Gateway's Greatest Strength

A few months ago — just after you voted for me to be your pastor — I held five vision meetings for life group participants. One thing I did on those nights was have you fill out a survey — and a total of 286 surveys were filled out. The survey was brief and anonymous. After asking your age, gender, and how many years you’ve been at Gateway — I asked four questions.

  1. What are Gateway’s strengths? List no more than three.
  2. What are Gateway’s weaknesses? List no more than three.
  3. What’s one thing that must change at Gateway?
  4. And...What’s one thing that must never change at Gateway?

These images below show who answered these surveys:

This chart shows a pretty even balance between women and men respondents.

This chart shows a pretty even balance between women and men respondents.

This chart shows how long each of the survey respondents has attended Gateway.

This chart shows how long each of the survey respondents has attended Gateway.

This chart shows the ages of those who responded to the survey.

This chart shows the ages of those who responded to the survey.

Overall, I think this is a pretty good snapshot of our church — pretty evenly spread between genders, length of time at Gateway, and age.

Today, we will talk about our number one strength. By far, overwhelmingly so, you said that Gateway’s greatest strength is its “preaching and doctrine.” Now this could sound like a “pastoral stacking of the deck” — picking a strength that makes us pastors (or me, in particular) look good. So, here’s a graph showing just how wide the gap is between “preaching and doctrine” — being what you said is Gateway’s greatest strength — and everything else you mentioned.

This graph shows common responses to the greatest strength of Gateway.

This graph shows common responses to the greatest strength of Gateway.

Eighty-three percent of you mentioned “preaching and doctrine” as a strength. That equals 136 more mentions than the next strength listed. This is by far what you believe to be Gateway’s greatest strength.

We lumped preaching and doctrine together because your remarks for both were so similar. What kind of feedback did you give us? You said things like...

  • Believing very strongly in the Bible.
  • Being Bible-based.
  • Bible-based messages.
  • Bible-based preaching.
  • Bible-based sermons.
  • Bible-based teaching.
  • Bible-centered.
  • Bible focus.
  • Christ-centered sermons.
  • Commitment to the Word.
  • Messages.
  • Sermons.
  • And preaching — to name a few.

And it thrills me that we’re a church who values God’s Word and sees our greatest strength to be the preached Word of God, because this aligns beautifully with Scripture.

Paul writes to Timothy,

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching...Practice these things (make sure your church values the Bible and it being preached...), immerse yourself in them (I love that picture. A pastor who immerses himself — and his church — in the Word of God), so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:13, 15-16 ESV)

In a second letter to Timothy, Paul writes,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5 ESV)

According to Paul, we’re to be people of the Word. We’re to be a church that’s centered on God’s Word. All that we do — both when we gather and as we scatter — is to be done according to God’s Word. So the preached Word is to be the focus of our time, the center of our attention, our main activity, when we gather to worship.

And for this to happen, it means hard work for the preacher and for the congregation. For the preacher is to work hard at preparing his sermons each week and the congregation is to work hard at preparing themselves to hear and respond to God’s preached Word each week.

I recently read a small book written by a pastor who was in his last months of battling cancer. He knew he was about to die, so the book is his “I’m dying and don’t care what you think, so here are my thoughts on what the church is supposed to be about” letter to the church.

And about the preached Word of God, he writes, “In practice, if a preacher is to be a true servant of God’s word, he will have to give the best part of his days to studying the Bible for himself at his desk. It will mean the pain of hard and disciplined preparation, and prayer for God’s help to apply the message of the passage into the realities of the society and individual lives of the hearers. The best sermons are those that have cost the preacher most...if the congregation is to be adequately fed on a Sunday (Mark Ashton, Christ and His People, 29).”

That’s the hard work of the pastor who regularly preaches. He’s to spend a large amount of his week in God’s Word — reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, obeying it — and preparing the sermon so the congregation will be fed rich truths when they gather together. As William Perkins, a Puritan pastor, reminds the preacher, “You are a minister of the Word; Mind thy business!”

And the church that values God’s preached Word, will guard the pastor’s time so he can preach the best sermons he can. That’s why here at Gateway, we’ve given the preaching responsibilities primarily over to one pastor — me — and have given many other pastoral duties over to the campus pastors. One thing that was shared at the vision meetings is my role as the senior pastor and the role of the campus pastors.

And I’ve been given the tasks to preach God’s Word and to lead the Session to follow God’s vision for Gateway. Those are my primary duties — that’s where my time is to be focused.

The campus pastors have been tasked with managing their staff, shepherding the people of their congregation, and to lead their campuses in local outreach and evangelism.

Now the campus pastors will preach throughout the year, but we want the majority of their time spent not in preparing sermons but in shepherding people because the responsibility of pastoring Gateway Church has become too big for one person (the congregation has become too large), so we’ve divided the pastoral responsibilities between us. I focus on preaching. The campus pastors focus on shepherding and evangelism.

And we understand that this will take some time for everyone to understand who does what. Do I go to the senior pastor about this or my campus pastor? We know it will take time. We’re just trying to organize Gateway Church, so we continue to walk according to God’s will and experience His favor in even greater measure.

All of that to say — we agree with you. We’re thankful that the preaching of God’s Word has been a strength of Gateway Church and we want to ensure that it continues to be our greatest strength. For everything else we do as a church rises or falls with the preaching of God’s Word.