The Ordinary Means of Grace

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I’m always tempted to look for the secret ingredient I’m missing.

It used to be conferences and books that promised the answer that would transform our church. I shelled out the registration fees and gathered binders on my shelf promising results.

I became like the pastor David Hansen writes about in The Art of Pastoring: “Closets, desk drawers and file cabinets were filled with dittos of church growth teaching materials, church surveys and proposals … The movements he followed actually had little if any effect on his ministry, except in a fatal way: ultimately perhaps he confused following Christian movements with following Christ.”

I’m still a sucker, if I’m honest. It used to be church growth conferences. It shifted to books on how to be missional in a post-Christian culture. “Everything has changed! We need to reinvent the church to keep up. It’s never been like this before.”

These days I always read the email twice of the new theological book endorsed by the big names that I can’t miss. If Tim Keller and Sinclair Ferguson both like a book, I’d better check it out!

Some of these books and approaches are helpful. But I don’t need to go looking for the secret ingredient in ministry I’m missing. God has given us what we need, and it’s already in reach of anyone who wants it.

No “Catch Me If You Can”

“Our gracious Lord is not playing ‘catch me if you can’ with us,” writes Ray Ortlund. “He has made Himself knowable and accessible in specific ways of His own wise choosing. His appointed avenues of blessing are the means of grace.”

The old confessions describe these avenues.

The London Baptist Confession of Faith talks about “the administration of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, Prayer and other Means appointed of God” as means to increase and strengthen our faith.

Westminster Shorter Catechism question 88 asks, “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” The answer: “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.”

God works through churches who do ordinary things. If there’s a secret ingredient we’re missing, it’s not found in the latest new book or conference. It’s found in faithfulness to the means God has appointed. “His chosen means identify where he has concentrated His availability, like a gushing fountain of mercy for sinners who are so desperate that they are finally coming to Christ on his terms,” writes Ortlund.

If there’s a secret ingredient we’re missing, it’s not found in the latest new book or conference. It’s found in faithfulness to the means God has appointed.

Committed to the Ordinary Means

“What will a church look like that is committed to the ordinary means of grace?” asks Ligon Duncan.

It looks like a church that’s stopped running after new fads and innovations, for one thing. Pastors and leaders can step off the treadmill of chasing new solutions.

But that’s not all, according to Duncan “It will be characterized by love for expository Bible preaching, passion for worship, delight in truth, embrace of the Gospel, the Spirit’s work of conversion, a life of godliness; robust family religion; biblical evangelism, biblical discipleship, biblical church membership, mutual accountability in the church, biblical church leadership, and a desire to be a blessing to the nations.”

“Along with this all, there will be an unapologetic, humble, and joyful celebration of the transcendent sovereignty of the one, true, triune God in salvation and all things.”

None of that is easy, but it’s clear. “Ministry is not rocket science,” observes Duncan. We don’t have to innovate new approaches as much as we have to stay faithful to old ones.

God has set the agenda for us. Preach the Word. Love people. Observe the ordinances. Gather. Disciple. Pray.

God does extraordinary things through the ordinary means of grace. Let’s be faithful at doing the ordinary things that God has promised to bless.

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