7 Shared Values of SGM Churches: #2 Gospel-Centered Preaching

As I step into our church pulpit, sometimes one particular memory comes back to me: I remember being a kid, having a cold, and being unable to go to kids ministry. So I would sit with my parents out in that same auditorium. On the back row in the midst of sniffles and tissues, I heard our pastors preach. And I remember two things pretty clearly about the messages I heard: I remember that the pastors would yell a lot, and I remember that they would yell about Jesus.

Decades later, I’m proud that those two things haven’t changed about our pulpit—we still yell a lot, and we still yell about Jesus. Our family of churches has made gospel-centered doctrine and preaching one of our seven shared values. Let’s break down what that means and why it matters to my church and yours.

Gospel-centered—who we preach

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3 what is of “first importance”: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our gospel is good news because it is the news about Jesus and what he’s done for us. Jesus is the core message we treasure and proclaim. Being gospel-centered isn’t just about what we’re centered on, but who we’re centered on.

This has huge implications for our local church and our message to the city around us. In a relatively religious city like mine, it’s far too easy for our “gospel” to the world around us to become, “become a good person like us.” But the center of our faith doesn’t rest in what do but in what Jesus has done. We don’t preach simple moralism or vague spiritualism; we preach Jesus. We don’t preach ourselves; we preach Jesus.

Gospel-centered doctrine—what and how we preach

After his resurrection, Jesus meets two disciples on the road, and Scripture says that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The good news about Jesus shapes everything in Scripture and has implications for every doctrine in Scripture. The value of gospel-centered doctrine provides our theological framework with a center.

This affects our theology and ministry for our church. While God’s immutable nature is glorious, while eschatology builds our hope, while polity affects us on a day-to-day basis, none of those things are the center of our theology the way the gospel is. Then practically, this means that whether we are developing a theology for our benevolence ministry, considering an approach for kids ministry, or evaluating our approach to international ministry, the gospel gives us a place to be rooted and grounded.

Preaching—that we preach

In 2 Timothy 4:2 as Paul’s end is quickly approaching, he charges his protégé, Timothy: “preach the word.” I so appreciate that we value not just holding the gospel as of first importance but preaching the gospel as of first importance.

This shapes our calendar and our life as a church. We love and pursue many types of ministry––for women, for active duty military, for youth, for our city community––yet none of these take the place of our Sunday meeting, and our Sunday meeting is centered on the preaching of God’s Word. When we gather, we hear preaching. Then we leave to preach Jesus to others as witnesses of the good news about Jesus (Acts 1:8).

All this is why I’m so grateful that my church and our whole family of churches has put a stake in the ground here. While the cultural winds may blow here or there, while our churches may grow and change, we are binding ourselves to this value of gospel-centered doctrine and preaching. As long as we plant and build, may there be pastors in pulpits yelling loud and long the glorious good news of Jesus.

Now excuse me, I need to get back to working on my sermon.


Ricky serves as the lead pastor at Cross of Grace Church in El Paso, Texas. He grew up in El Paso and has a deep passion to see the gospel proclaimed in the city. His primary responsibilities include overseeing vision, preaching, and leadership of the pastoral team. Ricky graduated with Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from UTEP in 2008 and graduated from the Sovereign Grace Pastors College in 2010. He is happily married to Jenn, and they have one son. You can watch Ricky share his testimony here.

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7 Shared Values of SGM Churches: #1 Reformed Soteriology

Our shared values as Sovereign Grace churches aren’t just words on a page. These values shape our life together and are lived out practically in individual churches. In the weeks leading up to the Pastors Conference, several Sovereign Grace pastors will be sharing some thoughts on the seven values, why they are important, and how they function in local churches.

Today, Mark Alderton talks about our first shared value, reformed soteriology.

God does everything to save sinners

One of our shared values in Sovereign Grace churches is what is called “reformed soteriology,” which is a name for how we understand the doctrine of our salvation. If I could state the doctrine simply, it would be this: God does everything from first to last to save sinners; we don’t save ourselves. We’re so dead in our sins that God even has to grant us the repentance and faith in Jesus we need to be saved. Yet this is what God does by his sovereign and merciful choice. Truly the whole process of being saved by grace through faith is the gift of God and not our own doing (Ephesians 2:8–9).

I find that this concept is a bit of an oddity if not an offense to many who visit our church. It has been the reason a good number have decided not to join. So why hold onto this understanding of God’s role in salvation as a core value? Couldn’t we grow more if we put this on the back page somewhere? Well, in good preacher fashion, let me share three points!

Humbling us and exalting God

First, we hold this doctrine dear because it humbles us and exalts God. We need the humility that comes from recognizing that the only thing we contribute to our salvation is our need for it. And we need to give God the credit he deserves for rescuing us out of our hopeless captivity and slavery to sin. This truth has power to create a church environment where we approach God with great joy and approach the lost and broken people around us with great sympathy. After all, our situation wasn’t so different from theirs.

Great assurance in a fallen world

Second, this is the basis for great assurance in a fallen world. Think about Jesus’ strong statements like Mark 13:13: “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Where is the confidence that we will endure to the end, in light of our often weak faith, and in light of our cultural environment that is increasingly hostile to Christianity? Will we make it, or will we flame out and lose it all? God’s answer is: you will make it, because I am holding onto you. “Those whom he predestined [to salvation]… he also glorified” (Romans 8:30)—no dropouts! This realization gives the church the strength and stability we need to press on with confidence.

Hopeful evangelism

Finally, it makes evangelism hopeful. No, we don’t believe that because God does everything to save people, that makes our evangelism unnecessary. To the contrary, we believe it will make evangelism effective! When we go out into our city with the gospel, we seem to be of little power, humanly speaking. How encouraging to know that when the elect hear their Savior call, they will respond! The seed that lands on the good soil will produce a harvest (Luke 8:8, 15). This is freeing, not burdensome, because God will accomplish what we are incapable of.

For those reasons and more, we love the “Sovereign” in “Sovereign Grace.” To God be the glory!


After working as a scientist for 15 years and serving in the local church leadership, Mark Alderton left his career to attend the Sovereign Grace Pastors College in 2002. After graduating, Mark served as a pastor at his home church, Sovereign Grace Church in Minneapolis for five years. In 2008, he moved with his family to Colorado to become the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Aurora. Mark and his wife, Mary, live in Aurora with their five children.

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Why Does Sovereign Grace Ministries Exist?

written by: Mark Prater, Executive Director for SGM

It’s been about three months since I started serving in my new role with Sovereign Grace. During that time, I’ve been asked dozens of times, “Hey, what’s it like to be the Executive Director?” Honestly, I don’t really know yet. I’ll let you know once I figure that out. But here is what I do know: Sovereign Grace exists because of Jesus Christ, and we exist to make Him known.

It’s a common occurrence—usually several times a week—that when I think about our churches, the pastors who lead them, and the members who fill them, I remember that every pastor and every member in our churches is purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. One of my favorite verses in Scripture, Acts 20:28, emphasizes this truth. Paul is speaking to the elders from Ephesus and he says to them, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

Every member in each of our churches is obtained by the precious blood of Jesus. Because Jesus shed his precious blood, every pastor and member in our churches is precious in God’s sight! Even though I’m still figuring this Executive Director thing out, I do know this: if you are precious in God’s sight, then that truth affects everything I do.

I remind myself of this truth almost daily because it helps me remember not only what I’m called to do, which is to serve you and our churches, but also it reminds me why Sovereign Grace even exists. We are truly a family of churches who only exist because Christ obtained us with His precious blood, and in response to that staggering truth, our mission as a family of churches is to make Jesus known. It’s that simple, and yet it’s that profound. Simple in the sense that we exist only because of Jesus; profound in the sense that we get to participate in something far grander and greater than us—the mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to every tribe, tongue, and nation.

As we move forward, taking with us the lessons learned from the last couple of years, as we implement our new polity, as we refine our Book of Church Order, let us not lose site of why we really exist. We exist to tell others about the sin-washing, wrath-removing, life-giving blood that was shed by our Savior Jesus Christ.

In that same conversation that Paul had with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he said something that captures our future together: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Let us, Sovereign Grace, finish our course by devoting our lives, resources, and church planting efforts to testifying to the gospel of the grace of God. Let’s pray that God would give us grace to play our small part in making Jesus known to those who have yet been redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb.


Mark Prater is the executive director of Sovereign Grace, leading us in our mission to plant and build churches with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mark has served as an elder at Covenant Fellowship Church since 2002. In 1996, he led a church-planting team to Pittsburgh in order to begin Providence Church. Mark has also served as the director for the Sovereign Grace Church Planting Group and regional representative overseeing the Northeast region of churches in the United States.


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What does it mean to BEHOLD God?

I (Mike) have recently enjoyed the “Ask Pastor John” podcast that John Piper is doing where he answers different questions that people have.  It is excellent and I encourage you to listen to it.  I recently had the following question asked to me and I thought my response may be others beyond the person who wrote me.

Question: “I’m sitting here doing a study and something came to my mind that I’ve heard you say before.  You have talked about “beholding God” when it came to submitting to him and letting him live through you.  It’s the “beholding God” that I’ve wondered about. What exactly is meant by that?  What does that look like in a Christians life?”

Answer:  When I think of “beholding God” I am usually thinking about 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.  In the context it is talking about how the veil has been removed from believers so we can “see” God with our minds and hearts.  Here is the verse:

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”

This verse says that as we “see” (or behold) God’s glory by the Spirit, we are changed to be more like him (transformed into his image) and we grow from one degree of glory to another.  I think this is the idea of us growing to look more like Jesus.  We change as we “behold” him.  So, what is the “beholding”…I think it is thinking on, meditating on, and enjoying that which is the glory of the Lord.  I think God’s glory is wrapped up in Jesus being known.

Hebrews 1:3 “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

So, “beholding” is allowing the eyes of our heart (Eph. 1:18) to be enlightened and focused on Jesus (who he is—the God-man) and what he has done (his substitutionary life and death on the cross).  Beholding God happens as we learn about Jesus (reading the Bible, corporate worship, bible study), as we sing about Jesus (theologically informed songs), as we pray to Jesus by claiming his promises and drawing near to him with full assurance (Heb. 4:14-16) because of the cross, and as we fellowship together through reminding each other of the gospel (community group).

God’s word is “breathed out”(2 Tim 3:16-17) by Him and is profitable to us.  I think there is a massive link between “beholding God” with an unveiled heart and reading God’s Word and it delighting our heart (Ps. 19:7-11).

So, I know that is a long answer to a short question, but I hope it is helpful!

God bless,




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Rachel’s Faith

Last week, we served Sangaree Middle School by helping bring in “Rachel’s Challenge,” an anti-bullying campaign.  On Sunday, Mike linked Rachel Scott’s life and death in the Columbine shooting, with her faith in Jesus.

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Thankful for Hell?

Many of us do not thank God for hell.  We may not even think about the idea.  I know I (Mike) haven’t until the last year or so.  There has been a nagging feeling in me about the limits of human justice that has made me more thoughtful of and thankful for hell.  Let me explain.

Last December, in Newtown, CT, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot and killed 26 people (6 adults and 20 children).  This Summer, reports came out of Ohio that Ariel Castro had kidnapped 3 ladies and had held them in his home for over 10 years.  He would rape them, beat them, and even killed one of their babies by punching the lady in order to cause a miscarriage.  The nation was shocked to hear of the evil that one man could invoke. Both events brought tears, anger, and fear.  Both events have also brought a desire for justice to be served on these men, but both men have committed suicide.  They murdered and raped and caused tremendous human pain, but now they are dead and the human justice system cannot give them jail time or torture or anything, they are dead.

If I believed that hell did not exist or that somehow these men will just reincarnate or be annihilated and cease existence, I would struggle.  They would not have to pay for their crime.  They would not receive punishment for the evil they had imposed.

How would I comfort a parent in Newtown if there is no hell?  How would I counsel the rape victims who had a decade of torture if Castro just got away with it?  If there is no hell, there is no comfort in justice being served when suicide follows heinous evil.

However, I’m thankful for hell.  A Christian worldview shows that though human justice has its limits God’s justice does not.  God’s justice extends to each and every human.  A shooter cannot escape it and a rapist cannot avoid it.  I’m grateful that these men who did monstrous crimes are now suffering for them.  A man who beat a woman’s belly so she would miscarry a child is now experiencing weeping and gnashing of teeth.  A man who heard the screams of children as he pulled the trigger now screams in unrelenting pain.  Punishment is given and justice is served.  I know it might sound odd, but I’m thankful for hell.

The Bible, however, says that all of us are running toward hell.  We are children of wrath pursuing hell and fighting God.  But this is where Jesus steps in.  Ephesians 2:4-6 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved.”  Jesus stepped in and took the wrath for all who believe in him.  He took the wrath and paid for it on the cross.  He took our hell and he gave us His heaven.  He took our sin and he imputed his righteousness to us.  That is grace!  And that is the only thing that separates me from same eternity as a murderer or a rapist.  It doesn’t appear that Lanza or Castro ever experienced this grace.  Let’s pray that others who are contemplating such crimes will know Jesus’ grace.

I’m thankful for hell, though I deserve to go there and I’m thankful for a future in heaven, though Jesus is the only one who deserves to be there.

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What’s at Stake on Sunday Morning?

We often talk as a church that we do not gather on Sundays as “consumers” but we gather to worship God as a church family.  So, what is at stake on a Sunday morning?

I (Mike) was freshly sobered by this question while reading Paul David Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.  He says,

Now, the stakes are high here.  You could argue that every worship service is little more than a glory war.  The great question of the gathering is, will the hearts of the group of people be captured by the one glory that is truly glorious or by the shadow glories of the created world?  As a pastor, I want to do everything I can to be used of God to capture the hearts of those gathered by the rescuing glory of God’s grace, by the insight-giving glory of God’s wisdom, by the hope-giving glory of his love, by the empowering glory of his presence, by the rest-giving glory of his sovereignty, and by the saving glory of his Son.  But I know that this is a battle.  I am speaking to people whose hearts are fickle and easily distracted.  I know I am talking to people who are seduced by other glories.  I know I am talking to people who live in the light of God’s glory every day and yet are capable of being functionally blind to its splendor.

I know I am addressing the single lady who has set her heart on the affection of a certain young man whom she thinks will deliver to her happiness she has been craving.  Sitting before me is the teenager who can’t think beyond the glories of Facebook, Twitter, and thePortal2 video game.  In the congregation is the middle-aged man whose heart is captured by the glory of somehow, someway recapturing his youth.  A wife is sitting there wondering if she will ever experience the glory of the kind of marriage that she dreamed about, the kind she knows others have.  A man sits in the crowd knowing that he feeds his soul almost daily on the dark and distorted glories of pornography and has become a master at shifting spiritual gears.  Some listening are more excited about a new outfit, new home, new care, new shotgun, newly sodded lawn, the opening of a new restaurant, a new vacation site, or the new promotion than they are about the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I (Mike) can be “prone to wander” in my heart and mind and forget about the “glory war” that goes on daily in all of us and specifically on Sunday morning.  Let’s gather this Sunday and every Sunday with a heart to glory only in the ONE worthy of glory and let’s have eyes to see those who need encouragement to do the same!

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