At Hills Bible Church we believe in expository preaching. We preach verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book through the Bible. We have preached through several minor prophets in the last year (Haggai, Zephaniah, Malachi), but have mainly focused on 1 Corinthians. We believe that by preaching systematically through the Bible that God sets the agenda, not ourselves. All sorts of topics come up that we might otherwise not preach about.
It’s been fascinating. 1 Corinthians raises all manner of topics and many have been controversial. We have looked at sex, including questions like how often a married couple should have sex; legalism and license: whether a Christian should drink alcohol or smoke; women in ministry; and now speaking in tongues. We would not have tackled these topics, I think, unless we were systematically preaching through the Bible.
The topics have been controversial however. Hills Bible Church is a new church and is small. The numbers of folk present fluctuate from week to week. Sometimes there’s a crowd and all feels well. Sometimes there’s not and we feel precarious and fragile as a church. One wonders occasionally if at any moment the church might collapse and die!
Some have wondered then about the wisdom of ‘stirring the pot’ and ‘rocking the boat’, that is, preaching on controversial topics like sex, alcohol, women in ministry, etc. At this stage of our church life shouldn’t we be more careful? Do we really want to drive away folk who will be insulted by such topics?
I find it hard to trust God. I’m sure as the pastor that at times I must believe that building God’s church is up to me and my skills and activities. God forbid! I need to be reminded that God gives the growth (1 Cor 3:7). And I need to trust that God knows what he is doing and that the teaching of his word is what gives the growth.
I believe we all need to trust God. His word must set the agenda. But His word, preached in a straight forward and plain manner, is in itself controversial. The reason for this is that it will not say what we want to hear. It will challenge us and our preconceived ideas. Sure, you can blame the preacher. When the Bible is black and white on an issue, you can say it isn’t and that the preacher is black and white instead. But it is the Bible that is so controversial. We just often don’t realise it.
Sometimes in ministry, it is one step back, to go two steps forward. Perhaps folk will be insulted by the teaching of God’s word and will leave our church. But that is up to God, and we need to trust him (I need to trust him). If God wants our church to grow he will bring along people who will want to hear the Word of God, just as it is, and will respond in repentance and faith. I don’t want to lose anyone from this or any other church. I don’t want to see our church shrink. The temptation is to preach on non-controversial topics and not to ‘rock the boat’. But preaching through the Bible won’t allow for that. I need to trust God.
God will give the growth. He will bring the right people along. Of course I want God to bring them right now! I am impatient. But God has his own timing in things, and I need to be patient. He may even want our church to fail. He is sovereign. But I trust that he wants our little church to grow. I will need to trust him. I must not preach what people want to hear. We also must not ‘rock the boat’ unnecessarily. But we must preach the word, in season and out. And God will give the growth.
Martin, that’s a great article. Thanks for your words and your faithful preaching.