Most Important In A Church

The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching.  It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow… If you get the priority of the Word established, then you have in place the single most important aspect of the church’s life, and growing health is virtually assured, because God has decided to act by His Spirit through His Word… The congregation’s commitment to the centrality of the Word coming from the front, from the preacher, the one specially gifted by God and called to that ministry, is the most important thing you can look for in a church.

Mark Dever (Nine Marks of a Healthy Church)

Create a Culture of Reading

All Christians should cultivate a reading habit. Besides reading the Bible, we need to read books that elevates our passion for God. Here is a good reading list

“Close the front door and open the back door”

 

I reviewed some of the church growth material coming from our denominational headquarters. One publication said that, in order to get our churches growing again, we should “open the front doors and close the back doors”… What we actually need to do is to close the front door and open the back door!  If we really want to see our churches grow, we need to make it harder to join and we need to be better about excluding people. We need to be able to show that there is a distinction between the church and the world –  that it means something to be a Christian. If someone who claims to be a Christian refuses to live as a Christian should live, we need to follow what Paul said and, for the glory of God and for that person’s own good, we need to exclude him or her form membership in the church.

 Mark Dever  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 156-157.

God-Given Growth – Mark Dever

Everybody wants their church to grow. When a church doesn’t grow for a while, some begin looking for those to blame. Some might say “our sign is too old.” Others might say that the church is doing evangelism all wrong. Still others might blame themselves, and decide that they’re just not friendly enough. The preacher, the leaders, the surrounding community, all can come in for their share of blame. But are any of those people the cause of real church growth? Isn’t God the one really to blame? What should we Christians think of contemporary church-growth thinking?

First of all, it must be said that the Bible is a pro-growth book. From the garden of Genesis to the city of Revelation, God is a God who shows something of His life and energy through growth. Most growth is a good thing in this life. So I want to grow as a husband and father. I want to grow in my competence in my job. And as a Christian I want to grow in my Christian life. So what about our church — do we want our local church to grow? How does that happen? That’s what we want to consider in this article.

If we go back to the beginning of the Bible, there we find in the first chapter that God commands the creatures of the land and sea to multiply: “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth’” (Gen. 1:22). Similar commands are given to Adam and Eve, and then to Noah and his sons after the flood. From there on in the Bible we see that God our Creator has continued to give life, from calling Abram to follow Him, to calling the Jews back home from their Babylonian exile.

It’s important for us to remember this as we consider our local church. Some people today seem to think that a church grows because it has a popular program, or because the pastor is a good communicator, or because the leaders are wise. All of these may be present in a growing church. But behind all these factors is God Himself. It is God that grows the church through His Gospel by His grace.

The rain accomplishes God’s purpose to make things grow (Isa. 55:10–11), but it is still God who gives the growth. In the same way, it is God who gives new life by His Spirit (see John 3). He is both the Creator and the re-Creator.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6–7). Any true church growth is from God, whatever means He may choose to use. Just as Jesus’ first disciples followed Jesus because He called them (John 15:16), so today we follow Him only because He first calls us. God grows the church He planted.

He does so by giving us spiritual life by giving the gift of repentance (see Acts 11:18). It is God’s kindness to us that He ever puts in our rebellious souls a distaste for our revolt against Him. In His mercy, He makes us to feel the bitterness of our choices. In His love, he causes us to turn. This new life that God gives comes through belief in the Gospel — which belief we were appointed for (Acts 13:48). Our “appointment” to such belief again makes the point that spiritual life and growth are from God. He opened the door of Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message (Acts 16:14). It is by God’s “grace you have been saved through faith. And this not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).

And God brings about such repentance and faith by His Spirit’s using the preaching of His Gospel. So when the message about Christ is preached in Antioch, Luke describes the results as “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). Notice it is the Lord who is credited with this church growth. Faith comes through hearing the message (Rom. 10:17).

And the churches are strengthened by hearing the truth (Acts 16:5). So, whether we’re talking about growth through conversion, or growth in being built up and maturing, it is God’s work through the appointed means of preaching God’s truth, and most especially the Gospel, what Jesus called “the word of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:19). Such church growth could even be called “the word of the Lord” spreading (as it was in Acts 19:20) so identified is such growth with the Gospel message.

So if the above is all true — if church growth is from God, then what difference should that make in our churches and in our lives? Here are seven suggestions based upon the Bible’s teaching about church growth. Pray for these in your own life and in the life of your pastor. And share them with others in your church, including the pastors, elders, and deacons.

In order to see God’s church grow, we should use the means God has given to us. As we’ve seen, preaching the Gospel is the normal way God grows His church. Added to this, there is also prayer. Again and again in the book of Acts we find the early Christians at prayer. And as we beseech God for conversion and for maturity, we find God granting our prayers. The more we pray the more we acknowledge that God is the reason for any growth that comes. We acknowledge, in humility, that any growth that comes does not ultimately come from us.

The late great evangelical theologian Carl Henry once said that “numerical bigness has become an infectious epidemic.” When too many of us measure growth mainly in terms of numbers, we show that we forget how deceptive crowds can be. So, the crowds that cheered Jesus one day, called for His crucifixion the next. Even if our church is growing numerically, usually these days in America such numerical growth is more reflective of population redistribution than it is of new conversions.

We can’t control when someone is converted. Though some evangelists may try through well-intentioned manipulation, the human heart is beyond being manipulated to give up its revolt against God. Only a new set of loves — replacing love for self with love for God — can end our revolt, and only God’s Spirit can give that love. Therefore our job in evangelism is to pray for conversions, and work for them by regularly and faithfully sharing the Gospel as well as we can. Work on your own understanding of the Gospel. Think carefully about ways you may be able to improve in sharing it. Work to create opportunities. You can’t make sure someone becomes a Christian. But you can make sure they’ve heard the Gospel.

There is more to church growth than new converts. Those of us already converted can mature in our faith. We can learn to count trials joy, and grow in our love for one another. Remember that maturing is as much growth as seeing new people converted. Certainly in our own lives, we never finish growing in this life in terms of our spiritual maturity.

One way we are certain the church needs to grow is in we ourselves growing, and especially in our humility and self-conscious dependence on God. The Bible’s teaching that God gives growth is important for us to remember so that we won’t become prideful in our church when it does grow numerically. It is also important to encourage us in our humility. Knowing that growth is His gift should increase our time spent in prayer and remind us of our dependence upon Him.

Getting all this right calls us to trust God more and to thank Him for the growth that He does give. When Paul was discouraged in Corinth at the lack of growth in the church, God encouraged him in a vision by assuring him that many would be converted there (see Acts 18:9–10). Most of us, however, don’t have that kind of supernatural encouragement. We do know from God’s Word, however, that God promises His Word will not go out without accomplishing His purpose. But we may not be around to see the harvest from seeds that we plant. As Charles Bridges (a great nineteenth-century Anglican pastor) said, “The seed may lie under the clods till we lie there, and then spring up” (Christian Ministry, p. 75). Some sow, and others reap (John 4:36–38), but God deserves the praise for all the growth that happens.

Finally, realizing the truth about church growth should help us to keep going. It should encourage us to endure in the face of opposition, rejection or indifference. Ezekiel was called by God to preach to a people that wouldn’t listen — their refusal to listen took nothing away from Ezekiel’s faithfulness (see Ezek. (3:7–9; 33:32). How could evangelists go to unresponsive lands and keep preaching if they were constantly counting converts and gaining their main encouragement from that unsteady source? How could you and I be faithful in witnessing to friends and family over the years if we allowed ourselves to be discouraged by initial rejection, or even continuing disinterest? Our continuing to pray for someone is a testimony of our faith not in them or in ourselves, but in God. Jesus’ parable of the sower warned us that there would be a variety of responses to the Word (seeMatt. 13:1–23). And we can be confident that God will bring all His own to Christ, not one of them will be missing (see John 6:37). Present success is not always visible. We should be encouraged to realize that the calling all Christians and all congregations share is one to faithfulness, not immediately apparent success. God may in His providence even disperse our local congregation. But His plan for His universal church is certain victory. Of that we can be sure. The church’s final and ultimate growth is not in question.

Ligon Duncan Explains the Charge of Calvinists as Poor Evangelists

Via Provocations and Paintings

It has been said time and time again that Calvinists are poor evangelists. I just listened to a sermon this morning where a preacher said, “Well, if you believe that half the people are damned to hell, then why in the world would you go and evangelize?” The Caner brothers charged Calvinists believing in election as an excuse to be lazy, to not knock on doors, that it saps the evangelism of every church it infects, and so on. Ironically so, Mark Dever points out the following stats:

14.8% decline in the United Church of Christ
11.6% decline in the PCUSA
6.7% decline in the United Methodist Church
5.7% decline in the American Baptist Churches
5.3% decline in the Episcopal Church
5% growth in the Southern Baptist Convention
18.5% growth in the Assemblies of God
21.8% growth in the Christian and Missionary Alliance
40.2% growth in the Church of God
42.4% growth in the PCA
57.2% growth in the Evangelical Free Churches

* Statistics from the last 10 years in denominational life found in Dave Shiflett’s book Exodus.

The SBC saw 5% growth where the PCA saw 42% growth. Looks like those of us in the SBC can learn something from that disease-infested, lazy Westminster boys who sit around and see how “hyped” they can get. Even with all our megachurches, “million more” campaigns, decisional regeneration emphasis, and dishonest statistics one would think that the SBC could at least make it to 10%. But I guess that the Founder’s fault right? That’s what they want us to believe. It’s those Calvinist’s fault that over 10,000 churches didn’t baptize one person (all of which we must presume have been eaten away by the doctrines of grace).

Here’s where Ligon Duncan responds. While Duncan gives a seven-point response in his post, I want to quote him on number three:

“Calvinists are often considered poor evangelists because of historical ignorance. The standard fare of anti-Calvinism (Calvinism kills evangelism and missions) so often served up in the SBC and in wider evangelicalism is, of course, wrong. Dead wrong and demonstrably wrong. The greatest evangelists and missionaries of Protestant era have been Calvinistic or Reformed. That is, they have embraced and preached the doctrines of grace. Whether it is Bunyan or Spurgeon, Carey or Nettelton or Whitfield or Duff or Stott, that you are talking about – the Baptist tradition, the Congregational tradition, the Anglican tradition, the Presbyterian tradition and so on – find the hall of fame evangelists and missionaries and you’ll find folks who live, breathe, teach and preach the doctrines of grace.”

This reminds me of Steve Hays’ recent post “Ahistorical Theology.” In response to why he believes the PCA has seen such growth, Duncan replies,

“the growth of the PCA (and other strong reformed churches like CHBC and CLC and GCC and BBC) is not because we are better evangelists but because we have a better evangel (that is, a more biblical one) and a gracious, sovereign God who is at work changing hearts by his Spirit.”

Not better evangelists but a better evangel . . . if only we could only embrace that reality.

2012 T4G The Underestimated Gospel – Preview Clips

The Power of the Gospel & the Pitfalls of Suffering & Success – John Piper

The Power of the Gospel and Marriage – John Piper

How is the gospel underestimated today? – Matt Chandler / Mark Dever

How do we underestimate the gospel today? – David Platt & Ligon Duncan

Danger Danger Lone Ranger – Al Mohler

Why CJ Mahaney Participates in T4G?

Why Does God Save Sinners? – Mark Dever

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17 ESV)

Preaching from 1 Timothy 1:15-17 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC), Dever proclaims that the Gospel is good news for everybody who will repent of their sins and trust in Christ.

Overview on Biblical Theology

What is Biblical Theology?

Kerux – A Primer on Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology approaches the Bible as an organic drama of God’s unfolding revelation through history. In distinction from doctrinal or systematic theology, biblical theology follows the progressively unfolding revelation of God’s words and deeds through history. This linear aspect of revelation unites each revelatory event and proclamation both retrospectively and prospectively. Geerhardus Vos described the organic continuation of revelation in history as a flower expanding from bud to blossom. The blossom is retrospectively united to the bud; the bud is prospectively united to the blossom. One of the tasks/privileges of the interpreter of Scripture is to draw out these organic prospective and retrospective relationships. At the center of this organic unity is the person and work of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Even as our Risen Lord related all of Scripture retrospectively and prospectively to himself (Luke 24:27), so Reformed biblical theology is preeminently Christocentric.

God spoke into history; God acted in history; God was incarnated in history. Vos described this vertical interface with history as the eschatological penetration of the history of redemption. In fact, Vos approached Scripture from the standpoint of the priority of the eschatological. Overarching the entire history of redemption was the eschatological arena. Every revelation of God in history was an invitation for the creature to possess the arena of the Eschatological/heavenly. This would only be accomplished through the saving work of the Son, Jesus Christ. Hence, Christ was eschatologically revealed throughout the history of redemption as the promised seed of the woman, seed of Abraham, seed of Jesse, etc. Even as God and man met in Jesus Christ, so the eschatological and the linear met at every point of God’s special revelation.

Graeme Goldsworthy – Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

From the evangelical preacher’s point of view, biblical theology involves the quest for the big picture, or the overview of biblical revelation. It is of the nature of biblical theology that it tells a story rather than sets out timeless principles in abstraction. It does contain many timeless principles, but not in abstract. They are given in an historical context of progressive revelation. If we allow the Bible to tell its own story, we find a coherent and meaningful whole.

Dr Mark Dever gave an excellent sermon on the beautiful plan of God from Genesis to Revelation. For those of us who wants to know more about the story of the Bible, you need to listen to this sermon.

Quantity of Disciples or Quality of Discipleship?

via The Gospel Coalition

Some churches excel in raising up a large number of disciples. Others are known for their strong quality of discipleship. What accounts for this difference? James MacDonald, Mark Dever, and Matt Chandler discuss in this roundtable video how God has particularly gifted them as pastors and how they relate to other evangelical churches with different strengths.

Why Expositional Preaching? – 9marks (Mark 1)

Introduction

The purveyors of technique in today’s marketplace of ideas cringe to think that anyone would still be lauding the sermon as an effective pitch. Times have changed. Truth itself has changed. What communicates to the postmodern mind is narrative, journey, epic, vignette; not linear arguments, objective conclusions, or exclusive truth claims. The days of expounding the meaning and implications of a text are long gone. Meaning, like beauty, is now in the eye of the beholder. Universally binding morality is thereby supposed to be a mere myth, and so the authority of the preached Word of God is brushed aside as obsolete. Winning the culture means playing on their new field. So we are told.

But God’s Word has something to say about what we preach and how we preach it. What you’ll find on the following pages is a brief Biblical rationale for the primacy of expositional preaching in the local church. But that’s not all. You’ll also find some practical resources to encourage and facilitate the continuing development and increasing fruitfulness of your own expositional ministry. We’ll even walk you through the sermon preparation process. Learn what expositional preaching really is (and is not), and discover the difference between expositional sermons and other kinds of sermons. Learn how you can plan for feeding people a healthy diet of expositional meals months ahead of time, and thereby free yourself from worrying about what to preach on this week. Download audio samples of expositional preaching at its best.

What are the different kinds of preaching?

The Lay of the Land

The Definitions

  • Anecdotala sermon in which the preacher primarily tells engaging stories with a moral lesson.
  • Biographical – a sermon in which the preacher traces the life of a biblical character and draws contemporary moral implications.
  • Topicala sermon that has a topic in mind prior to consulting the text, and then searches for one or more biblical texts that address the topic chosen beforehand.
  • Textuala sermon that refers often to a particular Biblical text, but does not take the main point of the text as its own.
  • Expositional – a sermon which takes the point of the text as the point of the sermon

The Biblical Background for Expositional Preaching

The Biblical Primacy of Exposition

God’s Word gives clear primacy to exposition.

  • Many preachers and pastors today question whether the Bible really gives us any reason to think i that expositional preaching is the best way to preach.
  • But the prophetic nature of preaching and the performative nature of God’s Word reveal exposition to be best suited to unleashing the power of the text.

Exposition is primary because preaching is prophetic.

  • To say that preaching is prophetic is not to say that it is either predictive or ecstatic utterance – preachers are ambassadors, not prognosticators; and their source of revelation is God’s mediated written word, not His immediate verbal word. It is rather to say that preaching is about receiving God’s word and communicating it to God’s people in a way that is faithful to God’s intention.
  • Preaching is prophetic because it conveys God’s Word to God’s people. Exposition best handles the prophetic nature of preaching because the expositional sermon is unique for taking the point of the passage as the point of the message. It is therefore the best way to remain faithful to the content and intent of God’s Word in any given text.

Isn’t there only one kind of expositional sermon?

Ditch the disposable; Invest in Telephoto

  • Telephoto Preaching
    • Our preaching often becomes like taking pictures with a disposable camera – no zooming, no panning, focus isn’t guaranteed, and panoramics are unlikely.
    • Expositional preaching is like graduating to a telephoto lens – it gives you the ability to take a wider diversity of Scriptural snapshots from new angles and more perspectives with higher resolution, richer texture, and variable scope.
    • Since an expositional sermon is one in which the point of the passage is taken as the point of the sermon, we are just as free to ask “what is the point of Romans?” in one expositional sermon as we are to ask “what is the point of Romans 8:1a?” in another.
    • Proceeding from panoramic to microscopic, then, we may legitimately preach a single expositional sermon on the whole Bible, a whole testament, a whole book, a whole narrative or parable, one paragraph, one phrase, or a single word – as long as we are preaching the intended point of the selected meaning unit.
  • What are the Benefits of Expositional Preaching?

    The Benefits Package

    Benefits for the Pastor

    • Releases the pastor from Saturday Night Fever – the dreaded dilemma of what text to preach tomorrow morning.
    • Increases the likelihood of the pastor preaching the whole counsel of God over time.
    • Increases the pastor’s command of the Word by forcing him to study difficult or often-neglected texts for himself.
    • Increases the Word’s command of the pastor by giving him a broader exposure to the probing sword of Scripture, deepening his continued repentance and faith, incrementally increasing his knowledge of God, and therefore enhancing his Spirit-produced ability to please God in every way (Heb 11:6; Col 1:9-12).
    • Increases the pastor’s God-given prophetic authority in the pulpit by grounding his preaching in the divinely intended meaning of the text.
    • Increases the pastor’s God-given blessing in the pulpit by remaining faithful to the intention of the One who sent him to preach a specific message.
    • Increases the trustworthiness of the pastor’s preaching in the eyes of the congregation.

    What Should I preach, and when?

    Time Lapse

     “I want to preach the whole counsel of God, but that’s a pretty big counsel. How do I start, and is there a tool I can use to keep me on track?”

    • The principle to follow is to consistently expose yourself and the congregation you serve to all the different genres (types of writing) in Scripture. This way you won’t get stuck preaching Ephesians three times in five years.

    How do I Prepare an Expositional Sermon?

    Planning and Preparation

    Planning the Menu – Dietary Balance

    • The best sermon preparation doesn’t wait until the week (or day) before you preach. It starts months ahead by taking time to think through what you’ll be preaching over the next, say, four months.
    • So think big picture at the outset. What Scriptural food group has been lacking lately in your congregation’s diet? What part of God’s Word might go neglected if you’re not intentional about planning to preach it?
    • Think also about varying the type of expositions you do over this four-month period. For example, follow up a ten-week in depth study of Ephesians with a three-week overview series in the minor prophets.
    • Again, think in terms of providing your hearers with an objectively balanced diet of Scripture, not just in terms of what you think they need to hear based on their subjective circumstances, or of what your favorite books or passages are.
    • If you’re young or in a new pastorate, think about weighting the schedule with overviews so that you can provide a framework for later detailed expositions. But be warned: overview sermons are a LOT of work, so don’t overdo the overview.
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