I’m a pastor. I often think about what I have to offer people who come through our church doors. I want to win lost souls for Christ and see the converted increasingly become more like the Savior. This is the desire of every pastor and of every church staff member. For those of us who work on a church staff, we must ask hard questions like: What do we want to win people to? What do we want to win people with? As the ministry saying goes, what you win people to is what you win people with. I propose that we seek to win people to God.
Let’s consider three aspects of ministry — preaching, music, and fellowship — and why God must be the centerpiece of all three, and how fake substitutes are inadequate solutions that only shortchange guests and members.
Preacher, what are you going to talk about once you enter the pulpit? For some, the answer is “9 Steps to Becoming a Better Parent” or a powerful rant on a popular cultural issue or yet another topical sermon from yet another topical sermon series. Some preachers feel the burden to entertain people each week in order to make Christianity seem appealing. As a result, these men feel an inordinate amount of pressure each week to deliver engaging messages to keep hearers engaged. As long as the preacher “brought it,” irrespective of Scriptural faithfulness, the sermon was a success.
Sermon delivery matters. Eye contact is important. Preachers should speak with the proper tone, word choice, and preach in an engaging and non-boring manner. Although the efficacy of a Christian sermon derives from the Holy Spirit working through the preached Word, God’s sovereignty does not mitigate human responsibility, and the responsible preacher will give thought to how he comes across.
But let’s go deeper. Clever presentations in and of themselves are devoid of relevance and power in the local church. Why? I’ll mention two reasons.
First, if people want to hear good speaking, they can listen to a TedTalk. An inspiring fifteen-minute talk on YouTube in the comfort of one’s home is more convenient than physically gathering with the local church body. In the age of unprecedented advances in technology, good public speaking alone is no longer enough to motivate people to give up their Sunday morning.
Second — and more importantly — good speaking doesn’t spiritually transform lives. God does. And he does it through the faithful preaching of his Word.
If you win people with dazzling self-help talks sprinkled with some Bible, but then change your preaching style over to serious biblical preaching once you’ve won them, those you’ve won will feel betrayed, duped, and likely will leave.
Again, what you win people to is what you win people with.
What should preachers seek to win people to? God. The God of the Bible as revealed in his Word. This comes from faithfully explaining, illustrating, and applying the Word of God for the people of God. It comes by confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. It comes by presenting the offensive gospel and boasting in Christ.
“Worship wars” is a common expression that describes the kind of battles Christians fight over music. A quick glance at Colossians 3:16 shows it is biblically permissible to sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs. My Reformed and Presbyterian brethren are not going to agree with my broadly Reformed and charismatic brethren on how to do this, and that’s okay. I’m not settling the worship wars battle in this post. But whether your corporate worship gatherings are marked by exclusive psalmody or by singing contemporary music, what those who serve on the music team at church have to offer people is . . . God.
God. He is the center of our Sunday music.
This looks like ensuring the song lyrics are biblical and theologically accurate. It looks like ensuring, to the best of your ability, all members on the music team are converted and have a genuine walk with the Lord. It looks like the music team leading by example through genuinely worshiping the triune God in song, not trying to put on a show. It looks like all aspects of the music being done with excellence and in order (1 Cor. 14:40).
After listening to the music played in your gathered local church, an unbeliever should think, “There is something about the way the music is done here that I can’t get on Spotify. I can’t get this from the internet. I can only feel this at church.” As Kevin DeYoung says, “We don’t show up on Sunday to earn points with God, or to be entertained, or even simply to increase in knowledge. The aim, prayer, and end of our gathering is that we might say like Jacob, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place.’” (Gen. 28:16)
Maybe it’s just me, but church, apart from God, is a lame place to find friends. If I truly want cool friends for friendship’s sake, then I’m going with the party animals, the ones who stay out late on Tuesdays. It’s somewhat common, although a little bit less so in this generation, for unconverted persons to go to church on Sundays and small groups on Wednesday not because they love the Lord and want to grow in their faith, but because they are lonely social creatures who are seeking to fill their social void with church folks.
I mean this in the best kind of way, but unconverted persons who continue to gather at church functions need to be “exposed.” If they never feel uncomfortable in the context of Christian fellowship at church, then that may be indicative of a church fellowship culture in which the gospel is not at the center. It’s unloving not to talk about sin, hell, wrath, and the reality of eternal condemnation. Small group ministries at church should be centered on God, and not just a place to quickly pray for 10 seconds then eat nachos and talk about college football. Of course, it’s great to goof around and to do fun, silly things together with church friends, but it is our union with Christ that binds together believers who would not normally associate with one another, and therefore talking about Christ should be a normal and regular part of our Christian conversation.
Give Them God
Seen this way, ministry is both simple and daunting. It’s simple because we don’t need to come up with clever tips and tricks to win people, but simply do what faithful Christians have done in churches for over 2,000 years. It’s also daunting because one day we will give an account to God for what we do, and how church staff members treat His sheep is of utmost importance to Him.
God. That’s what the church has to offer. The most loving thing you can do in Christian ministry is to accurately present the God of the Bible in all aspects of ministry. We want to win people with God and to God.
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