that they do not have to figure out creative ways to work the Gospel into their sermons, rather, it is simply who they are as shepherds of Christ. They proclaim powerful sermons about the sovereign triune God who has made a way of salvation for all who repent and believe in the all-sufficient atoning work of Christ. The love of Christ compels them as ambassadors for Christ to take every sermonic thought captive to obey Christ in their pulpit ministry.

Their problem does not lie in the formal sermons they deliver from the pulpit but in the fact they wrongly consider those formal sermons to be the only sermons they preach. Too often, faithful preachers fail to realize that every time they open their mouth to speak to the flock it is proclamation. When Paul declared, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2), he was not simply referring to formal sermons. As D. A. Carson puts it, “He cannot long talk about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Paul is gospel-centered; he is cross-centered” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, 38).

Christians are to take “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5) and congregational shepherds have the responsibility to model that kind of Gospel-centered worldview as they interact with the flock God has entrusted to them. But too often in their interaction with the congregation about things outside of the pulpit they lose their distinctive Gospel accent. They view those conversations or opportunities to pass on information about church ministries or functions as neutral. The result is that, the sovereign God, all-sufficient Christ, empowering Spirit theology of the pulpit is lost in the daily and routine of church life. Thus, the practical functioning of the church is not clearly tethered to and energized by the Gospel. In the preachers sermons he is pointing to big God but in his other congregational interactions his God is too small.

“You have to be the guy that reminds everyone that everything is about God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” was the advice pastor Greg Belser gave me in passing one day. While I am sure he does not remember his words to me, I never forgot them, and they have proven to be some of the most valuable advice I ever received. When we lose our Gospel accent in the every day of church life it weakens our credibility in the pulpit and makes our pulpit sermons seem like a put-on accent. It also removes the proper motivation for all of our service and activity in the life of the church. We must remember as shepherds of Christ that every time we open our mouth we are either pushing people toward or away from Jesus and his Gospel. Often, the very aspects of the church culture pastors complain about are a part of a culture they are creating with small God, Gospel-less proclamation in the every day of church life.

Below I offer some practical examples that I hope will simply get you thinking about how to talk about every aspect of church life in light of the Gospel:

Gospel hermeneutics for Life and Ministry

All of our proclamation ought to be Christ-centered and Gospel-saturated—in and out of the pulpit. Sloppy language and communication leads to careless thinking and misunderstood ministry. Every aspect of congregational life ought to be understood in light of redemptive history, the person and work of Christ, and eschatological fulfillment in the Kingdom of Christ. Any time we are discussing a ministry or congregational event at Ashland we attempt to think about it through a Gospel-centered threefold lens.

How does redemptive history inform us about it?

How do we understand it in light of the person and work of Christ?

How does eschatological fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ shape our understanding of it?

Thinking through any topic in the church in light of this threefold Gospel-centered lens will shape the way you and others think about the ministry or event and transform the way you communicate to the congregation about it. Let me give a brief example of how this would work in relation to a particular topic.

A Test Case—Singing in the Church

Singing in church is an activity all churches engage in but generally do not think deeply about and assume the congregation knows why we sing together. Of course, there is much more to say about the topic of song in the church than I will provide here, but I want to show you how our thinking through this Gospel-centered threefold lens provides some unique and helpful ways to understand and to communicate to the church the necessity of singing in the church.

How does redemptive history inform us about it?

Singing is a gift from God to instruct us, inform us, and embolden us for the glory of God (Job 38:7, Psalms, Is 55:12, Zeph 3:17, James 5:13). The glory of singing is most often represented in its corporate expression (Psalms, Eph 5:18-19, Rev 14). Song is frequently associated with victory in battle Ex 15, 1 Chron 16:4-36, 2 Chron 20:21-22, Luke 2:13-14, Rev 15:4). Thus, music and song are a key component of spiritual warfare. Song is not limited to a particular ethnicity or time in redemptive history and ultimately receives full expression in the heavenly choir with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev 5, 7, 15).

How do we understand it in light of the person and work of Christ?

Ultimate spiritual victory centers on Jesus who defeats Satan through his atoning work on the cross and triumph over death through in his resurrection (1 Cor 2:2). Jesus Christ is the singing Savior who is not ashamed to call us brothers and sings with us in the midst of the congregation (Ps 22:22, Heb 2:12). Thus, the songs, hymns, and spiritual songs of the church are to be foundationally centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 24, 1 Cor 1-2, 2 Cor 5:10, Eph 1:10).

How does eschatological fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ shape our understanding of it?

Song is a fundamental part of the new creation kingdom of Christ in the new heavens and new earth. Gathered believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation will sing eternally of the glory of God in Christ in his redeeming work. The eschatological glory of God is demonstrated in the ethnic diversity and multi generational praise and his redeemed image bearers (Rev 5, 7, 14, 15).


  1. The most vital aspect of song in the life of the church is congregational singing so our language should reflect this commitment.
  2. Song in the church ought not be viewed as a form of entertainment but rather as vital preparation for spiritual battle. Therefore, though we rightly enjoy music and song we must not speak of it simply in terms of neutral entertainment but we must clarify the ways in which Gospel song is formative for discipleship and spiritual battle.
  3. Our songs in the church must be culturally, stylistically, and chronologically diverse and Christ-centered to reflect the expanse of God’s grace and providential work. We must speak in ways that use song to expand our understanding of the expanse of grace and Gospel mission and reject music and song as a divisive tribal identity that cultivates self-referential chronological and stylistic idolatry.
  4. We must teach that when songs are sung in corporate worship that are not your stylistic preference or reflective of your cultural background, you are presented with one of your best opportunities to worship, because it gives opportunity for you to delight in the fact that God’s grace is greater than you and your cultural background and experiences.

This simply amounts to an attempt to say everything we say in the context of congregational life with an unapologetic Gospel accent. We want our sermons from the pulpit to be Christ-centered and Gospel-saturated but we also want all of our sermons between the sermons to have that same focus.


By |July 17th, 2014|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |

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