A biblical church that has even many weaknesses is worth fighting for as long as there is hope of strengthening it.
In regard to churches, I have two goals in my ministry. One is to strengthen existing Bible-believing churches, and the other is to encourage the establishment of new churches that are built on a strong foundation from the very beginning.
This is not to say that a church cannot be irredeemably spoiled by unrepentant sins and errors. Christ warned the church of Ephesus that if it did not repent of leaving its first love, He would remove its candlestick so that it would no longer be one of His churches (Rev. 2:4-5). He warned the church at Pergamos that if it did not repent of its worldliness He would come quickly and fight against them (Rev. 2:14-16). He warned other churches similarly. There are definitely sins and errors that can destroy a church if not repented of.
There is a time to fight for a weak church and a time to leave it alone, and only the Lord can give wisdom about these matters.
I know of a number of churches that have become stronger in recent years rather than weaker, thus going in a different direction than that in which most churches are headed. The “people” have strengthened the hands of the pastors in issues such as prayer, music, standards for workers, the building up of the homes, separation from the world, discipline, evangelistic vision, etc.
I think of many young preachers who have strengthened senior pastors in recent days by their zeal for the truth. And I encourage young preachers to do this very thing. Don’t be afraid of man. Fear God and love Christ and truth and help your fellow preachers, even the oldest ones, to be stronger rather than weaker in these evil days.
I know of a number of churches that have gotten stronger in the music issue, for example, because the pastors were challenged by members or by other preachers. Some church members are better informed in many ways than the pastors, and wise pastors will benefit from their knowledge and spiritual wisdom.
I think of a very conservative Independent Baptist church with a passionate and godly pastor. It has some strengths but also plenty of weaknesses, some of them serious from my standpoint. In fact, I am convinced that this church will not be standing in the next generation unless some major changes are made. But the pastor is getting stronger rather than weaker, more knowledgeable rather than less, and the church is benefitting. This is through the influence of many things. The pastor is a student and a reader, for one thing, and he is willing to hear challenges from a wide variety of men, even “radicals” like me! And there are godly people in the congregation who are graciously and wisely pushing for the church to be stronger and are holding up the pastor’s hands in that direction.
The church is what I call a mixed multitude in that the membership is composed largely of people who are not passionate Christians. Only a handful attend special prayer meetings, for example, and when people don’t love prayer meetings I have a difficult time thinking they are even true Christians. Whatever they are, they don’t have the spiritual character of the members of the first church (Acts 2:42). One man told me that he could count only about ten true disciples in that church family, though the membership is about 70, I would guess. This is typical, as we point out in the book The Discipling Church.
But this is a church with many good biblical characteristics, and it is moving in a stronger direction and for that we are thankful to the Lord. We want to do everything we can to help such churches.
One of the most important ways this is done is earnest prayer. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
Prayer can change any situation, even the most hopeless, because effectual prayer is entering into intimate communion with God and taking hold of His infinite power and omniscient wisdom. “To pray is to enter the treasure house of God and to enrich oneself out of an inexhaustible storehouse of riches.”
When praying for a church, we must focus our attention on the power of God, not the weakness of the situation. To Abraham and Jeremiah, God said, “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” (Ge. 18:14; Jer. 32:27). God was challenging their faith. Many times Jesus reproved the disciples for their lack of faith (Mt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Lu. 12:28).
I have witnessed situations in which pastors became concerned for issues about which they had not previously been concerned, and I have no doubt that this was an answer to the prayers of, and a product of the effort of, concerned church members.
Instead of merely criticizing pastors, pray for them! Pray believing (Mr. 11:24); pray earnestly (Ro. 15:30; Jas. 5:16); pray persistently (Mt. 7:7; Lu. 18:1); pray with fasting (Mt. 17:21). Pray with prayer partners. Paul taught the importance of this by his frequent, earnest requests for prayer (Ro. 15:30; Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3; 1 Th. 5:25; 2 Th. 3:1). Agree with likeminded brethren to pray for specific things in the church.
By Challenging the Pastors
Another way to help strengthen a church is to challenge the pastors and teachers in a gracious and wise way. This is never wrong. It’s not wrong to talk to a pastor or teacher about an issue. It is not wrong to encourage a pastor or teacher to read something that could help them. I have often been helped in this way by well-meaning people.
I thank the Lord that I know of many churches that have been strengthened by members who have challenged the preachers on a variety of issues.
Of course, this requires that a preacher receive challenges, even instruction, from the “people.”
No man naturally likes to be challenged or corrected, but a pastor or teacher who does not receive exhortation properly misunderstands his position and authority. The church is a body in which the leaders have a unique teaching role but not the only teaching role (Eph. 4:11-16). Every member of the body is to contribute to the edification of the whole.
“From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).
The brethren are instructed to “exhort one another” (Heb. 10:25).
This is not to say that a church member is to be a “loose canon” and operate independently of or in defiance of the leaders. But in light of the Bible’s teaching, why wouldn’t God use any member of the church body to challenge the preacher?
The pastor does have very real authority. We believe in that and we teach God’s people how to submit to that authority, but a pastor’s authority is not the authority to demand blind, unquestioning loyalty. The people are commanded by God to “prove all things” (1 Th. 5:21), so it cannot be wrong when they do so. Paul did not reprove the Bereans for testing him by Scripture (Acts 17:11).
In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon gave the following counsel:
“A sensible friend who will unsparingly criticize you from week to week will be a far greater blessing to you than a thousand undiscriminating admirers if you have sense enough to bear his treatment, and grace enough to be thankful for it. When I was preaching at the Surrey Gardens, an unknown censor of great ability used to send me a weekly list of my mispronunciations and other Slips of speech. He never signed his name, and that was my only cause of complaint against him, for he left me in a debt which I could not acknowledge. I take this opportunity of confessing my obligations to him, for with genial temper, and an evident desire to benefit me, he marked down most relentlessly everything which he supposed me to have said incorrectly. Concerning some of these corrections he was in error himself, but for the most part he was right, and his remarks enabled me to perceive and avoid many mistakes. I looked for his weekly memoranda with much interest, and trust I am all the better for them. ... He demanded my authority for calling a man covetous; and so on. Possibly some young men might have been discouraged, if not irritated, by such severe criticisms, but they would have been very foolish, for in resenting such correction they would have been throwing away a valuable aid to progress No money can purchase outspoken honest judgment, and when we can get it for nothing let us utilize it to the fullest extent” (Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, vol. 4).
The preacher who doesn’t like challenges not only misunderstands his position and authority, he is also ignorant of the reality of his own condition. No man knows everything or sees everything. Every man has weaknesses and blind spots. It matters not how long one has lived, how much experience one has, and how much one has studied, we are all like babes in this present life. We must be careful to maintain the humility demonstrated by Agur, who said,
“Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy. Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?” (Proverbs 30:2-4).
Agur was not saying that he was ignorant. He was comparing himself to God rather than to man. He was saying that before God’s omniscience, he is like a dumb animal. This is the humility that will keep the preacher right in his self-perception so that he remains open to further learning and correction.
By Being Busy Building the Church
Every member of the church should serve Christ with all of his heart and strength, doing everything he can to make the church prosper. As we have seen in Ephesians 4, the church is a body and the ministry of the church is the work of the entire body, with each member diligently contributing his or her part.
We see the same thing in 1 Corinthians 3. The warning about the Judgment Seat of Christ is given in the context of the work of the church.
“For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Co. 3:9-17).
The church is the temple of God; the foundation is Christ; and each member is to build on this foundation by the unction of the Holy Spirit. Paul, as an apostle, was a masterbuilder. He didn’t choose that function; it was assigned by God. Paul was used by God to write a large portion of the blueprint for the church in the canon of the New Testament. Every member has his or her assigned part in this great business, and each member will be judged as to how he builds.
Kelly Whiting makes the following important observation from this passage:
“It is extremely clear from the passage that even the conflict-riven, carnal, and sin-tolerating church at Corinth was God's church and that the members, all of them (1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 2:1; 3:1; etc.), were responsible for correcting the errors of the church and that their reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ would consist very largely of what they did with respect to building up that church. The context of verses 9-14 show that the Holy Spirit is speaking of the foundation of the church in Corinth and that the rewards were the things built ‘upon this foundation.’ So the child of God who believes God’s Word will aim to protect, defend, and edify the church God has placed him in so long as he discerns that it remains a church (by using his well-exercised spiritual senses, Hebrews 5:14), knowing that his labor of faith will receive reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Similarly, if a believer refuses to do his part to edify his church, he will suffer loss at that Judgment, AND it goes on to say that any man that defiles the church will be destroyed by God.”
If you want to make the church stronger be faithful to all of the services, to every prayer meeting, to visitation programs. Get involved in every ministry opportunity that is open to you, then ask the pastors what you might be able to do in particular beyond that.
Those who are faithful and are busy serving are much more likely to get a hearing from the leaders as opposed to those who are on the sidelines. A team member can “criticize” more effectively than a bystander.
And a team member tends to care for the team a lot more than those who merely watch others play.
There is a saying, “If the whole church were like me, what would the church be?”
The above is a new addition to WHAT IF THERE IS NO STRONG CHURCH? ISBN 978-1-58318-237-6. This book addresses the situation in which many believers find themselves in that there is no strong church in their area. We deal with the subject under nine headings: 1. Be sure that you understand the importance of the church. 2. Be careful that you are not looking for a perfect church. 3. Commute to a strong church. 4. Relocate to a place that has a strong church. 5. Attend the best church. 7. Seek to make the church stronger. 7. Be wise in dealing with pastors. 8. Give full attention to your own spiritual life. 9. In some cases, a new church can be established. The tips are very practical and deal with most situations that have come to our attention through the years. 60 pages. Available as a free eBook download as well as in a print edition from www.wayoflife.org/free_ebooks/index.php
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