In the last several posts I have addressed the question: How can we best prepare for times of gathered worship? How can we be ready, as members of the church family, to take full advantage of the opportunities we have together to serve in the House of God. So far we have considered our need to:
Come to Christ—resting in Him and upon His promises.
Put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
Pray for the work of God’s Spirit among us.
Come expectantly, ready to meet with God.
Be intentional in making time for worship—making gathered worship a priority.
Watch both heart and life.
But there is one more way to prepare that must be noted. We prepare for worship by worshipping! Worship is not something confined to the Lord’s Day or to a building. Though gathered worship provides a venue for us to center on God corporately as His church, God should be at the center of our lives continually.
We must be in communion with God all throughout the week, turning to Him in times of need and times of joy, making time for Him in private devotion and family worship. The more we delight in worshipping God through the week, the more our desire for worshipping Him together on the Lord’s Day will be kindled and stoked and fanned into flame. Gathered worship is an inextricable overflow from a life of worship—a joy that can cannot be contained, praise that must be shared.
In Romans 12:1, Paul exhorts us:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
We are to count our lives each day as an act of worship, offered in obedience to God! We must live like worshippers.
Many of the elements that comprise gathered worship are elements that should define our lives. They are means of grace designed by God to strengthen and nurture our souls, not just in a corporate setting, but day by day. We are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are to daily read and study and meditate on the Word of God:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
We are to sing and give God praise:
My mouth is filled with your praise,
and with your glory all the day.
I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
We are to fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ:
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46).
Be intentional and deliberate in making time each day to make use of these means of grace. Don’t wait for Sunday to worship God. Praise Him! Pray to Him! Sing to Him! Preach His Word! Walk with Him each day—at home, at your workplace, at school. Acknowledge Him as your priority. Our worship throughout the week is food for our souls that fills us and primes us for life and service together in the house of God.
See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Gathered Worship in the House of God
(Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)
The conversations tend to go like this: “I like my church. My pastor preaches the Word. There are some wonderful people in the church. But something is wrong. There’s no life together. People don’t seem to really care for each other. Conversations are superficial. I’m not sure that people even know one another in our church.”
Have you had those conversations? Maybe you have even said the same thing to someone out of concern for your church. That seems to be a good starting point for doing some thinking about what it means to have a healthy church.
Many of you reading this post have found help in Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Dever identifies nine essential characteristics of healthy churches: expositional preaching, biblical theology, biblical understanding of conversion, biblical understanding of evangelism, biblical understanding of church membership, biblical church discipline, concern for discipleship and growth, and biblical church leadership. While we might add to that list, e.g. biblical understanding of mission, we would not subtract anything from that list to characterize healthy churches.
Yet how does a church get out of the starting block toward a healthy condition? Obviously, it starts with expositional preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible to institute biblical church membership or biblical church discipline or biblical church leadership without first laying a solid foundation in the church’s understanding through expositional preaching. Otherwise, any attempt to do so will result in either a church split or a short pastorate.
But here is where I want to offer one thought to consider in the process toward establishing a healthy church. Teach and preach about the nature of the church. I know that seems obvious, or should, but it appears to be presumed by pastors and leaders. We can think that a church surely knows what it is as the people of God, the pillar and support of the truth, the body of Christ, the temple of God corporately indwelled by the Spirit, et al. We can presume that one who consciously joins a church at least understands what the church is.
However, may I suggest that we delete that presumption from our memory banks? Over and over in conversations with both members and leaders from one church to another, I’m brought to the stark reality. Church members, as a rule, do not understand what the church is. They do not understand the price of its existence through the bloody death of Christ. They do not grasp its corporate standing before God and corporate functioning as the people of God in community with one another. They do not see that they have responsibility for one another to love, exhort, serve, forgive, be kind to, encourage, bear burdens, and accept. They fail to see that the church is the focus of the redemptive work of Christ rather than merely the individual. They are more influenced by Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson in their thinking than Jesus, John, and Paul. They think individually rather than as a family of believers in covenant with one another to live out the gospel.
So, in the journey toward church health, please don’t neglect intensive teaching, preaching, and training in what the church is. That understanding and practice won’t happen overnight or in a year or two, in all likelihood. It takes much patience to set forth that essential foundation for church health. And it must be constantly repeated, rehearsed, and gloried in. It cannot be programmed into existence. As a matter of fact, understanding the nature of the church takes the work of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of a congregation to understand the clear teaching of Holy Scripture.
But our gracious God kindly opens eyes and transforms understanding about the church. Let’s be faithful, not presumptuous, in laying the foundation for the church to know what it is in Christ.
There has been a good deal said and written about “expository preaching,” “Christ-centered preaching,” “redemptive-historical preaching,” etc., but very little has been said about “pastoral preaching.” Pastoral preaching is certainly expository, Christ-centered, and it always takes redemptive history into account, but it goes much further. Pastoral preaching is intensely personal and directed to a particular local church. It requires Christlike holiness of the preacher and aims to shepherd a church in the same. Consider some of the following qualities of a pastoral preacher.
1. The pastoral preacher’s sanctification is his main task in sermon preparation. Certainly, the preacher needs to study his text and do all of the technical work required to prepare to preach the Word faithfully. But the pastoral preacher understands that his strength and sincerity in the pulpit is tightly tied to his own life of communion with Christ. He prepares to preach Christ, not as a detached academician, but as one who is growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ personally. All week long, he prepares as a “whole man,” loved, taught, and ruled by Christ in his mind, heart, and will in every part of his life. During particularly busy weeks, when he’s had less time to study for his sermon, God will often carry him in the pulpit, if he has been faithful to walk with Christ. His sincerity, love to Christ, and love to the church is basic to pastoral preaching.
2. The pastoral preacher’s first responsibility during sermon delivery is his own personal holiness. While preaching a sermon, the pastoral preacher aims to love God and love men. That is, he strives to obey both tables of the Ten Commandments by humble faith in Christ. Practically speaking, this means that while he’s preaching, he’s self-forgetful in the pulpit and that he lovingly thinks about the good of the church and the glory of God. His faith and love issue in sincere conviction and humble boldness. He refuses to make a show of himself, his gifts, his intellect, or his personality; rather, his goal is to love the people and to love Christ, not himself. He’s unpretentious. He refuses to put on a “preaching voice”; instead, he preaches as he would talk to ordinary people in ordinary conversation. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not. If he’s depressed, he doesn’t pretend to be happy. If he’s emotionally flat, he doesn’t hike up his feelings in pretense. The pastoral preacher doesn’t try to change his personality, but seeks to preach Christ in whatever personality the Lord has given him. His goal is to drift into the background, while Christ alone stands in the foreground. He wants people to leave saying, “what a great Savior,” not, “what a great preacher.” The pastor’s holiness in and out of the pulpit, coupled with his faithful Christ-centered exposition, is absolutely necessary to pastoring the church that is before him.
3. The pastoral preacher trusts that the effectiveness of preaching depends on God’s sovereign grace alone. The pastoral preacher realizes that he has no power whatsoever to change people. He understands that he is responsible to speak the truth with conviction, clarity, and love. But he also understands that the Spirit must add His blessing, if the Word of God is to have any effect on people. That is, he believes that God alone is God, and he abandons any attempt to do what God alone can do. Therefore, the pastoral preacher’s highest goal is not to change people, but to love and honor Christ, no matter how people respond. This frees the pastoral preacher from trying to “set those people straight” or “get them in line” in an authoritarian way. It also frees him from trying to play on people’s emotions through cheap sentimental appeals and from trying to entertain people intellectually so that they leave feeling impressed with something other than Jesus. Understanding God’s sovereign grace also increases the pastoral preacher’s sense of responsibility to pray. Preaching will only change hearts and lives by the work of the Holy Spirit; so, the pastoral preacher prays diligently that the Spirit will work in the hearts of the people. This disposition of trust in God’s sovereign grace protects the sheep under his care from authoritarianism, intellectualism, and emotionalism. It leaves them with nothing but Christ, which is the essence of true shepherding.
4. The pastoral preacher preaches to the particular local church in front of him. Faithful preaching is never disconnected from pastoring. That’s because a pastoral preacher is not merely concerned with the meaning and theology of the text, but also with the particular people to whom he’s preaching. Faithful preaching brings the whole counsel of God to bear upon the particular lives and circumstances of a particular people. Not a single sermon or letter in the New Testament was directed to the universal church. Rather, every sermon and every letter was directed to an identifiable audience and addressed the providences, temptations, sins, and trials of those people. That means a faithful preacher must know the people of his local church. He must live his life among them, study their souls in light of God’s Word, pray for them, identify with them, rejoice and weep with them, labor among them, and preach Christ to them as they really are.
Pastoral preaching is not possible if the preacher takes a distant CEO approach to his position in the local church. Rather, pastoral preaching is fed and supported by true pastoral relationships with God’s beloved people. The preacher must be among his people in visiting, counseling, in performing funerals and weddings, and in personal conversations. Only in this way can a pastor truly know the condition of the flock and preach the truth according to their true spiritual condition.
If someone wrongly argues that faithful preaching is merely explaining the Bible, or merely showing how each text fits in redemptive history and points to Christ, then pastors of local churches don’t need to preach at all. They might just as well broadcast sermons from other skillful preachers who are capable Christ-centered expositors. But if faithful preaching necessarily involves pastoring, as Scripture teaches that it does, then all preaching must be pastoral preaching, and it must be lovingly aimed at a particular people.
What is the cause of quarrels?
James 4:1-2 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” The root of quarrelsomeness is “covetousness.” Covetousness is discontentment with Christ, a desire to be satisfied in something outside of Him.
We quarrel to try to change someone's mind or behavior because we want something (Jas 4:1-2). Our covetous wants are often rooted in selfishness and pride. We may want to win an argument, look better than another person, or showcase our intellectual superiority. So, we quarrel. We may want to crush another person so that they won't dare challenge us again. We may want our lives to be more convenient or comfortable; so, we quarrel, trying to make another person treat us the way we want to be treated. On the other hand, we may quarrel to change a person's mind for their own good because we love them. Parents sometimes quarrel with their children and teenagers out of desperation because they want to protect them from something harmful.
Ultimately, quarreling is an attempt to control someone by fighting them with our words. When we quarrel, we're trying to force another person to agree with us and to make them change by brute force. Quarreling is foolish because it can never win another person's heart. We may win arguments. We may end up getting our way, like bullies sometimes get their way. But quarreling ends up driving others away, causing resentment, and damaging personal relationships.
The Lord Jesus did not quarrel.
Christ had many opportunities to quarrel, but He never did. The Pharisees and Saducees often attempted to lure Christ into quarrels, but Jesus always responded with perfectly wise speech. Christ's disciples regularly misunderstood Him, and even contradicted Him, but Jesus never quarreled with them. Instead, He patiently corrected them and taught them, over and over. Christ spoke the truth in love to all men.
Matthew 12:19-20 says of Christ, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.”
Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is populated with loads of resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.
Contributers to the blog:
Dr. Tom Ascol, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Tom Hicks, Pastor of Discipleship, Morningview Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL (Tom is the team leader of the blog).
Dr. Fred Malone, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clinton, LA
Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY
Dr. Phil Newton, Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN
Dr. Kenneth Puls, Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Jeff Robinson, Pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
Jon English Lee, Ph.D. Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY