Over the past two Sundays, I have been challenging our church on whether they come to our church services as worshippers or consumers. Either coming to church as a giver or taker. Coming to offer themselves to God or taking the posture of a shopper with a take it or leave it attitude. A consumer might ask themselves:
How’s my Sunday morning going so far? Did I get enough sleep last night? Trouble finding parking. Doors clearly marked. Welcomed? Friendly? Trouble dropping my kids off? Is seating comfortable?
How about the announcements and bulletin? Is everything clear? What about people sitting around me? Was the music too contemporary or too traditional?
The question is not whether you have been attending for 30 plus years or if this is your first time. The question is your heart motivation for going to church in the first place. The reason we gather for church is to give. To offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (cf. Rom. 12:1).
Now what I want to do is put this principle of “coming to give” within the larger context of expository preaching. Specifically, how coming to sit under expository preaching is actually offering your worship to God.
By in large, the reason people initially come to a church or not is the preaching. No pressure, right? I assure you that this is not me being caught up in my preaching… I’m like you if the preaching is good, I want to be there, and vice versa, not so much… Preaching as a concept almost seems passé and not with the times but I find that deep down at the core level, preaching is the ultimate litmus test for whether or not a Christian comes to a church and stays at a church.
I would venture to say if I were taking a survey that rates by importance church categories (…fill in the blank) describing, defining, and prescribing church health, I believe the most important one is expository preaching. Expositional preaching is the first mark of a healthy church and it is the most important because if you get this one right, all categories of church fall into place. A faithful pastor should give himself to this practice and congregations should demand this of him!
Expository preaching is a way of preaching and thinking about preaching that reflects an absolute commitment to the inherent authority of the Word of God. Since, the Word of God is what tells us how to think about everything we are and do as believers, listening to good exposition takes a supreme role in a Christian’s life. So, it also follows that a healthy church or a worshipping church will have as its foundation, expository preaching. One basic example of how practical this is, is the answer I regularly hear when I ask a Sunday morning visitor, “So, how did you find out about our church?” And they say, “I just googled expository preaching in Anchorage and there you were!”
Without the Word of God as our basis for church we are left to any manner of “how-to” resources to figure out what we are all doing here!
“This is so important that if you were to miss this one and happen to get all the other eight marks (“marks or characteristics of a healthy church”) right, in a sense they would be accidents. You would have just happened to get them right. They may be distorted, because they wouldn’t have sprung from the Word and they would not continually be reshaped and refreshed by it.” [Dever]
“When the priority of the Word is established, you have the single most important aspect of the church’s life, and growing health is virtually assured, because God acts by his Spirit through his Word.” [Dever]
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he gave him an overarching command for church health:
- How do you promote church health or promote church growth?
- Paul told Timothy to “form a committee?”
- “Take a survey?”
- “Spend yourself visiting?”
- “Read a book?”
- “Attend the latest conference on trends?”
- “Become a pop-culture guru?”
None of these! Paul never told Timothy to do any of those things. Paul told Timothy to “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2).
So, how is listening to God’s Word, worship? Let me answer this question with a question. How is kneeling before a king in yielded submission, hearing what he commands, worship? Think of how someone taking a yielded posture attributes worth to a king? By contrast, picture the opposite, where a royal subject approaches his king with a take it or leave it attitude. Approaching his king with a what have you done for me lately attitude.
This is a far cry from valuing anything this king would say. So, again by contrast, when we approach God, not as casual consumers but as humble worshippers, to hear and heed God’s Word, we ascribe value or “worth” to this God who speaks as his Word is explained through expository preaching.