In June, I wrote on five kinds of preachers who don’t bring love and truth to a church, whether by incessant talk of damnation, political pandering, soft commitment to Scripture’s teachings, or preoccupation with family anecdotes. Now I want to share three ways that one Baptist church I met had a tangible difference in its message and culture.
1) The church believes missions should happen everywhere. The pastor encourages missionaries to travel to Africa, to Haiti, to Native American reservations. But he declares it no less honorable to evangelize Philadelphia, or Cincinnati (ten minutes away from us), or down the block at a liquor store, or on your neighbor’s porch. Churches often fail to reach people on their doorsteps because the Gospel seems more available to Americans. But Christians are to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19 NIV), and that includes college students, sales clerks, and newspaper boys in our hometown as much as it does tribesmen in distant wilds.
2) The church speaks truth and loves everyone. You won’t find this pastor or his ministers “captive to hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Colossians 2:8). They know that to truly love someone is to be honest, with grace and kindness, relying on the “Spirit of truth,” not a permissive “spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:6). That means saying that Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6; 1 John 5:12). That means teaching that “there is no one righteous” (Romans 3:10), no one is good but God (Mark 10:18), and only God can enable people to do good. Alongside truth, this pastor’s ministry displays a loving recognition of differences. For example, Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, which promotes the literal view that the earth was made in seven days as in Genesis 1, speaks occasionally at my church. Though some of us may disagree with his understanding of science, we welcome his moral insight into Scripture and we also agree that one or the other view of evolution does not prevent someone from being saved. This church is tolerant, but not to the point of endangering truth about sin and salvation.
3) The pastor loads his preaching with Scripture. At a leadership conference in 2013, pastor David Platt told his listeners that preachers ought to saturate their sermons with the word of God, “rather than their personal stories.” The good pastor does this. He discards strategies for good behavior and instead edifies his listeners with the unique directives of Scripture. The presence of Jesus is strong and unavoidable in his prayers and his messages. Stories about family or travel aren’t absent, but they only appear when they illustrate that Christ-centered purpose of communicating unearned grace.
I hope you will be blessed with a church that has these qualities. At one point in my search, I despaired of finding a body of believers with a leader hungry to reach the world, a loving approach to truth, and a message that puts Jesus squarely before people’s eyes and hearts. But these churches are out there. You will find one if you haven’t already, and when you do, you will know you’re home.
For those of you who have found a home in a good church, what drew you there? A longtime sense of belonging from childhood? A passion for missions? A humble pastor with ambitions for his flock?
Anthony Otten has published stories in The Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Wind. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. Still: The Journal has published an excerpt from his novel. He lives in Kentucky.
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