for the Characteristics of a Vibrant Church
TWO: A Bible-Focused Church
of this Part
Listening to the Voices
How Equipped are we?
The Need to Reject Passivity
The Pastoral Perspective
Thinking outside the Box about Teaching
Recapping the Goals
well, we will start to consider the first of these four characteristics
of a vibrant church – a church that is utterly Bible-based
and holds Bible teaching very seriously – part of a vision
of the church blueprint revealed through the New Testament. My
goal here is not to say what the New Testament says about church,
or even about teaching, growth and maturity for that matter, but
to examine what we think about the Bible and the New Testament
vision we may have as Christians, leaders or otherwise, may I
suggest, must start here because otherwise we have no concrete
foundation on which to build.
to start this off, let's ask ourselves some key questions:
Whether I am a leader (of whatever
form) or just a member of the Church, is the Bible THE foundation
of my belief system? (I realise this conflicts with the Tradition
PLUS Scripture part of the Church but I suspect they are unlikely
to be my readers here).
If not, how can I be sure my church
or my life is in accord with the will of God, how do I know
I am not falling short of God's desire for His Church? (This
presupposes that you are concerned with the will of God – and
also that I am daring to believe I can state it from scripture!)
If I say yes, it is truly the
foundation of my faith, how well do I know it, how often do
I read it? If I am a leader, do I just read it to get the content
for a sermon or Sunday School teaching or whatever, or do I
read it as part of my daily encounter with God, and to feed
me, change me, direct me, challenge me, correct me, equip me,
and draw me closer to my Lord as a variety of scripture verses
suggest? (See R.T.Kendall's quote below).
If I am a church leader, am I
sold on the idea that the Bible is vital to the life of my people
and am I constantly conveying that to my people so they see
just how vital this is, to cope with life in the twenty-first
century? (See Timothy Keller's quote below)
Do I, in fact, teach my people
how to use their Bible, get the best from it, understand the
big pictures within it, as well as the detailed stuff, and be
blessed by a daily experience with it?
Listen to the Voices
is interesting to see what the leaders who have been making waves
around the word say about these things:
takes a 110% preacher like Timothy Keller in his 2015 book, ‘Preaching',
to focus and address the facets of modern culture in his chapter
entitled, ‘Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind', and who concludes,
“Paul cries out, ‘Where is the wise
person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher
of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?'
(1 Cor 1:20) In his day the cross and the atonement made no sense
within any of the reigning worldviews. The philosophers treated
Paul with disdain on Mars Hill in Acts 17, and hardly anyone believed
his message. But answer the question. Where now is the wisdom
of that world? It's over, gone. No one believes those worldviews
anymore. Such will always be the case. The philosophies of the
world will come and go, rise and fall, but the wisdom we preach
– the Word of God – will still be here.”
Chan in his challenging ‘Letters to the Church' says, “Most
Christians have heard all their lives that, ‘the word of God is
living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing
to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow
and discerning the thoughts and intention of the heart' (Heb 4:12).
We've heard it, but do we believe it? If we genuinely believed
that the Word of God was this powerful, what would we do? We would
read these words and expect them to have a life of their own.
We certainly wouldn't put as much emphasis on different preachers
and their ability to “make the scriptures comes alive” … if we
really want to come before God with clean hands and a pure heart,
we need to have a greater awe and longing for His Word alone.”
in his 2019 book, ‘Word & Spirit' declares, “it
is sadly true today that most Christians – whether liberal, Evangelical
or Charismatic – do not know their Bible .” Is
that true of you and me? He continued, “When
I first started preaching over sixty years ago, many people knew
their Bibles. I could quote many scriptures from memory, but so
could many who listened. I often assumed that they knew what I
was talking about without my having to explain what I meant. But
not so today.” A little later he adds, “So
many people in the church do not know their Bibles because they
do not often read their Bibles.”
any of those quotes in mind, in my previous notes on ‘Learning
to Pray for the Church', I wrote, “
level of biblical knowledge by the average believer appears to
have diminished over recent decades. Older believers can often
quite easily think of a dozen Bible teachers who impacted them.
Rarely is that so for the vast majority of younger believers.”
if these various quotes are true – and I believe they are (and
dare to tell me they are not) – then they act as a challenge to
anyone, leader or not, who is concerned about the quality of modern-day
How Equipped are we?
gets taught in your church and mine? Let's ask some important
questions. If you are just an ordinary believer,
How equipped are you to cope with
the rantings of the books of the crusading atheists your non-Christian
friends talk about?
How equipped are you to cope with
the mockery of the liberal believer who makes a living writing
books that demean the Bible?
How equipped are you when friends
at a dinner party laughingly say, “Of course science, geology
and history have debunked the ideas
of Genesis that the earth is
only a few thousand years old,
of a world that did not evolve
but was created by God,
of a beginning by God instead
of the Big Bang,
of two people being the first
just a few thousand years ago,
that you can trust the folk-tale
history of the Old Testament?”
How equipped are you when these
same friends say, “Well of course the God of the Old Testament
is clearly different from the God of the New, a mass murderer
who incites genocide, so you are left wondering if either the
good God of the new and the bad God of the Old actually do exist”?
How equipped are you when those
same friends say, “Well the morality of the laws of Moses are
so bizarre that they cannot have any relevance to today and so
you wonder why people bother with them and, anyway, who is any
of us to be able to tell others how they ought to behave”?
The Need to Reject Passivity
if your view is that we can leave these sorts of things to ‘our
minister' or ‘our Pastor', then I suggest the following are likely:
We will exist in a little holy
enclave, increasingly shut off from the rest of the world and
irrelevant as far as they are concerned, and our young people,
who are being educated to believe things very different from
the beliefs of the older congregation, will soon be giving you
funny looks and eventually sharing why they can no longer believe
the quaint things you believe.
Our faith will shrink and shrink
until we wonder why we are in this little holy enclave, and
we end up giving it all up, emerging into the light of the dramatically
changed world outside, and be quickly overcome by it, fall to
whatever belief-temptation is put before us that we have no
strength to resist, and find ourselves in a self-destructive,
battle-torn world, praying for it to end soon.
An alternative is that we simply
block our ears to everything going on around us and try and
pretend everything is all right and the world will get its just
desserts when Jesus returns, so let's keep our heads down and
pretend everything is ‘fine', while deep down we know it's not.
that is too dramatically pessimistic, then instead try,
We find ourselves in conversations
with non-believer friends and realise we are feeling embarrassed
at having no answers to their mocking questions, or even worse,
wondering if they are right, or
We simply remain silent when others
around are speaking derogatorily about God, the Bible, church,
and Christians generally, and feel embarrassed and impotent
in such situations, or
We simply avoid any situation
where these things happen and find ourselves sliding into the
first three scenarios we started with above.
if these words do get through to you, then there are limited options:
Let the behaviour of the two sets
above make you miserable, or
Ask your church leader(s) to do
something to change your ignorance and help you become equipped
to have answers, or
Do your own readings – books,
the Internet, there is plenty there, become a self-learner,
maybe even form a group who determine to learn how to stand
up for truth.
this heading of ‘The Passive Stance' must also come the church
leader(s) whose knowledge of the New Testament is sufficiently
limited that they fail to realise that its teaching is full of
instructions and indications that believers are called to grow
in knowledge, understanding and experience and become mature believers.
This is not the place to conduct a Bible Study, but simply point
out this extensive teaching.
assuming we have this sense that what I have been saying is true,
then how do we go about changing it? First, I would suggest there
are two approaches of which we need to be aware:
Encouraging all believers to become
regular Bible readers.
Teaching the content of the Bible
in such a way as to show its wonder and uniqueness, and to bring
understanding and promote maturity of thinking.
to read comes in the form of
the leaders pave the way by setting
a good example, so that there are set times of teaching the
content of the Bible from the out-front speakers whereby the
teachers reveal they themselves are regular students of the
word, have a good grasp of it, and it excites them (i.e.
they are passionate about it),
teaching the benefits of regular
reading of the Bible, for example, to feed on it and grow spiritually
and to let it change you, and to become equipped to counter
the questions that are often asked about it and see how God's
teaching matches the needs of the modern world,
encouraging individuals to read
for themselves, needs to come as a specific regular
exhortation from the front. This fits in with teaching so I'll
wait until the end of the next section, but the point does need
making that with all the conflicting voices of the modern world
today, we do need to be doing this regularly.
Teaching the Content
in what I have just said, the requirement of the leader is to
be a regular Bible reader AND they have become excited
by what they read. If you feel you fall down on either
of these two requirements, can I suggest two possibilities or
lines of help (and as I am assuming that praying about
it should be automatically the first line of action, I will not
mention that here):
this means you will catch the ‘big picture'.
For help, if you aren't clear about what I mean by that, see the
17 ‘Big Picture Meditations'
in this site under the ‘Daily Meditations' section. Perhaps it
may mean you really focus through the Scripture on just who the
Bible says Jesus Christ is. Again, for help see the 62 ‘Focus
on Christ' meditations or studies under the ‘Daily Meditations'
section of this site. The people of God need to see and understand
the big picture as well as the detail.
it means studying the detail, or studying subjects
that arise in the Bible. The 41 ‘Lessons
from the Law of Moses' from those series' is such a study,
or the 12 meditations/studies headed, ‘The
Wonder of the Ten Commandments'. To focus faith the 49 part
series or the 63 part ‘Reaching
into Redemption' series which goes on to touch on specific
areas of conflict in today's world, might also bring help. I simply
point these out if you have no other resources. The people of
God need to understand the details as well as the big picture.
said above there can be a possible combination of teaching from
the front as well as encouraging individuals to read for themselves.
If I may quote from a section entitled, ‘Unnecessary Repetition'
in Part 3.2 of the ‘Learning to Pray for the Church' series on
little while ago I went online to watch some friends I know in
the States to see what they were teaching their people (in preparation
for going out there to speak). One young enthusiastic pastor every
Wednesday evening taught for an hour nonstop without visuals as
he explained the Bible. I asked him when I saw him face to face,
“How much do you think your people take in with that level of
input every week? Have you ever thought of teaching them how to
take apart the scriptures for themselves so that each week you
send them away with a passage to study, so that when they come
back next week they share in groups what God showed them, and
then have a question and answer time where you provide answers
for difficult questions that might arise?”
combines structured, directed learning with self-learning and
must, I am certain, produce believers better equipped to handle
the Scriptures and who also become excited by it. Whenever I do
a Bible Study that gets the people to go home and do it first,
they always come back excited.
The Pastoral Perspective
would accept that the role of a Christian Leader involves a pastoral
dimension which involves both protection and provision (Shepherds
protect their flock and also lead it to pasture).
would suggest that pastoral protection involves fending off false
teaching (of which the New Testament is quite clear) and equipping
the saints to understand the strategies of the enemy. This cannot
be done without the Bible.
fruits of the absence of this I see all around us.
How many of
our congregation suffer from low self-esteem which exists in the
absence of the knowledge of who we are in Christ?
How many are
struggling with trials and temptations and are going down under
them because they do not have an adequate Biblical world view
that sheds light on what is going on and teaches them how to handle
the resources God has provided for them?
How many are
worrying because of the state of the world and verging on the
edge of depression because they fail to realise the big picture
and see Christ ‘ruling in the midst of his enemies', allowing
free will but working within it and they fail to see their role
in all that is happening around them as ambassadors of Christ,
empowered and equipped by him to impact the world rather than
be impacted by it?
causes of all this? The failure of teaching within the Church.
that we are all dysfunctional in some measure and are all ‘works
in progress', even though we are children of God, sons of God,
I wonder sometimes if anyone has done a survey comparing the lives
of those who, among other things, read their Bibles regularly
and have a good Biblical World view – and those who don't. From
my own observations I would suggest that those who are Bible orientated
are more likely to be stable and ‘fit for purpose' as a Christian,
than those who don't.
Pastor who leads their sheep into the pasture of the Bible with
the enabling of the Holy Spirit to bring understanding to knowledge,
will, I am convinced, have a spiritually healthier flock who are
better equipped to handle the trials of life, resist the lies
of the enemy, understand the ways of the modern world, and be
open to the sovereign moving of the Lord as He guides and directs
them across the battlefield that is the modern world of the West.
Thinking Outside the Box about Teaching
cry that I hear not infrequently is, “But with just one Sunday
morning service a week there is so little time to impart teaching!”
The obvious answer is that
other times in the week, and
alternative methods of teaching apart from one single sermon
on Sunday morning.
Times of the Week
next cry that arises from leaders that I have head is, “Have you
tried getting the people of God to come out more than once a week?”
There are several answers for this I believe:
the initial teaching when embarking on a new programme MUST be
to convey to the people
of personal spiritual growth that Jesus expects, and is conveyed
by the Bible,
means and how maturity in Christ affects how we defeat the problems
of the world rather than us be defeated by them,
that we are
going to place well-planned, well thought-out and well-conveyed,
serious teaching, high on the agenda with the goal of producing
well-equipped, trained and taught ambassadors of Christ who
can take on the world,
giving this a two month trial, say, will be worth their while.
consider if you embarked on an additional Sunday evening meeting
or Wednesday evening meeting, what form would it take and how
often, in order to convey teaching (We'll consider further aspects
and possibilities in Part 4) – and why are you doing it?
if your church has house groups or home groups, after having working
out all the issues we will be raising in the next Part, decide
what part the Bible will play in it. I'll make suggestions in
the next Part.
am convinced if we face and implement the ideas in the first of
these suggestions, the problem of ‘getting the people to come
out' will disappear. If church is so good that people don't want
to miss out on what is going on, then I suggest your people will
start finding fresh energy to turn out, start adjusting their
diaries to ensure they keep the space free to come out, and will
also adjust their family life accordingly – when they see the
am further convinced that so many of our busyness and tiredness
problems have become so normal because teaching & preaching
has often become mundane and second-rate and the teaching has
not been feeding people or changing people or envisioning people.
This need to change.
methods of teaching
you will forgive the obvious, the goal here, I suggest, is to
think of the varieties of ways we can convey teaching, so let's
pick up on the obvious examples first of all:
preaching – what the Bible says, verse by verse, chapter book
teaching from the Bible – what the Bible says in themes
‘who' – who God / Christ / HS is – who we are in Christ
‘how' – how sin came into the world, how God has provided
‘how to' – subject based behaviour, e.g. pray, read Bible,
‘why' – why we can trust the Bible, why evil is in the world,
the above in smaller groups
the above & making available online for personal use.
then how can we increase the level of teaching availability within
the church? Some suggestions:
a teaching service one Sunday morning per month
and one (different) Sunday evening per month:
make the entire focus teaching
use a ‘pick ‘n mix approach, (exampled below) with the following
as a possible morning plan:
Introductory worship song & prayer
First pair of teaching slots running in different rooms
Break and change over.
Second pair of teaching slots running in different rooms
Final worship prayer time
– refreshments & fellowship
an approach enables four different half-hour teaching sessions,
all recorded and available in a church library or online.
person thus chooses two half-hour teaching slots to attend. Subjects
can be drawn from any of the list above so for instance here are
four examples of using the above timings:
In room 1A – exposition of John's Gospel, Room 1B – what the Bible
says about money.
In room 2A – ‘How to build a prayer life', Room 2B – ‘How to read
the Bible for dear life!'
model has the second block as ‘how to' teaching.
Room 1A – ‘What the Bible teaches about personal prophecy', Room
1B – ‘Understanding the book of Revelation'
Room 2A – ‘Moving into experience the gift of prophecy', Room
2B – ‘Understanding modern culture and the times'.
model puts a direct link between the first block and second block
so that the second block works through in a practical way things
seen in the first block.
Room 1A – ‘Poverty', Room 1B – ‘Alcohol & drug abuse', Room
1C – ‘Volunteering'.
Room 2A – ‘Singleness', Room 2B – ‘Adoption', Room 2C – ‘Bereavement'.
model obviously picks up on social needs in society and in the
church and had 3 slots at a time.
Room 1A – ‘Combatting envy', Room 1B – ‘Dealing with lust', Room
1C - ‘Honesty & integrity in business'.
Room 2A – ‘The dangers of pride', Room 2B – ‘Covetousness in a
consumer society', Room 2C – ‘Self-centredness versus self-awareness'.
model obviously teaches on moral or ethical issues.
possibilities for this pick ‘n mix teaching model are endless
and simply rely on your creativity and inspiration of the Holy
Spirit. The Sunday evening could have the same approach.
a complete change from the above model, the morning and evening
could have a complete theme for each of the (as here) four teaching
slots, for example:
mornings slots: Science & the Bible, History & the Bible
– two slots of each with coffee break between.
evening slots: Understanding gifts of the Spirit (1) Words of
Revelation (2) Action gifts – healing, miracles, faith – two slots
of each with coffee break between.
and so on!
suggestions of this style:
& practice of fellowship – 2 slots, first one teaching, second
one ten minute encounters with people you don't know so well.
& practice of praying for one another – 2 slots, first one
the teaching, second one, guided threes or fours
& practice of witnessing – 2 slots, first one teaching, second
one sharing your testimony (5 minutes maximum each) in groups
of four or five, or in pairs of threes if preferred.
Recapping the Goals
primary goal we are considering here (seen alongside the other
3 issues) is to raise the profile of the use of the Bible in the
church in order to increase knowledge and understanding, which
in turn clarifies vision for the church and the individual in
order to promote personal growth that builds character and develops
someone once said, “church is not for your entertainment (although
that should not preclude enjoyment), but it is for your salvation,
your equipping and your sending”. In other words it is about changing
people – our beliefs, our understanding, our perspectives and
our behaviour. A people who never change, who don't change and
grow are surely a people who are dead.
statements should not be seen as controversial because, in a Part
that focuses on the use of the Bible, we should perhaps conclude
with Paul's famous words to Timothy, “
Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,
correcting and training in righteousness, so
that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good
work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17)
Those words, ‘teaching, rebuking, correcting and training' are
ALL about bringing change to our lives, and
that surely must be the objective behind all the activity of a
Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted as saying, “Whom you would change,
you must first love, and they must know that you love them.” That
is what the next Part is about.