Since retiring from the active pastorate on July 31st, 2012, I have been preaching in many different and varied places. It has been a real joy to be able to be among the people of God in various churches. It is truly a blessing to be able to minister to people by preaching God’s Word to them. I have been impressed by how many good, Godly people are members of our churches, especially the smaller ones.
I am encouraged by the great Christian people I have met, I am also concerned by what I see and hear in many churches. While I hate to say it, I think that based on what takes place in the vast majority of our churches, Christianity is being weakened and its churches are in trouble. I know that the church will survive until the coming of Jesus but I am afraid that it is growing weaker by the day. It is not in trouble based on its beliefs and doctrines. They are sound and secure even though the world is trying to alter these as well. But, the church is in trouble because she is basically doing nothing based on my observations as I travel around and preach. This is not a new revelation to me, but it has been confirmed as I have been exposed to different congregations. I have often said that I do not understand why the people keep coming back each Sunday with no more enthusiasm and energy than is being experienced in our churches. To put it bluntly; they are dead, dead, dead. There is no excitement and energy about being in God’s House on His day. When the preacher takes the pulpit to bring God’s Word, he has to generate any energy that is in the room in order to be able to preach with enthusiasm and power. It should not be left up to the preacher to generate the energy in the worship service. He should find the people energized and expectant to hear what the Lord has to say. In addition, Sunday School is not functional because of a lack of organization and teachers who are unprepared to teach the lesson. Discussions tend to be centered on topics which have nothing to do with the purpose for coming to church. So, how can we expect the people to be committed to Sunday School if the main topic, the Bible lesson, is not given proper consideration while football, hunting, fishing, family and professional careers are fully discussed? As I was waiting to preach in one church, I happened to look down and observed a folder laying on the front pew. It was rosy pink in color and written on the front of it in bold Marks-A-Lot print were the words: “Sunday School Stuff.” I think that explains why many don’t want to come to Bible Study. If it has no more priority than being referred to as “stuff” then there is a serious problem.
In addition to the things discussed above, I believe that the main problem in many our churches is related to the Pastor. The people in the pew know very little doctrine and are spiritually immature because they are not being equipped to live a dynamic Christian life much less to be a part of a church which functions properly. The primary work of the ministry is to be found in the preaching of the Word. Churches will properly function in direct proportion to the level of Biblical preaching they experience. A pastor must spend the proper amount of time studying and preparing to preach. His primary function is not to be found in counseling. It is not in visiting the sick. It is not in eating crumpets with the little ladies and having coffee with the boys. His primary function is to be found in preaching. If he is not willing to spend the proper time to prepare a sermon which is informative, inspiring, interesting and edifying, then he should find himself something else to do. I believe that if God calls a man to preach then that should be his focus. Visiting the sick and other pastoral duties must also be done but they should not be an excuse for not having enough time to prepare to preach. The people in the vast majority of our churches are being cheated out of a deeper and more dynamic relationship to the Lord because the sermons they are hearing are “sermonetts for Christianetts.” They are empty, vapid, insipid. They are not the “meat” Paul speaks about but they are nothing more than the “foam” on a latte. When God calls one to a particular task then He equips the person to perform that task. Everyone has talents to a different extent but everyone called to preach should give it his best so that God can speak through him and edify His Saints.
I recently asked two different churches if they knew the definition of expository preaching. Only one man in one of the churches raised his hand. Two congregations, gathered for Sunday morning worship, could not tell me what expositional preaching is. They said that as far as they knew, they had never heard an expository sermon. They did not know what it is suppose to seek to accomplish. They were ignorant of the term, expository preaching. Most of these people have been in church for thirty years or more. These people knew very little doctrine but they absorbed it like a sponge. Suddenly the Bible became clear to them. They loved to learn the deeper truths contained in a passage. Expository preaching is work. It does not come easily as one has to do extensive word studies and research. It is the work of the ministry that God has for everyone He has called to be a preacher. Teaching the people the doctrines of the Bible will solve most of their problems. The more they learn the more peace and prosperity they will experience. The little problems that trouble most churches will vanish as the people learn the doctrines which apply to various situations. Expository, doctrinal preaching cannot be replaced and should be the focus of the pastor. We are In Trouble in our churches today primarily because the people have not been taught the Bible from the pulpit as they should have been. In addition to this, the majority of preachers today are afraid to tell the people many things they need to know in order to keep them properly informed. They are too afraid of the ACLU, the IRS and People United for the Separation of Church and State. Preachers today have been “muffled” very effectively because of the threat of law suits or the loss of the church’s tax exempt status. Political correctness has silenced the one person in society which should be warning the people about things they are dealing with. The only place in our society which does not have total freedom of speech is the one place that should be totally free and that is the pulpit. Preachers are being held hostage at the price of the tax monies they fear they might lose if they speak on certain issues. Obedience is being extorted from them under the threat of losing their tax exempt status. If the preachers knew the law and understood the freedoms they actually possess then they would discover that they can do and say much more than they have, so far, been willing to do. In essence, God’s spokesmen are being cowered into a corner for the sake of a little tax money. This should not be.
So, I observe that the reason for so many weak churches is to be found in the failure of the pulpit to preach the Word to the best of the preacher’s ability and the failure to lead their people with enthusiasm and energy. People will do far more than they are being asked to do. My philosophy is that we should ask them to do things. The only thing they can say is “no” and if they do give a negative answer then the pastor is no worse off. Plus, he can’t be accused of not trying to lead his people. Most churches today are doing nothing. The people have to be either very, very dedicated or totally habited to keep showing up every Sunday. My observation is that most are totally habited. They are going through the motions in order to do what they think is right before God. They are good people who want to please God but they are accomplishing very little and reaching almost no one with the gospel.
Sadly, most of our churches are not doing much more than existing. They possess very little that would make a person decide that they would like to be a member. It doesn’t take hype, loud secular sounding music, popular little choruses and modern innovation to make a person decide they would like to identify with a particular church. It takes solid Biblical preaching, serious study of the Word, a functioning outreach program, good well-grounded music which is presented in a sincere and well performed manner. The music should not sound like “a dying calf in a hailstorm.” If a church would do these things well, then the Lord will be able to bless them and grow them as He desires.
Many of the churches I have seen are within only a few years of closing their doors unless something is done to revitalize them. Most are filled with members who are in their last decade of life. A lot of these churches have only thirty people or so. Within five to ten years they will cease to exist. Our Southern Baptist Convention is loaded with the kind of churches I have described in this piece. It is sad. We are In Trouble.
In 1972, at the height of the Jesus Movement, the Southern Baptist Convention baptized more teenagers than ever before. From that point, baptisms of teenagers have dropped every year. If McDonalds does everything well except sell fast food, something is amiss. If the church does everything well except evangelize and disciple the lost, it is time for some soul searching. Continue reading
Dr. Adam Harwood
Associate Professor of Theology
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
*This a portion of an article taken from the Journal For Baptist Theology and Ministry and is used by permission. It was first published here at SBC Today on August 10, 2015.
The goal of this article is to address the question: “Is the gospel for all people or only some people?” The answer to this question undergirds one’s theology and practice of evangelism and missions. By the word “gospel,” I am referring to the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus for our sins (1 Cor 15:3–4). By asking whether the gospel is for all people, I am not asking whether it should be announced to all people, but whether it concerns all people. One’s view of whether the gospel is for all people or only some people is revealed by one’s answers to the following questions: Continue reading