"I 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: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
For Kris & myself, it is our job to talk about the things of God and how that affects our lives. And as the above quote from the apostle Paul clearly indicates, that commission is anything but inconsequential.
But while it's our job to talk about those things, it's everybody's job to live them. What we preach is supposed to be so aligned with God's will that it is like the words of God himself (1 Peter 4:10-11), and those words have eternal implications for all of our lives.
Kris and I do our best to speak about God's will accurately and clearly so that it can be easily understood by our hearers. Let's make sure that all of us are doing out best to live God's will accurately and humbly so that it be easily seen by others.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The New Testament has several reminders about the work of those who devote their lives to teaching the gospel.
We are to be evangelists. “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:5) The work of evangelism is the work of teaching the lost about Jesus Christ, and it is a crucial part of the preacher’s efforts.
We are to be preachers. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus... preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:1-2) Our task is to proclaim the words of God to those who know him, to those who don’t know, and to those who have once known him and walked away from him.
And we are to be ministers. “Tychicus... is a beloved brother and faith-ful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.” (Col. 4:7) This third aspect of our work reminds us of our need for humility. We are not to think of the terms “evangelist” and “preacher” as positions of exaltation, but rather as roles of service. We are called to proclaim the truth in all of its power, and we are called to do so out of a motivation of care and concern for people that mirrors God’s own compassion for us.
All three of these words refer to the same role. And all three are far-reaching reminders about how we should approach our work. To knowingly neglect any of these is a choice to serve God incompletely.
Many churches have a significant percentage of their members who are single. Excluding children, many of the adult members are not married. There are a number of reasons for this ever growing demographic in the Lord’s church.
- Human lifespan is longer – there are more widows and widowers
- The divorce rate is higher – sometimes even among Christians.
- Many never marry – some are unasked; some are unanswered. And a higher percentage than ever either decide not to marry or else they are waiting until later in life to marry.
I realize that this can be very discouraging to some who fall into this category and who would love to be married if the right situation would arise. Some are content in their singleness and have made a conscious decision not to marry.
But I am afraid that there are too many single Christians who feel that they cannot serve the Lord effectively because they are single and so, as a result, as powerful force is left untapped in many congregations.
There are many positive and valuable things that a single Christian can do and I would like to remind you of some of those things in the hopes that we can mobilize a group of disciples who can make a huge difference in the life of a church in the here and now and a great difference in other people’s eternal destiny.
1) Do not become discouraged.
Being single is no reason to have a low self-esteem. Singles sometimes ask, “What’s wrong with me?” Nothing is wrong with you, except perhaps that you are focusing on the wrong thing. Look to your strengths, talents, and abilities. (Married people who concentrate only on what they can’t do or don’t have will never be happy either.)
There are many great men and women of God in the Bible who were single (either never having married or having lost a spouse). In the Old Testament, some of them were Elijah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Mordecai. In the New Testament, we have Paul, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, John the Baptist, Timothy, Barnabas and, of course, Jesus.
When you find yourself feeling lonely, do something for someone else to take the focus off of your aloneness. Visit with friends, enjoy the children of others (buy them things; take them places you would like to go, like the zoo, a museum, etc.). Just keep busy doing something.
2) Recognize your opportunities.
The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, recommends the single life. He is not forbidding people to get married (1 Timothy 4:3), but he wants you to realize that you are definitely not a second class Christian if you are unmarried.
The fact is that marriage divides a person’s interests into two areas – serving the Lord and being with your mate. An unmarried person has the time to do things for God that married people often cannot do. Notice this passage from 1 Corinthians 7:32-35:
“But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world – how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.”
He continues on to discuss one who does not give his daughter in marriage and says that such a one have chosen what is better. There are some advantages in being single over being married. (There are also advantages in being married over being single. It is not all one sided in either direction.)
Some advantages a single Christian has are:
- Can be more spontaneous
- Freer to come and go
- No one to answer to about time
- More time to study the Bible and pray
- Have get-togethers at your place (make it a potluck)
- More time to attend gospel meetings in other places
- Often in a position to contribute more than average to the church
- Galatians 6:10
3) Maintain sexual purity.
This is very important. A single Christian must work very hard, with the Lord’s help, to keep himself or herself pure.
There are two important things to watch out for – your friends (1 Corinthians 15:33) and your activities (Ephesians 5:11).
Remember that you are be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Don’t let your unmarried status be an excuse to sin it up. Think about the example you are setting for others.
4) Help others.
One of the biggest problems of single Christians is turning inward, only being concerned with self. Give of your self to others (Acts 20:33-35; Matthew 20:25-28).
Matthew 19:10-12 speaks of those who refuse marriage (“make themselves eunuchs”) for “the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” Being single often gives you more time to help others.
- The needy – James 1:27
- Sick, hungry, lonely people – Matthew 25:31-46
- Spiritually weak – Galatians 6:1-2
- The lost – Matthew 4:19
If you find yourself in this situation, by choice or by circumstance, use it to the glory of God. The church has a huge army of single, godly men and women out there who need to be mobilized in His service. Realize that this is an opportunity to serve God and the church and the world around you in a way that will make a difference in the lives and eternity of others. May God richly bless you.
I hope you are enjoying and profiting spiritually from this series I have been writing on the subject of Strengthening the Local Church. A few have commented to me that they are benefitting from these articles and I truly pray that they are being helpful to you.
For the next few weeks, starting next Monday, Lord willing, I want to focus on the value of several groups in the church, people who can use their talents to help the church to grow spiritually and numerically.
There seems to be a feeling on the part of way too many Christians that, if they can’t ever serve as a preacher or elder or deacon, they really aren’t very important to the Lord and His work.
That is most unfortunate, because the Bible teaches that God loves every person, without partiality or favoritism (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11; James 2:1-4). Every person, male or female, is important to the Lord and vital to accomplishing His will in the world.
Each of us is a unique individual, created in God’s image, with an immortal soul, to glorify Him while living on the earth. You know people I may never know. You love people I have never even met. You have, within your realm of influence, people who need to be saved and who may have been placed in your life by God, so that you can touch them with the gospel. And if you don’t do that, it may well be that no one else ever will either. And that is true for me also. And it is true for all of us who are Jesus followers.
Two passages make it abundantly clear that every one who is a disciple of Christ is important to His work.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 compares the church to a physical body and teaches us that every part of the body is important to its proper functioning. No one should feel more important than anyone else, as we perform our work for Him. No one should feel inferior to others either. We all matter to God.
The context of this passage deals with the spiritual gifts that first century Christians were given before the New Testament was completed. Some thought themselves better than others because of their gift and some didn’t think they were as important as others because they got a different gift than someone else. But they were all to work together, just as all the various parts of our bodies work together. Although we do not have these same miraculous gifts today, we are all gifted by God with natural talents and abilities that should be used to help other people come closer to God and to glorify Him in every way we can. And Paul points out that, even with the miraculous aspects of their gifts, the greatest gift of all is to love others.
Romans 12 is an entire chapter of the New Testament that emphasizes how we are different, but that we should all use our abilities in a way that honors the Giver. You can do things I cannot and you are accountable to God to do what you can. And I need to do whatever I can.
Well, with that introduction, if the Lord doesn’t come back first, I plan to spend the next several weeks discussing what various groups of Christians can do that will strengthen the church where they worship.
The groups I plan to discuss, if I am able, will be:
- Single Christians
- Older Christians
- Teens/Young people
I hope you will benefit from this short series within the larger series of Strengthening the Local Church. May the Lord richly bless you as you seek to do His will.
There are a number of essentials when it comes to having a growing church. One of the most important factors is having a sense of direction that comes from a leadership in tune with God’s word and the needs of a lost world. I want to discuss three vital principles about the needs of a church that will grow and prosper in a hostile world.
These leadership principles must be present in a church that wants to grow. God’s plan is that leadership be provided in a local church by scripturally qualified shepherds who lead and guide the people toward heaven. Many churches do not have elders who can lead the church in that way, but even if there are no “official” leaders, someone must keep the church on track in following God’s will. If there are no elders, someone must point the church in the right direction. Often, this task falls to the preacher, so here are some things I hope will help.
1) Forward thinking
Far too many churches worship their past and continue to cling to outdated ideas and methods to try to reach the lost. Just because a Bible correspondence course had 400 students and the church baptized 50 of them back in the 1960’s doesn’t necessarily mean it will still work today. (I am not against using correspondence studies; if they are up to date in appearance and challenging in content, they can still work. But we often use old fashioned looking stuff today to save money in a world where we can do much better with little expense.)
Paul said, in Philippians 3:12-14, that he was going to press on in his service to God, without being bound by his past. (Whether you think he meant his past failures or his past successes doesn’t matter; he was going to keep moving forward from that point onward.)
Decisions need to be made involving Bible classes, budgets, buildings, etc. that should be geared toward helping people make it to heaven. We should not simply be interested in keeping house or just holding our own (while we wait until we have elders).
Two questions should drive our decision making process. First, is it scriptural? Second, will it help people go to heaven?
2) Focus on really important matters
In Matthew 6:33, the Savior reminds us not to think too much or to worry about the things of this world, material possessions. Rather He says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (physical needs, rh) shall be added to you.”
The Lord is not saying that we don’t need to take care of ourselves physically, but He is emphasizing that we must learn to put first things first. Some things are just more important to God than other things and we should learn which is which and have those same priorities.
I don’t know who said it first, but a lot of people have repeated it and I think it certainly has value for us today. “The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.” Doesn’t that make sense?
There are some really important goals we need to accomplish. We need to help people to become Christians. We need to help new Christians to grow spiritually. We need to help the weak to grow stronger. We need to help the fallen to return.
In the final analysis, it is all about souls and saving them to the glory of God.
The devil will make certain that there will be many distractions, anything that can derail us or cause us to procrastinate in doing the right thing.
- Some people will get sick physically.
- Someone will hurt your feelings.
- Not everyone will do the right thing.
- You will study the Bible with people who do not obey.
- Some Christians will just quit.
- Temptations will grow stronger and more frequent.
But in the midst of all of these difficulties, the ship must stay the course. That’s really the point of Luke 9:57-62. It shows us how important serving Christ is and we must never give up.
3) A deep sense of dependence on God
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
We are dependent on Him for everything we do. He is the One who save souls (1 Corinthians 3:6); we are simply seed spreaders. He is the one who builds up Christians (Philippians 1:6); we are merely the vessels He works with and through.
We must emphasize prayer to God in all we do as we pray for ourselves and for others.
If we try to do things by our own strength, in our own way, for our glory, with human ideas, we will fail.
It is not about us. It is all about Him. It is all for Him.
Those who lead in a local church need to remember these principles in the decisions they make.
God’s plan is for elders and deacons and every church needs to work to have that scriptural organization. Even then, the shepherds should continue to use these divine principles to guide us to heaven.
Until then, these ideals and values can be used to help the church prosper and please God.
Some of my fondest childhood memories include attending Vacation Bible School at various congregations in the Southern Illinois community I grew up in.
The church where my family attended started conducting a VBS early in my lifetime. It was always a highlight of my young summers and I enjoyed it so much that I usually went to 3 or 4 different VBS sessions each year.
I most clearly remember a wall chart that one of our elders used to help us learn the books of the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament. It was made on a huge sheet that covered a big part of one wall of the auditorium. It was popular in those days before projectors and Powerpoint to use bed sheets with charts drawn on them in gospel meetings and other teaching settings. Gospel meetings would often consist of a single chart on a bed sheet discussing various subjects or book studies from the Bible and the preacher would use that chart every night. At VBS, we learned the divisions of the testaments: Old Testament as Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets and Minor Prophets and New Testament as Gospels, History (Acts), Epistles (or letters) and Prophecy (Revelation). And then we would all say the books in order every day.
I recall a time when attending another congregation’s VBS and having the lady who taught my class say to me, “Wow, you can really find those verses in your Bible. You are the fastest one in the class.” Do you think that made me feel good? Of course it did and I remember it more than 50 years later.
There is tremendous value to the local church that can be seen in conducting a Vacation Bible School. Our desire is to teach the Bible to as many people as possible, right? In my experience, as a child and as an adult and a preacher, more guests are willing to attend something like a VBS than almost any other special event.
If the congregation where you worship doesn’t have a VBS (maybe you used to have one, but haven’t in the last several years), it might be a really good teaching opportunity that can reach some lost souls for the Lord.
In 2017, I had the privilege to preach regularly for a church that was between preachers. Early in the year, someone mentioned that they were disappointed that they didn’t have very many children. A lot of churches are like that and it is a very difficult trend to reverse. Young families with small children are drawn to churches that have other children to be friends with their children. So if there are only a few young ones, many families decide to worship where there are more kids. It can be a self-defeating cycle.
I asked why they quit having VBS because I knew they had previously enjoyed good crowds at VBS. They told me that they didn’t think they had enough children to have a Vacation Bible School. But it seems to me that this is exactly why it would be helpful to have one. If you don’t have VBS and it would attract others to the church, why not try having one? It will be small at first but if you have faith that God’s word will not return to Him void, then it is worth the effort. If you have four children and they each bring a friend, you have planted seeds of God’s truth in the hearts and minds of eight young people.
That church had seven children in Bible class on Sunday before we did a one day VBS on Saturday. We had 41 children to attend classes that day and 40 adults. Everyone was thrilled, of course and we repeated the effort in 2018 with similar results.
There are lots of ways to conduct a VBS. Many churches have a 5 day study – Monday through Friday, either in the day time or the evening. A recent trend has been to have these special classes for children for 3 days, Sunday through Tuesday. We tried an idea that I had read about several years ago from a church in Indiana that had a one day Saturday study. We chose that plan to start with and began at 9:30 and ended at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Individuals paid for a lunch break at a local pizza shop and then we came back for more classes and songs.
Our theme was Faith, Hope and Love, 3 classes with 3 separate Bible stories. We wrote our own class material. It was marvelous and the children had a wonderful time and the church members really worked very hard to invite people to the class and to prepare and deliver the lessons.
The biggest benefit from VBS is that it shows our young people how important they are to the church and therefore, to the Lord. It helps children to be excited about learning the Bible and that is always good.
It is also helpful for adults as well. Churches that have VBS in the evening usually have better attendance and teachers who volunteer are able to do so, even if they work during the day, so you have a bigger pool of workers.
Songs are a really important part of a VBS. The children always enjoy them, plus you can teach them important things in song. Songs may make it easier for them to memorize the days of creation, the sons of Jacob, the judges, the books of the Old Testament and New Testament and lots of other valuable things.
Remember that you are planting seeds of truth in young hearts. What was it that brought the prodigal son to his senses in Christ’s parable? It was what he had been taught when he lived at home with his father. So he had rebelled against that for a while (haven’t a lot of our young people in the church made this same tragic choice?) but he was brought back by what he remembered from his youth.
A Vacation Bible School does not have to be “big” to be a success or to have an eternal impact on souls. If you have ten children and show them that they matter to the Lord, it can make a difference in eternity. The number is not the important issue. If you have 2 or 3 children, make this a special event that they will remember forever.
But if you aren’t going to work hard to prepare useful and practical Bible lessons, if you aren’t going to make much effort to invite friends, neighbors, family members, if you don’t really want it to succeed, don’t waste your time and effort. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.
If you are willing to really work at this, VBS can be a powerful teaching opportunity for the people of God. Do it right and you will reap eternal rewards that will honor and glorify God and save souls.
All right, it’s not totally new (Ecclesiastes 1:9). But I don’t hear many people talking about it these days. Everyone always seems to be looking for the latest gimmick or scheme for church growth. We have filmstrips, videos, lesson plans and suggestions galore. And, as long as they teach the truth, it really doesn’t matter which one you might be the most comfortable using.
But, may I suggest going back to a really old idea? Maybe it’s time to resurrect something that has worked for us in the past.
Why don’t we try to bring our lost friends and neighbors to our services so they can hear the gospel, be convicted by it and obey God’s plan for the salvation of their souls?
Now be honest. How long has it been since you personally brought a friend or neighbor with you to the regular worship services of the local church you are a part of? I don’t mean a Christian visiting from out of town, but a real life, bonafide sinner who needs to hear the gospel?
Some churches have had a “bring your neighbor” day with a special emphasis on doing just that. You may not be totally comfortable with that idea and yet, it does provide a format for those who are shy to invite their friends. That’s really the same principle as a gospel meeting. It’s a “bring your neighbor” week; we just don’t call it that.
However, it seems to me that we have all but quit trying to bring lost people to gospel meetings. We want them to come. But, they usually don’t. We expend lots of time, effort and money on a meeting. And we are satisfied if one or two guests show up all week long. In the last gospel meeting where you attend, how many non-Christians did you personally invite? We expect someone else to bring the guests. We are really disappointed if no one comes. But how much did we do toward getting non-Christians there? We either need to work at having a successful meeting or we need to stop wasting everybody’s time, money and energy.
The principle of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7) teaches us that the results are proportionate to our efforts. In other words, if we continue to do the same things in the same way we have always done them, we will continue to get the same results. No one will come. If you think that’s acceptable, that’s between you and the Lord. But if you don’t think it’s enough, then we need to come up with a plan to do better.
Here’s a suggestion.
Plan your regular services in advance. Choose important sermons and coordinate the songs to go along with the lesson. Announce the sermon title at least a week in advance.
This will give everyone an opportunity to say to their friends, “Say, the lesson this week at services is going to be something I think you will really enjoy. We'd love to have you come.” Is that so hard? Can’t everyone do this?
This has the additional advantage of giving our guests the chance to hear the regular preacher, the one they will hear each week if they become a member. Often, they get excited about a gospel meeting preacher and then he goes back home and the person they hear at their next visit is someone very different. That doesn’t hurt anything, I guess, but it can set up false expectations and some disappointment on their part.
I recognize that announcing sermons a week or month ahead will require more organization on the part of the local preacher. And there will be times when the needs of the moment may require choosing a different sermon than the one previously announced. But the extra effort will be well rewarded.
However, the key is still going to be personal effort to invite lost souls. Those of us who have gotten out of the habit are going to have to get back into that habit. We need to pray about it and work much harder to bring our friends to hear the gospel.
Let me ask you again and I want you to give an honest answer. How long has it been since you even tried to get a guest to come to our services? If everyone else put the same amount of effort into bringing outsiders to worship, how many guests would ever come?
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
The gospel still has the power to save souls. But we have to get people there to hear it.
This article has to do with some of the Core Values of who and what God wants us to be, as His people. These are vital Biblical doctrines that must be maintained and that cannot be compromised. What are some of these distinguishing teachings that separate the Lord’s church from man-made denominations? What are some of the Biblical truths that we must always cling to, no matter what else happens to us or around us?
In Proverbs 22:28, the phrase, ancient landmark, refers to property boundaries (usually a large stone that would mark the end of one person’s property and the beginning of his neighbor’s land) – see also 23:10-11. The Law of Moses prohibited moving these landmarks (Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17). This was a matter of honesty and integrity.
A similar thought is found in Jeremiah 6:16, where the spiritual landmarks that God had set in place, and which should never be moved, are referred to as “the old paths.”
While our methods may change with time, and how we present these ideas to people may vary, the truth of the gospel must never be compromised.
1) Undenominational Christianity
There is only one true church; it is the one Jesus promised to build in Matthew 16:18. Christ is the one head of the one body (Colossians 1:18). Further study of the New Testament shows us that each local church (sometimes we use the term, congregation or assembly) is autonomous, that is, independent and self-governing.
The overseers (or elders) are appointed to watch out for the souls of the members and they are the only authority over a local church. They serve under the authority of Jesus in heaven.
The Lord’s church is not one denomination among many. It is undenominational. We are not trying to be the best denomination. As a matter of fact, we are not trying to be a denomination at all. We are just trying to be the church you can read about on the pages of the New Testament.
2) Who is a Christian?
We must never underestimate the value of God’s plan of salvation, as outlined in your New Testament. We must stand firmly for the truth that one must believe in Christ as God’s Son (this is sometimes called faith), that we must repent or turn our hearts and lives away from sin, and we must be baptized in the name of Christ for the remission of sins. Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16 are just a few passages among many that teach us how to be saved.
Infant baptism, salvation by faith only, once saved, always saved are doctrines of men, not of God. People who believe these things are not saved, because they have not done what the Bible tells us to do to be forgiven of our sins.
I am not trying to be mean or hateful about that; I am just trying to show what the Bible teaches. If we don’t really think lost people are lost, we won’t try to save them.
3) True Worship
This includes the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week and no instrumental music, which are two areas where many denominations have abandoned God’s word. New Testament worship is not fancy and it is not entertainment. It is a reverent celebration of all that God has done for us (1 Corinthians 14:40). It is directed to God and must please Him. He has told us in the Bible what He wants us to do in worship. We cannot compromise with anyone to change what He has said.
4) Bible authority
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). That means we only do what He has told us to do in every area of our service.
“If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God…” (1 Peter 4:11). This passage is the basis for the statement that we “speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.”
The whole question of the silence of the scriptures deserves a lot of study and meditation.
5) The difference in the Old Testament and the New Testament
Many people turn back to the Old Testament for authority for their actions. It is vital that we understand that the Old Law was “nailed to the cross” and replaced with the New Testament (Colossians 2:14). That’s why we don’t offer animal sacrifices, why we don’t worship on the Sabbath Day which is Saturday, why we don’t use instruments of music, and many other things.
6) The work of the church
The work of the church is spiritual, not social. “But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
We must have an over-riding conviction that the power of the gospel will convict and convert and transform our world.
Many people don’t understand this. Churches around the world have turned primarily to secular appeals to try to get people to attend. And those who offer the most social activities often have the biggest crowds. But it is the gospel that will save people, not social and recreational events.
7) The importance of unity
Everyone in the church needs to be on the same page and working together by the authority of the New Testament. Ephesians 4:1-3; 4-6, 16 emphasize unity and the need for every part of the body to do his or her share of the work.
Why are these things important? Because they all come from the Bible.
Please understand that I am not trying to create a creed that consists of seven items that all “faithful” churches must ascribe to, in order to meet God’s approval. This is simply an attempt to emphasize some of the Biblical principles of New Testament Christianity that seem important to me as I read the scriptures.
Remember that these are non-negotiable truths. And there are others; these just stand out to me as being the difference between the true faith that comes from heaven and a false hope that originates with men.
When we look at the New Testament, especially the book of Acts, we see the tremendous success of the first century Christians in converting the lost.
Multitudes of both men and women were being saved. Multitudes. Not five or six people per year like most congregations expect these days. Multitudes. Can you try to imagine that in your mind? Is it still possible?
Let’s think for a moment about how they did that.
First, they taught “publicly and from house to house” (Acts ). We do pretty well with the “publicly” part. We faithfully proclaim the truth in our meetinghouses and are willing to try to convert anyone who comes to us. But how are we doing with the “from house to house” part? I fear not so well.
Second, they brought family and friends to hear the gospel. “…Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends” (Acts ). How much are we doing that today? How long has it been since you personally invited your relatives and close friends to hear the good news of salvation?
Third, they taught one on one whenever they could make such opportunities. Jesus taught Nicodemus privately (John 3). He spent time together with the Samaritan woman speaking to her of spiritual things (John 4). It appears to have been just Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in the chariot (Acts 8). Are you bold enough and confident enough to go “one on one” with a lost person, with just a Bible between you? Can you sit across a kitchen table with a sinner and look him in the eye and teach him the plan of salvation? Have you ever done that, even once?
Fourth, they went to where the people were. Paul and Silas preached to some women who were at the riverside praying (Acts 16). Paul preached to Greek philosophers at Mars’ Hill in
They used these simple methods and converted multitudes. We use these methods very little, if at all, and then we shake our heads and say, “No one seems interested in the gospel any more.” What’s wrong with this picture?
When one begins to examine the health and spiritual condition of the local church, there are seven areas of emphasis that need to be evaluated and strengthened. This article will discuss these seven areas as an overview. Each one of these sections deserves its own full review.
There are two considerations in each of these areas of church life. The most important question is whether what we are doing pleases God. That is, does the Bible teach us to do what we are doing or have we merely been doing these things because that’s the way things have always been done around here?
The second question is whether or not the methods we have chosen to accomplish God’s will are the best and most effective ways to do them. In many cases, God has told us what to do, but He has left the how to do it up to us. We need to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” in our choice of effective (and scriptural) methods of doing His will.
We are taught to worship God in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). How we are to worship is outlined on the pages of the New Testament. Worship is to serve two purposes. First and foremost, it is to praise and thank God. Secondly, it is for the building up of one another.
At times, we may need to have some training about worship. We might need to have some singing training to learn how to do that well. There needs to be an emphasis on the Lord’s Supper during worship as we recall on a weekly basis what Jesus did for us on the cross. Those who lead in any aspect of our services should be trained in how to do it well. And we must not merely worship based on the teaching of the New Testament but we must also worship with the right kind of heart (or spirit). Our attitude should be correct before God.
We should examine every aspect of our worship and see if there are ways we can praise Him better (without changing how we worship to please us).
Spiritual education and training
We have written already of the benefits of having an organized teaching curriculum for both adults and children. There should also be some teacher training by qualified instructors so that we do the very best job we can of teaching God’s word. Special classes outside of our regular curriculum can help fill in some gaps in our Bible knowledge. There should be an intentional closeness between teachers, shepherds and parents to provide feedback for one another to the spiritual benefit of our young people.
Jesus calls His followers to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Much of this work is done individually by disciples who seek to help others to become disciples as well. Classes need to be held to equip and train Christians to learn how to best teach the lost. We should encourage not only public classes but home Bible studies as well. There must also be follow up studies to help new Christians grow mature in Christ.
We are taught by the Lord to be hospitable to one another and to strangers (1 Peter 4:9). Christians should spend much time together outside of assemblies as we seek to help each other to remain strong in Christ. We should have other disciples over to our homes for parties and singings and other social activities. We should go on outings together and should desire to spend quality time with other Christians in many different settings.
In addition to our individual efforts, there should be church level evangelistic events and opportunities for us to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Gospel meetings, Vacation Bible Schools, and social media should all be utilized to open up doors of opportunity for the lost to learn about the Savior. The church is to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and we should intentionally plan to provide chances for the lost to attend and learn the truth.
The leaders of the local church (shepherds, elders, pastors, overseers, bishops) should model the right kind of spiritual example for others to follow. They should set the pace for evangelistic work and be personally involved in people’s lives so as to help them become more like Christ and develop strength in areas where they need to grow.
There should be on-going training for future men who can serve God’s people as shepherds, rather than waiting until something happens to current leadership before we begin to think about the future. The importance of leadership cannot be overstated, but far too many churches have underestimated the need to train new leaders.
From the pulpit
The preaching from the pulpit should be balanced to meet the spiritual needs of both new Christians and long time members. There should be an emphasis on evangelism and a focus on Jesus that reminds us of the One to whom we belong and whom we serve (Acts 27:23).
It is incumbent on the pulpit preaching to raise the level of commitment in the church as a whole. And the preacher must both teach what is right and show the way as well.
These seven areas of emphasis are vitally important if we want to be the church that the Lord expects us to be. Some of these things deal with our personal obligations to God and some have to do with collective actions of the congregation.
There is nothing negative about our need to constantly examine our practices to make certain that they are both true to the Bible and being successful in accomplishing what God wants us to do. If we need to improve in some areas, let us prayerfully plan to grow in our devotion and dedication for Him.
And let us never forget that we are to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).