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FIRST-PERSON: The preeminence of the Gospel


Editor’s note: Leo Endel is executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.

On Sunday, Feb. 18, Sarah and I traveled to Sioux City, Iowa, to celebrate the retirement of Bob Dillman, my former associate pastor at Southern Hills.

I walked into the sanctuary and immediately began seeing ghosts of people on ladders and on their knees running screws, hanging steel, finishing sheetrock and laying floors. Mark Elliott drew attention to the pulpit I designed and had built in memory of my dad – with oak from Sarah’s family farm in Missouri. I was drawn to memories of how we worked together as volunteers to build an incredible building.

After the worship celebration, we went to the multipurpose building for lunch and my eyes were drawn to a sign hanging on the wall celebrating 20 years of “service to your community” through Upward Basketball. Someone I didn’t know stopped me and started to tell me how that ministry led them to our church and to a vibrant walk with Jesus.

More ghosts came to mind. Sarah and I started this Gospel-centered ministry across denominational lines so that boys and girls, moms and dads would hear the Gospel at every practice and at every game. God stirred our hearts, and we reached out to the Assembly of God church across the street that was close to finishing its gym. That first year we partnered with that church and used our two gyms to sponsor about 16 teams.

The next year we expanded to more churches who were willing to partner around the written Gospel presentations that were printed by Southern Baptists. At the end of three years, we had an astounding 25 churches partnering together to preach the Gospel. We had Gospel-centered Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, various Baptists, Wesleyans, Lutherans, Independents, and E-Free churches sowing the seeds of the Gospel and leading kids and parents to Jesus.

At one of the last pastor meetings I attended in Sioux City, the new Lutheran Missouri Synod pastor introduced himself to me and asked me about our evangelism efforts. He said, “My people tell me that your church was once a small church on the outskirts of town. How have you reached people with the Gospel?”

Among the things I shared with him was Upward Basketball. What he said next shocked me. “We’re about to finish our gym. Could we be part of your league?” I must have looked shocked, because he followed up with, “You’re surprised by such a request? I know our reputation as separatists. That’s the problem we have as Missouri Synod churches. We preach the Gospel inside a building but never share Jesus where the lost are.”

Not really knowing what else to say, I replied, “If you can agree to use the practice devotionals as written and share the Gospel presentations at halftime we’d work with you.” These were tentative words, but he responded immediately, “I think we can do that.” He took the materials to his board, and they approved it. When I came back to do the annual end-of-the-season celebration five years later they were still an active part of the outreach league.

I learned a great deal from this experience. Denominationally we all have our distinctions, but not all of our theological fine points are of the same importance. The Gospel is of preeminent importance. If we can agree on the Gospel, I can work with you.

Lyle Schaller, the foremost church expert of the 20th century, once told me that the problem Southern Baptists were facing (even 20 years ago) was whether we would choose to be a classic denomination that operates with ascending and descending authority or whether we’d continue to be a loose confederation of Gospel churches cooperating for the Great Commission.

As a leader here in Minnesota-Wisconsin, I have sought to keep us from being a “denomination” that exercises authority over partner churches. I have fought to hold our Gospel-preaching churches of “like faith and practice” together to impact Minnesota, Wisconsin and the world with the message of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. I fear that lesser things will keep us from effectively doing the most important thing – sharing the Gospel with the world.

Recently, I was struck by the apostle Paul’s preeminent commitment to the Gospel even when communicated through corrupted preachers (1:15-18, CSV):

To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.

Twenty-three years ago, God taught me there were more Christ followers in His Kingdom than in ours. It takes humility and Holy Spirit-inspired sensitivity to maximize the proclamation of the Gospel. I am praying for both.

    About the Author

  • Leo Endel

    Leo Endel is executive director of the .Minnesota Wisconsin Baptist Convention.

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