A vision worth pursuing

What are some factors that characterize a healthy church?
  • Increasing attendance?
  • Measurable results from church programs?
  • A compelling vision from senior leadership?
While all of these may be good, none are necessary indicators of church health. I maintain that the first indicator of church health is a tenacious commitment to an entirely unoriginal mission statement. Let me explain.

In the first commandment, God tells us “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). So from the beginning, God identified worship as our first responsibility. And when Jesus commissioned the church before his ascension into heaven, he said
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Here, Jesus tells us:
  1. All authority in the church and in the world else belongs to him.
  2. He tells us to make disciples by
    1. Going (taking the gospel to everyone),
    2. Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and
    3. Teaching them to obey Jesus' commands.
Jesus, who has all authority, commissions his ministers to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. When those ministers, then find or gather a group of baptized disciples, what should they be doing? Let’s read in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” What did their to-do list look like?
  1. Teaching the Bible
  2. Fellowship
  3. Communion (breaking bread)
  4. Praying
So between Matthew 28 and Acts 2, we have the mandate for observing both ordinances, and two references to teaching. Acts 2 adds fellowship and praying. Colossians 3:16 adds singing to the list.

Here’s my point: There are a few specific things that God has called us to do when we gather, and these things include Bible reading, teaching, praying, singing, and observing the ordinances. These five elements of genuine worship have been practiced in some form since God spoke to Abraham, and in the church since Pentecost. The truth is that these five elements of worship are what the Bible identifies as our mission when we gather together in our congregations.

Many churches today are enamored with new methodologies, results-oriented leadership, and relevance to a target demographic. The goal becomes bringing people in, and the strategy becomes whatever works. These churches downplay doctrinal distinctives and emphasize fidelity to a program, to a style of worship, or to the pastor’s unique vision. In all of these cases the biblical elements of worship are relegated to just another tool to achieve results.

It's not wrong to pursue effectiveness in ministry. The question is what defines effectiveness? Biblical worship as we've outlined above is the essential element for a healthy church. Biblical worship does not preclude other reasonable means of inviting people to church, but if the worship they experience is not first of all faithful to the Bible, then regardless of any other measures, the ministry has not been effective in the most important sense.

Questions 95-981 in the Baptist Catechism address these matters. If we dedicate ourselves to the biblical elements of worship, I believe we will be a church that speaks with the Power of God’s word, and whose worship would be recognizable to every generation of Believers.

This is a vision worth pursuing.

  1. Q. 95. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption? A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, Baptism, the Lord's Supper and Prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (Rom. 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Cor. 3:5; Acts 14:1; 2:41,42)
    Q. 96. How is the Word made effectual to salvation? A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto salvation. (Psalm 119:11,18; 1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Peter 2:1,2; Rom. 1:16; Psalm 19:7)
    Q. 97. How is the Word to be read and heard that it may become effectual to salvation? A. That the Word may become effectual to salvation we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation and prayer, receive it in faith and love, lay it up in our hearts and practice it in our lives. (Prov. 8:34; 1 Peter 2:1,2; 1 Tim. 4:13; Heb. 2:1,3; Heb. 4:2; 2 Thess. 2:10; Psalm 119:11; James 1:21,25)
    Q. 98. How do Baptism and the Lord's Supper become effectual means of salvation? A. Baptism and the Lord's Supper become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them or in him that administers them, but only by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them. (1 Peter 3:21; 1 Cor. 3:6,7; 1 Cor. 12:13)

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