Strong Church/Weak Church 1
I have been a member of five churches in my life. I spent my formative years from birth until age seventeen in the church my dad pastored, the First Baptist Church of McDonald, Ohio. During my senior year of high school my father accepted the pastorate of the Sparlingville Baptist Church in Port Huron, Michigan. I moved my membership there for about six months until I went to Bible college. At eighteen, upon enrolling in Hyles-Anderson College, I joined the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. I attended there for the following six years. Then at age twenty-four, I entered the ministry by way of the Bible Way Baptist Church in New Castle, Pennsylvania. This church later changed its named to Lighthouse Baptist Church and moved to Bessemer, Pennsylvania where it still holds forth the Word of life. After seven years pastoring there, I came to Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago, where I have served now for these fifteen years. All of these churches are precious to me. I long to see them do well, and I thrill at good reports, especially the one I grew up in and the two I have pastored.
Each of these churches had strengths and each of them had weaknesses; including the one I pastor now. As a pastor, I pay very close attention to those strengths and weaknesses. I seek to protect and expand the strengths while simultaneously treating the weaknesses. I share this wonderful opportunity and holy responsibility with tens of thousands of other pastors, who are not the only ones concerned about the condition of their church. Many a sincere, committed, caring church member longs to see their church grow stronger. Their greatest fear is its decline and their greatest joy is found in its advance. It is a rare privilege to pastor many such sweet people here at Maplewood.
All of this begs the question, what makes a church strong and what makes it weak? What are the signs of a healthy church? Conversely, what are the signs of a sick church? These are critical questions for they strike at the heart of what so many of God’s people care so deeply about, and they speak directly to the availability of good churches for the next generation. Answering these questions accurately lends insight into what good pastors and good members should aim for, should work at, should pray about, should prioritize for, and should seek to accomplish.
The next question that comes is where do we go for the answers? Can I tell you what the answer to that question all too often involves? Signing up for a conference somewhere at a “model” church. Such churches, usually large, set themselves up as pattern churches for the rest of us. We duly show up, are impressed, and run home to copy in our church what seems to be working in that church. I do not mean this as harshly as it probably comes across, but the longer I serve the Lord the less impressed I am with the so-called great churches of our generation. I am glad for them. I am grateful for their ministries. I am happy to see them thrive, at least as far as I can tell, but I no longer look to them. I have gradually come to the conclusion that if I want to find the pattern for what my church ought to aim for, I need to look one place primarily – the pages of God’s Word.
So it is that this blog series was birthed. In an effort to answer these questions biblically, I have studied at some depth the local churches found in the Scripture. There are a surprising number of them, and the written record contains more information about them than one might think. As God does with men, He does not hesitate to record both the good and the bad of these churches. In so doing, He reveals for us some things that ought to be avoided and some things that ought to be pursued. For the next few months, we are going to examine these churches with the purpose of applying what we learn to churches in our own day.
Specifically, what churches am I talking about? We will begin with the first and largest and most influential of them all, the church at Jerusalem. We will move on to look at the church at Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians. Following that, we will discuss what is perhaps the weakest church in the Bible, the Corinthian church. In due course, we will next inspect the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. During this process we will spend the bulk of our time in Acts, Corinthians, and Revelation.
As much as I know how, I will seek in some sense to lay aside my experience and perspective as a pastor. I do not want to spend the next few months giving you my considered opinion, for the most part. I will try to bring us to an understanding based on the simple truths of Scripture. In the process, I hope you will be enlightened, and more importantly, I pray that your church will be strengthened.
We begin with the church at Jerusalem next week. Stay tuned!