I have believed for many years that the local church grows in substance and often in size from the pulpit outward.
This does not mean that with good preaching everything else in church life will care for itself. A community of believers is a complex body. High standards must be met in all of its components for the church to increase both in spiritual depth and numerical strength.
Nor does it mean that the whole burden for the growth of churches is upon pastors. The growing church must also have a core of lay workers who bear, along with the pastor, the spiritual burden for growth of substance and outreach.
Furthermore, the kind of preaching that results in growth need not be brilliant. As G. Campbell Morgan so clearly summarized, preaching must only meet three basic criteria: it must be true, clear, and anointed.
We have all seen hummingbirds hover in air, wings blurred, while they sip from feeders filled with a red liquid — sugar and water. If the mixture is made up of saccharin and water, they will continue to come and feed but gradually they will become weak and unable to fly. The taste of saccharin is sweet enough to fool them, but it lacks the calories they need.
Likewise, what is delivered from the pulpit not only must appeal to the ear of the listener; it must also nourish the spirit. It must speak the word of God to the deep hunger for soul-food that God puts in his people.
What can move pastors everywhere to come before their people with a well-formed word from the Lord? I know of nothing better than the commands of the Scriptures, and the best place to seek that prompting is in St. Paul’s pastoral Epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These were written to first-century pastors who were assigned to oversee young congregations. And what did the Apostle Paul say to them?
Consider these verses from 1 Timothy: “the overseer must be…able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). “Command and teach these things …” (4:11). “Until I come, devote yourself … to preaching and teaching. Do not neglect your gift” (4:13,14a). “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (4:16a).
And in 2 Timothy Paul writes: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2:2). And “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2:15).
We take such exhortations as Spirit-inspired also for us today.
I cannot write these words without thinking that on many occasions I have fallen far short of this advice. But God is merciful. He forgives and keeps the passion alive.
So, “forgetting what is behind,” I encourage any pastor who reads this to join me in seeking renewal in the Spirit: to provide anointed preaching to the pressing needs and hungers of today, for the edification of the Lord’s people and the growth of Christ’s church everywhere, in both substance and numbers.
Image credit: Vegan Photo (via flickr.com)