Monday, February 23, 2009

If the church is to grow, it must teach the whole counsel of God

I have a theory about church growth. According to this theory, the breadth of the content of the preaching will be a significant factor in the height to which growth will attain. Have only one sermon, preach it winsomely, but preach it every week, your church will grow. A little bit, and then it will stop growing. It won’t matter if the sermon is an evangelistic message, a social justice manifesto, a paean of praise to the Virgin Mary, the outcome will be the same. A few fall into this trap of, no matter the lectionary passage, the festival, or the hour of the day, preaching the same sermon week in week out. Some ministers offer more variety. But on closer examination, each sermon espouses some aspect of a narrowly conceived “-ism” which falls short of the whole counsel of God. It might be Pentecostalism or socialism; evangelism or creationism (see post below): it does not matter what the “-ism”, there will be a brake on growth (according to my theory).

I have some evidence for the truth of my theory. Do you have some to share?

Recently I heard a sermon which nicely illustrated the difficulty of a narrow theological scheme for preaching. It failed to offer the whole counsel of God on the matter it sought to address. It generated considerable opposition (from fair minded, Bible minded mature Christians). By failing to offer the whole counsel of God on the matter the sermon’s logic became, ‘Shape up or ship out’ rather than ‘Shape up, or, if not prepared to do so, work together within the church’s system to find an alternative solution’. Hopefully hearers will not ship out because of this particular occasion. But such sermons can have their consequences, especially when they constitute the whole diet of preaching in a church. Shipping out is a growth limiting constraint!!

Positively, as I think about some growing churches I know a few things about, the preaching has been varied, ranging across the whole counsel of God, and not limited to one recurring theme or confined within an “-ism”.

These are difficult days, the days of post-modern life, for the church of God. We are beset and besought on all sides by the challenges of secularism, atheism, Islamism, consumerism, and general religious torpor. Why add to our difficulties by generating them from within our ranks through a narrow conception of the truth of God?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen to that, Peter! And with such a cornucopia of resources available now (much of it free courtesy of the net), what excuse is there for preaching that is monochrome or monotone?
Preaching is a perennial challenge for theological education/ministerial formation, when many other things claim one's attention. But I'm sure it is one of the indispensable keys to growth.
And in preaching the whole counsel of God, surely the OT should feature more often in Christian education, not least because it often has more to say than the NT on social ethics, politics, and the changing conditions of God's people (redemption, pilgrimage, rebellion, exile etc).