The church is God’s chosen tool to grow his kingdom in the present age, and while often not pretty the church still deserves her pastors’ devotion, said Ed Stetzer.
Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and visiting professor of missiology at Southeastern, spoke June 5 at Advance ’09, a conference held in Durham, N.C., on the importance of the local church.
‘The church exists as a sign and instrument of the kingdom of God,” Stetzer said. “When people look to the church they should see what the kingdom of God looks like. But when the world looks at the church now, that is not what they see.”
Stetzer spoke from Matthew 16 and Peter’s confession of Christ as the Messiah. He said that recognition of the centrality of Christ is foundational to the church advancing the kingdom in their world.
Many churches, he said, are unarguably in a season of decline in the West, and culture is increasingly antagonistic to biblical Christianity. The only way to recover a genuine witness is for the church to repeat Peter’s refrain.
“(We) must come to the place where we say, strong and sure, ‘Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,’” Stetzer said. “We must lead people to depend on the cross alone, not on our programs and systems.”
Stetzer also noted that Peter’s confession is the foundation of God’s church – that is, the church belongs to Christ alone. He also pointed out that the fact the “gates of Hades” shall not prevail against the church does not mean the church should be in a defensive posture, but quite the opposite.
“(The world) cannot stop the advance of the Gospel,” he said. “We need to stop circling the wagons and start living with a mission. It’s time for us to start advancing. The gates of Hades cannot resist the advance of the church. That’s the picture here, and we miss that.”
Churches and pastors, he said, must in their advance be kind and Christ-centered, giving no cause for the world to reject the message apart from the offense of Christ himself.
“A lot of people are tripping over the stumbling block of the church before they get to the stumbling block of the cross,” Stetzer said.
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.