As a new preacher, I have recently spent a lot of time contemplating the nature of preaching and its impact on the church. During my time in seminary, I considered what constitutes biblical preaching and have tried to learn how to do it well. I left school persuaded that verse by verse exposition of God’s word is the method of preaching that best fits the biblical mandate to preach the word (2 Tim 4:2). I departed ready to preach, and convinced that expository preaching is God’s prescribed method of heralding His word, and growing His church.
I am at a new church plant in Gainesville, FL. We are small—very small—and many would say insignificant. We have been here a few months and have experienced a little “success.” We started with five families, and have seen one family come and another go. We are currently meeting in a living room, and are hopeful that the Lord will bring a couple more families which would presumably force us to move to a small rented space. We are praying that God would send us someone who can play the guitar or the piano—right now we are singing acapella. We are enjoying this time in our church’s life, and praying that God would continue to bless us.
About three miles from the living room where we hold our Sunday meetings, there is a large southern church which is having “great success” in ministry. Their current story couldn’t be more divergent from ours. They are numbered in the hundreds, if not the thousands. They have what amounts to a rock band leading worship. They have a basketball gym where the public comes to play on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They even have a gym which people can join for a nominal fee. And they have large children and youth ministries. They are like many southern churches in a plethora of towns dotting the southern landscape. We, on the other hand, have none of these things; we just have expository preaching and confidence in God’s prescribed method for growing His church.
Soon after my arrival in Gainesville, I spoke with a couple of well-meaning church leaders, one of them from that church, who said to me, “Your preaching will not differentiate your church.” They went on to say that we needed to emphasize a certain demographic so that we would have focused impact. They were willing to help us work through church planting, and I presume, church growth strategies. Put another way, they believe our strategy of preaching and teaching the word of God without any other tactics is antiquated. We need to buy into current philosophies to have success in ministry, have impact on our community, and experience church growth.
I could be tempted to compromise, and change our focus. I could fashion my sermons so that they are more palatable to the watching world. If I changed my preaching maybe more folks would start coming to our church, and we would reach more people for Christ. Or, we could focus on a certain group of people. Maybe we could reach out to men who love to fix cars, or young couples between the ages of 25 and 34 with 1.75 kids. Maybe we should reach out to empty nesters. Or, maybe we should focus on a certain part of town—Gainesville is much too big to reach with one small insignificant group of believers.
We could settle for reaching a smaller demographic or settle for preaching at a surface level. We could also settle for a theology that is an inch deep and a mile wide. But, if we settle for these things, wouldn’t we be serving a god who is too small? Doesn’t the God of the Bible want us to have audacious goals? Doesn’t He want us to get out of our comfort zones and reach the world with the Gospel (Matt 28:19–20)? Of course, we want to reach our neighbors. But, doesn’t God want us to reach the man or woman down the street, so that we can come together in like-mindedness to reach people who don’t happen to have a similar address; zip code or country code; and don’t look or think like us?
As I said, I could be tempted to compromise my convictions so we could grow in numbers and be more “successful” in ministry, but at what cost? We might bring in more people, but would we have the same impact for the Gospel? I think not. Christ said, “I will build My church,” and I believe that He has prescribed the method by which that would occur. James told his readers, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth…” (James 1:18 NAS95). In other words, God has willed that He would save men and women, and that He would do it by His word of truth. As such, people come to the knowledge of the truth by hearing the word of God. So, to have truly fruitful ministries, we must proclaim and teach God’s word.
I believe that God will bless us if we stay faithful to His method. We don’t need to focus on men who love monster trucks as cool as they may be. We can focus on reaching men from every tribe, tongue, and nation. We can reach men and women from every culture, because that is the nature of the gospel—it breaks down the dividing walls. We don’t have to apologize for preaching the truth of God’s word in our relativistic society. We can be confident that God’s people long to hear the truth of His word even in face of great adversity.
Our church will probably never even be half the size of that church down the street. That’s okay because we serve a big God, and He has given the power to do amazing things in His Name even through a small number of people—think of the apostles. This is true only if we trust Him to build His church just as He promised. After all, we must never forget that He doesn’t need our help.