Growth and the Local Church (part 2)

by Rick Shrader

We have noticed in part 1 that (1) the church is a called out group of people who have voluntarily believed, not a kingdom of people who have been conquered against their will, and (2) the Great Commission is to preach the gospel, not convert the nations.  We continue in part 2 by emphasizing the effectiveness of bold preaching and dignity of the small congregation.

3) The New Testament preacher is a herald of God’s message, not a diplomat to negotiate with his hearers.

In his pastoral epistles, the apostle Paul described himself to Timothy as a “preacher” (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11).  This description (khrux) gives us the idea of the minister as a “herald” of the truth of God.  This picture comes from the secular world of biblical times when kings had messengers that would deliver his words to the subjects of his realm.  This person was specially chosen for his integrity and faithfulness to the message as it was delivered to him.  In the lengthy article defining this term in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Friedrich writes,

In many cases heralds are very garrulous and inclined to exaggerate.  They are thus in danger of giving false news.  It is demanded, then, that they deliver their message as it is given to them.  The essential point about the report which they give is that it does not originate with them.  Behind it stands a higher power.  The herald does not express his own views.  He is the spokesman for his master. . . . Heralds adopt the mind of those who commission them, and act with the plenipotentiary authority of their masters. . . . Being only the mouth of his master, he must not falsify the message entrusted to him by additions of his own.  He must deliver it exactly as given to him.7

Delivering a message through the herald was like today’s letter writer sending an email.  Once the writer hits the “send” button, the message will be delivered exactly as it was written and it is too late to change at that point.  The herald should be that faithful to the message of the king.  It was not his position to negotiate with the hearers for a more acceptable form of the message.  This is why the term is so appropriate for the New Testament minister.  He is to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2) declaring to the hearers all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

There is a great temptation today to conform the message to the desires of the hearers rather than preaching to conform the hearers to the message of God.  Paul asked the Galatian believers, For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men? for if I pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.  But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.  For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:10-12).  The New Testament herald is to please God and persuade men, not to please men and persuade God.

In our desire for growth, acceptance and success, many church leaders have found that it is easier to bend the Word of God slightly or to add and subtract from the Word.  John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Movement, wrote, “I assumed that Bible study, especially as approached in evangelical seminaries, was the key to being equipped and empowered to do God’s work….but I no longer see it as the sole avenue to being equipped and empowered to do God’s Work.”8 Peter Wagner, long-time professor and guru of church growth, wrote, “In the early years. . . . I focused mostly on Bible study. . . . Now I know more about worship, reverence, and praise.  I seek a daily refilling of the Holy Spirit in a way I can actually feel his presence. . . . I am beginning to distinguish the voice of God from my own thoughts and to allow him to speak to me directly.”9 Brian McLaren, leader in the “Emerging Church” movement, wrote,

The new church does not view the New Testament as a “New Leviticus”—a law book of strict rules—nor as a fixed, detailed blueprint to be applied to all churches in all cultures across time.  Rather, the New Testament serves as (among other things) an inspired, exemplary, and eternally relevant case study of how the early church itself adapted and evolved and coped with rapid change and new challenges.  In place of a fixed structure that is to fit all, the new church advocates a flexible, adaptable, evolving structure that is developed to meet the current needs.  The key word is adaptability.10

In an interesting twist to the concept of a New Testament herald, McLaren says, “Organizational structure is like a pair of shoes.  You fit the shoes to the feet; you don’t make the feet fit the shoes.”11 This comes as a surprise to generations of preachers who have understood their responsibility to be “cobbler preachers,” that is, to just make the shoes (i.e. preach the Word as it is) and if they fit the audience, they are to wear them!  Now we are being told by the new generation of “emerging preachers” that we must make the shoes to fit the audience.

How different we sound today than even a generation ago!  A.C. Dixon, who helped edit “The Fundamentals” at the early part of the 20th century and also pastored Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, described the responsibility of a preacher quite differently:

Every preacher is, or ought to be, a prophet of God who preaches as God bids him without regard to results.  When he becomes conscious of the fact that he is a leader in his church or denomination, he has reached a crisis in his ministry.  Shall he be a prophet of God or a leader of men?  If he decides only to be a prophet insofar as he can without losing his leadership, he becomes a diplomat and ceases to be a prophet at all.  If he decides to maintain his leadership at all costs he may easily fall to the level of a politician who pulls the wires to gain or hold a position.  He who would prophesy or speak forth the message of God is careful of none of these things but only that he shall speak the message that God gives him, even though he be in a lonesome minority.12

When John Bunyan wrote his autobiography, he titled it Grace Abounding To The Chief of Sinners.  Bunyan was willing to spend almost twenty years in jail to keep the message of God’s Word pure.  If today we could see ourselves more as the chief of sinners rather than the chief executive officer, we would be better heralds of God’s truth!

4) The church is a body of worshipers who meet for spiritual purposes, not a corporation to do worldly business.

The church of Jesus Christ exists to worship Him and to follow His commandments.  Those commandments amount to holding fast the Word of God in every part.  As we have already shown, the believer is a worshiper of God and has been equipped by God with all the ability and tools necessary to worship Him.  According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3).  In the context of forgiveness and church discipline, Jesus said, for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).  The Scripture does not place numerical requirements on our ability to worship or to do His business.

Today’s consumer mentality is contradicting this biblical priority.  People are wanting beautiful facilities, fully staffed and functioning ministries for children and youth, the latest technology and the most professional musicians.  If more time is spent by professional staff on how to create the right effects in the service than in seeking the Lord’s pleasure and blessing through the Holy Spirit, it is no wonder that we cannot be satisfied with biblical worship.  Os Guinness relates the comment of a Japanese businessman to a visiting Australian:  “Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man.  Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager.”13 Guinness then adds,

The two most easily recognizable hallmarks of secularization in America are the exaltation of numbers and of technique.  Both are prominent in the megachurch movement at a popular level.  In its fascination with statistics and data at the expense of truth, this movement is characteristically modern.14

There is a necessary part of the local church which calls for good business procedures and proper planning.  But when the worship is manipulated by professional procedures to gain the desired results, anything but worship is happening.  True worship does not need manipulation.  In fact, it must not be manipulated at all except by the Word and Spirit.  For we are not as many, which corrupt [literally, “to hawk or peddle”] the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:17).  True worship, then, can take place anywhere there are sincere believers seeking God.

The most memorable experiences in our home have been those times when we gather, with a few friends or relatives, around the piano and sing hymns and speak openly of spiritual things.  This is also true in the church.  In most mid-week church services, the saints will spend time praying together, singing together, giving testimonies and studying God’s Word.  Often the joy found in those “prayer meetings” far exceeds any other service for worshiping in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24); and serving Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28).  That is not to say that such worship is not possible in larger gatherings, but only that it is just as (if not more) possible in the small setting.  If that is what most believers were really seeking, the church growth movement would lose its glitter next Sunday!

And So . . . .

We should not despise the day of small things.  Zechariah the prophet encouraged the returning remnant in his day (Zech. 4:10) to not be discouraged because the temple they were building was not large.  The reason for optimism was because the Lord’s work is not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts (Zech. 4:6).  We live in a day when small churches are made to feel inferior for their lack of size and are seen by today’s success-oriented generation as failures.  But they are not.  In fact, ten churches of one hundred each can do more than one church of a thousand.  They have ten pastors, more people involved in serving and teaching, a greater geographical outreach, and probably more potential for evangelism.  The small group concept has been a good thing that larger churches have used.  But small churches are power-packed small groups already!  They live or die by the necessity of every-member participation and especially for the reliance on the Spirit of God for power.  We ought to praise God and rejoice for the day of small things!

7. Gerhard Friedrich, “Khrux”  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. III, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1978) 688.
8. John Wimber & Kevin Springer, Power Evangelism (San Francisco:  Harper Collins, 1992) 91.
9. Peter Wagner, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit (Ann Arbor:  Vine Books, 1988) 129.
10. Brian McLaren, The Church on the Other Side (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 23.
11. McLaren, 101.
12. Quoted by Vance Havner,  In Times Like These (Old Tappan:  Fleming H. Revell, 1969) 103.
13. Os Guinness, Dining With The Devil (Grand Rapids:  Baker books, 1996) 49.
14. Guinness, 49.