This weekend marks a notable milestone in the providence of God. On February 9th, Dr. John MacArthur will hit his fiftieth year as pastor of Grace Community Church. Fifty years. That’s longer than many of us have been alive. And that’s 600 months, 18,250 days, and 2600 Sundays.
Dr. MacArthur has needed the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ just like the rest of us. He’d be the first one to tell you that. But after half of a century of faithfulness, it’s appropriate to reflect on God’s work through one of his choice servants. In light of that, today’s post will look at a few distinctions of Dr. MacArthur’s five-decade ministry; things that are worthy of emulation by all pastors.
- He has not disqualified himself from pastoral ministry.
Titus 1:6–9 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
The devil prowls around continually, looking for someone to devour. I remember some of my seasoned mentors telling me that the more effective you are, the more Satan might place a target on your forehead. By the grace of God, Dr. MacArthur has been effective. Certainly, the kingdom of darkness has taken notice. Only God knows the ways in which Satan has attempted to undo him.
And there is more battles than Satan. There are the normal uprisings of the flesh in an unglorified individual. And there is the high standard for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9, 1 Pet. 5:2-3). And let’s not forget the mass of influential pastors who fall. Taken together, it is remarkable for a man with broad influence to stay qualified as a pastor for the longhaul. It’s one thing to remain qualified for a decade in the storms of pastoral ministry. It’s quite another to do so for half of a century. I thank God that Dr. MacArthur has not disqualified during fifty years of pastoral ministry.
“[The pastor] is concerned with the details of his life that may never be public knowledge. They undergird everything that makes up a quality life… And the difference between a successful preacher and unsuccessful one constitutes what they do in the details of their life which are seen by no one except God.” – John MacArthur
“There’s nothing worse than an unsanctified minister.” – John MacArthur
“The key to an enduring ministry is sanctification.” – John MacArthur
2. He has not made ministry about himself.
2 Corinthians 4:5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.
Dr. MacArthur has written or edited about 150 books, some of which have sold over a million copies. He has served as president of the Master’s Seminary and University. He was a frequent guest on the Larry King show. Millions of his sermons are downloaded each year. And his sermons are being played virtually 24 hours per day around the planet.
With that kind of influence, the temptation to make ministry about you is huge. But there is something remarkable about his ministry: John MacArthur has not made ministry about John MacArthur. Even those who take issue with him understand that he has given himself to the word of God.
When he began his ministry at Grace Church in 1969, it was clear that his ministry was void of self-promotion. And if you listen to his sermons over the past five decades, nothing has changed. Besides his preaching, he shows ministry is not about him in the way he surrounds himself with other gifted men. He’s not threatened by the ministry and giftedness of others. It’s never been about self-aggrandizement. And those closest to him will tell you the same. I praise God that Dr. MacArthur has not made ministry about himself over these fifty years.
3. He has preached the Bible.
“If you are caught up in your own importance, you will crash and burn. If you are swept away by the gospel’s glory, you will endure.” – John MacArthur
2 Timothy 4:1–2 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
The content of Dr. MacArthur’s ministry has overwhelmingly been the Bible. For fifty years, he has stood in the pulpit, stepped back, stooped down, and held up the glories of God’s word. He has been so committed to biblical preaching, that it’s been somewhat difficult to see him. There has been little him and lots of Bible. He has taken the role of a well-functioning mouthpiece; a faithful messenger; an obedient herald.
Dr. MacArthur has been the example par excellence for the church of 2 Timothy 4:1-2. He has preached the word. He has preached the word. And he has done so in a way that is rare, unfashionable, but faithful; expository preaching. He chose to focus his ministry on expository preaching because such is the way which most ensures that God’s voice is heard over man’s.
For fifty years, he has not deviated from Bible exposition. He has refused to take aberrant detours into schemes of popularity, ministry programs, and church growth. Instead, the focus was on teaching the Bible—deeply, consistently, accurately, and expositionally.
His commitment to Bible exposition has been deliberate. In doing so, Christ exercises his full lordship. When you set out to major on the exposition of Scripture, you set out to not preach yourself. It’s impossible. True biblical exposition requires the submission of the entire man; the whole man must give his time to unpacking the infinite depths of God’s word. When a man commits himself to the exposition of Scripture, he commits himself to never preach himself. A pastor who is truly given to the exposition of Scripture will have no time to preach himself. He’s face to face with the inexhaustible storehouses of God’s word. He could spend a thousand lifetimes expositing the Bible and still not explore all there is to explore. And if Dr. MacArthur had that many more lifetimes, you can be assured he would keep doing the same thing. Wherever he goes; whether Grace Church or a high school conference; whether in a large city church or a rural country church; whether a seminary chapel or summit; whether he was in Kazakhstan or Canada, Dr. MacArthur exposited the Bible.
His preaching is exceptionally clear. God has extraordinarily gifted Dr. MacArthur with the ability to preach with clarity. And it came through his laborious efforts. “You have to study yourself clear,” many have heard him say. And the fruit of his ministry shows. After a while, you hear the same thing from people who sat under his preaching ministry. “Wow, I never understood that before.” “That was so clear.” “It all makes sense now.” “I can’t believe I never saw that before.”
“Therefore, again I say, the greatest service you can render to anyone is to give them an understanding of Scripture.” – John MacArthur
4. He has practiced the sufficiency of the Bible.
Many confess that they believe in the sufficiency of the Bible. It’s another thing to have the sufficiency of Scripture visible in your ministry. For Dr. MacArthur, the greatest evidence of that is, of course, his preaching. When you do the same thing for fifty years, you are practicing the sufficiency of the thing.
Dr. MacArthur has weathered decades of aberrant church fads. He’s witnessed the supposed latest and greatest fashionable ministry trends; things quickly rising to popularity, and falling even quicker. Some of them, he’s seen make multiple laps through Christendom. It’s a fascinating thing: you can track certain fads throughout time and then listen to his sermons during those times. But, you will not hear the gimmicks slithering into his preaching ministry. During each and every fad, he has remained committed to biblical exposition. That’s what a pastor does who believes the sufficiency of Scripture.
The various ministries at Grace Community Church are further evidence. Whatever ministry you find yourself in, the Bible will be both the foundation and governor of it.
And the same holds true for the Master’s University and Seminary. You will not find man-centered techniques and approaches in fields such as counseling or science. The Bible remains the authority in those and more. That’s what it looks like to believe the sufficiency of Scripture.
In all, one of the most distinct features of his ministry is this: John MacArthur has not placed his confidence in John MacArthur. It’s about the sufficient Scripture.
“Stay in one place for a long time. You’ll outlive your critics and you will see the word work over time.” – John MacArthur
5. He has majored on Christ.
The Person and work of Jesus Christ have saturated Dr. MacArthur’s ministry. Take his preaching ministry for example. He spent over seven years preaching through the Gospel of Matthew (January 1978-June 1985), over two years in Mark (Sunday mornings and evenings, March 2009-June 2011), and over ten years in Luke (November 1998-December 2008). He has preached through the Gospel of John twice, spending a few years in it during the early 70’s and over four years in it, four decades later (October 2012-November 2016). That’s roughly 27 years of the glory of Christ. And the majority of the other 23 years centered on the implications of Christ, having preached the remainder of the New Testament.
That’s a lot of Jesus. And there’s a sense in which God would not have it any other way (cf. Luke 9:35).
One thing struck me when I first spent a chunk of time with Dr. MacArthur. I had a few unrushed days picking his brain. As he patiently listened and answered my questions, it became clear: this is a man who not only believes, but practices, the lordship of Christ. Many have falsely accused Dr. MacArthur of being on the hunt for controversy and debate. But it’s not true. Instead, controversy finds him. Why? Because he simply sees himself as a slave of Christ seeking faithfulness to Christ. What that looks like is clearly and correctly explaining every word of God. The biblical controversies that have found Dr. MacArthur over the years have not been about Dr. MacArthur because his ministry has not been about Dr. MacArthur. No, the controversies are about the word of God. Scripture is held up with a clarity, conviction, and courage that has been unmatched. What happens? The flesh reacts. The controversies have been about truth. The more a man exposits the Bible with clarity, conviction, and courage, the more the feathers he’s going to ruffle. Dr. MacArthur has never sought out controversy. He’s only sought faithfulness to Christ.
Dr. MacArthur’s ministry has been about Christ; the prophesies of Christ, the Person of Christ, the life of Christ, the teachings of Christ, the miracles of Christ, the kingship of Christ, the lordship of Christ, the death of Christ, the atonement of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the exclusivity of Christ, the church of Christ, the coming of Christ, and the glory of Christ.
“A failure to do expository preaching usurps the headship of Christ over His church.” – John MacArthur
“Humility in ministry is a result of an exalted view of Christ and Scripture.” – John MacArthur
6. He has loved the church.
Pastoral ministry in a local church can bruise and beat a man. Even a few years in the mix are enough to prove it. Dr. MacArthur has weathered more ministry storms that just about anyone. It’s safe to say that he’s faced more attacks than most pastors ever will. Most of these stories are not public because he has quietly endured.
And yet, even to this day, there is something remarkable about his demeanor: he still loves the church. After fifty years in the proverbial ministry ring, he loves local church ministry and the people to whom he ministers. In a Genesis-3-world like ours, it’s amazing that a pastor could still smile and not quit after half a century in the trenches.
Dr. MacArthur could have tapped out long ago. He could have thrown in the towel on local church ministry and promoted a writing career instead. But he hasn’t. He loves what Christ loves; the church (cf. Matt. 16:18), and it’s a testimony of God’s grace and an example for us all.
“I love the church. I am inveterate and incurable lover of the church. It thrills me beyond expression to serve the church. Although I am also involved in some parachurch ministries, I wouldn’t trade my ministry in the church for all of them combined. The church takes first place in my ministry priorities, and all the parachurch ministries I serve are subordinate to, and grow out of, my ministry in the church.” – John MacArthur
7. He does not see himself as having arrived.
Dr. MacArthur has often talked about how he is surprised that God has used him. You’ll hear him say that the only explanation for his ministry is God’s grace. It’s been all God’s doing. “I’m just a guy,” he’s said.
Everyone who has known Dr. MacArthur can tell you that he is often talking about a book he’s reading. He’s either about to read a book, reading a book, or finishing a book, or some combination of the three. And he’s reading things like theology, church history, commentaries, and the like. He always wants to learn.
It’s clear: even at fifty years of ministry, Dr. MacArthur sees himself as a student. This is a word for all of us. Though he has written, edited, and contributed to things like a study Bible, meaty commentaries on every book of the New Testament, a systematic theology, and over 100 books, Dr. MacArthur considers himself a student of God’s word. One reason Dr. MacArthur has had such an effective teaching ministry is because he sees himself as a perpetual student of Scripture.
“Stay in your study until you know that the Lord will gladly accept what you have prepared to preach because it rightly represents His Word.” – John MacArthur
More could be said about Dr. MacArthur’s fifty years of pastoral ministry in the same church. There are countless stories of his personal kindness, his sacrificial love, and his willingness to listen and come alongside struggling Christians locally and across the world. May all the glory and applause rise to our faithful Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the life and ministry of Dr. John MacArthur.
Faithful for 50: God’s Glory in the Ministry of John MacArthur — The Cripplegate