Thursday, March 05, 2009

No Substitute

The Christian Chronicle has run a series of articles in recent months addressing the relative decline in the Churches of Christ in the last three decades. The series has been thoughtful and thought-provoking. This month the editorial in particular captured my attention, titled “Decline demands biblical preaching.” An excerpt:

“The profound power of effective biblical preaching on hearts and minds must not be overlooked (in reversing the decline). We speak not just of skillful public speaking and dynamic presentations, though these factors are not to be disparaged. We speak of sermons that are deeply rooted in the Word of God and are carefully unfolded to reveal the essence of God’s Word. We are talking about sermons that arise from hours of careful study and a deep understanding of God’s will. Plenty of visitor parking, strategically placed greeters and good signage are all part of getting people from the car to the pew, but it takes the Word of God to move people from doubt to faith, from outside the kingdom to inside the kingdom.”

As a preacher I accept this challenge and heartily affirm its importance. I am grateful that our elders have given me a job description which allows me to devote the hours of study and preparation necessary to dig deeply into God’s Word to bring weekly messages. If I am not doing that, I have no excuses.

The Chronicle essay coincided with a recent article in Slate by Andrew Santella (“The Church Search: Why American churchgoers like to shop around”), which suggested that people are looking for substance more than for style. To wit,

“When the Barna Group studied what believers look for in a new church, doctrine and belief ranked at the top of the list of the most important factors, while more mundane or aesthetic concerns (music, parking, comfortable seating) were less important.”

When I had a 3-month sabbatical while preaching in Los Angeles in 2002, my family and I visited eleven churches in thirteen weeks. This was our singular impression: The preaching was usually topical and often superficial. It was style over substance, sizzle over steak. There was usually wonderful music and/or singing, warm hospitality, great parking and greeter efforts, but little of God’s Word. It was like sitting down to a steak dinner and everything was great but the steak.

II Timothy 3:16 declares that “All scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone belonging to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” There is simply no substitute for the Scriptures for feeding our souls, sharpening our minds, filling our hearts, and strengthening our wills. As the great evangelical scholar John Stott puts it, “The Word of God grows people.” It is as simple as that.

Recently a woman shared with me that she had bought a new Bible and had committed to immerse herself regularly in God’s Word. We prayed about this and literally prayed over her Bible that God would bless this effort. What an adventure lies ahead for her! What growth she will experience! There is no substitute in the Christian life for regular feeding from God’s Word. How is your spiritual diet?


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