God’s Method for Church Growth. . . .My review of Reverberation by Jonathan Leeman
Ask the average Christian why he or she goes to church. It is not for the dynamic praise band, or the convenient parking, or the programs, or whether or not they have a coffee stand, or because the pastor wears the latest fashions, or preaches from his iPad or possesses great leadership skills. Non-Christians may care about those things. The Christian, however, wants to hear the Word of God preached by a man who knows the God of whom he speaks. Who has been in communion with God in prayer and the study of His Word and now comes out to speak to the people. To be fed the Word of God through solid exposition. To worship the Lord with fellow believers singing songs, and hymns, and spiritual songs, encouraging one another and enjoying fellowship with one another.
What does the average Christian find on Sunday morning? Usually, cool music, hip clothes, a dizzying array of programs. A lot of songs, a lot of announcements and finally a 30 minute sermonette or devotional. Some personal stories, anecdotes, some jokes, and movie illustrations. And leaves, without being fed and without being nourished. Learning no more than could have been learned at home with a cursory study of the text. Leaving, neither edified, challenged, or convicted. The disgruntled churchgoer is then of course blamed for his or her lack of prayer for the pastor, coming to church for the wrong reasons and for being too critical. And while I am certain that may often be the case, that is only a part of the story.
If you were to look around at the evangelical landscape today you would see a lot of activity. You would see churches being planted, growth strategies strategized. Issues such as social justice or politics or how to engage the culture or how to redeem the culture (whatever that means) are emphasized. Everything centers on man and his felt needs rather than God and His glory as seen through His inerrant Word. All of this creates impoverished spiritual lives.
It is because of many of these problems that Jonathan Leeman, Editorial Director for 9 Marks, has written the excellent, Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People. To call us back to, and reinforce our dependency on the authoritative, sufficient Word of God in our churches. Does that mean that programs and comfortable seats, and contemporary music are bad things? Leeman answers,
“Not at all. Most are fine or even good. The question is, Where are we placing our confidence?” (pg. 17)
We are placing our confidence in all the techniques. We desire greater numbers so we look to methods and polls and statistics and demographics and the latest fads, mimicking the world. Pastors model themselves after business leaders. We learn more about the leadership skills of, say, Steve Jobs (not Bill Gates, of course, because Apple is all the rage), then we do of the Apostle Paul. Forgetting that the world’s definition of effective leadership and the Bible’s do not always agree. (see Mark 10:42-44)
So, what is the correct method for church growth? It is not a method. It is a Person (Matt. 16:18) and he uses His Word. As Leeman writes,
“God’s Word, working through God’s Spirit, is God’s primary instrument for growing God’s church.” (pg. 19)
and thus, of course, growing individual believers.
The book is setup in three parts: 1.) The Word 2.) The Sermon and 3.) The Reverberation. Leeman labors to instill, from beginning to end, a trust in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture for evangelism, sanctification, and true church growth:
“What builds the church — our creative ideas or God’s Word? The answer is the same in every time and every place: God’s Word working by God’s Spirit.” (pg. 110)
Conversely, what do we — wittingly or unwittingly — say through pragmatic methodology?
“What happens then when a local church tries to reach its community by saying, ‘We’re smart and hip, too. So join us’? It subtly undermines the very message of the justification by faith and the free gift of righteousness because it invests value in hipness to unify people.” (pg. 78)
Leeman takes us into the life of the church. Through it’s outreach, prayer life, discipleship, preaching and teaching ministry showing that through it all the Word of God must have the priority and as it does that Word will reverberate through the church and out the doors in evangelism, in our vocations, and indeed in all of life.
The Word of God must have the preeminence in the pulpit. Not the pastor’s opinions, his personality, his charisma, and it must be preached with depth. The author makes clear that this should be done in verse by verse expository preaching,
“I propose that the best — yes, I mean ‘best’ — manner of preaching is preaching that, quite simply, exposes God’s Word…And the sole distinctive of expositional preaching, we could say, is that it faithfully exposes God’s text.” (pg. 113)
This confronts believer and unbeliever alike with the authority of God Himself. Faithful preaching of God’s Word makes clear who the Lord and Head of the church is. It proclaims the high cost of being a disciple of Christ and doesn’t downplay the warnings of Scripture, for fear of chasing off the “unchurched.”
I highly recommend Reverberation. Every pastor, indeed every Christian, should read this book.
And, let me also say, Christians, pray for your pastor and encourage your pastor, and love your pastor, and love the local church. Let’s each renew our commitment to private prayer and private study of God’s Word, and live in obedience to that Word.
And Pastors, if you want Christians committed to the local church then you need to be devoted to the Word of God. You must be committed to preaching and teaching the Word of God with depth. Telling churchgoers to become more involved is not enough. We don’t need cheerleaders in the pulpit. We need teachers who model diligent study and utmost fidelity to the truth. Milk keeps believers as perpetual infants. Give us the meat of God’s Word.