What are the activities of the church? One list might go like this:
(1) Preaching and Teaching
(2) Evangelism, Missions, [and Outreach]
(7) Building Up Families
(10) Fellowship (MacArthur, Master’s Plan For The Church)
All of these have a New Testament basis. All of these are what every church should be doing. What do you think this church does well? What do you think this church needs to improve upon?
I. PREACHING AND TEACHING
I put this first because it is most important, and that’s not just because I am a preacher and teacher! The New Testament consistently gives much attention to the importance of preaching and teaching—the proclamation of the Word of God. The English word for preach and preaching appears 95 times in Acts through Revelation, and teaching appears 30 times in Acts through Revelation. By contrast, the English word “fellowship” used to refer to fellowship between Christians appears just twice.
6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained…13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. 15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. (1 Timothy 4:6–15)
17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17)
It grieves me when people rejoice about or even joke about a short sermon, it’s like rejoicing over starving yourself. It’s sad when a Sunday School teacher is only able to teach with the teacher’s manual and guesses at what is in the Bible. We cannot just talk about the Bible as Christians, we need to know the Bible. There is no substitute.
Why is preaching and teaching so important in the church? Because of what the Word of God can do. Just consider these verses—
12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Timothy 3:16)Scripture is important for training the Christian mind to think correctly:
23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; (Ephesians 4:23)
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)
By the way, the Bible is what the unbeliever needs to hear as well. Most that we know have heard the plan of salvation until they are blue in the face. What they need to know is “Why should I listen to the Bible?” And explaining the Bible, bit by bit, piece by piece, gives unbelievers stuff to think about.
An unbeliever can learn about providence, for example, and then as they go out they start to see things that they thought were just luck and chance, but now they wonder: is this God? And then they start seeking to learn more. Unbelievers are seeking: is God real and do I need to be concerned about him?
Every Bible-based message is a evangelistic message because it is God’s word, and you don’t know what word from God is going to turn an unbeliever’s heart to him.
How should we respond?
(1) Call, hire, select teachers and preachers that love the Word above all things. Some people rate a preacher by friendliness or if he visits them. Those things are important, the the most important factor is whether or not they love the Bible and teach the Bible.
(2) Fight to keep the Word central in our own lives. Devotions. Do we pay attention during the preaching of the Word. Do we make an effort to remember later?
II. EVANGELISM AND MISSIONS AND OUTREACH
The second function, and perhaps the second most important, is evangelism and missions and outreach. I’ll just lump them all together here.
Evangelism is more of a personal effort to reach a person or people with the gospel of Christ. We evangelize with our words and our lives—both, together —not just one or the other.
If we just evangelize with our words, and in our lives we are rude, inconsiderate, selfish, prideful, complaining, grumpy, cheating, etc, etc, then our words fall on deaf ears.
13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. (Matthew 5:13)
If we just evangelize with our lives, then the people around us never have reason to think that we are anything but a nice person. They don’t identify our lives as products of the grace of God.
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14)
15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (1 Peter 3:15)
When you pull this together, when a Christian with behavior that has been changed by Christ, speaks to unbelievers, they will listen more because they see that something happened to that person that is difficult to explain without God. Their behavior proves their belief.
That’s why, I suppose, that ex-prostitutes and ex-drug addicts often make for powerful witnesses because people can more easily see that something amazing happened to them.
But that doesn’t mean that more ordinary Christians can’t evangelize, but people have to see that we are changed even in the ordinary things of life— are we grumpy, do we cheat or complain, do we ask for forgiveness when we sin? When we exhibit our changed behavior to the world, then our words will carry more weight.
How is missions different from evangelism? Missions is more concerned with the world-wide attempt at evangelism. It’s the global vision Jesus described in Matthew 28:19-20 —
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19–20)
Worldwide missions cannot happen without the local church.
Outreach is another term I throw in here that is important for us to keep in our minds. Outreach refers to our reaching out to unbelievers around us. It occurs both individually and also on a church level. It involves building relationships with unbelievers, and finding ways to show Christ’s love to them.
Many Christians could care less about unbelievers, or they are afraid of being around them, but Paul writes:
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9–10)
He didn’t want to church to leave the world, but to stay in it, and to reach out to it.
In college, I was an assistant pastor for a four-church parish. All the churches were small, but there was one that really small—eight people including Tami and I. But the people there were content to let the church die with them. They had no outreach, and no real desire to do so.
Outreach is vital if a church is going to grow and prosper. That’s why I am excited about the possibility of calling a Pastor for Outreach and Youth— someone who can focus his attention on developing outreach for the church.
But our individual outreach is important as well. What do we do to reach out to neighbors, family, and friends?
PAUSE FOR REFLECTION
Now, let’s stop here and let me point something out. The first two functions of the church—preaching and teaching; evangelism, missions, and outreach —are often the ones that churches that are dying are failing in the most.
The preaching and teaching suffers when the pastor hopes to bring in visitors and dumbs it all down to appease them. It’s always dangerous when the preacher starts trying to please others with his preaching.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)
The evangelism and missions and outreach suffers when the church decides that they can just support missionaries and forget the rest. Or they get too wrapped up in fellowship with one another that they don’t let others in easily, and don’t care to reach out.