As our church gets ready for summer programming, many of our usual ministries are going on summer break. This week we had our last Pastoral Care Team Meeting, where we reflected on the year that was and where God might be leading us in the future. Our deacons hold such an important role in the church as they guide the spiritual direction of our congregation and encourage us in our faith journeys.
Although my life seems to be filled with too many meetings, I really appreciate our times together, especially because it’s a space where we can be open about our journeys and struggles with ministry. I often feel inadequate in my role and wonder whether or not I should be a pastor. I’ve often been reminded in these meetings that God’s call to us always involves Him transforming our weakness. In fact, we should feel inadequate for our work since it’s only God who gives us the strength, wisdom and guidance for ministry.
As part of our discussions, we often talk about what the journey of faith is like. How can we walk with people? What does it mean to evangelize? What is faith really about? How would we even describe this good news (gospel) message of Jesus?
In one of our meetings this past year, I gave our deacons the challenge of describing the gospel in seven words. This might seem like an arbitrary activity, but it was a lot harder than I thought. The less words we use to describe something, the more we have to strip away the excess to focus on what’s most important. Finding out what’s most important then helps us clarify the rest.
The purpose of this exercise was for us to reflect on what the core message of the Bible is. Of course the gospel is so complex that thousands of books have been written about it. But I would argue that it is, at the same time, quite simple. Bruxy Cavey, in his book, (re)union, describes the gospel using one, three, and thirty words. His one word answer of the gospel is “Jesus.” That’s it. Jesus is the core of the message of God. He is the gospel in one word.
Now we might think that’s cheating. Cavey just used the Sunday school answer! But what would we do with seven words? How would we describe the gospel to someone with those limitations?
After much reflection and wavering back and forth, I landed on:
Jesus came to save. Come follow Him.
Like Cavey, I believe the gospel message starts with God. It’s ultimately a message of God’s plan and God’s action. In Jesus we see our clearest revelation of who God is. Jesus is God incarnate, and through Him we have relationship with God. Jesus shows us the way in which God intended us to go, living as a servant, giving His life for His creation.
That Jesus came to earth in human form is one of the most extravagant examples of God’s love for us. God isn't up in the clouds, expecting us to obey Him and sending lightning down on us when we don’t. He’s in pursuit of His people. Jesus came that we might find the way to life through Him.
Jesus’ time on earth came with a mission: to save. That implies that humanity is in need of saving, which is a hard pill for us to swallow. But the more I see what’s going on in this world, the more I’m convinced that we are a broken and a hurting people. And as much as we try to convince ourselves that we can be our own gods, it has never worked out. Jesus comes and changes that, offering us hope in the midst of darkness, a way out of death through resurrection life.
The gospel message isn’t simply one of God’s work, although it starts with that. It’s one that requires a response. We all choose one way or the other, but the choice is there. We are invited to come. For the disciples, that was a life changing decision, as it is for us as well. Coming means leaving something else behind. It’s more than just a belief, it's a life-orientation.
As we come to Jesus and grow in relationship with Him, we are further invited to follow Him. Following Jesus implies that He's the leader. He's the one in front, guiding the way. Submitting to the leading of God if one of the hardest things for us to do. But the promise is that Jesus leads us to truth and life. The things that we long for are found in Jesus. It’s when we give up control and choose to come and follow Jesus that we truly find meaning in life.
At this point in my life, this is how I would describe the gospel in seven words. It’s about God and what He does, and about our response to His invitation. But I know what you’re thinking. How did our deacons respond? How did they put the gospel into seven words? Well, here are their responses:
Jesus; way maker, truth liver, life giver.
Light and hope in midst of darkness.
Life-changing news of Jesus’ love for us.
God with us. Restoring. Justice. Forgiveness. Love.
Like Jesus, God loves and welcomes all.
Trusting fully and led by faith, truth, hope and love.
Our deacons inspire me over and over again. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and honesty that went into these responses. Of course we can never truly capture everything about the gospel in seven words, but it gives us something to think about and chew on that I hope will bring us deeper into relationship with our creator.
What about you? Will you take on the challenge? How would you describe the gospel is seven words?