In my last post, I argued that the first goal of many ministers should be to move their congregations to be held captive by the Word of God. I speculated that this would make it easier to lead a church to change its beliefs, its vision, and programs. In addition to the churches changing, it will help prevent ministers from getting burned out, discouraged, or even fired.
If my argument in my last post is correct, then the cornerstone of change in a church is its being held captive by the Word of God.
But how does you lead a congregation to become captive to the Word of God? It’s easy to say that we need to do it, but it’s not an easy thing to do.
I ended the last post by suggesting that some ministers do not set a goal of having their congregation submit to the Word of God because they do not know how to do that. So I am going to offer some suggestions.
I should warn you that, as a young minister, these suggestions mostly come from my reading and not from my experience. I have not tested these suggestions to the extent that I can say that they work, though I can say that in my limited experience following them have been useful for my ministry. Time will tell how well they truly work.
I want to give five suggestions of things to do, and two suggestions of things not to do.
Some Suggestions of Things to Do
- Expositional Preaching. By expositional preaching, I simply mean that each lesson or sermon should be based in a Scriptural text, and the main point of the lesson or sermon should be the main point of the text. When you effectively teach and preach the Word of God, people come under its conviction. In addition, when people begin modeling their lives after the Bible, then the resulting spiritual growth increases their confidence in the Bible.
- Teach the Holy Spirit. I grew up in a congregation that had almost no stress on the work of the Holy Spirit. But as I have matured in my faith and in my understanding of God, I have grown in my awareness of the work of the Holy Spirit. One work of the Holy Spirit is that it applies the Word of God to our lives. We need to make sure that people understand this important work, and that they expect God to act in this way.
- Model Captivity to God’s Word. Do you submit every area of your life to God’s Word? No one is perfect. But where is your heart? If you are not willing to submit your financial decisions to God’s Word, for example, then do not expect your congregation to submit their decisions to God’s Word.
- Make sure your leaders are held captive by the Word of God. Are your church’s deacons or elders in their position because of their spiritual lives? Or did they get the position because of their social connections? Because they were successful business men? Because they are members of influential families in your congregations? A church’s love of God’s Word will not usually rise above the love of God’s Word that the church’s leaders have.
- Do negative apologetics. This is my least important suggestion, because I think it will influence the least number of people. Even intellectuals are less affected by criticisms of the Bible than they are by hypocritical leaders or a lack of an awareness of the Holy Spirit. But some people (I am one of those) still have nagging questions about the trustworthiness of the Bible and the truth of some of its points. This is a barrier to recognizing the authority of God’s Word. Ministers need to address these concerns with competency and honesty.
Some Suggestions of Things Not to Do
- Don’t focus (primarily) on numbers. If you are looking for quick growth, then design a new program or introduce some innovation in worship. Trying to increase your church’s reliance upon the Word of God will likely not cause overnight explosions. But I believe that the teaching of the Bible will lay the groundwork for future growth and future maturity of the church. After all, haven’t many churches who use church growth methodologies found that their congregations are spiritually shallow?
- Don’t focus on short-term success. Again, if you are going to measure your success by how well you’ve done in one year, then you will likely be disappointed with focusing on being captive to the Word of God. But you will likely be disappointed no matter what you focus on. Explosive growth is rarer than the Christian publications and celebrity preachers make it seem. But if we focus on growing mature Christians––an important part of which is developing people who love the Bible and submit to it––then long-term growth will result. We might not reach our goals, but God will work powerfully.
All ministers have to call their people to continue to follow where God is leading. True change in a church comes from God’s work and guidance in people’s lives. Throughout history, the teaching of the Word of God and its application to people’s lives has been the main tool God has used to change people and spark kingdom movements. As ministers, we should aim to lead our people to submit to the Word of God, for there are few things more amazing than a church held captive by the Word of God.
Join other dedicated readers of Thinking and Believing and subscribe to the email list. You'll receive every new post in your inbox, so you never have to worry about missing a post. Click here to subscribe.