(Photo: The Gospel Coalition)
A dynamic young pastor who's fighting brain cancer isn't taking it easy on fellow preachers.
Matt Chandler wasn't shy when he told more than 5,000 of them – some of whom are in training – on Wednesday: "You're a much better pastor when you're saved than you are when you're not."
Pastor of The Village Church near Dallas, Texas, Chandler was invited to speak at The Gospel Coalition's annual conference, which draws mainly those in the Reformed tradition.
Though he was among some theological heavyweights including D.A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church, the young Southern Baptist who never finished seminary relayed his message assertively and with an urgency that only a man who was given two to three years left to live can give.
Firstly, he called Christians out on rejoicing superficially.
"Human beings have a rejoicing problem – not that they don’t rejoice, they rejoice on the surface," he said.
The way to rejoice properly is to "remember your Creator," he said as he preached from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.
God's consistent reminder to the people in the Old Testament was to remember who He was. "Remember that I am God ... I do what you can't. I am beyond you."
While Christians may tend to rely on and give credit to their own faithfulness or their strengths, Chandler reminded believers that it is God who is accomplishing His works and they are just taking part in it.
"You can believe the lies of the enemy if you want but the fact that I'm (God) doing this isn't as spectacular as the fact that I'm letting you play ... in what I'm doing that's ultimately about me."
Remembering correctly is not just about having the right mindset, he noted.
"Remembering rightly will redeem rejoicing," the Texas pastor stressed.
Addressing the crowd, Chandler stated, "I'm wondering how you're doing at rejoicing. Are you doing it well?
"Are you rejoicing in what God has done for you in Christ or is your rejoicing hollow [or] shallow?"
He went further to question whether they were really transformed by Christ and born again.
"My fear for some of you is that you grew up in church and you learned early on that by saying certain things and acting certain ways, you got power and credibility and applause and you've learned to play the game so well ... [But] in the end you've not been converted. You've just been conformed to a pattern of religion," Chandler laid out.
"You've got to get into your heart and war with that," he said, adding that he felt no guilt in asking whether they know God and love Him.
"Trust me, you'll be a much better man of God when you actually are a man of God."
On another note, the Texas pastor exhorted the preachers to make the Gospel explicit in their messages.
"Don't assume it!" he urged.
The Gospel message has to be explicit, otherwise, the listeners will not understand "that righteousness is blood bought," he underscored. And all they would hear is "do this" and "don't do that," or what has been called moralistic therapeutic deism.
"Even if they didn’t' have sex, didn't touch beer and didn't listen to anything but Sandi Patty, does that in the end redeem them? No! They're just nerdy lost kids!"
Chandler didn't exclude himself from heeding the exhortation.
After nine years of pastoring at The Village Church, he said he still has to preach the Gospel to himself.
Though battling cancer, which he was diagnosed with over a year ago, Chandler expressed his desire to remember and continue to marvel at and feel overwhelmed by the fact that "God in His mercy saved me."
As the text in Ecclesiastes encourages, he called the pastors to remember their Creator in their youth. After all, their life on earth could end sooner than they think.
"We are right now several hours closer to standing in front of our great Father or judge than we were when we walked in," he pointed out.
"I am under really no illusion that any of us gets to see 30, much less 60, 70 and 80. This time we have, this little sliver, really is a gift from God."
So while he can, he remembers and he rejoices.
"I'm not rejoicing in my youth," he clarified. "I'm rejoicing that God in His mercy has granted it to me ... and because the grace of Christ has freed me up in my youth to serve Him. I rejoice in being redeemed."
"At the end of the day my rejoicing isn't that I'm young and strong because that could be taken from me in a second. But what can't be ripped from me is that in this moment, at this time God has given me strength and energy to make much of Him."
The Gospel Coalition was formed to prepare the next generation for Gospel-centered ministry. Its national conference, which took place in Chicago, centered on the theme "Preaching Jesus and the Gospel from the Old Testament." The three-day event concluded Thursday.