Shepherding and the Gospel Gap
Do you love me? Jesus presented this question to Peter, not once, not twice, but three times. Can you imagine the feelings Peter experienced at that moment? Here is the exchange in John 21:17, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep…” Peter himself was grieved, he recognized Jesus as God in the flesh, and understood he knew everything including Peters own heart, but Jesus continued to ask the same question. We must ask, why would Jesus do this? Why would the Lord of the universe ask Peter this question three times and follow up with the same answer as if he did not hear him the first time? The answer resides in the magnitude of the question.
Jesus calls Peter and all pastors to tend, feed, and love the sheep. Shepherding must focus on the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture. This would mean all pastors, who are men after the heart of God, must feed their people a diet of good food. A diet emphasizing the gospel must be paramount in the life of the church. However, there are many substitutes for this, which Tim Lane and Paul Tripp call “The Gospel Gap.” Here are seven substitutes that the church can fall to, see if you have experienced or seen any of these at work.
- Formalism – …the gospel is reduced to participation in the meetings and ministries of the church.
- Legalism – Legalism completely misses the fact that no one can satisfy God’s requirements…Legalism is not just a reduction of the gospel; it is another gospel altogether (see Galatians), where salvation is earned by keeping the rules we have established.
- Mysticism – The danger of mysticism is that it can become more a pursuit of experience than a pursuit of Christ.
- Activism – Christian maturity becomes defined as a willingness to defend right and wrong. The gospel is reduced to participation in Christian causes.
- Biblicism – In Biblicism, the gospel is reduced to a mastery of biblical content and theology.
- Psychology-ism – The gospel is reduced to the healing of emotional needs.
- Social-ism – The gospel had been reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.
When looking at some of these “Gospel gap” replacements, some areas may seem appealing. There is a reason for this, there is an element of truth hidden within each, but each one truly robs Christ of his glory and places his transforming power of grace into our hands. In order for a shepherd to feed his sheep, there must be a commitment to teach the whole counsel of God. Of course, this cannot stop on Sunday morning, but must permeate the entire church.
At Paramount Church, in order to avoid the “Gospel gap,” we are committed to the four values of gospel, change, community, and mission. We see the gospel as paramount; we are committed to proclaiming the hope of the gospel and the surpassing riches of God’s grace toward us in Christ. We see the gospel as the driving force behind every area of ministry. However, the Gospel is not only about hope. Indeed, it is about much more. The Gospel is also about change. As broken people in a broken world, we all need to change. God’s purposes through the Gospel are to redeem, change, mature, and complete us by His grace. Our highest purpose, then, is to display the riches of the Gospel as God transforms us into a loving community of believers. As we gather around the gospel, gospel-centered community will reflect the all-sufficient counsel of His word so that we may love, encourage, restore, admonish, pray for, and sanctify one another in truth (John 17:17, Galatians 6:1-2). We see the outwork of this through preaching, small groups, and one-on-one discipleship; we want every member to grow in wise and godly counsel, living the Christian life together under the word. Finally we gather around the value of missions to please Christ by proclamation of the Gospel to those near and far to the glory of Christ (Colossians 1:10). As we gather around the four values, our hope is to be a church that exists for the pleasure of God and the good of our neighbors. We want to be a church that looks to our Lord and like Peter says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”