I just put the finishing touches on the first draft for the weekend message. I’m preaching verse-by-verse through the Gospel of Matthew and we are in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:8, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God). It might sound odd, given that this is the 6th of 8 Beatitudes, but this just may be the most important Beatitude. Since that’s the case, I labored over my manuscript trying to be as accurate and clear about the meaning as possible. And as I did that I confess to having a “twinge” (just a twinge) of doubt about my message. Here’s why. This past week I read a blog from a preacher I know about the ridiculousness of Christians leveling the following complaint at their church/pastor, “I’m not being fed.” The writer then went on to describe those kinds of Christians as “whiny people” who are “freakishly immature.” His reasoning was that with all the endless supply of Christian churches, Christian books, Christian TV and radio shows, Christian websites, conferences, etc. Christians who say, “I’m not being fed” is like a morbidly obese person setting down their 11th plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet and screaming at the waitress, “Bring me more food NOW!”
All of this is based on the writer’s belief that the local church exists, primarily, to cater to the unchurched rather than believers. Now there is no question that the Bible instructs/commands us to reach lost people. One of the most moving passages in the Bible is found in Matthew 9, when Jesus, after traveling around, teaching and preaching the good news of the kingdom, looks out on the crowds and has compassion on them because he saw them as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He goes on to say in Mathew 9:37-38, The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Jesus reaffirmed this responsibility in the “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:19. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… And Paul makes it clear that we need to be willing to move out of our own personal comfort zones for the purpose of reaching people. In 1 Corinthians 9:22 he writes, To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I will never dispute the believer’s responsibility to be involved in reaching the lost.
I do, however, have a problem with a pseudo self-righteous, condescending attitude toward someone who comes to church expecting to hear the clearly communicated truth of God’s Word in a way that helps them grow. The New Testament doesn’t give us a lot of detailed descriptions of the methodologies of the early church, but the ones we do have place a clear priority on the teaching of God’s Word. The first words used to describe the very first church are, They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching… (Acts 2:42). In Ephesians 4, as Paul writes about unity and maturity he describes the foundational offices of the church, including “pastors and teachers.” He then goes on to describe their role like this: to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13) All throughout Paul’s epistles he emphasized the need for the teaching of sound doctrine. In Titus 2:1 Paul wrote, You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. He wrote those words to Titus to help him as he led a troubled church on the island of Crete. The clear and sound teaching and preaching of God’s Word was certainly a priority in the early church.
The blog that I referenced earlier reflects a very real “tension” at work in the modern day church. My preacher friend began by writing: “If forced to make the decision, our church from day one has decided that we will offend the self-seeking Christian before the spiritually seeking non-Christian.” Clearly he’s writing from the standpoint that you have to choose one approach or the other when it comes to your methodology for doing church which includes the depth of the sermon. I would never support the idea of creating a church that simply caters to the desires of its members with no regard for those on the outside. And every church must guard against the subtle temptation to become inwardly focused. But God doesn’t need preachers to be clever when it comes to delivering His Word, He needs them to be clear. And no one needs to make God’s Word relevant, its truths are timeless. I’m afraid too many preachers don’t trust the power of God’s Word to penetrate hearts that have been hardened by sin. Several years ago I was at a mentoring retreat led by Bob Russell, who was the Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY for 40 years. During his ministry the church grew from 120 to over 18,000 largely due to his biblical preaching. One afternoon he was talking about the importance of preaching the Bible (seems like a no-brainer, right). At one point, he was talking about why this is so important and he was searching for just the right word. He said, “God’s Word is…” after a few seconds, I spoke up and said, “supernatural.” He looked at me and said, “I really believe that’s true.”
I fear that too many pastors/churches today believe that the Bible somehow needs help. That’s a mistake. I absolutely reject a methodology of ministry that just perpetually feeds selfish Christians and we all need to take responsibility for our spiritual growth. At the same time, I believe that when God’s Word is delivered with clarity and passion in the power of the Holy Spirit, any heart can be challenged and changed. So does it really have to be one or the other? I’ve been to churches before where I fear I might be tempted to say, “I’m not being fed.” That wouldn’t be a selfish declaration, it would just be an honest one. We have a personal responsibility when it comes to spiritual growth, but the local church has a role to play as well. I pray for the courage and conviction to always preach the truth of God’s Word, knowing that it has a supernatural power to change lives.