How many times have you heard that young people are the church of the future? This is true, but this will be effective only if we are already using them and developing them into leaders now. “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him” (Proverbs 23:24, ESV).
Basically, leadership is simply influence over others. Early on we need to help our young people develop the strength of character to be “influence leaders” among their peers, leaders rather than simply followers. Sermons and Bible classes need to emphasize God’s truth on subjects concerning moral issues, character qualities, and having the right kind of attitudes. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
The single most important thing to teach our young people is the proper respect they should have for authority. Initially they learn this respect at home in their relationship with their parents. Later, it is reflected among other adults, including family friends, Bible class teachers, neighbors, school teachers, and others at school. They need to be taught to behave politely and to answer properly. “Yes or no, sir or ma’am” should be the standard response, not “yeah” or “nope.” They should be taught to respect property, and to act on the first statement, not after several empty threats. Children will be children, of course, but they need to learn early in life to be obedient children. Respect for others in authority makes it easier for a person to develop respect for God and His authority.
As children grow into adolescence, their Bible knowledge should grow as well. Hopefully, the congregation will have an active and comprehensive Bible class program that will fill them with both a complete knowledge of God’s word and a heart of love for the Lord that will serve them well throughout life. However, the primary responsibility for the spiritual development and nurturing of children was not given to the church, but to the parents, especially the father (Ephesians 6:4). Bible classes conducted by the church should only supplement the teaching they get at home, not replace it. Unfortunately, we all know of situations where all the Bible children learn is what they get “at church.” That emphasizes the importance of a well-organized program in each congregation.
We also cannot overstate the importance of adults providing the best possible example for young people. It does little good for the Sunday morning teacher to tell our children the need to put God first in all things, if that teacher doesn’t even attend mid-week services. Most important in this area is the example that young people learn at home. The good teaching and preaching that many young people receive is often undone in the car on the way home. Very few of these young people will grow up to be strong leaders in the church.
When young men obey the gospel, they need to be worked into the public services of the church, at a rate with which they can be comfortable. They should not be pushed, but often do need to be encouraged to use and develop their talents. I would never have agreed to lead singing, if one elder had not stayed with me and helped me to see that this was something I could do, if I only would.
Young men’s training classes can be very helpful in this area. When conducted properly, with a positive tone and encouraging suggestions, young men (and maybe some older ones also) can be helped to understand the extent of what they can do for the Lord. And beyond the typical classes on song leading, Bible reading, praying publicly and waiting on the Lord’s table, classes need to be held on leadership, what makes a leader, what a leader does, problems a leader faces, qualifications of elders, etc.
At a congregation where I formerly preached, I used to make a Wednesday night talk once a year on the subject of Preparing Young Men for the Eldership. Here are the points I discussed in that short lesson.
Some Practical Steps
Do not wait until you are 40 or 50 years old and then decide that you might like to serve as an elder. Start now to think about it and work toward this commendable goal for the rest of your life.
1. Learn the Word.
Titus 1:9 speaks of the importance of being able to convict those who oppose truth. The only way to do that is to know the truth yourself. Be serious in your Bible classes. Have fun, but don't forget why you are there. The purpose of Bible classes is to transform your life for eternity. An elder must be “able to teach.” You can't teach what you don’t know.
2. Maintain a Life of Purity.
Shepherds are to be held in high esteem by others both inside and outside the church. Don’t do foolish things that people will remember and that can haunt you for the rest of your life. 1 Timothy 4:12 reminds young people to set a good example for other believers. Use your talents now; do not wait until you get older to start serving.
3. Marry a Godly Woman (1 Timothy 3:11).
Your mate can help you to qualify as an elder or could be a permanent disqualification. Choose wisely. Young ladies should try to qualify themselves to be elder’s or preacher’s wives to be the kind of person a leader can rely on as a helper.
4. Read the Elders’ Qualifications Often and Grow in Needed Areas.
You will not develop these leadership qualities accidentally or overnight. They are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Peter 5:1-4.
Parents need to encourage their sons to be elders (or gospel preachers). Others can be a great encouragement to young people also. There is no greater service we can do for the Lord than to help young people grow up and develop themselves as spiritual leaders of the church of the future.
There may be any number of reasons why churches in some areas of this country and around the world are not growing.
I do not want in any way to imply that, if a local church isn't growing, then the group is not pleasing to God. They may be doing something wrong that displeases God, but numerical growth, or lack of it, is not a singular indicator either way. It is not my purpose in this series to imply that all a church has to do to grow spiritually and numerically is to follow my advice. This is not intended to be a fool-proof, works every time, money back guaranteed program.
These blog postings are simply things I have observed over the years that have helped some churches to grow. It is my desire that these articles encourage some Christians, who have grown despondent and believe that nothing can be done to help struggling churches, to develop hope for the future. The last thing I want to do is to further discourage the down-hearted. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we had hoped they would.
- Noah preached (2 Peter 2:5) for 100 years and didn’t save anyone outside of his family. He had to have been discouraged at times. But he did save his own family. And that is awesome.
- In Acts, Paul did not have equally glowing success in every place where he went to plant a new church. In some places he was ignored; in some he was thrown into prison; in some he was stoned or otherwise persecuted. (Read 2 Corinthians 11:22-30).
- And, lest we forget, even the Savior Himself did not convince everyone He taught to become Christians. As a matter of fact, He was killed by some of the very people He tried to teach.
And sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we work very hard with little visible results.
There are many factors that can lead to a church that is shrinking in size, rather than growing. Churches age (because all of us as people do also), sickness and death occur, people move away from a community, the culture of an entire city or town can be affected by outside influences and all of these things can have a shrinking effect on the Lord’s people. Some places are just harder fields to work in than others are.
Churches go through cycles, sometimes up and sometimes down, and it can be difficult to know if a downturn in attendance is part of a cycle that is beyond anyone’s control or whether it is evidence of a decline that will ultimately lead to the death of that church.
The easiest thing that churches often do is to blame the preacher if things begin to go badly. It may be that he is the problem and I am convinced that most churches need to do a better and more thorough job of choosing a preacher. More time should be spent in finding out if the churches where he has worked before have grown spiritually and numerically or if they have declined in number. Sometimes they decline and it isn’t his fault, but there are preachers who systematically destroy every church they work with. They don’t mean to, but they don’t have a very realistic view of themselves that will allow them to admit that they hurt the church more than they help it. Not everyone who preaches should be preaching, but it is hard for most men to admit that they are the problem and the churches that have been in decline would have grown if someone else had been preaching there.
My family attended a church once while we were on vacation and the preacher told me that they were getting ready to move to a newer and smaller building. He said, “We’ve grown so small here that we don’t need this much space.” We’ve grown so small? That is an interesting way to describe a church that is dying. I am afraid to even try to find out if that church is meeting at all now, about 20 years later.
Before I give a few suggestions about what to do in this type of situation, please allow me to give a word of warning about what not to do.
Do not turn to gimmicks, games, entertainment and other unbiblical “methods” to try and draw a crowd. It can be tempting to try something that the big denominational group down the road is doing that has resulted in huge crowds attending there now. Never forget that the gospel is God’s power to save (Romans 1:16) and “food, fun, and fellowship” may well attract bigger numbers, but they will not save souls.
But what we can do sometimes is to try to find different ways to reach the lost with the gospel than we have used in the past, without changing the message. We can look for better, Biblically authorized ways to do what God wants us to do.
I have previously suggested going back to the basics of the gospel to try to ground the members you already have and encourage them to share the truth with their lost friends and neighbors.
A suggestion I have made to churches that are disheartened (to help them not give up) is for every Christian to take an entire year and focus on one lost person. Then pray for that person, spend social time getting to know him better and when the opportunity arises, invite him to attend a service or to have a Bible study at his convenience, wherever he would be willing. Just concentrate on one person for a whole year. If a church of 20 people would do that and not drop the ball, but stay on task, in one year the church would be 40 people. And then, if everyone would choose one person for the next year and stay with him, the second year, there would be 80 people. And, if they all did it again for another year, after only 3 years, those original 20 members would number 160 members. After 4 years, you would have 320 members and after 5 years, 640. Now, of course, some would move away, some would pass away, some would fall away, but is it that difficult to think about spending a whole year working on one lost soul, to bring him or her to the Lord?
Acts 14:21 says, “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to…(other cities).” That’s how it works, friends. We preach the gospel to people and it results in new disciples. If your garden isn’t producing as many fresh tomatoes as you want, you plant more tomato seeds. If the church isn’t producing new Christians, you have to plant more gospel seeds.
How long has it been since you personally met and taught someone who became a Christian? 10 years? 5 years? 1 year? 25 years? Have you ever done that? It isn’t that hard; we just have to stay with it.
So whatever else you do, don’t quit trying. Don’t give up. Lost souls, who need the Lord, are out there, everywhere. They need you to keep trying to reach them. Their eternal destiny is on the line here.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). Don’t grow weary and do nothing. Never give up.
Answer those questions that apply to you and your life.
1. How would you rate yourself spiritually, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 as highest?)
2. Attendance (Hebrews 10:25)
- Do you miss services when you could come?
- Do you put other things first on a regular basis (Matthew 6:33)?
- Do you attend Sunday morning Bible study? If not, why not?
3. Giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
- Do you give sacrificially?
- Do you think you contribute your fair share to the Lord's work at this church?
- Do you consider yourself to be materialistic (where on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1, not at all and 10 being completely so)?
4. Personal Bible Study (Romans 10:17)
- Do you study the Bible regularly (most days, if not daily)?
- Do you study merely to prepare for class or do you also study for your own personal growth and development?
5. Nurturing your children (Ephesians 6:4)
- Do you help your children prepare their Bible class lessons?
- Do you work with your children to help them apply the classes, sermons, etc. to their lives?
- Do you bring the Bible into personal situations, like accepting defeat, getting along with other children, obeying your requests, etc.?
- Do you have any questions about specific problems with your children that the elders could help you with?
- If you do not have children of your own, do you try to help encourage the children of others spiritually?
6. Prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)
- How would you rate your prayer life (again, 1 to 10)?
- Do you pray regularly with your spouse about your relationship and other things?
7. Using talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
- Are you helping by teaching classes?
- Are you currently working with someone to convert him/her to Christ? If so, do you pray about it regularly?
- Is the man of the house working to prepare himself to serve as an elder or deacon? If so, what qualifications do you currently lack?
- What areas of your life should you work on so you can serve in this way?
- Are the other members of the family trying to qualify themselves to be the child/spouse/etc. of an elder or deacon?
8. What kind of influence are you at work, school, etc.?
9. Do you help with visitation of the sick, shut-ins, etc.?
10. How do you feel about the goals, congregational direction, etc.? Is there anything about the church (positive or negative) that you would like to discuss with the leaders?
My suggestion is that, if the church has shepherds, it would be a great idea for them to visit every family in the church and have each member of the church to discuss this survey with them. This should be encouraging for the members and eye opening for the elders. Hopefully, it would be a time for spiritual growth and development for all of the disciples of Christ to examine themselves and make any changes that might be needed.
Years ago, many Christians were opposed to a church hiring a fulltime preacher. Their concern (in many cases) was not that the practice was unbiblical, but simply that it might be unwise. They were afraid that, if the church had a fulltime, paid minister, too many Christians would just stop doing much of anything and expect the paid preacher to do it all.
Some referred to this as the “paid pastor” system or the “one man pastor” system. This was especially a concern for churches that did not have elders.
We have all heard the description of many churches that says, the preacher does the work of the elders, the elders do the work of deacons and the deacons and other members do little or nothing. Have you ever known of congregations that could be described in that way?
There will always be people who expect others to do their work for them. That is true in the workplace, often in the home and in almost every circumstance in life. It can also be true of a local church.
There are many jobs that often fall to the preacher.
- Visit all the members in the hospital or who are sick at home
- Teach all of the adult Bible classes
- Take people to the doctor
- Run someone to the grocery store
- Be the social director who plans all the get-togethers
- Organize the teaching program
- Order all of the class material
- Recruit all the children’s teachers
- Mediate family disputes
- Change the church sign
- Pacify the critics
- Teach all of the prospects
- Encourage the weak
- Shoulder the blame if the church isn’t growing
- Send gospel meeting announcement to area churches
- Mow the lawn
- Clean the building
- Write the bulletin articles – type, print, fold, etc.
- Be responsible for newspaper or other advertising
- Follow up with all the guests
I am not suggesting that it is wrong for the preacher to do anything on this list, but I am saying that it is wrong for a church to expect the preacher to do everything on the list while others do nothing. And if he does some of these things, it should be understood that he does most of them because he is a Christian and not because it is part of his work as the preacher or because he doesn’t have anything else to do.
People have often said, “That’s what we pay him for.” And some of the things on this list should rightly be considered to be the work of an evangelist. But the idea that many have expressed that it must be nice to have a job where you only work two days a week, Sunday and Wednesday, displays little real understanding of the Bible description of a preacher’s work. Most preachers I know do not do too little work, but many of them are expected to do too much.
This may explain to some why there are preachers who burn out trying to do too much and quit preaching. Have you ever known a gospel preacher who quit preaching fulltime? Have you wondered why?
A preacher needs some time to recharge and refresh himself personally and spiritually. He needs adequate time off for personal or family vacation time and for additional learning opportunities, such as attending lectureships or a special series of Bible studies at another congregation.
Does the preacher ever get to sit in a Bible class and learn from others? Do other men of the church take a turn filling the pulpit every once in a while so he can listen to the gospel rather than always being the one to deliver it?
There are times when serving God fulltime is just overwhelming and can make a person feel like he is doing it alone. Elijah felt that way (1 Kings 19) and although God reminded him that he was not the only faithful servant in Israel, He gave Elijah 40 days off to go into the wilderness and refresh himself for the days ahead (verse 8).
A friend of mine commented recently in a Bible class that her father, who is an elder in the Lord’s church, has often said that a preacher gets too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things go wrong.
The Bible teaches that every member of the body of Christ is important and has a vital function to perform in the work of a local church (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Ephesians 4:11-16). The truth is that many Christians expect the preacher to do far more than God expects of him and, as a result, those Christians often do far less than the Lord expects them to do.
(There is also the situation where some preachers want to be the center of attention and have their hand in everything that anyone else does so they can get part of the glory. But that’s another problem for another day.)
A church where everyone else sits back and does little or nothing and expects the preacher to do all of the work (because that’s what we pay him to do) is going to fail. We are a team, working together to serve God, to defeat the devil and to win souls for the Lord.
The apostle Paul wrote, in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” The phrase translated as “striving together” is an athletic term that speaks of brothers and sisters in the Lord working as a team to accomplish the work that He has given all of us to do – together.
The song says, “There is much to do; there’s work on every hand.” Let’s all put our hands to the plow (as Jesus describes in Luke 9:62) and do the work God has assigned all of His children to do. The church will grow, souls will be saved, God will be glorified and the preacher can be happy and fulfilled as he devotes his life to “the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
--Roger Hillis RogerLeeHillis@gmail.com
Matthew’s version of the Great Commission reads like this: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The first part of that assignment (verse 19) has to do with making disciples for Jesus, followers who will commit their lives to Him. This part of the commission is important and is often emphasized, that we must convert people to Christ. The second part of the Great Commission (verse 20), however, is just as important, but often is not emphasized as much as the first part.
“Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” refers to helping these new Christians to grow spiritually. The term that is often used for this is follow-up. There are many passages that deal with this concept of growing stronger in our relationship with Jesus.
“As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).
“You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away by the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:17-18).
This growth needs to begin as soon as the new Christian is dried off from baptism. And, in the physical realm, who is responsible for the growth of a new baby? Isn’t it the ones who brought him into the world? Giving birth is only the beginning of parental responsibility and if a father and mother don’t take care of that need, it is looked upon in society as a criminal act of abuse and neglect. But often, in the spiritual realm, we baptize someone into Christ, make sure they have a Bible to read and study, and then move on to the next prospects.
Those of us who help to teach someone the gospel need to stay with them and help them mature in faith after they become disciples of Christ. There are several words which are used in the Bible to describe this spiritual growth process. It is called being grounded, rooted and settled. New Christians are encouraged to develop in the faith and to grow to maturity. The process is compared in the Bible to a new baby who grows to adulthood.
Of course, this parallel is not exactly the same, because the new Christians are old enough to have some responsibility for this as well as those who have taught them. But we must not just assume that they can take care of themselves in every regard now that they have obeyed the gospel. They probably will not realize how important certain things are in helping with their growth. We have a responsibility to help protect new Christians from those temptations that could lure them away from Christ and back into the world.
The parable of the Sower (Luke 8) tells us that some of those who become Jesus followers will not remain faithful to Him. And Jesus also tells us why they will stumble and fall.
The seed that falls by the wayside (verse 12) will not produce a Christian in the first place because the devil prevents the word of God from even entering their hearts.
The seed that falls on rocky soil produces a new Christian (verse 13), but then they are drawn away by temptations of the world that can include such things as old friends who will convince them to quit the Christian life and old bad habits that will not let them go on to spiritual maturity. We need to warn new disciples about these things and provide them with a whole new set of godly friends who can help them overcome the old bad habits (sins) that they used to love.
The seed that falls among thorns (verse 14) represents people who obey the gospel because they want to serve God, but then Satan makes certain that they have problems in their lives which can cause them to doubt their decision and often, to give up on their newly discovered faith. Verse 14 warns about “the cares of this life.” This includes things like job or money problems, family concerns, health issues or any number of other things, that may or may not be sinful in and of themselves, but which can distract and discourage new Christians, often causing them to reverse their decision to follow the Lord. (It is no coincidence that the Bible tells us that, immediately after His baptism, Jesus Himself was tempted by the devil; see Matthew 3:13-4:11.)
We must be certain that we warn new Christians of the many ways in which Satan will try to deceive them and convince them to quit serving God.
There are several things that will help to stabilize a new convert and assist him or her to grow spiritually.
Bible studies must continue with this individual. Just because he now knows enough to become a Christian and has done that, this doesn’t mean he knows everything he needs to know about serving the Lord. The church can offer regular Bible classes that will enable the Christian to learn more about the Bible, about prayer, about worship, etc. A course in “Bible Basics” can help the new follower of Christ to know the Bible and how to find answers to the ways in which Satan will attempt to discourage him from growth and development.
Private Bible studies should continue with the new Christian and, in most cases, it is probably best for the brothers and sisters who taught this one the gospel to stay with the study and help him to continue his spiritual journey to heaven. It might be helpful to have others from the local church to join some of these follow-up studies so they can become familiar and comfortable in studying with others. Statistics have shown that a new Christian needs at least three or more members of the church to become friends with, so that they are not tempted to go back to former, worldly friends who might draw them away.
Ask the new Christian to suggest people whom they would like to see become Christians, like family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, and others. They will likely want to share their new faith with long time contacts that we would not have a chance to know otherwise. They may set up more Bible studies with non-Christians that will result in even more conversions.
Invite new Christians into your home for a meal and, perhaps, a short Bible study. Get to know them and let them get to know you as well. The first century Christians spent a lot of time together outside of their assemblies (Acts 2:44-46; Acts 4:32) and this helped the new disciples to be close to one another.
-- Roger Hillis
There are several things we need to do to make certain that we are sensitive to the needs of our guests. They are, after all, a great source of numerical and spiritual growth.
- Extend a warm, friendly welcome. Do so whether the guests are on the way in or on the way out. Have you ever felt, when visiting other places, like you were basically ignored? It’s a horrible feeling and we must make sure that those who are guests at our services feel like we really were glad they came.
- Help our guests find the appropriate Bible classes. They would like to be in the right class for their age group and spiritual level and they also want their children to be comfortable.
- Help the visiting family find seats together. They don’t want to be separated from each other and they don’t want to sit in a cramped, uncomfortable setting. If the building is filled, move to the center of your row and let our guests find room. Statistics have revealed that if a building is filled to 80% capacity, many guests feel uncomfortable and will not return. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen here.
- Be careful in Bible class about your comments and the tone with which they are offered. If you find it necessary to express disagreement with others (and, at times, this will be necessary), do so gently, not harshly. Comment on the comment, not the person.
- We must make certain that our building and grounds are well cared for. They make an important first impression. Guests need to find a place to park close to the door. The lawn must be well groomed. Bathrooms must be clean and odor-free. The walls should be painted and we should be careful about throwing trash around on the floor or seats (this includes gum wrappers, etc.).
- Song leaders need to be careful to lead songs that the congregation knows and can sing well. Our singing is really important in making a good impression with our guests and when we sing a song that we don’t know well, it leaves the wrong idea in their minds. If there are unusual words or phrases in a particular song (Ebenezer, Ebon pinion, etc.), explain those terms briefly before the song is sung.
- A guest packet with information about the church would be helpful and much appreciated by those who are considering attending regularly.
- Do not monopolize the time of the preacher and/or elders. They need to greet our guests and many will be offended if the preacher does not even say “hello” to them. There is nothing wrong with talking with the preacher after services, but, if a guest approaches, let him talk to the guest and then return to you.
Many of these things are simple ideas that we know are important to us when we visit elsewhere. Let’s realize that they are important to our guests also and do our best to make them feel welcome. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Young people play an important role in the spiritual life of a local church. In the Bible, there are many references to young people and their significant role in God’s plan.
- Timothy was a young preacher for whom Paul had a special place in his heart and in his work.
- Titus was also a young evangelist that Paul worked with and encouraged (at least, he was younger than Paul who referred to him as a “son in the faith”).
- John Mark is believed to be the young man who fled when Christ was arrested (Mark 15:51-52). Later he wrote the book of Mark in the New Testament.
- Many Bible scholars believe it is possible that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a teenager when the angel told her that she would bring God’s Son into the world.
- Joseph was only 17 years old when his brothers sold him into slavery, beginning his journey toward a life of serving God.
- Jeremiah referred to himself as “a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6). He felt inadequate to his task, but God trusted him to do the work and be faithful.
- Much of the book of Proverbs was written as advice from an older, experienced person to a younger one struggling with difficult challenges in life.
- And there are other examples, as well.
The primary responsibility for rearing children in the Lord belongs to the parents, especially the father. “And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). But there is no reason why the family and the church cannot work together as partners in helping young men and women grow and mature in the faith.
Parents need to plan spiritual activities for their children to train them to love and serve God. It is obviously going to be helpful to take them to all of the classes and services of the church and to visit other faithful congregations during special times of Bible study and sermons. Often the key to success in a young person’s Bible class is not the teacher during a 40 minute study period, but rather the parents in making certain that the child is prepared and has studied well before he or she comes to class. If teenagers, for example, do not have their lessons prepared for class time, that is as much a parent problem as it is a young person issue.
Bible classes at the church building should be available to supplement, not replace, the Bible studies that the family is doing together at home. But, because many children are not receiving any, or very little, Bible teaching at home, it is vital for the church to have a great Bible class curriculum set up to make certain that young people are learning as much of God’s word as possible, in an organized and helpful arrangement.
One of our goals in Bible classes must be to not only teach Bible facts to young people, and that is very important, but we must also teach these tender hearts to love the Lord. Teachers must stress the application of Bible teaching to the young person’s life and show him/her how following the Bible will lead to a happier, more successful life as well as to an eternal reward. Churches must do their best to choose teachers who do not simply relay Bible truth to young people, but whose lives also match the message. That was one of Christ’s criticisms of the first century Pharisees, that “they say, and do not do.” Our lives must be living illustrations of how Jesus can change our lives for the better and really emphasize that He should make a difference in how we do everything, not just “church things.”
A recently published book, entitled Already Gone, makes a strong case for teaching Biblical evidences to young people. It claims that many young folks make the decision to leave the Lord in late elementary school or middle school, rather than high school or college. Mentally they have checked out long before they possess the freedom to act on that decision and we only realize it when they go away to college and immediately quit serving God. In reality, they quit in their hearts long ago.
So we must emphasize why they should believe in God, why they must believe that Jesus is His Son and why it is consistent to trust that the Bible is a special book, breathed out by God for man’s eternal guidance and direction.
Elders, preachers, teachers and other faithful Christians need to realize that many children we see regularly at services are not getting the father and mother example they need to be well rounded in their faith. If you know of young people whose father is not a godly example, try to help the mother and the child by providing an excellent example of a righteous man who shows an interest in helping others to mature in Christ. If the mother is lacking in her influence, other godly women should make it a special point to encourage her children to be faithful to God. Many of us were encouraged by an older Christian, to whom we were not necessarily related, who took an interest in us and spent time helping us to learn to love Christ.
Some parents have expressed remorse over having lost their children because the parents didn’t place enough priority on spiritual things while their children were growing up. We don’t get a second chance to do a better job at that, but we can perhaps make a difference for our grandchildren or for the children of other Christians whom we can influence in a godly way.
It has been said that children are the church of tomorrow and there is certainly truth in that statement. But we can’t wait until they are grown to try to instill in them the value of serving God. We must start now. Training classes for both boys and girls can show them some of the things that they should be working toward as they mature. Let young boys do what they can in the worship services. Give them some instructions about how to lead singing, or to lead a public prayer or to give a short talk from the Bible or how to serve the Lord’s Supper.
Many religious groups have engaged for years in fun and games and food and have turned to many other unscriptural forms of entertainment in an attempt to excite the young and keep them coming to planned activities. It is not the responsibility of the church to provide entertainment to try to keep young people interested in God. Entertainment is fine, in its place, which is to say, when it is provided by the home and family, not by the church. Families do need to provide such opportunities for their children. Those who do not will regret it later. But do not involve the church in things that are not a part of the God-given mission of the church.
Young people can inject energy and excitement and zeal into older, more complacent Christians. The older Christians can add much in the way of experience and wisdom and understanding of the Bible to make certain that young people are not expressing “zeal without knowledge” (Romans 10:1-2). We need each other. So let’s do what we can to help our young people love and obey God, starting when they are still young (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:2-5).
Well, that sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Just preach God’s word and don’t turn aside to other things that would keep you from speaking the truth. Anyone who thinks being a gospel preacher is an easy job has never done it. It is a highly rewarding pursuit, but an extremely challenging one as well.
We are discussing, in this series on Strengthening the Local Church, some things that will help Jesus followers to grow, spiritually in our personal lives and numerically on the congregational level. Preaching is vital to both spiritual and numerical growth.
Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). We must learn to preach God’s word always, in its purity, without apology and without reservation or compromise.
Luke also records Paul’s words for us, in Acts 20:27, in which he reminds the shepherds from Ephesus, that he had preached “the whole counsel of God” while in their city. We must preach the Bible in its completeness, both popular and unpopular subjects.
A church will only be as strong, or as weak, as the preaching it receives.
And the pulpit, through the messages that emanate from it, will determine the “tone” or “culture” of the local church. Strong, solid, faithful gospel preaching can raise the commitment level of the entire church, from the weakest disciple to the strongest. It is said that a rising tide raises all ships and that principle applies spiritually as well as nautically.
Paul told Timothy to convince, rebuke and exhort with patience and careful instruction. He was not suggesting, as some have said, that our teaching should be 2/3 negative and 1/3 positive. Paul was reminding his young preaching friend, and it is preserved by inspiration for us today, that there will be a need for both tearing down false ideas and teachings and for building up the truth of God’s will among the members of every local church.
Timothy was also encouraged by Paul (1 Timothy 4:16) to watch both his life (how he conducts himself day by day) and his teaching (what he says in the pulpit and the classroom and also as he teaches from house to house). Much of the success or weakness of a congregation can be traced directly back to the preaching the church receives.
An evangelist must be friendly and outgoing. That doesn’t mean he has to be the life of every party and the chief entertainer of every assembly. It means that guests must feel welcomed when attending our services and told repeatedly by the members that they are glad the guests came. And while you and I know that the preacher is not really more important to God than any other member of the church, those who visit our services will often think he is and if he doesn’t project warmth and friendliness, many will not feel comfortable returning to hear more. This is just a simple matter of understanding human nature.
Is the preacher evangelistic in his own life? A non-evangelistic preacher is not going to be able to motivate others to really get out there and save the lost, if they know he talks about it a lot but does little in this area. (Frankly, is there really even such a thing as a non-evangelistic evangelist? Maybe he should be honest enough to call himself something else if he is not really doing the work of an evangelist.) There must be an emphasis on evangelism that begins in the pulpit, but everyone must see that it reaches beyond those who enter our facilities to include those who have never attended a service or a study. This is one of several areas where the preacher really must practice what he preaches or no one else will practice it either.
Does the preacher show an interest in young people, older members and everyone in between? Often a preacher has a natural tendency to spend more time with those his own age and with whom he shares similar interests. But sometimes this can make others feel unimportant, more like an outsider than a real member of the spiritual family.
There must also be a focus on telling people about Jesus, the Savior of the world. He said of Himself, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). Of course, He was speaking of His crucifixion, but we must lift Him up in our messages and classes as well. Paul said that when he preached in the first century city of Corinth, “…I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). We need to speak constantly of Him. When I began preaching full-time, I decided that I would deliver a lesson about Christ at least once a month and often even more than that.
Often our preaching is centered around certain truths about the Lord’s church, the need for Bible authority, what constitutes Biblical obedience to the Lord (faith, repentance, confession, baptism), how to worship God correctly (especially no instrumental music and being sure to take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday) and other similar doctrinal issues. I believe what the Bible says about every one of those matters and we cannot be faithful to the Lord without a proper understanding and obedience to those important truths. They must be taught regularly.
But we are not told to simply teach people to accept the truth on an important group of items. We must teach them to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength and to be converted to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I believe that a person who is taught to love Christ will also want to know all of the truth that can set them free (John 8:32). But it is also possible to only learn what the Bible says about some key, important issues and not really be in love with the Christ.
Gospel preaching must point people to Jesus who alone can take away their sins and make them right with God (John 14:6). And then when they become one of His, we can teach them “to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).
Many churches do not have a deliberate evangelism strategy. Of course, there are notable exceptions. But most churches conduct services, including one or two gospel meetings per year, and just hope that members will bring guests (they often do not) or that prospects will just happen to show up on their own (this rarely happens either).
Nobody gets too overly concerned that the church isn’t growing, but will occasionally change preachers in the hopes that the new man will be just what the church needs to start saving the lost. That is rare also.
Do you know any other area of life where good results just accidentally happen? Where nobody has to plan and organize and promote but great things happen anyway?
If you want to raise a nice garden, you have to work at it. You have to prepare the soil, use good seeds, water the growing plants and pull some weeds along the way. You don’t just pick a plot of ground, throw out a bunch of seeds and then come back in a couple of months ready to eat. It doesn’t happen accidentally.
A sports team has to practice, exercise, discipline themselves and work on plays together in order to have a winning season. It doesn’t happen accidentally. And the examples could be multiplied.
But sometimes, when it comes to evangelism, we expect results without much effort and without a plan to work. We may occasionally convert someone without a strategy but we will not experience the kind of growth that we read about in the book of Acts.
One of the jobs of leadership is to give guidance and motivation to those in the group. This is being written primarily for elders, preachers and men and women of spiritual conviction who have the ability to influence others to do better in the Lord’s service. What is your strategy for evangelism? What kind of leadership are you providing in this vital area? What does your example teach?
A deliberate, intentional strategy will include two things: a plan for study and a plan for getting studies.
A plan for study must cover at least three basic truths – a standard for determining what God wants from us, an understanding of sin and how it separates man from God, and the Lord’s solution to this sin problem, including our response of obedience. There may be other important lessons that you will want to include or at least study as follow-up material with those who are converted, but those three principles are the essentials to know before obedience. There are many different study series available which teach these truths, or you can arrange your own. As long as the truth is taught, people will respond. (Not everyone, of course, but many will.)
And we must have a plan for making opportunities to study those principles with the lost. Some have held neighborhood Bible studies in their home and invited everyone who lives close to attend. It helps if you have established a relationship with your neighbors over a period of time. They are more likely to come to a study if you have been friendly and helpful to them in other ways.
Some have mailed out Bible correspondence courses to everyone living in a certain zip code. Follow up is required to visit them and try to set up future opportunities to study with them.
One of the best ways (it is also the most effective and profitable and inexpensive method) is for members to simply invite their friends, family and acquaintances to study. Many of them will, if we will just ask.
Others have set up booths at county fairs and even the state fair, if you have enough available funds. Give them something to study and something to send back in (like a correspondence course) that will give you their address and phone number to follow up with.
Newspaper articles that teach the truth can often result in Bible studies. Include some material that challenges people’s thinking religiously, even to the point of upsetting them because you have touched on some area especially important to them. They may call you or write you just to defend what they believe.
Special services with an important and vital theme lesson that is widely advertised and announced can sometimes draw people in.
Some disciples have used the website called Meetup.com to set up community Bible studies and Scripture readings in places like restaurants, libraries, and other public facilities. These sessions usually cover a chapter of the Bible per week, or something similar to that. It is a way to introduce interested people to New Testament Christians and the word of God.
Some of these ideas will work better in some areas than in others. In some places, newspaper articles are too expensive; in other areas, they are quite affordable. Do something that will be helpful in your particular part of the world.
If you develop a strategy and it doesn’t work, try something different. Maybe you will need to keep the parts that work and modify the parts that don’t. But do something. Do not quit trying.
What it all boils down to is this: Are we going to be intentional and deliberate and steadfast in our efforts to teach the lost or are we going to be satisfied with doing very little until the church we worship with eventually goes out of business?
Is this our evangelism strategy? “If somebody accidentally wanders into our services, we are ready to teach them.” Really? Do you think that is what God meant when He told us to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord?” Brothers and sisters, think on these things.
Several years ago, I was asked to preach for a church that had just experienced a division. Many members had left and it was heartbreaking for those who remained. A wise and experienced elder told me, “I’ve never known a church to grow that didn’t emphasize the basics. If a church is struggling, they just need to get back to first principles and preach them like the people have never heard them before.” That good advice helped the church to recover and continue to grow.
If Christians do not have a basic understanding of the elementary principles of the gospel, they have no solid foundation on which to build and grow. One of Christ’s parables spoke of the need of making certain that we build on the right foundation (see Matthew 7:24-27). That reminds us of the importance of teaching some of the same lessons over and over again.
There are several reasons for this.
First, there are always young people growing up who have heard these lessons from the time of their birth. But, at a very young age, most of these studies do not sink in. At some point (and really, only God knows when it will be), a lesson that young people have heard numerous times finally takes hold and they understand an important truth for the very first time. We should never assume that our young people know and understand Bible subjects just because we know they have heard them before.
Secondly, we can never be sure when a guest will show up and, perhaps, hear a vital Bible lesson at a crucial time in his life. It may be the first and only time that person will ever have the opportunity to understand an important doctrinal point, one that could make the difference in his eternal destiny. That’s also why we should make certain to explain the plan of salvation during a lesson, every time. You just don’t know who may be listening carefully and seriously considering obedience. He might have listened many times in the past and have done nothing about what he was learning and still be receptive this time.
Also, we must not assume that our older members (those who have been around a while) can always remember everything they’ve ever heard. It might have been a long time since they have studied a particular subject. Or they might be aware of the truth but not know where the verses are found that teach that truth. It is always helpful to be reminded of things we know to be true so that our convictions are deep and not easily shaken. These things help to mature and stabilize us spiritually. “…till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:13-14).
Here is a sample list of the types of sermons that we need to preach at least annually. Of course, we must work hard to present them in a fresh, interesting way, taking a different approach to the same lesson each time.
*Distinguishing the covenants
*Organization of the local church
*Worship of the church
*Work of a local church
*Significance of the Lord’s Supper
*Evangelizing the lost
*Strengthening the family
*Silence of the scriptures
*The power of prayer
*The one, true church
*The cross of Christ
There are probably other topics that should be added to this list. These are merely some of the Bible topics that disciples must be firmly grounded in. “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7).
There are certain subjects that we will never outgrow. We must never be afraid to preach lessons that members have heard many times. When someone has been a Christian for several years, there is almost no way to preach something new to him. As people have said, “If it’s new, it isn’t true and if it’s true, it isn’t new.”
I’m not suggesting that a preacher should just get one lesson together on baptism and preach it with exactly the same approach to the same people every 3 or 4 months. In order to stay fresh and vibrant himself, a preacher needs to restudy, rethink, restructure his lessons. I have been told that, after he had preached for more than 40 years at the Haldeman Avenue church in Louisville, Kentucky, brother M.C. Kurfees was just as fresh in his sermons as when he started. Think about that. To preach for forty years for the same congregation, one would have to continually study and learn new insights from the Bible. If he had four years worth of sermons and preached them all 10 times, people would have grown weary of hearing the same things every week and would probably have left in large numbers. Instead, the church grew, Christians matured and the lost were brought to Christ.
No matter how much “strong meat” of the word people can handle, those who are the most mature spiritually will never grow tired of hearing these basic principles of truth, because they know how important they are. They love all truth and do not have to be entertained with “some new thing” all the time.
It might also be helpful for a local church to purchase or write a set of “Bible Basics” material that is taught to all new members. A class like this could be repeated at least one quarter per year (more often if the church is really growing) and use it to help ground new converts in the first principles.
Of course, not all sermons should be basic material. Those more mature saints deserve, on some occasions, to hear lessons on some of the more challenging subjects that aren’t preached or taught every week. But in a year when most people hear approximately 100 sermons, there are plenty of opportunities for both milk and solid food to be taught.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12). If people are not growing spiritually, if the church is struggling with carnality and division, if souls are not being saved, look first at the preaching. Maybe we need to just get back to the basics.