Leading with Intentional Gospel Humility

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Written by: Noel Heikkinen 

Noel is the teaching pastor at Riverview, a multi-site church-planting church in the Lansing, Michigan area that is actively engaging younger generations in both in-person and digital spaces. In addition to his work at Riv, Noel serves as the US Midwest regional director for Acts 29. He is an author, podcaster, speaker, and leadership coach. He is married to Grace, and they have four children and a son-in-law.

This following content was originally published on Acts 29’s website, linked HERE.


“For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3, CSB).

I don’t think I’ll get much disagreement with this statement, “The time has come when people have multiplied teachers for themselves to scratch their itchy ears.” While this is true for all generations, our culture has mastered the art of echo-chamber living. Immediately before and after these prophetic words in 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul solemnly charges his young protege Timothy with a contextual call to action for ministry. 

Pastors and church planters are happy to follow his first challenge, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Most consider this our primary task. We contend for the faith, stand for the truth, say the hard things, and usually do so with the “great patience” Paul exhorts.The source of our humility is that we contributed nothing to our salvation. Jesus did it all.CLICK TO TWEET

But too many of us ignore or give only a tacit nod to Paul’s final instruction to “do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). The directive couldn’t be more straightforward—do the work of an evangelist.

Paul’s instruction means Timothy wasn’t a natural evangelist. He was no Philip. But Paul still called him to evangelistic work. This calling is true for pastors and church planters today, regardless of our perceived natural giftings. We live in a culture that multiplies teachers who tell us only what we want to hear, which means we need men and women who will do the work of an evangelist—even if they aren’t naturally gifted in that way. 

So what does that work look like in a post-Christian, deconstructing, ex-vangelical age? It looks like intentional gospel humility.

Lead with Intention

Let’s not forget that one of the job requirements of a pastor in Jesus’s church is to “have a good reputation among outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:7). Often, we think the way to avoid disgrace and the devil’s trap is to avoid outsiders. Paul would beg to differ. In pastoral ministry, you must be around outsiders! You must be so close to them that they actually know you and can speak to your character. You must follow Jesus’s lead as a “friend of sinners” (Matt. 11:19). 

But this isn’t always easy and may not come naturally to some. It takes intentionality to place yourself into the world instead of hiding behind the door of your church or home. Those far from Christ are not banging on our doors or filling our inboxes. We need to go to them.

One of the best ways I’ve found to kickstart this mindset may seem terrifying, but it works: talk with a stranger about Jesus. Wake up in the morning and ask God to bring someone across your path to talk with that day. I’ve learned from experience that this is a prayer God loves to answer. And when you meet that person in a coffee shop or on a walk through your neighborhood, now you have the chance to say “yes” to the opportunity he has provided you.

Lead with Humility 

As we intentionally pursue outsiders, we must do so with humility. Those of us in Reformed circles are not well known for this character trait, although it’s critical to our lives and ministry. But if we believe salvation comes from grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed by Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone, we shouldn’t have a modicum of arrogance. 

Unless we’re intentionally humble, the world will not listen to anything we say. We become white noise in an immense sea of white noise. Our culture has become increasingly militant and polemic. It doesn’t matter where you stand in the political arena or the culture wars; everyone is deemed a fundamentalist now.We live in a culture that multiplies teachers who tell us only what we want to hear, which means we need men and women who will do the work of an evangelist.CLICK TO TWEET

The current cultural landscape makes humility and grace the most countercultural thing we can preach and model in our churches and lives. We must “act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Col. 4:5–6).

Of course, all of these efforts flow from the gospel. The source of our humility is that we contributed nothing to our salvation. Jesus did it all. We are merely recipients of his mercy and grace. He is the one who has raised us up and seated us with himself (Eph. 2:6).

Pastors, church planters, and ministry leaders, let’s get out of our bubbles of comfort and do the work of an evangelist—leading with intentional, gospel humility.

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