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Series Theme: Characteristics of a Vibrant Church

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Vision for the Characteristics of a Vibrant Church

 

PART TWO: A Bible-Focused Church

 

 

Content of this Part

2.1 Introduction
2.2 Listening to the Voices
2.3 How Equipped are we?
2.4 The Need to Reject Passivity
2.5 Bringing Change
2.6 The Pastoral Perspective
2.7 Thinking outside the Box about Teaching
2.8 Recapping the Goals

 

 

2.1 Introduction

 

Very 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 in particular.

 

Any 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.

 

Perhaps 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?

   

   

2.2 Listen to the Voices

 

It is interesting to see what the leaders who have been making waves around the word say about these things:

 

It 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.”

 

Francis 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.”

 

R.T.Kendall, 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.”

 

Without any of those quotes in mind, in my previous notes on ‘Learning to Pray for the Church', I wrote, The 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.”

 

Now 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 church life.

 

 

2.3 How Equipped are we?

 

What 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”?

 

  

2.4 The Need to Reject Passivity

 

Now 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.

    

 

If 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.

Now 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.

Under 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.

 

 

2.5 Bringing Change

 

Now 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.

 

1. Encouraging Reading

 

Encouragement 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.

 

2. Teaching the Content

 

Note 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):

 

First, 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.

 

Second, 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 ‘Focusing Faith' 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.

 

I 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 this site:

 

A 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?”

This 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.

 

 

2.6 The Pastoral Perspective

 

Most 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).

 

Protection

 

I 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.

 

The 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?
The causes of all this? The failure of teaching within the Church.

 

Provision

 

Accepting 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.

 

The 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.

 

 

2.7 Thinking Outside the Box about Teaching

 

The 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

•  there are other times in the week, and

•  there are alternative methods of teaching apart from one single sermon on Sunday morning.

Other Times of the Week

 

The 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:

 

First , the initial teaching when embarking on a new programme MUST be to convey to the people

•  the idea of personal spiritual growth that Jesus expects, and is conveyed by the Bible,

•  what that 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,

•  and that giving this a two month trial, say, will be worth their while.

 

Second, 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?

 

Third, 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.

 

I 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 value!

 

I 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.

     

Alternative methods of teaching

 

If 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:

•  expository preaching – what the Bible says, verse by verse, chapter book etc.

•  application teaching from the Bible – what the Bible says in themes

•  teaching ‘who' – who God / Christ / HS is – who we are in Christ

•  teaching ‘how' – how sin came into the world, how God has provided salvation

•  teaching ‘how to' – subject based behaviour, e.g. pray, read Bible, witness

•  te

aching ‘why' – why we can trust the Bible, why evil is in the world,

 

•  teaching the above in smaller groups

•  recording the above & making available online for personal use.

But then how can we increase the level of teaching availability within the church? Some suggestions:

 

Have 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:

  10.00-10.15 Introductory worship song & prayer

  10.15-10.45 First pair of teaching slots running in different rooms

  10.45-11.00 Break and change over.

  11.00-11.30 Second pair of teaching slots running in different rooms

  11.30-11.50 Final worship prayer time

  11.50 – refreshments & fellowship

 

Such an approach enables four different half-hour teaching sessions, all recorded and available in a church library or online.

Each 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:

 

Example 1:

10.15am: In room 1A – exposition of John's Gospel, Room 1B – what the Bible says about money.

11.00am: In room 2A – ‘How to build a prayer life', Room 2B – ‘How to read the Bible for dear life!'

This model has the second block as ‘how to' teaching.

 

Example 2:

10.15am Room 1A – ‘What the Bible teaches about personal prophecy', Room 1B – ‘Understanding the book of Revelation'

11.00am: Room 2A – ‘Moving into experience the gift of prophecy', Room 2B – ‘Understanding modern culture and the times'.

This 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.

 

Example 3:

10.15am: Room 1A – ‘Poverty', Room 1B – ‘Alcohol & drug abuse', Room 1C – ‘Volunteering'.

11.00am: Room 2A – ‘Singleness', Room 2B – ‘Adoption', Room 2C – ‘Bereavement'.

This model obviously picks up on social needs in society and in the church and had 3 slots at a time.

 

Example 4:

10.15am: Room 1A – ‘Combatting envy', Room 1B – ‘Dealing with lust', Room 1C - ‘Honesty & integrity in business'.

11.00am: Room 2A – ‘The dangers of pride', Room 2B – ‘Covetousness in a consumer society', Room 2C – ‘Self-centredness versus self-awareness'.

This model obviously teaches on moral or ethical issues.

 

The 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.

 

As 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:

Sunday mornings slots: Science & the Bible, History & the Bible – two slots of each with coffee break between.

Sunday 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!

 

Further suggestions of this style:

Theory & practice of fellowship – 2 slots, first one teaching, second one ten minute encounters with people you don't know so well.

Theory & practice of praying for one another – 2 slots, first one the teaching, second one, guided threes or fours

Theory & 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.

 

 

2.8 Recapping the Goals

 

The 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 servants.

 

As 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.

 

Such 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, All 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 vibrant church.

 

Dr. 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.