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.
A general assessment of the current situation among conservative churches of Christ reveals some widespread problems.
*Many churches are shrinking with no plan or prospects to reverse that trend.
*Many Christians are discouraged.
*A lot of churches are growing older and smaller and, after a few more funerals, will soon be out of business.
*We face an increasingly secular and immoral society. Moral standards seem to be suffering, even for those who are in the church.
*Young people are leaving the church in large numbers.
*Far too many seem to expect the church to go backward and often look with suspicion on those churches that growing as though they must be doing something wrong.
*Many local preachers feel overwhelmed and realize that they just cannot get the job done alone.
Let me state that there are many churches that are doing quite well and we are grateful to them for their positive example and influence on the rest of us. Keep up the good work.
The churches I have worked with that have grown the most are those that have had the most people in the church working to teach their neighbors. It is just that simple. If it is all left up to the preacher, some growth will occur, but many of those preachers have worked so hard and been appreciated so little at times, that many of them are ready to give up if they have not already done so.
An important business principle teaches us that the more contacts we make, the more sales will occur. This same principle applies to gospel work. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are well aware of this and are willing to endure ridicule and persecution to serve the Lord as they believe they should.
An insurance salesman once approached my father and said, “You don’t want to buy any insurance, do you?” If we approach prospects for the gospel with the same attitude, we will end up with the same results. (I understand that we are not “selling” the gospel. This is said to illustrate the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping.)
So what can we do about the situation?
Perhaps the best place to start is by doing what Jesus suggested we do. (That’s always a good idea, don’t you think?)
“Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (Matthew 9:37-38). Is it a regular part of your prayers to God that He would send out more laborers into the harvest? I confess to you that it has not been my consistent practice.
If that’s true of you also, why is that? Is it because we don’t really care? I don’t think that’s the case. Is it because we don’t believe that the Lord will do what He has promised to do? I don’t believe that’s it, either. Is it because that kind of prayer would have helped in the first century, but now it won’t do much good? We know that is not true as well.
In my case, I fear it is because I have grown weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9). I’m afraid that many of us have lost heart that much will ever change, no matter what we do. I’m convinced that we don’t pray for more laborers because we have believed the lies of Satan that have told us that churches just aren’t going to grow much anymore.
We have invited family, friends or acquaintances to study and either they haven’t been interested or they have not obeyed and so we have concluded, “Nobody is interested in the gospel these days.”
We have worked with weak Christians and poured blood, sweat and tears into their lives only to have them fall away and we have despaired and said, “What’s the use?”
We have tried to encourage other Christians to get to work in personal evangelism or at least to set up studies and, when they haven’t responded, we have just quit asking.
When we quit trying, the devil wins and we lose. Is that acceptable?
Is the gospel still the power of God for salvation or not?
Is the God of the gospel still in control of the world?
Are there still souls out there who want to be right with the Lord, but just don’t know where to turn?
Have you prayed for open doors to have more opportunities to preach the truth to lost souls looking for hope?
Have you prayed for more workers to enter the harvest field, both locally in the congregation where you worship and worldwide in areas where the gospel still needs to go?
Do you agree that things could be better? Do you agree that things can get better? Will you agree to do your part to make things better?
Let’s begin by praying for more workers every day. If several thousand Christians began to really pray that prayer in faith (James 1:6-8), do you believe the Lord will answer us? Brothers and sisters, it is time to rebuild.
Lord willing, I plan to write a series of blog articles that I hope will be helpful for the church. It will be titled, Strengthening the Local Church.
I love the local church. It is an important part of God’s plan for the spiritual growth and development of His people. He has not left us to serve Him all by ourselves, but has put us into communities of like minded followers, who seek to honor and praise Him, to reach out to the lost souls in our lives, and to build up (the main Biblical term for this is, to edify) one another.
I do not travel extensively around the country, and certainly not, around the world, but I have been concerned in the last several years, when I have had the opportunity to visit Christians in other places, to see that many congregations are suffering losses of numbers, workers, and morale. Many have resigned themselves to just keeping house for the Lord and not to prospering and growing as the Lord intends for His people to do. That doesn’t mean, if I have been to the congregation where you worship that I am automatically talking about you. There have been many that are doing quite well and that I have learned some really good things from.
But many churches are struggling mightily. And nobody in those churches wants that to happen. But it is easy for discouragement to set in and for disciples to mentally give up. I want to give Christians something to work on, some ideas to try to incorporate in their collective activities and some goals to try to achieve for the glory of God.
I have developed a long list of ideas over the years through the experiences that I have had, both good and bad, that I believe will be practical and helpful for others to read about and consider. Everything I write will not work for every individual Christian or for every local church. But I have had my share of disappointments and failures in certain areas of my work for the Lord, as well as some successes, hopefully defined from a Biblical perspective, not a worldly one. I trust that I have learned from both success and mistakes and would like to share some of those lessons.
Over the years, I have written a few articles (not many, but some) for gospel magazines published by Christians, that people have responded to in a very positive way. They have written or emailed me to thank me for the things I have written and told me that they hope to utilize some of the ideas in those articles to help strengthen the local church they are a part of. That kind of feedback has always encouraged me greatly. Most of those articles were published in Biblical Insights, which is no longer in publication. A few of the articles I will include in this weekly blog will be a reprinting of those articles, but most of them will be additional thoughts and ideas that I would like to share with others.
I hope you will read the postings and I do pray that they will help you and the local church where you are a member. Please feel free to print these articles off of the blog and to distribute them to other Christians where you worship, if you are so inclined. If you know of preachers who might be encouraged by these articles, you can let them know about the series. The internet has been the source of much bad stuff that goes on in the world, and we hope to use it to accomplish some good.
The plan is to post a new blog article each Monday morning, for however many weeks it seems to be profitable. If you wish to be notified of each new posting, you may sign up for that notification on our website.
A few of the blog articles that I plan to publish include: Time to rebuild, A Deliberate Evangelistic Strategy, One Generation Away, New Convert Follow-up, Effective Teacher Training, Restoring the Fallen, Balanced Preaching, Tightening Up Our Services, Strengthening Our Young People, Effective Gospel Meetings, and many others.
In Ephesians 4:16, Paul speaks of Christ, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” If each of us, as Jesus followers, will do his or her part, using our talents and abilities in every circumstance where God gives us opportunities, the local church will grow and prosper.
We often hear prayers that ask the Lord that our work of evangelism will “enlarge the borders of the kingdom” and I hope that we all believe that God can and will answer those prayers. That happens at the local church level, but as each congregation grows and is strengthened, the universal church will grow as well.
It is my desire that these postings will contain helpful information for preachers, shepherds, teachers and all faithful disciples who wish to serve the Master in an ever greater way.
Please understand that these articles will be my opinion about important Bible subjects. I don’t expect anyone to agree with everything I will write. That is fine and I would be happy to hear from fellow Christians about these writings, even if you don’t agree with what I have suggested. I don’t want to get into any on-going debates with those might have a different view of these ideas, however.
It should be the desire of every child of God to see the body of Christ grow spiritually and numerically as we faithfully serve Him who loved us and gave His Son to die on the cross for our salvation. May we all seek to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. If this series of blog posts will help us toward that goal, it will have been worth my time to write them.
May God bless each of us as we seek to love, serve and obey Him. And may we all assemble around His throne some day to praise Him for all eternity.
The God of the Bible is the God who sends. He sent Abraham across the East with the imperative, “You will be a blessing.” (Gen. 12:2) He sent Elijah, Jeremiah, Haggai and many more prophets to carry “the word of the LORD” to many nations. And he sent the apostles across the known world of the time with the commission that “you will be my witnesses… to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
There are two important lessons to learn from this.
Firstly, that missionary work matters a great deal to God. Church planting, overseas missionary trips, long-term missionary work in foreign cultures, helping brothers & sisters whose basic life needs go unmet… All of these are activities which matter to the God who sends. It was God’s own voice that breathed out request after request for prayer on Paul’s behalf as he stepped into the mission field day after day. He sent visions to his saints in the first century to say “Come over and help us” (Acts 16:9). God has a plan for missional work, and his faithful ones must always be aware of it.
Secondly, all of this demonstrates the great depth of God’s love for the lost. He does not close his eyes to the condemned state of many thousands as though they were unimportant to him. For thousands of years, he has made the initial effort to reach us and save us. And he continues to do the same today. That is why we must teach the lost here in Louisville: we are the ones he has sent to “teach the Gospel to every creature.” And that is why we support those who preach in places where Christianity is sparse or altogether unknown. This is not just our idea of a good deed; it is from the mind of God. So we are grateful for the opportunity to “enter into partnership with [faithful missionaries] in giving and receiving” (Phil. 4:15).
Churches of all types experience a spike in attendance around the beginning of the year. It seems that many people who have even a generic awareness of the need to make some life improvement naturally associate attendance at religious assemblies with that. And far from being something to ridicule, this is something that all believers should be glad about.
The lasting good of faithfully assembling is demonstrated throughout all of the Bible. God's people were given several times when they would attend the house of God for worship as family units and as a whole congregation. During the time between the testaments, the Jews began weekly assemblies in synagogues—something which Jesus himself made a habit of attending. And after the gift of the Holy Spirit was bestowed on the believers in Acts 2, we frequently see them regularly assembling in the book of Acts and in the letters of those brethren.
All of that points us to the fact that church attendance is always a good idea. I feel that there is an inherent risk that a preacher will sound self-serving when he brings up the necessity of faithful church attendance, but it’s a risk I’ll take for the sake of presenting the truth. Because the truth is that while it is not the sum total of faithfulness to God, worshiping him with a group of his people is one of the defining elements of faithful living.
So I encourage you to constantly make a renewed determination that you will be present and engaged whenever the people of God are gathered. As our website tells to all our potential guests, the services "may not always make you feel better (though they will often do that), but it will always challenge you to be better!"
Verses 1-13 serve to show us how the Bible, the revealed will of God, fits into the big picture we have referred to as God’s scheme of redemption.
Previously a mystery (that which is unknown, but knowable), it was revealed piece by piece through God’s Holy Spirit. In some ways, it is like a jigsaw puzzle that comes together one puzzle piece at a time until eventually you can make out the entire picture.
Paul says that as he and other inspired writers received the message from God, they wrote it down and when we read it, we have the ability to understand it. He makes the same point in Ephesians 5:17 where he plainly says that we can understand the will of God. It was written for the common person, just like you and me. He calls this process, revelation, which means to uncover or explain something that had not been known up to that time.
So in the Bible, we have the mind of God made known to mankind. The Scriptures are inspired, breathed out by God for our eternal salvation.
“For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:11-13, NASV, updated).
In verses 14-21, Paul begins to remind these first century disciples of the love of Christ for the world. Those who are His can comprehend its “width and length and depth and height.”
Being a Christian means being more like Christ. The real qualities of personal, spiritual strength are inner, not outer. Having Christ to live in us helps us to be more patient, gentle, kind, humble, pure and loving. People around us should be able to see the difference that Jesus makes in our lives. He makes us better, stronger, more faithful. God is able to use us to accomplish great things in His kingdom, more than we ask or can even imagine. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
The chapter concludes with a forceful statement about God’s power working in His people to accomplish more than we can ask or even imagine. This power, He says, is released when His church does all things to His glory.
Paul begins this letter by dealing with the value of suffering. He wants us to know that we can grow through difficult times and that God will help us to endure such trials.
The Lord never told us that, if we decided to follow Him, our lives would be trouble-free. We may have fewer problems as Christians than we would otherwise, but we must still deal with many of the hardships of life that everyone must face.
Paul and Timothy (and many others, before and since) were not immune from these difficulties and even thought on occasion that they might die because of their mistreatment by others. Paul considered such things to simply be a part of the Christian life.
He goes on to emphasize that a disciple of Jesus who has endured and successfully gone through trials then has the ability to help others who may be facing the same difficulties in life. The key to the whole question, of course, is trusting in “the God of all comfort.”
One of the main criticisms against Paul from the false teachers in Corinth was that he was not trustworthy. He had promised to come to Corinth and still had not; all he was doing was making excuses. These false teachers challenged everything about Paul that they could and, in this letter, he addresses many of those complaints.
In this section (verses 12-24), he will explain why he has not yet come to Corinth and reminds the Corinthians of his personal integrity and dependability. Notice that he says his yes meant yes and his no meant no. He was trustworthy.
Everything that is considered a living thing is inherently designed to grow—all plants, all animals, and all humans. God created life on the premise that it would grow and thrive. And if growth is not present, we are aware that something has gone wrong.
This simple concept gives us all the reason we need to pursue growth, because it is an essential component of true life. When our bodies cease to develop, they begin to regress—we don’t stay stagnant for long. When we fail to challenge our minds and grow our intellects, we have greater difficulties learning. And when we neglect the spiritual growth of a church, it doesn’t take too long for the results of decline to begin to show.
This is why growth must be purposeful at every level. This is why our vision is to Rise Up & Build; not to just sit back and enjoy. This is especially important for those in leadership positions, for no group ever rises above the level of its leadership. For the elders, that means continual improvement in leadership, in Bible knowledge, and in fellowship with the sheep. For the husbands in the church, that means continual growth in our love for our wives, in our concern for their souls, and in our ability to bring the Bible to bear on their lives. For the fathers in the church, that means continual growth in our knowledge of our kids, in our understanding of Biblical parenting, and in our vision for adulthood toward which we lead our kids. For the teachers in our church, that means continual improvement in our bible knowledge continual improvement in our knowledge of the students’ needs, and continual efforts to improve our techniques and content of our classes.
Leadership sets the tone for everything we do, and so if you’re in a position of leadership, set a tone for continual growth! Because growth is inherent in the design of life. For the life of a family, for the life of a church, and for the life of every soul; make sure that you continue to grow so you can lead others to do the same!
- Dan Lankford, minister
The first four verses deal with “the collection for the saints” in Jerusalem. Paul wanted to make sure that the disciples in Judea would be taken care of and the church in Corinth was going to help them. We generally refer to this work as benevolence and it can include both saints in the local church as well as Christians in other places who are undergoing physical and financial hardships.
Verses 5-12 outline some of Paul’s personal plans for his immediate future. An open door had appeared to him in Ephesus and he wanted to reach as many souls for the Lord as possible. There were many adversaries, however, and the work would not be easy.
Notice the words of commendation that he includes in this letter to Corinth about several of the younger preachers, whom Paul had taught and/or discipled to maturity. He specifically gives them some direction about helping and encouraging both Timothy and Apollos.
The final section (verses 13-24) contains some concluding instructions for the Corinthian Christians to consider.
He tells them to be alert and to stand fast for the truth of God’s word. He reminds them to love their brothers and sisters in the Lord, fellow workers in the cause of Christ.
And he mentions several first century disciples who had been an encouragement to him in his work for God and who could serve to build up the Christians in Corinth as they had opportunity to spend time together. He names such well known (at least to them) Christians as Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus, Aquila and Priscilla.
He concludes with a warning against leaving their first love (verse 22) and prays that the grace of God might be with them.
The Corinthians believed in the resurrection of Christ, but not in a general resurrection of the dead. Chapter 15 shows that, if one is true, the other is also true. You cannot believe in one but not the other.
The first 11 verses of the chapter mention more than five hundred eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection. It was (and is) an established fact. And Jesus’ resurrection proves that all others will be resurrected as well (verses 12-28).
Some legal experts have stated that if all of the more than 500 witnesses were to testify in a court of law, the result would be the most one side court case in the history of the civilized justice system. The resurrection would be confirmed as being true, “beyond reasonable doubt.”
The rest of the chapter explains a few of the details about what and how and why of the general resurrection of the dead. He uses familiar, end of time, language to describe the return of Christ. Notice phrases like, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” He explains that, when Jesus comes back, our mortal bodies (corruptible) will be changed into an immortal one that can survive eternity (incorruptible).
Everything we believe is dependent upon the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. If He was not raised from the dead, then we have no hope. Our entire system of faith crumbles if the foundation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is false. But Paul gives us strong assurance that He was raised and therefore, we will be raised also.
The resurrection is what separates Christianity from every other world religion. Buddha, Joseph Smith, Muhammad, and other founders of various religions have all died, but only the tomb of Jesus is empty.
He concludes with the thought that our labor for the Lord is never in vain because there is something beyond this life. God will reward the faithful.