I’ve never served in a brand new church plant. I’ve served at churches that have started in 1785 (two, in fact), 1877, 1912, 1938, and now in 1960–none later. No 1990s or 2000s starts, only churches that had been established where the culture I inherited had long been, well, established.
In my almost four years at ARBC and my eight years at Boone’s Creek in Lexington, KY, and in 22 years of ministry, I believe I’m starting to understand God’s purpose for me in these churches, especially behind the pulpit. And I couldn’t be more thankful.
Defining the terms: We use the terms worship, leadership, scholarship, fellowship, partnership and the like in so many ways. What do they mean? Is biblical fellowship just hanging out with each other? Is worship just walking out of the assembly feeling good? Is church membership just a name on a roll and attending a few times? Define the terms in the way the culture of your church uses them.
Clarifying the terms: Part of a pastor’s job is to lead the church to understand these terms biblically. Over time, these words develop new definitions and connotations–we must recognize the culture in which bred these terms, then put that up with Scripture. The hope is, if they are using the terms rightly, God be praised. If those terms have evolved over the years into something more or less biblical, God be praised that the Spirit made us aware.
Sharpen Your People: We then take the biblical terms now clarified and sharpen them to see what that looks like in our context. Obviously, some things universally transfer, but others will look differently depending on your place of service. For instance, we want folks to come in an worship, that is, to exalt Jesus and encourage/edify those around us. Since music and preaching are involved in this, the music in Denver, CO will be different than that in Lexington, KY. Fellowship is not just hanging out, but has an aspect about it where we protect each other in the faith and from false gospels. Again, here in Denver, the false gospel issues may be different than in New England or in Madrid or in Indonesia. We take the biblical principle and sharpen it for our people, so they will stay sharp.
Repeat: “Well, Matt, we did this process ten years ago.” Great! Since you know the way, do it again! You’d be surprised what accumulates over that amount of time. You don’t say, “Well, I sharpened my knives 10 years ago–I’m good.” No, knives grow dull with use. Without an intentionality about be Word-centered, truth-driven, Great Commission people, we will grow dull.
So this purpose is not ‘sudden,’ just more clear as the days go on.
May God give us grace to be intentional.