Today we’ll start our series, “Preach Like a Missionary”, looking carefully at the life of Paul the missionary as he speaks about his own ministry in the book of 2 Corinthians. We’ll start with verses 1-7, using the ESV translation of the text:
“1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a] 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”
My Selfish Non-Evangelizing Students
When I started ministry years ago, I had a plan. I knew how to get students in the door – I would give them some amazing Bible teaching, tell some funny stories, develop small groups, and BADA-BOOM! The thing would take off like wildfire.
But it seems as hard as I urged our students to reach out to friends, they just wouldn’t.
“They’re stubborn! They only care about themselves, and their youth programming! They don’t want to reach out to anybody else!” Eventually, I started to tailor our meetings to something I thought would “work”, since scripture wasn’t doing its thing.
I planned big events. I gave kids free pizza. I used fog machines, and loud music. I told them to greet people at the door. Nothing.
It was frustrating, and discouraging. I had come into this ministry gig thinking I was the next big thing, and if I showed up Wednesday night with my Bible and a hot message, outsiders would flock to me. Then I sacrificed all my idealism for programming and still…nothing.
Then, one day as I harped on my student leadership team for being unfriendly and failing to spread the gospel with zeal, one of my students asked me:
“Nick – how do YOU reach out to people? I just don’t know how to do it.”
It was an honest question. And can I be quite honest?
I didn’t have an answer.
See, I’d been so consumed with crafting perfect sermons and programs, I’d neglected what Paul makes so explicit in this passage in 2 Corinthians: I myself was not suffering for the sake of the gospel. I wasn’t on the front-lines. I wasn’t being a missionary.
Notice, when Paul talks about suffering, he’s not talking about getting the flu. He’s not talking about his grandma passing away. He’s talking about “Christ’s sufferings”, specifically those he had endured in Asia for spreading and proclaiming the gospel. And while it’s true that we can comfort others when we’ve experienced non-gospel related sufferings, that’s certainly not the MAJOR point of this passage.
The major point is this:
“Missional pastors preach through blood wrung on the front-lines.”
The Reason for Bloody Preaching
Why is this true? Paul makes it explicit in verses 5-6: because preachers who suffer for proclaiming the gospel encourage their flock that Christ is sufficient. If we tell our flock to be on mission without ourselves being on the front lines, we’re sending a mixed message: “Christ is sufficient for YOU to be on mission, but not for ME.”
I wonder how many pastors, like me, proclaim a mixed message to our congregations. I wonder how many of us set up programs and pamphlets and professionalize our pulpits without ever moving to the front of the line and winning our sermons through blood.
I’ll admit that for me, this little passage is extremely convicting. I have a difficult time connecting with the lost when I’m balancing seminary and ministry, along with two boys and a writing career.
But so long as that’s my excuse, I can’t be upset with my flock for thinking the same way.
Are you preaching through blood?
Here are some question I’m asking myself in light of this passage. Let me invite you to join me:
- Can I honestly say I’ve suffered for Christ this week for sharing the gospel?
- Do I strategically say “No” to activities that further hole me into my Christian bubble, so I can have more opportunities to be on the front-lines?
- Do I understand the kinds of objections and criticisms congregants will receive by my interaction with the lost in my community?
- Have I shown the people I minister to what it looks like to be on the front-lines through one on one or small group interactions?
- Do I really believe Christ is sufficient to comfort me in my suffering for the sake of the gospel? Is my justification enough, or am I still trying to please men rather than God?
Lord Jesus, make me a missionary pastor. Let my sermons be wrung through the blood of the front-lines. Give me faith that through Calvary, you have united yourself to me, and through that union I have access to the comfort of the Spirit in suffering. Give me a heart that beats for the lost, as your heart beats for me. Amen.
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